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They Came to Play.

On Sunday morning, November 8th,  UCSB dorm residents and members of the Isla Vista community were treated to a remarkable concert.  Carillon students from UC Berkeley visited Storke Tower and played a recital program that sent the peal of carillon bells for miles in every direction.


There are two ways to listen to a carillon concert.  Up close, and not so close.  If you are, by some extreme of luck, able to go inside the tower, you will hear the machinations of the carillon as well as the music of the bells.  It reminds me of the ballet.  When you are on the stage, you hear the thunks, cluncks, and slides of 100 (or more) pounds of dancer hitting the floor again and again.  But if you are across the orchestra pit, a mere 50 or 100 feet away, you only hear the strings, the woodwinds, the brass, the percussion. In the tower, things can be noisy because the musician is banging  his or her fists on wood and although the chime of each individual bell spreads out as it leaves the tower, while inside the tower, the bells are loud and the echos are powerful.

UCSB’s Storke Tower sits in a lovely plaza with a reflecting pond.  There are wide stairs into the plaza, which is lower than the surrounding grounds, and on Sunday, there were several people lounging about on the stairs enjoying the concert and the day, which was perfect for bells. I listened from a cozy UCEN nook. Outside the plaza, and off campus, my roommates were also enjoying the concert.  The most wonderful thing about that heaviest of all musical instruments, is that you don’t go to the concert, the concert comes to you.

The four UC Berkeley musicians, Leslie Chan, Kunal Marwaha, Anders Lewis, and Felix Hu played a variety of selections, including my favorite, Londonderry Air, arranged by Sally Slade Warner.  I wasn’t able to record it, so the link is Stacey Yang playing similar version on the University of Sydney War Memorial Carillon. In fact, I found an unexpected number of carillon videos, and although I have midterms coming up I found time to watch more than a few.  My favorite was Jeff Le (class of 2008) playing the Harry Potter theme at the University of Rochester Hopeman Memorial Carillon.

I’m now more than a little interested in trying my hand at the carillon.  I haven’t had the good fortune of going up Storke Tower for a tour — every time my email tells me that a tour is offered, I’m too late to reserve a slot.  And of course, if you follow my posts here, you know I’m all about the post-concert reception cookies.  When you are at home and the carillon concert comes to you, you have to bake them yourself!

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Hey Buddy, Got a Spare Violin?

It is estimated that Antonio Stradivari’s workshop produced about 1100 instruments during his lifetime, including more than 500 violins known to continue to exist today. There are lists of these instruments and a multitude of websites that recount interesting stories of “Strads” that have been lost or stolen, and sometimes recovered under the most interesting of circumstances. The aura and mystique of such world class violins has driven their prices high into the stratosphere.

Even the more mundane violins can be incredibly expensive. The good news is that most people will never need to spend more than about two thousand dollars on their instruments. Yes, that’s a lot of money. But compared with years of lessons at fifty to seventy-five dollars a week or more, summer camps, orchestra fees, performance wear, strings and music, and transportation, it’s nothing. But the violinist who chooses to become a professional career musician needs a much more expensive instrument, one that can cost as much as a car, or even a new home.

There is an additional expense to the professional violinist that few consider, something called opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is the cost of choosing not to do something. Consider that a professional violinist spends as much or more time learning their craft as does an engineer. Upon graduation from the university, the engineer will be quickly absorbed into a waiting job market that promises a six figure annual salary within a few short years, while the violinist may unsuccessfully audition for months, finally landing an unpaid seat in a community orchestra. The opportunity cost of choosing a career in music over a career in engineering might realistically be seventy-five thousand dollars a year. This means that the career violinist will more than likely never generate enough income to purchase his or her professional quality violin outright, and this creates the niche that instrument lending foundations have stepped in to fill.

Instrument lending is not a new idea.  Many fine conservatories and universities have built collections that provide instruments that can be borrowed by students, usually for the cost of insuring and maintaining the instrument.  But what happens after graduation? The student often must immediately return the instrument to the university and find something else to play. There are a number of foundations that accept donated or loaned instruments from the weathy. In return the donor receives tax benefits and other consideration, such as quarterly private concerts in his or her home. I’ve listed some of the foundations here, and I will write more about them later.

The Doublestop Foundation

Rachel Elizabeth Barton Pine Foundation

The Maestro Foundation

The Virtu Foundation

The Amati Foundation

The Stradivarious Society

It’s incredibly exciting to me to learn about all of the wonderful old instruments that are available to world class musicians, and I am always curious about the matching of the virtuoso to an instrument. Violin selection has been such a personal experience for me, and I am just stepping out of the budget range — imagine what it would be like to be able to select, care for, and play a violin that was centuries old!

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The Four “C”s of a Violin Diet

When I was four, my parents took me to a concert at The Mirman School, a L.A. area school for highly gifted students. All of the children play an instrument, and the concert included a reception with free cookies. We’d been talking about my starting music lessons, and now it was time to see real instruments up close and in action. It was a great show, although I can’t remember anything they played. But the chocolate-chip cookies were really good. So while I was still on a sugar high, my parents asked me to choose an instrument to play. Well, the obvious choice was the violin. Violinists sit in front. Do I need to write that louder? VIOLINISTS SIT IN THE FRONT. Of course there weren’t a lot of violinists there, so they all sat in the front. And they were closest to the cookies, which were laid out on a table in the same room. And the cookies were really good. If you know me, you know I pretty much work free for cookies and candy. The four ‘C’s of a violin diet: Cake, Candy, Coke, Cookies.

