Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘music

Mozart, and Persistence

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Folks, what comes to mind when you think about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?

Is it the fact that he was a gifted composer?

Is it that he was considered a virtuoso before the age of fifteen or so?

Is it that his father, Leopold, was also a composer and conductor?

Or is it that Mozart, like every other creative person on the face of this Earth (past or present), had to struggle at times, and not everyone liked what he was doing, or cared about it either?

Yes, Mozart was famous during his own lifetime. But he had struggles, too. (My conductor for the Racine Concert Band, Mark Eichner, pointed this out earlier this evening during his remarks.) For example, Mozart desperately wanted to break into the Paris opera scene; it was considered the “happening place,” back in the 1770s or so, and every composer who was anyone wanted to be known there.

So, he went to Paris. Taught some students, probably played some gigs here and there (as Mozart played any number of instruments, though he was known most for strings and piano), and managed to get a gig composing an overture for a ballet, “La Petite Riens.” (We played this piece tonight, hence Mr. Eichner’s remarks about Mozart. But I digress.) He thought that this would be his big break, as anyone who heard his music tended to adore it…but when he read the papers the next day after the ballet was premiered, he found out that his name wasn’t mentioned in the review. Nor was it mentioned in the concert’s program…

Yes, even W. A. Mozart could get treated badly, folks.

Anyway, the point here is that Mozart didn’t give up on his dreams after this setback. (It must’ve really smarted, too, considering.) He kept going. While it must’ve felt like a retreat, he went back to Germany, then to Italy, and elsewhere in Europe, and did what he needed to do in order to get his music played and published.

It may seem odd, that Mozart — the great Mozart — ran into problems. (This wasn’t his only problem, mind. He suffered money woes, health problems, problems with his kids and their health, difficulties with his wife’s family, and goodness knows what else.) But he was a human being, and as such, he had to deal with the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” like anyone else.

And it’s not like the man couldn’t compose. Anyone who’s heard any of his symphonies, or better yet, any of “The Magic Flute” (perhaps his best-known opera), knows that Mozart was an incredibly gifted and prolific composer…the large amount of music Mozart left behind, considering he died before the age of forty, testifies to that.

So, if you’ve run into problems with your creative pursuits, because you don’t think anyone cares, or you wonder what the point is, or you even wonder why you try so hard for so little of a result, remember what happened to Mozart.

Whatever has gone wrong this time, it is temporary. It doesn’t have to stop you if you refuse to let it do so.

So, remember this story…and don’t give up.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 31, 2017 at 12:08 am

Concert Over…

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Folks, I’m glad to report that I played my sax solo reasonably well last night, and the preparation that went into that worked out.

I am mostly writing this follow-up blog because of a comment I received from a fellow musician on Facebook. He isn’t aware of all of the various issues that went into me playing this solo, or even wanting to play a solo at all, and that reminded me that not everyone has read my blog for years.

And if you haven’t, you’re maybe not going to know exactly what did go into the persistent effort to play well enough to ask for a solo…much less anything else.

For longtime blog readers, this is going to be old hat to you, so if you want to skip over this post, feel free…but for the rest of you, here we go.

When my husband died in 2004, I was so devastated, I wasn’t able to do much of anything for years. Because I’d already been battling carpal tunnel syndrome (or what I thought was that, at the time), my hands became so stiff and sore, they were almost unusable — at least, when it came to playing a musical instrument. (I could still type, with effort, but I also saw problems even there.)

Then, for several years, I just didn’t play. I looked at my instruments, and grew frustrated; I’d gone through so much to get my two degrees, and now, I couldn’t do anything whatsoever?

In 2011, I finally felt able to talk with my old band director, Mark Eichner. He was still at UW-Parkside, and hadn’t yet retired; he told me when the Parkside Community Band was going to start rehearsing for their winter concert, and so, I rejoined the band. I played a solo there, within the band rather than standing up in front of it (as I did yesterday), which was difficult but worthwhile.

And not long after that, in 2012, I rejoined the Racine Concert Band as a saxophonist. They needed someone to play the second part, you see…and occasionally, I could play tenor sax or clarinet as needed. I knew playing every week in the summer, where I’d battle against my asthma as well as my hand issues, was going to be a challenge, but I appreciated being able to play again.

In a way, it took a few more years for my ego as a musician to reassert itself. (Ego is not necessarily a bad thing, mind.) By this point, I wanted to play a solo. So I asked for one, preferably on clarinet.

