March 26, 2020

Low Whistle video

A Low Whistle improv.

March 20, 2020

Double Whistle video

Another bit of music for everyone.

Triple Flute video

March 14, 2020

Possum Playlist

A story from my "studio".

While recording music for my 2nd CD "Waking the Devas", which was all recorded outdoors, I went out to play under a Meteor shower. Nighttime nature sounds being different from daytime and besides it seemed like a great way to watch for shooting stars. 
I spread out a blanket, got all set up and turned off my flashlight so my eyes would adjust. I watched the stars and listened to the tree frogs. Then I played several different tunes and re-worked some. All the usual recording activity.
After some time, I heard some odd quiet little noises and rustlings (cat? small dog? giant nocturnal rabbit late for a tea party?) just past my blanket. They stopped and started, got closer but I could only see vague movement. I turned on the light and saw long pointed face, dark wild eyes, fur sticking out in all directions and a long fur-less tail.
Now let me say I love Possums. They are sweet and helpful little guys and girls. They do not generally don’t live long enough to even be at risk of having rabies let alone spread it and they eat ticks so they are most welcome as far as I'm concerned. But they are surprising when the emerge from the darkness and fearlessly sit down next to you. Asking you to play some more tunes on that odd silver tube. Just for them.

Which is why one of the tracks recorded that night but not included in the album stops rather abruptly and includes me vocalizing various “heys” and finally clapping at the end.

February 6, 2020

Why We Listen to Diverse Music

Culture is embedded in music and dance. Throughout history when a culture is under attack, music and dance from the suppressed culture is one of the things targeted. Happens over and over. From Rap being censored to specific instruments being deemed bad or inappropriate for women to play. The wider the targeted music, the more totalitarian the attacking group is trying to be.
And it never works. People keep making the music they love no matter what punishments are involved. In fact, it often backfires and makes the music from the suppressed culture more popular and more beloved.
So let's just keep right on enjoying all the different kinds of music and dance out there!

December 1, 2019

A Bit About Me

One day many years ago, I went out into the woods to teach myself to improvise. The cedar tree I sat under taught me how to listen to things I had already heard but not noticed. The birds taught me how to make each note my own song. The breezes taught me how to adapt and change to each moment. The little forest creek taught me to dance while holding still.
This is how I went feral.
After many years, I learned to share my creations with others and slowly became a composer/performer. I studied how to ornament Baroque music. I took classes on Jazz improvisation. I delighted in the many different First Nations flutes and scales in North and South America and the personal songs they sing. I learned the differences between articulations in Irish and Classical music. I jammed with musicians steeped in Eastern improvisation.
I soaked up ideas of inspiration and the creation of music from myths and fairytales.

I create art from breath and make sculpture out of air. Each song/tune/performance is individual and ephemeral. Each flute has its own voice. I use recording as a tool to expand my ideas and share unique musical moments in the wilderness with others.
"Amaltheia's Lullaby", my 1st CD uses Alto, Concert and Glass flutes recorded in my garden. Lullabies and dreams, all based on a 4-note call to Pan.
"Waking the Devas" uses Baroque, Concert and Glass flutes recorded in rain and wind, night and day, crickets and cicadas.
“A Few Flutes Shy of a Flutter”, continues the madness with new whistles and rim-blown flutes recorded over a year of wandering the forest hills.
I am currently working on a 4th album with the sound of water in every track.

What will happen next only the Stars and Time will tell.

October 19, 2019

Talking Water

(This was originally posted in June of 2013. Since I've spent the last year recording music next to running water, I decided to share this again.)

There are several small creeks and run-offs in the hills around my home. Each corner of every one sounds different. After a heavy rain, I can walk beside the streams day after day and never hear the same tune twice. The harmonies shift hour by hour as the water level sinks, progressing out to the rivers.
Roots in the Creek Bed
None of these little creeks have running water year round though there are little springs here and there that keep them from becoming bone dry and maintain a soft hum.
For two years, we were in a drought and the creeks have not been as chatty as I'm used to. We had a good conversation last May but then they fell silent for the rest of the year. By October, only dust was moving in the rocky beds. Even the tiny springs’ tuning pitches seemed to have been lost to the heat and wind.
Dusty Dry Creek
...and dry

Green Creek
Same creek, wet...

Then, this Spring, it snowed. And snowed. And for good measure, snowed a few more times, moving planting dates later and later. And every time the snow melted, I could see more water standing in the too-quiet waterways. The slowly rising pools even began to create tiny trickling noises, little whispers and hints that the drought might be ending. Just perhaps.
Sky Between Snowfalls
Sky between snows
The cold Spring snows finally gave way to rain and to my great delight, there were a few twists in the creeks that were speaking without stop, though debris and roadside trash still cluttered most of the straight-aways, just waiting for a good rushing torrent to chase them away. Until it rained 3 inches in one day. And then rained the next day. And again two days later.
The floods were intimidating of course but largely brief. The ground soaked the rain up as fast as it could, greedy as a cat with cream or a musician with notes. And I could not help but dance for joy. The water was talking, chanting, singing in ways I hadn't heard in over a year.
Leaf Waterfall

Pictures just weren't enough. I had to take my handheld recorder out to gossip with the running waterways. The chiming sounds of water tiptoeing down ditches, the rhythmic lines from the rocky falls and the dark bass notes of the wide deep bends below the bridge all had a solo to share.

Wild and Crooked Creeks
Run-off; around 1 minute Mini Water-fall; around 3 minutes Bass Note in the stream; 7:52 min Bridge Exit

Opening Run-off
Rocky Falls
About 1 min; the Mini Waterfall
Spring Torrent
About 3 min; Full Voice w/Bass Note
Pools and Reflections
7:52 The Final Bridge

The thunder and rain have drummed up dance forms, chansons and polyphonic-rounds in the running waters while the birds toss motives and trills down on us like confetti. The earth and sky pour joyous melodies into the little pathways of the ear and overflow the mind until nothing is left but song and water.

Sky, Trees and Talking Water

August 20, 2019

Double Double...

I picked up a double whistle, just for kicks, a while ago. It was cheap and I figured it would be fun to use from time to time for a silly look-what-happens-when-whistle-players-get-drunk thing. And down the slippery slope into a new musical realm I went!

Double Whistle in C (Susato Dulce Duo)
The first double whistle I got has a full pennywhistle on the left and a three-holed tabor whistle on the right (same as the last 3 holes of a whistle.) The instrument maker imagined this instrument being played with the left hand on the pennywhistle side and the right hand on the 3 holed whistle. You can play in F major with the harmony and melody switching from whistle to whistle and dancing around each other as needed quite easily this way. However, the seller suggested using 4 fingers on the left hand by adding the pinky on the whistle to get some notes that overlap on both instruments and some neat parallel 3rds. Both strategies are quite fun and create great music.
Naturally, I did neither of these things.
Instead, I use tape to cover the top 2 holes of the 3 holed side and use my pinky to cover the last hole. I still use both hands to play the left side whistle normally. This basically turns the right side whistle into a 2 note drone in the bottom octave. Now the nifty thing is, in the next octave those drone notes can be overblown to the 5th as well and gives me 4 notes up there. Getting even wilder, if I uncover one side of the mouthpiece slightly I can (with great care and practice) keep one whistle in the low octave while going high on the other. To a point since this does affect the tone quality some.
What all this boils down to is I have 6 possible harmony notes available to me along with a full whistle for melody. Dorian tunes really shine in this set up and major is great fun too.
By the way, you can find instructions on-line for taking two cheap whistles and making this design yourself if you want. Most separate the two whistles more than this into a wide V-shape which makes reaching the bottom hole with your pinky difficult (if you want the alternating drone set-up) but creates a neat visual impact (if you use the one-hand-on-each-whistle approach).

