December 20, 2012

Views from the Pit

I love playing in pit orchestras. The combination of musicians, actors, tech folk and dancers working together creates something intense and larger than life. Even shows that we don't like as much as others have a pull to them. It’s fascinating how the mistakes we make (and we all make them) are usually absorbed and masked by the show as a whole. Ask the audience about a dropped note or skipped line and they usually are amazed to learn the mistake happened at all.

The View from the Pit

Focus and Relaxation
There is a delicate balance between staying focused and trusting yourself to know the show. My mantra when my attention wanders is “stay here.” But I am just as likely to mean “let the music roll along” as “focus on each note with the intensity of preparing for a private lesson.” All the dress rehearsals and repeated performances create little grooves in your brain after awhile. Right about the point when the orchestra starts reciting the actors’ lines to each other, there is a shift in how the group plays the music. It becomes like a lazy game of catch played with filmy scarves rather than a tense game of baseball with the strings and the winds competing with each other for the fewest mistakes.

Strength and Flexibility
This year, I hurt my hand about a week before one of the shows I was playing. The injury had the odd effect of turning my hand from a palm with 5 independent fingers that could create many, many combinations into a single lump that could barely function as a flat palm. The lack of independence and flexibility were harder to cope with than the loss of strength. And I realized the strength in my hand was directly connected to the flexibility in a way I hadn’t ever noticed before. Fortunately, one of the earliest positions that my hand could handle was the one I needed to hold the flute and what’s more, I didn’t have to support the weight of the flute with that hand in order to play. Each night, my hand was more flexible which made my hand stronger and playing got easier.

Familiarity and Trust
I had to miss a couple of early rehearsals, so I had to trust my knowledge of the show rather than practicing the tricky passages. Since I have played this show for several years, this was less stressful than it might have been but it was still a very different experience than I am used to. Trusting the rest of the group to catch me if my fingers slipped, trusting myself to remember what I had done previous years and sitting back and letting the music happen is not as easy as it sounds.
On the last day of the show, just as I was getting back to normal, the clarinet player got very ill and couldn’t play. The substitute turned out to be my band teacher from junior high school. We hadn’t ever played our instruments together much but we were familiar with each other’s nonverbal cues which turned out to be the best possible thing. We sailed through the music in fine shape, meshing the intense focus she was using on sight-reading during a performance and the relaxed trust I had in my familiarity with how our parts worked together.

Focus, relaxation, strength, flexibility and trust. Five independent actions that work together to create far more than they could separately.

November 1, 2012

Sirens the Muses of the Underworld

On the ceiling of an early temple for Apollo in Delphi (were the Muses once lived) were the Keledones, the “soothing Goddesses.” They were three living, singing statues of women or wryneck birds or a mix of both who welcomed worshipers with their music.
They had the same skill with song as the Sirens.


Entwining Voices
The Sirens tangled people up with their words and music. They had the wings of birds. Or the legs of birds. Or the bodies of birds. But they always have lovely faces and entrancing voices. They dart about on the edges of reality like fragments of old stories that have escaped their meanings. They were born from the earth. They are sea nymphs. They charm the wind.
They are surrounded by flowers. They turn white as bone. They died when Orpheus helped the Argonauts pass them safely. They died when Odysseus took Circe’s advice to pass them tied to a mast. They sing like the Muses who wear their feathers. Hera introduced them to the Muses. They nest in Hera’s hands. They follow Artemis’s lead. Aphrodite gave them wings. Demeter took their wings. Demeter gave them wings. They serve Persephone. Their music causes obsession. Their music erases fear.
Like the Muses, the Sirens are singing bird women linked to water with changeable names, numbers, instruments and homes. They put secrets and unbreakable charms into song and they gathered flowers with Persephone. Three different Muses are called the Sirens’ mother: Terpsichore the dancing Muse, Melpomene the tragic Muse and Kalliope the epic Muse. The name of another Muse, Achelois, becomes the group title of the Sirens, the Acheloides, when they are daughters of the river God Achelous. One Siren and one Muse even have the same name, Thelxinoe “the enchantress” or “heart’s delight.”

Earth, Water and Air
The Sirens have roots in the sky, the sea and the earth. In older genealogies, they are children of a river and the earth or another river and a sky woman. The story goes that Heracles and Achelous, a shape-shifting river God, once fought each other for days. They were fighting over who would marry Deianeira or for possession of the cornucopia, the horn of plenty that Amaltheia used to feed baby Zeus. Hercules tore off one of Achelous’s horns and the blood of the fish-tailed God fell onto the earth, Gaia. The Sirens sprang up from the blood-soaked ground, mirroring the birth of Aphrodite and the Furies. But others say their father is the Acheron river and their mother is Sterope, a name also used by one of the Pleiades and a daughter of the sun.
Later, they became daughters of the sea God Phorcus/Phorcys, “the hidden dangers of the deep.” They sit on islands named for flowers with rocky shores and rapid waters that rush musically, singing and calling. Sailors say if anyone hears them and survives, the Sirens will turn to stone or die, raising the question of how the sailors knew the Sirens existed in the first place. Others say when the Sirens lost their contest with the Muses, they fell into the sea and became islands of white rock covered in wild flowers.
The Sirens have two more sets of parents. In the sky are Zeus and
Hera, the God of thunder and the Queen of heaven whose mane of hair stretches across the storm clouds. Closer to the ground are Dionysus and Coronis. Dionysus is a hidden earthly version of Zeus. Coronis is a nymph who may disguise Hera when mentioning the old Goddess by name would reveal far too many buried secrets. Hera once coaxed the Sirens into a song contest with the Muses. When the Sirens lost, they turned white, once again mirroring the Furies. The Muses took the Sirens’ wing feathers to weave into crowns; for inspiration perhaps. Yet after all this, Hera still appears holding the Sirens in her hands, honoring her inspiring little song birds.

Names, Names, Names
Single Sirens are unnamed aulos or lyre players. Their solos echo calls to initiation mysteries.
As pairs, the Sirens create harmonies with the aulos and the lyre. Their various names refer to glory or splendor and enchantment; Aglaopheme of the “splendid voice,” Aglaophonos the “glorious sounding,” Thelxiope who is “persuasive,” Thelxiepeia of the “enchanting words” and Thelchtereia the “soothing watcher or enchantress.”
Siren trios play aulos and lyre and sing in a mixed consort of traditions. They are the daughters of the Muse Melpomene and the horned river God Achelous, but there are two different versions of these three. One set of triplets have names that Aphrodite would approve: Peisinoe the “seductive”, Aglaope the “glorious voice” and Thelxinoe the “enchanting voice.” The other three sisters have names that Artemis might claim: Ligeia the “bright voice,” Leucosia the “white Goddess/substance,” and Parthenope the “virginal/maiden voice.”  It cannot be a coincidence that Aphrodite gave the Sirens wings when they said they wanted to be virgins, like Artemis, forever. Parthenope in particular seems to cross the boundary between these two differing Goddesses. At her tomb, torch races were held in her honor every year, a tradition of Artemis and Hecate. And she was a bird Goddess in her own right, sharing Aphrodite’s doves and swans.
The Sirens also gather in flocks, promising to tell all the stories in the world, if you will just stop your life for a moment or two. Some borrow the earlier names and others add yet more names to the list. Peisthoe the “seductive”, Pisinoe who “affects the mind,” Teles who is “perfection,” Raidne who “improves" or "sprinkles water,” Himerope whose “voice creates desire” and Molpe and her “song and dance” all spin round each other like feathers in a breeze.
And Plato tells us that there are eight Sirens, named for the scale tones, who each sing one note in perfect harmony with the spheres of the sky. The star loving Centaurs forgot to eat and starved when they heard these Sirens turning the secrets of the universe into music.

