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

Re-blogging because the ACLU has recently taken on a case related to this issue (https://kstp.com/news/born-under-suspicion-us-government-challenges-minnesota-marines-citizenship/5328273/).

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. Link to news stories I was interviewed for; Kansas Woman told Birth Certificate Wasn't Enough to Prove Citizenship and Latinos Born Outside Hospitals Face Scrutiny Over Citizenship-I will keep adding links to other stories related to this at the end as I find them.)

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. 
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. https://www.aclu.org/news/state-department-agrees-fair-issuance-passports-mexican-americans 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.
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.

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.

September 4, 2018

Hum, Buzz and Shiver

My mother planted Yucca flowers next to my mail box this summer. (Plant exchanges and free seed fairs result in a lot of gardening whims and botanic surprises in my family.) I didn't notice right away. But then they bloomed. During an extreme drought that made the Periwinkle and Virginia Creeper show signs of wilt. These tall, elegant clusters of blooms brought out a smile every time I passed them, when other plants surrendered to lack of water and went dormant till next year.
Meanwhile, the Sunflowers bloomed. And bloomed. And bloomed. Each year I'm stunned anew at how many shades of yellow there can be in one small patch of flowers. And at how long these glories last. I am not at all surprised these flowers were/are considered grave flowers by the Kaw Nation (the people whose stolen ancestral land I live on) and as a connection to those who are gone.

And I remembered the stories of Native American flutes being made from hollowed out stalks of Yucca flowers and Sunflowers. Sometimes, flies or bees burrow into the stalks and partly hollow them out before they are picked for flute making. Making the flute a joint creation of the plant, the insects and people.

When a flute is played, vibrations can be felt under your fingers. Life pulsing through the instrument for as long as your breath lasts. Dissipating into the air after the final cadence. Scattering like seeds back into the earth. Waiting for the next rain to bloom all over again.

April 30, 2018

Sight Singing and Dyslexia

I recently saw a joke on the internet. There was a picture of some music with a caption asking "what's wrong with this picture?" and I found myself stumped. The time signature and the note values added up right, the key signature was written correctly, bar lines and other symbols were placed right and I could not figure out what was wrong to save my life. Then I read some other people's comments and realized the music was supposed to be the opening of Beethoven's Fifth. Without any further information, I immediately saw that the last note was wrong and the rhythm was wrong (glaringly so). And then I realized something. I hadn't been able to "see" what was wrong because I hadn't turned the visual notation into sound in my head (a skill taught in sight singing classes) until I knew it was supposed to be a specific piece. And what is more, this happened in spite of the fact that I learned to sight sing years ago and even taught sight singing. All of which caused me to recognize what was happening at last; this was a dyslexia glitch I hadn't been aware of before.
One of the issues with dyslexia is that turning symbols into what they represent is tricky. Written letters and words are the most typical examples but it can happen with numbers or music notation too. Most dyslexics only have trouble with some symbols and not others. This is why some dyslexics can't spell but can handle written math and read music or have trouble with written math but no trouble with music or reading. My main dyslexic trouble is spelling not music notation. But suddenly I realized that turning written music into sound in my head is just a bit more problematic for me than anyone would expect because of my dyslexia.

Now sight singing or turning notation into sound in our heads is not something people do automatically. Most people have to learn the process and they tend to find it challenging at first. A few folks have a knack for it but generally it is something that must be taught, practiced and sweated over. Once learned, some people can't turn it off (every notation "sings" to them) but most have to make a conscious effort to sight sing music. I was in the second group. If I just look at notation, I don't just hear it right away. I must make a conscious effort to "hear" the notes and rhythms written out in front of me. This isn't really that unusual nor is it considered an issue so I hadn't ever noticed that the effort I make is just a bit more, a little longer, a smidge more complex than is typical. The fact that learning to sight sing is not easy for anyone hid the fact that I don't turn written music into sound in my head easily. It wasn't until I had trouble getting an obvious (to musicians) joke that it came out into the open.
This isn't a big problem for me (clearly since I was trusted to teach freshmen the basics of sight singing). I've worked around it for decades without even realizing it was there. What's more, once I have played a piece, it is outrageously easy for me to "hear" the music when I look at it.  That extra bit of information, the physical memory of creating the sound on my flute, kicks my sight singing skill into high gear and I can even catch tiny changes in the notation with ease. This makes a great deal of sense given my history of using finger spelling to manage to learn to spell at least a bit better. Attaching physical sensation to the visual symbols helps me process the symbols. And I can, in fact, sight sing a piece without ever having played it just fine; I just need a few extra moments to work it out. Since I'm an instrumentalist not a vocalist, this is simply not a problem. But now that I know about it, I can work with it and find the alternate ways I process the written music into sound. Like "fingering" the notes on a pencil as if it was a flute, something I used learning to sight sing.

