As I search through the duo violin/cello repertoire I’m finding so many interesting gems as well as polished turds. Not that the latter are bad things but when you’re working with others you obviously just can’t take your own taste into account.
The past couple of weeks Thursday afternoon I’ve been reading through movements of the Ravel Sonata for Violin and Cello. It’s a work I never had the opportunity to publicly perform though I did spend some time learning and performing in a masterclass with members of the American String Quartet. It’s a delightful piece which requires the player to be somewhat agile. But for some reason back then (and now) I find it fits much of my skill set very well and I really don’t find it that cumbersomely difficult.
I’m remembering back then and the resources I had–a taped copy of Jaime Laredo and Leslie Parnas (ironically, I couldn’t remember who the cellist was and had to look it up) from a Marlboro Festival recording and a couple of other recordings of artists I can’t even recall now in the Music Library of my music school. It’s doubly ironic as I loved the live video (which seems to be no longer available on Youtube) of duo Parnas (granddaughters of Leslie Parnas).
Despite the absence of the Duo Parnas video, that is something that has changed–there are tons of videos of this work by artists of various skill levels. In some cases, the videos are just stills of recordings with the audio as a soundtrack. The wealth and ease of information we have in this day and age is just astounding!
In China, there have been many attempts at creating variations on the cello (and bass) to fill out the string section of traditional Chinese Orchestras. The èrhú (二胡), an ancient instrument that likely originated in Central Asia nearly a millenea ago, probably has the quintessential “Chinese sound” that Westerners imagine when they think of Chinese music though I’m sure a close tie would be the sound of the gǔzhēng (古箏).
The instrument in the photo to the left is a géhú (革胡). As Brandon Voo states:
The Gehu comes in two sizes, the Da-Gehu (large) and the Diyin Gehu (bass). In a Chinese orchestra, they take the same roles as the cello and double bass in a Western symphony orchestra. The four strings of both sizes are tuned exactly like the cello and double bass and are attached to a machine head with gears.
The wikipedia article for the géhú states that it was “developed in the 20th century by the Chinese musician Yang Yusen (杨雨森, 1926-1980)” which I’ll have to confirm once I do some research but given the time frame referenced by Brandon Voo in his article regarding the changes undergoing Chinese Orchestras during the 1950s, Yang Yusen’s dates would fit in fine.
Well, Western music has been Eurocentric for hundreds of years. When I was a student at Julliard, if you wanted to hear a record of Indian or African music, you looked in the library under Ethnomusicology. It was not considered classical music in any real sense. At this point, that’s completely changed. It appears to us that all music is ethnic music. Everything. Popular music is ethnic music. It’s ethnic to it’s community. All music is indigenous to somebody. John Cage pointed this out in his book A Year From Monday. In the beginning of the book he says, “Here’s to the day when America becomes a part of the world. No more, no less.”
I think it really happened after the second World War, which was when people–especially Americans–became aware that there was another world outside of their own borders. Soldiers had been to Japan, Europe, and elsewhere. People went to Europe to study, Americans were living in Paris and London. That was happening all over the world, and right after World War II, and into the 1950s, the borders of the civilized world began to change very dramatically. At a certain point we began to talk about what Marshall McLuhan called the “global village.” This all eventually became part of the hippie generation and so on. And it became clear that there were great traditions of concert music that existed outside of the West. An astonishing idea. [Laughs] They would be in Africa, Asia, Australian, or wherever else. But we really couldn’t call it concert music because there were no concert halls. You didn’t find concert halls in India when I went there in the late ’60s, they didn’t have them. People played in homes. The concert halls were eventually built when some of the technology of Western music found its way into non-Western traditions.
Basically world music is now a fact. The fact is that an educated musician today would be foolish not to acquaint himself or herself with the traditions from all over the world. They can hide from it if they want to, but the reality is that it’s not just that we know it, but the audience knows it. It’s become a kind of parochialism to be confined to a Eurocentric tradition. So what we say is going to happen has already happened. Ravi [Shankar] was a very important part of that. He worked tirelessly at that, and was criticized in the beginning, when he was writing sitar concertos, playing with Menuhin, and so on.
The video to the Menuhin/Shankar collaboration is in the previous post.
This is going to be a quick post as I have to go teach this afternoon and then rehearse with the IU Southeast Orchestra tonight. But I had come across what’s called a “pogo cello” just a bit ago. The wikipedia entry for the instrument states:
The pogo cello was created in the 1950s in Brooklyn, New York by a chemist, Mack Perry, the husband of a music educator, Sylvia Perry. Perry patterned it after a similar instrument called a bumbass (boombas, boomba, or boom bass) also known as a stump fiddle (or stumpf fiddle). Pogocellos were manufactured in Brooklyn and Far Rockaway, New York and in New Jersey. The pogocello was sold in the United States for decades as a musical instrument for children, but many adults also bought them for themselves.
Pogocellos have been seen in marching bands in Iowa and in the Mummers’ parade in Philadelphia, PA on New Year’s Day. Similar instruments may be found today in Australia, Czechoslovakia and in Sweden (a Devil’s fiddle or Devil’s stick) and in other countries, for example at Oktoberfests. They have been played in blues, soul, bluegrass and other kinds of musical groups. Television show host, Garry Moore, played one on his show in the 1950s. Since 1975 the Gloucester Hornpipe and Clog Society, an American traditional music group which plays Celtic, French Canadian, Appalachian, nautical, and other kinds of folk music, has featured a pogocello made by woodcarver Rita Dunipace, and pogocello player David “Doc” Rosen.
A great video describing and demonstrating the instrument: