Friday, November 28, 2008

On the Making of Lists

Whether you’ve been celebrating Black Friday or just hope to survive the holidays to make it to the New Year, you will have to deal with lists.

In addition to hoping you make Santa’s List of Good Little Boys & Girls, you may be twice-checking those shopping lists, things to get for the kids or your folks, for the neighbors or your friends, your co-workers or Aunt Bea whom you see once a year; grocery lists to stock up on supplies for the next feast on the list, along with lists of all the cookies and other holiday trimmings you’ll need by the time you’ve made the list of guests to invite for the Christmas Party and the list with dates of all the parties you’ve been invited to this busy social season. Not to forget the infamous Christmas Card List...

Though the idea of “10-ness” is often inflatable, one way or another, there are thousands of lists of Top 10 Gift Suggestions from every source imaginable (how I hated doing those every year); lists of Top 10 News Events of the Year, Top 10 People of the Year, Top 10 Football Plays of the Year, Top 10 Grossing Films of the Year (or the Top 10 Grossest Films of the Year), Top 10 Most Memorable Performances of the Year, not to mention countless others including the much anticipated Top 10 List of Top 10 Lists.

In addition to store lists and chore lists, much to-do is often made about other kinds of lists. While not very much is made of books in this country, aside from lists of best selling books from the New York Times or the finalists for England’s Booker Prize during the course of the year (and this year, even the Best of the Booker Prizes), the end of a year is usually awash with Top 10 rankings of the best (and worst) dressed celebrities or the hottest (which for those of my readers who are of a certain age does not refer either to their temperature or their box-office clout). Spinning through some of these last week, I noticed most of the comments about the latter lists were primarily calling into question the pulse of those making these decisions since they had clearly overlooked [insert latest teen heart-throb here].

Those of us in the Classical Music World don’t get a network TV Award Show since the commercial market is too small to be worth the effort or the expense, just a casual passing mention on the Grammy Awards – so uneventful are they, there’s usually only one category that’s not released before the broadcast along with the other minor award categories). Even though the Classical Grammy Awards might be politically suspect one way or another, it is the closest thing we have to the Oscars, the Tony Awards, the Country Music Awards, what-have-you.

[“And this year’s Best Composer of the Year Award goes to... (long dramatic pause, audience noticeably hushed in palpable anticipation: drum-roll please) ...Elliott Carter!” and the crowd goes wild as the studio orchestra breaks out in a well-known passage from his Symphonia...]

Recently, the British magazine Gramophone came up with a cover story for its December Issue ranking the Top 20 Orchestras from around the world – the presence of a Japanese Orchestra kept it from being “from across the Western World” – and immediately, the list of those wondering about the veracity of such a list began growing. How were these orchestras selected, on what basis were they placed in this order, who was making the decisions and evaluations – and more importantly, on what grounds: recent live performances, reading reviews, listening to old recordings? Some even wondered about how an orchestra heard (or recorded) in its own hall might sound to a listener when they’re playing in a different hall on tour. And so on.

Unless the rankings are determined by rigid criteria in various categories like those Top 10 Colleges or Places to Live in the USA, taking into account standard-of-living issues, demographic ratios or other aspects that can be statistically compared, anything as subjective as a “best performance” is going to be suspect, especially when it’s not being determined by the same board of judges who would be traveling around the world listening to every orchestra on the planet (or at least those nominated into, say, the 40 Finalists).

[Now there’s a junket I wouldn’t mind serving on...]

Here is what the Gramophone website said about this issue’s cover story:

= = = = = = =

It's a classical title showdown! Swapping gloves for glissandi and punches for prestos, players from around the globe square up for the hotly contested spot of World's Best Symphony Orchestra.

Ranking the heavy hitters is by no means an easy task, but Gramophone has manfully taken the job in hand. Our panel of leading music critics comprised: Rob Cowan, James Inverne, James Jolly (all from Gramophone, UK), Alex Ross (the New Yorker, US), Mark Swed (Los Angeles Times, US), Wilhelm Sinkovicz (Die Presse, Austria), Renaud Machart (Le Monde, France), Manuel Brug (Die Welt, Germany), Thiemo Wind (De Telegraaf, the Netherlands), Zhou Yingjuan (editor, Gramophone China) and Soyeon Nam (editor, Gramophone Korea).

To compare like with like, we have limited ourselves to comparing modern romantic orchestras rather than period bands, but apart from that distinction it's a completely open field. The panel have considered the question from all angles - judging concert performances as well as recording output, contributions to local and national communities and the ability to maintain iconic status in an increasingly competitive contemporary climate.

The results have proven fascinating and will no doubt be as controversial as the question itself. But if nothing else, the task gives us all a chance to celebrate the forerunners of exciting, cutting-edge music-making. And that can't be a bad thing…

= = = = = = =

And so the method behind the rankings has been called into question, generating comments, for example, by Angela at TonicBlotter with other references, including Mark at Deceptively Simple, among others.

Now, I rather doubted even a magazine as significant in the eyes of many people in the Classical Music World as the Gramophone is going to spring for a budget to send a panel of experts around the world, considering the financial rewards they’re likely to reap as a result. How else could you manage it? Let’s just regard it as a cover story/marketing ploy and forget about, say, the indignation over the Philadelphia Orchestra’s absence from the list or that one’s home-town orchestra placed lower than another one.

(Quite frankly, out of all these 20 Orchestras, I’ve heard none of them live in recent years. But I had heard the Philadelphia Orchestra live a few times in the past several years and frankly I would not place it on a Top 20 List simply because I didn’t feel they were playing up to what that level implies, regardless of their past glories. Does an orchestra deserve a spot on a Top List simply because of its reputation? Maybe, however, that will change for them with a new conductor and a hopefully better chapter in the orchestra’s internal life.)

And even then, arguments could be made such lists would be suspect because it might have been a bad day for the performers or the judge was reacting to the conductor and not the performance or the fact they played Berlioz and one judge is noted for hating Berlioz.

Even the micro-points Olympic skating judges, for example, now award by computer cannot seriously overcome personal reactions and preferences over sheer technical analyses. If the winner is not determined by who crosses the finish line first with the fastest speed, how do you determine who’s in first place, much less who’s in twelfth?

How many times have I read about this or that piano competition where the first-place winner is deemed a technical automaton but that the second-place winner was far superior as an interpreter? And that No. 6 was by far the hottest?

It always amused me to read an orchestra’s publicity release that would say they are “among the six topped ranked orchestras in the country.” Ah, that means they’re No. 6. Or there’s the generic blurb, “one of the most acclaimed orchestras in the world” – by whom?

For that matter, can the quality of an orchestra be judged by ticket-sales or salary rankings? Has anyone come up with a statistically accurate ratio to compare what they pay the conductor and the executive director with the principal players and the rank-and-file members of the string section? Is an orchestra going to be better than others because this one has a better benefit package for its musicians, that one has a better “work-place-atmosphere” rating from its musicians, or another one has a hotter young conductor than that one?

Or do we do a televised reality show called “Orchestra!” and have viewers phone in to determine which ensemble gets voted off the stage?

With another crucial box-office season upon us for new movie releases, are we going to see films ranked solely by box-office take or by the quality of the film, the expert interpretations of its actors and the skill with which the director realizes the film’s potential? Is this film deemed a better film because more people, what with the bad economy and the political situation around the world, felt like taking in a let-me-check-my-brain-at-the-door comedy with a hot TV personality in it rather than one that’s a thought-provoking-often-cathartic-view-of-some-of-the-basic-core-issues-that-drive-humanity-in-our-world-today kind of film?

What do you think? You be the judge...

Oh, but one word to the folks at Gramophone. I haven’t seen the list as it will appear in the December issue itself, so maybe it’s been corrected, but the way it was reported on other websites, proff-raeders and fact-checkers somewhere missed that one of the Russian orchestras was called by a name it has not been called since 1991 when Leningrad returned to its pre-Revolutionary name, St. Petersburg. I missed that one myself, just noting “huh, the three Russian orchestras were all placed in a clump, Nos. 14-15-16...” Didn’t even see that one of them was the now out-dated Leningrad Philharmonic...

What does that imply?

As a few e-mails I received noted, apparently others feel more strongly about the impact of such a list’s significance. True, as Mrs. Alving told Pastor Manders in a crucial scene in Ibsen’s Ghosts, arguing against the rigidity of his old-fashioned moral precepts, all she wanted to do was pull at one tiny loose thread and then realized, after the fabric came undone, it was only machine made.

But as imperfect as modern-day clothing can be - another thing I need to add to a list: buy thread to sew the buttons back on a new shirt purchased a few weeks ago that failed to survive its first round through the laundry - it may be better to wear what we have rather than go naked in the world. As Mark Twain said, “naked people have little or no influence on society.”

So perhaps it’s best to bear with it, realizing that all lists are relative, just celebrate the music-making of twenty fine orchestras and be done with it.

Now, where is that list of Top 20 Living Composers?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


It’s official. I’m a winner!

At midnight this morning – well, last night, staying up to be able to do so – I submitted my word-count to NaNoWriMo, where November is National Novel Writing Month. The goal is for everyone who signs up for it to write 50,000 words toward a novel. If you finish the novel, that’s great, too, but basically it’s just to get 50,000 words down on paper (or in a computer file) that you might otherwise never manage to do, given the realities of the world. I’m not sure why they chose November but for three years, I’d thought about doing it – taking “the challenge” – but didn’t think I’d have the time.

Last year, I was in the midst of composing the song cycle “Evidence of Things Not Seen” and knew if I put the music aside to write a novel, I would probably not get the songs done in time (their goal was to be finished by February, 2008) and quite possibly if I put it aside for a month, I might not be able to get back into them after a month’s hiatus and then they’d never get done. And regardless of everything else in my life, music always comes first.

And this year, well... being among the millions of unemployed Americans out there, I certainly had the time. My primary concern was getting the “Aria and Chaconne” finished before I started and I was so close. Luckily, I completed the first draft of it on Saturday, November 1st and then that evening, began work on “Echoes in and out of Time.” NaNoWriMo had begun!

NaNoWriMo exists because there are many people who enjoy reading novels who often thought they would like to try to write one themselves. It’s not a contest for published authors, though I imagine they could sign up, too. There are no prizes, either – no cash award, no publisher’s contract – beyond the satisfaction of being able to say “I wrote a novel!”

Or at least wrote 50,000 words (which is not exactly chump change, writing that much in a month). There should be no illusions that suddenly fame and fortune are going to come your way, certainly in my case. It’s not like I’m going to give up my day job, if I had one.

But there is a sense of accomplishment – and a creative sense which is different than just getting through the daily routine and its challenges and its deadlines – and I figure after having worked for 18 years in a place where I was never happy doing what I was doing, it was fun to sit down every morning at the computer and work on the novel and to come up with something that, at least on a personal level, I’m proud of. It felt pretty damn good to download their little “you’re a winner” stickers.

The only other award I won during 18 years at the radio station, by the way, was when I wrote a column for the magazine which somebody had decided to call “The Well-Tempered Listener.” It was amusing that some area businessman’s council gave me first place in whatever category my column was eligible for. The winning article “Of Beans and Bruckner” told the story about how two women discussing their recipes for Bean Soup managed to destroy a performance of Anton Bruckner’s mammoth 9th Symphony by talking during the New York Philharmonic concert.

What was especially rewarding about going up to receive this award was walking past the editor/publisher guy who a week or so before had told me I would need to cut the articles from 750 words back to about 400 or less and then, when I declined – “some of my paragraphs are 400 words long” – he then canceled the column. It was not my best article and their recognition meant nothing to me considering I didn’t have it from my editor in the first place, so there was a kind of plangent irony in the whole thing. It was like feeling good about a special program I may have done for broadcast (which I still get compliments about today, 11 years later) only to be told by my boss it “wasn’t good radio.” (Which explains one of the reasons I am no longer in radio today: the music always comes first.)

This award – and NaNoWriMo does offer a printable certificate you can download as a pdf to print, frame and hang – is another one of those feel-good awards whose primary purpose is to boost your self-esteem.

I have a shelf full of compositions that give me the same satisfaction even though only a few people have heard only two of them. The fact I can look at a score I wrote and say “I wrote this” and “I think it’s a good piece” is important to me, knowing that I could have slapped something together in less time, just to have 30 pages of score. If it would be performed, I would like to hear it and say “I did a good job on that one” whether other people liked it or not. It’s not easy to let it go into the world so people can hear it and say “I hate this” or “I’ve heard better.”

You’re not going to put NaNoWriMo’s “sticker” on the front cover of your book if you do get it published because it’s not going to have the same impact that “Winner of the Booker Prize” or “Chosen by Oprah” would have on sales.

Not everybody who signed up is going to automatically win. You still have to write 50,000 words and not everybody had the time, the concentration or the ability to get that much done. With six days to go, some are still only half-way there. One friend of mine is knee-deep in anguish with a dead computer and 23,000 words of his novel trapped inside it and no external back-up.

True, you could write 500 words and then copy-and-paste it 100 times until you hit 50,000 of them, but if you’re going to feel smug about winning, then, you probably have never been caught cheating at solitaire, either.

The key, of course, is to develop the momentum and creative flow that you can show up on the page and just write. I treated it like the job I don’t have with the same discipline as if I were getting paid to do this and blast my way through the interior editor who tells you “that’s not the right word” or “that’s stupid” or “you really think people are going to buy your book when there are all these great authors out they can read?”

The other key is to avoid going back to edit until you’re actually done – or at least done enough – that you don’t end up spending time on the later stages of writing or throwing things out before you know how useful they’re going to be. I left some things open – writing in “[NAME]” if I didn’t have time to come up with the right name for a passing character – rather than spend time trying to come up with the perfect detail. There was back-story I found myself writing which probably wouldn’t go here but might be useful there (but I hadn’t gotten there yet, or maybe it should go back there, instead).

As of yesterday, I had 52,488 words (according to NaNoWriMo’s word-count verifier application) but that’s 52,488 words of a rough draft, not a completed novel ready to published. You don’t get a final draft of something you’ve never taken the time to write down in the first place. Now, I can do that.

Procrastination, pure and simple, was a big issue. There were times when I found myself writing scenes that required “fact checking.” What do you call this kind of “piece-of-furniture” and would it have been found in a house built in the 1890s? There was a photograph of one of the characters taken with Stravinsky – how old would Stravinsky have been when my character would have been this age; since he was in Chicago at the time, could Stravinsky have been in Chicago around that time? Luckily today, there is Google – and I didn’t have to run into the State Library to track down this information. Not only did I find Stravinsky would have been in Chicago in 1965 – for the world premiere of the “Huxley” Variations, another detail I could add – I also found there’s a crater on Mercury named for him (see right) and it’s a much bigger crater than the one named for Schoenberg.

Since one of my characters is named after his grandfather who was from Luxembourg and had died in World War II, I wanted to verify some facts about the setting. I knew that the Low Countries had been overrun by the Nazis in 1940, but I wasn’t sure what took place specifically in Luxembourg. I found far more information than I needed for my scene – for instance, that Hitler rationalized the unprovoked invasion of the Low Countries in order to ward off the possible invasion by the British and the French who could attack western Germany through Belgium, a move that today we would call a “pre-emptive strike” – but it gave me the confidence to know that, fiction aside, I was not making this up.

There were lists of details to be made about characters and their relationships to each other, making sure a character’s eyes weren’t blue in this scene and brown later on or that their ages were consistent. I caught myself having a major character born at a certain year but then realizing if his mother was born when I made a passing reference to her age at another time, that meant she would have been 11 when her son was born. That sort of thing.

Now, this novel has been on my mind at some level or another off and on for about 30 years. I had started toying with it when I lived in New York City in 1978, some thoughts already surfacing when I was still teaching at UConn. Over the decades, the characters have developed and changed and grown old along with me. What began as a “coming-of-age” novel for a young composer has since become a “coming-of-old-age” novel as a composer approaches retirement and looks back on his career! Many of the main characters are the same but they too have changed and grown older, some became wiser and some of them died. There was, if nothing else, more of a story to tell, now.

The premise is still the same. The young(er) composer, having found himself stuck with a severe case of Writer’s Block, decides he’s going to write a biography of his teacher and mentor who has also, it turned out, stopped composing because of Writer’s Block. In unearthing his teacher’s story, he discovers more about his own.

Originally, it was going to be two simultaneous stories. Actually, the very first idea was that the composers’ stories were superimposed on a parallel short story written in the 1880s by a man who lived in the same house where the old(er) composer lives.

I have long been fascinated by “contrapuntal time” in music. This plan would alternate chapter by chapter. But as I reduced the importance of “writing the biography” to a reliance more on observations, it occurred to me these should be overlapped in more complex ways until it essentially becomes ones story – my narrator becoming barely aware of the difference between his experiences and his observations about his teacher’s.

Then, in 2006 or so, I began working out a way of accomplishing this. I didn’t like the idea of just sitting down and starting on page 1 and hopefully writing straight through to page 342 or whatever. I don’t write music that way any more: I know where it’s going to end, I know exactly how I’m going to get there. So I decided to structure the novel the same way I would structure a piece of music.

I’d also thought my next major work – whether it’s a piano quintet or a symphony (or both) – would be in the usual four or five movements but they would not occur consecutively: they would overlap and sneak in and out of one another and progress in bits and pieces but not in chronological sequence. I wanted to see if this could work in prose, too.

Having read Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” (or “Remembrances of Things Past” as it had been translated for most of the last century) and also a few novels of Virginia Woolf, the stream of consciousness fascinated me but not as much as what I jokingly called the “stream of unconsciousness.” When we sit and reminisce, the story we remember sometimes begins in the middle and, if there’s a point in common with another memory, we’re off in a tangent and sometimes we never do get to the end of the original memory.

Memory is not neat and well-packaged like a chronological story. And since I had come up with my working title “Echoes in and out of Time” back in the early-‘80s when I had read Thomas Wolfe’s “Of Time and the River” – and heard George Crumb’s orchestral piece “Echoes of Time and the River” (long before there was ever a radio station in my life which airs a New Age program that still grates against my brain), it seemed more and more logical to let the 1st Person Narrator’s memories slip back and forth between the different stages of his life and those he has observed of his teacher’s life like a series of echoes.

In one passage I wrote the other day, the teacher explained to the narrator how our minds work when we hear snippets of music that just pop into our heads, “like an old juke-box only when you put the quarter in, you don’t know what’s going to drop down and play.” There may be a pattern in one tune that reminds you of a pattern in another and suddenly you find yourself off in a different piece of music all together. And the same things work for memories.

Being a structuralist with my music carefully mapped out bar by bar, I decided to work out a plan that’s similar to chaos theory where you look for a scientific explanation for randomness.

I had a copy of Georges Perec’s “Life: A User’s Manual” in which there are 100 chapters. It’s set in an apartment building in Paris and each chapter is about a different room in the building, its tenants and its guests. There’s a randomness to the order and technically you could read them in any order you want by just opening the book and starting a chapter – a very I Ching-like approach – or by following the numbers the author lists in which they would happen in a room-to-room sequence. Even though each chapter may involve different times in the lives of those tenants and their individual stories, the basic story takes place all at the same minute – the moment when the central character dies.

Perec mapped out his 100 rooms and found his pattern by superimposing on it “a knight’s tour” (see left). In other words, placing a knight from a chess board on one block and then letting it follow its normal pattern this way and that across the board until all 100 blocks have been covered without repeating any of them. This is not as easy as it sounds, so when I tried this with 100 episodes for my Echoes, I ended up just using Perec’s pattern. If Beethoven and Brahms both used “sonata-allegro form,” why should I try to create a completely original way of using the same recognizable features as the basis for my underlying skeleton?

Perec also imposed other restrictions on his 100 blocks. Each one would have certain elements that would pre-determine the subject matter or the way its presented. I chose to imply the Narrator’s Age, different times of year and times of the day. By arranging it so the starting point will take place on the same day at the same age as the final one, I then rearranged them to match the order my “knight’s tour” had created.

These ages were a little broad, encompassing a period of the Narrator’s life – a student in college, a man on the verge of retirement – so an episode from his childhood may follow something that happened to him when he was in his mid-40s. By the time we reach the end, we will have had his entire life-story but not always told in order by “major events” – though those do occur at significant structural points along the way. Many of these events might seem too insignificant for a biography but they are the things we ourselves remember – like Citizen Kane and the importance of “Rosebud.”

I further divided these 100 episodes into five sections – movements, like a symphony. In fact, the opening (consisting of the first 23 episodes) is very much a sonata-allegro form with an exposition of two themes, a development section, a recapitulation and a coda. The first theme is made up of memories about himself and the other main characters in his life – his wife, his teacher, his parents and his best friend from childhood. The second theme deals with “creativity” – how he met his teacher and why he wanted to study with him; discussing “finding your voice” with a student of his own whose name he could not remember; a visit to his teacher’s home, now that they are both middle-aged and just friends; making the transition from being a college student to a graduate student with a more specific professional path opening up to him. In the development section, these ideas interact or conflict: an idyllic scene on his friend’s farm one summer afternoon after college graduation followed by the flare-up with his freshman comp teacher over matters of integrity; how his dreams of being a composer impact his personal life and so on. In the recapitulation, which I haven’t worked out yet, these same characters and conflicts recur at different stages in his life and therefore from different viewpoints.

The other parts are more vague: it would be difficult to have 37 episodes be the equivalent of a slow movement (theme and variations). So it occurred to me, if the episodes themselves are non-chronological, why should the movements of the symphony be? And so I am working out another “restriction” on the remaining episodes that mean this one (from his childhood) would be humorous, followed by that one (from his first college teaching job) would be dramatic followed by a description of his idyllic stay at a writer’s colony where the only thing he had to do, day in and day out, was compose. This might lead to an episode dealing with his divorce or remembering from his childhood a neighbor’s suicide. I’m still working on how I might take that original chronological ordering and convert it into “slow (idyllic) movement” or “scherzo” or “finale” (and what constitutes, in this sense, a finale, anyway?).

The bonus to this kind of structure was having a three-page map divided into rows with all of these different restrictions regarding age (which implied setting) and time of year (which could imply mood or event) written down. Most of them have something written in, more specific than the usual name-rank-serial number. It was like writing 100 short stories: if I got stuck with where one was going or what the next one would be like, I could look at my map, find something on the next page, 52 episodes away, and say “I feel like writing this one today.” Or I want something that could take place in the winter when he's in his 50s: what episode would fit that? Like my chess piece, I was jumping around a lot over the last three weeks – even the nine consecutive episodes already completed from Part 1 were not written in successive order.

There was a time when I had also worked out the proportions of everything according to the Golden Section. The main structural points were determined by the same ratios and proportions I was using in my music. I think I went too far with it in the novel, though, because each episode’s length became pre-determined: this episode would be 2,139 words followed by one of 1,327 words – give or take. I even wrote the first sentence strictly according to the Golden Section with key words at the main structural points. This led to each sentence evolving into a similar proportion which became ridiculous after a while because the last sentence of each episode would have to be only a few words long and so that much of the plan was scrapped. But the opening episode, reflected in the much shorter final episode – essentially the mirror of the opening – would include those same key words at the same structural points. I might still do that, not that anyone would notice that from reading it, the same way no one would be aware of it in my music or even of other technical applications of music theory to what you are listening to, aspects that do not have to be appreciated to be enjoyed. The trick is to make it enjoyable first and allow its substructure to make it work on a deeper level.

Another thing: the first episode takes place as the Narrator is getting ready to go to a concert. The last one takes place as the Narrator is going home after the concert. Everything in between is like a memory that occurs to him during the course of the evening – perhaps sparked by the music he’s hearing or the people he sees or the friends in the audience he runs into. The main work on the program is Mahler’s 6th Symphony and my idea was to incorporate certain aspects of this rather terrifying piece into the novel, including the three hammer-blows in the final movement that, to Mahler, represented the blows of fate that affected his musical hero, the third of which “fells him like a tree.” In fact, Mahler became so superstitious about these hammer-blows – after the death of his daughter and the diagnosis of the heart condition which eventually killed him at the age of 50 – he removed the third hammer-blow from the score whenever he’d conduct it.

At the main structural point (phi) of my novel, I incorporated one of these musical juke-box moments when he’d hear something from Mahler’s 6th in his head. What happened at the “main structural point” of Mahler’s symphony, not that he was necessarily thinking in those terms when he wrote it? It also depends on how you’d figure it out: by the number of measures or by the amount of time that’s passing (which varies from performance to performance). By using both methods, it comes up very close to the introduction of the weirdest, most disturbing music in Mahler’s score, this perverse chorale in low clarinets and bassoons. Usually we think of chorales as up-lifting and spiritual but this sounds completely evil and negative. And curiously, it would correspond to a very evil and negative aspect of the story in my novel: perfect! I also realized, incidentally, no matter how many times I’ve heard Mahler’s 6th (never live, though), that it is the polar opposite of the victory expressed in Brahms’ 1st Symphony! The openings with their measured treads, the use of chorales, the ever-sweeping hope and aspiration that in Brahms becomes affirmative but in Mahler is defeated and destroyed, so many parallels but like looking at the negative of a photograph, not at the photograph itself.

And so that is how I spent my last month: turning 30 years of thoughts into a novel.

Now, just because I’ve reached the 50,000 word goal – wow, over the goal and ahead of schedule (is there a big bonus in this for me? LOL) - doesn’t mean the novel is finished or that I’m done writing it. In fact, so far, I only have 18 of those 100 episodes written (most of the major ones, though). I can still work till November 30th to get as much done as I can – that’s NaNoWriMo gravy on this turkey – but it also means that, in the future, when I’m not working on a composition or when I’m having a bad day with the music, maybe I can pick up my map and say “let’s work on Episode 23 today” (it beats watching TV) and gradually get a little further until, perhaps someday, it will be finished.

And who knows – I might be able to do that now. But if the future is anything like the last 30 years, chances would be good I’d never even get it started if I hadn’t taken the NaNoWriMo Challenge. In that sense, I certainly do feel like a winner!

(Another 4,147 words down the hatch...)

Friday, November 21, 2008

It's Friday Update with Dr. Dick

On Wednesday, I posted about the British magazine Gramophone’s “Top-20 Orchestras in the World” and forgot to mention, in a subsequent post prompted by complaints in San Francisco that too much public money was being spent to support the city’s orchestra, that the San Francisco Symphony had placed 13th on that list, just below the East Coast Regulars from New York and Boston. (You can also read reactions from London and NPR.)

Then today, at ArtsJournal, I saw I should also update that reference to Michael Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony, who’s received another significant accolade on another kind of list – this one, a list of the “Best Leaders of 2008” where he is the only musician among a wide variety of public leaders, some business, some political, some in science along with Steven Spielberg and Lance Armstrong and junior officers in the U.S. Military who “are rising in the military ranks with a hard-earned wisdom forged by war,” all inspiring and thought-provoking. Citing President-Elect Obama, these are people who could “help him lead us out of our doldrums.”

Caution, though: this report uses the “M” Word. They refer to Michael Tilson Thomas (usually abbreviated as MTT) as “a musical maverick.”

Speaking of mavericks, that maverick Sarah Palin ;-) ;-) is still in the news, pardoning a turkey in Alaska (not a recently defeated felon and long-term Senator). While you can watch the YouTube video, notice the guy in the background who it turns out is butchering two other turkeys during the filming of this press conference. Niiiiiiiice...

By the way, how would you like to be interrupted at the end of a presentation to be told you’ve just won $75,000? That’s how violinist Gil Shaham found out about his winning the Avery Fisher Award, finishing up a televised recital. Read it here.

Oh, and it’s started snowing again.

First Snow: Not Ready to Go All Piblokto on You Just Yet

Every winter, at the first snow, I remember my mother telling me how her father always told her “the date of the first measurable snowfall is the number of major snows you’ll have during that winter.” He was an engineer: he was very precise.

