Welcome to Germany for my 4th composer profile: Composer and pianist, Clara Schumann.
Germany has provided the world with just tons of amazing composers such as Johann Sebastien Bach, Ludwig von Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, Johannes Brahms, among many others. For this profile, I opted for Clara Schumann because I pretty much knew nothing about her. I knew she played the piano and was married to Robert Schumann who wrote a great Concert Piece for Four Horns, among much more wonderful music.
What I learned is that she was an amazingly talented woman who was known for being an incredible solo pianist and composer.
(née Clara Josephine Wieck; 13 September 1819 – 20 May 1896)
Hometown: Leipzig, Germany
Known primarily for piano pieces
It’s only truly been since WWII that many careers opened up as possibilities for women. And even then, it started because we got a taste for the outside-the-home working world while the men were off fighting the war.
So what about Clara herself? What about a contemporary of Mozart, composer and violinist Maddalena Laura Lombardini Sirmen? Even in today’s world, we don’t hear that much about women composers. Although, the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra will perform Jennifer Higdon‘s Violin Concerto next season, something which has an additional “coolness” factor. It’s music by a female composer being performed by a female concertmaster in an orchestra led by a female conductor.
Traditionally, women were not a part of the musician rosters of orchestras. They’ve not traditionally led orchestras. They’ve not traditionally written the music played by orchestras. Fortunately, this is changing, but for now, hats off to Composer Jennifer Higdon, Concertmaster Holly Mulcahy and Music Director, Maestro Kayoko Dan, for performing this music.
About composing, Clara Schumann said,
Composing gives me great pleasure… there is nothing that surpasses the joy of creation, if only because through it one wins hours of self-forgetfulness, when one lives in a world of sound.
Clara Schumann was quite a progressive woman. She juggled it all. She was very well-established as a soloist on the piano, already touring extensively around Europe before she married Robert Schumann. Even after their marriage, she continued touring and teaching – all while giving birth to eight children, of whom she outlived four.
Of his wife, Robert Schumann said this:
Clara has composed a series of small pieces, which show a musical and tender ingenuity such as she has never attained before. But to have children, and a husband who is always living in the realm of imagination, does not go together with composing. She cannot work at it regularly, and I am often disturbed to think how many profound ideas are lost because she cannot work them out.
Last weekend I was the Columbus Symphony Orchestra play Robert Schumann’s 2nd Symphony. At the pre-concert chat, we learned that Clara worked as a second breadwinner in her family, still performing while raising their children. A big reason for that is that Robert Schumann could write some beautiful music for the piano, but he wasn’t that great of a pianist himself. Clara – was a virtuoso so she performed them. She also assisted him in some of his composing, helping him to fine tune some things. Her husband also spent many years in and out of mental institutions including his final two-plus year stay after a suicide attempt before dying at the young age of only 46.
With six other mouths to feed, Clara continued composing, performing and teaching. She did rather well at it – working off her husband’s debts and raising her children well. We learned last weekend that she did so well that she “played herself into a happy grave.”
Listen to this piano concerto. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?
In an era where women either stayed at home or else worked in boarding houses, as teachers or as nurses, Clara Schumann definitely stood a world apart from other women creating beautiful music along the way.
Thanks for reading this today! Coming in March will be two composers from Switzerland and Italy: Heinrich Sutermeister (1910-1995) and Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736). I hope to see you then!
Dobre doshli! Welcome to Peace Corps Week!
This week is Peace Corps week which means the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) everywhere are being asked to educate everyone about the Peace Corps – what it is, what it does, who it helps and why it’s important.
As an RPCV who served in Bulgaria from 2000-2002, I’m only too happy to participate!
About the Peace Corps
Here are a few basics about the United States Peace Corps.
- It was founded in 1961, established by President John F. Kennedy
- The first volunteers served in Chile, Colombia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, St. Lucia, Tanzania, and Pakistan. Within a couple of years, volunteers were serving in 28 countries.
- 215,000 volunteers are serving or have served in the US Peace Corps.
- The Peace Corps is its own entity of the US Government, but is both non-political and non-religious.
- Volunteers live on $100-400 per month living allowances. In Bulgaria, I started with $135 and but ended with about $150/month. That covers food, bus tickets, living expenses, repair costs when needed – since we couldn’t just call on a family member to fix it for us (though we fared better in the second year after getting to know more people!) trips to internet cafes to write home to our friends and families, etc.
- Though it’s not usually required up front, most Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) learn a new language as part of their initial training. The idea is that we integrate ourselves into the communities in which we will be working.
- PCVs have served in about 139 countries – including Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Kazakhstan, Morocco, South Africa, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, Armenia, Hungary, Tonga, Iran, Malawi, Suriname and my personal favorite: Bulgaria.
- Most jobs require a college degree, but if you don’t have one and have been farming your entire life, that will NOT prevent you from serving!
- We had a 78-year old volunteer in our group in B-10 Bulgaria. She was not the oldest volunteer to have served. In my group, the average age of volunteers was 26. In the group after mine, the average age was 48. Pretty cool! We also had 70 trainees fly into staging in Chicago, 69 got on the plane and 55 finished.
I hope you’ll take a moment to look up any countries whose locations you can’t currently picture!
What are we getting ourselves into?
Peace Corps volunteers sign up for approximately 27 months of service in a developing country somewhere around the world. Our first 10-12 weeks of our time in country is for training: language, culture, health, job training, etc. We lived with host families – mine didn’t speak a word of English! who housed us, fed us (my host mom was a great cook!) and took care of us while we learned about their country. Once at site, we lived in apartments which pretty much had heat, water and electricity on demand. My site was more reliable than most as the only time my water went out was when they worked on the plumbing and for that we had advanced notice. One friend in northern Bulgaria was on a water regime and had water every other day.
My descriptions above are for Bulgaria. Every country is different. Every experience is different. I have friends who had to literally haul up water from a river in Africa whereas I lived about 12 KM from a ski resort. I lived in the mountains – a far cry from the flat cornfields I saw growing up in Indiana! I’m happy to say I can see the beauty in both!
Peace Corps volunteers have three goals
- To teach a sustainable skill (I taught middle/high school English)
- To teach the host nationals about American culture, traditions and well – about Americans! (e.g. how do we celebrate birthdays? Or holidays? Or what are our schools like? What’s the cost of living back in America? You name it – we were asked about it! You mean – you get free refills on sodas? LOL!)
- To teach Americans about our host nations (i.e. what I’m doing right now!)
I served in Bulgaria, a country about the size of either Ohio or Tennessee. It’s located in southeastern Europe, in a region called the Balkans. It’s surrounded by Romania to the north, Serbia to the northwest, Macedonia to the west, Greece to the south, Turkey to the southeast and the Black Sea to the east.
It’s absolutely beautiful and has a little bit of everything: Plains, River (the Danube River is the natural border between Bulgaria and Romania), the Black sea and beaches, about 4 or so mountain ranges: Pirin, Rila, Balkans, Rhodopes. It has great hiking and camping, lots of ski resorts (I was near Pamporovo, but there are also Bansko and Borovets, among others).
Bulgaria dates back to 681 AD when Khan Asparux settled there. I lived on Khan Asparux Street in Smolyan, a nice-sized city in the Rhodope Mountains – about 12 KM from the border with Greece and 100 KM as the crow flies from Thessaloniki (or Salonica). Bulgaria has a lot of history and every Bulgarian is very proud of it.
Fun facts about Bulgaria
- Capital: Sofia (Pronounced SO-fee-uh, stress on the first syllable)
- Population: approximately 7.4 million (2011), down from closer to 9 million when I arrived in 2000, but it’s off the visa blacklist and is now (with Romania) a part of the European Union
- Peace Corps closed out its service there, the summer of 2013
- Language: Bulgarian – similar to Russian
- Sveti Kiril, or Saint Cyril, after whom the cyrillic alphabet is named, was a Bulgarian. The Russians later adopted it.
- Bulgaria was under the Ottoman yoke for nearly 500 years. The Russians came in and at the Battle of Pleven in 1878, helped the Bulgarians start to push the Ottomans back. Bulgaria truly received its independence in 1922.
- During the Ottoman Yoke, it is said that credit for the preservation of Bulgaria’s early history is owed to the monks living in the many monasteries throughout the country.
- It was a Bulgarian who originally invented the computer.
- Bulgarians have amazing recipes that incorporate their yogurt into the meal: Salata Snezhanka, Bulgarian moussaka, Tarator soup, etc. Yum!
- “Na Gosti” is when you go to visit a Bulgarian in their home. You know it’s been a good na gosti, if your coffee goes cold because you’ve been talking for hours and hours. Some of my best memories of Bulgaria are from na gostis where I just sat and talked with my friends. Bulgarian hospitality – there’s nothing like it!
