Archive for January, 2008

slipping loops

January 31, 2008

Early in January, a friend asked on the hspchd list about how to deal with slipping loops of brass strings. I’m giving here a cross-section of the most valuable bits of the following discussion, with an emphasis on my own experience.

I hadn’t been aware of the problem of slipping brass loops at all when, a few years ago, some of the strings in a harpsichord used by my ensemble suddenly gave up keeping their pitch. There seems to be a dual explanation for my lack of experience: 1) The brass sections in my own instruments are strung in beryllium-copper, a material that has characteristics in some ways closer to early brass (for example it only stretches very little before settling, and it sounds pretty nice from the start on). As an aside, beryllium copper looks like copper-bronze (which many people find useless – I have no experience with it) but is something else nevertheless. What matters here: reasonably well-made Beryllium copper loops just don’t slip. 2) One of the things apparently typical to brass loops is that they begin to slip after years and years of behaving nicely. At the moment the trouble started, the instrument in question was about ten years old.

In any case, I went through all the steps of “what now?” solutions that, as I learned recently, make the entire harpsichord world happy.

I took off the string and tried to wind the loop tighter. It snapped.

When winding the loop for the new string, I tried to make the double helix tighter than usual in order to avoid the new string from slipping as the old had done. It snapped. (more…)

mini-disk nostalgia

January 29, 2008

After listening through a huge pile of mini-disks and CDs containing the outcome of ten years of musical activities, I had to take a deep breath. Just in time, our Internet connection went dead and I could occupy myself with periodic attempts of re-starting the modem, restoring its configuration, re-installing a bunged-up web browser and seeking consolation in the BBC series Planet Earth, accompanied with a 2005 Chablis Grand Cru that I had fetched out of the forbidden section of our basement to soothe my anger. Why did I have to take a deep breath?

To satisfy those on the lookout for any humble mumblings of confession: I certainly didn’t like every note I heard. But this is not what I mean, and it is also not new in the world of live performance. The only way out would be simply not to record any of one’s concerts: some of my colleagues rigorously stick to that principle – there is really nothing wrong with that. I recorded my concerts primarily for my own archive, and it is only natural that some of the results will stay there, warm and comfortable.

There are other things worth mentioning. (more…)

finally uploads

January 23, 2008

I’ve been fiddling with minidisk transfers and mp3 transformations for the last few days, on behalf of an actively musical section on this blog. Fortunately I have, at least since 2003, been making quite a lot of tour-recordings; unfortunately, recordings made by, for instance, balancing a stereo microphone on some ridge not even close to the orchestra have their limitations.

But the concept of a sketchbook is modern, so what the hey. And fortunately again, some of the samples were certainly made by professionals, using professional equipment.

The new mp3 page will soon be completed with more music; the necessary information about the other musicians; and other items of interest. As sketchbooks go, I can’t guarantee that all the files will be here forever.

keeping the tempo

January 6, 2008

Another favorite subject, apart from trills, for musicians to get really upset about is the question of tempo. Here I do not mean absolute tempo, but rather two things:

The ability to produce varying note values within a piece to the same, unchanging beat, and

The willingness and skill to enable the other players to play together with oneself while not giving up one’s own musicality.

Most musicians are rock-sure that they play at a stable pace, and they get very angry when this is challenged. This is most unfortunate because the problem of getting things together is ubiquitous, and is usually a matter of tempo stability. I would claim that any group rehearsal of any concerto by Vivaldi (for example) earlier or later will produce a discussion about tempo. Keeping the beat is, in fact, difficult. (more…)

cracking the trill code

January 5, 2008

One day, when I stumbled over the trills in the connecting run in the middle of the refrain of J.Ph. Rameau’s Les Sauvages, the harpsichord professor in charge advised me to “practice until it works.” I am a trill person. Consequently this recipe did lead to a better result, but it ought to be clear that it is, nevertheless, bad advice. The question is not “when will it work?” This inevitably will become a despaired “when will it ever work!” which gets us nowhere. The relevant thing to ask oneself is rather: “why doesn’t it work now, and how do I make it work?” The answer will disclose the appropriate manner of practicing, as opposed to an appropriate number of practice hours.

Even in professional historically informed playing, trills very often do not automatically come out properly. Granted, those players who, when failing to play an embellishment as planned, would produce a well audible awkwardness (harpsichordists) or find their tone destroyed and their technical balance upset (woodwind players) are more likely to have struggled with the problem at depth. Others, however, have the ability to hide in the tutti group or to pronounce their trills in some noncommittal way. Such evasive practices remind us of a person who got tired of wrestling with the German personal pronouns and simply replaced der die and das with a mumbled, generic d’r. (more…)


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