It doesn’t sound like a terribly scientific argument, especially considering both my mother and my grandfather were inveterate list-makers. Any lists of snowfalls during a given winter might rarely rack up to the date of the first snow. At least, in my experience.

One year (sometime between 2001 and 2006), the first snow – not the first siting of snow flurries, but the first snowfall you could actually go out and measure – was on December 3rd. We had something like ten snowfalls before the month was over, nothing really serious but all measurable. Another year, the first snowfall wasn’t until the week after Christmas but we only had three or four snowfalls the rest of the season, one or two of those being over a foot.

So this morning we had between a half-inch to an inch of snow across Central Pennsylvania, probably enough to snarl traffic, make people wonder if school would be delayed some, and think maybe they should’ve rushed out to stockpile bread and milk after they heard the forecast last night.

I never understood this Bread-and-Milk phenomenon. One night, I had to go to the store anyway and stopped on may home from work. It was after 1:00am and the store was as busy as it would normally be at 8:00pm. There was a woman with one of the large carts full of bottled water, egg cartons, several gallon jugs of milk and maybe a half-dozen loaves of bread. Maybe she was having a French Toast Block Party. And we were only supposed to get 6-8" of snow!

A chat acquaintance (not a friend, just a chattance) grew up in upstate New York (generally meaning anything north of the Bronx) but waaaaay north along the end of Lake Ontario and the Canadian Border. He said a foot of snow there is called a dusting.

When I woke up around 5:15 this morning and looked out, I wrote down on the calendar “1st Snow” and will probably keep track, if I remember and don’t get bored with it, of each measurable snowfall from now until the arrival of Spring. Will there be 20 more snows? How many of them, like this one, may be gone before noontime?

That word in my title, by the way – piblokto – is an Inuit word which means a kind of hysteria that might include “uncontrolled wild behavior,” screaming, depression, senseless repetition of overheard words and running around naked in the snow but which may not necessarily be an overreaction to the ubiquitousness of snow itself.

Tuesday night was the coldest it’s been here since last winter which was more of a shock having had temperatures in the 70s last week. It was 25° on my porch when I woke up around 5am Wednesday morning to discover that in fact my house was about double that. 55° is a tad chilly for a household temperature and I wasn’t sure, given the new Geothermal Technology that was installed in the house in August, whether the problem was the technology or something mechanical. Several people (who don’t have geothermal systems) warned me that when it got really cold out, these heat-transfer pumps can’t keep the house as warm as an old-fashioned, dinosaur-devouring furnace. But that’s a heat-pump that takes it heat from the outside air which seems a rather foolish thing to do in wintertime, considering if it’s 25° outside, there’s not much heat to transfer into the house. “Back up” or “auxiliary” heating would be more expensive and less effective. But then, my heat-transfer pump is taking its source from the pipes of water that circulate through the two 250' deep wells in my front yard where the dirt, once you get four feet below the surface, is a uniform 55° all year ‘round. Ah – did I say 55°? Does that mean on really cold days when my heat-pump fails, that’s all I can muster is 55freakin’°???

Groff’s Heating & Plumbing who’d installed the system for me called me back by 7:30am and had a guy on his way in minutes. It’s an hour’s drive from their place to mine. I had already figured out how to activate the “Emergency Heat” and in three hours got the house all the way up to 59° by the time he got here at 8:30. There was no easy explanation for what happened. It certainly wasn’t the technology nor did there seem to be anything wrong mechanically. There were no “error faults” in the system’s memory and somehow the thermostat had shut off and defaulted to a pre-programmed setting that dropped the thermostat down after 8am to 62° (huh??) and then kicked it back on at 5pm to 72°. I remembered changing that the first day it was running: I didn’t think it necessary to cool my house off in August down to 62°... So, something strange happened which the technician was kindly trying not to blame on me hitting the wrong sequence of three or four consecutive buttons accidentally and which I was trying not to blame on the cats jumping five feet up the wall and doing the same thing on purpose... Anyway, within a few hours, all was toasty warm in the Land of Dr. Dick, thus staving off the first attack of piblokto-ness of the season.

Meanwhile, I have to get back to work on the novel. Passing the 83% mark toward the goal, I managed 2,425 words this morning by 8:30, then took a break to write 942 more before continuing with the next “writing assignment.” The cats have already tired of watching the snow – especially now that the sun is out and most of it has already melted down a good bit – with three of them stretching out on the chair behind me, covered with an old sunflower afghan.

- - - - - - - - -

Photos: My yard this morning - Floyd the Flamingo, not generally considered a snow bird, who is ready to come inside for the winter; the garden bench under the Japanese Maple; the dogwood outside my back door. Inside, Freddy, Abel and Blanche share the Sunflower Chair.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Arts and Cars and Economic Issues, Oh My!

Something else I caught over at OboeInsight (it’s not just for oboe players), check out the San Francisco Weekly’s grousing about the city’s support for the San Francisco Symphony and the fact that its Music Director, Michael Tilson Thomas, earns $1.6M in addition to other benefits from, like, producing a PBS TV series, Keeping Score, in which the orchestra plays to a nationwide audience in something comparable to the old Bernstein Young Persons’ Concerts with the New York Philharmonic that introduced a younger generation to great classical music.

(By the way, how many people in my generation, I wonder, were influenced by watching those amazing programs? *\o )

It would seem the orchestra’s concerts are attended primarily by the wealthy elite (really!?) and that the various arts groups in the city have “turned our local culture palaces into sites for air-kiss orgies among the superrich.” Huh...

This is the old “Shoes or Shakespeare” argument when it comes to tough times and the Arts. For most of the Arts in this country, that would be “Most of the Times.”

Now, as I understand it, Rick Wagoner, the CEO of General Motors whose “2006 pay package [was valued] at $10.2 million, up from $5.5 million in 2005” had a base salary of $2.2M which he voluntarily cut back to $1.3M or so. Yet, according to BloggingStocks, his take-home pay for 2007 was $14.4M, up 41% from 2006.

Nice pay cut, don’t you think?

Incidentally, from that same 2007 New York Times article, GM’s CFO “earned $5.2 million in his first year on the job. His predecessor... earned $3.9 million in 2005.”

That same 2007 article also said Ford paid its “chief executive, Alan R. Mulally, more than $28 million in his first four months on the job. Most of that amount came in the form of a hiring bonus and compensation to make up for benefits he forfeited in leaving his previous job at the jet maker Boeing.”

When the union workers grumbled about this, the company gave all employees a $300 bonus (that would be $3H) and the A.U.W hourly workers a $500 bonus. Awwww, isn’t that sweet?!

These CEOs have now been lining up bumper to bumper in Washington begging Congress to hurry up with the Big 3 Auto Makers’ $25B (that’s B as in Beethoven... I mean, Billion) Bail-Out Program. And most people seem to support tax-payers’ money going for that, even though the Wall Street “Credit Stimulus Package” met with considerably less success on Main Street, something about going to bail-out greedy CEOs or something, as I recall.

As for the car makers, I certainly think its bad for the guys who build the cars to lose their jobs (speaking as one of the unemployed), but maybe it would’ve been better if these car makers didn’t con a gullible public into buying those dinosaur-devouring SUV’s and other fuel-inefficient guzzlers that litter our highways and drive-ways today, vehicles which people only began complaining about when gas got closer to $4/gallon.

Now, this economic bail-out is being viewed by many people as an economic necessity because, sure, the American economy spins on the wheels of its industries, considering most Americans do drive cars.

But when it comes to support for the arts, such issues and solutions would be called socialism and we are often told they should be allowed to survive or fail according to the free-market economy our society is based on.


Fortunately, recession aside, perhaps the drop in oil prices and the subsequent lowering of gas prices to around $2/gallon will mean there will be less “air-kissing among the super-rich” at the gas pumps.

Wouldn't it be nice, then, if some of these super-rich CEOs would do what people like Andrew Carnegie and other industrial philanthropists did in the past: contribute large sums of money to support the arts? Hey, what a novel idea!!

Oh, speaking of novel... I have to get back to work...

The Top 20 Orchestras in the World

Though I never had any interest in sports as a kid (or an adult), I would follow America's Major League Orchestras and their principal players much the way other kids (and adults) would follow its baseball and football teams and their players, with or without trading cards. So while there's no World Series among orchestras (much less a Super Bowl), when somebody comes out with a ranking for the best orchestras in the country or the world, I'm still curious how things stack up.

While tagging Patty over at OboeInsight, I saw this post from yesterday about the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam having been mentioned in the British music magazine Gramophone as the top of the recently announced “Top 20 Orchestras in the World.” The complete list was posted on a German site, Bavarian Radio On-Line, which I found at ArtsJournal. Here’s the complete list (auf Deutsch):

Die 20 Top-Orchester der Welt [The 20 Top Orchestras of the World]

1. Concertgebouw-Orkest, Amsterdam
2. Berliner Philharmoniker [Berlin]
3. Wiener Philharmoniker [Vienna]
4. London Symphony Orchestra
5. Chicago Symphony Orchestra
6. Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks [Bavarian Radio Sym]
7. Cleveland Orchestra
8. Los Angeles Philharmonic
9. Budapest Festival Orchestra
10. Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden [Dresden State Orch]
11. Boston Symphony Orchestra
12. New York Philharmonic
13. San Francisco Symphony
14. Mariinsky Theater Orchestra
15. Russian National Orchestra
16. Leningrad Phillharmonic
17. Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
18. Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
19. Saito Kinen Symphony Orchestra [in Japan]
20. Tschechische [Czech] Philharmonie

Note the American Orchestras’ placement in the Top 20:

5. Chicago
7. Cleveland
8. Los Angeles
11. Boston
12. New York Phil
13. San Francisco
18. Metropolitan Opera Orchestra

For decades, the Top 5 American Orchestras were (in no particular order) the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston Symphony followed by the Chicago Symphony and the Cleveland Orchestra.

So who’s missing from this most recent list? Yeah! where’s the Philadelphia Orchestra?! What happened?

Well, for the past several years they’ve been grumbling about playing under their conductor Christoph von Eschenbach so maybe the deterioration from the Golden Age of Ormandy and Muti has been noticed in the wider world? The last few times I heard them playing familiar repertoire under Eschenbach, things had happened that you don’t expect to hear coming from an orchestra the caliber of the legendary Philadelphia Orchestra (in fact, most of them I didn’t expect to hear from the Harrisburg Symphony), so it makes you wonder...

Now, also look how high the Cleveland Orchestra placed – and this, after some of the complaints I’ve read and heard about this orchestra’s problems with its conductor Franz Welser-Möst (and not just the Plain Dealer’s critic, Donald Rosenberg which I blogged about here and here).

I just find that interesting.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Memed Again

No no, not Mame (as in “You coax the blues right out of the horn, Maa-ame” - oh great, now I've got “We Need a Little Christmas” stuck in my head...).

Not even maimed. Close...

MEME. One of those annoying on-line phenomenae where you write cute little factoids about something and then pass it on to other unsuspecting bloggers. The cure has yet to be found.

Okay, so I’m up to my gonnectigezoink in this novel right now – trying to reach 50,000 words by the end of the month as part of the NaNoWriMo Challenge (having written almost 4,000 words today puts me over the 75% point) – when Alex Shapiro of Notes from the Kelp bememed me with this latest... uhm, thing going around.

The object is to give seven facts about yourself and then tag seven blogger-friends to do the same. I actually don’t know too many people who blog and most of the blogs I read are by people I don’t know, personally at least. And of course Alex has already tagged the one person I could automatically think of who would help perpetuate the annoyance and who knows tons of bloggers out there. And now I have to post this before he does and then tags everyone on my list. So, here goes:

First, the Rules:

1. Link to your tagger and list these rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog - some random, some weird.
3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blog.
4. Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog (or e-mail if they don't allow comments).
5. If you don’t have 7 blog friends, or if someone else already took dibs, then tag some unsuspecting strangers.

(Wait - shouldn’t there be seven rules? Oh, I see... 7 Facts + 5 Rules = 12 - so it is another serialist conspiracy... hmmm)

and now, the Facts:

1. Having absolutely no interest in sports whatever (and I do mean whatever!), I won my first game of Trivial Pursuit (Genus edition which is, I believe, spelled correctly) back in the mid-‘80s with a baseball question. But I couldn’t tell you anything about who it was or what it was asking about him because it made no sense to me even then. It was True/False so I had a 50/50 chance... but hey, I still won!

2. When I was teaching at the University of Connecticut, I sang in a Russian Orthodox Church choir near campus even though I wasn’t Russian or Orthodox. I just liked the music (and could read the alphabet) - and the people were great, too. Usually I sang bass – but if the bass showed up, I could sing tenor. It was a cappella and we got our pitch for the responses from the priest who was tone-deaf. The choir director would try to give us our starting pitch from his chanting but by the time we were supposed to come in, he’d slid down another few tones. Sometimes, we were singing a diminished fifth lower than written. Since I couldn’t sing below the staff, I had to transpose the bass part up, a very un-Russian thing for a bass to do.

3. I was always interested in Russian music and literature (I read War & Peace the first time when I was in 6th grade). I wanted to study the Russian language when I was in high school but they didn’t offer it back in the ‘60s - this was the Cold War era. My Latin teacher was taking first year Russian as part of her Masters program and was willing to teach a class if we got enough students to sign up for it. When we did, the principal told us they would not offer the class. I was repeatedly asked if I was a Communist.

4. When I was attending grad school at Eastman in Rochester NY where they have two seasons – winter and the 4th of July – I would walk several blocks to school on some very cold mornings. I soon figured out how to tell the temperature by how quickly it took my mustache to freeze over, then check it against the Time/Temperature clock a block from the school. One morning it froze before I even stepped off the porch. That meant it was below zero. I was pretty accurate, not that it would ever have gotten me a job working for the Weather Channel. (Not that my degrees from there were all that more practical, but hey...)

5. I am a very shy and insecure person. As a full-blooded introvert, I find it difficult talking with strangers though I can stand in front of a class or audience and talk about music with no problem. People find this amusing, considering I spent 18 years on the radio – but people, I was alone in a small room with carpeting on the walls, talking to myself all evening. That’s not the same as talking to a live person who comes up to me and says “Hi” and expects me to make conversation. Insecurity would probably rate its own chapter...

6. When I was 6 years old and had just started taking piano lessons, hating having to practice those stupid little beginner’s pieces, I decided I wanted to become a composer because that way nobody would know if I was making mistakes.

7. Despite the fact I am very organized when it comes to composing (or rather have a very systematic approach to writing music), my life is chaos. My mother and maternal grandfather kept lists about everything and probably somewhere there’s a list of how many lists they kept. This was something that missed my genes completely. Me, I made a list to help me organize cleaning my apartment, what tasks I should do on which days: I lost the list.

8. I find that after decades of relying on pocket calculators, I actually can no longer count...

OK, let’s see... I think I’ll tag (1) Stuart Malina (might get him to write a new post), (2) Matthew at Soho the Dog, (3) Marc at Deceptively Simple’s new digs, (4) Patty at Oboeinsight, (5) David at Oh My Trill, (6) David Duff and for the feline point of view, (7) Abbie the Cat and his posse.

Yeah, so there ya go... Follow the threads. Enjoy.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

November & Concertante

This was the view in my back-yard today.

November is not a favorite month of mine though it’s not on the bottom of the pile, either. Cold rainy days in November, though, generally leave me, well... cold, usually from the inside out. It’s the kind of day I would like to snuggle up in a comfy chair with a good book and some cats (if the cats would allow me to read: usually the book is in the way of where they want to nestle) if I had the time for that. Oddly enough, now that I do have the time for that, finding myself one of the highest influx of unemployed Americans in the past seven years, I don’t have the time for that today.

Tonight there’s a performance by Concertante at the Rose Lehrman Arts Center at Harrisburg Area Community College that begins at 8:00. They’re playing two movements of the String Quintet in D Minor by Alexander von Zemlinsky, the Piano Quartet of Robert Schumann and Ernő Dohnányi’s first published work, his Piano Quintet in C Minor, one of the few “other” piano quintets available beyond the standard handful of Schumann, Brahms, Dvořák, Shostakovich, maybe Fauré and Franck... who’m I leaving out? Those are the basic ones you might hear (often enough) when a pianist joins a string quartet for an evening of chamber music.

I’ll be doing the pre-concert talk beginning at 7:15, gathering in the “Black Box” theater down the hall to the left of the auditorium’s entrance.

My starting point for the talk is one thing they all have in common: they’re all, at one time or another, better known for their relationship to someone else. And I discovered, thinking more about it, another common denominator, a composer not on the program (at least on this one) but whom I’ve already mentioned.

Schumann, in his day, was better known as a writer about music than a writer OF music. And his wife happened to be one of the greatest concert pianists of the age, Clara Schumann. In fact, though she would perform his music on her concerts, he often felt like a lap dog trotting after her when he went on tour, a consort who was treated by the press and the public like Mr. Clara Schumann.

Zemlinsky, almost forgotten today, is best known as the mentor of Arnold Schoenberg and, as it turned out, his brother-in-law. Zemlinsky also worked with Gustav Mahler in the early years of the 20th Century, championing new music (some of it his own, some of it by his brother-in-law) as well as conducting and teaching. One of his students, by the way, was a woman named Alma Schindler who would shortly become Mrs. Gustav Mahler.

Ernő Dohnányi – or to use his more frequently seen German-form, Ernst von Dohnanyi – is the third of three major Hungarian composers anyone talks about in the founding of the 20th Century Hungarian Style, with Bartók, Kodály and... uhm... oh yeah, Dohnányi. He’s the one most people haven’t heard anything by, or if they have, it’s that treacly cute set of variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” for piano and orchestra, written in various and sundry styles, a delightful pastiche that has little to do with his real worth. These days, since even that has faded from the concert halls and probably the air-waves, he’s remembered more as the grandfather of the former conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, Christoph von Dohnányi.

Interestingly enough, the music we’ll hear by Zemlinsky was composed the year he formed an amateur orchestra of which the sole cellist was a young man who also wanted to write music, named Arnold Schoenberg. Dohnányi’s quintet was composed a decade before Bartók had begun collecting the Hungarian folk songs that became the foundation of the modern Hungarian “school.”

The other “common denominator” is Johannes Brahms who was a protege of Schumann’s and a mentor of sorts to both Zemlinsky and Dohnányi! Zemlinsky had joined one of the major music organizations in Vienna in 1893 when Brahms, who turned 60 that year, was the leading figure in the city’s musical universe. Several of Zemlinsky’s early chamber works were performed in their concerts and he got some very complimentary comments from Brahms whose endorsement certainly helped his career. Zemlinsky had turned young Schoenberg on to Brahms’ music which would be a major influence on the development of his style, even beyond tonality, but it was Wagner that would become the biggest immediate factor in pushing Schoenberg into the 20th Century.

