Monday, March 23, 2015


I suppose it was inevitable, after I started paying again. Music never really leaves the soul; the heart. If one has been taken with the sounds of music from birth, that makes it even harder to leave it behind. It hasn't been easy, for several years, to just write (or, whatever it is I do here) and NOT be able to play. There was always that twinge; that longing that was never slaked. Although it seemed certain senses had failed me, my ears never did; in fact they grew sharper with the diminution of my other senses. The partial loss of my vision, the loss of my tactile senses to some degree, the loss of smell – which in my neck of the woods is no great loss; last summer, something crawled up under the house and died – never really registered as anything but some kind of annoyances, and in that, I was proven right, when a crackerjack neurologist diagnosed my motor disorder and at last, treatment and relief granted me a new aspect in my life, but I digress. As to the dead thing beneath the house, according to the reactions of people around me, I wasn't sure if it was animal or human; a quick jaunt under the house by a police officer, assured us it was an animal, but in truth, I don't think he was under there long enough to be sure, as I've never seen a man crawl in reverse so quickly. I've been reassured by one and all that the smell was horrific. Sometimes, loss is a good thing.

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One of my dad's favorites; I teethed on an old 33 1/3 album cover of a Glenn Miller album. My dad was cool with that, just so long as I didn't eat the vinyl.

Anyway, 2014 was the year I began to play viola again, after a nearly 8 year hiatus. It was frightening at first, but muscle memory runs deep, so deep that it will overtake many obstacles and really, the biggest obstacle was myself; I kept getting in my own way. As I grew comfortable with playing again, and began to trust once more in my reflexes, it all began to come back. We're currently in the throes of rehearsal of Shostakovich's 5th Symphony, Prokofiev's 3rd Piano Concerto, the 1st Movement and Aaron Copeland's “Lincoln Portrait”, a piece I've played before. This concert, with the Tampa Bay Symphony, is a concert designed to showcase music “for the people”; our musical director, Mark Sforzini has chosen carefully and well this season and more about him in a moment.

The magnificent composer Dmitry Shostakovich; in 1942, featured as a volunteer fireman during the Battle of Leningrad, which was in fact, a 900-day siege by the Nazis. While there, Shostakovich wrote his 7th, 8th and 9th symphonies, called appropriately enough, the "Leningrad Symphonies".

I chose the theme “Music In My Life” because I have had a broad range of influences throughout my life, from Chabrier, to Glenn Miller, to Rammstein and Psy. I am not someone who is a snob about where good music comes from; it's all around us. You just have to look for it and LISTEN, really listen to what is being played. I'm not a fan of “background” music, although I have provided plenty of it, and a lot of it has been awful, as anyone who has read my blog can attest. Everything from “The Chipmunk Christmas Song” to “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries!” (Pizzacatto all the way!) has been played by me for filthy lucre and then some. I've played for everybody and everything from channeling Elvis (he was in the building on the Jumbotron, that night) to Garfield the Cat. I ran home with big, fat paychecks for such nonsense and this had no influence on my life whatsoever, with the exception of causing a few nightmares and regrets at an education wasted, but I was in good company. At least I didn't go to Julliard, like some of my stand partners did; I heard all manner of comments from “Thank God, this is easy” to “I spent four years at Curtis Institute of Music for this?”.


The summer of 2013 saw the arrival of PSY and Gangnam Style. PSY studied at the Berklee College of Music and his music reflects a sly sense of the absurd and his musicianship is superb. Gangnam Style was done up as Klingon Style, and every other kind of style you can think of. The video had so many views that it actually broke the counter after 2 billion or so views. About half of those were mine, as I had started my motor disorder therapy in earnest and there's a lot of dancing involved. Gangnam Style hit true absurdity when the Wyatt Family or whoever they are, set the whole thing to dubstep and computerized their flashing Christmas display lights. Talk about a festival of kitsch. Wub-wub-wub-wubwub. Wub-wub-wub-wubwub. That's about the only thing I HAVEN'T played on my viola!

No, the music that truly influenced me was Beethoven, Debussy, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, Shostakovich, Brahms and so many others in the classical mode. But, there were many other influences as well. Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, K'eb Mo, Robert Johnson and the Delta Bluesmen had an influence on how I learned to play with nuances and also learned how to “swing”. I plan on visiting some of these folks, as well as the afore-mentioned Mark Sforzini, current Music Director of the Tampa Bay Symphony, as well as the St. Petersburg Opera. I played in the Opera Tampa company for twelve seasons, with Maestro Anton Coppola, he of the “Italian Opera is hard, Wagner is easy, it's just a goddamned 1-2-3-4 and everyone is over the moon!” and developed another nuanced ability to play within operatic confines, with it's many rubatos and flowing rhythms. These are all different types of playing, than from what I originally was trained to do classically, by a professor who was a student of the famed Ivan Galamian, a renowned pedagogue.

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I know; who the hell is this guy? Well, along with my standards and things that are less alarming, comes the guy who is referred to as "Guy Who Sings the Troll Song". There is actually a ten-hour version of this on youtube and it's a great song for sing-alongs and hilarity. I had forgotten it, until a member of my clan family introduced it into our karaoke nights on Team Speak 3, when we play Runescape. Lest you think we're not serious about music, we have several musicians, including this year's silver medal winner of the Chopin Competition. The great thing about musicians is we never really grow up!

Even after college, I was green as grass. The real education began in the trenches; performing day-to-day and learning so many different styles of playing. It's been quite a ride and I'm fortunate to be here. Let me share with you some of the folks and styles that influenced ME. I was told once that we are all self-taught and that all a really great teacher does is inspire us. I believe that to be true; once the basics are set, the rest is up to us as artists, to make the music and own it. I hope you enjoy this month, reading about the influences in my musical sphere!
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