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December 30, 06

Brazilian Eye Candy

Visual Recital Scene from Vernacular Dances

I just received a nice set of pictures from my Visual Recital in Recife, Brazil - i have to say, having an entire wall to project the visuals onto makes a HUGE difference!

Another scene from Vernacular Dances by Charles Griffin

The stage crew at the Teatro de Santa Isabel were really top notch! Fully equipped with a 3000+ lumen projector and all the necessary cables and power converters - they did a terrific job of helping me to bring the Visual Recital to life!

Scene from one of John Carollo's Preludes

Several people commented on how helpful the visuals were in making the music better understood - younger audiences seem to grasp and enjoy this type of presentation immediately. Older audiences have somewhat mixed reactions - some enjoy it, others find the visuals distracting - but it's hard to deny the excitement generated by the audience's reactions and emotional impact of the show!

Who knew a classical music recital could be so electrifying?  LOL

A brand new Steinway helped to provide a keyboard literature focus to the festival. What a wonderful way to open the festival, with a solo piano recital!

A colorful montage from Charles Griffin's Vernacular Dances

I love the way these pictures came out - i can't wait to show you the videos!

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Heinz, the Ketchup - er, Hence, the Catch-Up!

As 2006 dwindles to a close, i have some major blogging to catch up to! These past two months have been particularly busy and crazy, and i only have a moment to share some previews of articles to come as i'm already behind in preparations for next year's activities:

  • Summary of my trip to Recife, Brazil - the Visual Recital was quite a hit there, with some fascinating ramifications that went far beyond anything i could've hoped for or dreamed up! I have a ton of neat pictures to edit and post, and several video clips as well. I'm waiting for the audio from the recording engineer, in particular for the Visual Recital - i have a nice video DVD that needs to have the audio cleaned up, and will post clips as soon as i'm able to collect all the necessary components and edit them accordingly.

  • Promotional materials for the Visual Recital - i'll be busy this weekend starting work on some video clips and html mailers to promote the Visual Recital concept. In additon to web video clips, I'll need to make a DVD, a repeating videotape (a 1 or 2 minute promo clip that repeats for 60 minutes), a possible revamp for the website (adding a new section dedicated to the Visual Recital), and possibly a poster template for promoters...whew!

  • Vacation pics and notes - Jack hasn't been all work - i managed to enjoy a nice time at my parents' farmhouse with my brother and sister and their spouses. Skiing at Elk mountain ensued with the kids, along with an amazingly fun stay with my wife's friend's family at their Pocono mountain cabin at Wallenpaupack Lake. Suffice to say that the visit makes me want to convince my folks to sell their farm and cash in for a nice piece of lakefront property!

  • The Concerts page is way out of date, and the MySpace page also needs a lot of updating/tweaking. Winter cleaning is the order of the day today! Hopefully you'll see some new articles by the end of the day today, or at the very least by the start of the new year. Hope you and your families are enjoying a wonderful Winter Holiday, with many Happy New Year Blessings! No Trackbacks | Digg this Bookmark this post on Submit this post on Submit this post on Bookmark this post on Google. Bookmark this post on Yahoo. Add this post to Technorati Favorites Add post text to Rojo Add this to Co.mments Add this post to Newsvine Add this post to Scuttle Add this post to Shadows Add this to Simpy Add this to Spurl Add this to Squidoo Add this to Stumbleupon

    December 08, 06

    Happy Birthday, Dr. Hilary Koprowski!

    The musicians pose with Dr. Hilary Koprowski after the premiere of his work "Tutto il mondo" for 2 pianos and 2 percussion

    ...and a good time was had by all! Quite a marvelous tribute to one of the greatest living scientific minds of our time - here's a little snippet from a website tribute to Dr. Koprowski:

    Among Dr. Koprowski's most notable achievements have been the development of a live oral poliomyelitis vaccine, which was the first such vaccine to be used in mass trials. Dr. Koprowski, along with his co-workers, also engineered a more effective and less painful rabies vaccine than the traditional Pasteur technique. In addition, Dr. Koprowski has been a pioneer in the development of monoclonal antibodies (Mabs), which are used to detect cancer antigens and in cancer immunotherapy.