Double Whistle with Tabor Pipe by Carbony Celtic Winds
But wait, there's more!
I then went out and found someone who would make a double whistle with a tabor pipe on the right that has 2 holes in front and a thumb hole in the back. I covered the middle hole (upper one in the front) on the right side tabor pipe so my pinky still covers the bottom hole and my thumb covers the higher 3rd hole but all my other fingers are free for the pennywhistle on the left side. AND I can half-hole the thumb creating 4 possible harmony notes in the bottom octave and nearly a full octave possible in the 2nd octave. While STILL being able to play the pennywhistle side (more or less) normally.

Thus explaining why I now look permanently confused and distracted--I'm recalculating all my fingering and harmony strategies!
D Dorian (minor with a raised 6th) is perhaps the easiest scale to use with these double whistles. However, with a little creative thinking (and knowledge of music theory) it is quite possible to play in C or F major, F Lydian (major with raised 4th), G Mixolydian (major with a lowered 7th) and A Aeolian (minor). The tabor pipe side can be used for mostly long chord/drone notes or with more lively moving notes. The line between harmony and melody gets a bit blurry with the moving notes but that is part of the charm.
Notice that the two sides are even closer together making it very easy for the fingers to reach all the holes on both whistles.

I know I haven't even come close to figuring out everything I can do with this yet. But here is a sample of what I've done so far. (This track was recorded beside a rushing creek after a heavy downpour.)

I said at the beginning this is a drunk whistle player trick. But I actually think it is more than that. I think this instrument shows a heavy influence from South American Indigenous flute music which delights in using multiple flutes at once. Both by having a single player handle two (or more) instruments and by having multiple players on flutes.
So I suppose it only makes sense that next I got a double ocarina, an instrument that originated in South America. The double ocarina has two chambers a fifth apart that each play one octave with a completely different fingering arrangement than I'm used to. The tone is dark and rich in spite of being high. This all makes this instrument quite different from the other doubles, especially how the tonic note shifts from one key to another in the middle of a tune!

So that's how a whim became a whole new set of musical ideas and experiences. I'll just be heading off to play some solo duets now...

July 31, 2019

Album 3; A Few Flutes Shy...

Got the digital tracks uploaded! Still working on getting physical CDs ready. (Been distracted by some non-music related tasks-Silly reality!)
Here's a look at the art and program notes to the 3rd solo recording of a mad flutist!

Available at CDBaby "A Few Flutes Shy of a Flutter" and the usual music sites.

June 11, 2019

A Herd of Turtles or Who Stole My Flute?

Lately, I’ve been reading about Turtles and Tortoises in folk tales and mythologies. It wasn’t deliberate. I went looking for some stories about music from the Americas because I realized there was a gap in my musical mythology there. What I found was a herd of musically inclined Turtles/Tortoises ranging from North to South America in a wide range of cultures and stories. 
Some of them whistle, some dance, some play flutes and many of them are tricksters and pranksters. Sometimes the Turtle/Tortoise make their own flute and other times they steal it from someone else. In a North American story, Vulture gets quite upset over having his flute stolen in one story and carries the hard-backed thief into the sky and drops him, thus explaining the "broken" patterns on Turtle's shell. They play a wide range of flutes too: ocarinas, rim-blown flutes (like quenas), pan-pipes and quill-pipes to name the ones I've run across. (The Andes in South America have a wide range of different styles of flutes.) I think I like the South American story of the Tortoise wanting to sing like all the birds in the world, and inventing flutes to do so, the best.
I have run into Turtles linked to music in stories from Europe too but no where near as frequently and those Turtles aren’t cast as musicians themselves as often either (The Greek invention of the lyre was inspired by a Turtle though the poor guy gets killed in the process). The American Turtles/Tortoises make music themselves and have a good deal more fun even when they get in over their heads. The slow, thoughtful trickster figure (instead of the rapid fire ones more commonly mentioned) has been lots of fun to read about even without the musical enticement (which of course I love too.)
I have gotten quite fond of the idea of a Great Musical Turtle traveling across the land causing trouble, making people laugh and dance. And I admit to identifying with those flute playing Turtles when I’m going to a show and carrying every instrument I own on my back.

May 2, 2019

Home Birth, Citizenship and Passport

I'm going off topic in this post because I think this story needs to be told. The passport agency is rejecting birth certificates for natural born, US citizens who were born at home instead of hospitals. How do I know? It happened to me.
(Updated Nov 2018 and Jan 2020. This is still happening. I will keep adding links to other stories related to this at the end as I find them. There is a book scheduled to be published in 2020 about the history of citizenship stripping that will include this issue: "Unmaking Americans: A History of Citizenship Stripping in the United States" by Amanda Frost.)

Some background; I was born in Kansas. I was born at home and was delivered by my dad. My dad filled out my birth certificate (properly; everyone at the Court House that day came by to help) and filed it well within the one year deadline. I have lived and worked in the US my entire life. My parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were/are ALL natural born US citizens. My family has been in this country since the 1600s.

Back in March 2018, I applied for a new passport. I managed to misplace my old one (which was very expired) so I sent in my properly filed and legal birth certificate (double and triple checked by several people) that meets all the passport agency’s listed requirements. This is the same birth certificate I used to register to vote and for other citizenship related things all my life and to get my first passport way back in junior high school. In April, I got a letter back from the Houston Passport Agency that said my birth certificate “does not sufficiently support your date and place of birth in the United States since your birth was in a non-institutional setting.”
The Houston passport agency requested I send a long list of additional documents most of which I could not get because they had been destroyed years ago or had never existed in the first place (for example; my parents, as citizens from birth, have never had Green Cards and my school records were destroyed, by law, four years after I graduated). The KS Vital Stats office (issued my birth certificate) was shocked to hear about this. The Vital Stats office wrote me a letter saying my birth certificate is legal, valid and complete and that KS does not require babies be born in hospitals. I sent in my parents' birth certificates. My mom filled out a birth affidavit. I copied pages from yearbooks borrowed from friends. I sent in my childhood immunization card, school awards and the land purchase form my parents filled out before I was born (showing their residency in KS). I got my Senator's office involved.
All to prove that my certified state-issued birth certificate is real.

One of the people in the Senator’s office said this was a result of the crack down on immigrants (in spite of immigrants not having US birth certificates). Another said that the passport agency is putting the burden of proof on people. Which implies that birth certificates are no longer considered proof of citizenship. At least not for everyone. After 2 miserable months with no response from the passport agency and nightmares about ICE flying me from detention center to detention center for the rest of my life, I got my passport. In an envelope dropped on the ground under my mailbox. No letter, no explanation.

