For decades, my city didn’t have a baseball team, and I didn’t miss it. I was not a ball player when I was young—well, certainly not a good one. But in the dozen years since the Nationals arrived in DC, I have become a true fanatic. I think it’s because for me, baseball has a lot in common with jazz: both pursuits combine a predictable structure with an unpredictable outcome. When you listen to Art Tatum playing “Honeysuckle Rose,” you know he is playing variations of the song’s structure, AABA, over and over, but you don’t how he will sail away from the melody, from the original harmonies, from the key center, to unexplored places. Baseball is structured like that: 6 outs an inning, 9 innings a game (barring a tie). But from the umpire’s “Play ball!” until the last out, no one knows how the game will unfold. No two games are the same. And a game can last one hour, or eight. When my beloved Nats were off for the night recently, I found myself happily watching the women’s NCAA softball tournament, with the same enjoyment of the gentle journey that every baseball game takes. I hope your summer, and your musical life, are taking you to a few unexpected but reassuringly familiar places.
The play I wrote last year about George Gershwin and Arnold Schoenberg, 12ness, is having its first production soon, and I was lucky enough to get to see part of a rehearsal last week. The director is a total pro named George B. Miller who seems to instinctively know exactly what I had in mind for each scene. No, actually he seems to know much better than I how each scene should appear on stage. Suffice it to say, I can hardly wait to see what the final production looks like. If you happen to be in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley next week or the one after, I hope you consider seeing it. The play is being produced by the Crowded Kitchen Players. It opens on June 9.
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?