Brahms had heard about the young Hungarian pianist and composer Dohnányi and decided to arrange to have his Piano Quintet premiered in Vienna, an endorsement that also led to its publication. As Dvořák's music was full of the sound of Bohemian folk music, Dohnányi's music brought to cosmopolitan Vienna the unexpected sounds of actual Hungarian folk music, not the urban popular music of the Gypsies that everybody always associated with Hungarian music, most notably in those popular dances that made Brahms’ fortune.

Just as Schumann’s passing the mantle on to Brahms had far reaching consequences, Brahms own mentorship may have been more profound on someone like Dvořák, though time, temperament and perhaps talent may be more at fault for the failure of Zemlinsky and Dohnányi to benefit comparably. As styles changed around 1900 and Schoenberg went off in one direction, Zemlinsky was not comfortable in following this infusion of air from another planet (to quote a line from the poem Schoenberg set in his 2nd String Quartet, one of the first “official” atonal pieces). Zemlinsky’s career was further hampered by both world wars as was Dohnányi’s: both composers, like Bartok, found themselves ex-patriots living and dying in the United States.

Dohnányi spent much of his time rebuilding the musical life of Hungary during its independence following World War I and the collapse of the Austrian Empire (or, as it was mollifyingly known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Kingdom of Hungary still ruled by the Emperor of Austria), and before the government was taken over by Nazi Germany before World War II. Much of his creative energy was sapped by the government administrative posts, the concertizing and above all the teaching. He was often taken to task by his more ethnically-minded colleagues Bartók and Kodály for being too conservative in his musical style.

But it is easy to forget that, when he attended the Conservatory in Budapest, he was the first ethnic Hungarian student to graduate from there as a “star.” It is also important to note that Vienna, for all its Imperial cosmopolitan-ness was still xenophobic enough to consider a composer like Dvořák from the province of Bohemia and the Hungarian Dohnányi were, essentially, “hicks,” inferior to the good Germanic culture that was Viennese Art, even though the most famous Viennese composers (Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms and now Mahler) were all transplants (from Salzburg, from rural Austria, from Bonn, from Hamburg; and Mahler was a Jew from Bohemia). In fact, three composers who were actually born and raised in Vienna – Schubert, Zemlinsky and Schoenberg – received barely any recognition from their home town! So much for prophets in their own land...

*** ***** ******** ***** ***

Meanwhile, I’m hard at work – though today, hardly working – on the November Novel Challenge that is NaNoWriMo (November is National Writing Month). The goal is not so much to hurry up and write a novel during the month of November, the goal is to push yourself to write 50,000 words whether or not the novel is completed in time, so you have something to go back and edit, pare down or add to or even finish at a later date. Without goading yourself toward this goal, you might never sit down and actually write 50,000 words. I can vouch for that: twice I’ve tried getting this novel started and twice it got put aside for other things (called “reality”). So far, just about half-way through the month, I am half-way toward that goal with 25,012 words under my belt as of yesterday afternoon.

So here, on this drizzly dreary November afternoon, rather than curl up in a chair with the cats and read a book, I am trying to hunker down at my desk and write a book, though the cats are still trying to claim their share of the turf: everybody needs a muse or a proof-reader or an editor, right? (see Freddy, Charlie and Max, my support group, right).

And now, back to work.

Dr. Dick

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Music at Market Square for Messiaen's Centennial

In starting to work on a post about the three performances this past weekend I had attended, I got into a riff about how audience distractions can damage, even ruin a performance – mostly just things like people talking (fortunately I didn’t have to deal with ringing cell-phones). Then that reminded me I had not written anything about the Market Square Concerts from November 1st with the ensemble Antares. Now, normally, I don’t care for the idea of being a critic, but I’ll make an exception, here.

The program began with the suite for clarinet, violin and piano that Igor Stravinsky arranged from his theater-piece, L’Histoire du soldat. It’s originally scored without piano but with a very busy percussionist which means the pianist has to make like a bass-drum or trap set in several passages, giving pitch to sounds that originally had no pitch associated with them. An odd idea but an interesting, colorful use of the piano which is, after all, a kind of percussion instrument since its strings are hit by hammers to create the sound. They all played it with the playfulness, sensuality or ferocity it required (it is, after all, a Faust story and there’s a good deal of devilish music incorporated into this suite) but above all with an amazingly clean technical virtuosity.

Ravel’s Piano Trio may have been the closest thing to “standard rep” on the program even though it’s not all that well known. It was given one of the more lucid performances I’ve heard, keeping the structure clear rather than just revel in the beautiful sounds the composer creates over it. At one point when writing it, Ravel was supposed to have remarked to a friend that he had finished written the piece: “now all I need are the notes.” The form of the piece, how it’s put together, is like the human body: the structure is the skeleton which gives it substance. The harmonies are like muscles, since they move the structure forward (and the muscles cannot move without support from the skeleton). Over this, the composer stretches the skin, the surface of the music which is what we hear most easily and which, in many respects, listeners rarely get beyond. If the performers have paid attention to getting the muscles and the skeleton to function properly, the audience doesn’t need to worry about it: it’s understood or, rather, comprehended.

The main work on the program was Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, played in honor of the composer’s 100th birthday anniversary next month. So in addition to Antares, organist Eric Riley, the organist and choir director of Market Square Presbyterian Church, offered his own tribute to a composer who was an exceptional organist and who wrote some of the most amazing organ music of the 20th Century. He played the concluding section of the suite, La Nativité du Seigneur. As the Quartet would show, Messiaen was not just a spiritual composer but a Catholic composer of an uncommon and deeply spiritual, often mystical nature. Much of his music can be long, trance-like meditations based on some passage of scripture or a germ of a spiritual idea that could be the source for a minister’s sermon, though here handled entirely in music. There can also be outbursts of joy and ecstasy that can be “over-the-top” and Dieu parmi nous (God Among Us) is one such joyfully ecstatic over-the-topper. To say Riley nearly brought the house down would also reflect that I was glad not to be sitting directly under the balcony where the organ console is located at Market Square Church, but he did manage to set the walls vibrating to bring it home like a tsunami at the end, cranking the volume up even more. No easy piece, it sounded effortless for all the hands and feet had to do to create this effect: since you couldn’t see him playing, there was no visual element to let you know, “man, this is hard!”

Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time is a “signature piece” for Antares, an ensemble that consists of violin, cello, clarinet and piano, which just happens to be the instruments Messiaen had available when this work was given its first performance in a German prisoner-of-war camp during World War II. This is a very long work that moves, as its title implies, within a whole different plane from what many concert-goers may be used to. Still, it can be an intensely riveting work but unfortunately the least distraction can destroy the intense spirituality the composer has put into the piece and all the skill and concentration the performers are applying to bring out what the composer wrote which is always more than just the notes on the page.

Whether it was the performers’ “fault” for not being able to hold everybody’s attention (I have attended performances where the audience was so still you could literally hear a pin drop) or perhaps too big a pre-concert dinner or too much heat in the church, this audience was one of the roochiest I’ve sat in for some time. Some people were leaning forward in rapt attention, hanging onto every note (especially during the long quiet movements) while others were paging through the program or the hymnal or just looking around like they were bored out of their skulls. Others were clearly dozing off (one person was leaning so far forward I was afraid he’d lose his balance and wake up with a snort). Fine – Messiaen can do that to people, I’m afraid: it’s not easy music for some people to listen to, I admit.

But during the quietest section of the piece, the clarinetist’s long monologue, “The Abyss of the Birds,” I was surrounded by the almost constant rumbling of what I thought at first was the New York subway except I knew I wasn't in New York City any more. It was stomachs, the rumbling of several stomachs coming from behind me, from the right, from the front - an uncontrollable physical response that, as Murphy would have it, had to occur during the quietest moments. If that wasn’t bad enough, this set the young couple sitting in front of me into spasms of giggles and much elbow-poking. Yeah, I remember getting caught up in stuff like that a few times when something weird happened, so I can’t claim the high road here, but I don’t think it was ever during something as spiritual as Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. (I can actually recall two incidents right off the bat which might make an amusing post some other time.) Ah, well...

There were two things about Antares’ performance I would note (as a critic). The clarinetist gave one of the best performances I’ve ever heard of this piece – especially in “The Abyss of the Birds” with its long-tones coming out of nowhere and crescendoing into a roar before erupting into a cascade of bird-song, the section most tragically derailed by the audience’s collective gastric distress. I’ve heard many live performances of the Quartet over the years and several of them by very fine musicians, one of them by one of his teachers, David Shifrin. I would rate Garrick Zoeter’s performance very close to the legendary performances from Tashi (I’d heard two of them in NYC in the ‘70s) with Richard Stolzman which has always been, for me, the unattainable bar other musicians have to aspire to.

The pianist, Eric Huebner, had this distracting idea that the on-the-beat accents in the two slow meditations for cello and, to conclude, for violin (accents which Messiaen marks “cet accent louré doit rester dans la nuance piano” – literally, “this accent should remain within the shade piano” in which case piano does not refer to the instrument) should be played not piano (soft) but forte (loud) as if they were REALly ACCents to be PLAYed on the BEAT. And though Messiaen writes this accent over both the right and left hands’ notes of the chord, Huebner chose to accentuate the top note of the right hand only: this in turn created a counter-melody to the violin that Messiaen did not compose. Since the accents were now forte, the gradual climax had to be louder still, so the piano took on this bangy, brittle, acerbic tone-color that shattered the transcendent mood and the growing ecstasy of the finale which in turn finished off what the audience had already damaged.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Another Busy Weekend

It’s not that there’s been a lot going on – though this weekend will be busy – but I just haven’t gotten around to blogging about anything, even the Election which was a truly amazing experience to participate in and then “witness” on television (one of the few reasons I bothered watching TV since the debates).