Finally, to anyone who has struggled to learn to sight sing music, you now have a small hint of what it feels like to be dyslexic. That process of transforming notation into music entirely inside your head is quite similar to fighting to handle moving letters while learning to read.
The initial stage of learning to sight sing (according to me and my non-dyslexic friends alike) is unsettling. It seems as if there is no point of reference for what you are learning, nothing to hang on to or use as a tool. This is because you are restructuring your brain to do a brand new thing. Dyslexics often take extra time to learn to read because they must work out new methods of processing the written letters for their brains. The same thing happens when learning to sight sing music for nearly everyone.
And remember that there is more than one way to learn to sight sing (just like learning to read or do written math). Different teachers use different methods and each person develops their own tricks. Ask others for tips if you have serious trouble and explore other approaches. Remember that it may never be automatic and that's ok. Practicing the skill at whatever level you have it will teach you how to develop it. Don't expect your sight singing to match others but use your skill your way.

March 16, 2018

Lady of the Pipes

Ianuaria, a Celtic/Gaulish Goddess. The information about her is extremely limited but intriguing. At a healing shrine in Beire-le-Chatal, France, she was pictured as a young girl with curly hair, wearing a pleated coat and playing the panpipes. The site also had images of Apollo, bulls and doves. No one knows if she was associated with music, healing or birds and bulls outside of this site or not. Her name is related to Janus the Roman God of beginnings, doorways, gates, the new year and January. Jana (or Iana) Luna, a moon Goddess, is Janus’s consort and the only other female version of the name Janus (as far as I know).

Music goes back to our beginnings as various finds of 40,000 year old flutes show. Music and healing are often paired and music was sometimes used as a form of healing. Many of the Gaulish deities mixed and matched roles, attributes and even names with other cultures. The ancient Celts traveled so far they couldn’t help but run into other Gods and see similarities to their own. Meanwhile, the Romans were quite prone to creating Roman names for local deities and pairing them up with a Roman God, just to make everything seem Roman to them. All this makes it quite likely that there was a local deity connected to healing or music or both who was simply renamed.

Ianuaria’s roots are long gone but close your eyes and listen for the sound of flute music drifting over the hills on a chilly day and you just might catch glimpse of where she went.

Adkins, Lesley and Roy A. Adkins. Dictionary of Roman Religion.
Theoi, Roman Myth Index: http://www.mythindex.com/roman-mythology/J/Janus.html

February 14, 2018

A Love Story

Some people devote themselves to one specific instrument and remain faithful to it their whole lives. Some people fall for multiple instruments and learn to juggle their various passions. I fall somewhere in between these two forms of musical devotion by playing several different types of flutes. Each flute requires slightly different adjustments in how they are played but I love the changes of tones the different materials and designs have on the basic flute sound.

The concert flute is my first love and the flute with the most flexibility in scales, accidentals and the widest range. It is the flute most people think of first and are used to seeing in orchestras. It is generally the top sound and gets some of the most ornamented parts. It can be flashy and used to imitate birds but it also is used for slow, sad tunes. It is often used in music meant to evoke natural settings. As popular as it is in Classical music, it is generally ignored by other genres such as Jazz (sax players often double on flute but solo players are rare) and folk (guitar and/or traditional instruments are much more common) so it actually adds some unusual sounds to these areas.

The alto flute has a wonderful lush sound in its lower register. I was captivated by it the first time I played one (not uncommon for those who like this instrument) but it is the heaviest flute I play. This is the flute I lift weights for. Much as I love it, playing an entire show on this instrument alone is not practical if I want to keep my arms in good working order. So this flute gets short, attention grabbing appearances mixed in with the other flutes. It is associated with darker music than the concert flute and gets used for more mysterious pieces. It is lush, velvety and surprisingly powerful.

