Sunday, April 29, 2012


The Bright Motion from New Amsterdam Records on Vimeo.

I recently (maybe 2 months ago) saw Koyaanisqatsi (too lazy to look up the correct spelling); I'm sure the director of this little video saw Koyaanisqatsi too. I guess the same could probably be said for quite a few commercials for BMWs and fancy watches--I don't watch much grown-up TV, but something gives me the sense that this is what higher end marketing looks like these days.

Still. The video is pretty to watch and I thought the music was quite nice too. What really got me though is this moment at about 1:10 when Michael Mizrahi comes out of a trill and "bends" the note with his ring finger. Bending a note on a piano. I don't know anything about playing piano, so perhaps this is entirely unremarkable. Anyway, I tried a little experiment--you should too. Watch the little snip from 1:05 to 1:15 three or four times. And then play it again, but look away from the video this time. That bent note still seems to bend. I'm sure if you plugged a tuner in the needle wouldn't move at all, but still, it's a neat trick.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Oh....That Mahler's 9th

The most obvious explanation is that my mental faculties are somewhat addled. In fact, that's the only explanation that comes to mind. However, since my mental faculties are apparently somewhat addled, it's possible that I'm missing something.


For a while now, my brother has been getting on me to listen to Mahler's Ninth Symphony. He'll ask me if I know the piece, and I'll say, I'm sure I must have listened to it but I don't think I'm particularly familiar with it.

So, yesterday I had some driving to do and I thought, today's the day, I'll grab my Mahler 9 CD and give it a good listen in the car. The first thing that struck me was that the CD case and the CD itself seemed fairly well worn--not beaten up or anything, but clearly listened to more than once or twice.

I pop the CD into the player and it turns out that this isn't some piece I'm mabye kinda sorta passingly acquainted with. The first notes come in with the cello and then the horn, and I immediately realize that I'm intimately familiar with this recording. The version I have is Bruno Walter's live 1938 recording with the Vienna Philharmonic. I MUST know this recording because I find myself giving a cue to the audience member who coughs on the second note of the harp entrance in measure 3 of the first movement. The LP (78 I assume) crackles and pops that suddenly appear in the last two minutes of the final movement as the music gets devastatingly quiet, and the accompanying outbreak of tuburculosis that seems to occur in the audience at the same point--and then the way the coughs suddenly stop as the violins wind down to pppp--I imagine that no one in this hall in 1938 dares even to breathe at this point. These sounds are all old friends to me.

But it's not just the coughs and the crackles. There are moments in this music, more so than perhaps any other piece I can think of (which is perhaps not saying much, given my clearly limited capacity for remembering such things), where I get a sense of what synesthesia must be like. There are certain climaxes and plateaus, particularly in the first and last movements, where I find myself moving across boundaries of sense. I'm not seeing colors or anything, but there is some sense being triggered--not one the five usual suspects, and unfortunately, not one I have any words to describe--but Mahler is taking my brain (and body, to a degree) on a small trip into uncharted territory here.

And this is kind of bugging me. I mean, now that I think it through, I can kind of recall that this CD is one of the first CDs I ever bought. I know I got it at the Tower Records on Newbury Street in Boston probably around 1989 or 1990 (sadly, that store has been gone for a decade). And it's obvious to me I played this thing A LOT. So here I have this path to a transforming, quasi-religious experience from 20+ years ago and then I went and put it on a shelf and TOTALLY FORGOT ABOUT IT!! Thanks Brain. Your a real pal. What else have I forgotten? Do I know Latin? Are there some secrets of the universe that I figured out back in '98 but just put on the side so I could watch Seinfeld? Maybe speak up a little next time, huh?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Copland's Old Paint

The tips of my left index and middle fingers are throbbing quite nicely. We played a bunch of bluegrass/old timey/folk tunes last night and my mandolin fretting fingers are feeling the usual effects. Perhaps it's exacerbated slightly because we haven't played for a good month or so and my calluses have become somewhat uncallused in that time.

Our little band plays primarily out of the Parking Lot Picker's Songbook, which is just a great book with a couple hundred tunes that generally require only 3 or 4 chords (which is about as many as I can handle). We have a bunch of standard dog-eared tunes we go to all the time, and then we usually explore a few new ones at every session. So last night we stumbled across a nice one, "Old Paint," with some nice old cowboy lyrics. Here's the first verse and the chorus:

I ride and old paint,
I lead an old Dan,
I'm going to Montana
To throw a Hoolihan.
They feed 'em in the coulees,
They water in the draw,
Their tails are all matted,
Their backs are all raw.