- Bulgarians will claim that they had the bagpipes before the Scots or Irish. It’s called a Gaida.
- The next Happy Hour concert with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra will be conducted by a Bulgarian, Maestro Rossen Milanov. (Non-subtle hint: CSO – I’d love to meet him and speak some Bulgarian!)
Here’s a cool video that is being touted as being the first symphonic flash mob in Bulgaria – under the direction of Maestro Grigor Palikarov who is from Plovdiv – a very cool city! This is the Classic FM Orchestra out of Sofia. Watch this – it’s awesome!
I know this is probably a lot of random information that doesn’t even mention any of the great literature that comes out of Bulgaria (there’s a lot, trust me!) – such as the writings of Ivan Vazov, after whom the school at which I taught was named, or Xristo Botev or… and don’t forget books about Bulgaria written by other authors such as Balkan Ghosts by Robert Kaplan (I HIGHLY recommend that book.).
Or, if you’d like to try a simpler route, check out Rick Steve’s travel series. Here’s one sample of that:
Rakiya doesn’t only go with Shopska Salata! Shopska salad is excellent, by the way and SUPER healthy. Let me know if you’d like a recipe – I’m happy to share. (Along with Bulgarian Moussaka and Tarator!) Maybe then you can have your own na gosti!
Here’s a picture of me in my apartment in Smolyan trying on a traditional Bulgarian costume a few weeks before I left for Blagoevgrad. It’s a costume from the southern Rhodope (pronounced row-DOUGH-pee) mountains region. I bought it off a lady who was kind enough to sell it for the equivalent of approximately 2-3 months’ salary, or $175. It’s absolutely beautiful. I love all the stitching detail – isn’t it gorgeous? And this picture doesn’t even show it all off! (I wasn’t wearing the jacket because this costume was nothing but thick, heavy wool and I took this in June. It was very warm!)
This dress was actually a wedding dress of the grandmother of the lady who sold it to me. It’s in amazing condition considering her grandmother was married in 1921 (She showed me a picture). Wow. I’m so lucky.
Thank you for reading this! I hope you’ll watch a few other videos about Bulgaria or read a little bit about it. It’s a beautiful country with a wonderful history and rich culture that is worth knowing better!
Welcome to the 3rd in my Passport series about composers around the world. I first traveled to France for my senior year in college (I’ll leave out the year!), so my latest composer is a French baroque composer named Jean-Féry Rebel. I first discovered his music last year at a concert with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra titled “In Nature’s Realm” at which Rossini’s William Tell Overture and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony were also being played. Yeah – I bought my ticket for the William Tell, but was pleasantly surprised by the Rebel piece. So much so, that I went back the next day to watch the entire concert again. Yeah – it was that awesome!
Everyone: meet Maestro Rebel!
Jean-Féry Rebel (1666-1747) was considered a prodigy on the violin. He was the son of Jean Rébel, a tenor in the choir of the Louis XIV’s private chapel. He eventually came to study under the Royal Composer, Jean-Baptiste Lully, who had been working as Court Composer for instrumental music under the king.
Considered quite a prestigious ensemble, Jean-Féry earned a spot in the Vingt-quatre Violons du Roy, the 24 Violins of the King, where he played until becoming the Chamber Composer to Louis XIV. Eventually, he wrote a tribute to his teacher called, Le Tombeau de Lully (The Tribute to Lully).
One of Rébel’s most famous works is a piece called Les Elemens, or The Elements. Check out the super funky (i.e. dissonant) chord at the beginning of this piece from the first movement of this work called “Le Cahos,” or the aptly named “Chaos.”
This kind of chord was the first of its kind – something not really heard again until the Romantic era by (I think) Shostakovich because it was so unusual. In my humble opinion, part of the beauty of baroque and classical era music is that it resolves and is symmetrical in sound, but in his day, Rebel was ahead of his time.
Principal bassoonist, Betsy Sturdevant, went into more detail about this piece in her blog before the Columbus Symphony Orchestra performed it last season.
Thanks for reading about Maestro Rebel! Next up will be Clara Schumann, a composer who is certainly not unknown, but her composing is typically overshadowed by that of her husband. I’m looking forward to learning more about her and hope you are as well!
