Birdbrain Musician Episode 1 and discussion

I made this video partly in response to the Paganini assignment

I was trying to explain to myself why so much of this performance was grating. It really does seem that the violin is in pain. Not a beautiful pain like “while my guitar gently weeps”, but more like a hoarse scream. To me, the violin (and cello and viola?) seem so similar to the human voice. I guess it makes sense — we have vocal cords and resonators, and they have vocal cords and resonators as well. In our case the strings are set in motion by air, and in their case because of friction from the touch of a bow.

We were asked to find some additional examples of the Paganini — the same piece performed by other musicians, or adaptations of it (variations, fantasies, …remixes?)

I had commented to one of my friends in class, “You just KNOW there’s going to be a version on electric guitar.” Here one is. The comments under the video said that the guitarist did a good job playing it fairly straight instead of turning it into a “power metal version”.


Here’s an adaptation for flute. I saw videos by several other flautists but I wanted a video where you could see the body language of the musician.

A leaf on the wind — leaping birds — spiral stems, vines dangling

2:59 arpeggios made me think of water bubbling in a stream

3:15 staccato? sharp breaths. Not harsh but jazzy, dance-like

3:48 riding along on the melody line, as if I were ice skating. A push, then gliding, pull into a turn…

playful, mournful, energetic but graceful, confident

Compared to this — the Markov version was brash, arrogant, “emo”

If his version was a person near me on the bus I would move away to another seat. Dude, have you been taking your meds? Maybe you need anger management therapy.

I did not listen to this entire selection. I got about 3 minutes in and began to feel confused about whether we were still in a variation of Caprice # 24. Some of the harmonizations made me feel sort of queasy. I’m not sure what harmonies cause that feeling (disoriented, ill-at-ease). Note that the person who posted this included a huge amount of information about the different variations — what was different about each one, and what was especially challenging about each one.

Brahms was not a showman, and rarely wrote music which aimed at being technically difficult. But when he did, he out-Liszted Liszt. The Paganini Variations, as you can tell from their main title, are not just a fully-fledged concert work but also a set of exercises for study, featuring technical challenges that are often more than a little obscene [19:24]. As always, the variations are also musically dazzling in their variety and invention. Kissin plays the faster variations with astounding bravura, [11:29] dynamic control [16:05], and articulation [16:49], and is exquisitely delicate in the slower ones [07:45].


This is a version that’s being played through MIDI software. It’s unpleasantly robotic to listen to, but the hand patterns were fascinating to me. My previous keyboard experience was on organ (with separated keyboards). It’s interesting to see how the 2 hands share and trade the notes back and forth.

Caprice # 24 begins at the 20:22 mark.

20:30  I can imagine doing these arpeggios — relaxed and graceful

20:53 — light tripping staccato notes

21:18 — low rumbling, running like a motor. “Perdendosi”?

21:32 — “stabby”. I don’t think the piano is in any danger, but this sounds like it might hurt the fingers.

21:46 — anxious sounding rapid chromatic runs

22:00 — “magical” — little sparkly phrases on the rt. hand, darker phrases on the left

22:20 — headbanger! Envigorating.

22:43 — wiry, vine-like

22:53 — OK, sounds like the piano is giggling

“Scherzando” does mean “playfully” (or, as Dr. Greenberg says, it literally means “I’m joking”), but this is really silly and cute.

23:00 — more headbanging! “Fuocoso” apparently means fiery or passionately.

23:12 — burbling

23:30 — twinkly. The extended trill does give me a feeling of unease or suspense, though.

24:06 — the piano is roaring and thundering. Waves on a stormy sea

24:35 — those are some weird harmonies!

24:54 — this must be the big finish. I can hear the main theme buried deep in the mix.

Now — huge waves — this part makes me think of winding up to throw a shot put. Gathering energy…


And he throws it!











Quick reply to assignment

Hello All,

this is a test! I’m checking to see how the Canvas discussions work.

Here is the version of the Paganini caprice that I will be discussing. The original video showed Alexander Markov played Caprice no. 24. The link I’m posting is a piano performance by Daniil Trifonov. He is playing a series of variations on Paganini, composed by Franz Liszt. The section that is adapted from Caprice no. 24 begins at the 20:22 mark and continues to the end. I loved watching this video because it shows the sheet music in realtime. I’ll be back with my full discussion later.

Note, I don’t understand how the discussions on Canvas work. Are we posting them to the group at large, or is this just a communication with the prof? If the former, it’s worrisome that no one else has responded yet.




Assignment on Paganini’s Caprice #24

Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 for violin

In order to receive full credit, you must answer the questions thoroughly in your own words.

