theremin major

notes from me and my moog etherwave pro

There-Drama. March 26, 2007

Filed under: There-Drama — jenhammaker @ 1:11 pm

Before I go into it, I would like to say that the recital went really well. For ME. I played the pieces much better than I had played them before. My friends M. and B. came and we were blown away. . .by the fact that some of the groups were terrible. Others were excellent. The not-so great groups seemed to have one person in them with little to no experience and that one player was the cog in their wheel.

I DON’T think I was that cog!! I’m gonna be honest here, and say what’s on my mind. The Flautist was snobby and not “all that,” and kept blaming ME for messing up when it was HE who was doin’ the messin’!!!

You know the type of dude I’m talking about. The kind of dude who affects an almost-British accent and corrects me whenever I said, “Saint-Saens.”

“You mean ‘Saaaauugggh Saaauughh?’ ”

No. Saint-Saens. I took French for 5 years.

And then he goes and can’t hit a lot of the notes!

So we filled out a midterm questionairre.

I filled it out honestly.

I was removed from my group.

So I was right.

Downtown Music.



Midterm Chamber Music Recital March 24, 2007

Filed under: Shameless Self-Promotion — jenhammaker @ 3:40 pm

My eccentric professor wrote us all an email encouraging us to “bring [our] fan clubs,” so here are the swanky deets for my midterm Chamber Music Recital:*

Sunday March 25th
Concert Hall
2nd Floor
[A Paradigm of Higher Learning Specializing in Classical Music Education].

“Une Flute Invisible”
By Camille Saint-Saens

“La Flute Enchantee”
from Shéhérazade, Three Poems for Voice and Orchestra on Poems by Tristan Klingsor
by Maurice Ravel

*please nobody from school find this blog please nobody from school find this blog please for the love of GOD nobody from school find this blog . . .


Downtown Music March 23, 2007

Filed under: Downtown Music — jenhammaker @ 3:00 pm

To avoid confusion, I’m going to skip ahead to the present, or nearer present – If something happened in weeks 4 through now (not even sure what week this is) I’ll talk about it in retrospect.

Sunday is my Chamber Music midterm performance. Our Pianist will be out of of town. We’ll have a sub on Sunday, but we had a small performance with our Pianinst on Wednesday for the professor and a few other groups who wanted to practice in front of other people. We played the Ravel and Saint-Saens pieces that I mentioned in my last post.

We had an hour of rehearsal time before some of the other groups came into our room for the mini-performance. During this hour, we ironed out some kinks with the professor. One problem we were having was with me, of course.

I’m used to being around performers, but most of my friends are involved some kind of comedy. Now, I’m not bragging when I say that I’ve always been able to win people over with my wit and obvious charm, but it is a little bit true. My funny nature is not a cop-out. It’s just the way I am. I’m not used to being in a room of serious people.
So, in this situation, when other people seem to be immune to my hilarious quips and quirky facial expressions, what am I left with?

My mad theremin-skillz, that’s what.

I’ve been working on these pieces for a while now, and I have improved immensely, however, I don’t feel as if I have reconciled my place in this Chamber Group. Maybe I can’t win over the Pianist and Flautist with my personality, but you’d think by now, in point of the fact that I play the pieces quite well (!!) that they would at least give me a little credit. Right? I’m not alone in thinking that I’m playing well, either. We get coached every week and the coaches seem to really like what I’m doing.

Still, I got nothin’.

One of my only problems was finding my pitch at the beginning of all of my phrases. The hour before the performance, the professor solved this problem.

“How soft can you play?”

I gave her my softest note.

“You can hear that?”

I nod.

“I can’t hear that. I would NEVER tell a string player to do this, but they do it anyway, sometimes string players find their notes quietly in the measure before they begin to play. DO THAT.”


Problem solved.

7pm was game time. There were about 7 people other than my Chamber Group in the room.

