Friday, June 18, 2010

Artistic Intention

I saw a Facebook posting recently by Cincinnati dancer, Susan Moser:
"Controversy for the sake of controversy is weak art; controversy avoided for the sake of avoiding controversy makes for weak art. As artists we must decide whether to avoid or confront certain questions: How nervous should we make our audience? How provocative should we be? Should we invite people to examine the assumptions at the center of their lives?"

I am active on Facebook primarily because one must be active on Facebook today. It is work for me, but occasionally I am inspired or touched by this internet world of ours. This thoughtful quote resonated with me. I am frequently around artists of different mediums. Mostly musicians and artists are quite selfish- understandably so. We are constantly working on a medium that comes from ourselves: training our bodies for artistic marathons, perfecting our skills, and forcing our brains to focus on specialized materials. With our own myopic focus on our craft and being in an insular world of our own kind, it is easy to lose perspective on our artistic purpose and intention. Why we are doing what we do in the first place, and who is supporting the art with their time and dollars? My own feelings about making music through Catacoustic are that my fellow musicians and I should inspire each other and uplift the audience. Artists and musicians may have different motivations for doing their craft, but it is good to take a step back every now and then for perspective.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why Does One Make a Recording?

I was thinking on my long drive back from the Ojai Music Festival, as I was carpooling with Wildcat Viol member Julie Jeffrey: why does one go to the trouble of making a recording? This spawned an interesting discussion.
The Wildcat Viols just released a first recording of English music for three viols. It is a fine recording, and their audience in the San Francisco Bay is responding enthusiastically to it. It took many hours, a lot of work, and many dollars to make the cd. They will probably never recoup the investment they put into the project, and their real love is naturally performing and rehearsing. The studio experience of making the cd is never an enjoyable one. And, really, who enjoys listening for edits? So, I ask again: why make a recording?
1) To get concerts
2) Making recordings makes people consider you as a “legitimate” musician
3) Allows you to reach a larger audience
4) To leave a legacy
Julie pointed out that Jordi Savall’s group Hesperion XX made a recording of Purcell viol fantasies. Two of the musicians on that recording have passed away, possibly due to cancer. Julie had her own cancer scare recently, and this caused her to think of her own legacy and in-part pushed her to finish this recording and to think to the future with an additional recording that Wildcat Viols is now raising money for of Purcell and Locke fantasies.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Interview with Robin Easterbrook, Pacifica Viols Chapter Member

Robin Easterbrook (standing in photo) was one of the viol players at the Pacifica Chapter viol concert and party. I had met her previously at a workshop. She is quite active in the Bay area viol playing scene, and she kindly agreed to answer some questions for this blog.

What made you decide to play the viol?

I decided to play the viol after one of my Suzuki moms accompanied my students on a strange looking "cello.” I was teaching her daughter violin at the time. The mother's name is Mary Prout. I also had another violin student whose parents play the viol, Richard and Cathy Taruskin (at the time the head of UC Berkeley music department). So, I was intrigued by the beautiful resonating sounds from the gut stings. The sound of the gamba is the most sublime sound in the universe!

Why do you think people in your chapter take up the viol?

I think the beautiful consort music is a big draw. We also have wonderful coaches once a month.

What do you recommend for a region that might want to have more activity like your chapter?

I would recommend them to get more people involved playing the gamba, especially the younger folks. They should do school presentations like we have done in the past.

What is the value in a gamba society chapter and in your events?

The value is that we nurture and help people who are just learning. I am in charge of helping the "newer" players, and have gotten positive feedback they had such a great time! Everyone is so friendly and we see ourselves as a big family. When I first started playing Lee McRae and John Mark helped me so much, so that is why I want to help new learners!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Performance in Barefoot Concert Series

I performed at the Berkeley Early Music Festival last week with Wildcat Viols in a concert that was part of a new concert series, The Barefoot Chamber Concerts (see I unfortunately did not get a photo of the viol consort, since I was busy playing music, but I did get a photo of the mimosa table at the concert! I did not partake, but it certainly contributed to a very happy concert environment.
Barefoot Chamber Concerts was started by viola da gamba player Peter Halifax in Berkeley, California. Concerts are generally held on Friday evenings at 6pm, so that people can enjoy the hour-long concert after work on their way home. They would have time to make it home for dinner and would be able to fulfill other Friday evening engagements. It is a great idea - perfect for a community like Berkeley. Wine and cheese is available at these concerts.
What a great way to start a weekend!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


