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#2075897 - 05/02/13 01:13 PM about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent
music32 Offline
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Registered: 01/07/07
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Loc: Berkeley, California
I was pondering this as I found you tubes of Grieg, Bartok and Gershwin playing their own music.

http://arioso7.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/...mposers-intent/
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#2076049 - 05/02/13 04:59 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: music32]
hujidong Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/30/13
Posts: 64
Loc: Hawaii
I like this thread!!!
I have a silly thought: if musical phrases and themes are ideas, then are pieces inventions? I'm not talking about Bach inventions, but the process of idea turning into invention. So if you'd be willing to follow this little road we're talking, composers become inventors! And pieces become awesome gadgets that we can tinker with to our own enjoyment. Although program music seems to mess with this thought, isn't program music just art based on art? And how many ways are there to paint a tree?

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#2076167 - 05/02/13 08:54 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: hujidong]
Polyphonist Online   content
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/03/13
Posts: 7516
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: hujidong

..are pieces inventions?

Of course! grin
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Polyphonist

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#2076382 - 05/03/13 01:39 AM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: music32]
hujidong Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/30/13
Posts: 64
Loc: Hawaii
I think I mentioned something earlier about not taking little tunes out of context from a work.

Anyway you're from ny and you own a piano. Make some recordings you selfish bum.

Glad you agree though

smile

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#2076384 - 05/03/13 01:44 AM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: music32]
cefinow Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/27/10
Posts: 355
Loc: Western NC (US)
Composers have the liberty to vary their own pieces. Last year I was learning "Golliwog's Cakewalk" and found a Youtube recording of Debussy playing it. Teacher listened and said that at one point, Debussy was not following his own directions as written on the score, and that I shouldn't take that recording as a guide (at least not at that spot). I don't generally do that anyway (take recordings as guides) but I was amused at her mock displeasure with Debussy setting a bad example. There seem to be two pieces that a composer creates: the "official" one that's published, and the personal one that the composer can continue to do with as he pleases. The rest of us don't have access to that second piece. laugh

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#2076388 - 05/03/13 02:11 AM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: cefinow]
JoelW Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 4762
Loc: USA
Rant warning:

This is a huge, HUGE problem in my opinion. A lot of people take the score as gospel. Crescendo here, diminuendo here, etc. because the score says so. It just doesn't work. Even when every part of the score is taken into account, quite often the performance will still wind up being utterly boring. I think this kind of mentality is the primary source of musical banality in the classical world. Music shouldn't be premeditated in such a way. It should be spontaneous and organic. Even the composers themselves almost blatantly ignored their own scores at times. At least Debussy did.. we know that for a fact. Doesn't that tell you anything? Look, I'm not advocating rebellion against the score. All I'm saying is that music should be, like I said, spontaneous and organic. Playing an exact, literal reading of the score without plugging in your own ideas will never provide this, because then it just becomes dictation. Music doesn't belong in such shackles.


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#2076494 - 05/03/13 08:41 AM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: music32]
Nikolas Offline
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Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5223
Loc: Europe
The score is (on purpose) a non direct way and definitely a non specific way of notating music, for performance purposes! You get around 9 dynamic ranges (from ppp to fff) some tempo markings (Grave to Prestissimo), legato, staccato, duration and pitches. And in return you get something that include rubato and the performers' personality!

I enjoy that, as a composer. And as I've said elsewhere and got into a tiny bit of an argument I think that most (<- ok?) composers do a poor job performing their scores, because they actually cannot get out from what they've got in their heads!

If I wanted to give EXACT instructions to the performers, I'd turn the score into a midi file and work my way from there. In fact if I wanted the PERFECT performance I could, very well do that with a midi, where I've got all the control I need! But, alas, it never ends up like that: Because a performance SHOULD be personal and SHOULD be biased and influenced by all sorts of things and is ALWAYS imperfect (take that Glenn! grin).

______________________

As someone who's teaching composition, one of my main tools is to help the students analyse works. Works by dead composers most of the time. And most frequently we come to the point where we start to assume the reasons behind a note, a movement, a triplet, or whatever. And the blunt truth is that we do NOT know the reasons behind anything, let alone the intentions of a composer! We can only assume certain things and with great scholarship reach a decision that is probably 51% right (number is mine and just shows the idea that it's more probably correct than wrong, ok?).

And this is diving the classical world into some further darkness. Take for example me and my simplistic works that seem to be doing well. Apart from one person in the forums (thanks Chris) who has asked me a few questions, noted a wrong note (G# instead of G) and was curious about some other things, nobody else asked me anything. Not for the score, not for the music, not for the whys and hows and whens and whatevers... niente... Which is certainly not disappointing and I'm not complaining, but it is a bit strange, given that I'm kinda like an open book, plus rather vocal I think...

