How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part 2

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part 2

By Music Director Ben Makino

Get a sneak peek into Ben's summer in this latter half of his two part post, How I Spent My Summer Vacation. Missed the first part? Check it out here.

In between all of these small and large projects I managed to get some reading done, perhaps most notably the recent Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph by Jan Swafford. After reading Robert Gutman’s Mozart: A Cultural Biography a year ago, I wanted to dedicate more time to learning about the lives and the contemporary cultures of the composers whose work I spend a great deal of my time thinking about.

It may seem counterintuitive to some, but as students we spend little time learning about the lives of composers, using what little time a university education grants to gather as much information about the most important works and larger cultural and stylistic trends. I tend to pick general themes for my reading each season–2013-14 was dedicated largely to poetry, including some very long form pieces, and this year will be dedicated mostly to building a much deeper understanding of the lives of certain composers and the various trends of the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe.  

Unlike most of our colleagues, pianists have the fortune, or misfortune, of not having to think of tuning as we perform, yet I had always been fascinated by the sometimes tortured  relationship between what a composer writes on a sheet of manuscript and the real difficulties of executing those ideas as sound and in tune. A number of years ago I was talking to a friend, an oboist, about how he thinks about tuning, and he referred me to Ross W. Duffin’s How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (And Why You Should Care). Only this summer, spurred by interest in the microtonal recordings made by Aron at Microfest, I finally “picked up” a copy (via Amazon). I zipped through it in about a day. Hungry for even more information, I got in touch with local musicological treasure Ken Kreitner, who along with fellow treasure Janet Page led me one late morning to Bruce Haynes’ History of Performing Pitch, cleverly subtitled The Story of “A”.  I’m still reading on the subject, and if you were to stop by my office you would find on my desk a copy of an article titled "Dynamic Tonality: Extending the Framework of Tonality into the 21st Century," which I would be happy to share with anyone interested!

I made a bit more progress in a reading project that is a lot more long-term: Umberto Eco’s Kant and the Platypus, which I bought as a gift for my mother based on its title and theme. At the time I knew nothing about the author, but have since developed what perhaps amounts to only a dilettantish interest in his work, but enough of one that when I have some real mental space available I will be willing to try to wrestle my brain into the shape of that of a true semiotician! 

I hope all of you have had an equally interesting summer, filled with collaboration, enrichment and friendship that I have been lucky enough to have had. It looks as though I may be writing a few more of these little essays (in truest sense of the word) throughout the year. I must admit that summarizing it all in this fashion has brought it into focus a bit, so I’ll look forward to the next time I am asked to submit!   

Cheers!

Ben

Want to replicate Ben's summer reading? Here's his complete list.

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