About me

I am an active composer and organizer of music events. I share a monthly Music as Meditation concert with listeners and fellow musicians and I organize several concerts of new music each year. I use this blog to tell people about my musical endeavors. I'm also an independent music teacher and farmer. You can find pages about The Davis Hill Farm and Studio on this blog. Look for the orange link on the right-hand side of the page.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The woods are full of ferns and bird calls, my garden is offering sweet young greens, and it's time for summer strings. A string orchestra will gather for rehearsals starting next Tuesday to prepare four new compositions for this year's concert. 

Andy Campbell contributes a piece called "Beetles." It's a romp in six eight time with unexpected harmonies and perky rhythms. Julia Howell wrote a piece informed by apples called "Pomology." In it, interesting rhythms and extended techniques will create unworldly sounds. I wrote a piece based on the buzzing of dragonflies and the memory of camp meeting hymns. Julia Howell will play a solo viola part in that piece. Larry Wallach has graced us with a piece called "Restless Hexachords" that explores the richness available from complex counterpoint. 

Bozena O'Brien, leads the orchestra as concert mistress. Andy Campbell lends his expertise as conductor. I am freshly amazed and grateful for freely-offered gifts each of our musicians and composers have offered. We will have another joyous concert. 

Again this year, we are aiming to keep Summer Strings as non-commercial as possible. The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Eastern Slopes has lent us rehearsal space. Christ Episcopal Church has offered us the use of its facilities for the weekend festival and the performance. We do have a few associated monetary costs so we will again collect donations at the close of the concert. There are also a few volunteer roles for people interested in helping. There are several ways to support this project: please consider  the following
  • Attend the concert. Admission is free of charge. We will collect donations to offset the expenses of the festival at the end of the concert. 
  • Share information about the concert with your friends. 
  • Help usher and collect donations at the close of the concert.
  • Contribute a food item to share with the musicians on Saturday evening. The Orchestra will be rehearsing from 5:00 to 6:15. Then we will have a break for supper from 6:15-7:00. If you'd like to talk with the musicians, helping with supper and sharing a meal with us is a great way. I'll be providing lemonade. We could use a variety of cold salads. 
  • Make a donation. We try to keep the exchange of money to a minimum in this festival, but there are a few monetary costs we incur. All the musicians, composers contribute their time free of charge. Christ Episcopal Church donates the use of the venue for rehearsing and for performing. Volunteers hang posters and collect donations after the concert. The costs we incur are for travel stipends for musicians travelling a long way to participate, supper supplies, and for poster-printing costs. I estimate that the costs of the festival this year will total around $400. Should you wish to contribute, please use the Paypal button on the right-hand side of this page near the top. Alternatively, you can send a donation to Summer Strings c/o Ellen Schwindt, 783 Davis Hill Road, Center Conway, NH 03813. If I collect more funds than we need, these will be offered to the musicians who played. Any excess will be saved for another music endeavor. 
Last year, producing this concert renewed my faith in the power of community to create joy and connection. I expect that this year will be equally refreshing. I hope you can join us and join in the beauty we create.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Easter Meditation

What Happened on Easter

at Music as Meditation

     The event I call Music as Meditation keeps changing. The change is organic; that is it responds to my perception of mine and other's needs in the realm of the spirit. That last sentence is of the type that keeps finding its way out of my mouth--something blatantly spiritual yet grounded, still, in our material world. 
     Last December, a cosmic two-by-four knocked me down and required me to slow down and examine life a bit. That cosmic two-by-four was a severe flare-up of an old back injury. The healing process has been rich; my healing has required that I take time to reflect and that I do almost everything a bit differently than I'm used to. Music as Meditation has not escaped this change. 
      I'm not quite as able to sit for long periods of time, so preparing an entire hours worth of music is quite challenging. Instead, however, I am walking more--and when I walk, I often come back with a poem or a thought. I also need to choose activities that allow me to stand. Cleaning out one of the bookshelves in my studio on a day devoted to staying home and getting better, I came across several old notebooks full of meeting notes, and phone numbers, and other detritus of my scheduled life. In amongst these things, however, were poems. I spent a lovely afternoon at my stand-up desk copying the ones I liked into another notebook. I read some of these at the Music at Meditation on April 1--which just happened to be Easter day. A very tiny group of listeners shared that time with me--for whom I am grateful. 
      Here I will share the  program  with its concomitant ramblings along with the poems I read. Please comment if you read this blog through to the end and find it useful. I'd like to know how my efforts effect others.
Music as Meditation
April 1, 2018