    I just posted a new set of pictures from the happy event in my gallery. Kudos to Maestro Don Liuzzi for his fearless musical leadership in the world premiere of Dr. Koprowski's "Tutto il mondo" for 2 pianos and 2 percussion! Bravo to pianist Chris Falzone and percussionists Pius Cheung and Patrick Pastella! No more plucking for me, please - i think i'll rescind my application for guitar lessons!

    Man, i hope i look that good when i'm 90!

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    December 07, 06

    Oops - THAT Dr. Koprowski!

    A chance lesson with one of Aaron Rosand's students this morning revealed that Mr. Rosand and i would be attending the same event tonight, a gala birthday celebration for Dr. Koprowski. Aaron asked if i had any idea who Dr. Koprowski was. Shaking my head in ignorance, his eyes widened in disbelief.
    "The founder of the rabies and polio vaccines? The person who the Pope visited personally when he came to town??"
    Oops...guess my regular old suit wouldn't cut it...
    I'm writing this post on the train (thanks to a portable version of the Opera Web browser), on my way back to Philadelphia after rushing home to pick up my tuxedo tails...better rmake sure i find extra extra time to practice before tonight's show!

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    Feeling Plucky

    Tonight i'm performing as part of a 2 piano 2 percussion ensemble, playing a work by H. Koprowski titled "Tutto Il Mondo - Esistenze Corta il Nostro Mondo (Short Existence of Our World)". Bad boy Hugh skimmed the music and thought, "no problem" again - i'm getting myself into more and more hot water with my skim habits!

    Well, as you can guess, there was a problem - apparently, the piece calls for extensive passages involving plucked strings. In the past, the works i've encountered calling for plucked strings only required a few isolated notes here and there. I could chalk up the required strings and visually eyeball the spots as needed. In this case, there are simply too many notes to chalk up - the plucked passages are treated as full melodic events. This called for a different technique entirely:

    Rather than label each and every note within a 3 octave range, i thought it would be more effective to just label the "black keys".

    My plucked string labeling system

    One problem i found was that a 9 foot Steinway has a crossbeam that angled in a peculiar way, blocking access to the lower strings - hence, i had to affix the lower note labels to the front of the dampers:

    9 foot Steinways have a crossbeam that blocks certain notes for plucking

    Needless to say, it makes for some awfully awkward maneuvering!

    In contrast, my B Steinway (about 7 foot) in my studio has a different crossbeam angle, making for much easier - and consistant - access to all the strings i need to pluck:

    The string setup inside my Steinway B - note that i can keep my labels affixed consistantly across the dampers

    Another problem i encountered was the technique of plucking itself. Viewing the strings from a standing position, the dampers actually block direct line-of-sight to their corresponding strings. During our rehearsal, i was making a horrid mess of trying to sightread the plucked parts and finding my finger hopelessly lost jumping from string to string. After some chagrined practice, i found that i could use the dampers themselves as physical - as well as visual - points of reference. Instead of just eyeballing the labeled dampers, i found that i could get reliable results if i physically touched the damper that marked the string i needed to pluck and angled my finger along the left corner of the damper:

    My string plucking technique, using the damper as both visual and physical point of reference, angling my finger along the left corner of the damper

    I still have to get used to seeing the labels as "black keys" and not as the actual notes that i have to pluck, but with a little practice i'm already feeling much more comfortable about the passages. You'll notice that i've been using my specially designed music rack for extended techniques, first developed for my recording session with flautist Jan Vinci.

    Thankfully, Maestro Don Liuzzi - principal timpanist of the Philadelphia Orchestra - will be conducting the ensemble for the performance tonight (having a nice conductor makes a HUGE difference in putting a complex piece together quickly and efficiently! Thank you, Don!!)

