Musical Meanderings

This is a blog centered around some of the musical encounters and experiences that I come upon in my daily life as a musician.

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Location: Alameda, California

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Brahms in the Park


Isabelle and I were playing in the park with Isabelle's friend Stella. Isabelle is four now and Stella is three. We were having a good old time and the girls decided that they wanted to swing.

So I was pushing them on the swings when I noticed a woman who I thought might be Frederica von Stade, the famous opera singer, playing with her granddaughter. Well, I know that she lives in Alameda, and I see her from time to time, and I am always all flustered, and wondering to myself, "is that her? that must be her..??? I think that might be her...???" This is the way my conversation with self always goes around an encounter with this amazing musician. I saw the man she was with, and he was very tan, and I know that Ms. von Stade is married to a sailor, as I heard her say so herself at a Christmas concert last year here in Alameda. So I'm thinking to myself, "well, he's very tan, and he is wearing a white sailor's hat that says 'Alameda Marina' on it, so he must be her husband, and is that her?That must be her..."

So here's this wonderful singer, playing in the sand with her beautiful blue-eyed granddaughter, and I'm pushing the girls, thinking how interesting it is that true greatness can be in your midst at any given moment, when Ms. von Stade and her tan sailor husband come on over and put the little girl on the swing right next to us! So now I am starting to get excited. I'm wondering what to do. Should I talk to Ms. von Stade? Start a conversation about music? No, lame idea. Should I introduce myself and tell her that I think she is awesome? And that I absolutely love her renditions, that would make me sound truly dumb. I don't want to sound truly dumb. So I decide to try to get Isabelle to sing her version of the chorale to Brahms' First Symphony. A four year old singing Brahms in the park? That's not truly dumb. That's awesome. That's the stuff that might even impress a world class opera star.

Isabelle has words to the chorale, that go something like this:

My dog's name is Jebbie and he is a yellow lab
My dog's name is Jebbie a beautiful yellow lab
My dog's name is Jebbie, so call him Jebbie-
Cause Jebbie is his name...

So anyway, I start singing this real soft, to try to get Isabelle to belt it out, like she sometimes does. But she'd have none of it. She wouldn't sing a note! Not one note.

She knows better than to try to impress an opera singer, I guess.

Why don't I?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Isabelle's Debut: Reno Art Opening

Well, technically, the Reno art opening was not Isabelle's debut cello performance. She performed a few weeks ago at her preschool. The kids were all gathered around, twenty of them, as she dug into her repertoire of Twnkle Twinkle Little Star Variations, Ode to Joy, and You Are My Sunshine. As she played, you could hear a pin drop in the room. And I must say, I had never heard the children be quiet like that before, ever.

But last week was Isabelle's first professional gig. We drove up to play at my sister in-law's art opening at the Western Nevada Community College in Carson City, just outside of Reno. I was going to play some cello and bass duets with my brother Gary, who is an artist and a high school art teacher. Isabelle told me that she wanted to perform too, so I said okay tentatively, but I was not sure how the whole thing would turn out.

First of all, when we were driving to the show, Isabelle fell asleep in the car, so I let her sleep awhile. We arrived about a half an hour later than our scheduled performance time.

When we got to the show, I was really impressed with the work that my sister in-law, Jill Brugler, had done. Her sculptures were large busts of women with birds on their heads and masks with interesting facial expressions twisted this way and that and wall hanging platters with painted rock sculptures. It was very soulful and well-crafted work and the site was beautiful.

People were milling about and, after we visited the food table and had some cookies and chocolate covered raisins, I got my cello out. Isabelle said she wanted to play first. A small crowd gathered as I tuned her little cello. Their faces were curious and I could tell they were wondering if she could really play or not. She's only four!

Now, Isabelle sat on her little red chair that we brought for the occasion. She was all dolled up in a burgundy red velvet dress with flowers on the front, a red velvet beret and red cowboy boots to match. She certainly looked the part!

When she broke into her compositions, the faces all broke into smiles. Especially happy was her uncle Gary, who had never heard her play before. When she finished, the small crowd clapped and Isabelle stood up and took a bow. She loved the attention!

After that Gary and I played some bass and cello duets. I played the violin part and he played the cello parts from some classical favorites, such as Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring by Bach, and some of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. The combination of bass and cello was really sweet and mellow. We had just started in with some jazz standards when Jill came up and told us it was time to go.

I felt like we were just getting warmed up and I was ready to play more. It was just beginning to sound really good. But we packed up and left the gallery. This was the first time I had been asked to leave a gig! Usually I am running out the door the minute we are done.

So, we did our Reno debut. And Isabelle did her first real gig, at age four! Bravo, little one, and may you have many more chances to perform your beautiful music and spread happiness throughout your lifetime!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The American Ragtime Ensemble Recording

Sunday morning. Teaching day again! It seems to be recording session season for me. A few days ago I did a rehearsal with David Reffkin and his American Ragtime Ensemble. He is a ragtime specialist who does a radio show every Monday night on KUSF, I believe it is. He is a very good violinist with eclectic tastes in music, and he's always fun to work with, although he makes me nervous...

He sent us the music about a month in advance, and then he called me two or three times and left messages to make sure that I was practicing the music. He's so funny! He wants to get the best performance out of everyone, and he will do things like that to make sure you practice. David is very organized and I think he is used to dealing with flaky musicians that would just show up to the gig without any idea of what is going on.

So anyway, I went to the rehearsal Thursday in San Francisco. It was in a little church. I was there an hour early, because I am paranoid about getting lost, bad with directions, and also because David is so paranoid about anything going wrong that I am scared to death to displease him...So the whole three hour rehearsal was on two little ragtime pieces that have been arranged for a small ensemble. We went over and over and over these pieces. They were sounding pretty good. They are actually kind of cool pieces with lots of dissonances and lots of layers of interesting things going on.

So David was happy, in the end, thank god! The actual recording session itself is this Tuesday in Berkeley. It should be fun...

Later this afternoon I am going to check out a recording studio here in Alameda, to hopefully book some dates to record a new cello CD. The last CD that I made of my own music, "Night of a Thousand Rains" was ten years ago. It's high time for some new original music, which I have been writing.

Well, off to my students and to another delicious cup of Joe!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Brazilian Recording Session

Hey---yesterday I played a Brazilian recording session. It was alot of fun and I loved the music. I had to wait around for a few hours at the beginning of the session because the recording engineer left and there was supposed to be a sub, but noone came for awhile. People were sitting around talking in Spanish and I wasn't sure what they were talking about so I felt a little uncomfortable. The producer didn't speak any English, but he smiled alot. The arranger kind of reminded me of a Latin version of Paul Simon. He was very easy going, and I said to myself, good, this is good for a recording session, because they can be very stressful.

But when we got to playing the music, it was great. I loved putting cello lines down. There were some songs in Portugese and some in Italian. The singer was a Brazilian woman named Anna Nitmar and she was very kind and sincere. I had to play two and sometimes three parts on top of each other, and along with the recorded rhythm section.

I had gotten this gig from my good friend Robin Lewis, who is an amazing musician. It was really fun at one point when I was playing along with the recording, and I realized that Robin was playing the guitar solos. So I was playing with him, but he wasn't even there!

After playing five songs, I was tired! I felt spent, but inspired. I skipped out of the studio with a Latin beat andPortugese lyrics running through my head, and jumped into my car and headed home to my baby girl. When I got there it was just about time to put her to bed.