Music At Home

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I’m writing this post for stay-at-home artists, especially women artists who sacrifice so much to look after their families. It can be a struggle for someone who is used to performing on stage and collaborating with many different people to suddenly be alone and “confined” at home. Yet I can assure you that being at home is actually a wonderful opportunity for artistic growth as well as for meaningful work.

This time in my life requires me to be at home most of the time. I have two young children who need my nurturing and care. This is a great joy to me! Yet, this situation also presents its own unique challenges to my musical life. I’m sure there are many people who experience this sort of life change when they go from professional career to caring for family. It can feel isolating. But the life of a musician does not need to disappear under these circumstances. Rather, it can change and grow. Staying at home can offer time for reflection and study, individual discovery and expression, and opportunities for embarking on sincere and unique projects away from peer pressure and deadlines. And if one is at home looking after children, there is the absolutely amazing opportunity to share, in a deep and profound way, the joy of music and all that can be passed on by studying and practicing it.

One of the beautiful things about music and the life of the artist is that they encourage us to be creative problem solvers, flexible and determined in the midst of change. One of my favorite sayings is “Adapt and endure.” The musical life should support the life of the human being and not the other way around. In the situation where one must stay at home, it is most likely necessary to curtail frequent performances on stage. But for thousands of years music making has taken place off stage as well as on. When we take our music from the professional sphere and bring it into the home, we can give it as a gift to our children, teach them about beauty, self expression, world cultures, language, and logical thought processes. We can teach them to sing and/or play an instrument. We can teach them to appreciate the wonderful music of others. In this way we give them the gift of freedom, the gift of art.

There is a historical context to this approach to music. During the Enlightenment in Europe, pianos were first built and sold in great numbers. They were often sold to people in the new middle class, people who wanted to educate themselves and their children. They wanted pianos in their homes because they valued culture. Composers during this time wrote thousands of piano works and instrumental sonatas to satisfy the demand for music in the home. We owe the existence of the violin and piano sonatas of Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert to this demand. Even today pianos are often to be found in homes as a sign of “the good life.” Not every home has someone who knows how to play these instruments, but they are there nevertheless. But of course some families do boast of pianists of various skill levels. How beautiful it is when a family’s home is alive with real music! Children can be taught to appreciate and play at a very early age. By creating an environment where music making is encouraged, the stay-at-home artist is passing on culture to the next generation. This is one of the most important and joyful things we can do as human beings!

So with these thoughts in mind, I continue to create, even late at night. I continue to be an artist, teacher, and musician. I play and sing nursery rhymes by day and write symphonies by night. My newest project is “Symphonic Picture No. 8: The Creation.” It is in three parts and musically tells the story of Genesis, Salvation History, and The New Creation when we are reconciled to the Creator through Jesus. It is a very personal project, one of meditation, of experimentation, of praise and thanksgiving.

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The Benefits Of Playing Music When You Retire

This article was written by a fellow musician and friend to whom I had the great privilege of teaching violin. It is my hope that by sharing this article more retired adults will be inspired to become involved in the arts.

The Benefits Of Playing Music When You Retire

by Bernice Greenstein


Being retired is usually leaving the fast lane.
For some people it’s a time to stop for a while.
For others, it’s finding opportunities to continue
your life’s passions.

My passion has always been music.

I was lucky to have a piano in my home when I
was a child.  The pleasure of learning how to play
this instrument has been a never-ending journey.

It’s been said, “That we use both sides of our brain
when we play the piano.”  I think playing any musical
instrument is very beneficial.  You can be as creative
as want to be.  The sense of accomplishment is very
rewarding.

Being retired is a wonderful time to renew your skills
at playing an instrument that you haven’t played in a
long time.

Several years ago, I fulfilled a dream.  I learned how 
to play the violin.  It has given me the wonderful
opportunity of joining a beginning orchestra at
La Verne University.