Things I’ve learned or thought of as this unfolded: 
-This as been happening to people with Hispanic names in Texas for some years. Now they are expanding. This may be mainly the Houston Passport Agency and not the others. Yet.
-There was a ruling from 2009 that the passport agency (especially the Houston one) had to STOP rejecting birth certificates just because a person was born at home. The passport agency (especially the Houston one) seems to be using the phrase “non-institutional setting” to try to get around this ruling and is expanding their policy instead of stopping.
-Hispanic people are having a MUCH more difficult time dealing with this than I did. Their papers are being kept, their passports are being taken away from them, they are having their citizenship revoked without warning and they are sometimes having to wait years to get any response when they ask for help.
-People who were adopted and have sealed birth records are having similar things happen to them. As are people born outside the hospital by accident.
-The one and only thing that seems to help is to contact a Senator and have them check on your application. Repeatedly.
-People delivered by Midwives are being specifically targeted and being born in a hospital is being (unofficially but effectively) made a requirement for citizenship. In other words, they are trying to make it illegal for women to give birth outside of a hospital. In addition, people born at home are being held responsible for the suspected actions of others (we were babies when our birth certificates were filed).
-State-issued birth certificates are not considered enough proof of citizenship unless hospitals sent them in. In other words, they are suspecting State and County Court Houses (where my dad went to file my birth certificate) of fraud.
-This policy/practice will only impact people born in this country who are supposed to be citizens, no question.
-They do not list this as a possible issue so it is a "secret" requirement. 
-This is retroactive. They are telling people who have had perfectly legal birth certificates all their lives that their birth certificates are suddenly not good enough proof of citizenship any more.  
-This may be part of a wider effort to remove the born-here-you-are-a-citizen rule. There has been discussion about declaring that the children of non-citizens who are born in this country should not be eligible for citizenship. I’m not sure just where these kids would count as citizens in this case! They are also investigating birth certificates and trying to prove they are false. Which would effectively strip citizenship from people who have lived here all their lives believing they were citizens because they were born and raised here just like their parents. A link on this subject  
What to do if you get caught in this sort of situation: (you can do the paperwork or fight-both are difficult) 
1) If you have a passport, you should be able skip this nonsense. If you can’t find it, mention you had one when applying. No matter how old it is or when it expired. Fill out the form for a lost passport if you can’t find it. They keep records so even if you can't find it, they should know you had one. (Update: I have recently heard from people who sent in old passports and were STILL rejected so don't count on an old passport working either!)
2) The office that issued your birth certificate in the state you were born can check on the validity of your birth certificate and write a letter saying it really is real. This may not be enough on it's own but it is one more form to add to your pack of papers. Send this letter in with your birth certificate when you first apply. 
3) If you get a letter demanding extra proof just because you were not born in a hospital, CALL OR WRITE your Representative and Senators and ask for help right away. Contact all three and work with whoever gets back to you. Don't worry about if you agree with their politics or not. It is their job to help with this sort of thing (there is no fee for this either). Do this even if you have the extra documentation the passport agency wants because it may not be enough. Make a stink. Let people know what is happening.
4) Get a birth affidavit from someone who witnessed your birth or can testify to when and where it happened. The local passport office should have these forms and they can be found on-line though I don't know if printing them off and filling them out is ok. (This form is called Birth Affidavit DS 10-get one with the most recent date at the top you can). They are not hard to fill out but you will need someone else to do it for you. They prefer an older blood relative or the person who delivered you but go with who you can find and fill out extras if you are worried (you should only need one BUT I know one person who needed 5 different people to fill this out for him). It has to be notarized (I went to a bank for that) or possibly the passport agent can do it when you turn in the application (the person filling it out needs to be present for that). The person filling it out needs to send in a copy of their ID with it. I don’t know if you can do this now and save it to use later or if it has to be recent. 
5) The Help Line is useless. It took them 3 weeks to get back to me. Then they just read the letter the passport agency sent to me out loud into my voicemail and hung up. They are supposed to help you figure out how to send in the requested documents but they did not help me with that at all. I resorted to making a new appointment at the local passport office to get that figured out.
6) Contact the ACLU in your state, the state where you were born, the state of the specific passport agency that rejected your birth certificate and in Texas (where the 2009 ruling took place). Tell them you believe this violates the 2009 ruling on the Fair Issuance of Passports.
7) Look for a lawyer right away. Especially if you are Hispanic or any other minority. Civil rights or immigration (yes, I know, we aren’t immigrants-but they know citizenship law). They need to know how many people this is happening to and where it is happening. And if you need them, the sooner you get in touch, the better.
8) Quote the 2009 “Fair Issuance of Passports” ruling that says the passport agency can’t reject birth certificates just because a person was born at home with a midwife. Most officials don’t seem to know about it at all (at least they didn’t mention it to me!) so make sure to bring it up.
9) Document everything. Copy what you send in. Take notes about letters, e-mails and phone calls. Have it ready in case you need a lawyer. 
10) Contact the media. This is being buried and hidden from the public eye. Don’t let them keep this quiet.

This is not just about traveling. This is about citizenship, voting and having your rights honored. Regardless of whether or not you were born in an "institutional setting" or at home. To quote the Constitution of the United States, Amendment XIV, Section 1; "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

Links to other stories of this happening after the 2009 ruling: 
This person was accused of being a fraud in spite of having parents and an older sibling all citizens.  

Woman trying to get her newborn baby a passport. 

Woman born by accident at home (premature) in the 50s told to pay extra fees and forced to get census records to prove citizenship in spite of having a birth certificate. 

Woman told to send in pre- and post-natal records from the '60s and that a trial could take 8 months. 
National story (August) on this issue and how “U.S. citizens are increasingly being swept up by immigration enforcement agencies.”
Arizona. Woman whose 4 and 6 year olds were denied passports in spite of having official birth certificates with state seal.
Kansas. Me.
Kansas Woman told Birth Certificate Wasn't Enough to Prove Citizenship and
Latinos Born Outside Hospitals Face Scrutiny Over Citizenship
Texas. 3rd generation US citizen and veteran told birth certificate not proof of citizenship.
Midwives Alliance of North America statement on the practice of denying passports to those born outside of institutions.

Minnesota. US Marine with security clearance only US citizen can have denied repeatedly. ACLU says they will sue.
Colorado. ACLU suing for woman in Colorado. Her husband got his citizenship by marrying her yet she was denied a passport.
Atlantic story on this issue and the history of people being denied their 14th Amendment rights. (Author of this story, Amanda Frost, is writing a book called “Unmaking Americans” that is scheduled to be published in 2020.)

Colorado. ACLU suing for man in Colorado.

Link to 2009 ACLU ruling on Fair Issuance of Passports

Someone recently asked how the Passport Agency knew I was not born at a hospital (comment section is not working right so I'm answering here).
Kansas birth certificates have a place asking for place of birth, either hospital or address. My parents' home address, at that time, is in that slot since they were being truthful and honest.
Each state's birth certificate is laid out differently and ask slightly different things. They also change over the years. For example, they used to ask if the baby was "legitimate" or not (my parents' birth certificates both have that question) but most states don't ask that any more.

April 28, 2019

The Truth About Time Signatures

This post is about a pet peeve of mine; what time signatures really mean.
First, let me go over what a time signature is for the non-musicians reading this. At the beginning of a piece of music, there are several different symbols including a couple of numbers stacked on top of each other like a fraction. Sometimes there is a large letter C or a C with a line through it instead. This is the time signature.
C with a line means the same as 2/2.

Time Signatures
C and 4/4 are also the same. Don't worry about why, they just are.
It is sadly common for people to say the time signature tells you which note gets the beat and how many beats are in a measure or even worse, that it tells you what meter (pattern of strong and weak beats) the piece uses. The trouble is, these ideas are only right some of the time, not all. And they are right just often enough that people don't always notice how wrong they really are.
What the time signature really tells us is what the musical note values in one measure will add up to. That's it, nothing else.

Simply put, the numbers are the fraction of a whole note within each measure. So 3/4 means there is three fourths of a whole note in a measure which is the same as 3 quarter notes. However, a 3/4 time signature is more likely to use the dotted half note for the beat than the quarter note. Another example is 6/8 which means there are six eighths of a whole note in one measure which is the same as 6 eighth notes. And the 6/8 time signature rarely uses the eighth note for the beat; the dotted quarter note is a much more common choice with this time signature.
A more complex way to say this is: The bottom number represents a note value. This means 2 is a half note, 4 is a quarter note, 8 is an eighth note, 16 is a sixteenth note and so on. The top number tells you how many of the note values represented by the bottom number are in one measure. So 4/4 means there are 4 quarter notes in one measure and 3/16 means there are 3 sixteenth notes in one measure. Now 4/4 sometimes uses quarter notes for the beat but just as often uses the half note or the sixteenth note depending on how fast or slow the piece is overall. In 3/16 the sixteenth note, the dotted eighth note or even the 32nd note can be counted as the beat. There is simply no way to tell from the time signature. It also doesn't tell you what rhythm patterns or meter will be used. These things are often implied by the time signature but there is no absolute relation between time signature and which note you count or the meter used. The music itself is a much better guide for figuring out the meter. And the speed (with the meter in mind) most often determines what note will be counted. It is a good idea to match a time signature with the meter in some way that people can understand but it is quite possible to impose unexpected time signatures on any meter if you are stubborn enough and don't mind making your music very difficult to play. Stravinsky did this at times, apparently in an attempt to drive his orchestra to distraction. But in general, we like our meter and time signature to work together in some way.

In a sense, the only thing the time signature reliably tells us is where to place the bar lines between each measure. This is very important for keeping your place in the music, especially when there is more than one musical part in a piece. Keeping a musical group together without a time signature or bar lines is a much more complicated process!

March 14, 2019

The Notes "In Between"

Micro-tones. These are all my personal observations and not a complete survey or study and may be quite wrong.

Micro-tones are notes that are smaller than one half-step apart. If you look at a keyboard, each note is one half-step so we are talking about notes that "fall in between the cracks" on the keyboard. The human ear can discern them, however, and even hear them as independent notes rather as sharp or flat versions of Western music’s half-step system. Easily. Many cultures use micro-tones. (There’s a case to be made for Western music using them, too. Some say they fell out of use and others say they are still in use but not acknowledged.) 
Middle Eastern music is the most commonly cited example but most other cultures have them somewhere. I have noticed that cultures with vocal music that is somewhat independent from instruments almost always use micro-tones though they aren’t always called that. Think about sean nós singing in Ireland, Blues pitch bends, Native American music and on and on. These “small” notes are often called ornaments or decoration but they are critical to the melody. 
Some instruments can play these notes easily (are even designed to) and others face a few challenges trying to use them (though there is almost always a way.) Cultures that focused on those micro-tones tend to have more instruments that play them easily. Cultures that did not pay much attention to the notes "in between" in song tend to have instruments that play notes with more clear cut divisions that make it tricky to get to the micro-tones.

Cultures that did not use much or any notation before Western colonization hit them are more likely to call the micro-tones ornaments or decoration rather than calling them notes that are part of the tune. And yet, if you leave those “ornaments” out, you are not preforming the music accurately. I am fascinated by how Irish music has taken the grace note system from Western music and started to expand it to show all those “little” notes that are so critical to this music. Though some say this is too rigid and limits the “ornament” notes. (Mind you, these grace notes and ornaments in Western music originally represented an improvisation system for Classical music that fell out of use and is only now being revived itself. They weren’t always strict notes but rather suggestions of places and ways to add something. So you could say they are returning to something like their original use in non-Western music.)
Cultures that used a notation system of their own that incorporated micro-tones kept on calling them notes, not ornaments, even after the Western music notation system got thrown at them. What’s more, they began adapting the Western notation to show those micro-tones. This is still a work in progress and some say it won’t ever really show those notes properly. But they used to say rhythm couldn’t be shown by the Western notation at all so it will be interesting to see just how things change.

In all these cases, the Western notation system, which was often forced onto other cultures, is now being changed and expanded by the very music it was meant to replace or "civilize".
My take away from all this is not new. Music doesn’t exist in a vacuum and it crosses boundaries with ease. Language, country, class and notation style. Music is constantly changing and transforming and each different style or twist creates something beautiful that is worthwhile.

January 24, 2019

Musical Languages

Many people say music is a language. I agree. Except I would go further; Music is not just one language. It is a polyglot of many languages that all enrich each other. 

Music has a listening language which requires no performing or formal training to learn and delight in. Audiences round the world know this. This is why music is often so public; by listening we are communicating with the performers and other people who are listening. Performers spend at least the same amount of time learning to listen as learning to play. It is essential for playing in groups, for making choices in your own music and for being able to understand what the audience has to say. Listening allows the musician to adapt to the moment and how the audience completes the performance. The listening language is how we continue learning, growing, expanding in music. Listening seems passive but it is, in fact, a skill that takes practice and exercise to develop. Fortunately, listening is usually a fun and pleasant experience!

