On April 1, I released Retablos, a CD of several of my works for strings. The title track, which I’ve written about before, is a new, Latin-themed work commissioned last year. The other two pieces, The Brisk West Wind and String Transparencies, are earlier works recorded here for the first time. Living near Washington, DC, I know a lot of top-notch string players from the National Symphony and other local orchestras. It’s always a joy when I can bring a few of them into the studio to interpret a work I’ve heard only in my head (and on synth tracks, of course). Robots may be coming for all of our jobs eventually, but for now, there’s nothing like a living, breathing human to take black dots on the page and turn them into music.
My long history of attempting to learn French goes all the way back to high school-lessons that centered on the exploits of “Margot et Mon Oncle.” It was never entirely clear what Mon Oncle’s relationship to Margot was. The language lab at Easton Area High School was full of speculation on this matter. I didn’t learn French then, or during any of several subsequent efforts, but now I am reinvigorated because I have a deadline: my jazz band, Chaise Lounge, will be playing in Paris in June of 2018. I also have a new language-learning method: Duolingo, a free site that serves a number of noble purposes—one of them being to help translate Wikipedia in its entirety. I am astonished at how perfectly crafted this service is. If you get a sentence wrong, the computer gently drills you on it until you get it right. And, unlike most human teachers, the computer has infinite patience. Of course, the site acts as a reminder that, sooner or later, robots are coming for a lot of people’s jobs. But in the meantime it also makes me wonder: could this teaching method be applied to musical sight-reading?