Thursday, September 26, 2013

Christina Jennings: Recording the Music of George Rochberg

Christina Jennings, Lura Johnson, and George Rochberg.
Part II


This summer I have been very busy preparing for my Fall recording session. This music, which is very dear to my heart, will be Volume I of music for flute by the American composer, George Rochberg. In addition to actually practicing this music- which has moments of extreme technical demand and lots of juicy choices to make about sound color and style- I am involved in the large scale transcription project of Rochberg’s Caprice Variations for solo violin. Each of these miniature movements are based on the Niccolo Paganini theme we flutists know from the etudes (Caprice 24, book 2). Each of Rochberg’s caprices is done in a different style- Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Bartok, and many of them quote moments from his own Concord Quartets (#4-6). These Quartets were pivotal compositions in the 1970s and 80s and were composed for my father’s string quartet. I grew up with this music through the string quartets, but also through my father’s performance of the Caprices. Here are some of his notes and also a link to his youtube version (Andrew Jennings Complete Caprice variations
1970 was a pivotal year in Mr. Rochberg’s life in many ways. He was working on two large-scale commissions, a solo piano work for Jerome Lowenthal which became the Carneval Music, and a new string quartet for the Concord Quartet debut recital. He was struggling in both works with  a multi-lingual musical vocabulary which drew as much on the musics of the past as those of the present without the use of overt quotation. From the vantage point of 2010 it is hard to understand (or remember) just how radical this idea was in 1970 (which is a measure of just how potent and successful his revolutionary work was to be.)  It was an enormously difficult challenge that was taking vast amounts of time to work out. At the same time his teen-aged daughter was on the crux of her own dilemma. A gifted dancer as well as a brilliant intellect, she had been apprenticed to the Buffalo Ballet  and was being groomed for a career in dance. The pressure on her to make the decision between scholarship and dance was enormous at such a young age and she asked her father for advice. Never one for half measures, George decided that he would attend every one of her performances of Nutcracker in Philadelphia in order to see just how she might fit into this lifestyle so he could better advise her.
He described to me returning home every evening exhausted (and he never could stand Tchaikowsky to start with) flopping down on his couch, where he did most of his composing, and only having enough energy to produce little sketches for the larger works. These sketches took the form of solo violin miniatures where he was working out certain ideas, and as he wrote he began to use as a “springboard” the twenty-fourth Caprice of Paganini. He was intrigued not only by its compelling simplicity but also by the way that same music was reflected in  many other composers. That musical germ allowed him to find a bridge to Bach, to Mahler, Beethoven, Brahms and on and on.
By the end of some fifty Nutcrackers George had a sizeable stack of short sketches which allowed him to finish both the Carvneval Music and the Quartet in time for their respective premieres. (By the way, his advice to Chessie was not to pursue ballet and she went on to a brilliant academic career that has included the award of a MacArthur grant.)
After the success of the Quartet, George became the composer of the moment, his music was being played all over and there were many calls on him for new works. His publisher, on a visit to his studio noticed the stack of manuscript sketches and when George told him what it was, suggested that he might like to turn them into something publishable. In 1973, after polishing and reworking the sketches, they were published as the Caprice Variations for Solo Violin.
The works were not conceived in any was as “pedagogical” studies as some have thought, rather they are more in the style of the great “miniatures” tradition of the piano literature (Chopin, Brahms, Liszt come to mind.)

Jennings-Johnson Duo
The transcription process has been a creative nirvana as I make choices about how to best capture the composer’s intentions and also bring some of my own thoughts alive. Because I grew up in a family of violinists and am now married to a violist, string writing and technique is familiar. I have been able to use flute extended techniques to bring out some of the colors of the violin, including multiphonics, flutter tongue, jet whistle, and whistle tones to name a few. This project has followed me on my summer Festival hopping: first at Sarasota Music Festival where I debuted a few of the new transcriptions on Sarasota Public Radio, then at Greenwood Music Camp (in Cummington, MA) where I finished up the actual transcriptions. My family and I are currently enjoying an island off the coast of Maine where, while they sail and kayak, I am cleaning-up the transcriptions and actually practicing them! CU alumnus Mathieu D’Ordine has been putting the transcriptions into Finale, so we’ve been sending back and forth lots of drafts.