Imaginary Canonization of a Tupinamba song
This was imaginary because I was the only player and I realized the song on a soprano recorder. It was my realization of a transcription made by Jean de Léry of a Tupinamba song. He learned the song between October and January of 1557 when he was living as a guest of the Tupinamba tribe--a group of people who lived near Rio de Janeiro before the Portugese and French arrived with colonization dreams for the land that would come to be called South America. 

Easter (a poem)   by Jill Alexander Essbaum
This came to my inbox as a Poetry Foundation "poem of the day" during Holy Week. It matched the mood of several poems I wanted to read. 

Toccatta Improvisation  by Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643)
This is from a book of keyboard music by Frescobaldi that fell into my hands. His harmonies and his method of reaching a cadence send me into improvisational adventures. 

Differentiation—an excerpt by Ellen Schwindt
This is my piece based on the Fibonacci series (see the February blog) You may expect to hear all of it on May 6--and probably again on June 3. It's coming along.

Beach Leaves a poem by Ellen Schwindt
This and the following poems are those I found in my notebooks. They were all penned in early spring, before the winter really let go its hold on me. They came from various years--hence my understanding of the dark mood of this time of year--before the promise of spring is really made known to us in temperatures and sprouting plants.

Beech Leaves 

Beech leaves
in early spring
and those left after winter
are the same color

tightly coiled in their buds
and loosely attached, fluttering,
two versions of the exact shade

and why should we be surprised?
The beginnings and ends of things connect.

Romance by Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983)
This is one of my favorites of Tailleferre. Here is a youtube recording.

Rainbow Sleeves Tom Waits (b.1949)
Tom Waits wrote this song for Rickie Lee Jones's debut album release in 1979. I had a lovely time turning it into a piano solo. Here is a youtube recording with a great picture. The comments on youtube reveal that it is Randy Kerber making the piano sing in this recording. 

Turtle Dove
This is a traditional folk tune. I found it suited itself to the violin very well.

Berceuse (lullaby) Germaine Tailleferre
This is from a collection of pieces for young people published in the 1970s. Tailleferre made her living, as did Ruth Crawford Seeger, as a piano teacher. I was amazed at how similar the melody in this piece is to the traditional folk tune Turtle Dove.

Turtle Dove arr. Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953)
This arrangement published in 1948 in a book of pieces for young piano players. The pieces are illustrated with ornate drawings by Peggy Seeger. My imagination wants to believe that Germaine Tailleferre knew and loved this book as a teaching tool and somehow the tune of one of the songs made its way into her own compositions. I want it to be more evidence that we are all connected.

The Efficacy of Words a poem by Ellen Schwindt
This is one of the poems I found in my notebooks. I have often been disappointed in the communicative power of words. Perhaps it is imagination only, but I often feel that music fills in the gaps between the words very well, if much less specifically. 

The Efficacy of Words

Since the efficacy of words
is so thin,
why not keep to music only,
exist only in the
impossible sweetness
or the searing conflict
or the ineluctable drive
of pitch and rhythm.

Prelude in e minor (Opus 28, number 4) by Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
I love to teach this piece with it's melancholy modulations. Here is a youtube recording of it. The notes include a nice bio of Chopin. Then, there's this Jimmy Page plays Chopin recording. I'm sure Mrs. Napier would think it a travesty!

Prayer of the Matador Norman Della Joio (1913-2008)
This piece was written in 1964 and published in a book called Lyrical pieces for the Young. All the pieces in the book are good--this one is my favorite. Here is a recording that includes links to other accessible piano pieces in the same mood. 

Snow in Spring a poem by Ellen Schwindt
This poem sprang from an April snowstorm that coated our large maple tree in white frosting. It was lovely, and it melted right away, revealing much more spring beneath the cold. As I write this, the trees outside are drooping with an April coating of ice. I trust that this spring, too, will reveal itself underneath--and soon. 

Snow in Spring

Red Maple buds burgeoning
grey branches
outlined by stark spring snow

I pledge allegiance to the spring
to life
to red, grey, and to bright white.
Skici (sketch) by Bohuslav Martinů
This piece is full of bright harmonies. The sun comes out when I play it. I can't find a youtube version of this--perhaps I'll have to make one.
Allegretto Domenico Zipoli(1688-1726)
This example of counterpoint never fails to please me. It's final chord, with it's major tonality, is meant as a hopeful glance toward summer. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Meditation on Spring

    The vernal equinox is past, and the days are beginning to get warmer. I've planted seeds in little containers and covered them with tents of plastic bags. I'm looking forward to the day I can get my hands dirty putting the plants into the ground outside. My effort, though, will not hurry or slow the progress of spring arriving around us.
    Last April I took the picture on my Music as Meditation card for this season. I was entranced by the beauty of the maple leaves as they emerged from the confinement of the winter bud. The form of the leaves, their perfection, and their ability to capture moisture as light drew me out into the woods many times last year. I expect that by the time the ground is bare again, I will wander through last summer's leaves taking more pictures.
    In the meantime, I've been sitting at the piano composing a short piece filled with complex patterns. I've enjoyed it both for its brevity and for its intricacy. I finished it the other day. The place from which the notes come offered finality instead of more notes. Now I just need to work them into fluency. I hope to share this piece with you all at Meditation on April 1. If not then, I will certainly play it on May 6.
    In this end-of-winter, not-yet spring time, I've also been writing music for a production of Shakespeare's Tempest that my daughter-in-law will be assistant directing this coming summer. My son will help the actors with the music. I have been as excited by this work as a toddler who has been given a big vat of mud to play in on a spring day. When I can carve out two or three hours, I get lost in the work and only find myself when the alarm rings to tell me to move on to some other task.
    The Tempest is full of reference to the world that was "new" to the Europeans of the 17th century. Think of Miranda's exclamation "Oh brave new world, that has such creatures in it." Shakespeare makes fun of his gullible fellow citizens by creating a man-fish named Caliban. Some scholars think that the name Caliban is an acronym for Cannibal. What's clear is that Shakespeare knew of travel accounts from "Brazil" and "Canada." He likely knew of Montaigne's essay Of Cannibals which recounts Montaigne's interaction with some Tupinamba people who had been "persuaded" to visit Europe.
    I spent some of my time playing in the mud vat of creation delving into what is known about the Tupinamba and their music. Several Europeans wrote down the music. Some Tupinamba still sing their music. They sing it while working toward the emancipation of their land. Here is a short documentary about contemporary Tupinamba people. Scholars don't quite agree, but it's possible that the Tupinamba gave the world the Maraca. I am incorporating Maracas into the music for the tempest. The Maraca was a sacred object to the Tupinamba. I'm hoping to get the actors to wear leg rattles as well.
      This is an image from Jean de Lerýs account of staying with the Tupinamba in 1557. The poses of the men are characteristic of their dancing postures. In his account de Lerý describes listening the the singing of the Tupinamba as a transcendant experience. I am so grateful that de Lery wrote down their music in a language accessible to me, even if I am not pleased with the result, these many centuries later, of colonization and extraction of resources.
       I mean to create a more detailed blog from what I've learned about this topic, so please stay posted. I will share what I know as I learn more. In the meantime, I hope you can join me for Music as Meditation on a first Sunday this spring.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

More Beethoven and new piano music at Music for Meditation on March 4 

Beethoven painted in 1815 by Joseph Willibrord 
Over the last few weeks I've continued to indulge my obsession with playing Beethoven, and engaging the help of my friends in pursuing this practice. At Music for Meditation on Sunday, March 4 at 5 PM at Christ Church in North Conway, listeners can enjoy the results of this playing. Chris Nourse and I will play Beethoven's sonata for violin and piano number 10. Amy Berrier and Chris will play a set of duets written by Beethoven for bassoon and oboe, but beautifully rendered on violin and viola. Amy and Ingrid Albee will share some lovely music by Peter Schickele—from his more serious frame of mind.

I'll also be sharing a fragment of a new piano piece I'm composing. Lately, it's been my practice to devote some of my music-making time each day to “asking the universe” for whatever comes next in the piece of music I'm composing. I find this to be a powerful way to tune in to the creative force that sends me music. I know that sounds pretty far out, but it is the clearest description I have for where the music comes from. I do not experience it as coming from me—I experience discovering it.  

Historically, I've been fascinated with the structure of music and the structure of other things—like sunflowers and broccoli florets. Since I was introduced to it in college by Casey Carter, I've loved thinking about the fibonacci series. This series was dreamt up by a 12th century mathematician named Leonardo Pissano who wrote about it in his book liber abbacci. In case you want to know more, you can study this diagram or listen to this entertaining TED talk  by Arthur Benjamin.

I've tried using the fibonacci series to structure compositions before. I've often been disappointed with the results as too intellectual to be comprehensible to the ear on a first hearing. Recently, though, I found myself writing something using lots of repeated patterns. I decided to try using the fibonacci numbers as a structural device again. This time, I'm enjoying the results. I'll be playing part of this new composition for solo piano called Differentiation. This piece is structured using the fibonacci series. However, there are elements of melody that break out of that mathematical structure and become more organic. These melodic elements might be thought of as designs that connect the rectangles with immediately comprehensible phrases.

I've long found that immersing myself in nature is a source of inspiration for me. But lately I've been unable to take my customary walks in the woods. I have found plenty of inspiration in this mathematical pattern. Perhaps looking into the mathematical realities that surround us works in the same way as going out to observe the lichen on the bark of trees, or the form of snowflakes. I hope my listeners will receive some of the same beauty that's evident to me when I'm lost in my process of discovery.  

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Beethoven's Reach
or why I am studying “The Moonlight Sonata” at last

Many years ago, when I was the darling of my piano teacher and a senior in high school, she suggested to me that my next piece might be Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata. Around that same time, I received a flyer in the mail for a set of piano literature designed for students and published at a student-friendly price—or so the advertisement said. Not having the best head for finance, I purchased the set. I remember unpacking it on my mother's pedestal oak table. Out came two volumes of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Mozart Sonatas, and Chopin preludes. The two volumes that caught my first attention, though, were those of the Beethoven piano sonatas. I went to the piano with them immediately.

Since then, whenever my mind and soul are frayed from too much sociability, work, or too many children's needs, my solace has been to spend an evening reading through Beethoven sonatas. I joked that I just wanted to read them the way one reads a novel—to see how it comes out. Since Beethoven's music is anything but predictable, this made some sense, but that's not really what drew me back to Beethoven again and again.

For years I attributed my fondness for the Beethoven sonatas to what I call “the church measures” in every one of them—those measures of inimitable harmonic perfection. As lovely as they were, though, I don't think that was why I kept returning to Beethoven. Sometimes I blamed the “inevitability” of each of Beethoven's runs. The notes in this descending figure or that ascending set of triplets are always exactly the right notes, though they don't follow predictable harmonic patterns.

Sometime after I started composing seriously, I came across an online course on composition that used the Beethoven Sonatas as examples. I would read a chapter of the course, look at the sonata score, and wind myself back to the piano to try out the truth of the author's rules of composition derived from Beethoven. I remember finding the course useful as I began the long process of gaining some small amount of control over the direction and form my compositions took.

Along the way, some of the slower bits crept their way into my repertoire. I could play the slow movement of the Pathetique, and of course, I learned the Adagio Sostenuto of Opus 27, number 2—the so-called “Moonlight” Sonata. My friend David Emerson, who was a welcoming voice on the other end of the phone and a willing collaborator when I first started making the way safe for music here in Conway, told me that he loved that piece. I don't know if I ever got to play it in his hearing, but I had the privilege of playing it at his funeral—and it will always afterward remind me of his bright soul.

