Sounds of Nepal

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News of the devastating earthquake in Nepal has captured global attention this week. On Monday, Drew McManus, author of the popular orchestra business blog, Adaptistrationpublished a post encouraging donations to the Unatti Foundation, a non-profit organization serving orphaned and underprivileged children in Nepal. In 2010, McManus and cellist Lynn Harrell traveled to Nepal and worked at the Unatti Home, just east of Kathmandu.

Let’s listen to some music from this ancient and isolated land, surrounded by the Himalayas. Ful ko Thunga is performed by the Nepalese folk band, Kutumba, which uses traditional instruments including the Bamboo Flute, Sarangi (a string instrument), Madal (a hand drum), Tungna, Dhol, and Jhyamta. This is music that emerges out of a drone and develops slowly through repeating patterns and a strong rhythmic groove.

The Gurung people live in the foothills of the Annapurna mountains, a range of the Himalayas in Nepal. Their villages, tightly clustered like medieval towns, dot the slopes, surrounded by cascades of terraced fields…The people with whom I lived sometimes mentioned that though their lives were full of toil and hardship, they were fortunate to live in a place with ramrod haw a-pani, literally “good wind and water,” which in Nepali means a wholesome or pleasant climate. This phrase evokes not just a sense of good weather, but of a landscape that is kind and bountiful and creates propitious conditions for life. Although people in the village spoke of how loss and misfortune were inevitable in existence, a view shared by most Buddhists, what they stressed above all was the importance of living with grace, kindness, and generosity in the midst of suffering, and of cultivating appreciation and equanimity (a good climate, as it were) in one’s being, regardless of circumstances. The climate in the village was largely one of graciousness and good-humer, with the sorrows of life making its joys more poignant and amplifying the value of human connection.

-Ernestine McHugh, Love and Honor in the Himalayas: Coming to Know Another Culture

Schumann’s First Violin Sonata: Passionate, Tempestuous

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Last week the exceptionally talented, young conductor, Tito Muñoz led the Richmond Symphony in a memorable concert which included Robert Schumann’s Fourth Symphony. Returning to this symphony, I was reminded of the subtle sense of schizophrenia that often inhabits Schumann’s music. For example, in the first theme of the Fourth Symphony’s opening movement, listen to the way the music develops through obsessive rhythmic repetition. The restless eight-note motive that makes up this theme haunts the entire first movement, twisting and evolving throughout the development section. It resurfaces in the bridge to the final movement (a nod to Beethoven’s Fifth), as if to say, “You can’t escape me…I’m still here!”

Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor, op. 105 develops with a similarly stormy, obsessive intensity. For the first movement, rather than a standard tempo marking like “Allegro,” Schumann provides the words, Mit leidenschaftlichem Ausdruck (with passionate expression). The opening motive begins in the depths of the violin amid tempestuous piano arpeggios. It reaches tentatively, falls back and reaches again before soaring higher. Listen to the conversation between the violin and piano as the motive is passed back and forth. This is a persistent conversation which becomes increasingly intense (listen to the piano at 1:02). There’s a strong sense of striving, and by the end of the exposition a few hints of sunlight have appeared (1:58). But then we get pulled back into the depths. One of my favorite moments in this first movement is the way we return from the development to the recapitulation (5:40).

Listen for the stormy, obsessive development of the opening motive and enjoy the incredible drama which unfolds in this first movement. Here are Japanese violinist Shoji Sayaka and pianist Itamar Golan in recital at Tokyo’s Suntory Hall in 2005:

Here are the second and third movements. In the second movement (Allegretto), the musical conversation seems to end frequently in a question. You may hear passages which anticipate Johannes Brahms’ violin sonatas.

The A minor Violin Sonata was first performed publicly by Clara Schumann and the German violinist Ferdinand David in March, 1852. David worked closely with Felix Mendelssohn, influencing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.

Recordings

  • Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich: find on iTunes, find at Amazon, listen to a sample
  • Christian Tetzlaff and Lars Vogt: a new recording, released in 2013. Find on iTunes
  • Carolin Widmann and Denes Varjon: find at Amazon
  • Ilya Kaler and Boris Slutsky: find at Naxos
  • Augustin Hadelich and Akira Eguchi perform the first movement: youtube

The Road to Happiness in Music

Musician's SoulViolinist Holly Mulcahy has written an interesting and insightful post about finding happiness and keeping perspective while pursing a competitive career in music. Holly is the concertmaster of the Chattanooga Symphony and the author of the popular blog, Neo ClassicalIf you’re a young musician enduring the rigors of the audition circuit in the hopes of winning the “big job,” Holly’s post is a must read. Even if you’re not a musician, you’ll find her thoughts relevant.

Reading Holly’s post, I was reminded of this quote by Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth:

[quote]If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.[/quote]

James Jordan’s book The Musician’s Soul offers additional wisdom. The book stresses the importance of openness and vulnerability in the creative process as well as finding your center and appreciating the importance of solitude as well as community. There are many great quotes throughout the book. Here are a few:

[quote]If people are not humane, what is the use of rites? If people are not humane, what is the use of music?[/quote]

-Confucius

[quote]It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are.[/quote]

-e.e. cummings 

[quote]No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.[/quote]

-Helen Keller

[quote]Our problems are inside our lives, yes; but our lives are lived inside fields of power, under the influence of others, in accordance with authority, subject to tyrannies. Moreover, our lives are lived inside fields of power that are our cities with their offices and cars, systems of work and mountains of trash. These too are powers impinging in our souls. When the wider world breaks down and is sick at heart, the individual suffers accordingly.[/quote]

-James Hillman 

[quote]Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.[/quote]

-Leo Tolstoy