Monthly Archives: December 2012


13 is one of my favorite numbers. I always do everything exactly as I’m not supposed to do it. So the number 13 is for me a lucky number instead of an unlucky one. My year 2012 was pretty good already, but I’m quite sure 2013 will be even better. Not easier, I have a hard six months to go in order to get my masters degrees in June. My two main objectives are …

– on a personal level: to accept myself as the beautiful person that I am, with all my abnormalities and little quirks; to accept not only my faults (that’s the easy part), but believe in myself for my good qualities; accepting my recently discovered giftedness as an essential part of who I am, and not as something I have to be rated on by other people

– on a professional/collegiate level: trying to express myself through my clarinet playing and fugue writing instead of trying to impress others; not trying to please others by showing them what they want to see or hear, but surprising them by the strength of my own ideas; writing a dissertation that means something to me, that is truly mine, personal in every aspect, as is in fact what I was asked to do

Furthermore I have many new hopes for this coming year, and I’m pretty sure at least some of them will come true.

My main new years resolution still is to not make any new years resolutions. Just enjoy life as it comes, day by day. Tomorrow’s the first page of a 365 page book. Let’s make it an interesting one.

New Year

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Women in the orchestra

Looking at the video’s of the Young People’s Concerts from my last post, it dawned on me that there wasn’t a single woman in the orchestra, all men. The children in the concert hall, however, where mostly accompanied by women. This was 1958; almost 58 years have past, and so much has changed.

In another Bernstein video recording, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for his Norton Lectures at Harvard in 1973, the only woman is the principal flutist. She is principal, but nevertheless, she’s the only woman.

The Wiener Philharmoniker counts (or did so at the beginning of 2012) eight female musicians.

Does that mean men are better musicians? Of course not. It’s an old tradition which will need some more time to disappear. Meanwhile, let us not be bothered too much by this (still small) disbalance.

Read more about it: here

And I’d like to end with some quotes from the article. Note that it is somewhat dated; the article is from October 1996, and the year after, in 1997, the  Wiener Philharmonic was forced by politicians to delete this rule, and accept both male and female musicians into their orchestra. Suposedly the members of the board are not the same people anymore, and they might have a much more open opinion about the matter than their predecessors. So I do not wish to harm anyone by presenting you these quotes, nor do I wish to form an opinion pro or contra the decision orchestras made to not allow female musicians.

[One has] found that women were concentrated in lower paid orchestras, and that they are notably less present in major orchestras.

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra openly states that ethnic and gender uniformity gives them aesthetic superiority.

Music is something special.  It is a special deep knowledge, it has something to do with magic.  I think many men’s groups are to be understood in this way.  They carry secrets that are involved with music and tones, just like in Australian aboriginal or Indian cultures where men play certain instruments, and not the women.

It would absolutely not be a shock [if women were allowed into the orchestra], no surprise, absolutely not.  The only consideration is whether an established structure already existing as a unified whole, should be frivolously tossed overboard.

They view the male “soul” of the orchestra as a fragile organism, subject to infection or defilement, and even possible death by the inclusion of women.  And yet the regenerative ideas of maternity, sexual attraction, and female creativity would disturb uniformity.

These fears of women, maternity, female sexuality, and the contaminated altar are found in numerous cultures, and deeply influence their art and religious expressions.  In Europe such fears contributed to the exclusion of women from both liturgical and secular music, and led to some of western music’s most unusual practices, such as the castrati.

In today’s situation, occupational groups such as professional musicians, must open themselves up, because there exists a wonderful and large offering of women musicians who want to offer their services.  Earlier they didn’t have free entrance to the universities and conservatories. But if women are allowed to enter universities, and if they can develop high artistic ability, then they must be let into orchestras.  I can understand that.  Indeed.  It is just that from the men’s perspective art is fun.  It’s fun, it’s all about fun.  It’s not just about art.  That’s just an excuse.

[…] The conflict also ended Karajan´s 40 year relationship with the orchestra. [Sabine] Meyer suffered extreme harassment, such as seating herself at rehearsals only to have the men slide their chairs away from her.  Their “emotional unity” was disturbed.  The German musician´s union supported the orchestra, noting the all male ensemble had the “democratic right” to choose who it wanted.