I play 2 different sizes of glass flutes. The one in C is similar to a piccolo or a fife. The one in G is halfway between a regular flute and a picc. Their sound is bright and cheerful and a kick to play in the rain. These are both from Hall Crystal Flutes. I'm not generally a fan of piccolo sounds (I like low better) but the glass material darkens the sound wonderfully. And I admit, it is very nice to have light instruments that are easy to clean up after a long dusty day. Smaller flutes and piccs have light and bright sounds but they are also very effective at creating haunting music. The key is getting the contrast right between their brilliant sound and a darker musical line.

The one-keyed Baroque flute sounds soft and quiet up close but always surprises me with how far its sound carries. Mine was made by Daniel Dietz. Wood flutes generally have a rich dark sound which is part of what gives period and traditional flutes their distinct timbres. I am especially enchanted with how wood flutes can imitate the alto flute sound in a smaller, lighter instrument. This flute is wonderful with Troubadour tunes and other Medieval and Renaissance music of course but it really takes flight on the lively pieces.
Many Flutes
Alto (with curved headjoint), Glass flutes in G and C, Baroque flute and Concert flute.
Recently, I was swept off my feet by some Penny-Whistles (also called Irish Whistle, Tin Whistle or Celtic Whistle) and rim-blown flutes. They are full of surprises and each one is different (unsurprisingly). They dance, dream and delight.
For more see Whistle While You Work or  Mythical Jacquaflute

High F Elfsong Copper Whistle, Low F MK Whistle, D Milligan Whistle
Rim-Blown Diatonic Flute based on Ancestor Pueblo/Anasazi Flute design

I have several different ocarinas (they just sort of accumulate) that are lots of fun to have on hand when the flute is just too large to be practical. They are basically extremely fancy whistles with a full octave range. Though the 10-holed chromatic wooden one I recently got goes a bit beyond that! Learning to fit tunes on this little whistle has become my version of Sudoku puzzles but much more fun. It has a soft voice that invites listeners to come close and lose themselves in musical stories.
I have a set of panpipes but I haven't really caught the trick of them. Truth to tell, I dislike how it feels to move the instrument on my lip so I leave performing on this instrument to others. They are quite fun to have though and they have taught me a great deal.
Then there are the recorders. I do play and teach recorder but we've always had a complicated relationship. They are very delicate sounding and it is surprisingly tricky to play them WELL. They take a precise touch that is rarely mastered by people who think of them as a children's instrument. It makes perfect sense to me that they were used in the same age as lutes and other subtle sounding instruments when amplification only existed in cathedrals and caves.
Panpipes, Ocarinas, Recorder
Panpipes, Ocarinas and Recorders, oh my!

I have studied a few other instruments (guitar, piano, harp, violin) over the years but never "hit it off" with them the way I did with the flute. Studying the basics on a couple of other instruments helps performing musicians be more flexible and gain more control of their instrument whether they become a doubler or not. In my case, the flute keeps tempting me back.
And so the love affair continues...

January 17, 2018

Artists of the Breath

Flute players sculpt sound into music using their breath as chisels and brushes.
Exhalations become brush strokes and molds. Vibrations become paint and clay.
Welding together timelessness and the ever changing moment.
Creating the ephemeral out of the intangible.
Wordless communication.
Singing without a voice.
Breathe and Listen.

December 23, 2017

Greensleeves - History and Theory

“Greensleeves” is one of the most famous English folk songs. It dates from the Renaissance and has picked up a lot of stories and speculation. It is one of several songs that are so popular, some musicians only play them by request. It has a good melody and some rather interesting harmonies that keep people listening to it over and over. It has been used as the basis for many Classical and Jazz pieces and has even been given Christmas lyrics ("What Child is This") in 1865 (over 200 years after the tune was written).

Publication and Attribution
It is generally accepted that the first printed version of “Greensleeves” dates from 1580 as a broadside ballad but that almost certainly means it existed for at least a little bit before this. (The publication history of this tune is pretty crowded; lots of versions, lots of different lyrics and lots of titles. I'm not even going to try to trace that since it can be found elsewhere.) But it is still not likely old enough to have been written by King Henry VIII in spite of the persistent rumor and unfortunate attributions on sheet music. He did write music and lyrics for existing music but he didn’t write this tune or any of its lyrics. Anonymous should get all the credit for this little song.

Meaning of Lyrics
The color green had a number of associations in the Renaissance. Sleeves in this era could be detached and switched out for a colorful splash if you had the money for that sort of thing. Green skirts, on the other hand, was a slang reference to grass stains acquired from "rolling around" on the ground and generally misbehaving. But green was also used to represent fidelity and is still very much a color associated with the fairy-folk. All of this has been used to claim the green sleeves in the folksong lyrics refer to an upper-class lady, a virtuous woman wrongly suspected of being a prostitute, an actual prostitute, a fairy or just a someone who liked the color green. Most likely, we won't ever know.

Melody and Meter
There are several versions of this melody in natural minor, melodic minor, Dorian mode and major. I’ve even run into someone claiming this tune was Eastern European in origin. This last theory could possibly explain why there are so many competing versions since when tunes travel that far, they are often shoehorned into different musical systems. But there was no musical analysis offered to support this idea so that particular theory must be left in the entirely unproven category. And of course, folk songs often develop many different versions over the centuries even when they don't travel quite so far.
Most people I know play this tune in A minor-ish but G minor-ish is fairly common and of course it can be transposed to any starting note you like. One more thing to remember is this song can be written in different meters. Some form of triple meter (6/8 or 3/4 usually) is more common in my experience but plenty of people have shifted it into duple or even odder time signatures.

A Bit of Musical Theory
Here is what I have observed about this tune.
Musically, what sounds “right” to a society changes over time. During the European Renaissance, the musical sound was shifting away from modes (scales that sound odd to modern ears) and towards the major-minor system (what Western listeners are most used to today). “Greensleeves” uses both systems and therefore shows that transition as it was happening. This is true of all the minor versions of the melody; they constantly switch back and forth from one system to the other at regular intervals, rather like a kid on a swing.
(The earliest version was printed in minor and since major just sounds wrong to me, I won’t examine that version.)

Aeolian / Natural Minor
This version starts out in the older Aeolian mode but uses the more recent melodic minor scale for the cadences at the end of phrases.

minor scales in Greensleeves

The following sound bite demonstrates the Aeolian mode, the ascending melodic minor scale and a simple version of the melody.

Aeolian (same as natural minor) uses lowered 6th and 7th scale steps. This scale is used at the start of and in the middle of phrases. The chorus actually starts on the lowered 7th scale step, a distinctly modal sound.
The ascending melodic minor scale raises both the 6th and 7th scale steps. This scale is used exclusively at the end of phrases.

Dorian Mode
Now, the Dorian version follows the same basic pattern as the Aeolian version - the tune starts in the older Dorian mode and switches to the more recent melodic minor for the ends of phrases. Dorian is almost the same as Aeolian (natural minor) but has a raised 6th. Melodic minor is actually closer to Dorian than Aeolian in some ways.
(For a more complete explanation of the different modes see my earlier post Modern Modes.)

alternating scale systems in Greensleeves

This sound clip demonstrates the Dorian mode, melodic minor and a short run through of a Dorian version of this song.
(You may notice that this version is one whole note lower than the Aeolian version. This can create the impression that this version is darker or sadder when played right after the other one. It is an auditory illusion created purely by the contrasting starting notes. I chose to play it in the same key as the sheet music for those who find mismatches between notation and performance disconcerting.)

Both Aeolian and Dorian are modes that work well on whistles and keyless flutes with the main difference being how high or low they sound. It isn't uncommon for folktunes to shift between the two, likely for the convenience of the instrumentalist's or the vocalist's range. In this tune, the lowest notes fall outside the Dorian range on keyless flutes unless you choose to play in the upper two octaves (making the top notes of the chorus challenging) or jump the those low notes up the octave (or just use other notes). But that raised 6th in Dorian also creates a different mood than Aeolian. It is well worth considering both versions.

Perhaps one reason this 400 year old melody remains so popular is that it gives us a small sweet taste of the different variations in music when the collective musical ear was shifting between different scale patterns, creating variegated melodies and harmonies that shimmer and shift with each hearing.

November 20, 2017

Playing the Baroque Flute

I'm not an "expert" on the Baroque flute (also called Traverso.) I was trained on the concert flute and that is where a lot of my skill comes from. But I've been playing Baroque flute for a couple of decades now and I believe I have enough experience to share some tips.In many ways, information about any transverse flute, modern or ancient, can be transferred to the others. But they do have their personal quirks which is what makes them so interesting (and frustrating) to play. Fingerings, tone, volume, range, chromatic notes, basically everything shifts for each flute. This is what gives them their unique sounds.  