What other composers wrote variations, fantasies, or other versions of this caprice?

Please post other performances and/or versions of this work.  Comment how they are similar to the original caprice.

Which piece do you like the most and what makes it an interesting, exciting, or beautiful performance?


Link to Alexander Markov’s performance that we heard in class :

Yuja Wang:  Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini  (15:22 is the most famous variation, but please watch the entire work; it’s incredibly beautiful)

Click below to  listen to the Accordare Piano Duo, Dr. Rehwoldt and Dr. Suter performing Lutoslawski’s Variations on a Theme of Paganini at a live concert in San Diego.



Terrible Earworm

I am having trouble knowing how much time to allot for my homework assignments. Several times I’ve would up working past 1 am. I have been a night owl for many years and and I seem to have my best focus around 1 and 2 am, but…now I have to get up at 7 in order to catch the bus. 5 hrs of sleep makes for a long stressful day. This past week I came into a Wednesday very short on sleep and had not allotted enough time to practice for voice lessons. Since one of the new songs I’m learning is in Italian, I spent time on the bus (and in the stairwell) practicing the Italian, saying the syllables as clearly as possible, with very pure vowels. Over and over. In rhythm, with the tune in my head. The combination of the lack of sleep, over-studying, and adrenaline about the lesson led to the worst earworm I have had in a very long time. I COULD NOT get the song to stop. It kept playing in continuous repeats. When I came home I was able to take a nap, which helped. I also took a break from that song for a few days. This afternoon was the first I had sung it since Wednesday. The first page is gently playing in the background right now. I wish my brain would move on to pg. 3 which is the part I actually need to work on. “Di belezza non s’aprezza lo splendor / se non vien dun fido cor, dun fido cor. / Di belezza non s’a…prez…ZA lo-o-o splendor, se non vien (carefully) d’un fido (very carefully) co-o-or, d’un (F# major) fido cor!”

I wonder what actually causes the “earworm” phenomenon, and why some days are worse than others.

Thank you, Robert Greenberg

It’s Labor Day — Kevin is coming over for dinner. However, today I also have to try out the local bus to campus. I don’t want to be riding the bus for the first time when I have a class to get to! AND today is the day to make sure I have done the homework for Tuesday. The Theory reading assignment and workbook assignment are for Wednesday and they are clearly defined. The keyboard assignment for Tuesday is “keep going with what you’re working on”. I have saved up some questions so I think I’m prepared for that class. But Ear Training!!! I’m not even sure what we’re required to have ready for class #3. While looking over the syllabus and handouts I was beginning to wonder if I should have taken the remedial music course first! Reminds me of the summer I took Differential Equations. Differential equations uses derivatives and integrals, and you need to have those skills at your fingertips. When I took DiffyQ’s it had been a few semesters since I’d last had calculus. Also, I took the class during the summer (a shortened semester) so I shot myself in the foot from two different directions. One thing I do remember about that summer was that although I failed the class, I didn’t give up, and my exam grades actually improved as the semester went on. Not enough to pass the class — but enough to experience the feeling off working hard while “not doing well”. Pushing through discouragement.

I certainly hope I don’t fail Ear Training, but already I’m starting to have that sinking flailing feeling. (Have you seen the Curwen solfege handsigns for the accidentals?!?!?!) I have to tell myself –take a deep breath, stop thrashing around, and figure out what direction we’re swimming in!

So at this point in the semester my musical education consists of playing scales (badly), singing vowel sounds (and feeling apologetic for what my prof. has to listen to), and looking ahead into the rough and terrifying seas of sight reading. I see ugliness and incompetence, I feel fear and shame!

In the midst of this comes Dr. Robert Greenberg, like a fresh breeze and drink of cool water after mowing the lawn. I get caught up in the emotion and humor of his stories; it takes the spotlight off my own inner unpleasantness. And what he talks about relates directly to my goals as a composer. Today I’m listening to lecture 3 of Bach and the High Baroque. Greenberg spent several minutes comparing and contrasting two “hosanna”s — one written by Palestrina, and one from Bach’s Mass in B minor. Much of the difference had to do with time — the elapsed time (length of the compositions), and the way time was broken up (the rhythm).

I wish I had a transcript of that part of the lecture since what he said was so well-put. Here’s a paraphrase. I’ll try to get the quote later.