Ride around little dogies,
Ride around real slow,
For the fiery and the snuffy
Are raring to go.
Makes me want to run out to Montana and ride a horse, even though, I have to admit, I'm kind of terrified of horses.

That notwithstanding, we're running through the song last night and I get this sudden "Hey, I know that tune" feeling. It only takes me a few seconds before I realize that Aaron Copland used this tune in the third movement ("Saturday Night Waltz") of "Rodeo."

Here's Johnny Cash singing "I Ride an Old Paint"....

And here's the Copland--the oboe comes in with the tune at about the 0:29 mark...

As an added bonus, here's Woody Guthrie with a somewhat different (though quite awesome) take...

I went many years not particularly liking Copland. Then, maybe 5 or 6 years ago, I suddenly got it. It was all of a sudden too. Now Appalachian Spring or Rodeo are like drugs for me. Certain of his pieces will start playing and I'm instantly paralyzed and I'll get a lump in my throat.

Needless to say, "Old Paint" is now dog-eared in my Parking Lot Picker's Songbook.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

String Tension

Over the decades, I've lugged my horns around quite a bit and seen them get their modest share of dents, dings, scratches, etc. They're metal. They can be fixed. I tend not to stress about it too much (though I did have to put on my Exceptionally Angry voice the other night when my younger son whacked my euphonium with a yo-yo. A yo-yo, for chrissake!!).

It's a very different story, however, with my cello. I just don't have that comfort level. Wood is such a tempermental and unforgiving material. Something goes wrong and it often can't be undone. I see experienced string teachers and players handling instruments like they're some kind of big ol' sacks of taters or something. Not me. This thing is like a giant glass slipper. If I had an enormous felt pillow to lay my cello on, I would.

And this sense of a cello's delicacy isn't instinctive to me. It's learned. I had a cello shipped by UPS across the country. It arrived with a big crack in the back.

By far, my worst cello mishap: I set the cello down on a cello-stand and looked away too quickly. I turned back just in time to watch (in slow motion) as the instrument fell, face-forward, onto a concrete floor. The fingerboard popped right off and the scroll was kind of scuffed up. All things considered, it was a fairly inexpensive repair, but the image still sticks in my mind and fuels my nightmares.

The scariest part of cello's anatomy is the part I interact with the most: the strings. Again, my fears are learned. On an early attempt at string changing, I thought I was installing a D. It was really a G. Turn, turn, turn, turn, POP! Oh, that horrible cracking sound of a snapped string.

My neighbor recently had me fill her car tires with air. Her fear is that the tire is going to explode in her face under the pressure. THAT'S the feeling I get when turning a peg.

I was once tuning--not even changing a string. I was tuning the D string with the fine tuner--SNAP! The bridge snapped in half! I'm still puzzled as to how that even happened. The luthier who did that repair suggested that the bridge could have been ever-so-slightly misaligned. I guess. I sure didn't see the misalignment.

Just tuning the cello raises my blood pressure. That krk-krk-krk creaking as I struggle to turn the pegs. It's blood curdling. On my most recent string change--maybe 2 weeks ago--(Helicores on bottom, Larsons on top) I was meticulously careful. I took the advice that I thought I heard at a string shop--you don't want to force the peg in--it should just stay put from the way the string coils across the peg toward the inside of the pegbox. That advice seems to have worked. That and a little peg dope seem to have made for a rare, trouble-free string change. Incidentally, for me, the Larson/Helicore combo is by far the best string configuration I've tried. I had used that setup a few years ago, then tried a variety of other strings--nothing else came close.

Mandolin is not as scary to handle. I suppose it helps that my instrument cost me $40 and if the whole thing exploded I could by a new one with minimal impact to my checking account. Also, a set of strings costs me about nine bucks. A cello set is in the $150-200 range. The big danger with the mando is the blood letting that tends to occur. The top ends of those strings are lethal weapons. I haven't changed a set yet without spilling a few red drops.

Back in the early 90's I worked at IBM doing tech support. We had a project where we had to change a chip--I think it was a processor--deep inside the guts of ThinkPads. I probably did two- or three-hundred of those over the course of a few weeks. I also had so swap out memory cards all the time. In both cases, the first few times I did it, it was terrifying--pushing that fragile little item just until (and not beyond) you got that perfect click. After a while, I could do that work blindfolded without a care in the world. I'm hoping the hardware of a cello someday causes me equally little stress.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"It's All Right There In The Notes..."

At an orchestra rehearsal last week I think, the conductor scolded the group for messing with the tempos in the Allegretto from Beethoven's 7th. "It's all right there in the notes," she insisted.

It's all right there in the notes.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


A week or two I mentioned that I was auditioning to play cello in a community orchesra over in Princeton. The rehearsal and audition went fine and now I'm in an orchestra again. I couldn't be happier. The music is fun--definitely a challenge. The people are very friendly. And the conductor has high expectations for us and the ability to deliver on those expectations. Among the pieces we're playing is the slow movement from Beethoven's Seventh--easily my favorite movement from a Beethoven Symphony, and pretty high on my list of All-Time-Really-Great-Music. At the first rehearsal, I saw the copied music for the Beethoven--it started at page 6 or so and there was no title, so I started fumbling through the folder for pages 1-5 of whatever this was. Finally, after a few minutes, I actually looked at the notes and realized what it was. I was already quite excited to be starting this cello/orchestra thing--to find this movement from Beethoven in the folder was like winning some sort of cosmic lottery. Pretty sweet.

Playing in many bands over the years--and very few orchestras--I've never needed to get a tux before. Perhaps it's just tradition, but bands rarely seem to go in for that tux thing, while orchestras are crazy about it. The orchestra I played in in Maryland was populated with quite a few college students and I don't think they went the tuxedo route because they didn't want to put that burden on the young'uns. I played trombone in an orchestra once also (somehow fooled them into thinking I could play trombone half-decently), but there were quite a few students in that group too, so we went with regular suits there.

Bottom line: time to buy a tux. I've been working from home for quite a few years. Before that I was in a business casual environment for a while. And before THAT I was a suited salaryman. So it's been QUITE a few years since I've walked into any kind suit shop. I ended up going to a Men's Warehouse, and was in and out of there reasonably quickly all things considered--but I must say, that was quite a lot like buying a car. They shuffle you through, read you a long list of rules and clauses, make you sign something to acknowledge your name is in their computer correctly--the salesman goes into the back room to find a tailor and hands you off to her, making sure to whisper the part about you being a musician and needing some room to move around. Then he swoops in to negotiate delivery dates, then he hies you on over to the money guy to complete the messy financial transaction. Goodness. I must say the most enbarassing and endearing moment was when the cashier/data entry tech of this well-oiled-suit-and-tuxedo-juggernaut asked me my month of birth. "March," I said. I saw a panicked look in his eyes, then some counting on fingers, a scratch of the head. He stared at his computer screen, lost. Finally, I realized what was going on. "That would be 3," I whispered. "Oh, yeah--thanks," he said, breathing a sigh of relief and turning a little red. Tuxedo-Store Crisis averted.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Scope Creep

It's earlyish. The boys are asleep and I have the TV on with no sound. There's a line in "The Manchurian Candidate" (uh, yeah, the Frank Sinatra one, not the Denzel Washington one), where Laurence Harvey's character, Raymond Shaw, says to his new bride,
"My dear girl, have you ever noticed that the human race is divided into two distinct and irreconcilable groups: those that walk into rooms and automatically turn television sets on, and those that walk into rooms and automatically turn them off. The trouble is that they end up marrying each other."
Honestly, I'm not sure which camp I'm in. Sometimes I want to take a shotgun and blow the TV to bits, and other times I don't want to be in a room alone unless something is moving around on the screen.

So I just glanced up at the screen a little while ago and Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" is on--and the image that I happened to catch is this absolutely beautiful movie moment. It's the very end of the first act--Belle has been singing about how she doesn't fit in in her small town and how there must be more than "this provincial life" etc. The imagery is (deliberately, I assume) like the part in "Gone With the Wind," where Scarlett declares that she'll never be hungry again.

With those pictures in my head, it's time that I acknowledge that I've kind of pigeonholed myself with the whole Euphonium Plays Baroque Music thing. When I set up this blog, I added the description: "A Euphonium Player on a Mission to Learn and Record Telemann's 12 Fantasias for Unaccompanied Flute." A mission indeed--an incomplete one at that. But really--the Telemann...and the Rochut and the Bach--that's all good stuff, but, depending on the day of the week, or the week of the year, that's only a small chunk of my right-brain bandwidth. My day job has me hanging out an awful lot on the left side, and really, enough is too much already. There's quite a bit of non-euph music going on in and out of my studio these days--and that's all going to be very welcome here.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Video Post - Bach, Two-Part Invention #4

JS Bach, Two-Part Invention #4 (arr Andrew Spang). Copyright 2011, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.

Well, lookie actual don't see me posting one of those every day! Actually, I don't post much of anything every day... Oh well.

The nice folks over at Dave Werden's forum are doing an online recital thingie for forum members--I quick signed up to do a video since clearly I'm needing a little nudge to post stuff these days. This particular Invention is one that my friend Andy and I used to hit frequently enough on our regular Saturday morning duet sessions. I moved away from Maryland three years (plus maybe two weeks) ago, so I haven't played these (or pretty much any) euph/tuba duets in quite a while. Definitely the hardest part about leaving MD--I miss my Saturday duets.

The other hard part about moving away was that I had found a community orchestra that would accept me with my meager cello talents. Now, after three years of searching, I'm actually going to sit in at an orchestra rehearsal and audition this week. I have no idea if I'm wading in way over my head (though I suspect that's the case). But whatever--the worst thing that could happen is that I humiliate myself.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Playing In and Playing Out

Today's post of Rochut/Bordogni #27 was more than a little overdue I'd say. Goodness. To my legions of internet fans, I apologize for the dearth of posts these many months. I'm hoping to enter a more productive period,

It was the strangest thing. Back sometime in the early fall, I think, I got wind that a new community band was being formed--rehearsals would be at the local high school. I wanted to make a good impression, so I spent the next few months seriously working out. All my major scales 3 octaves every day. Clarke studies, solo work, tuner work, metronome work, pedal register, extreme high register, double/triple tonguing, excerpts, sight reading. Every day. You'd think I was preparing an audition for Julliard.

Due to various delays, the band didn't have it's first rehearsal until the beginning of January, so I was plowing through this rigorous (for me anyway) daily routine for a good three or four months. Then the rehearsals started--the band was great fun and we played some really excellent music (more on that in a future post)--but here's where the funny thing happened: all of a sudden, I stopped practicing. Completely. I'd play the rehearsal every Thursday, then the next Thursday would roll around and I'd realize I hadn't taken my horn out of the bag all week. Week after week.

Perhaps the psychology of this isn't too hard to fathom. While I've played in many bands over the years, it's been a few years and this band was an unknown entity--I didn't want to embarrass myself. When I played the first rehearsal and it was clear that I wasn't embarrassing myself it suddenly became safe to stop practicing. Mostly, I'm amused at how I was immediately able to transform my obsessive drive into complete lackadaisy pretty much over night.

Likely the main reason I barely touched my horn all semester was my gig bag. For the last two years my horn has always been out--right there by the music stand--ready to go. However, the past five months I would come home from my rehearsal--set my bag down and forget about it. Teachers, take note. When you send your students home from a lesson, make sure you slip a Snickers bar into the bell of their instrument as they're packing up and tell them to take it out when they get home. The key is getting that horn out of the case.

Audio Post - Rochut/Bordogni, Melodious Etude #27

Rochut/Bordogni, Melodious Etude #27. Copyright 2011, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Audio Post - Rochut/Bordogni, Melodious Etude #26

Rochut/Bordogni, Melodious Etude #26. Copyright 2011, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Audio Post - Rochut/Bordogni, Melodious Etude #25

Rochut/Bordogni, Melodious Etude #25. Copyright 2010, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Audio Post - Rochut/Bordogni, Melodious Etude #24

Rochut/Bordogni, Melodious Etude #24. Copyright 2010, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Audio Post - Rochut/Bordogni, Melodious Etude #23

Rochut/Bordogni, Melodious Etude #23. Copyright 2010, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Audio Post - Rochut/Bordogni, Melodious Etude #22

Rochut/Bordogni, Melodious Etude #22. Copyright 2010, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.