I’m exhausted and frustrated but I know that I can play the pieces. Before we start, I answer everyone’s questions about the theremin.

“What is that?”

“Oh, Have you seen the movie?!!”

We play. VERY Sucessfully.

Everybody loves it. I answer more questions.

“What is that?”

“So, there’s no singing involved at all?”

To my surprise, the next group, a Piano, Flute, and Viola, were not as polished as we were. They had to stop and start several times. No offense to the Violist, but I don’t think he’d been playing very long. Weird. The group after them was really wonderful!!

When I auditioned for this class, I filled out a form that asked me to list all of my past experience. I jotted down all the instruments that played with, to which the professor responded, “So, you’ve been playing mostly Downtown Music!.” The she explained that her daughter played this so-called Downtown Music and that it was perfectly legitimate music, as if I was beginning to feel shame about it or something. . .(?)

Anyway, in rehearsal one day, we had a substitute Pianist, a young Japanese girl who played very well but didn’t speak fluent English, I guess. One of the first things that the professor says to this poor girl is, “Jen has been playing Downtown Music. Do you know what I mean when I say that? Downtown Music?” The Pianist shakes her head, “no.”

“Jen, explain to her what that means. Explain to her what I mean when I say Downtown Music.

Flummoxed, I pause.

I looked at the girl, bewildered, added some Jazz hands and said, “you know, Downtown Music!!

We all laughed.

On Wednesday, the professor did it again before the third Chamber Group, a young Pianist and a young Vocalist, performed.

“Well we have more Downtown Music – types here today than ever!”

Maybe that’s why the other musicians in my group don’t like me. They’re not only afraid of my personality and my theremin, they are also in grave danger of being infected by the dreaded Downtown Music.

On Sunday, for the class recital, I’m gonna give myself a mohawk, drive into the [A Paradigm of Higher Learning Specializing in Classical Music Education] concert hall on a Harley wearing a leather bedazzled catsuit, with my E-PRO in the sidecar and a Super-Soaker full of Jack Daniels under my arm. Then, 15 minutes later, when they’re all passed out on the blue concert-carpet, soused on a whiskey high, their ears blissful from the concoction of Ravel and Moog, they won’t know what had hit them . . . Until they look up at the ceiling, at the configuration of Balloon Animals floating above them, and notice that they spell out, in messy cursive, “Downtown Music, Bitches!”


Week Three: Steady March 16, 2007

Filed under: Week Three: Steady — jenhammaker @ 3:58 pm

Week three began with a second lesson from my Master Teacher. We hit it off right away. She’s great! I think we’re around the same age, she’s got a really nice apartment, not to mention she’s a talented violinist (or so I’ve heard – all of her performances so far have been during times when I’ve had class). Most of all, she is VERY patient. The first lesson, I brought in several pieces to try to play and we chose a vocal piece to work on: The “Pie Jesu” from Faure’s Requiem, which is one of my favorite pieces of music. It’s very simple (well, as far as notes and tempo) and sounds nice on the theremin. In this lesson we looked at “The Larsen” and she helped me play through the Waltz and part of the first movement, which is really really hard.

I didn’t feel as hopeless about the piece when the 12:00 lesson was over. Also, my next class was at 7pm, and I had brought my laptop so that I could spend the time between my lesson and Ear Training class to look for alternative pieces to play for the Chamber Music class and pieces to play in general.

I got some lunch, sat down at a table on the 2nd floor of [A Paradigm of Higher Learning Specializing in Classical Music Education], hooked up to the free WiFi and went to work. First stop: The [A Paradigm of Higher Learning Specializing in Classical Music Education]Library Catalogue.

Okay if I’m NOT an idiot, and I’m not!, then why did it take me FOREVER to figure out which keywords to use in the library catalogue in order to find pieces for flute, piano, and voice???!!!! In the first discouraging Chamber Class, we had decided to search for pieces for voice. After not being able to play the clarinet part, I finally had to explain to my classmates that the theremin was a lot like the voice. It would be really hard for a voice to sing a clarinet part, so piano/flute/voice was the way to go.

