Music in the Family

It was on this day in 1913 that the French Academy of Fine Arts — for the first time in its history — presented its highest award, the Prix de Rome, to a woman.

That woman composer, Lili Boulanger, was just 19 years old at the time. Born in Paris in 1893, she was the younger sister of Nadia Boulanger, and far more gifted. Nevertheless, Nadia would become the most famous teacher of composition in the 20th century, numbering among her students an amazing array of famous American composers from Aaron Copland, Philip Glass and Elliot Carter who is still composing at 102.

Nadia’s sister Lili, however, suffered from poor health. Her tragically short career was interrupted by World War I, when she volunteered to nurse wounded soldiers. She died before the great conflict was over, on March 15, 1918, at the age of 24.

While Nadia, who never married composed music herself, she had played with genius as she grew up, and one would speculate, that led to her fecund nurturing of so many composers, a beacon of human cultivation for the ages.

The Bach family too, was famous for the competition among siblings and family in little musical games. This was the very play, initiating the idiom, “playing music”. Too often it is seen as work. Noted Montana composer and teacher Eric Funk played games with his gifted brothers. Why gifted? Was it because they played with music, as well as “played” music. They played together in the car, for example, the children saw music as game.  Singing second harmonies, or inverting the melody of the last line sung.    There are games where alertness breeds alertness.

Our culture seems to have not “time” for music in the play. Too concerned with matters of consequence to educate our children in music or art. Too concerned with performance, and the ‘canning’ and often sale of the creative relationship all can hear. This was certainly not the view of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in letter on June 8, 1778, in which he was dreaming of a farmers orchestra : “I retain among my domestic servants a gardener, a weaver, a cabinet-maker, and a stone-cutter, to which I would add a vigneron.     In a country where music is cultivated and practised by every class of
men, I suppose there might be found persons of those trades who could  perform on the French horn, clarinet, or hautboy, and bassoon so that  one might have a band . . . without enlarging their domestic expenses.”

This was a farmer looking to have culture at home. Today with the internet
we can simulate culture….. but the vitality of people playing live music together for fun has been thrown into the garage with the teenagers. Oh that we could have music played together, acoustic and un-amplified, so that culture could blossom,  as it did around young Lili Boulanger’s sister, Nadia.

Update on Ted Glick of yesterday’s post.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Frederick H. Weisberg on Tuesday sentenced Ted Glick, policy director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, to 30 days in jail but suspended the term. However, Weisberg ordered Glick to perform 40 hours of community service, pay $1,000 in fines, and serve one year of unsupervised probation. 7-7-2010. The threatened three year prison sentence in this case was the prosecutor’s shot across the bow.

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