Elaine Barkin and the importance of improvisation

February 14, 2006

Composer Elaine Barkin, since her retirement from UCLA, has taken on a new passion: Hubcap Art.

“Faygele” (2006) by Elaine Barkin.

Yes Elaine is still composing and travelling and writing, but the hubcap thing is very cool. Here is a portion of Elaine’s piece called “for my friends’ pleasure”:


Elaine Barkin

Elaine Barkin; photo by Roger Bourland.

I keep thinking that when I leave teaching (“retire”) I’ll take up oil painting. I’ve done it from time to time over my life, but abandoned it for the moment.

“Music is a jealous mistress”

Claude Debussy

Elaine and I have hours of recorded improvisations of just the two of us. We often did it on Sunday mornings. I’ll never forget the day that we played the organ studio. It’s a small reverberant organ studio with beautiful natural lighting, and a small Baroque organ. We brought along sound making devices of all kinds, and also “played the organ.” Well, we left the organ turned OFF, but played the casing, the keys, the pedals, the enclosures, we raped the thing with our fingers without having ever played a note. We would get in these gnat-like singing duos that would go on for a while. The Dionysian indulgence of pure improvisation can be cathartic: try it after dinner some night. Just tell everyone to shut up, the begin to play the things around you (gently — wine glasses are great with water), being sure to listen to everyone, play together, make music.

Elaine used to be a very strict 12-tone composer. Um, she doesn’t do that any longer. She has wildly eclectic tastes, and when she doesn’t like something, it’s “not my cup of tea.”

She has learned “Sibelius” (the music notation program, not the composer), and has been copying some of her early piano works. She’s played some of them for me, and they are gorgeous. I’ll be seeing her next week, so maybe I’ll hear the next set…

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