My professor walked by, and she seemed kind-of irritated as she suggested some alternative pieces to play. One of them was a piece by contemporary composer ‘enry Kowell (again, I’m not ready for anyone from school to find this blog) called “Vocalise.”

It took me a really long time to find anything. In fact, I couldn’t find anything that was actually in our library. There were a few pieces, including the “Vocalise” in the [Other Institution of Higher Learning] library, 80 blocks south of where I was. I emailed my classmates my findings. The Flautist, who is a music collector, lucky us!, went to his favorite music store and found several pieces and some others and bought them! That must have been expensive.

So, since that fateful first day, we have been working on three pieces. One by Saint-Saens with a title that translates to something like “the invisible flute, another by Ravel that translates to something like “the enchanted flute” , and the “Vocalise.”

“Vocalise” is really fun, but I don’t think the pianist is too inspired by it. It requires her to play with one hand and hold the piano strings with another, in order to make the piano sound percussive. I LOVE that. We found a recording of the piece, too and it’s really neat.

The Saint-Saens is really nice. It’s a simple Romantic song where the flute and voice/theremin play separately until around the end of the piece, where we have a rewarding few measures of lovely harmony. [curtsey]

The Ravel is challenging and I really like it. Again, the flute and voice/theremin play separately for a while and then play together, but it’s more complicated and the rhythms and melodies of the instruments intertwine in way that sounds really nice. The Pianist has some really beautiful Ravel-esque solos.This piece has taught me how to play legato sixteenth notes! Who knew?!!

Here’s how, (if you theremin nerds* don’t already know): This works a LOT better on the Pro. Set the volume knob in the middle, so it’s about half-way in between “instant sound” and “my hand is a foot above the volume antennae.” Find your note and keep your volume hand steady at a mezzo-forte. Now, just lower your volume hand quickly and gently to a piano and back up again, so that you never completely stop the sound. It’s kind-of like a vibrato motion but for the volume hand.

*we’re ALL nerds. face it.


Week Two: Electric Bugaloo March 15, 2007

Filed under: Week Two: Electric Bugaloo — jenhammaker @ 4:58 am

“Spring Break” is so over. Hence the lack of posts.

SO back to the story. Week two of my theremin adventure at [A Paradigm of Higher Learning Specializing in Classical Music Education]:

The professor of my chamber music class has emailed me about how she has found the perfect piece for me and some musicians. She puts me in a group with a Pianist and a Flautist in order to play a piece that rhymes with Shmarn Shmances ( I don’t want my professor or any of my classmates to google the piece and find this blog – NOT YET) by a contemporary composer whos name rhymes with, Gibby Garsen. The piece is written for Piano, Flute, and Clarinet. (I guess I’m capitalizing instrument and musician titles now.) So I’m the Clarinet.

Great! My first assignment! Right? I can do this!! I can do ANYTHING!

My teacher gives me a copy of the piece and tells me that we will start with the 3rd movement, a waltz. It’s appears to be the shortest and simplest and she’s sure that we’ll be able to make some kind of sound with it on the first day of class, which is the two days away.

I take the piece home to work on it. First of all, I had to figure out how to transpose a piece written for a Bb Clarinet to concert pitch and re-write the entire score. So that took me one day. Next I had to learn to play the thing.

Up until this point, I have learned to play pieces by ear . I may use a score, but only as a guide. I’ve had recordings of everything I’ve ever played (that I didn’t make up myself.) I began by plunking my part out on the piano and trying to memorize the tune.

Five minutes later, I conclude that NO SOUND will be successfully made on the 3rd movement of this piece by MY instrument. There might be sound, but it is guaranteed to be disastrous.

