Announcing my arrangement of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue!

It’s here! I’m extremely excited to announce the publication of my arrangement of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

I’ve been performing this iconic piece for several years now (starting in 2017 at the Rio Harp Festival).  Over these past few months I’ve been entering and refining my  arrangement, and now have a beautifully typeset edition which has just been published today!

I’ve also arranged the opening Toccata for lever harp. It will be part of a larger collection of lever harp transcriptions, releasing in a couple weeks, but if you can’t wait you can buy the Toccata on its own right now (or as a bundle with my pedal harp arrangement).

Super excited to get this music out there, in your hands!

I’ve also just finished recording a music video of the Toccata and Fugue. It will premiere tomorrow on YouTube at 1pm PDT (Sunday, July 5th). (4pm east coast time, 10pm Central European time). I can’t wait to share the video with you – very happy with how it turned out!
 

And to celebrate the release of both the sheet music and my music video, I’ll be doing a livestream during  the premiere. Starting up at 12:55pm, come hang out with me as we watch  the music video together, then afterwards I’ll talk about my  arrangement and tell some stories, etc. Looking forward to streaming in  person, rather than just writing in the chat :)
 

If you follow the links it should show you a countdown timer, as well as  displaying when the video will go live in your local timezone.  Of  course you can always watch my performance of the Toccata and Fugue at your leisure once it premieres :)
 

I look forward to hanging out with you tomorrow!

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Music video: Farewell to Stromness

Another recent music video, “Farewell to Stromness” by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, is part of the “Yellow Cake Revue” – a set of songs plus two piano interludes that Davies wrote to protest a proposed uranium mine on the Orkney islands in 1980.

I, too, live on an island; Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. I thought what better to pair this song with than footage I’ve filmed on the beautiful Vancouver Island shorelines.

I’ve recorded a Harp Tuesday episode talking about how to play Farewell to Stromness on the harp.

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Music video: Chanson de Mai

I recently recorded a music video of Hasselman’s lovely Chanson de Mai, paired with the beautiful wild Camas flowers (and bees!) found here in Victoria, BC:

If you’re interested in learning Chanson de Mai, the sheet music is freely available at https://archive.org/details/chansondemairoma1897hass/page/2/mode/2up

I also did a Harp Tuesday episode on it!

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Listening, part 3: phrasing

As a follow-up to my previous two blog posts on listening I did a Harp Tuesday episode to try to demonstrate what exactly I mean by phrasing, or the space between the notes! I take a listen to three different recordings of a single bar from Chopin’s Nocturne, Op. 9 No. 2.

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Two new music videos – “Maid with the Flaxen Hair” and Grandjany’s Children’s Hour Suite

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Listening, part 2: stories

In listening, part 1, I mentioned closing one’s eyes when listening to remove the visual stimuli. This can have much more of an effect than we think, for example check out this illusion!

I also talked about ignoring the sound quality of the recording to focus on phrasing. Both of those tie into what I want to talk about today: stories and narrative.

As humans we always try to find meaning and narrative from everything we see and experience. It’s no different when it comes to listening to music, which means if we’re focused on listening to phrasing, it’s good to be aware of any stories we have around what we’re hearing and try to ignore them.

I’m not talking about, by the way, stories we might make up about what the music itself is saying (“and here we go deeper into the wood as the birds are singing“) but narratives around the performance/performer or anything that is not the music.

For example, I had to include this version of the Chopin Nocturne when I saw the photo:

I’m immediately intrigued and I want to like the performance – before I’ve even listened to it…

Visuals can create narratives; watching someone young perform we might have the narrative of a prodigy (whatever that means to us). Watching someone who seems totally involved/immersed in the music also creates a narrative. Or a beautifully filmed video/performance. All can add to the experience, but are also distractions if we’re trying to work on our ears.

I mentioned that I can be moved by, and learn from, phrasing even on old, scratchy, recordings , but there is a narrative trap here, too – many of my favorite musicians are from the period of the LP, and so when I hear that distinctive sound of an old record, my mind may auto-complete a story of “oh, this is old, it must be good!

The reputation, the story, of the performer can have a big effect – a famous musician, whom you recognize, might “sound” better to you than someone unknown.

It’s not to say that these stories or narratives aren’t real or worthwhile. The way you experience something is real and valid – if something is deeply moving to you, in a way it doesn’t matter why. And I will often talk to students about hand and arm motion and how that can help “create” the sound/mood/narrative that we want, for example.

But at the same time, as far as training our ears, ignoring the “story” is helpful – closing your eyes, trying to forget who it is that is playing, or what other people think of it, etc. and just focusing on the shape and transition from note to note!

I will return to the Chopin Nocturne from part 1 with a video looking at a very small section and three interpretations of the same short sequence of notes. But for now, let me leave you with another playlist.

This time of the Prelude (and in most cases, the Fugue) No. 4 in C Sharp Minor from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier. Interesting to contrast the different interpretations, but mainly shared because I love the music and hope you will, as well :)

Would love to hear your thoughts on listening and phrasing!

Stay well, Josh

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Focused listening – part one

(this was originally sent out to my email newsletter subscribers – join my list here)

Hi all,

We’re often surrounded by music; it can be a soundtrack to everything we do (exercise, work, cooking, reading, watching movies, etc.) and yet it can be very rare to actually sit down and just listen to something, focused solely on the music.

Focused and intense listening is immensely helpful for developing one’s ear. It can also be a calming and meditative practice; in these stressful time, a way to quiet one’s mind and live in the moment.

For me, when I do focused listening I’m listening for phrasing – the way that a musician moves from note to note; the space between the notes that creates magic. You hear a note, and then another one – was the second exactly in rhythm? Perhaps it was little earlier – did that work? Or was the first note stretched a little and the second comes a little late – did that work? Was there a crescendo or decrescendo between the notes? Are we getting more intense? Less? So many possibilities!

As I listen I’m almost re-creating the sound again in my mind’s ear – it’s an active listening, rather than letting the sounds wash over me.

This can be more challenging than it seems – to listen, hear, and taste every note of a four minute piece, to say nothing of a twenty minute piece, without the mind starting to wander, can be difficult! But so worth cultivating.

It can be an interesting experience to carve out time each day to just sit and listen to something for five minutes – maybe a favorite album or maybe a new recording to which you’ve not really had a chance to listen.

And if you want something to bring your mind back from wandering, or if you want to improve your own playing and ear, try listening for phrasing.

One way to work on listening to phrasing is to listen to the same piece, or even just a section of the same piece, performed by many different musicians. Listen for what you like, and what you don’t like. Really try and hone in – if you love how someone plays a phrase, why? What did they do that was so effective? How does it sound different from a phrasing that you don’t like as much?

To get you started, here’s a playlist. 11 performances of Chopin’s Nocturne, Op.9 No. 2. Some great, some so-so.

As you listen, try not to focus on the sound quality. The location, the equipment, and the post processing can all have a huge effect on how a recording sounds. There are recordings where you might listen just for the pure aural pleasure of how amazing it sounds. But for our purposes, we can learn from and be moved by phrasing from a bad quality live recording or scratchy LP, as well as a beautifully engineered recording.

Try listening with your eyes closed to remove visual stimuli and let you focus just on what you hear (I find using headphones can be effective for this as well).

I will write next week with some followup thoughts. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you, and I hope that the idea of spending a little bit of time just listening to music can help bring some peace in these anxious times, regardless of whether you try this particular exercise.

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Two new music videos – Alla Turca Jazz, plus Debussy’s Prelude, Clair de Lune

I recently published a music video of the tremendously fun Alla Turca Jazz and then yesterday I published a video of a performance from 2018 of the Prelude and Clair de Lune from Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque. Hope you enjoy! :)

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