Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

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Now that you all know who Jackie Wilson is, I can tell you this story.

There are moments in time when you realize that things have changed in an irrevocable way, and you don’t know quite how to process it.  Some of these moments are good, some bad, some just are.  And you’re caught between what went before, and what will come after, but only briefly.  I used the exact word for it when describing the glories of Josquin:  equipoise.  Everything is in stasis before life goes on, as it always does, as it must.  But for a short time, there is a pause.

That’s where I was when I started writing a set of what can loosely be called variations, the Ice Variations.  One of my children had graduated from high school and would be going off to college.  I was very proud of their achievements, and very happy that their world would now become a broader place, even if farther away.  But it made me a little nostalgic for earlier days.  And it made me think of vignettes that were for me emblematic of motherhood.  And lacking words, I turned to music.

I took as a theme a piece of music that they had written long before, and started writing some “scenes from childhood” from my own perspective.

It was at that time that I received the unexpected news of the death of a friend, a fellow piano student.  She had suffered an injury, and somehow just gotten weaker and weaker, until there was no energy left to sustain her.  Her name was Ellen.  She was a sweet, soft-spoken woman, articulate, funny, and wise.  She was also a Jackie Wilson fan.

I wrote a variation called Impermanence, subtitled For Ellen.  It is a brief, simple, wistful expression of the realization that things change, and they will never be the same as they once were.  I took as an inspiration Jackie Wilson’s My Empty Arms.

Things change, time is insistent, the bell tolls, but good memories endure, and the sun will shine again.  And good memories and hope mean we must end on a major chord and hold onto it for as long as we can as we continue onward.

And now, Impermanence.



Just another MuseScore Monday

Today I want to tell you about MuseScore.  MuseScore is a music notation program, a way of generating sheet music.  It can turn my nearly illegible music manuscripts into crisp legible sheet music.  Here’s an after (I’ll spare you the before):


MuseScore is free.  It is well-documented.  There are even video tutorials available.  And it’s free.  They wouldn’t mind a donation though.  It’s available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

It’s a remarkably versatile program.  You can input notes from your computer keyboard or a MIDI keyboard.  You can include guitar tablature and drum notation.  You can produce scores for multiple instruments.  You can add all kinds of musical details (dynamics, repeats, key and time signatures) just by dragging and dropping them into the music.  And you can play back what you wrote.

You might be saying, “So what?  I don’t write my own music.”  Fair enough.  Here’s the cool part.  Whatever score anyone else makes available in this format can be seen and played on your computer.  There is a large community of people creating MuseScore documents for a wide range of instruments, from piano to viola to English horn to voice.

This includes the folks at MuseScore themselves.  They have made available the Open Goldberg Variations and Open Well Tempered Clavier.  The sheet music for these works by Bach is now available, free, to anyone who wants it (MuseScore format, PDF, MusicXML, MIDI, mp3).  They have also developed new score-following software that highlights each measure as its being played.  There are apps for iOS and Android so you can carry around your favorite scores and play them.

Got kids?  Turn them loose on MuseScore and let them create their own music.  If the little ones get heavily into the 32nd notes, it might sound like an 18-wheeler running over fire hoses, but who cares?  They’ll get a giggle out of it, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll create a sweet little tune.  If they come away with the idea that music = fun, all the better.  While you’re at it, try making some tunes yourself!

Ok, I know I’m being a fangirl, but here is another reason to love the folks at MuseScore.  The Open Goldberg Variations score has been made available in Braille.  MuseScore plans to continue its efforts to make more sheet music accessible in this format, and is developing software to convert music files into Braille.  They plan to offer this conversion service for free.

So visit the software site at and the music sharing and app site at (The Angry Birds Theme in Baroque Style? Pretty cool). And if you write and upload something nifty, let me know!