Soothing Sirens
Persephone, the Muses and the Sirens grew up together. When Persephone was carried off by Hades, the Sirens asked Demeter for wings so they could search the world for their friend. But when the Sirens wouldn’t or couldn’t tell Demeter where her daughter had gone, she bound them to the earth Persephone had vanished into.
Yet after all this, the Sirens settled into places of honor in front of Persephone’s throne. They used their music to ease the fear and pain of death and guide underworld travelers through the maze of their own souls. Persephone even sent the Sirens flying back out into the world, their wings fuller than ever, carrying her blessings. And whispers began that their true mother was Chthonia, “the depths of the earth,” bringing us back round to the story of the Sirens springing out of Gaia, the earth itself.

The Sirens are the Muses who inspire Muses. The ones who make the music of the earth, sky and sea. They are the overwhelming, uncontrollable side of inspiration that awes and terrifies us. They created the steps of the scale and accidentals. They are the sweetest possible antidote to loss, sorrow and fear of the unknown.
Nest and Red Buds
see The Muse Contest for more on the Muses.

Sources:
Ovid's Metamorphoses
Hesiod's Theogony
Women of Classical Mythology by Robert E. Bell
The Gods of the Greeks by Kerenyi
Theoi.com

October 1, 2012

Female Musicians in History

Lately, more attention has been given to women in music history but nearly all of it has been on the composers. So here's a little about the performers.

Ladies and respectable women were not supposed to play music in public during various times in history, including the Renaissance. But that doesn't mean women only played music for their families. The two ideas that influenced whether a woman could play for an audience were her social class and what was considered a public performance.

Social Class and Private Concerts
First off, it was the women of the upper classes who were most restricted when making music in public. For women of the lower classes, it was another story. There are quite a few records of amateur female musicians, and nearly all the words for musician had female variants, which tells us in no uncertain terms that women were traveling and court musicians. Trobairitz were upper class poet musicians in France; menestrelles and jongleresses were wandering minstrels and entertainers in France; gliewmedens were traveling musicians in England -- just to list a few. Occupations were closely linked to family, so if a woman came from a family of musicians, she could easily be expected to learn to sing, play or write music to help support the family. If a woman played music as part of a group, especially one made up of her relatives, it was more acceptable than playing alone. In addition, there were a number of groups made up of all women that achieved widespread fame. They were more likely to gain musical acknowledgement if they had a high ranking patron (the Concerto delle Donne in Renaissance Italy is one famous group) but female groups certainly existed outside the courts of Kings and Dukes as well.
Next we have to understand how public vs. private was perceived at the time. Playing on the street for anyone who happened to be walking by was public and very risky for any female musician (and not so good for male musicians for that matter). But inviting 20 or 200 people from the “right” social class to a concert in someone’s home or court (and the occasional concert hall) was usually just fine. Even if a woman was playing. The real issue was who was going to be watching. Restricting the audience to the upper classes made it much more acceptable for women to play. It also made it more acceptable for the upper classes to listen to a lower class musician, male or female. Many male musicians owed their careers to these concerts and the female patrons who often ran them. A number of these “private” concerts became the unofficial centers of politics and government.
The other group of female musicians to be considered are the women labeled as courtesans. Courtesans in general were a class of women who were certainly not respectable, but still associated with the upper classes regularly. They were expected to be accomplished in music and art and able to hold their own in educated discussions. Female musicians could be labeled as courtesans to make it clear that they were skilled musicians and give them the ability to mingle with the upper classes even if they did not offer other services. But that courtesan label was not always very easy to live with and made it clear that female musicians were not respectable even when they were honored for their music. But to be fair, most male musicians were not thought of as respectable either.

Vocalists and Instrumentalists
Female singers in general were given a little more wiggle room simply because their voices couldn’t be replaced. Countertenors, boy sopranos and castrati were popular and could sing in the same range as women and were used for female roles at times, but their voices just weren’t the same and music fans knew this. And singing, in general, was given more respect than playing an instrument, so exceptions could be made for vocalists that would not be allowed for instrumentalists.
Just like today, various instruments were considered more feminine than others, although the rules about what made an instrument feminine were quite different. Women were steered away from any instrument that required “facial or physical contortions” which lets out nearly all the winds and brass and many percussion instruments. Flutes and cellos were right out; recorders and harps were iffy. Keyboards, small lutes and any instrument that allowed women to sit in “ladylike” positions while playing were much more acceptable. Not too surprisingly, quite a few women went ahead and learned the instrument they wanted to play in spite of these rules. There were many, many papers and treatises lecturing women for playing the “wrong” instruments.

Today's Renaissance Women making music at the Faire
Women were strongly discouraged from playing brass. Liza/Andrew of the Gaelic Brass finds it easier to cross dress than explain why a woman is leading a brass ensemble for the Mayor and Court. A tactic used throughout history.
Gwyneth the Feral Flute. One argument used against women playing wind instruments was that their clothing made breathing difficult. Many women at the Ren Fest modify our costumes in some way (one-size larger than standard, strategic lacings left loose, etc.) so that we can breathe properly. We have basically chosen music over fashion.
Ivy of Vespaer and Ivy on drum. Drum has shifted wildly over the years from men to women. Generally, the larger or more important the percussion is to the music, the more likely it was for a woman to have trouble being allowed to play.

Dulcinea. The dulcimer was one of the more approved ladies instruments although some cultures considered it too rustic for upper class women.
Apryl Knight of the Tulstin Troubadours with the psaltery and Matty Striker with the cittern. The cittern was the go to instrument in the Renaissance, similar to how the guitar is used today.
Sally Tenpenny and Apryl Knight tuning up. Guitars were more likely to be considered a man's instrument than a woman's. But guitars developed from lutes and small lutes were among the accepted instruments for women to play in many times.
Vespaer rockin' the guitar.


Learning music was often a requirement for a basic education, but making music for a living was seriously frowned upon. Male or female, musicians had something of a shady reputation even when people couldn’t live without having a personal musician working for them. Women often found it easier to step out of the spotlight to some degree by choosing their audience carefully, playing with a group or supporting other musicians. But others found that stage irresistible and proceeded to prove their musical right to be there.

September 7, 2012

Achoo! Hack hack!