So I supposed it was inevitable that I would finally decide to study all of “The Moonlight Sonata.” I dove in after my big summer projects were finished and found that I could at least play the notes at a slow pace. Now many months of study have gone by and I find that I can play the whole sonata, and communicate at least some of the interpretations I've gleaned from the dots and lines on the page.

When I got to the first A major piano section in the third movement I wondered what in the world Beethoven was doing throwing in that tinkly little theme. But as I studied the music of this movement from the tumultous opening to this cute figure I began to appreciate the power of such stark contrasts. These contrasts constitute what I think is important about the whole sonata. The dark night of first movement, with it's funeral march figure, gives way to the innocent optimism of the second movement, with its lightness and ease. That ease in turn reverts to more tumult made from rising arpeggios wringing with anticipation and seasoned with a pining melody.

Every note is in the right place, and is held the right amount of time. Each chord resolves in precisely the right way to the one that follows. I admire that thoroughgoing musical logic, the perfect harmony, and the poignant melody. The perfection of the whole does not explain the power of the music, however. That is the mystery of Beethoven's gifts to us.

For many years now, I've spent a large part of the time I have at the piano on composition. The allure of this activity is for me as mysterious as my affinity for Beethoven's music. Even though piano is my first and most beloved instrument, one of the paradoxes of my composing journey is that I've always been intimidated by writing solo piano music. I wrote a few pieces some years ago and think of them as student pieces, although one is more complicated than that, actually. I put piano parts in much of my chamber music. But the complexity engendered by 10 fingers times 88 notes, played in so many articulations and combinations, put me off the idea of writing piano music for a long time, not to mention the difficulty of writing all that on only two staves. Somehow, though, while I was engaged in the study of Beethoven's most famous sonata, I found myself composing piano music.

With trepidation, I began to structure the music I was improvising into my Sonata in the Old Style. While I was never consciously quoting Beethoven's music, my sonata looks backward to the music I've been swimming through for years. I spent several months with two movements of this sonata, coaxing it into a classical form as much as it would go. On Christmas Eve, I played my sonata—the two movements of it that existed that day—and let my fingers wander over the keys in a conscious attempt to listen to what might come next. Out spilled a pastorale filled with overlapped resonances. It is quite different from the other movements, and it is comes from them in some way, but takes into account other voices, I hope.

Beethoven did not spring into existence from nothing. He made his way to Parnassus in the usual fashion with teachers and textbooks. One of his teachers was Joseph Haydn—and that should surprise no one who has played Beethoven's more accessible piano works. Maisie Brown shares the gem that is Fur Elise. The middle section of that piece reads a great deal like many Haydn sonatas—but it includes a fiery section that is all Beethoven.

Haydn's D major piano sonata shows off the roots of Beethoven's beginnings very well. There are vibrant passages that resolve to satisfyingly incomplete minor chords. There is a lovely poignant melody worked out in ever-increasing complexity. In the final movement there is a coda that begins with a dramatic chord. It's easy to see that Beethoven wasn't inventing from nothing—he was innovating from a great height.

Beethoven's music seems to resonate for everyone. It has held the attention of musicians and listeners for centuries including Dmitri Shostakovich. The last piece Shostakovich wrote before he died was his Viola Sonata. This piece clearly quotes “The Moonlight Sonata.” It makes new music of it, and ends with a profound return to the simplest of musical relationships. Julia Howell helps me share the final movement of this sonata. As Julia put it “the ghost of Beethoven appears, and then you die.”

I will perform this music at several upcoming concerts. I'll play a Music as Meditation that includes this music on Tuesday, January 30th at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Eastern Slope in Tamworth, New Hampshire at 6:30 PM. Admission to that concert is free. Donations to offset the Fellowship's expenses for heating and piano upkeep will be collected.

Another performance will take place on Saturday, February 3 at Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany. The concert is titled “Beethoven's Reach” and is presented by Mountain Top Music Center. Tickets cost $25 and proceeds go toward furthering Mountain Top's mission of enriching lives through music. The Concert starts at 7:30 PM. Tickets may be purchased online at mountaintopmusic.org or by calling 603-447-4737.  

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Program from Music for Meditation of November 5, 2017

Music as Meditation ~ November 5, 2017
Kindness a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye
Evie's Melody Ellen Schwindt
Home from Hagerstown Waltz Ellen Schwindt
Poor Wayfaring Stranger traditional
Turning Back a poem by Lao Tzu, rendered by Ursula K. LeGuin
Turning Back tune from the Cantata Tao and Te Ellen Schwindt
Lillehammer Waltz Jonathan Jensen
Velvet Tear Chip Davis
Adagio excerpt from a forthcoming piano sonata Ellen Schwindt
Bagatelle in E flat major Ludwig van Beethoven
Andante Semplice excerpt from a forthcoming piano sonata Ellen Schwindt
Bagatelle in c minor Ellen Schwindt

This Music as Meditation is dedicated to a young woman I know who is facing a cancer diagnosis with grace and optimism. I met her when she was a teacher at our area's Head Start. I visited the classroom once a week to sing songs and play music games with the children. I watched her guide the children, many of whom needed extra attention, with patience and love. I appreciated her shining spirit then. When I heard about her cancer diagnosis, I wanted to do something to help her through. This performance is meant as some kind of comfort. I have placed a basket at the back of the church to collect donations for Jen's Friends—an organization that is helping her and others in our community who are facing cancer. You can find more information about this group at www.jensfriends.org.
As I was gathering music for today's event, I was focused on finding simple tunes that would act in contrast to some of the more complex piano music I was planning to play. When I saw the tunes written in my scrawling hand-writing on a long piece of paper, I realized that many of the pieces were arranged or composed with other people in mind. Evie's Melody was written for a baby who was baptized At Christ Church in the fall of 2017. I arranged Poor Wayfaring Stranger for my friend Peter with whom I played folk music for a long while. Turning Back comes from a cantata I composed on poems of Lao Tzu as a graduation gift to my son. I transcribed and then arranged Lillehammer Waltz for my husband Bill because he loves the tune. Home from Hagerstown Waltz I wrote for Bill, or maybe because of Bill, before he was my husband.
The benefit of composing for others, though I am certain it exists for me, is also completely mysterious to me. Making a piece of music for someone is a strange kind of gift—one that feeds me as much, or rather more, than it helps the intended recipient. I do trust that it also helps the recipients. Evie's parents were quite appreciative and I know my husband likes it when I practice one of his favorite tunes. I hope today's music, dedicated as it is to my young friend, gives her, and all of us, some sense of comfort “while traveling through this world of woe.”

Music as Meditation is meant to be a healing experience for all of us. You may learn more about this event and my other music endeavors by finding me on facebook, at ellenschwindt@blogspot.com or by e-mailing me at ellen.m.schwindt@gmail.com.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Music as Meditation 
with a concern for healing

     My experience of Music as Meditation is one of nourishment and healing. I hope that others find it so as well. Last August while traveling I learned that a young woman I know faced a cancer diagnosis. She is undergoing a rigorous treatment designed to save her life. This treatment will make her sick in the short term. I learned of her misfortune because a team of people came together to offer their support--and no wonder--she is a generous person with a beautiful and open spirit. I know her from her work at an area pre-school where I watched her teach needy young children with patience and love. This month's Music as Meditation is offered with an explicit concern for her healing--and for the healing of all of us. I trust that our concern for her health while we are engaged in the practice of playing and listening to music may bring her some comfort--if only because she knows we wish her well. I will make a collection basket available in case you want to give a monetary contribution to Jen's Friends--the local organization who is helping this young woman and others faced with cancer. 
     As an antidote to the troubles life is throwing at all of us, I have been playing Beethoven. That composer certainly faced his share of calamity: he had an overbearing father and he knew that one day he would be unable to hear the music he created. I'll play two Beethoven Bagatelles. In response to my intense study of Beethoven's C sharp minor piano sonata (called the "moonlight" sonata) I am composing one of my own. I will share some excerpts from this new sonata on Sunday. I'll play some violin or viola as well--as those particular resonances offer me healing every time I draw the bow across the strings. I hope many of you can join me in this Music as Meditation. If you cannot attend but you would like to make a contribution to Jen's Friends, here is a link.