Originally from Woodbridge, VA, cellist Zuill Bailey is the Artistic Director of El Paso Pro-Musica and Professor of Cello at the University of Texas at El Paso. In addition to his responsibilities at home in El Paso, TX, he spends a great deal of time traveling as a solo performer, as well as working as the Artistic Director of the Sitka, Alaska Summer Music Festival and Series, the Northwest Bach Festival (Spokane, Washington).
Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of meeting him before a performance he gave with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto. This is our conversation.
Why the cello? I grew up with music in the house. My sister played the violin. Mom played the piano and Dad was a music educator and clarinetist. In the 70s there was Suzuki teaching, a way of teaching young kids how to play at a very young age. My parents took me to concerts all the time, to the community and National Symphony in DC. It wasn’t a matter of if, but rather what instrument I would eventually play. My sister already played the violin, so that was out. So, I started playing the piano and cello at age four. Once, I was back stage and ran into a girl playing the cello – and broke her cello. That sealed it for me though. Mom and Dad said it’s the one thing that stopped me in my tracks and got me to sit still.
Where did you go to school? Peabody Conservatory (Johns Hopkins) and Juilliard.
Instrument: A 1693 Matteo Gofriller Cello, formerly owned by Mischa Schneider of the Budapest String Quartet.
What do you gain from performing? I’ve always found that when I play it creates a comfortable feeling – complete comfort – from my perspective and from the way it’s voiced. It’s most like a human voice in its range. Physical aspects – wrapping myself around it and feeling it vibrate – it’s an incredible feeling. It’s the beauty of life that is brought forth through the cello. That became why I wanted to do it – there’s a mutual therapeutic x factor that music brings.
What’s the best thing about performing in front of an audience? What do you hope they gain? Peace. I hope the audience gains peace. No – that’s too simplistic of an answer. I look for the fact that people are able to escape – at a concert – with such a multifaceted form of entertainment. We’re used to being fed information. At a concert, it’s interesting and healing to take a step back and have the music be a soundtrack to where you are as a person or in your own person where you go into your own head and your own thoughts – where we’re not so programmed to go. The visual is the creation, not a distraction. A movie gives us a story – the music adds the soundtrack to our own thoughts. I can face the audience and see how they’re experiencing it in their own ways whether they’re leaning forward, tapping their feet, closing their eyes, etc.
How often do you practice? I play all the time, but my processes are in my head. I can sit in a quiet room and hear it just by looking at the score. The classical music catalog is enormous. Recording just documents pieces I play a lot or that are special to me. I’m always looking for the next project that allows me to grow.
What are some of your favorite places to perform? My dream check list has been done – Carnegie, Lincoln Hall, Kennedy Center. I once played with a women’s prison orchestra in Anchorage. Music to these women means hope and freedom. Playing in villages in Alaska and in Havana, Cuba were also memorable.
It’s all about how people react to the music. In many ways I enjoy the smaller venues more because the people don’t get the performers as much.
How much do you travel? I travel about 250 days out of the year.
I’m running my first Bach Festival in Spokane, WA – 1st two weeks in March – gorgeous city. Every day is a new adventure for me. My upcoming schedule, for example is: hosting a pianist from England tomorrow – Chopin Nocturnes; Harrisburg, PA next week - Dvorak concerto again. Then, Fairbanks, AK; then Boise, etc. I’m still missing RI, but have hit 49 of 50 states.
Strange thing – I once woke up at home and wasn’t sure where I was!
How difficult is it to play with a different orchestra for every performance? I’m old enough, have been doing this enough so a lot of my friends are in these orchestras. Tonight I have friends coming in from Cleveland to hear me play. I love sharing and
I love that music brings people together.
I have some very strong friendships in some of these places. I also know a lot of the musicians in the CSO who also play with the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra. The cello is what brings all of this together.
What do you think of the CSO so far? It’s wonderful! I’ve played in Columbus – with ProMusica Chamber Orchestra - several times. I frequent festivals. Nice thing about this career – you do go back, you see how the cities have changed, how people’s lives have broadened.
Which concert are you most looking forward to playing this year? I have a couple of projects – Michael Daugherty has been commissioned by the Nashville Symphony to write a piece. We’re recording it next year. We’ll be working on that this spring.
What do you do for outreach? At 17 – I didn’t realize that this whole world would open up. …that it would be on my shoulders to cultivate this music. I perform outreach in three regions: West TX; Spokane, WA and Alaska.