The La Verne Symphony Orchestra is under the direction of
Dr. Danielle R. Nahas, and conducted by Emmanuel Lagumbay.

Being in this orchestra has given me a connection and a feeling
of belonging to a group of people.  The sense of acceptance
is very special.  Age doesn’t matter.  Actually, it makes me feel
younger, participating with younger students.  By striving together,
we are reaching for the same goal…which is to make beautiful
music.
Bernice Greenstein (pictured second from the left) at a LVSO outreach event in 2015
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The Happy Musician

Playing music has a bright side and a dark side. Like so many things in life, it can be used to build us up or tear us down. As an educator and violinist, I have seen both, in my personal journey as a musicians and in others. Music can be one of the most deeply enriching and rewarding of experiences when we employ it to engage and communicate our deepest selves. It can also be very harmful when we use that communication to criticize and judge either ourselves or others. All to often, music is used as nothing more than a way for some people to put themselves above others. Let me tell you, it gets awfully lonely up there! So that’s not the way to be happy. After over 26 years of playing violin, here are some things I’ve noticed that make a happy musician (and person):

Spiritual connection

It may not always be popular to talk about, but having a spiritual component to one’s musical life is essential to being a happy musician. It gives life meaning and purpose. Without it, the musician can very easily fall into pursuing ego. Being conscious of one’s motivation is essential to one’s happiness and direction in the pursuit of music. The faith that we are created on purpose by a Creator and to praise this One is the rock which can stand during all the trials that come and go in the life of the artist. To praise the Creator is the wellspring of love and purpose.

Humility

Humility is the correct acknowledgment of one’s own strengths and weaknesses. It brings joy and peace. The humble person knows that he or she has many valuable gifts and acquired skills that can be employed for good. He or she also knows that there will always be more to learn. People who are more advanced don’t bother the humble person. Rather, they are sources of inspiration and further knowledge.

My personal experience of this comes from my having dyslexia. My particular dyslexia makes processing incoming information require effort and time. I will never be able to sightread with facility or accuracy, even though I have trained for it and practiced it for years and years. It just doesn’t come as naturally for me as it does for some others. However, I can play the violin, write a symphony, and lead an orchestra.

Humility allows us to enjoy what we do well and employ it for good while and at the same time acknowledging the gifts and skills of others. It also allows us to grow in positive ways. It allows us to let in new ideas from others while loving and acknowledging ourselves.

Self worth

I think a lot of anxiety comes to musicians because they attribute their self worth to how well they’re playing at the moment. This is a very precarious existence because making mistakes is not only part of being an artist, it is also essential to the growth process. I see it all the time in different aspects of life, people basing self worth and the worth of others based on intelligence, ability, or other exterior factors. The happy musician loves and values him or herself not based on musical ability, but based on unconditional love. This unconditional love for self translates into music and into one’s outlook of and interaction with others.

Imagination  

We’ve probably all seen that quote by Einstein, that “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. He was so right! Imagination opens up the world to us. It unlocks the secrets of life and invigorates our spirit to make discoveries. The joy of life doesn’t come from facts but from the engagement of the life of the spirit. We communicate through stories, through shared experiences down through the ages. Music and its creation is an exercising of the imagination. It’s a place where we retain the ability to “play” like children. Imagination gives us the ability to create.

Integrity

Integrity in my view is the ability to act from within, to engage the freewill. We often have so much information coming at us in the form of education, advertisement, politics, etc. that it’s very easy to just go through the motions. The happy musician is able to hold everything at a proper distance, decide what to focus on, and then respond thoughtfully according to his or her sincere inner self. Music should be taught and studied in such a way that hands the ability to the individual to think and act for his or herself, to thoughtfully interpret what a composer is saying with consciousness and with still keeping a sense of self. And, like imagination, integrity also gives us the ability to create.