My conductor (again Mark Eichner, who also conducts the RCB) gave me a sax solo instead.

Note that my friend Vivian is the saxophone section leader. I’ve known Vivian for years. She’s a great person, she plays well, and she makes going to rehearsal fun. I did ask her if she had any problem whatsoever with me wanting to play a solo, and she basically said, “Of course not. Don’t be silly!”

(And she was the first person to congratulate me, too, last night. Just saying.)

So, I hope that fills in a few blanks.

As for why I said things the way I did before? It’s because I am a human being, fallible and mortal, and I really do struggle sometimes depending on what types of parts are written for the sax. (Many times, Vivian doesn’t have a good part, either. Nor does any other sax player in the section. It really depends on the arranger how well the sax section is used and/or exploited.) I have an easier time playing second clarinet or even third clarinet than I do second alto sax, because the clarinet parts in a band are based off the violin part in an orchestra — meaning that usually those parts are more interesting, or at least can be, than the second alto part. (And oft-times, they’re more interesting in my opinion than the first alto part, too. But that’s probably just me.)

I’m glad I feel well enough to play, and that I was able to do a good job last night. (And that my section leader, Vivian, puts up with me. Because I’m like anyone else — sometimes I can be a major pain in the buttinsky.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 17, 2017 at 8:21 pm

Just Played in my First Band Rehearsal in at Least 10 Years

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As the heading says . . . I went out tonight and played my saxophone during a rehearsal of the local community band.  This is the first rehearsal in over ten years of any group whatsoever I’ve attended, mostly because my hands were not strong enough to sustain the strain of holding the instrument, much less fingering it, in all that time.

The main reason I decided to start playing in a band again after all this time is that I now can practice, on average, three times weekly for at least forty-five minutes (the high, so far, being about an hour and a half) without hurting my hands or wrists in any way.  (They ache, but I can use them, and I can live with that.)   The secondary reason is that in the last year, I’ve gone through two rounds of occupational therapy for my hands and wrists, which helped immensely.  So now, I can play again.

I am aware that in many senses, I’m very fortunate; I have carpal tunnel syndrome, but I have never lost the ability to type.  Most people with this condition do, whereas instead I merely lost some speed.  The OT helped me regain some of my overall typing speed, too, so it was extremely beneficial overall.

Now, as to how I played?  As you might expect, I certainly was nowhere near top form; I kept getting thrown off by other people’s sense of time and meter, and my own hands kept betraying me now and again (they wanted to slide off the keys, a big no-no that I knew was likely to happen due to the stress of doing something for the first time — even though it’s not, exactly).  But I followed the music, and knew what it was supposed to do; next time, I hope to play a solo part or two (within the context of the band pieces, not in front of the band), and I will practice the toughest parts (and of course the solo parts, too) so when I go back to rehearsal in two weeks (the next rehearsal, for a concert in December), I will be prepared and ready to lead the saxophone section.

Tonight, everything that I’d hoped for didn’t happen — my hands ached and weren’t doing what I wanted and needed them to do all the time (though they worked at least 85% of the time, and I’d actually expected worse — sight-reading music always means you’re going to make mistakes, and because my hands aren’t totally right (and will never be right again, I’m sorry to say), that just adds to any sight-reading mistakes I’d be likely to have anyway.

But my rhythmic sense was good; my sound was good; my intonation, mostly, was good.  (That last is an upper-level skill.  Mine is where it should be right now, and I can match pitches with other people, but I’m not where I would be in top form, no.  Will it affect me playing in a band, though?  Nope.)  And I had enough energy to get through an hour and fifteen minutes of rehearsal (it was a “short” rehearsal this week, mostly to see the new music and get copies of it to practice and be prepared to play in two weeks), so that, too, was a good thing.

I kept myself from playing for quite some time because I feared my health would not be good enough, and I knew my hands definitely weren’t good enough.  Now, though, I’m able to play . . . and even though I’m not where I want to be, I’m at least able to do something.

And something always beats nothing any day of the week.

—————-

Note:  I’ve been leery of discussing any of my physical challenges on this blog, because for the most part, I feel they’re irrelevant to the discussion.  However, in this case, they are quite relevant, even though I wish devoutly that they weren’t.

Now, are my physical limitations about to stop me?  Absolutely not.  They haven’t for anything else — merely slowed me down a little — and they won’t here, either.  I just have to learn to work around them, that’s all.  And I will do so.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 20, 2011 at 10:15 pm