The cello has opened the door to a lot of fun adventures. In Baltimore, I was asked to coach Ned Beatty to LOOK like he was playing the cello for Homicide and then I played the soundtrack. Then I was an extra. And then, when I moved to NY, I was asked to be on OZ. I saw that as the ultimate outreach – to bring music to people who may or may not have gone into a concert hall. I try to figure out ways to bring music to the people.
Scene from Oz. Children, don’t try this at home.
My students love to hear stories. They have no idea that I may have been in Australia the day before the lesson. It’s fascinating for me to see their reactions to these stories. It’s real world. A student may ask about something to which I respond “Hmm…I’m playing this on Friday, I’ll let you know.” I’ll come back with – NO! DON’T DO IT! Or – it totally worked.
It’s very unusual to do more than one – teach, perform, artistic director… but I use them all to do a lot of outreach.
When visiting other cities, I like to visit schools. I always like to go to schools when I travel – or hospitals – anywhere to make the music accessible. Kennedy center would send musicians in our schools. This world-renown musician would come to our classroom – wow!
During festivals, we focus on making sure every artist visits as many schools as possible. The focus on arts in schools will ebb and flow. Kids are curious about the variety of sounds that can be made with a cello. And you never know what kids are going to ask.
What do you say to people who don’t think they like classical music? I always asked them – well, what do you like? And they typically set their own trap. They’ll mention different kinds of music, movies, video games… Did you know that was a cello that was playing that theme? Classical music is the use of these instruments, not necessarily Beethoven or Haydn – a general term for stringed instruments. It’s the highest form of creating these video games and movies.
Have you ever noticed when pop groups try to be classier? They either go unplugged or incorporate symphonic sounds.
What cello music should I have in my music library? Bach cello suites – everyone BUT Mozart has written something exclusively for the cello. Dvorak – the piece tonight is arguably the greatest cello piece written. It’s a symphony with a great cello part. Even Chopin, the piano god, the last piece he wrote is a cello sonata. The cello could, in the end, be a composers own voice for their story. The cello, being mellower (than the violin) is more difficult to write for.
Who are your favorite composers? Typical response is “whatever I’m working on.” Bach – beginning and the end. He wrote such perfect works for a single instrument that kind of encapsulates – everything! I typically go to the deep end when working on a composers – about their life, what they wrote, etc. They used such masterful expression through music – it was therapeutic to write this music. If you know this profile, you can empathize and understand them. Great music is great, but if you know WHY something was created, then it takes it to a whole other stratosphere.
What is your favorite musical era? They’re just all such distinctive flavors. Growing up, my family didn’t travel a lot. I was very comfortable and specific in what I liked. The more I traveled, the more I liked. The variety is so important to have perspective. If you look at my recordings, they’re so different. I just keep broadening. When I step into the next chapter – I bring all that knowledge with me – and perspective – to appreciate the new language of Britten, for example, instead of being dismissive. It wouldn’t be the smartest thing for me to choose a favorite time period. I keep finding things that are interesting to me, but they’re interesting because of what I already know.
Classical music is all about interpretation. Buy several versions of Bach – compare and contrast. Why does this violinist sound different from this one? Why does this version sound different?
In your case, (Vladimir) Ashkenazy vs. Lang Lang – which do you like better? Buy another recording and find out WHY you love it.
Any good show off pieces for the cello? Show off pieces are things that people can’t believe can be done on an instrument. Flight of the bumblebee, etc. I often like to play the beautiful soft ones.
People can’t believe the cello can create that warmth and depth of feeling.
Do you have favorite cellists? Anyone you particularly admire? Rostropovich was the local cellist in DC. He’s probably the most historic, legendary cellist who walked the earth. He was a huge hero for all cellists – set the bar higher than I think anyone has. Through him, I was able to hear all the cellists we all know…
Rostropovich was bigger than music. He stood up for everything political – like Pablo Casals – used the cello to make a difference.
With my cello, I want to make a difference. I want to uh…it’s a loaded question! There are people I respect because their motives are pure. They’re genuinely trying to bring good to others. Those are my role models.
How about conductors? The more the conductor has worked with more people, the greater they are. The more they understand why people make the decisions they make. The more limited or inexperienced the conductor, the more severe opinions they have. Doesn’t happen very often, but when it has, it’s usually their first performance of that particular piece.
With a recording, it must be discussed how it’s played. We’re documenting an interpretation, not just a one-evening performance.
Igor Stravinsky – Rite of spring: Genius? Or just plain weird? Oh genius!
Benjamin Britten – (his music) is kind of like a struggle for humanity. You’ll witness the battlefield of understanding why there are these things that happen. Free flow – it’s a genius work. I wish I could take everyone aside to explain to them what I now know vs. what I didn’t know when I started. If I could, they would hear this music as the masterpiece that it is.
The linguist in me has to ask. Zuill – what’s the background of your name? It’s a family last name. Scotch/Irish.
Ever break a string while performing? Of course! One time, I was so close to the end, I finished on the upper strings. It sounds like a gunshot – it’s almost a tension reliever. First I make sure the cello is ok and then continue.
Do you ever worry about transporting your instrument? Especially knowing how old and valuable it is? I did think a lot especially at first – about the care of this instrument. I’ve always had a cello in my hand. I certainly know how to care for it – it’s always with me. I take good care of it – it’s been around for 320 years. The good news is that it’s being played. If not played, it goes to sleep – it doesn’t vibrate, so these instruments have to be played. The world gets to hear it. Documented – in recording, concerts, it’s seen – such as a traveling exhibition.
I’ve had this one since my mid-20s. I’ve had it for 17 years – mine for life.
It’s contagious – delving into the world of classical music!
What’s your favorite Jeni’s Ice Cream flavor? Haven’t tried it yet.
Note to the city of Columbus: We clearly need to introduce Zuill to Jeni’s the next time he’s in town.
If you’d like to learn more about Zuill Bailey and the music he plays, I recommend you visit his website at www.zuillbailey.com His newest recording, Britten: Cello Symphony & Sonata, along with his other CDs can be purchased via his website.
This Thursday, I’m finally heading south – to the world that occasionally has entire days that are ABOVE freezing! No, really. It’s true! Entire days! Weather aside, I’m taking a vacation to the city of Chattanooga in the great state of Tennessee!
Why Chattanooga and why this weekend? Well – I love Mozart. He’s my favorite and on Sunday, February 23, the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra is performing Mozart’s Symphony No. 40. Here’s what’s on the program. I’m so excited!
No idea who Casterede is, but that’s OK – I’ll learn. Besides, it’s Flutes en vacances and I’ll be en vacances, so it’s perfect! Anyhoo…Vivaldi – baroque and Mozart – classical. You cannot go wrong with this concert. It’s going to be great!
So I’m planning a whole trip around hearing Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 this Sunday. I’m driving down on Thursday and back next Tuesday leaving me with 4 whole days to explore and enjoy Chattanooga. Having lived in Atlanta and being from Indiana, I’ve driven THROUGH Chattanooga a bunch of times, but haven’t actually stopped there. So, I’ve made a wish list:
- Go to the Aquarium. It’s supposed to be fabulous!
- Visit Civil War sites. My ancestor, Brevet Brigadier General Benjamin Franklin Scribner, led his men in the 38th Indiana Regiment in many of the battles fought in the Chattanooga campaign such as Chickamauga and Lookout Mountain, though he was a colonel at the time.
- See the Choo Choo. Obviously! Remember my tour of the Ohio Theatre last summer? What did our awesome organist play? Chattanooga Choo Choo. It’s fate. It’s my destiny. It’ll be fun, too.
Attend a concert. This we know. My friend from there is even going to join me for this. (and for the Civil War sites!)
Another fun thing to do will be to follow some of the suggestions of the CSO-TN Concertmaster herself. Holly Mulcahy has written several posts about being new to Chattanooga – seeing the sites and – visiting some top-notch pastry and coffee shops.
Check out some of her posts below about her new city. And as a linguist, may I say I love the alliteration!
You all know I’ll write about the concert, but visiting a new city will be a super fun adventure, so I’m sure I’ll share some of that fun as well. Heck, the CSO-TN’s own music director, Kayoko Dan (Hmm…should I call her Maestro Kayoko when I meet her in person?!) is going to join me at the aquarium and for some knitting. Yes – we’re both knitters! Holly’s going to join for some of Chattanooga’s famous coffee and pastries!
I may be traveling down there alone, but there will be no shortage of great company!
I should also mention that some of the other fine folks at the CSO in Chattanooga offered to help me out with visit – also recommending places to stay, offering to make sure I had plenty of suggestions on things to do, etc. I can’t get over how hospitable they have been. I’m coming down for one afternoon concert, but they’re going out of their way to make sure I’m taken care of for the duration of my visit.
Southern hospitality – I love it!
It was July of 2002 and I had just COS’d* from the Peace Corps when I traveled to the UK for a two-week vacation prior to starting my job with the American University in Bulgaria. When I say “just COS’d” I mean I JUST COS’d. I COS’d on July 5th and flew to London on July 6th.
Part of me just needed a dose of a western culture that I hadn’t had for a couple of years. I wanted to go somewhere where they could make change when I bought something. I wanted to go somewhere where the toilet paper was already provided in the bathrooms, not where I had to pay the equivalent of .10 cents for four squares sold by a lady sitting in the ladies room at a table with a roll of TP and a pair of scissors. And finally, I wanted to go somewhere where I knew that short of mechanical failure, the coaches and trains would actually depart.
These are not bad things, mind you. They’re just quirky. They’re things I learned to live with. For example, I learned to always carry small bills and coins. To this day, I still always carry a pack of kleenex with me – just in case. And finally, I got a lot of reading done on occasions when a driver didn’t feel like driving the 4.5 hour route to Sofia that particular day meaning I had to wait a couple of hours for the next departure. No big deal. (Of course there was that time when our bus caught on fire while heading down the freeway after leaving Plovdiv…that was kind of a big deal.)
Well once I arrived in London I was thrilled. What a great city. And western England, wow. And Wales – gorgeous! And… Well. You get the idea. After about a little over a week or so in England and Wales, I took a coach up to Edinburgh, Scotland. What a beautiful, fun, amazing (Insert positive adjective here) city!
I stayed at a hostel on the Royal Mile and met a ton of great people! One day I ended up spending the day with a girl from Australia. We visited the Royal Yacht Britannia and the Edinburgh Castle, but had the most fun with a book we both bought called “What’s Under the Kilt.” It’s about life in Scotland and is absolutely hilarious! It’s along the same line as The Onion, but much funnier! Ahem. Anyway, while walking around the city, we found our friend, Malcolm, playing the bagpipes.
He’s a Kiwi who is also part Scottish and is really talented. He was staying at our hostel, too and was a lot of fun. He also earned quite a lot of money playing! So – we stood and watched – all the while urging people on to drop a coin or two in his hat. It worked – plus it was wonderful listening to him. Nice guy!
*COS = Close of Service. This is the term used by Peace Corps volunteers when they complete their two-year service as a volunteer after having taught sustainable skills in a developing nation. It can be used both as a noun and a verb. Once you COS, you become an RPCV – Returned Peace Corps volunteer, or a member of the Peace Corps alumni. There are approximately 250,000 of us who have served in the Peace Corps since it was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961.
A week ago Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending another concert with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra only this time, I had a lot of company with me. Coming along with me this time were a dozen or so of my friends from my Peace Corps alumni group, or CORVA (Central Ohio Returned Volunteers Association).
Peace Corps volunteers spend two years of their lives working in a developing nation somewhere around the world. This is just a few of the dozen or so of us who attended the concert, but pictured below are Returned Peace Corps volunteers who served in Tanzania, India, Brazil and Bulgaria. 5 people, 4 continents. We were later joined by volunteers who served in the Dominican Republic, Panama and even Iran. And we thought selling watermelon at Comm Fest was fun! Our service is something we’re always happy to talk about, so if you want to hear stories, just yell. We never get tired of telling them!
Not surprisingly, it’s always a Peace Corps friend that I run into at concerts – whether that be at the CSO or ProMusica Chamber Orchestra. Speaking of ProMusica, I also learned that a couple of my friends are on their sustaining board. That’s fantastic, don’t you think? Of course at tonight’s free Happy Hour Concert, I’m sure to run into some other Peace Corps friends like I did the last time.
As usual, we started our concert with Christopher Purdy’s pre-concert chat where he told us that a lot of the music being played was written by composers influenced by the music of Wagner.
On the program were:
Jacques Lacombe, conductor
Zuill Bailey, cello
Grieg: Peer Gynt Suite No. 1
Dvořák: Cello Concerto
Franck: Symphony in D minor
We were told that basically, it’s a lot of music you don’t know you know.
Under the direction of Quebec native, Maestro Jacques Lacombe, the concert started with Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite. This suite began with the Morning Mood which includes the quintessential, calm, relaxing-in-a-meadow kind of melody played by principal flautist Randall Hester. From there it worked its way to the really fun part: In the Hall of the Mountain King. Not sure you know that? Well, I assure you, you do. Last fall I found a great version of this played on, of all things, tesla coils! It was pretty awesome! I’d never seen it performed live and couldn’t help being excited over this version which the CSO played just wonderfully. Some songs are fun to play and others well – as a musician you play them because whoever chose the music chose it. Pas de choix. No choice. For this performance, it sounded like they were having a ton of fun playing it for us!
Moving on to the highlight of the evening, we had the pleasure of hearing Antonin Dvořák’s Concerto in B Minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 104, amazingly played by cellist, Zuill Bailey. I had the pleasure of interviewing him earlier that day and learned he was battling the flu the weekend of this performance. You certainly wouldn’t know that because he was just incredible. Wow! He definitely deserved the enthusiastic standing ovation he received!
Mr. Purdy told us that the cello was his favorite instrument. He called it cerebral and thoughtful. It’s a beautiful instrument with such a rich and full sound. As for Dvorak’s cello concerto, I suggest listening to Mr. Bailey’s own words about this wonderful music.
While Mr. Bailey refers to Dvorak’s cello concerto as a “cellist’s most celebrated concerto,” Dvorak himself refers to it altogether differently.
The cello is a beautiful instrument, but its place is in the orchestra and in chamber music. As a solo instrument, it isn’t much good….I have…written a cello concerto, but am sorry to this day that I did so, and I never intend to write another.
Whatever Dvorak thinks of his own creation, it sure sounded terrific!
The second half of the concert was dedicated to composer Cesar Franck, a composer influenced by Wagner – perhaps in a time it wasn’t overly popular to be influenced by a German composer. That said, Mr. Purdy told us that Franck
…is a composer well worth knowing better.
We learned that Franck tried some new things with regard to symphonic compositions. He helped bring the symphony back to the concert halls in Paris, as opposed to only operas. He tried new things and while some people, particularly the younger, newer musicians, thought it was exciting and wonderful, the older generation thought of it as weird and overbearing, to the point where they would walk out of concerts in anger! Wow! My own budget-minded brain would take the line of thinking that if I paid for a ticket, I should see it through – like it or not. But such thinking was not the case when socially acceptable music wasn’t being performed! Imagine what the musicians thought!
At the end of our pre-concert chat we were jokingly told this:
If you’re a Wagnerian, you’ll have a marvelous time. If not, you’ll get mad!
Well fortunately, I didn’t get mad. This symphony was played well, of course, but the jury’s still out on whether or not I actually liked it. It was nice, but it wasn’t overly memorable to me. There were parts of it I liked – such as the first movement, the Lento-Allegro non troppo, but the melody didn’t stick with me after that. But if Franck is a composer well worth knowing better, then I’m thinking a trip to youtube might be in order to hear some of his other works.
Heck – I didn’t like Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring when I first heard it, but it’s grown on me. That means anything’s possible, right?!
Please watch for my interview with Zuill Bailey to be posted later this month.
I started writing this during the opening ceremonies on Friday, February 7, but then got caught up in the excitement, so yes – I’m a bit late. Guess I won’t be a medal contender for blog writing, huh?
In the interest of international good will, thanks to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games starting today in Sochi, Russia, I thought I’d share a little bit of music to celebrate. I’ve chosen four pieces of great music from my home country of the USA, from my two adopted countries of France and Bulgaria (i.e. I lived in each of them) and also from the host nation of Russia. Enjoy and GO TEAM USA!
USA – Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. We’re talking about sports, people. This is important!
France – Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. Love this!
Bulgaria – Svatba by Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares – a women’s choral group out of Bulgaria. Listen. It’s beautiful.
Russia – Stravinsky – Because they played it during the opening ceremonies, I just HAD to include the Rite of Spring! – complete with dancers!
So this post is my multicultural moment for the week. Think about it. Fanfare for the Common man was written by an American, but performed above in the UK. Bolero was a piece of music commissioned by a Russian but written by a Frenchman about a Spanish dance. Plus, in the above video, it was performed in Denmark. Bulgaria’s all Bulgaria, but it’s a country that maintains close ties with Russia (Look up the Battle of Pleven and you’ll understand why) and Stravinsky is Russian, whose Rite of Spring was premiered in Paris, but is performed above by a ballet company out of Chicago.
The Olympics are meant to bring people together. This is just one way of doing that. Enjoy!
If you could make three suggestions to someone new to classical music, what would you recommend they try first?