Community

The happy musician is able to share all this inner being with others and to engage in an exchange of life. Music requires a lot of time alone, of introspection and of solitude during daily practice. But then, the happy musician goes out and shares what he or she has discovered with others and also learns from them. Solitude gives the musician time to gain knowledge and skills. Community gives the musician the ability to bless others, to teach them, and to learn from them, thus enriching the times of solitude. It’s a cycle.

Humanity

Music is a way we talk about what goes on for real. When we are truly human with our music, it becomes something that feeds our soul. We feel things, love, anger, sadness, hope, etc. and we can express our experiences in music. Music is worth something because it allows us to connect with and share the life of the human spirit. That’s why it’s good to have a life outside of music too, because experiences in life give depth to our art. And remember, having humor and a positive attitude allow us to be resilient and to enjoy living the life of a musician. When we remember to sometime stop with all the progress and to celebrate where we’re at, we begin to see the great gift of our human life as expressed through music.

🙂

The Busy Musician

We often have demands on our lives, especially when we’re working and/or raising a family. I’ve been thinking a lot about this question: How does one continue a musical life while juggling other important priorities? I’ve been thinking about this a lot during my time on maternity leave. I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking about this. Music is such a joy and such an important way of life, yet we can’t live isolated in the practice room. We also should be able to have time for ourselves to enjoy the things that make us happy, be that music or other worthwhile pursuits. Of course, when one is a professional, full-time musician, it is to be expected that there will be much more time allotted to practicing, performing, and gigging. But what about the person who, for whatever reason, doesn’t have this “professional” status? Here are some tactics that I’ve found are helpful in continuing a musical life even when life gets busy.

Practice! The word “practice” often brings to mind the child who has to prepare for the next music lesson, but we can also take it to mean living out the activity of making music, much like religious practice. Living the musical life means regularly taking part in music making. It’s the only way to be a musician. But at times in life when things are very busy, for example with the birth of a new child, one may not have hours on end to be alone in the studio. In such times, it’s good to remember that music is there to serve us, not the other way around. There’s no need to put extra pressure. Rather, work with the time you do have, making music a part of the larger picture of life. In this way, you’ll be able to continue. If you have five minutes to play your instrument, take those five minutes and practice!

Put your instrument in an easily accessible, visible place. This may seem like a little thing, but it really helps! It will make practice time happen a lot more frequently and help you remember to play your instrument.

Listen to the radio station that plays your genre of music. In case you don’t already, listening to the radio is a great way to learn more about music. When you think about what you’re listening to, the composition, style, performance, etc., you can gain new ideas about how you want to play music. I often discover new pieces I would like to study while listening to the classical station. I also hear the names and performances of artists who are involved in the musical scene and learn about live performances in my area. This active listening is a real way to not only “practice” music, but also to be involved in the larger musical world.

Learn from life. It’s good to remember that when we have a rich social and spiritual life, our music can become deeper and more emotional. We can apply what we learn in life to how we play our music and how we connect to others. Our life experiences give us maturity, depth, and understanding. They teach us about the needs of others and of ourselves. We can see from history that many composers had huge challenges in their lives. Yet, they were able to turn adversity into opportunity. They expressed themselves through music. This is good to remember the next time we stay up all night with a hungry baby or have crazy demands at work.

Prioritize. You have time for what you have time for. By this I mean you have time to do the things you are dedicated to. If there is no time to play music, you can ask yourself if perhaps there is some TV time to trade in. Or, maybe there’s a special day of the week when you can block off some time to focus on playing.

Value what you do. The main thing is to be creative in how you weave in music into your life and that you love it enough to always continue. It is a blessing to you and to the world when you express your own individuality and beauty though music.

Observations from “Heavenly Music” (1943)

Someone recently told me about this interesting short film and I was inspired to find it and make some observations about it. It’s called “Heavenly Music” and won the Academy Award for Best Short in 1943. Produced by Sam Coslow for MGM, this short brings up an number of fascinating topics. It’s about a musician who wants to get in to heaven, but he has to pass an audition in front of history’s great composers to see if his popular music will stand the test of time. That in itself is an interesting question, because “popular” or even “folk” music is often not thought of as “art” music in America nowadays. But in times past, the line between “popular” and “art” music was a lot more blurred. As one of my favorite music professors always says, “Music is music is music”. This little short actually makes a good point at the end, spoken by Joy, the angel.