I look forward to rehearing with my amazing collaborators: Lura Johnson ( and June Han (  and working with the incredible Grammy-nominated producer and engineer Judith Sherman (

Drafts of Caprice Variations used as scrap paper for 4 year olds!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Catching Up with Emma

Yesterday, we had the chance to catch up with young Powell flute artist, Emma Resmini.  She had a very full summer, which included much flute playing and a bit of rest and relaxation as well.  One of the major events of her summer was the James Galway Festival in Switzerland.  This year marked her second year in attendance at the festival. 

Sir James Galway and Emma
With a name like James Galway, even we were a bit nervous, but his celebrity status did not instill fear in Emma.  She thoroughly enjoyed working with him, and her mother noted his jovial rapport with Emma.  We asked Emma to tell us a bit more about her experience.  She told us, “It was fun – you got to perform twice, and it is really a great experience.  It is also in a really beautiful place.  I played alto flute in flute choir, too.  I like playing alto flute.  I don’t play it much, but when I do, it’s a lot of fun.” 

Sounded like a terrific time for a young flutist, but we were still curious about what it was like working with Sir James.  Emma said, “He always has good advice.  Last year, we worked on concertos, and he helped me with what to expect when playing the concertos with an orchestra.  He has very helpful tips, and I don’t have to change anything about the way I want to play a piece – he lets me play it the way I want.”  This last statement truly made us smile. 
Emma and Lorna McGhee,
Principal Flute of the Pittsburgh Symphony

Now that Emma is back in the U.S., she is fully into the swing of the school year.  Emma is now 13 and in the 8th grade.  She is home schooled but also participates in the National Symphony Orchestra Fellowship Program, where she is working on chamber music – a flute quartet, specifically.  For private lessons, Emma is studying with Alice Weinreb and working on the Reinecke Flute Concerto, Op. 283 and the Saint-Saëns Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Op.28 (for violin and orchestra).  Since the Saint-Saëns is originally for violin, we asked Emma if it was particularly challenging.  After all, string players do not have to worry about taking a breath!  Emma assured us that it is not too different.  She said, “There are only a few notes that are out of the flute’s range, so just a few octave changes.  I try to keep it close to how the violinists play it.”  Next on the performance circuit for Emma are solo performances in January with the Laredo Philharmonic and in June with the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival Orchestra.

Emma with friends from the Galway Festival
(Elayna Sabelhaus and Chloe Ellen Jones)
and Lady Jeanne Galway.
Of course, we know that Emma is a wonderful young flutist, but what about her current hobbies and interests?  Well, she told us that this year she started taking a Spanish class.  She enjoys it and says that it’s “going well so far – we’re learning greetings.”  Sounds perfect to us!  Like many others, she is also a fan of the computer.  We noticed that she responds personally to questions on her YouTube channel (her channel is located at  She said, “Yes -- I think it’s nice that people ask questions.”   She now has her own Facebook page, too, so we wanted to take a look.  She explained that her profile picture was taken with a friend at a Renaissance festival.  Emma told us that she really enjoys Renaissance festivals and that the food is “really, really good – everything is on a stick.”  Well, that certainly made us hungry!  We asked if there was something about that particular time in history that she liked, but she says these events are “just fun festivals.  They have lots of shops and games, and most shops have corsets and dresses.”  Definitely sounds like fun to us!  Her mother shared that the past summer was also, “the summer of rollercoasters,” during which the family visited four different amusement parks with a total of about 30 rollercoasters.   Emma is a dedicated fan of these rides, and her mother tells us, “the bigger the better!”

We enjoyed our conversation with Emma, and as always, we were curious to see if she had any more advice for younger players.  She says, “Just play the best you can and try to have fun – that helps!”  We couldn’t agree more.  If you are attending the 2013 Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago, Emma will be a featured guest at the Powell Flutes booth on Thursday, December 19th.  We hope you’ll stop by to meet her!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Good Life: Creating Pikes Falls Chamber Music

Susanna Loewy

Every so often, I say I'm going to quit.

Things aren't working out, it seems. Take the auditions and advance to the next round or don't, but that isn't even really the point. The problem: the process, for me, has become entirely too negative, too self-deprecating. Music is a large part of my identity, and when that identity continually gets hit over the head with a hammer, well... eventually you just want to move out of the way.

I should know by now though, that I'm not going to move. Hammered or otherwise, I'm always going to be a musician.