    Maestro Don Liuzzi, our fearlessly nice conductor

    Chris Falzone, one of the piano majors at Curtis, will be on the second piano. Patrick Pastella, a current Curtis percussion student, and Pius Cheung, a Curtis percussion alumni, will be at the helm of the browbeaters.

    Percussion duties by Patrick Pastella (L) and Pius Chueng (R)

    The performance will be at the Loews Hotel on 12th and Market as part of a birthday celebration for Mr. Koprowski (90+ years young!) - i think it's a private affair; i'll be sure to blog more about the event tonight after the fact. Here's hoping that they have Steinway B's at the Hotel, NOT D's (the 9 foot concert grands). Also, gotta remember to think like an acoustic guitar player and NOT cut my fingernail!

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    December 04, 06

    Music Schools of the Future

    Henry Fogel, president of the American Symphony Orchestra League, recently spoke with students at Curtis about the future of orchestras. You can read his thoughts on the subject at his blog on Arts Journal. The three areas he discusses seem to apply to classical music in general, not just orchestras: the need for artistic flexibility to rethink the concert experience, more emphasis on outreach activities to enlighten the audiences, and a need to examine how technology can serve artistic and administrative ends more effectively.

    To springboard on that a bit, i thought i'd spend a little time in today's blog daydreaming about the music school of the future. Many might argue that tradition-based arts such as Classical Music have no need for new technologies, that time-tested pedagogic techniques of the past have proven themselves to be more than adequate. It may be difficult for musicians to imagine what more is needed beyond hours of dedicated practice and a devoted teacher working one-on-one to hone their musical craft to the highest levels of artistry.

    Perhaps a few make-believe scenarios might help to paint some possibilities for the future of music pedagogy:

    The Musician's Holodeck
    In Star Trek, The Next Generation (the second iteration of that 40-yo sci-fi tv series), there was a wonderful device envisioned called the Holodeck. The Holodeck was basically a virtual room, where one could enter and have the computer simulate lifelike environments and even interactions with computer-generated personalities. I remember one scene where physicist Stephen Hawking appeared, playing poker with Einstein and some other scientific luminaries - great fun!

    I grew up at Curtis hearing legendary stories about Madame Vengerova, wishing i could've taken lessons from Rudolph Serkin, wondering what it would've been like to have interacted with Josef Hoffman or David Saperton in person...wouldn't it be wonderful to capture living records of our legendary faculty in as close a fashion as possible to a 'holodeck lesson'? Imagine a student working on the Brahms Violin Concerto, wondering what Joseph Silverstein or Aaron Rosand would've said - then being able to access a screen, instantly calling up video records of actual lessons on that piece, recorded from a variety of simultaneous angles and audio sources, so that she could watch the lesson in its entirety, or just jump to bookmarked portions if she only had questions over a specific passage, viewing a corresponding digital score with the teacher's own markings displaying fingerings and bowing. If she wanted to see just how far the elbow needed to be placed under the violin, switch to digital camera angle 3. If she wanted to hear the balance from the right portion of the room when the f-holes were facing away as in comparison to the left side, she could switch between microphones 1 and 2. If she wanted to see why the pianist was having a hard time catching her on such and such a passage, she could switch to the rear camera 4 and listen to the audio from the pianist's perspective through microphone other words, an interactive, virtual lesson that could be analyzed from multiple perspectives.

    Imagine every lesson, every master class, every performance virtually recorded in such a fashion, with simultaneous multi-camera and multi-microphone views, and those recordings digitally archived, cataloged, bookmarked, score synchronized, and instantly accessible via intra-web or ultra-high broadband web connections, with a simple virtual interface and database access system so that you could find any historical activity on any piece you'd be interested in - lesson, masterclass, performance, or recording.