Another fascinating observation you can make from watching the short is that there are no women in musicians’ heaven! Brahms, Wagner Beethoven, etc. but no Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn, or Nadia Boulanger! Actually, when we read most music history books or browse the library shelf, the percentage of male versus female composers is vastly disproportionate. I really don’t know why this is. Only look at the impact of Nadia Boulanger on American composition and we see that it has nothing to do with ability of men versus women (see below). But I remember even thinking as a young girl, “Is it even okay for me to write music?” (And for all you aspiring women musicians out there, of course the answer is “Yes!”. If you need more inspiration, check out the “Unstoppable” add by Always below.) Now I was brought up to believe I could pursue any type of art of music I wanted, so my question didn’t come from my upbringing, but from the almost complete lack of women composers mentioned in music history. I really believe this is a very interesting topic and relevant and no doubt one that is changing as we speak. For further reading, I would recommend “Women in Music” edited by Karin Anna Pendle: http://www.amazon.com/Women-Music-Karin-Anna-Pendle/dp/025321422X.

And as someone who loves studying Medieval music culture, I was struck by the part in the short about how the composers started fighting over who stole whose melody. Now I seriously doubt they would have done this since there are often so many similar melodies that com up in compositions. The reason I bring up Medieval music is because in those days, composers took others music on purpose and fashioned it into their own music. It was the idea of taking pre-existing material and working with it, the same way a carpenter takes wood from a forest. There were no copyright restrictions. And from this composers were able to build on each other to have a unified but varied musical culture that was able to grow from the discoveries of others. We composers still do this today, listening to each other’s ideas, making observations, and crafting our own works. We just have to be aware and not to downright copy.

The last observation I will mention is the way the young composer in the film had to come up with a piece of music in 10 minutes. He did so by relying on his muse, the angel “Joy”. She inspired him and he “composed” a song on the spot. This is the mythical idea of “genius”, that music just comes to the composer out of the air, with little or no effort. But the reality is that music is the result of crafting, of gathering material, making observations, thinking, experimenting, learning from others, learning from nature. Natural ability is involved, but it requires cultivation. It doesn’t just happen. Early composers, even people like the great J. S. Bach, thought of themselves as craftsman. Beethoven had to write and re-write his compositions. The idea of “genius” came later. It’s a topic I would someday like to learn more about, but one that is very important to keep in mind, especially for young composers.

I’m sure there are many things we could talk about after watching this short film. These kinds of discussions are good food for thought.

“Heavenly Music (1943)

“Mademoiselle” – Nadia Boulanger

Always #LikeAGirl – Unstoppable

Composer of the Day: Guillaume Dufay (1397 – 1474)

Guillaume Dufay (1397 – 1474) was a French composer, the illegitimate son of a priest. During his twenties he went to Italy and eventually sang in the papal chapel. In his music we can see many Medieval priorities as well as several new innovations. We can see the use of Medieval counterpoint, where one voice goes up and the other goes down, with voices coming together at consonant intervals. Medieval counterpoint is beautifully straight forward and is a good starting point for the young composer of today. In the Medieval mind, consonant intervals were octaves, perfect fourths and fifths, and unisons. Thirds were still considered dissonances and like other dissonances were used in passing. We can see these countrapuntal practices in Dufay’s Credo from “Missa l’Homme Armé”.

By way of innovations, we can also start to see the use of sharps to create a movable mi fa relationship or a half step between other notes besides the standard mi fa and ti do notes, something we begin to see in late Medieval music. Because of the use of these sharps, Dufay’s music takes unexpected turns and has a colorful quality and rich harmonies that cause many scholars to suggest that his music paves the way for the music of the Renaissance*.

This music is also innovative in another way. As we can learn from the organum from the Florence Manuscript, Medieval composers took preexisting material and worked with it to construct their music. They weren’t creating something from nothing, but were taking material that already existed and crafting it into something else, in the case of the Florence Manuscript organum, they were taking older church cantus and using it as the tenor, the held, slow bottom part underneath the new counterpoint. Well, Dufay was a composer who used not sacred music, but a secular tune, l’Homme Armé, as the tenor for his Mass. This practice became a very popular one in the years following, and Dufay may have been the one with whom this practice originated. Copyright didn’t exist then, so composers were free to use each other’s music for the basis of their own compositions, so as to build on previous innovations and ideas unhindered.

*Note: We should take note here that terms like “Renaissance” and “Medieval” are merely helpful labels for us today. People living during these times did necessarily use them, nor did they see curtains fall on such and such a year marking the end of an era and the beginning of another one. On the contrary, music is an example of how ideas develop, continue, and change over time. Many of the priorities people had during the Middle Ages are still held today.

Here is a link to a sheet music edition of Dufay’s Credo from “Missa l’Homme Armé”:

http://imslp.org/wiki/Missa_l%27Homme_Arm%C3%A9_%28Dufay,_Guillaume%29

Credo from “Missa l’Homme Armé”

Cantica Symphonia, Provided to YouTube by NAXOS of America

Making a Living as an Artist

Being an artist full time, whether it be a musician, a sculptor, a painter, and actor/actress, is very very rewarding. We love our jobs. We are inspired on a regular basis. We see the good results of our work, uplifting people and communicating with them. How many people say they love getting up in to morning because of their job (well I’m a musician and I get up late, but you know what I’m talking about)?

The challenge often comes when it’s time to make money, to organize cash flow, and pay taxes. Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to living as an artist:

*Collaborate and build relationships: When we work together, the load can be lighter. There are probably organizations and/or individuals that you can work with who have expertise in business just like you do in art.

*Dedicate time specifically to your art every day: If you allot a specific time every day to your craft and then put your work away, you will more easily be able to focus on household duties because you will not be distracted.

*Stay connected and keep learning: When you continue to be innovative and talk to people, you will continue to grow and stay inspired.

*Go where there is a need: Share your art with people who will appreciate it and understand it. Not everyone will because the appreciation of art depends on individual experience and personalities, and it’s a downer when someone just doesn’t “get it”. Share your work with people who have a need for what you have to offer. They will be excited about it and you will have a new source of inspiration.

*Be compensated: It’s good to ask to be compensated. This helps you not only provide for your needs, it also helps you continue creating art and shows that the people you are exchanging your art with really do have a true appreciation for what you are doing.

*There’s nothing wrong with having another source of income besides your art: Many game-changing artists have had other sources of income. The composer Charles Ives is a famous example. He sold insurance for a living but is found in many many music histories about the 20th century.

*Do research: Many other people have thought of ways to successfully live as an artist. I’ve been checking out a blog called “Smart Passive Income”. That name of course peaked my interest because I’ve had an interest in residual income for a while 🙂 This particular article is about making money as an artist online. If you are looking for ways to make money or seeking to get your art out into the world, I recommend you check it out! http://www.smartpassiveincome.com/selling-your-artwork-online/

*Getting your art out there: A lot of time artists can do this themselves by meeting and talking to people, by making those relationships and helping to nurture others. That’s really a big part of art. For music composers, a very effective way to share you works and have them heard is to be part of an ensemble or even to found one. Starting a chamber group or an orchestra not only allows you to have an outlet for composing, it also engages others and allows you to be part of nurturing the next generation of musicians. I love this video of Frank J. Oteri on another great web resource Artists House Music. He says, “We’re all part of a community and a composer is part of that community”. http://www.artistshousemusic.org/videos/getting+your+music+played

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