theremin major

notes from me and my moog etherwave pro

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!

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7 Responses to “Week Two: Electric Bugaloo”

  1. YOW! I’ve heard of a “baptism by fire,” but this is something else again.

    Would your chamber music class admit duos? If so, you might take a look at Olivier Messiaen’s “Praise for the Immortality of Jesus” for violin and piano; it’s the last movement of his .

    It would give you the opportunity to work with some challenging chromaticism, but in a way that’s largely conjunct (i.e., stepwise melodic motion, rather than leaping around), with simpler rhythms, at a much slower tempo.

    You might also poke around in the song repertoire for slow and mid-tempo selections, and then work your way up to the quicker ones. (Perhaps you could apply this approach to a short song cycle… with the goal of putting on, say, a complete performance of Schumann’s sometime next semester.)

  2. P.S. Oops, I used angle brackets, so the title doesn’t show. The piece is Messiaen’s *Quartet for the end of time* [Quatuor pour la fin du temps].

  3. P.P.S. And the Schumann is *Frauenliebe und -leben*.

  4. jenhammaker Says:

    Hey Brian! Thanks for the suggestions!! I keep a notebook of pieces that I’d like to learn and play, and I will add all of these. And, I’m always open to any more that you might think of. Unfortunately, or not, as you’ll read in the upcoming posts, this semester I am “stuck” with the flute and piano. But, we come up with some positive alternatives to “The Garsen.” Again, thanks so much!

  5. Hi, Jen–

    Only too happy to help expand the repertoire.

    Hmmm… none of the pieces I’m currently learning (or plan to start learning) fits the theremin-flute-and-piano partnership.

    I’m sure there must be at least one suitable aria from a Bach cantata, but I can’t name one offhand. I found a web page that lets you search the cantatas, and came up with a list of 15… I’ll leave it to you to check them out at your leisure, and see whether (or how soon) any would be suitable:

    http://search.freefind.com/find.html?id=55675950&pageid=r&mode=ALL&n=0&query=aria+AND+s+AND+fl
    http://search.freefind.com/find.html?pageid=r&id=55675950&mode=ALL&query=aria+AND+s+AND+fl&ics=1&fr=10

    P.S. One UNBELIEVABLY gorgeous aria I’m working on right now is “Bete aber auch dabei,” from cantata 115.. BUT for that you need a flute and cello, in addition to the continuo… so it would have to wait for another semester.

  6. P.S. So, a few of those 15 are obviously not suitable… thus you could quickly narrow your investigation to the ones that involve a single flute + continuo, or a single flute + two violins, viola, and continuo.

  7. OK, a P.S. to immediately preceding P.S., and one more suggestion, and then I’ll shut up.

    Just in case it wasn’t obvious: in the case of a Bach aria for single flute + two violins, viola, and continuo, the pianist would be playing a reduction of the strings and continuo. Yes, it’s typically practical, because the string parts are simple, so as not to detract from the soloists.

    Now, one last repertoire suggestion. Caveat: Some assembly required, but if your flutist enjoys playing piccolo, s/he will love you for it.

    Early on in Handel’s masque *Acis and Galatea*, there’s an aria in which the nymph Galatea sings to a choir of birds, “Hush, ye pretty warbling quire,” with obbligato “flauto piccolo.” The latter supplies florid imitation of birdsong, with lots of runs, trills, you-name-it. The flutist even gets a cadenza near the end! The good news for you is that the vocal line is much more calm and lyrical; of course, you get to add trills and whatnot at your discretion in the da capo.

    Mind you, “flauto piccolo” in Handel’s time referred to what we now call a sopranino recorder, with a mellower timbre than the modern piccolo. I haven’t heard this done with picc, so I can’t speak to the brilliance/shrillness issue… but all the notes are within the picc’s range.

    “Some assembly required” means that you might not be able simply to waltz into the Mannes Library and turn up a convenient arrangement for sop, picc, and piano. But it ought to be a simple matter to 1) find a piano-vocal score, 2) extract the picc part, and 3) rewrite the piano part so that it’s not doubling the picc.


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