    Imagine teachers being able to instantly assign historical audio or video recordings to their students for review, downloaded wirelessly to the students' iPods (or Zunes), or even the day's lesson downloaded instantly with corresponding digital ink annotations in digital scores, tagged with references to spots found in the assigned listening list. The lesson would be preserved and accessible to other students wanting the insights of any particular teacher on that piece.

    Bending the Time/Space Continuum - Dr. Who's Transporter

    Dr. Who was one of my favorite BBC sci-fi tv characters, a Time Lord who used his TARDIS to traverse time and space, leaping all over the universe at different points from the distant past to the far-out future.

    Ahem - no TARDIS yet for music schools, but certainly one of the ways technology helps is in how it can minimize physical and time-based boundaries, particularly when implemented in asynchronous teaching models. Using Internet 2 technologies to have virtual master classes with teachers in different locations is one example. Giving students tools to digitally record their rehearsals, then upload the session files to a teacher to comment on asynchronously might be another example, especially when physical space is limited and schedules don't line up for teachers and ensembles to be in the same place at the same time.

    Another example might be theory lessons recorded on digital smartboards, then uploaded for review for the students traveling on concert tour to maintain his studies - a combination of written illustrations, textbook readings, and audio/video clip files that could be accessed either by hyperlink or RSS downloads into an iPod or Zune.

    The Federation of Planets - Networking
    Another Star Trek concept was the peaceful federation of planets, a network of thousands of worlds spanning the known galaxy. A convenient device was written into the script, allowing for instantaneous communication throughout all these worlds ("Ender's Game", by Orson Scott Card, describes a similar instant-communication device - the "Ansible" - while grounding interplanetary travel to more 'realistic' norms of Relativity). Sorry for the geek-speak, but these concepts have a way of helping us to imagine wonderful possibilities. Networked conferences with composers to regularly introduce new music to students would be one way to take advantage of the power of our current communication technologies. Virtual interschool exchanges, where entire student bodies could be plugged into streamed master classes or performances or lectures for discussion and participation. Networked digital pianos that can either stream in realtime or reproduce prerecorded rehearsal sessions between distant musicians (Yamaha has an amazing eCompetition that highlights this technology very effectively).

    On a more 'mundane' note, imagine networked practice rooms where a student could see an instant, updated readout of available spaces and estimated schedules of openings from their tablet pc's. Libraries that use digitally scanned music instantly available for streamed or downloaded viewing (eliminating the age old problem of 'not having enough copies' for everyone - or the perennial 'dog ate my music score' loss at the end of each year...)

    By Your Command - Technology for feedback
    "How's the balance?" This question gets asked a lot from the stage when preparing for ensemble/collaborative performances. Imagine multi-microphone systems and instant playback capabilities available wirelessly for the performer to hear what they sound like from the audience's perspective, instead of having to rely on a kind friend's ear. Likewise, instant multi-camera video playbacks for the performers to see how effective their physical presence is on the stage from various angles.

    Imagine a 'living database', where a daily journal of repertoire studied, practiced and performed is maintained via a central server. Different levels of access would allow for public and private views, allowing a collective insight into various aspects of repertoire. It would be fascinating to see how 10 different pianists came up with fingerings for that Liszt Transcendental Etude passage, or to explore the various bowings that 4 other violinists came up with for that Bach sonata. Imagine the time saved in learning a new piece if the 6 or 7 most difficult passages could be identified ahead of time, or if the commentary of various teachers, composers, and performers could be added to the collective wiki on that particular concerto. Private access would give an instant recall on all the repertoire learned and performed, instantly uploaded to the student's promotional website if they choose, and sample multimedia clips automatically collected for promoters to hear.

    More stuff to dream up later - perhaps this week's blog will be focused on future possibilities in music education, performance, and creation...i'd love to get your feedback!

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    December 01, 06

    Organizing my Digital Music Library

    Dante Andrade, a jazz pianist in Dallas, TX asked an interesting question - how do i organize my digital music library for quick access? He writes:

    I’m a Jazz Pianist and in often occasions I’m taking requests, where I have to find the music fast.