There are several books on Baroque flutes, old and new, out there and I do suggest taking a look at one or more of them. "Method for the One-Keyed Flute" by Boland has some great advice for ANY wood flute, care instructions and some technique exercises. Treat the fingerings as a starting suggestion (this applies to any fingering charts that come with a flute too). Each flute works a bit differently and you may find a different fingering works better. Most of these books assume you already play the modern flute or have a teacher and do not include much basic how-to-get-a-sound-out stuff. If you are starting from scratch you may want to talk to, or take lessons from, a flute teacher to get those basics down.
Now, another approach to books is to get an instruction book for the Irish flute. Irish flutes are basically historical flutes of one type or another and these books often have more absolute beginner info in them.
When looking for advice and tips, keep in mind that there are several different Baroque flutes out there. The flute went through a radical redesign at the beginning of the Baroque era (1600-1750) and then continued to change without any one style becoming standard. Some of the changes included the shape of the bore (inside of the tube), adjusting the tuning and adding a key. Then they added a couple more keys. Then they added yet more keys.  Then they argued about which keys were useful, which were "decadent" and which got in the way. The only key they all more or less agreed on was that first one for the right hand pinky. After that, it was anyone's guess which keys an instrument maker would use or a player would prefer. Plus, some Baroque flutes can be taken apart into 3 pieces, some come in 4 pieces, some have multiple different sized middle sections and the foot joint can sprout a telescoping extension. There are reasons for all these apparently conflicting designs; they sound different and some music works better on one and some on an other. Baroque music was not uniform or standard and musicians and audiences alike loved variety so naturally there was a wide range of instruments to go with all the different musical styles.

In spite of all that, tips for one style of Baroque flute can generally be applied to the others. But it helps tremendously to know exactly what kind of Baroque flute a person is talking about.
I play a one-keyed, four-piece Baroque flute. It is one of the simpler (though not simplest) styles. It has some of the most limits on chromatics and scales unless you are comfortable with half-hole fingerings. It is one of the last flutes that could be held to either side of the body though it was usually held to the right so the flute section wouldn't knock into each other too often.

photo by Kenton Samual
Baroque flute in action. Photo by STL Photovisions
Baroque flute, Maple wood
Baroque flute in pieces. Maple wood.

Now here are my three main tips (plus one extra);
1) Work with tuning and modes.
2) Try to improvise on the flute you are learning.
3) Finally play the flute regularly even if you don't sound the way you want yet.
Extra; Consider learning the pennywhistle.

1) Tuning on the Baroque flute is not the same as the concert flute. Not just because of the reduced chromatic notes either. The internal scale is tuned a bit differently than a modern flute and it takes time to adjust. Any tuning work on any flute will help so if tuning the Baroque flute gets too frustrating, do some tuning exercises on another flute for a bit. This improves your ear which WILL help your tuning on the Baroque flute eventually. Remember, as your ear improves, you hear the flaws in your playing more and it can feel like you are getting worse. You aren't. Your hearing and your playing are just improving at different rates.
In general, typical tuning issues on the concert flute are magnified on the Baroque flute. For example, the 3rd and 7th degrees of the major scale need attention. And any note in a chord that needs tweaking on the concert flute likely will need very careful adjusting on the Baroque flute. The trick is that you may or may not need to adjust in the same direction or the same amount.
Closely related to tuning is playing in modes. These are scales that use different patterns than major or minor. Playing in a mode is often easier than trying to play in many major or minor scales other than the scale the flute is tuned to. (That's what all those keys are for-chromatics and shifting keys.) This is why you will find quite a bit of older music and folk music that uses modes. It fit the instruments better (or the instruments fit the music better if you prefer). 
What's more, playing in a mode makes you listen to your tuning differently. You will notice that some modes are easier to play in tune than others. This is partly a result of how you are listening to and adjusting your tuning. Each scale rearranges your hearing and tuning sense whether you notice it or not. A note that sounds fine in one mode may sound badly out of tune in another. This teaches you a lot about the tuning of your instrument.
This takes time and work, no way around it. But here's the good thing; if you keep at it, you eventually will develop a more instinctive understanding of how to adjust on the Baroque flute. You will always need to pay attention but it will become more natural, at least on some scales.
This link is a short introduction to the modes if you want to know more about them.