During the fall of 2012, I again started feeling that pit in my stomach... The pit: it's a heaviness that starts way down inside and eventually crawls up through my chest, and god -- by the time it reaches my head it's a screaming snake-monster, disabling anything other than frustration and bitterness. [I've spent my life in a practice room for THIS?!?]

But this time, I stamped on the little worm before it could render me pathetic and angry. I decided... Hell, no. I'm 30 now; enough of this melodrama. Official orchestral job or not, this is what I'm doing with my life; it's time to figure out how to make it work.

So, let's see... I have friends. Many of these friends play music, and they're really good at it. I like to spend time with these friends, and I certainly like to play music with these friends. So, what's the problem, really? Let's just do it. "I wouldn't sit around and just wait for a guy to call. Why am I doing it with my career?"

My family has a cabin in Southern Vermont. It's a tiny little 2-room cabin that we visit each summer. Whether we make it up to Vermont for a week or a month, it is always my favorite part of the year. I've always wanted to be a 'real' Vermonter, and daydream about moving there. That probably won't ever happen, but last fall the Vermont sentiment combined in my head with my musical aspirations, and I figured out the perfect solution. I would start a music festival in the town of Jamaica, VT. I'd raise some money and plan the week and invite my friends up and we'd play some concerts. It couldn't be that hard, right?

Well... it's hard. It's list upon list and damn begging for money is really horrible. It's busy work that I would usually avoid at all costs, but somehow it just felt... right. When you believe in something, when you have ownership and pride in what you're doing, any menial task takes on meaning. Concert programming, I learned, is both difficult and enjoyable. Staring at lists of repertoire and musicians and thinking about how people and music will work together is inspiring and fulfilling in a way I never imagined. 

I'm lucky enough to have a remarkably supportive circle of friends and family, and with the addition of some corporate sponsorships, I managed to raise the budgeted $20,000. That money paid for the hall, advertising, the musicians (we might not be musicians because we expect to get rich, but we should get paid for what we do), the housing, the food, the programs, an intern, an art collaborator, a cinematographer to make a short video of the week, along with every other little odd and end... and I ended up with about $4,000 in the bank to start the second year on the right foot. 

During the first year, the Pikes Falls Chamber Music Festival (named after the town's waterfall) put on 2 evening concerts and an afternoon family concert. We had a community potluck and an open rehearsal and a music/art collaboration for kids. All the events were fully attended, and the week was one of the best I can remember. Did it all go perfectly? Of course not. I certainly learned a lot. Namely: try not to schedule 10 hours a day of rehearsals. People get tired. 

This year, we expanded just a little. Over the course of 10 days, 16 musicians and artists held 3 evening concerts in addition to the family concert. We performed a fundraising concert to raise money for Hurricane Irene restoration, and of course still held the potluck, open rehearsal and music/art collaboration event. To kick everything off, we performed a musical Flash Mob at the Farmer’s Market on Sunday morning. I’m thrilled that we once again had full houses at all the events, and that the community support and involvement continues to grow so beautifully.

Of course, raising the money was difficult. The first half seemed to come naturally via grants and donations, but the remaining amount took an intense Kickstarter campaign. For next year, of course I wish someone would just hand me a check, but I know that whether or not that happens, I'll figure out a way to make it work. 

My ideal: I would love PFCM to become a lasting part of Jamaica's artistic community. By the 2020 season, I aim to hold a 3-week summer series (with a week of touring around Southern Vermont) in addition to educational-based winter and spring weeks. I’d also love PFCM to be a complete collaborative arts festival, with components involving drama, dance, and (as well as continuing music and visual art, of course). Exciting news on that front: we're currently talking to the Vermont Poet Laureate about a joint effort for next year! We’re also hoping to perform a family concert at the Jamaica State Park.

Through this year and last, the embedded positivity though, is what makes me most proud. Throughout the planning and the actual festival, I felt... happy, satisfied, complete. It wasn't just me; other musicians and audience members described the festival as "a nirvana-like experience" and said it brought "tears of joy to their eyes." 

The audition-spurred monster of pity and despair was never even a consideration. Instead, we were able to concentrate on what was important: the music, the friendships, the community. Because, isn't that why we initially wanted to do this? Maybe we wanted to communicate the incredible mastery of the composer, maybe we wanted to be part of a team, maybe we wanted to share with audiences what we know we have inside. Regardless, it's always about something positive. Certainly none of us ever sat around and thought "Well, I'd like to feel miserable, underappreciated, and stifled for the rest of my life." In one way or another, it's about desire and sharing, and how the two interact. 

