June 9, 2015

Program Notes or What I'm on about in my albums

Amaltheia's Lullaby-program notes-
In Greek Mythology, Amaltheia is a nymph or a goat who raised Zeus the God of thunder. Pan, half God half Goat, is the God of the wilderness. There are many different stories of Pan’s birth and antics. As the son of Amaltheia’s goat, Pan was raised in a cave with Zeus. Another story says Pan and Arcas were the twin sons of Zeus and Callisto a nymph who was changed into a bear. In yet another story, Pan helped Zeus after his sinews were stolen by the guardian of the sacred oracle at Delphi. Pan often plays a panpipe or a syrinx that can put anyone to sleep. A Labyrinth is a maze with only one path in and out. The version often seen in Crete, where Zeus and Pan were said to have been raised, has seven corridors.
The four notes F G C and E-flat are a call to Pan according to some. All the pieces on this album relate to these notes.
1 Cave Lullaby---alto flute
2 Bear Dance-Cub Steps---flute
3 Bear Dance-Tempo Challenge---flute
4 Transposing Delphi-Lament and Lure---alto flute
5 Transposing Delphi-Mirror Dreams---alto flute
6 Beggars Pan---glass piccolo
7 Labyrinth-1st Loop-Lulling---flute
8 Labyrinth-2nd Loop-Memory Game---flute
9 Labyrinth-3rd Loop-In the Garden---flute
10 Labyrinth-4th Loop-In and Out---flute
11 Labyrinth-5th Loop-Weaving---flute
12 Labyrinth-6th Loop-Turn About---flute
13 Labyrinth-7th Loop-Rainstorm---flute
14 Rain and Flood Lullaby---flute

Waking the Devas-program notes-
A while ago, a friend of mine was telling me about her new garden. It was in the country across the road from a forest. It made her happy just seeing it. It overflowed with life as if little spirits were peeping out around the tomatoes, morning glories and grass. Even the bugs that ate plants down to the ground had a magic to them although that didn’t make them less of a nuisance. The garden became a nursery for nature devas, a safe place for them to gain strength as they step, roll and rush out into the world. This got me thinking about waking the devas, fairies, nature spirits in the world around us. Drawing them into the cracks in our lives and letting them run wild. Messy sometimes but more than worth it for all the joy they bring.
1 Lament’s Balm---glass piccolo in C recorded in a forest clearing
2 Rain Dare---glass picc during a rainstorm with a few cows
3 Thaw Longing (Sun in January)---flute as a wind front built up
4 Wind and Rain (Waking Lullaby)---glass picc in a garden during a break in the rain
5 Flood Drops---flute on a sunny winter day in a greenhouse
6 Drawing Out---glass flute in G on a windy sunny day in a greenhouse
7 Fireflies-Here and There---flute at early night on the edge of the woods with crickets
8 (Enter Chorus) How Hummingbird Sees Time---baroque flute on an afternoon in a forest clearing as the cicadas warmed up
9 (Fireflies) Spying on Starfall---flute at night on a lane in the woods with crickets
10 Chorus in the Elm---baroque flute on an afternoon in a forest clearing with cicadas
11 Fireflies-World’s Rim---flute at night on the edge of the woods with crickets
12 Perseids-Night’s Overflow---flute, rattle at midnight on a lane in the woods
13 Cicada Antiphony---baroque flute on a summer afternoon in a forest clearing
14 Perseids-Some May Yet Sleep---flute on a lane in the woods under meteors
15 Lament’s Balm/Lemon Balm II---flute at night on a wooded lane
16 The Fairies’ Hounds---flute. The hounds in question scrambled across a tile floor (click, clack go the claws) but refrained from howling till the recording was done.

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April 30, 2015

Daily Musings

A while back, I decided to work on memorizing more music. I've always kind of slacked in that department (Classical flute training allows this) and I've also always wished I didn't. So I've started keeping a musical journal where I record things I'm trying to play by memory along with some of the daily improvisations I create. Not sure where this will take me but I intend to share bits and pieces as I go.


Improv based on O'Carolan's "Farewell to Music"



"Carolan's Dream"



I'm mixing up the "simpler" folk tunes (some of which aren't that simple!) with Telemann and Troubadour music. The idea is that there will be some songs I learn more easily (which will hopefully encourage me) while I'm struggling with the longer pieces. In time, I hope to share a wider variety of tunes.

March 6, 2015

Flautist, Flutist, Fluter or Flute Player

Nearly everyone who plays flute will, at some point, be asked "What is the correct term for a flute player, Flutist or Flautist?" The answer is; either one. Yes really. Some people claim Flautist is based on older versions of the word flute however that just doesn't hold up to research. In English, Flautist is a fairly recent term; Nathanial Hawthorne seems to be the first writer to use Flautist in 1860. Flutist is the older English word with the Oxford dictionary dating it to 1603. Dictionaries currently list both as correct terms for flute players. Hawthorne may have been trying to sound European (a popular fad in his day) by inventing a word based on the Italian flauto (from old Occitan flaut) to get the word Flautist. But older writers (like Chaucer) use floute/floutour, flowte/flowtour and my favorite, floyte/floytynge (playing the flute). These all developed into flute and Flutist in English.

Many people think Flutist is more common in the USA but in my experience, both get used fairly evenly. Common musicians' gossip says that Flautist is more common in England (or Europe) but again, that doesn't seem to be true in practice. Some people feel Flautist is stuffy or even somewhat insulting; they claim its too similar to "flaunting" or "flouting" in spite of not being based on either word. On the other side of the debate, some people feel Flutist is an Americanization or less technically correct; both ideas are also completely untrue. It strikes me that the objections to both words are more based on emotional reactions to (and personal associations with) the words themselves rather than on dictionary meanings of the words or their true history.

The reality is words change over time and usage shifts back and forth for mysterious reasons (take a linguistics class if you want to really hurt your head with this phenomenon.) The great Flutist vs. Flautist debate has been going on almost since the word Flautist was tossed into English and it hasn't changed much in all that time. I prefer to skip the whole issue and say "I am a Flute Player" or "I play the Flute". But I answer to Flutist, Flautist and even Fluter without complaint or regret.
Just make sure you know me before you call me a Flutter brain.

February 12, 2015

Ephemeral Life

Music is ephemeral. It is never the same twice. Even listening to a recording is never quite the same because the listener brings a different awareness each time they listen. They can’t help it. This is what makes music so tricky to explain and so wonderful to experience.
Many Classical musicians focus on learning to play the notes they see with as much accuracy as possible. The goal becomes to play the piece exactly as written every time. This is a good skill to have, never think otherwise, but there is more to music than that. Music is not the written notation but the moment of playing or performing including all the mistakes or even deliberate changes to what we see on the page. Music is the act of creating sound and listening to it. Improvisation is part of this and always has been. Even when improvisation isn't taught, performers end up making little tiny changes every time they play (there is no way not to). Perhaps instead of striving for note-by-note repetition, we should spend time trying to understand WHY these changes felt good or bad, what in the moment caused the music to transform and how we can make these different "interpretations" work for performers and audiences. This is the beginning of improvisation and part of what makes music an experience that is treasured.

A Couple of Examples
The Medieval troubadours are well known for setting their poetry to music but their music was not “complete” as we would understand it; they rarely included any rhythms and even wrote multiple melodies for the same poem. In other words, they improvised and used written music as a chance to expand their possible musical ideas instead of writing out a perfect version of the music. They adapted the music to their instruments and voices, they changed tones to fit the mood of the moment and treated the music like the living creature it is. There are a large number of period performers who carefully use only musical ideas from the age of the troubadours, going so far as to exclude all modern instruments and most period wind instruments since they weren’t “commonly used” at the time. Their goal is to recreate the troubadour sound as exactly as they can. This is wonderful and shows us a whole different kind of music than we are used to but I can not help feeling that the spirit of this music is in some ways being ignored. This was music that was meant to change, to adapt. If a performer didn’t play the instrument a composer had in mind, they still played the music even if they had to change the melody to do so. If only certain keys or modes worked for a specific instrument or voice, the performer could even CHANGE the scale of the piece and play the piece with different harmonies. If the audience wanted a different mood than the original piece, the music could be changed. A lament could become a dance in next to no time.
Baroque music incorporated improvisation into opera and bass lines as a matter of course. But the melody instruments were expected to change their more completely written lines too. A straight performance was often considered dull and not worth the audience's time. Today, students often spend hours researching how musicians might have improvised a piece in that day and age. But why stop there? Why limit ourselves to imitating someone else’s improvisation? Don’t mistake me, imitating is a great way to learn but then we can add our own ideas. Radical, I know, because this may well result in older pieces being made modern. But why is that always seen as a bad thing? We are modern musicians and we bring that sound with us. As beautiful as I find the Baroque style, I see no reason to rigidly make everyone follow it in every performance.

I admit, creating new music can be frightening. Some changes don’t work and some improvisations fall flat. It takes time and practice to get reliably good at improvising. But why should that stop us? We spend hours, even years, learning to reliably recreate written music after all. There is no reason to assume improvising will just come naturally without any effort. But the seed of improvisation is there, in anyone who has played one note and then another without any direction from someone else.
Improvisation and written music are not exclusive to each other and I love playing written music just as much as improvising. I find it beautiful and inspiring to play and hear music others were trying to share. But I know that I will never create a carbon-copy performance of any piece and I wouldn't want to even if I could. New sounds, new ideas and new music leap out of performances of old music. Some are sweetly similar to the sounds that created them, some are radically different. The musical possibilities and knowledge that this music will never be exactly the same again is what makes the experience so rewarding.
We are, after all, as ephemeral as the music we love.

January 17, 2015

The Gem Flutes of Gilgamesh and Tammuzi

I put off this post in a deluded attempt to find more information but have now admitted the truth; I likely have all the information I can find. Both of these instruments are only mentioned in fragments of myths, making our information spotty at best but I'll do what I can.
First, a note about the term flute in these myths. The instrument in Gilgamesh’s story is often called a flute in English translations (and other languages) however it most likely was a reed instrument. This seems to be an extremely common mistranslation when dealing with old texts; any old or archaic wind instrument that is basically a hollow pipe is translated as flute regardless of the type of mouthpiece or how it is held. Why I’m not quite sure aside from the translators not realizing that “pipe” is a generic instrumental term and was never exclusively used for flutes. In the case of Gilgamesh's story, there is some doubt as to what kind of instrument is really meant but it was almost certainly end-blown (held vertical to the body instead of horizontal) and most likely had a reed in the mouthpiece. I have yet to find anyone examining the term for Tammuzi’s wind instrument but given the prevalence of musical translation issues and the popularity of reed instruments in this time and area, I think it is safe to assume it wasn’t a flute either. At this point, the use of the word flute in translations of myths is so common, I think it is quite reasonable to include these stories as part of the flute’s mythology so long as it is made clear when the instrument in question was really a flute or reed instrument.
Second, I apologize for using so many different versions of Dumuzi/Tammuzi and Ishtar/Inanna. It is a result of the how many cultures have told these stories and the fact that I do not feel qualified to simply "merge" the names into one without damaging the stories. I have kept things as simple as I could.

The Carnelian Pipe
The story of Gilgamesh and Enkidu comes from Mesopotamia. This is a very old and very fragmented poem. The different fragments are pieced together in different ways creating several versions. In short, Gilgamesh is the King of Urek (possibly Sumeria or thereabouts). He has divine parentage (quite common for royalty in myths) and a bad temper (ditto). Enkidu is created by the Gods to be his friend and calm him down. They have a number of adventures and encounters with the Gods which are anything but calm (but at least they stop bothering ordinary people so much). Eventually, Enkidu dies and Gilgamesh holds a funeral for his friend. In the process, Gilgamesh offers a wind instrument made of carnelian to Dumuzi (the Sun God is witnessing this ceremony I believe, not keeping the offerings) so that Enkidu will be welcomed into the afterlife. It is worth noticing that he also offers a flask made of lapis lazuli to Ereshkigal for the same reason (both lapis lazuli and Ereshkigal will be mentioned later). 
He displayed to the Sun God a flask of lapis lazuli
   for Ereshkigal, the queen of the Netherworld:
"May Ereshkigal, the queen of the teeming Netherworld, accept this,
   may she welcome my friend and walk by his side!"
He displayed to the Sun God a flute of carnelian
   for Dumuzi, the shepherd beloved of Ishtar:
"May Dumuzi, the shepherd beloved of Ishtar, accept this,
   may he welcome my friend and walk by his side!"
---from Book VIII of the Epic, lines 144–149

The Lapis Lazuli Pipe
Now for Tammuzi’s other wind instrument we have to look at the story of the descent of Ishtar into the Underworld. Again, there are several different, fragmented versions of this story. Ishtar is often related to Inanna the Sumerian Goddess of love, fertility and war. Tammuzi/Dumuzi (and various other spellings) is Ishtar’s/Inanna’s lover. Ishtar/Inanna decides to go to the Underworld to see her sister Ereshkigal the Queen of the Dead. In the process, Ishtar/Inanna basically dies but being a Goddess, she can return to her home and divine role of keeping the world alive if some one will take her place in the Underworld. Now while she was gone Tammuzi/Dumuzi has been living it up in her palace, sitting on her throne and playing a wind instrument (often called a flute but likely something else) made of lapis lazuli. She sends him to take her place in the Underworld supposedly for not mourning her properly. Tammuzi/Dumuzi took his lapis lazuli instrument with him to play comforting music for the dead. In some versions Dumuzi’s sister takes his place for half the year so he will not always be dead. The seasons change when they trade places in the Underworld. 

A Few Gems
We don’t always know exactly what stones the ancients meant by carnelian or lapis lazuli but they generally meant something reddish with carnelian and something bluish with lapis lazuli. We do know they meant something valuable as these gems were used in trade and by royalty. It would have been expensive to make instruments from them but not impossible and since both stones were associated with the Gods, anything made from them would have been appropriate as offerings. There have been a number of gem encrusted flutes (and other instruments) made in history, both for display and just to see how they would work, so there’s no reason to assume more ancient cultures wouldn’t have made instruments out of something flashy too. It is also quite common to say someone in a story or myth is playing an instrument made out of unusual or exotic materials to enhance the mythic or magical quality of the instrument.

So what shall we take from this? Well, we can't say anything for certain but I like the idea of Tammuzi’s/Dumuzi’s music changing colors as the seasons shift. Blue and red, cool and warm, living and dead, circling and harmonizing every year as the earth spins year after year.