2) Now, improvising is a WONDERFUL way of getting to know an instrument, in my humble opinion. Chasing down a melody in your head will really teach you what an instrument is capable of in your hands. Additionally, playing a wide range of music helps you find out what works on a specific instrument faster than almost anything. I suggest looking at older music that was written when these flutes were commonly played (though some of these may prove a bit challenging!) or folk music (those books on Irish flutes I mentioned often have Celtic tunes in them that work well). This music is often written with some awareness of which chromatics are difficult to handle. Take these tunes as leaping off points; ornament them, add notes and let the tunes lead you into improvised melodies that explore the flute's sound. But don't stop there. Experiment with music you like that is outside the typical style for the Baroque flute. Some pieces will work, some will sound dreadful and others will sound oddly transformed. This is all useful when getting comfortable with a new instrument.
You also need time to develop the tone you want and improvising is a great tool for that too. The tone of a wooden Baroque flute will naturally be different than a metal concert flute (this is why many people like it.) But there is a wide range of possible sounds within that wood tone. Listen to your sound, the sound of other players and see if you can change your sound to match others. Experiment to find out just how many changes you can make to your tone. Not every change will create a "pleasant" tone and this is ok for our purposes. The more tone options you have, the easier it is to create a tone you like or that fits a specific performance. It is nearly impossible to describe in words just HOW a person changes their tone. We tend to resort to "relax your throat" or "let the air pour out" or "make it sound like melted chocolate" to cause students to change embouchure shapes. The control of those tiny muscles develops almost subconsciously the longer you play and listen to others. Which makes playing for fun (and I think improvising is wildly fun) one of the best tone exercises around.

3) Don't be discouraged if you don't sound like a virtuoso right away. Just keep at it. Playing/practicing in short, regular sessions is the key. Five minutes once a day will bring about improvement. Fifteen minute sessions each day or every other day are plenty long enough when starting out. You don't want to exhaust yourself and regular practice rather than long is what keeps you from forgetting what you've learned.
And if you miss a day (or three) don't beat yourself up. You won't forget everything THAT fast! Besides, breaks are good both for your playing and for your enthusiasm. I firmly believe that having one scheduled day a week that you do not practice (unless you just feel like it) keeps you from getting overwhelmed and frustrated. You need that down time to remember how much you enjoy playing, to find and listen to recordings you want to sound like and to get some rest.

Whatever you do, make sure you have fun! Perfection is not the goal of music; delight and joy is.

P. S. 
It recently occurred to me that learning the pennywhistle is tremendously useful for learning the Baroque (or any period) flute. Whistles use a 6-hole fingering pattern that is basically the same as the Baroque flute AND uses cross-fingerings most people don't mention with period instruments. The cross fingering are not always transferable but sometimes they are. Add to that, you get to hold the whistle in front of you and PUT YOUR ARMS DOWN! Trust me, the chance to rest your arms and keep playing is fantastic. Not to mention whistles are a great deal of fun all on their own. For more on this idea, see my post 6 Holes-Where Traversos and Whistles Meet.
Just make sure you get a pennywhistle with a tone you like! You don't have to go to the most expensive or fancy whistle (though you can; I sprang for a wooden whistle and couldn't be happier). But do ask to hear a sound clip or try the whistle out first to see if you like it. I suggest Elf Song Whistles (the Jasper Whistle) or Tilbury Whistles as fairly good starting points without spending large amounts of cash. There are cheaper whistles but they can be inconsistent. That doesn't mean all bad-some professional players use $15 whistles to this day-it just get trickier to find a good one. (By the way, the word "tweaked" next to a cheap whistle means "someone has modified this whistle from the original". This is usually good and means various issues have been cleaned up a bit.)
Or look up the "Wandering Whistler" on-line and check out his whistle reviews.

Second P. S.
Tone advice; Since I can't comment or reply to my own posts (a tech issue I hope is resolved soon), I'm including a reply to a question on tone here.
All the tone exercises concert flute players learn are great for the Baroque flute too. Slow but beautiful tunes are good when you've gotten bored with the long tones. Octave jumps can help since the more your upper and lower octaves match in tone, the more likely you are to have a good (or better) tone. Listen to other players and compare your tone to theirs. You may not like their tone but that's ok. You want your ear to process that Baroque sound so you can hear yourself as accurately as possible. Wood instruments often sound "softer" or "darker" or "airier" than metal flutes and that can take getting used to. Try to change your tone intentionally. The more changes you can make to your tone, the more control you will have over it.
And try to play the Baroque flute fairly regularly (daily, every other day or every third day if possible) so your embouchure muscles remember all the new things your trying to do. Keep at it and good luck!

October 31, 2017

Pied Pipers, Ghosts and Devil Tales

A Few Haunted Tunes
Blues guitarists (acoustic and electric) are famous for selling their souls to the devil, usually at crossroads, but this turns out to be an old tradition for musicians.
Giuseppe Tartini (8 April 1692 – 26 February 1770) was a violinist and composer. He once dreamed the devil appeared before him and asked for a violin lesson. After the lesson was over, the devil played the most beautiful music Tartini had ever heard. When he woke, he attempted to recreate the music. The result was the Devil's Trill Sonata though Tartini said it was nowhere near as beautiful as the music in his dream.
Niccolò Paganini (27 October 1782 – 27 May 1840) was a violinist and a composer. People said his mother had made a pact with the devil when he was 6 and traded his soul for his virtuoso violin skills. Others said he was the devil himself. His concerts were said to enthrall his audiences and render them insensible to anything other than his playing.
Philippe Musard (1793 - 1859) was composer and conductor. His conducting was so wild (jumping up and down, kicking, throwing his baton into the audience) that people believed he must have made a deal with the devil.

"He Who Pays the Piper Calls the Tune"
There are several stories dating back to the Middle Ages of a musician stealing children away with music. The piper is usually dressed in multi-colored (pied) clothing and strikes a deal with the town of some sort. The piper completes the task but the town refuses to pay. And so the piper plays music that causes the children to follow him out of town and disappear.
In the "Pied Piper of Newton", the piper is hired to get rid of a hoard of rats with his music. When the town refuses to pay him, he plays a new tune and the children follow him up Silver street and down Gold street and into the forest outside of town where their laughter echos in the green shadows and the piper's brightly colored clothing flashes in the dark.
In Hamlin (made famous by Browning's poem) the earliest reference to the piper is a stained glass window (now destroyed). The window showed the piper who was said to have come to town in 1284. Some versions of the story say one, two or three children escaped and stayed behind. They described the music they followed and the joy they felt as the children were lead into a hilltop that opened and swallowed them or as they were lead to the river to drown. Even today, it is forbidden to play music on Bungelosen street (the street without drums), where the children danced after the piper.
In Korneuberg, Austria, the piper gave his name as Hans Mousehole. Here, the people not only refused to pay but threatened to turn the flute player over to the witches court. This time, the children were led onto a ship and sailed away.
The musician is usually a piper or flute player but in Brandenburg, it was a hurdy-gurdy player who led a group of children away, never to be seen again.
Meanwhile, in the city of Erfurt in 1257, over 100 children suddenly gathered and danced their way to Arnstadt where they were rounded up and returned home. No one ever learned why.

Some say these stories may be about groups of young people migrating to Eastern Europe. There were people known as lokators who traveled Germany recruiting people to travel east. They sometimes dressed brightly and were considered to be silver-tongued. Some of these "settlers" were on ships that sank before they reached their goal.
Others say these stories are about children being recruited for military campaigns or even the Children's Crusade. Since criticizing these campaigns was not allowed, the people told a more fanciful story to remember the children who never returned.
And still others say these stories are about an out break of dancing mania in the 13th century that caused people to lose themselves in dance and music, possibly even dancing to death.
And some people say the Piper was Death himself and the children drowned or died in a landslide or during a plague.

The Flute in the Cemetery
Around 200 years ago, a German musician named Casper Dielman came to America. He wrote music for several presidents, led symphony orchestras in New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore and taught music at Mount Saint Mary's College in Maryland. He want his son, Larry Dielman, to be a composer and musician too. He even gave Larry a flute. But Larry wanted to play banjo and became a grocer instead. After Casper died (1880s) Larry pulled out the flute his father had given him which Larry had taught himself to play it in private. He went to his father's grave on Christmas and played in honor of his father. He did this each year and the neighbors soon noticed. They began waiting for the flute music to drift through the night and would go out and follow the piper to the cemetery, dancing. Larry died in 1923 but people said that each Christmas night they still heard flute music coming from cemetery. Sometimes the flute made dogs howl and other times ghostly laughter would follow the music around the gravestones.