Not only is the “tune” tough to memorize, the notes are all over the place. The part is, after all, written for a clarinet. There are lots of trills, which are fun, but not when they are separated by intervals that I still haven’t learned yet at mid-term. The time signatures change every few measures and not once does my part play the same note or rhythm at the same time as any of any of the other instruments.

So maybe this is what we’ll do in class? Figure out how to go about learning this monster!

This is my first time playing my theremin actually inside [A Paradigm of Higher Learning Specializing in Classical Music Education]. At this point I was still waiting on my E-Pro to be delivered (Moog was having trouble with faulty cabinets or something) so I schlepped everything to class and set myself up. I met the Pianist and the Flautist. The professor is still VERY excited about this piece: “The Larson.” We talk a little bit about the piece and the theremin until we are interrupted and told that the room we’re in is double-booked and that we’ll have to move upstairs.

I don’t disassemble my theremin, I just carry it, set up, on the elevator. A gentleman gets on the elevator and says “Oh! A theremin! Excellent! I can’t wait to see this chamber group in the recital” He asks the Professor what we’re going to play.

Shmarn Shmances by Gibby Garsen. The theremin is playing the Clarinet part.”

“Oh, WOW. She must be an amazing theremin player! THAT’S A REALLY HARD PART!”

And that was all the justification that I needed to declare myself royally screwed in this class.

We begin by sight reading through the piece. This is something that the Pianist and Flautist can do A LOT better than the Thereminist.

We didn’t get far. It was embarrassing. I tried to explain to everyone how difficult it was going to be for me. For the rest of class, we went to the library to look for other pieces to play.

Then I went home, with my head hung LOW. I didn’t feel defeated. I was just ashamed of my lack of preparation. Because I couldn’t play the piece, I was afraid that I had lived the worst-case scenario for the chapter: Theremin Introduction to Music School in my life story.

Luckily I don’t lose determination in situations like this. Instead, I tend to make it my duty, body and soul, to redeem myself and prove to the world that I am not one of those weirdos who does something like apply to music school with an unconventional instrument and who has no idea what she has gotten herself into.

You gotta start somewhere, right? Well, I might as well start from the bottom and work my way up!

And, I have, I’ll have you know. So keep reading!


Week One March 8, 2007

Filed under: Week One — jenhammaker @ 12:39 pm

Well, the good news is, once the actual classes begin, the stories get shorter.

My first week at [A Paradigm of Higher Learning Specializing in Classical Music Education] was kind-of a default week. I had to re-arrange my schedule several times, and I didn’t have a lesson or any type of class where I actually got to play my instrument.

My overall opinion at this point in the game: DREAM COME TRUE. Cheesy sentiment, and please forgive the fact that I’m using all caps like a 14 – year old, but who the crap cares. I get to spend ALL DAY learning about music! Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

It was in this week that I remembered that music was my first love.

I started taking music lessons when I was 4. The music lessons were group lessons that included basic basic basic theory (“this is what a note looks like, this is what a rest looks like”) and gradually worked towards piano lessons. We didn’t have a piano at the time, so my teacher sent me home with a long, laminated picture of a keyboard. All the other kids had pianos at their house, so they advanced faster than I did. Finally, I think it was my grandparents who bought me a used upright. In elementary school, I looked forward to music class, which we had twice a week. Miss Campbell was the music teacher and to me, a celebrity. The same thing applied to my impression of my piano teacher, Arlene. I continued with private piano lessons until I gave up piano at age 15 for theatre. Theatre was more social. Practicing for theatre was fun and not frustrating. How often do you hear, “I wish I’d never given up the piano.”

But I get to take it all up again!!

I’m enrolled in typical music-school classes, I suppose: Theory, Ear Training, Dictation, History, Chamber Music, Private Lesson, and two electives – Voice and Piano.

I am in the basic levels of most of these classes with the exception of Ear Training, Voice, and Piano. Since I missed the placement tests, an over-the-phone evaluation determined that my 10 years of piano and high school “advanced” vocal ensemble work could exempt me from the basic level of ear training and move me straight up to level 1A. My background also put me in Advanced Voice and Piano level 4.