It might have started as just one week in 2012, but it has turned into so much more. I'm now part of an amazing chamber orchestra in the DC area now has a recording contract with Dorian Sono Luminus. I've found new and lasting friendships, musical and otherwise. I feel as though I'm able to contribute valuably to a community. 

Initiative is a funny thing. Sometimes people look down upon it, as though being self-made is somehow bad. I've found though, that followed-through gumption is something that actually draws people in. People want to be around it, and people want to be a part of it... and for good reason -- it works. And so I think that's the most important thing that starting PFCM brought me: the knowledge that I can and will do this, and be generally happy in the process.

I might take more auditions, but if I do, it'll no longer feel desperate or impossible. Now I know that I have other options, other paths, and I'll be able to see the orchestral audition for what it is: a chance to play for a panel of musicians and see if you're the best fit for a particular position. It does not define you any more than that.

Music careers, in our current 21st century world, are difficult. We have to learn that they won't necessarily take on the form as that of our role models, our idols, our classical music rock stars. And you know? That can be hard to accept. But once you do, once you realize that you really can make your own opportunities, the musical world is so large and bright. You can create situations that truly fit who you are, personally and musically; you can shape your career to be exactly what it needs to be. Because, no matter what the career model, our world will always need music. We've evolved as musical beings, and that's not going to go away. If anything, humanity is starving for more; it's up to us to put it out there.

*To learn more about Susanna Loewy, visit her website at:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

It's Better in Color!

It’s Better In Color!
How to Use Colors to Enhance Your Memorization Process
By Kate Prestia-Schaub

In 1997 when the Lowell Liebermann piccolo concerto was first published, I happened to be studying beginning piano with Samuel Lancaster.  Sam was the pianist with the Colorado Symphony and the composer in residence with the Colorado Children’s Chorale.  He was fascinated with the brain and how it collected data, processed it, and then manifested in the process of making music.  He studied the brain with leading scientists and his research was way beyond anything that I could grasp at the time.   I only remember a fraction of what I learned from him in regard to the brain, and it’s probably because I didn’t learn it on colored paper! 

Sam began a lesson teaching me about pattern recognition, which I attempted to grasp, and then he went on a tangent about colors.  He said that scientists believe that one remembers more when learning in color rather than black and white.  According to Aura Hanna, in her paper, The Representation of Color and Form in Long-Term Memory, “…color is part of the long-term memory representation. Subjects performed better when color cues were present at encoding and test. These results are consistent with those of experiments measuring differences in accuracy between colored and black-and-white stimuli.” (p.329).  Of course, as a senior in high school, flailing about trying to learn piano for a proficiency entrance exam at IU, I cared nothing about what Sam was trying to impart to me.   It was not until I won a concerto competition and needed to memorize the Liebermann that I really did try to allow what he was telling me to sink in.

“Sam, hi, it’s Kate…remember when you were saying something about colors…can I come over?!” 

I called Sam in hopes that we could revisit this process that he had taken and developed in memorizing music.  Even now, I wish I had paid better attention to his process, but with additional research over the years, the following is what I have learned and cultivated with my own students.

Not only is color part of the long-term memory representation in the brain as Ms. Hanna wrote in 1996, it is also widely studied that color is used to represent psychological states. For musicians, expressivity in music is a key factor in a convincing and emotionally charged performance.  We cannot hope to pull the music from notes on the page without including a story, image, or emotion.  When memorizing, the brain needs as many links to the music as we can possibly give it.  Think about it like spokes on a bike wheel, or the 360° viewpoint.  How many things can we feed the brain to create a beautiful and polished final product?  It needs things like the sense of sight, touch, and hearing, obviously; but it needs intangible things, such as feelings as well.  When we use the sense of sight to incorporate colors, we coincidentally include the psychological states, or emotions, as an additional “spoke” on that learning wheel.

Our teachers all tell us to change our tone color. As students, we fumble with this concept and wonder, “Well, what does that even mean, and physically, how do we do that?  How do you play “blue” or “yellow?” We can start by taking a look at science, to see what research has been done in the brain and how our emotions are affected by particular colors.  Eric, John, and Paraag of The Visual PercpZone website state:

“While red has proven to be a color of vitality and ambition it has been shown to be associated with anger. Sometimes red can be useful in dispelling negative thoughts, but it can also make one irritable… Red is sometimes associated with sexuality. 