Sneezing, coughing and hiccups. These are things that musicians may discuss among themselves but are usually not mentioned in books on how to play. Even though learning to deal with involuntary burps and coughs is vital for all wind players. (All the 10-year-olds out there will love knowing that you can usually play right through a belch, making them the least of your worries.)
The overall advice is actually very simple: play till you can’t, don’t lose the beat and go right back to playing as soon as you can. This works fine for simple dry sneezes but if you play outside and have ragweed allergies, keep a handkerchief in easy reach and be prepared to deal with missing a few notes or even a phrase. All the “ah-ah-ah” parts of the sneeze can usually still be played through although your tone may not be its best. The “choo” part will interrupt you, no way around that, so be ready to jump back in right after that last blast.
Hiccups are trickier. There is next to nothing you can do to reduce the impact they have on your breath and playing. All you can do is keep a steady beat, keep going and joke with the audience about the “rests” you added. There is a silver lining, at least for me. Something about how I breathe while playing usually prevents the hiccups from happening at all or cures them better than all the folk cures about water and surprises. For some odd reason, I can only make this work when I am actually playing the flute though. Just breathing the way I do while playing when I have the hiccups doesn’t help in everyday situations. Ah well.
Coughing. I saved the worst for last. Coughing is a problem because the more I suppress a cough, the worse the need to cough gets and the longer I will have to cough once I start. Suppressing a cough can also lead to tears running down my face which is quite distracting for all concerned. Another problem is that waiting to cough till a rest may mean I am coughing during another performer's solo, a big no-no. So if I have a rest coming up (soon!) that is not quiet or the piece is nearly over, I will try to suppress the cough till then but otherwise, it is better to stop playing and cough right away. The interruption is usually shorter and less severe.
One last tip is to keep a little water nearby for sipping cures of hiccups and soothing of the throat after coughing or sneezing. Other than that, all you can do is keep calm and play on.

August 23, 2012

The Muse Contest

Bees with Snowdrop pollen
Bees were called the birds of the Muses.
Honey was mixed with milk or water or grains of wheat as offerings to the Muses.

The Muses had several musical contests but only one was against another group of Muses. The two sets of Muses in this story were the 9 Olympian Muses and the 7 or 9 Muses of Pieria.

The Olympian Muses are the nine daughters of the Titan Mnemosyne, the Goddess of memory, names and language, and Zeus. They are the most widely known Muses today, but it took them quite some time to become the dominant version in Greek myth. The Romans assigned specific poetry, music and images to them but were not always consistent about it. They were all pictured with a lyre at one time or another.

1) Kalliope/Calliope, “of the beautiful voice,” is the Muse of epic or heroic songs. She leads the other Muses and plays the trumpet. She travels with leaders to inspire justice and thought. She settled the argument between Persephone and Aphrodite over Adonis.
Kalliope/Calliope is sometimes pictured with a scroll (book) and stylus (pen) or holding a laurel crown and the Homeric scrolls. In Renaissance times, she played the harp or lute.
2) Kleio/Cleo, “the giver of fame,” became the Muse of history poems. She spread the use of the alphabet and plays the trumpet. She is my pick for a Muse of brass instruments.
Kleio/Cleo is sometimes pictured with a chest of scrolls/books or a water clock.
3) Thaleia, “the festive or blooming,” can be found at the theater watching a comedy when she isn’t off with her other sisters, the Graces. She teaches geometry, architecture and agriculture. She invented the plectrum, used to strum the lyre.
Thaleia is sometimes pictured with a comedy mask, shepherd’s staff and ivy wreath. In Renaissance times, she played the rebec (early violin) or viol (stringed and bowed instrument that isn’t a violin).
4) Melpomene, “the singer,” prefers tragedies and elegies. She creates chants and plays the hunting horn.
Melpomene is sometimes pictured with a tragedy mask, sword, a wreath of ivy or cypress and wearing actors’ boots. In Renaissance times, she played the bass viol.
5) Euterpe, “the giver of joy,” is the Muse of instrumental music. She plays the aulos, a double-reed instrument. She loves wind instruments, lyric poetry and education.
Euterpe is sometimes pictured with the aulos or surrounded by many instruments. In Renaissance times, she played the flute or other woodwind instruments.
6) Terpsichore, who “enjoys dancing,” plays the lyre and dances. She loves large choruses in plays and education. She is occasionally the Muse of stringed instruments.
Terpsichore is sometimes pictured dancing, wearing a laurel wreath or holding a lyre. In Renaissance times, she played the cittern or large lute.
Bleu Mantle Rose7) Erato as the “awakener of desire” claimed erotic poetry, wedding music and dances that entice or require pairs. A prophetic priestess of Pan shares her name.
Erato is sometimes pictured wearing a rose wreath or holding a lyre or jingle ring. In Renaissance times, she played the cittern.
8) Polyhymnia/Polymnia, “many hymns,” is best known for her sacred hymns and mimic arts. But through a link with Demeter, she is also the divine prostitute, the one who grants love to all. She makes the rules of grammar and teaches geometry and agriculture.
Polyhymnia/Polymnia was sometimes pictured wearing a veil or cloak. In Renaissance times, she played the organ or clavichord.
9) Ourania, the “heavenly one,” makes predictions by watching the stars and invented astronomy. Aphrodite took Ourania’s name as one of her titles: Aphrodite Ourania “the Heavenly Aphrodite,” the merciful one who dances to the music of the spheres.
Ourania is sometimes pictured with a compass and star globe. In Renaissance times, she kept time on a drum or gong.

At first, every village or kingdom had its own local Muses. Since Pieria is thought to be the place the more organized cult of the Muses began, the seven Muses of Pieria may have been a quite early group. (Confusingly, they are sometimes called the Muses of Lesbos, but Pieria is much more common.) Finding more information about them however, is not easy. Even the meanings of their names have to be pieced together from other myths. Their mother is a nymph named Antiope or Euippe. The name Euippe is closely related to Hera Hippia and Athena Hippia, the horse Goddesses. Their father Pierus is named for the land of Pieria itself. The seven Muses are named Rhodia, Asopo, Neilo, Achelois, Tritone, Heptapora and Tipoplo and their number matches the seven mitochondrial Eves, the genetic mothers of the human race.

Rose Buds1) Rhodia is rose or rose garland or perhaps hibiscus or some other red to pink flower. Two sunny nymphs, Rhodos and Rhode, have very similar names. Some believed Rhodos was the same as Athena Hippia, and Rhode’s mother was sometimes the ocean nymph Polyphe, “of much thought.”
2) Asopo, “never silent,” is a river name. It may also mean “clever in all ways.”
3) Neilo may mean river and/or relate to the river Nile.
4) Achelois, “washes away pain,” is the name of a moon Goddess who was given offerings at the oracle of Dodona.
5) Tritone is three. Tritones are the sea creatures who look like the sea God Triton, the conch shell player. By coincidence, tritone is the name of the most famous interval in modern music theory, the augmented 4th or diminished 5th, the mid-point of the octave.
6) Heptapora is another river name, possibly one with seven springs, streams or paths.
7) Tipoplo, very tentatively, may be a bird call.