(It amused me to see lines and lines of people going out to buy newspapers the next day to keep them for posterity, a souvenir of history: how many people went on-line to the New York Times website to take a screen-capture for their archives?)

Saturday afternoon, it’s the HD Transmission Live from the Metropolitan Opera of John Adams’ recent opera, Dr. Atomic, which I’d blogged about last month. It’s going to be showing at a theater just a couple of miles from my house, so I’m definitely going to be there for the 1pm ET broadcast. It’s being shown around the world as well, so maybe you can find a place near you (follow this link to find out). At many of these same locations, there’s an encore broadcast scheduled for Wednesday Nov. 19th at 7pm ET, for those of you who will miss this weekend’s transmission or who, like me, want to see it twice.

From there, it’s into the Forum for the second concert of the season by the Harrisburg Symphony which will feature principal oboist Alicia Chapman playing a delightful concerto by Bohuslav Martinu, a 20th Century Czech composer best described as “neo-classical” whose harmonic openness, rhythmic sense and folksy tunefulness remind me a bit of what Aaron Copland might have sounded like if Copland had been born in Prague, not Brooklyn. Martinu, born in the bell-tower of a small-town church, eventually became a more cosmopolitan composer, living much of his life in Paris and, during World War II, in the United States, absorbing along the way various trends, including jazz. Homesick while living here, he never returned to Czechoslovakia which had become a Communist state after the war. He wrote his Oboe Concerto in 1955 while in southern France, four years before he died in Switzerland. I’m looking forward to hearing Alicia again – I think this is the fourth time she’s been a soloist with the orchestra since I was the personnel manager back when the orchestra first hired her umpteen years ago!

One of the great and certainly one of the most popular symphonies in the repertoire concludes the program, Beethoven’s 7th Symphony – which I would love to write a few thousand words about but unfortunately I just don’t have the time these days, so I’ll settle for just 362.

Beethoven wrote his 7th and 8th symphonies together and always felt the 8th was the better piece but it was the 7th that became wildly popular with those interested in contemporary music around 1812. One of them was not Carl Maria von Weber who felt the repeated bass passage near the end of the first movement was evidence that Beethoven was “now ripe for the mad-house.” Beethoven’s tunes are less important that the rhythms behind them: they’re often built on repeating single notes or simple patterns but it’s the rhythm that becomes the main feature, propelling the whole symphony, even in the march-like slow movement which seems to have no tune at all. Richard Wagner later famously called it the “apotheosis of the dance” and, after writing that "if anyone plays the Seventh, tables and benches, cans and cups, the grandmother, the blind and the lame, aye, the children in the cradle fall to dancing," supposedly danced his own version of the symphony before friends with no less than Franz Liszt at the piano (now, THERE’S an image...).

Another interesting thing about Beethoven’s most joyful symphony – how can you not tap your foot and smile during this piece, especially in the frenzied abandon of the last movement? (okay, so Clara Schumann’s father thought Beethoven must’ve been drunk when he wrote it) – is putting the time it was written together with something else that was going on in his private life – his very private life. This is the episode of the “Immortal Beloved” to whom he wrote (but maybe never sent) that famous letter that was found in his desk after his death (perhaps he’d kept a rough draft of it?). We have no idea who she is, though most Beethoven scholars (and then some) have their own ideas – there was even a Hollywood film speculating about it, though one can be pretty sure she was not one of the film’s candidates, his sister-in-law!

So here was Beethoven, obviously very much in love and very secretive about it – why? – and writing this wildly happy, ecstatic, in-your-face joyful music so removed from the gentility of what music used to be a decade earlier. Just a thought...

A romantic secret – though ultimately revealed – is behind the other work on the orchestra’s program – originally chamber music by Arnold Schoenberg, written in 1899 but not premiered until three years later, making it, officially then, a 20th Century work (only barely). It was odd to have chamber music telling a story – and the program was a shocking one, inspired by a poem about a woman, walking in the moonlight with her lover, confessing to him she is going to have a child that has been fathered by another man, something her current lover accepts graciously, that her child will become their child and so both he and the child become transfigured - hence the title “Transfigured Night” or, in the original German “Verklärte Nacht.” But if Schoenberg, who was 25 when he wrote the work, had called it just “String Sextet,” he probably would have still ended up in a good deal of trouble.

For all the bad press that Schoenberg has gotten in his life-time and beyond (he is still the official whipping boy for those looking for someone to blame about the state of modern music even today), this piece may come as a surprise if you’re just discovering it. It is lush, romantic, melodic, densely harmonic full of rich triads that sound not very different from other music that was going on around the same time – think Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler, descending from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. It is not traditionally tonal but it is by no means ATONAL, which implies there is no sense of harmonic resolution to a central structural key the way we think Beethoven writing in A Major. As chromatic as “Verklärte Nacht” is – chords that you expect to resolve one way veering off in different, unexpected directions until you have no idea where the original harmonies were headed – it uses real chords that real people would have been really familiar with... except one. It’s described as “an inverted ninth chord” but it doesn’t fit into any easily excusable dissonances like passing tones or deceptive resolutions (all of which Beethoven used and composers before him) – even Wagner’s “Tristan Chord” can be explained as the contrapuntal layering of dissonances eventually resolving to a less-dissonant dominant-7th chord – and so therefore listeners were outraged. Yes – outraged! “The pages of Tristan freshly smeared over.” Fistfights broke out. Huh...

Last season, PBS broadcast one of Rob Kapilow’s “What Makes It Great” programs involving his discussion of Schoenberg’s sextet complete with examples and his reading of the original poem line-by-line over the music it’s associated with, followed by a straight-through performance of the piece. It was called, humorously enough, I Can’t Believe It’s Schoenberg!

Today, the work is often heard in this original sextet version – in fact, Concertante will be playing it here in May, 2009 – but Schoenberg also transcribed it for string orchestra which makes the musical lushness more luscious, the romantic emotionalism more ardent. It is this more frequently heard version of the piece the Harrisburg Symphony will perform this weekend with Stuart Malina conducting – Saturday evening at 8pm and Sunday afternoon at 3pm. Timothy Dixon from Messiah College is scheduled to give the pre-concert talk an hour before each performance.

Then for me, on Sunday afternoon, it’s in for Theatre Harrisburg’s production of “The Sound of Music,” one of the most beloved of musicals which I’m looking forward to seeing because I know this company will present a marvelous production of it, but I know that I will need to get out lots of different CDs of mine to drum out all the ear-worms I’ll have stuck in my head for the rest of next week, tunes I don’t mind hearing during the course of the show but which, really, on their 1,000th repetition inside your head before 24 hours have passed, begin to get a little annoying. Still, any composer would envy the ability to creep into the audience’s subconscious like that, really...

Meanwhile, I’m trying to work on my novel for this year’s NaNoWriMo – since November is National Novel Writing Month and I’ve decided to take the challenge. During the first week so far, I’ve managed to reach 25% of the goal – a total of 50,000 words (not counting the 1,484 I’ve written so far for this post) – but I really do need to get back to it. It’s fascinating to discover how much easier it is to procrastinate while writing fiction than it was while composing music... sigh...

- Dr. Dick

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Finishing One Piece and Starting the Next

Just an hour ago, as I begin writing this, I closed the notebook on a newly finished piece of music. The “Aria & Chaconne,” one of a set of pieces for violin and piano, is now basically finished – well, the creative part of it. Now comes the realization of the sketches into a final copy, and then sending it out to some friends who might be interested in performing it!

It seems counter-intuitive that a piece that lasts around 10 minutes should occupy so much of my time since late May, a little over five months, especially considering most of that time I’ve been able to work on it almost every day.

But for me, it’s a slow process and under the circumstances, I had set myself some serious stylistic challenges that I really needed to work out. It would have been easier to have ignored them or just written something, anything at all. But for all my lack of organization in my life, my compositional process is very organized which may require some explanation (how it works, not why I can’t apply it to my daily routine which is a whole different issue).

It began life actually a few years ago when I was thinking about a series of pieces I was writing for violin and piano, something John Clare, one of my fellow ex-colleagues and I could play together. What started out as a sketch for a section of the Symphony I was writing then, turned into a mellow, kind of atmospheric piece which ended up being called “Nocturne.”

Whether it was the first, last or middle of a set of three or five pieces didn’t bother me then: I just needed to get it done since we were also going to play it as part of a work-related event (as it turned out, no one heard it: part of a luncheon’s entertainment, everybody continued talking through it and the acoustics being what they were, most people probably didn’t know we were even playing).

After the Symphony was done, I got around to two other pieces – a Theme and Variations to open the set and then a lively scherzo that was part pseudo-Blues interrupted by some pseudo-Rock music (and given my lack of exposure to either and my entirely tongue-firmly-encheeked approach to the whole idea, that would be very pseudo...).

At the time, I felt there should be a substantial movement to balance the scherzo and the Nocturne, probably, oh, I don’t know – a chaconne?

I have no idea why that had popped into my brain.