I never ended up at The Mirman School, which is probably good, because I see that their music program has been pretty much gutted, except for vocals. At least it seems to be — the web site has been gutted as well. I did, however, end up as a 5-year-old violinist due to my brief encounter with their program.

That’s my tragic story, and I am sticking with it.

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The Amazing Sarah Chang

Sarah and Sara

Sarah and Sara


Sarah Chang and I have a lot in common. We both play the violin, we have the same name, we both started playing the violin when were really little, and we once stood together in the same place at the same time long enough to have a picture taken. We even share a love of our stuffed animals and sushi. But that’s where the similarity ends. Sarah is a superstar, and I am a student. Or as the New York Times would put it:

“Her gifts are at a level so removed from the rest of us that all we can do is feel the appropriate awe and then wonder on the mysteries of nature. The ancients would certainly have had Ms. Chang emerging fully formed from some Botticellian scallop shell.”

The next time I see Sarah, I am going to ask her how much of her talent was a “gift” exactly, and how much was just plain old hard work. When I was a little girl, I played the violin, but I also spent hours creating Sculpey™ animals and playing store in my back-yard play structure (I sold my mom’s herbs and flowers to her). I went to pre-school, and took classes in magic, ballet, karate, and forensic science. I only practiced on my 1/10 violin for about fifteen minutes a day, but I told my mom I’d practiced for an hour. When Sarah was a kid, she was practicing for four hours a everyday, and playing the violin well enough to attract the attentions of Dorothy DeLay. I wonder if she was really practicing for eight hours, and telling her mom it was only four.

On Sarah’s website, she posts an article with an adorable picture of herself at the age of twelve or so. According to the article, four years earlier at EIGHT years old, she was asked by Zubin Mehta to fill in for a cancellation at the New York Philharmonic. She played Paganini. At eighteen, I can almost play Paganini well enough that people don’t trample each other running for the exits.

While I really enjoy hearing Sarah play, I appreciate her kindness and generosity even more. Earlier this year, I was able to attend a benefit for Danielle Belen’s Center Stage Strings summer program where Sarah performed as the guest artist. She seemed genuinely happy to be playing with all the young musicians and spent a lot of time taking pictures after the concert with anybody who asked. And did I mention the cute pink gown she wore?

Benefits are really important, because there are many kids like me out there with college tuition and retired parents. We can either work or practice, and we need to practice or we’ll never work. Kind of a Catch-22! When new musicians perform there are a lot of expenses, and usually zero pay. We need transportation, concert wear, and a place to stay. We need long hours of private lessons, and have to find money for summer camps and festivals. We often pay for concert tickets so we will know what is happening in our chosen field, although fortunately, many performers generously offer their extra tickets to music students. Applying to several conservatories or universities is expensive, too. We have to travel to our auditions. The elephant in the room that most people don’t ever see is the cost of a violin, which can equal a year of university tuition or more. For the best of students, there are schools and other organizations that lend fine violins from their private collections. For the rest of us, it’s catch as catch can.

I’m hoping to see more of Sarah Chang, but she seems to be playing fewer concerts these days than she has in the past, and I know it’s not for want of opportunity. Life on the road must be incredibly demanding, and burn-out is a very real thing. I secretly hope she is taking a well-earned break, resting and taking care of herself, but a quick check of twitter tells me that she’s busier than ever, and has the cutest dog on Earth.

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The Carbonara Quartet

Carbonara Quartet

About The Carbonara Quartet

(This content is taken from my  Carbonara Quartet website)

The Carbonara Quartet was formed in early 2011 by (me) Sara Bashore, a violin student playing with the Ed & Mari Edelman Chamber Music Institute, part of the Colburn School of Performing Arts. In the beginning our name was a joke; we four were hungry and Spagetti alla Carbonara was on the Colburn Cafe menu. When we met with our coach for rehearsal, he immediately vetoed the name. He told us that chamber names should be a tribute to an artist or even a romantic location, but never food.

I really liked the name, though, and decided to check Wikipedia. I found that there actually was a famous modern composer named Gerard Carbonara. After locating and listening to some of his compositions, I was sold. He was an amazing artist who gave us two generations of award-winning, galloping good music. Although he passed away in 1959, I’m honored to take his name, and am committed to keeping the quartet alive.

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Bring on the Halloween Music!

Danse_macabre_by_Michael_Wolgemut  The Dance of Death

Hartmann Schedel was a cartographer who fell in love with the printing press and was one of the first authors to integrate text and illustration.  With his Nuremberg Chronicle (Liber Chronicarum), he introduces Michael Wolgemut’s 1493 Danse Macabre (Dance of Death).  The woodcut is just a tad off-beat by even contemporary standards.   But, as it would turn out, a healthy dose of irony and reflection was appreciated in the Renaissance and re-awoke nicely in the Romantic period. Listen to the Danse Macabre!

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Amadéus Leopold, Stylin’


So I was daydreaming and cruising the web and I found this 2006 set of forum postings asking readers to compare Joshua Bell, Itzhak Perlman and Jascha Heifetz.  While I’m Joshua Bell’s number one fan, I can see why some random forum poster might say he’s “cheesy”.  And I know that Perlman might be more “schmaltzy” than some. Even “too fast” Heifetz can be “overpowering” according to those conversing.  So I have to wonder what these armchair critics think of Amadéus Leopold.

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