In later myths, Pierus is a mortal king who had nine daughters, instead of seven. He claimed his daughters sang as well as the more famous Muses, or he named them after the nine daughters of Mnemosyne and Zeus. Whether he did this out of pride or by order of an oracle depends on which story you read. Regardless, his daughters were worshiped as the true Muses of Pieria. Before long, they challenged, or were challenged by, the nine Olympian Muses to a singing contest, which was judged by the nymphs or nature itself. The music of the contest caused the Helicon mountain to rise up into the sky until, finally, Poseidon sent Pegasus to stomp on the mountain. Springs leapt up where the winged-horse’s hooves touched the ground and the Muses were worshiped at these springs. The singing daughters of Pierus, meanwhile, were declared the losers and changed into birds, either magpies or nine different birds: the grebe, the wryneck, the ortolan (or hawk/kestrel), the jay, the green finch, the gold finch, the duck, the woodpecker, and the dracontis pigeon.

Redheaded Woodpecker
About those birds…
The translations of the nine birds are a little uncertain. For the birders out there and for those who just like this kind of puzzle, here are the Greek bird names.
1) Colymbas/Kolymbus means shrub and may be the grebe.
2) Iynx is the wryneck and also means spell or charm.
Bubble Bath Rose3) Cenchris is a kind of serpent and may be the hawk, kestrel or ortolan bunting.
4) Cissa/Kissa is the jay. Also a genus of magpies.
5) Chloris means green, may be the green finch and is used for many green birds. It is also the name of the flower Goddess who created the first rose.
6) Acalanthis/Akalanthis may be the gold finch, linnet or warbler.
7) Nessa means descending from above and may be the duck.
8) Pipo is the woodpecker.
9) Draconitis/Drakonitis is some uncertain type of bird.






Of course, anyone who enters a contest with the Gods is transformed. Some stories say it’s a reward; others that it’s a punishment. But there is no doubt that coming face to face with a God and showing exactly what you can do, exactly who you are, will change you deeply and leave you marked by having met Them. In this case, changing singers into birds, who spend their lives singing...well I leave you to decide precisely what that means.
For more on the other groups of Muses (yes, there are more), see Many Muses


Ovid's Metamorphoses
Hesiod's Theogony
Women of Classical Mythology by Robert E. Bell
The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony by Roberto Calasso
The Gods of the Greeks by Kerenyi
Theoi.com

August 21, 2012

Busking Thoughts


Busking is exhausting, too hot or too cold, noisy and the audience is often small. So why do I like it so much? For one thing it almost effortlessly inspires new music. When I first started busking, I played a lot of folk tunes or old troubadour music. They tend to be easy to remember and I’ve always liked improvising on those tunes. The improvs and variations I came up with made it possible to play one tune for a longer time without boring myself (or my audience!). It was a startling short hop from there to simply playing music I created from scratch. Not everything is that wonderful but it is thrilling to know people were willing to listen to a tune I created. The more time I spent busking the more I improvised on my own musical ideas. The more I did this, the more I liked the music I created and before long I had a long list of new tunes I was trying to remember. Then of course I busk because I love to play. And I like seeing people smile when they hear the music even if they don't stop. I feel like I'm doing my tiny part to add creativity and maybe even beauty to people's everyday lives, something there should always be more of.
In many ways busking is an endurance activity. Even when you only have a short time to play in, you have to keep the energy and music moving the whole time. There is no off-stage to duck into, even when you can take a break. The more involved I am in the music, the easier it is to keep the show going. When the music changes and is new, I can (and do!) stay enthusiastic about playing till I drop.
Mixing up the music I play, my own, folk, Classical and anything I've just wandered into is what keeps busking closer to a game than work. And nothing is quite as exciting as putting the flute to my face and discovering what I’m about to play along with the audience.

August 12, 2012

Rain Spell

Earlier this summer, back in the “cooler” part of the heat wave, my grandmother said this year was reminding her of the Dust Bowl days of her childhood. In the evenings, she and her siblings would lie by the window in their room while my great-grandfather sprayed the outside wall with the garden hose. The mist came in through the screen and the water pattered over them, as cool as a tune. When it gets so hot the sweat makes the flute slide right out of my hands, I selfishly want to go listen to other people play or find somewhere cool, drink something well iced and read about how music can change the weather.
            The drums, of course, are thunder. They can call it up or back it down. They speak to the sky in its own language, murmuring and rumbling or pounding and rolling. The flute is the lightning. Its melody line climbs up to the sky till it touches the clouds with one clear high note. Then in one sharp flash that lights the world up as bright as day, tumbles down upon itself into its low dark register. The two together make an old, powerful mix. Even when they try to out play each other, the rhythm and melody never quite leave each other behind, though they may overwhelm the dancers and audience. But what else would you expect from a musical storm?
            The violin’s strings and bow meet and cross, building up energy. The sound leaps out, fierce as any breeze from clashing fronts. Played to add water weight to clouds, those tense little strings draw out rich soothing tones and flashes of color, bright as lightning. The hollow body echoes as long as any thunder clap.
The tambourine, now, is a mini storm front all by itself. The tap, tap, tapping and the rattle and crash of the jingles builds up to wilder patterns, calling in the wind front that pushes all the dry thirsty leaves out in front of it. It’s a dancer’s instrument, meant to be played by hand strikes and body movement equally as they spin, leap and work themselves into a moving trance.
wind chimes
Whistling can call up the winds, especially outdoors. All those little skipping tunes make the wind want to show off its own skill. Meanwhile, a flute played indoors can cause rain. And once the rain tumbles down, I think, how sweet it will be to settle down and play a tune with the most unruly accompaniment in the world chattering away on the roof. Each tiny note from the wind chimes makes me long for just one more, and just one more…The leaves are rattling like Halloween on the trees, applauding each breeze with a standing ovation worthy of the finest virtuoso ever to grace a stage. Demanding just one more encore.
The cicada singers have taken over the chorus role, like they do every year. But even they wouldn’t mind being spelled a day or so by the voices of the rain barrels bubbling and filling. A long soak and their voices will be fresh and ready to go for the last month of their touring show. One lone Surprise Lilly has bloomed this year, out of the double rows that line the walk. All those sweet scented stage lights have gone dim, anticipating some dramatic event that will come along any moment now. They're just waiting for their final cue. And this weekend the meteors played hopscotch in the rain clouds, waiting for the overture to begin. They added their little trills and turns to the, still too distant!, harmony of the thunder, lightning and rain. 
Surprise Lilly

The rain cancelled its performance as it was starting last night. But the worst of the heat has broken and I taste less dust when I walk about, following song lines in my head. My ticket is still good, I'm sure. Maybe, maybe, maybe, I think as the birds and I whistle our way through the woods and watch the shy little clouds in the bright blue sky.