It’s a very old musical process – going back to the generations before Bach – and not one that’s been of much use to composers since Bach’s day, except for things like Brahms’ 4th Symphony (which is more a chaconne than a passacaglia but if you want to split hairs about it, you’re more anal than *I* am...) or the piece that John Corigliano wrote based on material for the filmscore to “The Red Violin.” While I enjoy both works immensely, listening to them never sparked the “ooh, I’d like to do that” reaction.

First of all, a chaconne is a harmonically-based form. My musical style is neither traditionally harmonic nor does my musical style – which I’d blogged about in the early pre-kitten days here at Thoughts on a Train (for instance, here and here) – accommodate the kind of repetitiveness a chaconne requires (a harmonic pattern repeated over and over again).

But the more I thought about, the more I wondered if I could make it work. Somehow.

One of the things I dislike about many chaconnes is how quickly the obviousness and the boredom sets in – Bach’s great D Minor Chaconne, as ever, aside. Repetitive patterns bore me. Four-quare patterns of 8+8+8+8 measures bore me even more. So how do I not be four-square (or eight-square) or repetitively redundant?

And could I come up with a recognizable harmonic pattern – in my musical style?

However, the creative process then came to a screeching halt for two reasons: still living at my old mid-town apartment, new neighbors had moved in upstairs just before Christmas-time and were using the room directly above the piano for their bedroom and they also slept in until noon-time since they worked second shift (it was always great to have 9-to-5 neighbors who wouldn’t be home during the hours I’d be composing); then in February ‘07, my mother became ill and died, not the best time in my life to be working on a musical joke. Even though I moved out to the house by April, the piano didn’t make it out until July and then when I did start feeling like writing again, it was a song cycle setting some biblical texts my mother considered favorites which became a work for Mezzo and Orchestra called “Evidence of Things Not Seen” (okay, three reasons). When that was finished in February ‘08, I began thinking about getting back to the violin and piano pieces.

And after spending two years on a symphony no one is likely to be interested in performing, the idea of writing an opera just didn’t seem logical. True, every Presidential election, I keep going back to the idea of setting Euripides’ “The Bacchae” (essentially about the subjective, irrational mind subverting the objective, rational mind), but really, come on... I mean, I need to get something performed – and also something performable – something practical. And perhaps something for violin and piano might make more sense, rationally or otherwise.

The Blues/Rock scherzo was still not finalized, though it was probably 95% complete. The sketches for the Theme & Variations have yet to be realized. So instead, I started a whole new piece. Now, ideally, they could be played as a unit or performed independently, but it bothered me to have four pieces with no overlying structure. And being what would be called an “organic” composer – very different from being an organic vegetable – I set about figuring out how to make this Chaconne thing work.

It’s a much more involved procedure to talk about than I have time for, today. I really wanted to blog about it during the compositional process but it seemed irrational to be using creative time I could spend composing writing about what I should be composing.

But today, I just want to say – looking over 193 pages of sketches – that it’s done. Or basically done. The process of realizing the sketches is not all that mechanical and I need to get to it before I start looking at some of these pages and think “whaaaa’???”

And yes, 193 pages of sketches for a piece of music that is 137 measures and about 10 minutes long. 68 pages deal with just the structural planning and working out that tricky challenge of the “harmonic pattern.” Once I got to the actual composing part of it, that’s 79 pages for the piano part and 46 pages for the violin part.

Wait a minute, you say?

That’s because one of the challenges I’d set myself was this: I’d already written a Theme & Variations movement (where the variations move progressively in a logical, standard order) so, since a Chaconne is another variation process, I didn’t want to do the same kind of thing over again.

Normally when you’d see a title like “Song & Dance” that means a Song followed by a Dance. So my “Aria & Chaconne” would imply an aria or a lyrical movement followed by this Chaconne thing, right?

Only this time, I thought I’d do them simultaneously. The piano plays the Chaconne while the violin plays the song-like Aria. But the Chaconne is not the accompaniment to the Aria. The Aria is not the melodic variation based on the Chaconne’s harmonic pattern as definitions would tell you.

In addition to that issue – of two different pieces happening simultaneously – the Aria is straightforward in A-B-A form. The Chaconne is a set of 19 variations (well, okay, 17 variations preceded by the simple unadorned pattern and concluding with a similar restatement of the pattern) that moves toward the climax but then proceeds to the conclusion in reverse order, essentially turning itself inside-out. So as the violin works its way toward the ending, what was underneath it in the piano part is not the same thing it was the first-time around. While the climaxes had to occur together, working with each other and independently of each other at the same time, lots of other structural details had to work along the way – in both directions!

Yeah, I know, it seems a lot more complicated than what you’d hear. But that’s one of the things I like about art – it’s more than just an appreciation of the surface language. There also needs to be some kind of underlying depth to it to keep coming back to, something to discover you hadn’t heard before or realized the last time you heard or played it. I’m sure there are things as I copy it out I will realize that I was not aware of even when I was composing it.

This was something I found fascinating in the process of working out all these details: how much of it was already implied for me. Usually, there were several choices – unfortunately, making one that offered a continuity of further solutions didn’t always happen – and it was only a matter of picking the best one (hopefully, the right one), then going from there.

There were even times it felt like the piece actually WAS writing itself – but if it were, why was it still taking so long? There were other times when I just had to realize “no, this isn’t working” and then go back to some point and unravel the stitches to start a passage over again.

And in that way, I went through the Chaconne first, the skeleton, then working with that off to the side of my desk, filling in the Aria and stretching it skin-like out over this skeleton, making sure this point met that point, this phrasing matched that phrasing. Ultimately it will sound like one piece, because it is, not something that sounds like the violinist and pianist are accidentally playing different movements in the wrong order (“oh, I’m sorry, did you say the THIRD movement?”)...

But now I have a different project to tackle. Heh heh...

*** ***** ******** ***** ***

Ever since I was living in New York City in the late-70s, I had this novel in my mind. Yes, like many other people, I wanted to write a novel. There was a curiosity about the creative process – in fact, I think it’s good for composers to know what it’s like to try writing prose (it’s easier than having writers compose pieces of music – I’d even settle for having writers talk knowledgeably about music, but that’s another topic completely). There are similar issues to consider and I think one cross-fertilizes the other, though it may only be so much fertilizer by the time you’re done with it.

Needless to say, after thirty years, I never got around to writing this novel. It’s always been the same novel and it was always about a composer (working here under the suggestion “write what you know”) dealing with creative issues. But during the decades I’ve had this gestating in my mind, my narrator (like me but not necessarily me) has been growing older if not wiser and facing different issues. And now, some of my characters – whom I’ve been living with all these years – have been evolving in much the same way. It has become, in a sense, a “coming-of-old-age” novel.

Structuring it was a problem – just sitting down and writing from the beginning and working my way towards some end or other didn’t work for me. It was, first of all, not the way I wrote music, so why not experiment with structuring a novel similar to the way I write music?

A few years ago, a friend of mine was telling me about this project he’d gotten himself into: during the month of November, lots of people around the country (actually, around the world) take part in National Novel-Writing Month or NaNoWriMo for short. During the month, you write your novel. You start on the 1st and on the 30th, you stop.

The idea is to motivate yourself to write 50,000 words. Your novel may not be done in a month and maybe you didn’t quite make the goal of 50,000 words but the important thing is, you tried. And whether your novel is good or whether it’s crap doesn’t matter. It’s just simply the idea of creating something, the satisfaction of actually (finally) having done it, in addition to doing it with a dedicated sense of purpose, suffering through it while other people are doing it with you.

Now, back when the mania over Dan Brown’s novel, “The DaVinci Code” was raging – a book I had spent two years avoiding – I decided in advance of the movie coming out, to write a parody of it. This also meant I was actually going to have to read the thing, but it was summer and I wasn’t composing anything at the moment. So I sat down and just started writing. Now granted, writing a parody meant I didn’t have to worry about plot or development or structural issues and character development from scratch, but I did have to make the parody work on its own level: you should be able to read my book without having read the original source material and still enjoy it. And so I transplanted the premise to a musical level, curiously not knowing how the original was going to end before I’d even started the second chapter.

And soon, I had written “The Schoenberg Code,” a serial novel in twelve installments (so many musical puns in there...).

When I was done, I was amazed to have discovered it was 45,000 words long and essentially written in two weeks, but spread out over a little over a month. You see, I still had to read (and sometimes re-read) the original plus I had a job which meant not all of my time could just be dedicated to tapping away on the computer.

So I started thinking, if I can do 45,000 words in 2 weeks, basically, could I manage 50,000 in a month on an original topics?

That’s when I started mapping out my own novel, going at it from an entirely different viewpoint, creatively speaking. But last November was not conducive to putting everything aside and writing a novel. I was, after all, busy composing the song cycle, “Evidence of Things Not Seen,” which I wanted to finish by February and I knew if I put it aside for anything, I’d probably never come back to it.

But now, I, uhm... have no job and, by the way, I JUST FINISHED THIS PIECE OF MUSIC – so rather than going to Disney World, I’m going to write a novel.

And hey, look – it’s November 1st and the day is more than half-shot already plus I’m going to a concert tonight. And here I am, blogging 2500 words in the last two hours. Uhm, let’s see, if I blogged 2700 words last night about the Hallowe’en Party at Stravinsky’s Tavern and then 2500 words this afternoon about the newly completed violin and piano piece, why can’t I write 50,000 words in a month? At 2,000 words a day, that’d be 60,000 words, right?

And what luck – tonight, we set the clocks BACK an hour, so I actually have an extra hour to write my novel! Woo hoo!

Okay, time to get to work. NaNoWriMo is calling me!