    My library is currently comprised of over 2,400 scores filling up a little over 12 gigs of hard drive space. As with any exercise in mass information management, the key is developing a good organization strategy from the ground up and maintaining a consistent system.

    First step is developing a naming system for each score. As a classical musician, i refer to scores primarily by the composer's last name, then by title, instrumentation, then ancillary info like catalogue numbers, etc. I name all of my scores accordingly:

    Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D major Op 35.pdf

    Sometimes, i'll have multiple versions of the same piece - i'll add any special notes about the differences at the end of the file name:

    Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D major Op 35 - with cuts.pdf

    For jazz and other popular music repertoire, it might be more helpful to change the order of the naming system - perhaps song title first, then composer/associated artist, then album:

    Speed of Sound, Coldplay, X and Y.pdf

    I then organize my folder file system accordingly. Everything stays within the My Documents folder - it makes it easy to remember to back up one single folder that contains all of my critical data, rather than having to collect stuff scattered around various locations on my hard drive. Within My Documents, i created a master library folder (in this case, titled "Hugh's Music Library"). Within this master library folder, i created subfolders broken down by instrument (being a collaborative pianist, my main focus is on a huge list of repertoire that i play with other instrumentalists):

    Inside Hugh's Music Library master folder

    For certain instruments - violin, for example - i need to break things down even further. In the Violin folder case, i created some additional subfolders, like 'Concerto' and 'Sonata', and even some personalized folders for students or artists who have played full recital programs:

    inside the Violin Folder

    Again, this might applied differently for jazz or pop musicians - perhaps modeling your library after a set of Karaoke books might do the trick, where each song is listed in multiple ways: by title, by artist, by genre, whatever might be most helpful for quick access. One idea might be to save your PDF scores in multiple folders - a generic library folder, then an additional copy with the "Artists" folder, another in the "Album" or "Genre" folder, etc. That way, if someone is looking for a Christmas carol, you could have a folder appropriately named "Holiday Songs" and find what you're looking for in there, or just pull it up by title from the master library folder.

    The nature of my work calls for working on certain repertoire over a period of time. Having to fish things out of the master library, given its enormous size, would be impractical, so i created an additional subfolder called "Hugh's Music Stand":

    Hugh's Music Stand folder

    I copy over active scores into this folder, enabling quick access to the music i most frequently work on day to day. At the end of each semester, i will "return" those copies back into the main library to empty out the Music Stand. Most of the time, that will necessitate overwriting the older scores if you've added new fingerings and other indications - make sure you really want to do that, otherwise rename your files to indicate the changes (for example, you might not be crazy about how Musician A played this piece and would rather forget all the crazy things he/she requested...)

    I created a "Tonight's Recital" subfolder within the Music Stand folder to hold music to be performed for specific shows - again, not a real necessity, but another way to keep clutter to a minimum, especially if you're fishing for scores on stage.

    Finally, i've organized my desktop and navigation bar accordingly:

    a view of my desktop

    I moved the navigation bar purposely to the side to allow for easier access to my shortcuts. Since my tablet pc is usually in portrait mode, i can have a much longer view of the bar, allowing for more shortcuts. Placing it on the left, in the case of my Fujitsu Stylistic ST5022D, also prevents my hand from accidentally pressing the side buttons on the right side of the unit.

    I've created both desktop shortcuts to my Music Stand and Tonight's Recital folders -

    Detail of my Desktop arrangement

    - in addition, i added copies of those shortcuts, including my main Music Library folder shortcut, to the navigation bar along the side so that i can always access them even if i have scores open in the main desktop view:

    quick links to my folders along the navigation bar

    If you have any other suggestions for organizing a music library for quick and easy access, please let me know! Hope this helps!

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    Thank you for visiting this site! I hope you'll find this to be a friendly place to learn about and discuss the fascinating technologies available for the Classical Musician. A great place to get started is with the ongoing "Getting Started" series. Remember, the worst questions are the ones you never ask, so feel free to email me!


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