I had to audition for the Chamber Music Professor as well as the coaches that also teach the class. They’re all in a chamber music group together. I still don’t know much about her as of yet. I’ll talk more about her and the other coaches in later posts (they are all really good at what they do). At the time of the audition, which was at her apartment, she took an instant interest in the theremin as a sort-of ear-training study.

The classes are really small and have anywhere from 4 to 10 people in them. Since [A Paradigm of Higher Learning Specializing in Classical Music Education] is so small, all the professors know who I am.

Who am I? That crazy theremin player, that’s who!!

This is actually quite nice. Back in college, (the first time) it took a professor months if not years to remember my name. It’s great! We take up class time with the Q & A’s about the theremin and the stories about everyone’s first theremin experience.

My piano teacher held a special interest in me (or, at least, the theremin) for personal reasons. At Mannes, many years ago, guess who his teacher was?

Nadia Reisenberg.



On my way to school: Obstacles! March 6, 2007

Filed under: On my way to school: Obstacles — jenhammaker @ 5:24 pm

First off, let me say, I am aware that most of these stories could be shorter, but I don’t want to forget any of these details. All this writing is brain insurance for my memory.

So after that unbelievable phone conversation, I met with the Assistant Director of [A Paradigm of Higher Learning Specializing in Classical Music Education].

He agreed to consider me audition for the diploma program at [A Paradigm of Higher Learning Specializing in Classical Music Education].  It’s mostly for adults who have an undergraduate degree in something other than music. For example, I have a B.F.A. in Acting from Southern Methodist University. I am getting college credit for the classes that I’m in, so If I choose to go to grad school, I’ve got the know-how.

(So now you’re thinking, “Her poor parents! What a nightmare! First acting, now this?!!” The truth is, my parents are wonderful and very supportive of my artistic endeavors and for that I am eternally greatful.)

Anyway, the Assistant Director and I talked about what I had in mind for my time at [A Paradigm of Higher Learning Specializing in Classical Music Education]. He gave me an application and told me about the audition, which was scheduled for January 16th.

That gave me over a month to work my ass off.

Flashback to May 2006. I started to train for the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco with Team in Training to benefit The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. It was a goal of mine to run a marathon before I turned 30. My family hates cancer and specifically lymphoma because lymphoma was very greedy and stole one of us a few years back. Running 26.2 miles uphill was the least I could do in order to stick-it to cancer.

Early August 2006: I got a last- minute call from a guy who was doing an internet TV show variety act and he wanted me to play! (my theremin) This was an exciting milestone for me. No one had ever come to me with an opportunity like that. The show was late that night. After running, I came home to practice and prepare for the show. Suddenly, I felt unbearably intense pain in the front and back of my left side. I couldn’t walk, couldn’t lie down, or do anything in-between. Thinking it was appendicitis, I made my roommate take me to the ER. Turns out I had a 2mm kidney stone. CAUSE: dehydration from marathon training. Doctor gave me painkillers, told me it would pass on it’s own, that I needed to drink 3 quarts of water a day from now on, and sent me home. At 3am. So I missed the gig.

Mid-August 2006: I got a theremin gig working on an opera that was a part HERE’s Living Room Festival. I was really excited to work on this. The music was really ineresting and I could improvise well to it because it was screaming, “this needs theremin!” (Yeah, literally! Isn’t that insane?!) The people were nice, funny and great singers, and the story was really strange. So it was going to be an exciting adventure!

Then I got a call from my dad. My mother was diagnosed with stage IV stomach cancer. Stomach cancer is EVIL because it’s hardly detectable in it’s early stages. Now, my mom already HAS cancer. She’s been fighting stage IV thyroid cancer for 16 years. She’s in remission, but luckily, when she went in to have her routine scans, they found this completely unrelated bullshit in her stomach and intestines, and liver.