The musicians, male and female alike, are reduced to the relative equality of powerlessness [by the appearance of the conductor], and yet traditional gender culture asserts that women are to be subjugated by men, especially in public.  Since men do not want to be as equally powerless as women, the master-servant roles become confused and orchestral uniformity and discipline are disturbed.  Traditionally, with women present, men do not want to be subjugated, they want to subjugate.

And be fair to me, isn’t the general spectrum of feelings (psychic sensations, enthusiasm, sadness, etc.) different between man and woman?  Isn’t the same the case between nationals and no-nationals [sic]?  It is, believe me.

A woman’s response: Finally, as it has already been pointed out, any professional musician worth his/her salt can and will adapt to whatever style of playing is required.  Please do not insult either me or my colleagues by saying that we are unable to do this because of some mysterious hormonal or ethnic factor.

Suffice it to say that not all conductors or orchestras follow these patriarchal patterns so clearly.

We could summarize these conservative tendencies of international orchestras with the following five factors. 1) They believe that music has qualities defined by gender and ethnicity, and that the uniformity of these factors produces aesthetic superiority.  2) Traditional values about the sexuality of subjugation and women disturb the uniform dynamic of authority in the orchestra´s hierarchical atmosphere.  3)  The gender bias is constellated with chauvinistic overtones of national and ethnic superiority.  4)  The attitudes toward women are affected by the cross-national interaction of the conductors and musicians.  5) Patrons expect a masculine and ethnic character to orchestral music.

It is certain that we are witnessing an historical movement that will continue.  Women musicians are assuming positions of leadership, and are creating a wide-reaching cultural metamorphosis.  By returning the feminine to humanity, they are giving society a new identity, and a deeper understanding of human consciousness that is profoundly transforming the world of music.

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What is American music?

I’m preparing John Adams’s clarinet concerto Gnarly Buttons as part of the program of my masters exam in clarinet performance. While analyzing and mentally studying it, two questions came to mind:

1) Why does the music of John Adams always sound like John Adams?

2) Why does the music of John Adams always sound American, and thus what makes American music American?

For the first question I found a more or less satisfying answer in a thesis entitled John Adams’s Gnarly Buttons: Issues of History, Performance and Style by Anthony Gordon Taylor. In the introduction he paraphrases Catherine Ann Pellegrino:

Some theorists and composers were dismissive of the [minimal] music because it provided nothing to analyze, no “inner secret” to discover. While some methodology for the analysis of minimal music has since developed, much musical analysis falls within the category of formalism, which seeks a deeper truth or unity in a piece that is likely not clearly visible in the foreground.

Some of these new methods for the analysis of minimal music (and therefore also other 20th century music) are explained further on, and a partly analysis of these findings within Gnarly Buttons is given. Gordon Taylor furthermore documents the history of the piece, and research he has done about performance issues, through interviews with performers and other people included in the process of bringing Gnarly Buttons to life on stage.

Reading this thesis helped me understand the “story” behind the concerto, it made me see some elements in the piece I might want to embellish more for certain reasons while performing. And, in order to answer my first question, it explained to me what makes John Adams’s style.

Considering the second question, it is important to take in mind the history of American music. This is explained in Adams’s autobiography Hallelujah Junction:

Classical music is essentially an urban experience. Concert halls, symphony orchestras, opera companies, manufacturers of instruments, sheet-music publishers, and music conservatories all thrive in cities, and American cities throughout the nineteenth century were rough and disorganized collision points of mostly poor immigrants struggling for survival. Culture in the cities was coarse and vulgar. What passed for refinement were more often than not secondhand versions of novels, plays, paintings, and sculpture from Europe. […] A homegrown, truly indigenous American poetical expression, gradually began to take hold shortly after the Civil War. That war itself was so devastating to the national psyche that it may have precipitated a new maturity in the minds of the country’s artists.

As to what makes American music America, let our good friend Leonard Bernstein explain that to you:

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All real music stems from the need to express oneself; it is created from inside and not from the exterior.

Edgar Willems

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Why we do what we do (Tony Robbins)

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The Power of Introverts (Susan Cain)

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¿Te atreves a soñar?

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Changing Education Paradigms (Ken Robbins)

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Fum, fum, fum

A surprising arrangement of a traditional Spanish “villancico”.

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