There is the language of making music, the basics of which are wired into our brains yet can take years to refine. We move to music or tap a beat or hum a tune and begin to learn new techniques for making music the day we are born. We can learn this language casually, in our “down time” or for recreation. Or we may devote large sections of our lives to study and lessons and practicing. Either way, the language of making music is a lifelong activity with no end to the new and delightful things we can learn.

Then there is the language of analysis. This can be a tricky one to learn since it is essentially about translating music into actual spoken or written language. And no matter how we try, there will always be something that won’t translate exactly. Still, the attempt to describe music opens up worlds of understanding that can transform both how we listen and how we make music. And again, this language is not exclusive to college trained performers. Anyone can speak about music, how it sounds, how it moves, how it makes us feel and what it makes us think.

Every genre and style of music is also a language, expanding the possible languages to the infinite. Listening to or making music in a different style can transform how we experienced music in the past as well as the future. We may add new ideas or “accents” inspired by other genres. We may even find some styles we don’t like but that too will add to our understanding; what we like and don’t like and why.
We all have the ability to learn and enjoy each and every one of these languages, with or without formal training. They combine and transform each other in a constant swirling dance. The meaning of all these languages is intangible, instantly understood and changes endlessly with each new musical experience.

October 12, 2018

Making It Up As I Go

When I was 13, I went out into the woods and began to teach myself to improvise and compose. I did not know it at the time though. I began by memorizing a short folk tune and adding small ornaments (a trill here, a grace note there) to it. I had seen several versions of this tune in sheet music form with ornaments so I made a point of adding ones that had not been in those versions. Some sounded good, others not so much.
The next week, I did this again. And then again. The ornaments got a bit longer and more complex (turns!) and after a few more weeks, something odd happened. An interval in the melody caught my attention. I don't know why but it suddenly sounded different than it ever had before in this tune or in any other. It sparkled and glittered. I spun it around and tossed it into other places in the song. I explored what notes played before and after the notes of that interval would emphasize the extra something I was hearing and feeling in my fingers.
In time, other intervals in this same tune caught my attention. And I worked with them in similar ways. Then I put together the intervals I especially liked (for no apparent reason) and explored how to weave them together in a way that showed off the magic I had found in them. With mixed results. But eventually, I realized I wasn't playing that folk tune anymore. I was creating a new melody.
This unsettled me. I knew composing was a deep pool of new learning and I was a bit reluctant to dive in just yet. So instead, I just told myself I was noodling. Then improvising. I took a small tape recorder out with me (I always did this somewhere I felt I wasn't being listened to at that time) and recorded a few of these little ephemeral notes and lines. I liked just knowing I could go back and hear what I had done again. Once or twice I even actually listened to those tapes (not often) and noticed things I liked and things I thought weren't really that interesting and tried to remember both.

Years later, my teacher had me add ornaments to a Telemann piece. Using our best information of how ornaments were added at the time. I loved it but it frustrated me wildly. I loved it because it was exactly what I wanted to do a great deal of the time. But so many of the ornaments I came up with did not fit the rules. And I could not seem to actually change any of the notes in the melody which I knew would have happened at the time. Still, it was a whole new way to play with those feisty little notes.
Then, again years later, I took a Jazz improv class. This had mixed results too but by then, I expected that. I knew I was trying to learn to do something different than Jazz so I accepted that not everything I learned here would work for whatever I was doing. And those little noodling tunes and exploratory ornaments I was playing in private kept going. And growing. And fewer and fewer recordings had dull sounding moments in them.
Then I went to play at the Renaissance Festival. Suddenly, I was playing music all day long. I got bored just playing written tunes and played some of my own improvisations. And some of what I now admit were compositions began emerging into the light of audiences. The next year, almost half of what I was playing was my own improvising or compositions. The next year, I had to remind myself to play music other than my own.
And that is the story of how I learned to "dream in music". To allow music to pour through me and, hopefully, into the dreams of others. To create a world of sound that constantly shifts and changes. Like rainbows through rain-clouds or starlight on snow.