Bonjour de Paris!

HA. Kidding. Greetings from Charles de Gaulle Airport, which, while technically in Paris, is definitely not Paris. But it's a nice airport as they go - particularly the famous "rest area" with its lounge chairs for jet lagged persons such as myself. 

It's like a cloudy day on the beach at the airport. Fun!

I'm on my way back from Manchester, UK, where I conducted some groups at the Royal Northern College of Music, met lots of very lovely people, and drank a lot of tea.

I'll be home in Cincinnati for a week before heading out again to conduct the Bernstein Serenade with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra and Madeline Adkins. I had never heard the piece until very recently - I suspect a lot of us are discovering it together during this Bernstein centennial year - and, oh, folks, what a fantastic piece. I can't wait to start rehearsing it. If you're in town, concert is February 11 - put it on your calendar - we'd love to see you. 

As per the blog rules, I leave you with something to listen to - last month's performance of Earle Brown's Centering with Ensemble 4-33 and Ledah Finck, who gave a creative, virtuoso performance on violin. A very different corner of the musical universe than Bernstein's - different universe, entirely, actually - but one that we enjoyed exploring together. 

Season's Greetings

Just got back from a great but exhausting week in Baltimore. Listening Lab residency with the BCO and Hampstead Hill Academy every day, where I got to share some music with a really sweet and responsive group of kids. And then rehearsals for Ensemble 4-33 every night, where we rolled up our sleeves to take on open form cadenzas and syncopated septuplets with click tracks. 4-33 concert on Saturday, Listening Lab concert on Monday - it was a busy week, but lots of fun. 

Somewhere in there, my amazing hosts took me to The Book Thing, a classic Baltimore institution, where I picked up two tiny books to read on the plane. I only later realized I'd picked up two books of letters - C.S. Lewis' ten-year correspondence with an American fan whom he never met, and a book called Letters to Juliet, about the "Club di Giuletta," a string of volunteers that has been answering thousands of letters that arrive in Verona each year, addressed to Juliet, since the beginning of the 20th century. Who knew? The world is full of odd and wonderful things. 

Grabbing two books of letters was a coincidence, but not a surprise - letters and diaries are some of my favorite reads. I especially like the letters of Brahms, so, for my first Christmas gift to you, I give you a nine-year-old Brahms' New Year's greeting to his piano teacher: 

Beloved Teacher!
Once again a year has passed, and I am reminded how far you have brought me in music in the year gone by. How many thanks do I owe you for that! True, I must also consider that at times I did not follow your wishes, in that I did not practise as I should have. I promise you, however, in this year to comply with your wishes with diligence and attentiveness. While wishing you much happiness for the new year, I remain
Your Obedient Student, 
J. Brahms

Priceless, right? 

My next gifts to you have to be musical, since that's what we do here. I hope the next time I share music with you it will be our own. I was so happy with 4-33's performance of Earle Brown's Centering, thanks in no small part to Ledah Finck, who ate the solo part for breakfast. I'd like to share that soon, but right now, I'm committed to sitting happily in front of my Christmas tree for 24 hours, and that doesn't include a soul-crushing battle with my aging MacBook to get concert video posted. 

 The view from here. 

The view from here. 

So instead, I give you three of my favorite under-the-radar Christmas tunes/carols/scores. (Oh, by the way, I LOVE Christmas.) 

First, Elizabeth Poston's "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree." This has to be one of the most beautiful carols of all time, period, musically and textually, and it is, at best, on the margins of the "familiar carols" roster.

Second, the opening of Thomas Newman's soundtrack for the 1994 film Little Women. Sheesh, what a great score. I'm determined to sneak it into the American symphonic canon before I retire. 

Third, Nick Lowe's "Christmas at the Airport." I love whole Quality Street album - which Rolling Stone aptly described as "world-weary, but still full of good cheer" - but this is my go-to song. 

By the way, you are *listening* to this stuff, right? Why else would you be on a music blog?? If you won't do it for me, do it for you, and if you won't do it for you, do it for me, okay? 

Wishing you happy, restful holidays with lots of good food and good company and good music. See you in 2018. 

Catchy Tunes

I once started a blog and stopped it pretty quickly, thinking that Frank Almond, concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, had it right with his blog, non divisi, which he subtitled, "Frank Almond writes a column instead of practicing." 

After a long hiatus, I'm trying to re-think life online these days, thinking of it more as a chance to share and connect than as an intrusion into Serious Work.

But, in the interest of not subtitling this blog, "Rebecca Smithorn writes a blog instead of studying," let's see if we can make this more music than talk - something that can be written (and read), say, while you're waiting to board your flight and have 6% battery left. 

So here are the rules: 

1. I will always leave you, reader,  with something interesting, fun, odd, inspiring to listen to. 

2. That is the only thing that is required of a post - music (loosely defined, as it should be) to listen to. No talk. No explanations. 

Got it? Good. 

But who are we kidding, I still have 5% battery and can't resist tickety-type-typing until the darn thing bites the dust. 

I had a wonderful time the past two days at two piano recitals - adult and youth - at the Peaslee Neighborhood Center, where I've been very happy to be teaching this fall. If you're not familiar with Peaslee, it's a special place. Among many other really amazing things, they have a piano program that offers low-cost lessons to kids and adults in the community.

I've taught in several programs that aim to provide accessible music education, but this is the first where I could teach on my own instrument. Piano is tough to democratize - instruments are hard to come by, harder to move; it's difficult to teach piano in groups, and private lessons aren't always affordable. But Peaslee's done a great job, and I was super proud of my students who performed this weekend. Check out the work they're doing, think about giving - money, time, a spare keyboard in your basement. 'Tis the season. 

I heard two songs at the adult recital that I have not been able to get out of my head. "Pocket Full of Miracles," and "Cherish." I post them below, along with what I (fondly) consider to be the worst EarWorm song of all, the Lava song of Pixar fame.

Never underestimate a good tune.

Flight's boarding and 1% battery to spare. #winning