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upcoming event: Saturday, March 18, 2023
Songs from an Irish Musical Hall
with soprano Jett Downey
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this week's featured recording for Friday, March 10, 2023

The final recording I made at Third Church does not, shall we say, have the Presbyterian seriousness of some of the others! It is, nevertheless, a composition for a church service, at least according to its strange title. "The Hunt" is, so sayeth its composer, "for the serving of the offertory." No wonder French clerics often complained. It wasn't the only time the sacred space was party to a romp during the collection; probably it was because the rules, mainly quite strict, were relaxed for this part of the service, and the organist could play pretty much whatever they wanted--and did! I dedicate this piece to my own favorite hunter, Rosamunda, who likes to hunt strings. She can be seen, at right, letting me know she wants to play by tapping me on the shoulder with her paw.


Suitable for my purposes

My childhood piano teacher was not shy with her opinions. Referring to the upright piano which was my practice instrument at home, she said, rather brusquely, "well, that is just NOT suitable for your purposes!"

My mother chuckled about that for years. But then she began to feel that Mrs. Meck might have a point. After I went to college to study music, it was decided I should get a grand piano after all. And thereby hangs a tale.

We went to a house in a wealthy neighborhood near Cleveland. The woman selling her piano did not play one. Her only concern was that a specimen be available for parties, so that someone could be heard tickling the plastic for the background edification of her guests. It was a status symbol, and so naturally, she wanted only the best. A Yamaha conservatory grand is a good piano, but it does not scream luxury and gobs of disposable income the way a 9-foor concert Bosendorfer does. In those days, these pianos went for around $60,000. Now you would pay around a quarter of a million dollars for one.

It is said that those who can play Steinways cannot afford them, and that those who can afford them cannot play them. I wish now we had somehow managed to acquire a Steinway, but a Yamaha is a good piano, and it was a pretty steep price to pay as it was. Yamaha pianos are entirely factory-made, and, absent the individual craftsmanship and meticulous attention to detail that make Steinways preferable by most concert professionals, their quality is nevertheless consistently high. Their tone can get very bright, but you can still do a lot with the instrument. They hold up pretty well, too. In the three decades since I've doubtless logged millions of notes and the instrument is still in fine shape, needing few repairs, and even holding its tune remarkably well.

It isn't the piano that has been causing me trouble all of these years. It is the bench.

As we were preparing to leave, taking the bench with us, the woman said petulantly, "oh, the bench is not included."

We were stunned. I knew what kind of person this lady was, but that seemed a little over the top even for her. The bench is extra?

"It's another $250."

I don't think any of us were interesting in playing her game at this point. But I had to ask, "if we don't take the bench, what are you planning to do with it?" Oh, she lied. I'll put flowers in it.

Mind you, this was not a particularly fine specimen of a bench. It was not the kind that greets the backside of concert pianists as they prepare to do battle with concert Steinways in prestigious venues. It was a wooden bench with a lid that opened to hold music. Or maybe not even that. I've forgotten that part.

We left with the piano only, and for the last thirty years I have been getting by on a collapsible bench meant for a synthesized keyboard. I call it a "glorified ironing board" and if you are not very careful it might fall over, or tip. It is not very comfortable, and it has lately developed quite a squeak. It is definitely not suitable for recordings. And it has always been a little dangerous.

So last week, I splurged. I spent nearly 500 dollars, which in today's money is still less than this lady wanted for her not-exactly-top-of-the-line bench, and I bought an Artist's Bench, the kind that I would sit on in front of a Steinway in a concert hall. I got rather spoiled at the conservatory because all of the concert halls and teaching studios had that backside-friendly equipment, and after all of these years I think my posture could use a break.

Yesterday it came in the mail. It took some effort to get it out of its boxes and put it together, and even now my gluteus maximus is shocked when it makes contact with such a soft, comfortable surface. I am not used to such luxury. But I am not as young, and I relish not having to make so many technical allowances to get results.

Last week I ended my tenure at a church whose tall organ console sometimes required extreme stretches to make eye contact with the choir director. At this rate, my body just might make it to retirement!

Because I'm switching jobs this week, I thought it would be fun to post this essay I wrote several years ago about various composers and their strange relationships to employment. It occurs to me that due to the often fraught nature of those relationships I ought to write a disclaimer to the effect that neither my previous position or the one I am about to embark on have anything to do with the possibly bitter tone of some of the foregoing. In fact, I am about to leave the company of many of these august persons by actually having a full-time position, something neither Mozart nor Beethoven was ever to achieve. But they did alright in their own way!

Take this Job and...     
great composers and their employers

....His name was Josquin and he died in 1521... We know very little about Josquin's life (about the only thing he left behind besides his music is some graffiti in the choir loft at his church) but I think we can all appreciate the problem he once faced--not getting paid.

That's right--his employer stiffed him. Josquin wrote him a piece of music and didn't get a cent for it. Now Beethoven once dashed off a silly cannon about the virtues of getting paid when someone conveniently forgot about his fee, but Josquin needed to tread carefully because his employer was royalty and democracy wasn't even a gleam in John Locke's eye yet.

So Josquin wrote something else. It was a piece for choir, and the biblical text he chose was this: "Lord, remember thy promise to thy servant."

Nice touch, isn't it? And his employer got the hint.

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