I spent today(in between my rehearsals for the Wildcat Viol program) at a concert in the Berkeley Early Music Festival – actually “a concert” is not quite the appropriate word. It was an all-day (11am-7pm) program of the music of Marin Marais entitled The Marais-a-thon. Professional viol players in the San Francisco bay area performed in 15 or 30 minute sections. Presented as a concert in the new Barefoot Chamber Concerts Series (, the proceeds from the day’s music went to scholarships for the Viola da Gamba Society of America’s Grants-in-Aid program.
All day, all Marais.
Performers included Colin Shipman and his wife Violet Grgich playing on harpsichord. It was so tender to see this married couple playing this intimate music together! Rebekah Ahrendt played one of my favorite suites beautifully. Peter Halifax played music from the movie Tous les Matins du Monde and kept everyone entertained with his announcements and narration of Marais’ “Operation.” David Morris’ suite moved me to tears with his sensitive interpretation. And, this was only a small sampling of what was offered!
It was intriguing to hear all these musicians playing today. There were so many approaches to technique, sound, and interpretation. It was exciting to hear so many approaches, and several of today’s players said that they work well together and learn from each other. The viol players combine in different groups and work well together in a fun, collegial way.
I hope that concerts like this will happen in Cincinnati. Someday!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Pacifica Chapter of the Viola da Gamba Society of America

Several days ago I attended the end of year annual "bash" of the Pacifica Viola da Gamba Society Chapter (a chapter of the Viola da Gamba Society of America or VdGSA). This consisted of a pitch-in lunch and an informal concert of many of the members, most of whom were amateur players of many playing levels. Everyone had a great time visiting and making music. There were fifteen different groups that performed for this 2 1/2 plus hour concert. But it was fun, since we could relax with food and drink during this casual program. It was a wonderful and supportive environment to enjoy music and friendship.
My dear friend, Julie Jeffrey founded this chapter, along with Lee McRae, who was also enthusiastically playing in the concert. They were carpooling to a workshop, when Julie asked, “why isn’t there a chapter in San Francisco with all the viol players there already?” Lee responded, “let’s make one happen.” This was in 1988. There are currently close to 100 members in the Pacifica chapter. Incidentally, there are sixteen chapters of the Viola da Gamba Society of America (
The benefits of a chapter are the community and the organization which enables members to do projects, scholarships from the national society, scholarships to members for projects and continued education, and monthly workshops. Julie said that the structure of a chapter makes it easier to get support from the national vdgsa and the community and easier to communicate within and to the larger community. The real challenge is how best to serve all members of many abilities: from the young to old and from the beginner to the amateur and the professional.
The Pacifica chapter offers its members:
1)monthly meetings for members free-of-charge with playing opportunities and led by professional viol players/coaches.
2)a monthly newsletter
3)viol rentals
For more information on the Pacifica chapter, see

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Early Music in San Francisco

I arrived on Thursday in beautiful San Francisco for concerts with the Wildcat Viol Consort (Julie Jeffrey, Joanna Blendulf, & Elizabeth Reed). No, there is no funny connection with their group and mine and cats. Wildcat is a canyon just down the road, and "catacoustic" means reflecting sounds. We are performing Purcell viol fantasies in a concert for the Berkeley Early Music Festival and the Ojai Music Festival. The consort sounds amazing, and friends of Catacoustic would recognize Julie and Joanna as frequent guest artists.While Elizabeth has yet to play in Cincinnati, I hope that she will join us soon!
It is wonderful to be in San Francisco: good food, exciting stores, diverse population, and it is nice to escape the Cincinnati summer weather for a few days! What I find especially intriguing is the culture for early music here. This city boasts the SFEMS series (Catacoustic has performed on this series twice,, the Berkeley Early Music Festival (, an astonishing number of professional viol players (last count was 16!), a full-time professional baroque orchestra (Philharmonia Baroque, with the superstar conductor Nicolas McGegan, and a whopping 43 early music organizations. This city is an inspiring model for Cincinnati. It would be wonderful for my home to become a center for early music like San Francisco! Why not? Cincinnati is a true center for the arts: home to one of the finest orchestras in the world, has an excellent music conservatory, is home of the Fine Arts Fund, has an excellent cost of living, and is within close proximity to two of the leading universities in this country for early music studies (Indiana University and Oberlin Conservatory).
What does it take for a city to become such an exciting center for early music? I plan to spend time here asking people this question.What do you think? What can Cincinnati do? What can Catacoustic do to further encourage more concerts of early music, amateur musicians to take up early music instruments, and professional performers to move here?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Listening to Beautiful Music Today...

I am often asked what my favorite type of music is. The answer is that it depends... The music I enjoy changes, depending on what is going on in my life and, frankly, what music I am practicing. I do not tend to listen to music for fun. It becomes work. But, I will say what my favorite music is today. I am listening (for fun!) to a recording by Kristian Bezuidenhout of Mozart sonatas performed on the fortepiano. I am rediscovering a love for Mozart through his interpretation of this music! Listening to this recording makes me feel alive and energized. Now that the Catacoustic concert season is at a close, I plan to continue listening to inspiring artists such as Kris to refuel for our upcoming tenth season! Interested in hearing this recording? The cd is entitled "Sturm und Drang," and it is on the Fleur de Son label, catalogue number 57951.