That first day that I knew, a Wednesday, my dad told me not to rush home to Atlanta. They were going to the Mayo clinic in Rochester MN, to get more tests and then he would let me know what the situation was.

The next day, I got a call from the internet variety tv show again, informing me that missing the last show didn’t ruin my reputation and that he wanted me to come back the next Wednesday. Friday (before the inter-tv gig, during rehearsals for the opera) my dad called and told me that I should probably book a flight to Minnesota.

So, I had to cancel the opera gig and the internet variety tv show (again. no, he hasn’t called me since. Sure, you went to the ER and your mom has cancer, you hypochondriatic freak. Just kidding, he didn’t say that.) So, I’m thinking my reputation is hella tarnished, but what could I do. John Hoge took my place in the opera, so that made me happy!

I went to Minnesota. On a 98-degree afternoon, in a cramped but high-tech office at Mayo Clinic, the doctor sat down with me, my father, uncle, and mother, explained to us the gravity of the situation. If she decided to do chemo, My mom’s chances of living any longer than a year were slim to none.

WHATZ UP, CANCER! You wanna take this outside? And by outside, I mean me pounding the crap out the pavement for upwards of 5 hours on an ascending slope in the hilly-est city you can think of. F%#@ you, cancer!! I continued training for the marathon.

Early October 2006: I quit my insanely cushy job as an assistant at a successful hedge fund so that I can go home to Atlanta more often to spend time with my family and my mom.

October 22, 2006: I completed the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco, running 26.2 miles uphill in 5 hours, 10 minutes and 1 second. Incidentally, I raised over $5,000 for cancer research. So, there, cancer, you’re going DOWN.

AND WE’RE BACK to December. I went home to Atlanta for a month with my theremin and we spent time with my family and prepared for the audition. It was an emotional Christmas. I left Atlanta after my mom had her 7th round of chemo. It was her last round before she took a 2 month break. The day before I left, she had some tests done and some CT scans. The results were cause to celebrate. Despite the odds and against all medical predictions up to this point, my mother’s tumors had shrunk by 90 percent.

Up until this point, I was really hesitant to go back to school. Now, I knew it would be okay. [A Paradigm of Higher Learning Specializing in Classical Music Education] is a three year program and I’m allowed up to a year leave-of-absence. I’m leaving my summer free to go home. My parents are travelling, now, and want to be on their own, so I can’t be of any help anyway . . .

January 16, 2007: I’m ready! My audition is at 3pm.

11am: INTENSE PAIN resumes in the front and back of my left side AGAIN. This time, I knew exactly what it was. I took a cab to the ER. CT scan showed that I had the SAME kidney stone that I had back in August except that it had grown to 5mm. At 5pm, the doctor sent me home with painkillers, and told me if I didn’t pass the stone in 3 days, to see a Urologist.

I missed the audition. WTF, Universe! You think this is funny?

After leaving numerous voicemails and emails with the people at [A Paradigm of Higher Learning Specializing in Classical Music Education], and crying for hours, I finally heard back from the Assistant Director. He said that he was sorry that I missed the audition and how everyone was looking forward to the first audition where a musician was going to have to plug-in. He told me that my situation wasn’t hopeless yet. One thing that the audition was going to do for me was expose my instrument to a slue of potential Master Teachers, who might have been wary about the theremin until they heard what it could do , and in which case, might agree to take me on as a student. Since I missed that showcase, I had one final option. All I had to do was contact this one Master Teacher, a violinist who plays a lot of new music and mentioned that she would be open to a theremin player as a student , and ask her if I could audition for her privately. If she accepted me as a student, then I was IN, but if she didn’t want to take on the crazy theremin challenge, then it was OVER for me until the next audition day, in May.

January 18th: I audition privately with the Master Teacher and I am accepted!!

January 22nd: I begin school.

February 20th: I finally go to a Urologist.

Maybe next I should become a plumber.