August 11, 2012

In the Palm of Our Hands - Origin of Solfege

The solfege syllables are one of those commonly used and accepted ideas that seem like they have always existed. These are the familiar do, re, mi, fa, sol, la and ti nonsense sounds for singing a major scale (“Do, a deer, a female deer”). The major scale, and therefor the syllables, can start on any note but C is typically used for examples for simplicity's sake. The syllables can be traced back about a thousand years to Guido d’Arezzo (c. 995-c. 1050 C. E., there are conflicting dates for him), a choir leader and music teacher who developed a new way of training singers to learn music quickly. He wrote a short melody for the chant “Ut queant laxis” (just the notes, not the words) with 6 phrases that all his singers memorized.
Ut queant laxis-Guido d'Arezzo
Each phrase starts one note higher than the last phrase and began with a different syllable. Each phrase is short enough to remember very easily. Singers used the syllables and notes that began each phrase as stepping stones to find notes in new music without hearing the new music first. This is where the first 6 solfege syllables came from. Do, the first syllable of the scale, was originally ut and the 7th syllable, ti, was added later but the rest are the same. There are a couple of different theories about how these syllables got started but this is the one that turns up in most music history books.
(For the curious, accidentals change the vowel sounds. With sharps, do becomes di, re becomes ri, fa becomes fi, sol becomes si and la becomes li. For flats, re becomes ra, mi becomes me, sol becomes se, la becomes le and ti becomes te. There are other systems and not everyone uses these at all.)
Sometime after these syllables came into use, each syllable/scale-step was assigned to the tips and joints of the fingers so that the choir leader could point to a joint and students would sing that note on cue. In this system, the entire set of syllables are repeated several times since most music has more than 6 notes. Additionally, the repeated sets of syllables are overlapped to show how to modulate to new scales. This technique does not seem to have been invented by Guido but it did use his solfege syllables. The notes, 19 in all, move in something like a spiral around the hand.
Guidonian Hand
Guidonian hand from a manuscript from Mantua, last quarter of 15th century (Oxford University MS Canon. Liturg. 216. f.168 brecto) (Bodleian Library) This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.
Somewhat easier to read solfege and note layout on hand. Some notes have more than one syllable because of the overlapping pattern of solfege scales. For more info, click here. Be warned, it's complex.
This is very complicated and intimidating looking even to professional musicians and not too surprisingly is not used very often these days. But I love the idea of holding two and a half octaves in your hand.

There is a set of hand symbols representing each solfege syllable that some people use today. The hand signs for the sharps and flats aren't used as often.
Ti

La

So/Sol

Fa

Mi

Re

solfege hand signs
Do

These are very similar to the sign language alphabet but the two systems have different meanings entirely and the signs for the music syllables are a little more flexible simply because there are fewer. Not every one uses the hand signs for solfege, there are different solfege systems in use and not all musicians use solfege at all.

I am fascinated by the ways we use our hands. It’s an instrumentalist thing as well as a human thing. There is a long list of systems that use the joints or knuckles in the hand as a way to organize, remember and communicate ideas such as musical notes, alphabets, calendar dates and on and on. It's all right there in our hands.

August 3, 2012

Apollo the One Man Band

August sunset
Apollo Helios
Apollo Phoebus
In Greek myth, Apollo is the God of Harmony, Music, Prophecy and Healing. When he first came to Olympus with his lyre, the Gods could think of nothing but music. The nine Muses burst out singing while the three Graces, the three Horai and Harmonia, Hebe and Aphrodite (another group of nine) danced in a circle with Artemis leading them from the center. Even Ares and Hermes dropped their spear and staff in order to leap and cavort among the dancers. Apollo was promptly declared to be the God who brings nature into harmony. He plucks the strings of his lyre with a plectrum made of sunlight.

Except, the lyre hadn’t been  invented yet.
On the day Hermes was born, he found a tortoise and used its shell to make the first lyre. He then stole Apollo’s cows for a small barbeque. When he was caught, Hermes gave the lyre to Apollo and taught him to play it as payment for the 50 cows he had already eaten. Apollo was delighted and felt he had gotten the better end of the deal saying the lyre’s harmonies caused bliss, love and restful sleep. He even used the string music to make the walls of Troy dance into place (unless that was Poseidon and his Godlike masonry).
Before the lyre lessons, Apollo played the aulos, a double-reed instrument that turned breath into flying notes and made all who heard it forget their worries. He played laments, music for sacrifices and foreign dances on the wild instrument. He even played country melodies in King Admetus's herding fields, were Apollo went to atone for several different wrongs.

Except, the aulos hadn’t been invented yet.
When Medusa was killed, her sisters wailed and keened for her so beautifully that Athena stopped to listen. She picked reeds and made the first aulos to imitate the Gorgons’ singing. The aulos became the wind instrument of choice in ancient Greece and aulos players were often kept on city payrolls just in case they were needed to appease a God or fight a plague (plagues were one of Apollo's special forms of revenge). The instrument was so common, today it is mistakenly translated as flute in English in spite of being played more like an oboe. Hermes even claimed he had invented it when he created the lyre, just to get in on the action. Apollo finally asked Athena to teach him the aulos so he could play harmonies and keep time for the antiphonal Muses in his role as their choir leader.

Except, he wasn’t the leader of the Muses yet.
Artemis sang and danced with the Muses in all the earlier stories and she was considered their dance leader even after Apollo got the higher ranking title. Some say he was in love with all of Mnemosyne’s Muse daughters and decided to stay unmarried when he couldn’t figure out how to marry all nine at once. Others said he was the father of the three Muses at Delphi; Kephiso “of the river Kephiso”, Borysthenis “strength” and Apollonis, a female version of Apollo.

Except…
In all the stories of Apollo’s many conquests, there is not one mention of a possible mother for the singing poets. The Muses of Delphi may have accepted Apollo as their honorary father, but the story doesn’t seem to have been finished. Possibly this was because they weren’t the most popular Muses anyway. This left hints and gaps showing how Apollo had moved into a place already filled to the rafters with Gods.
When Apollo claimed the Pythian oracle, it already spoke in meters and poems, which the Muses had loved long before Apollo was born. Delphi’s three resident Muses, even had to be renamed for the low, middle and high strings on the lyre that Apollo played before Apollo was allowed to join their trio.
Speaking of lyres, there were two different kinds that were used strictly for different styles of music. Apollo only played one with his uplifting, character building music. Dionysus played the other for his drunken runs through the mountains and to pump up the emotions of his theater shows. The Muses of course loved all music, not just Apollo Approved chords. Its hardly surprising that “Apollo’s Muses” kept running off to see Dionysus’s latest plays with their toe tapping tunes. Two Muses, Thaleia and Melpomene, even claimed comedy and tragedy as their special musical areas.

The Contests: Reeds vs. Strings
One day, after Apollo gave up the aulos for the lyre, Marsyas, a goat-footed satyr, found Athena’s first set of aulos reeds which almost played themselves thanks to the Goddess’s breath having touched them. He naturally challenged Apollo to a contest, satyrs having very little sense. They met and played in Phyrgia near a lake full of reeds perfect for making aulos mouth pieces. Some say Marsyas won and Apollo was so furious, he skinned Marsyas and used the goatskin as a wineskin. Some say Apollo won and skinned Marsyas for losing but the little country Gods turned Marsyas into a stream. Some say Marsyas won the first round but then Apollo turned his lyre upside down and played again or he sang while playing, both tricks a wind player can’t do. In other words, Apollo the God of natural rules and order, cheated. In most versions, the Muses were the judges, making it seem even less likely to have been a fair contest. Some people have claimed this story was meant to show that the civilized lyre was a better instrument than the bawdy aulos which was used in the worship of various foreign Gods. Although how the versions with Apollo losing show that, I’m not quite sure. The tag to the story, that Marsyas’s aulos was dedicated to Apollo after the contest, raises even more questions. One or two versions even have Apollo feeling sorry for how he treats his competition and tearing the strings from his lyre in atonement. Finally, Satyrs may have been the mythical version of shaman-priests wearing animal skins. To “skin” one would be nothing more than taking off a heavy robe and returning the priest to his everyday life.

Pan playing double aulos
Pan playing the double aulos
Pan, the half-goat half-God famous for his syrinx/panpipes, also got into a contest with Apollo and his new lyre. This time Tmolus, the God of a mountain were Dionysus was worshipped, was the judge. Unless it was King Midas, a follower of Pan’s. Or perhaps the Muses listened in again or maybe all of them together formed a panel. But in any case, Midas alone declared that Pan should win. Apollo gave Midas donkey’s ears for ruling against him since he couldn’t really take it out on Pan, who was another God after all. (Perhaps Apollo should have waited till he had a little more practice on his new instrument before entering all these contests.)

Cinyras/Kyknos was a king of Cyprus, a priest of Aphrodite and sometimes a son of Apollo. He got into a lyre contest with Apollo, too, but this time, both seem to have played the same instrument. The challenge suddenly became much more personal. Cinyras lost, we’re told, and threw himself into the sea or was turned into a swan (sacred to both Apollo and Aphrodite). His 50 daughters also turned into birds, out of sorrow it was said. Though on a side note, the Muses, who were known to turn into birds themselves, had once or twice changed other musical contestants into birds.

Paean, The Music Therapist
In early Greece, many healers used paeans as musical charms that both praised and asked a God for help. They were performed as a prayer, for good luck, to avert evil, to ask for healing, before battles and after victories. The early formal paean had a solo leader and a choral response while later versions were mostly antiphonal chorus, both very like the description of the Muses singing. They were usually accompanied by the kithara (Apollo’s lyre), but on the battlefield they were accompanied by both aulos and kithara, the instruments from Apollo’s contests. Paean is also the name of the God who healed both Ares and Hades with herbs and music when no one else could. Eventually, Paean became one of Apollo’s more famous titles, though other Gods with links to healing used that title too.

Apollo Musagetes “of the Muses”
Apollo Kitharodos/Chithaeroedus “the lyre singer”
Apollo Nomius “of the meadow/pasture” who plays shepherd pipes/aulos
Apollo Pythius of oracles, meters and poems
Apollo Paean “healer” and song
Apollo may have gotten top billing, but he always ended up sharing music and roles with others. He learned music and song from anyone he could, civilized or not. He organized music, defined harmony and made music into the finest, most soothing balm. Apollo is the dabbler who learns new music for fun and the student driven by ambition. He is the patron of all the divas who are justly proud of their skills and all the musicians who can’t wait to learn a new instrument. He is the first music theorist and orchestrator, the conductor and the promoter. He dragged society round by the ears to honor musical accomplishments and made music something all people could share. He shows how to use music to bring peace and healing to the soul.

July 30, 2012

Repetitive Use Injuries

This topic has come up several times among my friends lately so here is what I have to say about tendonitis and other injuries that come from doing the same thing over and over.
The most important thing is to Stretch! Take short breaks while practicing to walk around, swing your arms in full circles, do your favorite stretches or just move around and put yourself in a different position for a little while. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but it's one of the best things you can do for yourself, really! If you feel uncomfortable, are in pain or have numbness, get help for whatever hurts and advice on changing how you stand, sit or hold your instrument and make sure you do it right away. NEVER ignore pain or numbness--that’s what leads to permanent injuries. It may take several tries to find the position that lets you play properly without discomfort but don’t give up. Ask for help from others if the first person you speak to can’t help you. The most common time to develop repetitive use injuries is when you are abruptly increasing the amount of time you play such as dress rehearsals for a show or the first year or two of college or graduate school. This is also the time musicians are least willing to cut back on playing just because we have a twinge somewhere. We tend to make things worse by ignoring whatever the issue is "just until this next show is done”. Don’t! Get help right away.
My personal story--In Grad school, I developed some mild discomfort in my shoulder that came and went but never completely stopped nagging me. Even at its worst, it wasn’t that bad but it was fairly constant. It bothered me while doing things other than playing (like driving) and often bothered me while I was trying to go to sleep. I tried stretching for a week or two which helped short term but the discomfort always came back just as bad as before. Sometimes it seemed tender or sore, but mostly it just felt odd. Tingly but not really numb. These are several BIG warning signs that I recognized from other musicians’ stories. They are also EARLY warning signs that are easy to ignore but I knew that would be a big mistake. I immediately tracked down a chiropractor who specializes in repetitive use injuries that people such as sports players, musicians and artists often experience. A sculptor who spends hours pounding chisels and hammers into rock sent me to him. If he can help a sculptor, he knows what he's doing! He uses a technique called active release which is basically a  localized intensive massage combined with manipulating the joint meant to put everything back in working order and reduce inflammation and pain as quickly as possible. He also gives his patients exercises to do at home so that they will eventually NOT need to see him at all and can take care of things on their own (the sign of a good chiropractor). After a few visits, I felt wonderful, that is, normal. Once or twice over the next few months, the issue flared up a little but not as bad as before and I went in for a “quick fix”. As time went on (and I got better at remembering to do the exercises) the exercises made more and more of a difference and made my shoulder feel better faster and faster. Now, if I forget to do the exercises for long enough (more than a month or two), my shoulder may start to bother me again but as soon as I do the exercises, I’m fine. And it takes longer and longer for the issue to return the more I do the exercises.
The moral is, don’t pretend things will get better on their own. The sooner these types of issues are dealt with, the easier they are to get under control. It may not be that bad to start with but waiting will make it worse. Don’t accept “you’ll have to live with it” for an answer!

July 21, 2012

The Muses Return - Reweaving Tangled Myths

I have been working on a more poetic retelling of the fragments on the over 30 Muses we can name. This is a selection from that work in progress.

Lotus Water Garden
Inspiring Water Nymphs

The Earth and the Sky had many children who each brought a new level, a new consciousness to the world. Blurring one into the other: Time and Direction, Cycles and Constellations, Oceans and Light. A rainbow of concepts and abstractions that shimmer and shift with each new idea, a constant blossoming of revelations laid out plain to see in the spiraling fabric of the universe. Piling up over the millennia to create the bedrock of a new mythology.
The first thing Mnemosyne the Titan did after being born was to name everything in creation, past, present and future, so they could be remembered. She brought language into the world by giving us the memory for words, sentences, ideas, melodies, pictures and stories. She knows everything that has ever happened and because of this, she can predict what will happen in the future.
Mnemosyne is the first Muse, the first source of inspiration, the first to create for beauty’s sake. She teaches the secrets of music, poetry and art to anyone willing to learn how to remember, to practice and to create. She knows that there must be a start, a beginning, for anything to be created. She is that beginning but she is also what allows the beginning to be. She is the blank page, the sounding board, the hollow silence of a dreamless sleep. That is why there are two springs in the underworld, one named Mnemosyne or Memory and the other named Lethe or Forgetfulness. And both are hers.

Gaia the wide earth and Ouranos the boundless sky had three daughters who inspired poets and musicians and danced in a ring round their joined horizon. Mneme is named for the memory of all the songs and stories entertainers must know. Melete is practice, meditation, reflection and all the solitary activities needed to learn and remember. Aoede is the song and the performance itself. They leap and play in the waters of fountains and springs that are said to wake the creative impulses of those who will chance wading in. They only whisper indistinct murmurs by day but by night, their voices ring and echo through mist and starlight. They live with Desire, Eros’s mirror, and the Graces and together they chase away cares and sorrows with dance and song. And one, Mneme, looks so much like Mnemosyne that even they no longer know if they are mother and daughter, sisters or reflections on the surface of still water. These three, or was that four?, are the first Gods to be thanked by any singer of any song.

Plusia keeps to herself. There are no tales, no listings for her name. The only clue to be found is in the name of a moth, Plusia, named for the rich gold markings of its wings. Four Muses name her as their mother, though they giggle and change their story about their father. Perhaps he was Ouranus of the primeval sky, like the others, or perhaps he was Zeus wandering down in the dark wealthy worlds of Pluto, looking for something he had lost. These four singers won’t say. Melete sits nearby meditating on all the harmonies and rhythms she will inspire while Aoede’s songs weave about in complex nets of motives and counter-melodies. Thelxinoe brings so much joy, bliss and delight to the hearts of those who encounter her, they forget that she is also a siren of Persephone’s court. And Arche, the beginning, has always been here since before the Chaos that began the universe, the source that causes all things to exist. They alone can safely wake Hypnos from his unending sleep. They know how to lie and how to tell the truth and how to be believed either way.

Now ever since he was a little child, Apollo would watch his big sister lead the Muses in song. He found any excuse he could to follow them to their dancing rings and soaked the music in. They even let him play the reed-pipes, a gift of Athena’s, to their singing if he was lucky. Three Muses soon formed a group round him and taught him to play a new instrument, a lyre with strings that sounded sweet from high to low. Their rhymes and meters seemed to rise up out of the earth itself, whispering hints of what was to come, that Apollo the lucky sun child collected and spread to the world. Kephiso took her name from a river full of springs and little dreams. Borysthenis means strength like other old, old names used by Hecate, Aphrodite, Demeter and the Furies. And Apollonis shone like the sun and moon in the sky.

And then there is Polymatheia, the orphan, and her ghosts. Three Muses from Sicyon once, now only Polymatheia remembers her name. She loves “much learning” of all kinds; knowledge for its own sake makes her sing and dance. She haunts theaters and universities with their comedies and tragedies and laughingly calls Dionysus’s wine “light” compared to the intoxication of study and art. Though she would never miss a show of his and thrills in mixing words and notes, like water and honey, till they have become something other, something more, than they once were. And perhaps she is the Muse who kept the mighty flying Pegasus following tamely at her heels. Though that must have been after its hooves had created the four springs of the fountain where, some say, all the Muses were born.

One day Mnemosyne was out singing and naming things she found under the sky. Zeus of the wide stretching sky saw her, and saw her name him. And down to the earth he fell. What exactly they did neither ever would say but for nine days and nights they wandered the hills and pastures, and everyone living heard music coming from the leaves in all the trees.
Then a year or so later Mnemosyne gave birth to her nine daughters. Drunk from birth on song, they emerged into the world free of worries or cares. They were so alike that they had to be named and given symbols to tell one from the other. Though of course they promptly traded their baubles back and forth as if it was all the same to them. All learning was creation to them, all words became poetry in their minds. To walk was to dance and to speak was to sing. At celebrations, no one was more welcome, but between times, Artemis was the only God as mad for music as they. Linking arms, these ten danced all night under the stars, singing like a pack of wolves to the moon.

Antiope the nymph known as “the good mare” and Pierus the king of a spring on a mountain once had seven daughters, lovely as sirens, who sang for their supper. They leapt out into the world and let their voices fly through the sky, singing of rivers and seas, flowers and the moon. Inevitably, they met the nine daughters of Mnemosyne one day and the whole noisy bunch of them had to sing together. Soon the world was brought to a standstill by this full chorus and even the newly born wild Pegasus was caught by the layered sounds. The sky itself went dark with distraction and the springs all held their breath, in wonder. And then, in that silent moment at the end of all music and songs, half of these Muses bowed, sprouted feathers and took wing, traveling out into the myths as seven magpies, or perhaps it was nine different birds, that the Muses love to this day.
Bleu Mantle Rose
Roses and Birds are Linked to the Muses
Red Robin















My later post, The Muse Contest, has more detailed information on the traditional 9 Muses and the 7 Muses of Pieria.

July 5, 2012

Lemon Balm and Whiskey

Different music comes about in different ways, often in ways I don’t entirely understand. This is the story of how two of my tunes were created.
composing music
My Dad died about three years ago. He was a musician, guitar mainly, and the person who first showed me how to get sound out of the flute (although he didn’t really play flute, just knew the basics). After he died, I went outside and played. The tunes were fairly short, slow and moody, not too surprisingly, and so was most of the music I played for a bit after that. A few months later, I took my Dad’s car (which I inherited) to get an oil change. One of the mechanics at the garage is also a musician and was asking me about some of my flutes. Since I was going to play a show later, I had the glass piccolo with me so I pulled it out and played a little for the guys in the garage. For the first time in several months I felt like playing something at least a little less sad. What came out of the picc as a result was the first couple of phrases of “Lament’s Balm.” It took forever for me to figure out this was the piece’s name, and I called it that-garage-tune to myself for more than a year. I liked the tune right off and worked with it right away. Within a week it developed a companion tune that was fairly bouncy, energetic and builds to end on the second highest note the glass picc can play. I quickly named the second tune “I’m Not Dead Yet, Pass the Whiskey Please” which was directly inspired from one of the last poems in my Dad’s journal. The two tunes traveled together for about half a year so very firmly I thought I might not need to name the first tune at all. Then they abruptly split into two independent pieces. I sometimes still play them together but they are no longer permanently joined.
lemon balm blossoms, Melissa
Lemon Balm Blossoms-Lament's Balm


lemon balm flower, Melissa
Lemon Balm is supposed to make people feel happy or at least calm. It is certainly delicious enough.
