Yellow is a happy and uplifting color.

Green creates feelings of comfort, laziness, relaxation, calmness. It helps us balance and soothe our emotions.

We usually associate the color blue with the night and thus we feel relaxed and calmed.

Violet is associated with bringing peace and combating shock and fear.

Brown is the color of the earth and ultimately home. This color brings feelings of stability and security. Sometimes brown can also be associated with withholding emotion and retreating from the world.

Black is mysterious and associated with silence and sometimes death.

Too much white can give feelings of separation and can be cold and isolating.

Gray indicates separation, lack of involvement and ultimately loneliness.”

So, I embarked on using this fascinating concept of color to memorize the Liebermann Piccolo Concerto.  I began by choosing the colors that spoke to me in this piece, and was moved to use red, yellow, blue, green and purple.  I felt that those colors helped me create the feelings of angst, happiness, peacefulness, being grounded, and royalty respectively.  I then attempted to assign those colors to tone, creatively transform those colors into a story, and ultimately memorize the piece.

Associating color with tone:
For me, the red-angst sections meant a more focused metallic sound with louder dynamics, a laser-pointed air stream, and more accented articulations.  The yellow, happy sound, was broad with wide dynamic shifts, varied vibrato speeds, more gentle articulation, and a bit more air in the tone than in the red sections.  The blue tone allowed me to feel calm and almost ethereal, generally playing with softer dynamics, shimmering vibrato, and a very soft articulation style.  Green invoked playing with a stronger core in the body, more support, steady vibrato speed, and a pure tone in the upper register; articulations are deliberate, but not heavy, as is the red sound.   I felt that purple was associated with a feeling of power, and so the sound was rich and dark.  The low register of the piccolo gives that woody sound that resonates through the whole body of the instrument.  To do that, the air is aimed lower than normal, with a very open mouth acting as the resonating chamber, and the vibrato is wide and deep. 

Associating the colors with a story:
The red sections reminded me of two people having a fight and being in a shouting match.  The yellow sections were like the sun coming out after a day of rain, and the exuberance of coming to a realization that had been confusing moments ago.   The blue rendered images of sitting on a cloud and looking at a castle.  The green gave way for the imagination to climb up Jack’s bean stock, or become the giant himself!  The purple elicited thoughts of a king standing powerfully over his kingdom with great responsibility – of course wearing a deep-purple cloak! 

The process of memorization:
First, I copied the entire movement of the Liebermann in each of the 5 colors. Then I isolated the themes and motives with a pencil on each sheet.   I went back to what Sam had taught me about pattern recognition, and made sure that each repeating pattern would be in the same color.  Then, I cut out each motive in the desired color that I was attempting to achieve, both tonally and emotionally, and then taped them together.  Once the movement was taped together, I memorized the order of the colors on the pages:  Purple, Green, Blue, Red, Yellow (times 5), Red, Blue, Red, Blue, Purple, Blue, Yellow, Blue, Purple, Blue.   Last, and I believe most importantly, I wove these colors into my own story, and each section of this story progressed musically, tonally, and emotionally.  Because there was an imaginative story line behind every musical phrase, it ensured that I would never leave out a section.  (I can’t forget when the Jack climbed the bean-stock to the castle in the sky, or what he felt like when he did it and turned into the giant!)

With those multiple concepts – color, emotion, tone production, a story line, and pattern recognition – I had created enough spokes on the wheel to easily and quickly memorize this piece.  The process of deciding what color each section should be only took a few minutes, as did compiling the piece with scissors and tape!  But the time it saved me of rote and mechanical memorization was immeasurable.  In this way, the story portrayed in a performance can come alive and hopefully stir up something inside the audience’s imagination as well!

For my students, like Breanna Ohler (see her project below), it creates a really fun and creative artistic outlet, and easily sorts out the massive undertaking of any memorization task.  Scientifically, the brain loves the stimulation, and when the brain is stimulated, memory is easily created.

Listed below are several fascinating articles below for those who are interested in further investigation.  As a special note, I’d like to dedicate this small little token that I have come to cherish to Samuel Lancaster (1945-2013).


Breanna Ohler’s Martinu Sonata

The Liebermann Piccolo Concerto

To learn more about Kate, visit her Powell Academy profile page on the Powell website at: