December 31, 2011

Transposition on Key-less Flutes

I was talking with a friend about his new key-less flute and he was lamenting that he would have to find songs in the same key as the flute to play. So I told him about a trick that works great (for some people) to play a song in a different key that I learned from my dad, a jazz guitarist.
Say your flute is in C but the piece you want to play is in A flat major. First think about the scale the flute plays in terms of number; C-1, D-2, E-3 and so on. Then number the notes in the piece by were they fall in the A flat major scale; A flat-1, B flat-2, C-3 and so on. Then match the numbers up. Works for minor scales too. Our imagined flute in C major would be able to play in A minor easiest so; A-1, B-2, C-3. If the piece is in E minor; E-1, F#-2, G-3 and off you go.
Some people have trouble thinking in terms of numbers but some people find that in terms of music, its less like MATH and easier than remembering to play up a 5th or down a 3rd. And if it works, use it!

November 29, 2011

The Dyslexic Musician

I am dyslexic. Except that I may not be. The label of dyslexia still covers an incredibly wide range of issues and I suspect a number of learning disabilities are still lumped in together. Some experts acknowledge that not all dyslexics have the exact same issues but others have trouble with that concept. In my case, some of the descriptions for dyslexia are very accurate and others might as well be talking about my cat rather than me. My school actively rejected the idea that I was dyslexic for nearly 3 years because (a direct quote here) "she can't be dyslexic; she's not a behavior problem." (Dyslexia does not CAUSE behavior problems but the frustration dyslexics feel, and the way they are often treated, can.) In fact, no one realized I had a learning disability until I was being tested for the gifted program. But I stopped worrying about what the exact word for me should be a long time ago. Most people are familiar with the term dyslexia even if they don’t understand it and I have been officially labeled as dyslexic at least once so it is convenient to use.
Why am I talking about this in a music blog? Well, one of the issues of dyslexia is reading symbols and being able to apply the correct meaning to them. Music notation is not exempt but it is also not quite the same as reading language. My biggest difficulty is that I can’t look at a word and see the letters that make it up without moving very slowly and deliberately from one letter to the next but if I read the word by how it is shaped I have little or no problem. In music, there aren’t nicely separated words to lump together but at the same time, the graph that the notes are laid out on helps keep the notes from mixing themselves up as badly as letters in words. I was THRILLED to realize that the letter names on the musical staff never move! They are always in the same spot vertically even when they aren’t in the same order going from left to right, something that just doesn’t happen when reading words. Another thing that seems to make a difference is that the musical notation has a very direct connection to physical actions (fingerings). It didn’t matter if I remembered the letter name of the note, all I had to do was let my fingers match up with the note I was looking at. It has been shown that a number of dyslexics can read or spell better if some kind of movement is linked to reading. Using the sign language alphabet was my saving grace on spelling tests! Still, reading one note at a time can be a very slow process for me. But there is an upside. Once I’ve played through the music a few times, I don’t have to work so hard to know what note I’m looking at partly because I have a loose memory of the piece, melody or phrase as a whole. The result is that my sight reading is only so-so but I improve by leaps and bounds each time I go through the music. My favorite kinds of auditions are when everyone is given the music and an hour or so to go over it before we play. I really shine on those.
I learned to read fairly slowly but as time passed, I eventually became not only fluent but a speed-reader (possibly a result of reading entire words rather than letters). Music was a similar experience. The more music I learned, both scores and memorized scales, the less difficulty the notes on the page gave me although I do still label the notes with ledger lines fairly frequently. There was surprisingly little that I had to do to work with my dyslexia in music but I have found that simply understanding some of what was going on in my twisted brain reduced a great deal of the strain and stress which in and of itself reduces how difficult it is to read for some dyslexics. And sometimes I could use tricks that worked on other areas in music as well.
Because of the odd mash of issues mixed in with dyslexia, it is unlikely that other dyslexic musicians will all have exactly the same experiences as me. Some learn by ear stunningly well, some never notice issues reading music at all, some have trouble when jumping down to the next line of music, some have difficulty combining the written instructions (crescendo or a tempo for example) with the musical notation until they are more familiar with the music and so on. I have talked with musicians with no learning issues who found the dyslexic tricks interesting and helpful to hear about for their own practice. Really what I hope you’ll take away from this is there is no one way to approach the world. If you see things differently, work with it. Find the advantages as well as the difficulties. Find new ways of tackling issues and try to notice things that are easier for you.

October 30, 2011

How I Didn't Learn to Compose

I never wanted to be a composer. I ornamented tunes and slowly learned to improvise but just never had any desire to write music or even to attempt to replay tunes I came up with. Sometimes I experimented with recording my improvisation which did eventually help me remember snippets but it still didn’t seem I was writing music. Certainly I don’t feel the music rattling in my head the way poems do, demanding to be written before I can sleep at night. Music simply flows out my hands through the flute and into the air with no particular effort and no request that I keep going till they are done. Poems clack and bang about insisting I work them out before they let me go. So it didn’t seem as if there was any reason for me to be a composer. Even if the tunes I could recreate were slowly increasing. And the variety of improvisation was expanding and becoming more interesting to me. By the time I started playing the Ren Fest, I was beginning to suspect that there was more going on than I had guessed. Spending entire weekends working on my music has done amazing things to my composing. Nothing else ever caused me to actually write music the way the regular focus on my own improvisation did. All the theory classes, music writing exercises, jazz and Baroque improvisation turned out to be just prep work. After one or two years, recording a CD seemed natural. There was so much music pouring out of me that it was nearly impossible not to recognize and develop some but it still seemed a long way from composing. By the time the second CD came along I knew I was going to have to admit to composing music fairly soon. Where I am going with this creation or it with me, I still don’t really know but I do know that the music spins round my head now, not quite the way poems do but just as inescapably. And unlike poetry, there is no demand, no insistence that I do anything about it. The music doesn’t stop (or rather settle quietly) just because a tune has been worked out. Harmonies, melodies, variations, dances and laments overlapping and separating, sometimes one at a time and at others dozens competing for an audience. All exist with me or without. But oh, I am so glad they have come to live in my head.

October 4, 2011

Why Feral?

My father once said he was an indigent farmer and I was one of the indigents he was raising. How right that joke was. I grew up in the forest. With goats, chickens, coyotes, wild raspberries, weeds, overgrown creeks and deep still ponds. My parents did very little to change the forest, preferring to let nature decide how things should grow and letting us kids run loose in the growing wilderness. As a result, I feel out of place in towns and cities. There is just so little wildlife there, so little green plant growth. I don't navigate very well without tree trunks surrounding me and find street signs an oddly awkward way of marking trails. In many ways, I feel like a feral creature; one who comes from a domesticated species but now lives wild.
When I went off to study music, I studied Classical. It is actually difficult to get training on the flute that isn't Classical but I would have gone that route anyway because I love the music. Yet, Classical training is, in a sense, the domesticated form of the modern musician. The teaching program is well worked out and fairly similar for each person. Classical musicians are not encouraged to go out and play on street corners for random strangers. Instead, they are trained to perform indoors and only to play Classical music, not folk. Even Jazz is somewhat suspect by some teachers.
Now I love playing in concert halls for audiences who also love Classical music. But I also love playing Celtic music, Middle Eastern music and as many different musical ideas as I can. And I especially love improvising - the magic of creating music on the spot is wilder, freer, more feral than anything else I have run across.

October 1, 2011

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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