One of the most important things for a composer to consider is time.  If you don’t consider this carefully, your musical vision will not succeed, and your compositions will be flushed down the toilet of history. Exactly how long is each section? It must be long enough to get the listener sucked in — to draw them into your vision. But it must not be one second too long, or it will lose the effect. What is too long, beyond which I can’t ask them to be there? …Music is first: TIME. Time defined by sound. Any aspect of musical time is defined by rhythm. For the Bach hosanna — it is long enough for you to be drawn into his vision,  for our bodies to enter into the realm he creates. (Our bodies respond to the dance-like rhythm). For the Palestrina — very short — not able to be drawn in. What if it had gone on for 30 minutes?  You either would transcend earthly existence and have a vision of God, or you would be dead or asleep. 

This is so important for  TLOT300W. I have sketched out what mood I want for each planet; I’ve given some thought on how to orchestrate this. But …how long is it?



My most recent Robert Greenberg course

I used to listen to Dr. Greenberg’s audio courses while driving and doing housework. This summer I started back up with Fundamentals of Music. I pretty much finished reviewing that one, although I used a couple of the lectures to help me fall asleep, so I might be a bit vague on those.

Today I started up again with Bach and the High Baroque. This is a longer course than Fundamentals, but not as long as the survey of western music class. It’s 32 lectures. I plan to listen to them during the day rather than while falling asleep, so that I can be sure not to miss anything.

I listened to lectures 1 and 2 today while cleaning the aviary. One thing that struck me was the talk about Bach’s extended family of musicians – how the relatives would get together and, after singing some serious hymns, would then do spoof versions of popular songs. I think the adjective Greenberg used was “ribald”.  Bach also had a close relationship with “his prince” — he worked for him for 6 years — composing music for someone who loved his work. I tend to think of Bach as a lonely genius, and it’s nice to have that image replaced. I do remember that he loved his wife and children, and was devastated at the death of his first wife, and of one of his daughters. He created music especially for his wife and children, for them to play and learn from.


Look, this one actually shows the fingering notation in Bach’s own hand!


Update after the First Week of Class

The first week of class was not what I was expecting.

  • Missing the first class because of parking trouble — and then having brake problems on the way home. This was very much like one of my anxiety dreams. Greg’s comment was “What are you complaining about. You had your clothes on, didn’t you?”
  • Needing Greg to drive me to classes because my car was in the shop
  • Last minute decision to take keyboard lessons
  • At that late date can’t register online — has to be in person — with paperwork. Chasing down signatures, making a stop at an office and then at what we used to call the Bursar’s office. “How do I get my schedule?” “It’s right there on the papers I gave you”.
  • Keyboard class is not lecture based. Instead, there is a list of skills that we must be able to demonstrate by the end of the semester. (Greg said it’s like my son’s proficiency requirements for his black belt exam.) We have the list, and we spend class working on our own — with the presence and availability of the prof. This is why I decided to add keyboard lessons! Piano’s very different from organ.
  • Ear training (so far) has not been the neat methodical progression that it is in Ear Master. It is more like a race through a wind tunnel.
  • I got 2 faculty members’ names mixed up in an embarrassing way even though I tried to do my research ahead of time and study their photos.
  • Voice lessons make my sinuses feel weird.
  • All the handouts are posted in the ether, in this shadow-realm with many facets, and we’re expected to print them out ourselves. I’m still not sure I’ve found all the places the documents can be hidden.

Things I did expect.

  • Being hungry — not figuring out what to take for lunch
  • Feeling awkward talking to students
  • Feeling awkward participating in class (The “Hermione Effect”)
  • Enthusiasm because of enthusiastic profs
  • Absolutely exhausted

More unexpected things!

  • Playing scales before bed makes me sleepy, in a good way.
  • I got a lovely orientation (about composition) from the prof. who designed the ear training class. This woman is a treasure. I didn’t expect her to take me seriously or to understand what I was getting at.
  • Basically feeling VERY welcomed!
  • Choir rehearsal started up again, had not seen my friends since 15 lbs ago. No comments except from one guy who asked me if I’d been sick (!).
  • Working on scales, getting distracted by improvisation, then feeling frustrated because I can’t play what I hear in my head. Left hand pinky finger hurts.
  • Trying to copy out some choir music by hand, feeling frustrated with my grade-school printing. Feeling like I’m already behind the other students and running to catch up.

I did not expect MUSIC BOOT CAMP


Copyright Filters

Here’s an article about copyright filters, with the forceful title “This Music Theory Professor Just Showed How Stupid and Broken Copyright Filters Are –Automated takedown systems don’t work, stifle free expression online”

YouTube’s Content ID is the most expensive automated filter system of its kind, yet these kinds of stories are not just common, but comical. Like the time another professor uploaded a ten hour video of white noise, only to have it flagged five times for copyright infringement.