This content is from Cori's January 2021 Newsletter. If you would like to receive her newsletters in your inbox, click to subscribe here.
Happy New Year!
I hope this finds you busy with new projects and some fun things to look forward to in 2021! Although circumstances may not have changed much since turning the calendar page, I find it is always good to have some element of "newness" or celebration that our family can enjoy. For me personally, I have been revisiting music scores and trying to decide what direction to take my practicing in the new year. I am also busy preparing to begin a Children's Church program at my church, overseeing its inception and jumping into teaching (One fun element is choosing which music to incorporate into our study of the Attributes of God). We are also planning a fun family vacation in the near future, although we are holding our plans loosely as we learned to do in 2020. As well, choir starts up again this week, albeit virtually, and we will begin working towards our spring program. I am excited to have some new things to work on! What new plans do you have to look forward to?
The Fugue Metaphor
Like you, I have been contemplating “the way forward” as we are a country divided. This morning, while working a little on Bach’s Fugue in C Major from the Well-Tempered Clavier, I had some thoughts on this.
In a fugue, there are multiple individual voices coming together to make a unified whole. Each voice is distinct, having its own register (treble, bass, mid-range) and often, its own way of restating or embellishing the main theme. In order to create an effective performance, the musician must make decisions about which voices to bring out (and when) and which to lessen in submission to, or support of, the one in the lead.
Bach gave us no dynamic markings, and the period instruments with which he worked had little dynamic range. Because of this, there are always debates about how much to play with dynamics (distinctly contrasting loud and soft, or nuanced?) as well as whether to use pedal or not. While there is room for interpretation, the musician must look for clues from the composer for how it was intended to be played. Sometimes these clues lie within the music, and other times the musician must look to his other works, to the works of his colleagues, and to knowledge of the times in which he wrote, for guidance.
A good metaphor doesn’t explain itself fully, so I will leave you to your own interpretation. But perhaps you might consider the themes of leading and submission, individuality and conformity, tension and release, in your meditation; as well, the idea of an agreed-upon set of rules (key, time signature, harmonic structure) put in place by the composer, and a nice harmonic resolution that finishes the piece. Might we learn something from the study of Bach?
Here is my unpolished presentation of the work, warts and all. (Perhaps you can consider that as part of the metaphor as well!)
For a wonderfully polished performance, complete with the preceding Prelude, check out Andras Schiff's interpretation here.
The Secret Piano
I spent much of my Christmas holidays reading, and stumbled on this intriguing book by Zhu Xiao-Mei. She is a Chinese pianist who grew up as Mao came into power. It is a thoughtful, provoking book. Here is a brief description:
"Zhu Xiao-Mei was born to middle-class parents in post-war China, and her musical proficiency became clear at an early age. Taught to play the piano by her mother, she developed quickly into a prodigy, immersing herself in the work of classical masters like Bach and Brahms. She was just ten years old when she began a rigorous course of study at the Beijing Conservatory, laying the groundwork for what was sure to be an extraordinary career. But in 1966, when Xiao-Mei was seventeen, the Cultural Revolution began, and life as she knew it changed forever. One by one, her family members were scattered, sentenced to prison or labor camps. By 1969, the art schools had closed, and Xiao-Mei was on her way to a work camp in Mongolia, where she would spend the next five years. Life in the camp was nearly unbearable, thanks to horrific living conditions and intensive brainwashing campaigns. Yet through it all Xiao-Mei clung to her passion for music and her sense of humor. And when the Revolution ended, it was the piano that helped her to heal. Heartbreaking and heartwarming, The Secret Piano is the incredible true story of one woman’s survival in the face of unbelievable odds—and in pursuit of a powerful dream."
Around the Web
Have you heard of the 100 Day Project? If you are in need of some inspiration, this project may jumpstart your creativity.
More fodder for inspiration, especially if you are a musician seeking music by women composers.
One hot topic these days is censorship. In the interest of preserving voices of the past, Estonia has a new "banned books" museum.
Spring 2020 KCS virtual choir concert. Date TBA.