And the same goes for all other composers in EMF and their works. Nobody (Except one case) has reached back to check on something, or ask something about the work, or the composer.

If I'm gone, or any of the composers are gone, you certainly won't be getting any answers from us, so hurry up! grin
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#2076507 - 05/03/13 08:58 AM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: music32]
debrucey Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/18/06
Posts: 2600
Loc: Manchester, UK
Surely the precise nature of the end result is less important than whether or not you have engaged with the music in a thoughtful way and made intelligent decisions about how to approach it.


Edited by debrucey (05/03/13 08:59 AM)

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#2076592 - 05/03/13 11:11 AM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: JoelW]
BruceD Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 17845
Loc: Victoria, BC
Originally Posted By: JoelW
Rant warning:[...] A lot of people take the score as gospel. Crescendo here, diminuendo here, etc. because the score says so. It just doesn't work.[...]I'm not advocating rebellion against the score. All I'm saying is that music should be, like I said, spontaneous and organic.[...]


Perhaps you could modify your rant to the extent that what you mean becomes clearer. First, you suggest not to follow the score because doing so "just doesn't work." Then, you say you are "not advocating rebellion against the score."

So, because Debussy - in one isolated example - didn't follow the score indications that he had written (and we don't know in what way he didn't follow the score) we should just ignore the dynamics and play what we feel?

I think most of us might have some idea of what you mean, but you do seem to contradict yourself by 1) advocating not rebelling against the score and 2) by saying that following the indications in the score just doesn't work.

If I were to follow that advice, literally, I'd play Clair de Lune ff because "that moon sure is bright, tonight and that's how I feel I can show that."

Regards,
_________________________
BruceD
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#2076611 - 05/03/13 11:51 AM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: music32]
Goomer Piles Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/14/13
Posts: 122
I think it's nice to want to honor and realize the composer's intent, and the score is a template for that purpose (i.e., a means to that end). But there's no single way of doing that, and many of the directions in music notation are relative rather than absolute in meaning. It's natural then that every single performance of the same work, even when performed by the same musician(s), is unique.

A 'sensitive' performance is, to me, one that is in touch with what the composer is communicating in the music. The score is naturally the vehicle or the medium for that and it tells you everything you need to know, but I don't think there's a need to be obsessive or overanalytical.

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#2076625 - 05/03/13 12:12 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: JoelW]
pianoloverus Online   content
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Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19230
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: JoelW
Rant warning:

This is a huge, HUGE problem in my opinion. A lot of people take the score as gospel. Crescendo here, diminuendo here, etc. because the score says so. It just doesn't work. Even when every part of the score is taken into account, quite often the performance will still wind up being utterly boring. I think this kind of mentality is the primary source of musical banality in the classical world. Music shouldn't be premeditated in such a way. It should be spontaneous and organic. Even the composers themselves almost blatantly ignored their own scores at times. At least Debussy did.. we know that for a fact. Doesn't that tell you anything? Look, I'm not advocating rebellion against the score. All I'm saying is that music should be, like I said, spontaneous and organic. Playing an exact, literal reading of the score without plugging in your own ideas will never provide this, because then it just becomes dictation. Music doesn't belong in such shackles.
I think most of the greatest pianists, at least in the last say 75 years, follow the scores' indications most of the time. Even if one follows every indication there is still much one can include that makes each interpretation personal. If one follows every indication in the score and the performance is boring this doesn't mean that the reason it was boring is that one followed the score.

Here are 10 pianists playing just the first few measures of Beethoven's PC #4. My guess is that most of them follow the score reasonably or very closely but they all sound different:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZGiGMCiB3k


Edited by pianoloverus (05/03/13 12:28 PM)

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#2076643 - 05/03/13 01:00 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: music32]
mermilylumpkin Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/08/13
Posts: 121
I think editorial indications on dynamics, tempo and slurs etc. are by definition limited since there are only, what, 9(?) different possible dynamic indications whereas there is just a near infinite amount of nuance in dynamics, tonality and rising-and-falling motion that a capable pianist can produce. So the dynamic and editorial markings can never tell the whole story.

What they can do, though, is suggest a musical idea and give an outline of the general character of the piece at various spots. I really disagree that it is "boring" to follow the written editorial marks. What would be boring would be to think that the editorial marks was the beginning and the end of interpretation, which I think it's not. There's a whole world of nuance that can exist within that.

Also, sadly perhaps, I think a very many of the great pianists weren't so "spontaneous and organic" as we might suppose. When you read interviews and books, you get the sense (or I do anyway) that there was a great degree of intentionality and deliberate thought toward the tiniest details of each piece. Which I actually think is wonderful.

