Thursday, October 27, 2016

My Short Story is in Red Sun Magazine!

One of my short stories, "Earth is for Earthers," is appearing in the most recent issue of Red Sun Magazine! I'm super excited to be a part of it, and I especially loved the haunting and beautiful cover illustration. The magazine is full of great content, including very thoughtful articles by Judith Field and Karen Smith, as well as an in-depth interview with the creators of Cromcast, a podcast about Science Fiction and Fantasy author Robert E. Howard. If you're interested in all things Science Fiction and Fantasy, check it out!

Discovering Viking Music

Vikings aren't usually considered musical people, perhaps because very little of the music they created survived to be written down. Yet, there's plenty of evidence that dark ages Scandinavians performed music, perhaps even singing ancient poetry from Norse sagas. Recent scholarship has uncovered many of the musical instruments they may have used as well, including the Hedeby rebec and versions of ancient harps and lyres. Using the instruments found in Viking settlements and the few surviving Medieval melodies and musical descriptions, modern musicians are beginning to recreate the sound of Viking music.

For example, in their CD Ice and Longboats the musical group Ensemble Mare Balticum tries to recreate Viking music, using musical archeology, old Scandinavian folk songs, and early Medieval Christian music as a starting point. They improvise on Viking era instruments to capture the sounds of the age, and perhaps improvisatory melodies once accompanied recitations of epic poems like the great Norse sagas, or even the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf. The musicians of Ensemble Mare Balticum conducted extensive research in partnership with the European Music Archeology Project to produce Ice and Longboats. With pure melodies sparsely accompanied with period instruments, this CD feels authentic. 

At a recent visit to a Viking and Celtic Festival in Oklahoma, I was lucky enough to meet a man who specializes in making ancient instruments like rebecs, lyres, and harps (check out his beautiful period instruments at Instruments of Antiquity). He had recently built an instrument modeled on the Hedeby rebec, an instrument discovered during archaeological digs at the Viking trading town of Hedeby. Unlike later rebecs, the Hedeby rebec lacked a fingerboard, so it's played by stopping the strings with just your fingers, not unlike how Chinese musicians play the erhu (the erhu is actually related to an even earlier instrument, the spiked fiddle, which may have been brought to Europe during the Crusades, if not before). The sound was soft, but it had a good variety of tonal colors, especially considering that the strings would have been plucked as well as bowed. Playing a recreation of the Hedeby rebec was a fun and fascinating experience, one that gave me some insights into how Viking music must have sounded.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Classical Music: the Beautiful Part of the Day

I recently got a full time, non-music job, and that's been wonderful in many ways. It's an exciting new challenge, and I still get to work with students, though in a different subject. But I have missed playing classical music all day, and I'm still working on finding a good place for it in my currently busy with other things life. Yet, even though I haven't practiced as much as I normally do, I still want a regular connection to music. So how can I have that while working full time and caring for my family?

Luckily, listening to classical music is as easy as ever. I have CDs (I'm old fashioned that way--you can pry them out of my cold dead hands), the classical radio station (still going strong in Dallas!). Listening to a Beethoven Symphony on the way home from work gives a bad day a touch of beauty and transcendence like nothing else I can imagine. In a way, not working in music everyday helps me appreciate how beautiful it is. As a working musician I loved music, but I also felt a lot of pressure around it (much of it admittedly self-inflicted). I couldn't just listen to music, I had to listen The Right Way and hear The Right Things. Now, I can enjoy music with a sense of ease I haven't had for a while.

Teaching my daughter violin also keeps me connected to my instrument. Even when she struggles or one of us gets frustrated, I still feel connected to her and connected to the music I'm teaching her. I'm sharing my love of music with someone I love. Seeing her learn music for the first time somehow makes pieces I've listened to or played a million times feel fresh again.

It's tough to be a working musician. I don't miss the uncertainties of a freelance career, or the burdensome process of collecting payments from parents as an independent music teacher. I don't miss the high pressure auditions or anything like that. But I do miss the music. If everyone had the time and energy to play an hour of Beethoven a day, the world would be a better place. No matter what the haters say, classical music isn't dying.