Both of these tunes are fairly typical for me in that they jump around and rearrange themselves a great deal. However, “Lament’s Balm” has a bit more of a solid outline to its melody line even though it shifts wildly within that basic shape. “Pass the Whiskey” has several defined phrases that hold it together and a basic rhythm and build, but resisted being more defined for quite some time. The result is that “Lament’s Balm” was ready to record fairly quickly and “Pass the Whiskey” is only now reaching the stage when I feel ready to record it.
Most of my composing is based on improvisation, not formal composition training. I studied a great deal of music theory but not with the intent of developing composition skills. The theory training seems to have functioned more as a net for when the improvisation loses its grip during its trapeze act (all right so my metaphor needs a little work but you get the idea).
lemon balm sun tea
Lemon Balm Sun Tea-Good for a hot day

June 27, 2012

Inside Out, Back to Front and Upside Down - Dyslexic Thoughts

Some dyslexics have few or no obvious problems reading music. Others never learn to read music at all. I had only minor issues in music in spite of some fairly immovable problems in other areas. But the more I talk with others and read about how dyslexia affects music reading, the more I notice little issues that I have always assumed were normal. So I’ve been collecting and sharing various tips that people have used to make music reading easier.
The main idea to keep in mind is to avoid an overload of information. For example, don’t try to hit everything in sight reading all at once. Take it slow, work on short overlapping sections of music (4 notes at a time is not too short), look at the music without your instrument (the think method--yes there really is a use for it) and take breaks to process. Try to step back from the music when you are having trouble and think about what is going on. Is it a problem with learning the music that a music teacher can help with, or do you recognize the dyslexic issue from other situations (and can you use a solution from there)? And don’t hesitate to ask another player or a music teacher for ideas even if they aren’t dyslexic or haven’t (knowingly) taught dyslexics before. Their job is to teach a creative activity. Many of them get good at coming up with creative solutions.
Some of these suggestions have drawbacks in the music world. Knowing about them in advance may make it easier to work around them. I’ve noticed that the people who study dyslexia often dismiss the drawbacks to their strategies or act as if there are none. This is not helpful and can lead to some nasty confrontations, so I say think about possible issues and ways to deal in advance.
A lot of these suggestions work better if you can copy the music. Some music scores are larger than regular pieces of paper. There are often large margins that mean if you place the music just right, all the important parts will get copied. However my dyslexia sometimes keeps me from being able to tell when the top or bottom line of a staff has been cut off. Especially when the original is right there in front of me. I have resorted to asking strangers to tell me if my copy worked or not. They are usually confused, but willing to help. But it may sometimes be necessary to go to a place that will handle the copying for you and check to make sure everything worked. This can get pricey if you have to pay for the copies yourself and have a lot of music. Sometimes if you are playing in a group, they will make some copies for performers, but don’t count on this. They may very well have to pay for their copies, too. If you tell them your situation, they may be willing to make more copies than they normally would. Otherwise, you may have to toss the seat cushions for all the loose change you can find or use another solution. And keep in mind that some music is available online to print off.

1) Enlarge the music. This depends completely on having access to a copy machine that can enlarge.
2) Put matching colors at the beginning and end of lines (such as green at the end of one line and beginning of the next line, then blue, then green, etc.) to help your eye find the next line. DON’T do this on RENTED music or any music a school or other group has given you unless they said the music was yours to keep. The fees for making permanent marks on music can be horrifying. Even using colored pencils is not safe since they do not erase the way regular pencils do. If you can, copy the music THEN use colors on it.
A variation on this is to get little sticky tabs in different colors and attach them to the page at the ends and beginnings of lines. Make sure they are no stickier than post-it notes so you can remove them cleanly. The flapping/shadows of the tags could trigger dyslexic issues for some people though.
Another option is to extend the lines of the staff at the end and beginning of every other line so there are long and short staffs alternating. This is my pick.
3) Darken the middle line of the stave, and the first ledger lines above and below. This could be done with pencil fairly well if you have a steady hand for following lines. Some dyslexics do, some don’t. Using a ruler may help. If you are required to erase all marks in the music before you return it, clean up could be very tedious. The lighter you mark, the easier it will be to erase. Some dyslexics have a difficult time writing lightly but using a softer lead pencil may help. Again, copying the music and then marking is an option.
4) Rewrite the music so that all the stems go the same direction. Be aware that this can take some time whether you write it out by hand or have access to music writing software.
5) Make sure that the music is written in proportional notation (half notes occupy twice as much space as quarter notes) to help reading rhythm. Getting a version printed this way depends on the publisher and printer doing a good job or being able to use music writing software to print your own copy. And not all music writing software does this well at all. You can try, but it may not be possible.
6) Keep similar fingerings in similar passages. Within reason. There are sometimes good reasons for different fingerings. When there is a passage that needs to be fingered differently than the others, mark it.
7) Color the top and bottom line of the staff. Again, DON’T make colored MARKS in music that isn’t yours. Unless you really want to pay a fee to replace it. Copy then mark.
8) Read the music backwards. Yes, really. There are 2 ways of doing this.
One is to read the music backwards, note by note. Going through music backwards makes people process information differently and notice details that we couldn’t see before.
The other way is to work on the last measure first, by itself. Then work on the second to last measure and so on. Both of these are actually great tricks for anyone, dyslexic or not, who is learning new music.
9) Watch your hands. Don’t twist into a bad playing position though! If you can’t see your hands easily while playing, place a mirror where you won’t have to move your eyes much to see what your fingers are up to. The theory is that this closes a loop in the brain between vision, sound and physical actions which helps both with accurate playing and memory. Obviously, you won’t be able to do this in most performances, so use it as a practice technique and practice without the mirror as well so you are used to it.
10) Some people have trouble dealing with tied rhythms. Others have a tough time reading the dotted notes. If one trips you up, try re-writing the music with all the ties in dotted notation or all the dotted notes written as ties. Re-writing music can be time consuming, so this is not always an option.
11) Copy music onto light colored paper like yellow, tan, grey, light blue or lavender. The glare from white paper sometimes makes reading trickier. Pick a color that makes your eyes willing to look at the page.
12) Play by ear. A fair number of dyslexic musicians do much better when they can study music by listening to it, either in addition to or instead of reading it. This involves finding a good recording (that is, a good performance) to listen to while trying to play along and listening over and over. This is how the Suzuki method and lot of Jazz works. If you play by ear while reading music, take time to play without listening after you feel familiar with the piece as well.
13) Use shapes with letter names. For example put a circle around A, a triangle around B and so on. This works best if there are only a few note names you are having trouble with so you don’t have to come up with seven different shapes.
14) When learning new music, look at one part of it at a time. Look for the repeats and overall pattern without worrying about the notes, look at the melody separately from the rhythm, break it down anyway you can. And look at the dynamic and tempo markings on their own too.

Dyslexia can cause very specific issues like being unable to read the number 4 but having no trouble with other numbers. This means that each of us will use different methods of coping. Some of these ideas work for some people but not others, and some may even make things worse for individuals. I can’t even begin to tell you how much it upsets me to have the stems all going the same way but that trick works wonders for others. The key to dealing with dyslexia is to use what works FOR YOU. Don’t do something that doesn’t help just because an “expert” thinks it should work and don’t reject something because it didn’t work for someone else. No two dyslexics are exactly the same.
And remember, some of these ideas may help even if you only use them on SOME of your music. You may find that reading regular music is less overwhelming after using these strategies on your daily exercises and personal music (that you don’t mind marking up). I’m not saying that your dyslexia will go away or any other stupid thing like that. Just that you may be able to teach your brain how to work around some of your issues. Or you may need to use these tricks extensively your whole life. Whatever works!
This is by no means an exhaustive list, just what I've run across so far. Feel free to share other ideas in the comments.