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#2076648 - 05/03/13 01:03 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: music32]
Organist Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 03/18/13
Posts: 4
Loc: United Kingdom
No-one's a mind-reader...

Use your imagination; it would be boring if everyone only played the "composer's intent."


Edited by Organist (05/03/13 01:15 PM)
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#2076662 - 05/03/13 01:20 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: music32]
Goomer Piles Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/14/13
Posts: 122
I find it confusing to call the words and symbols that indicate dynamics, accents, tempo, etc. 'editorial' marks or indications. Sometimes they're by the composer, and sometimes they are, literally, by an editor instead.

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#2076663 - 05/03/13 01:21 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: music32]
Kuanpiano Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/06/10
Posts: 2119
Loc: Canada
Respecting the score doesn't cause boring performances - boring performances are the result of poor musicianship..
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#2076666 - 05/03/13 01:27 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: music32]
Thracozaag Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/06/04
Posts: 1979
Loc: Salt Lake City
"The composers want performers to be imaginative, in the direction of their thinking--not just robots, who execute an order."
--George Szell

Was re-reading the Szigeti biography, and came across this; glad to see it's in Hank Drake's signature! All the more telling that it's coming from Szell, someone of impeccable integrity, but who also was wrongly characterized (along with Toscanini) by uneducated critics as a literalist score-worshiper.
_________________________
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https://www.giftedmusicschool.org/

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#2076667 - 05/03/13 01:28 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: music32]
bennevis Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 4853
I periodically dig out my old scores - piano pieces that I wrote when I was young, and fancied myself being the next Korngold wink - to play through, to see if they'd be better off in the bonfire.

Almost always, I decided that they would sound better if dynamics were changed, the metronome markings that I meticulously noted down discarded, more rubato applied, even tempi changes within the pieces. Of course I have the composer's prerogative - it's my own music, and I can bl**dy well do what I like with it grin.

Maybe real composers playing their own music also think the same?

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#2076668 - 05/03/13 01:29 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: music32]
Thracozaag Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/06/04
Posts: 1979
Loc: Salt Lake City
You mean composers were *gasp* human beings with emotions and actually were creative enough to change their minds? Say it ain't so!
_________________________
"I'm a concert pianist--that's a pretentious way of saying I'm unemployed at the moment."--Oscar Levant

http://www.youtube.com/kojiattwood
https://www.giftedmusicschool.org/

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#2076693 - 05/03/13 02:30 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: music32]
Vid Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/12/01
Posts: 808
Loc: Vancouver, B.C.
Throw into the mix the fact that 90% of the music we perform today were written for instruments that were considerably different (and less homogenous) in the composer's day. Its quite possible what a composer indicated in the score would be an effect, dynamic or tempo that suited the instrument(s) they were accustomed to but which is much more difficult to achieve on a modern piano.

I think how we interpret their works now could be radically different to how they were in the past. Just a thought.
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#2076714 - 05/03/13 02:58 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: Goomer Piles]
mermilylumpkin Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/08/13
Posts: 121
Originally Posted By: Goomer Piles
I find it confusing to call the words and symbols that indicate dynamics, accents, tempo, etc. 'editorial' marks or indications. Sometimes they're by the composer, and sometimes they are, literally, by an editor instead.


I was trying to use shorthand because it's a bit tedious to type out dynamics, accents, tempo and slurs. Is there a better term for these things, collectively? No offense but it doesn't seem all that confusing as we had been talking about composer's intention the whole time, as opposed to editor's. (Right..?)

Anyway, I guess I meant editorial in the sense that one edits one's own work to clarify musical intention. But it's really just word choice and not something that needs to be belabored unless you really want to. In which case feel free to whip out the OED and set me straight. I find tedium about grammar and usage a bit anal myself, but that's just one woman's feeling about it.

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#2076717 - 05/03/13 03:00 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: bennevis]
mermilylumpkin Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/08/13
Posts: 121
Originally Posted By: bennevis
I periodically dig out my old scores - piano pieces that I wrote when I was young, and fancied myself being the next Korngold wink - to play through, to see if they'd be better off in the bonfire.

Almost always, I decided that they would sound better if dynamics were changed, the metronome markings that I meticulously noted down discarded, more rubato applied, even tempi changes within the pieces. Of course I have the composer's prerogative - it's my own music, and I can bl**dy well do what I like with it grin.

Maybe real composers playing their own music also think the same?


Definitely! I have this same process whenever I am revisiting some writing I did a long time ago. Maybe it's just part of the nature of creating something.

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#2076724 - 05/03/13 03:30 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: mermilylumpkin]
Goomer Piles Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/14/13
Posts: 122
Originally Posted By: mermilylumpkin
Originally Posted By: Goomer Piles
I find it confusing to call the words and symbols that indicate dynamics, accents, tempo, etc. 'editorial' marks or indications. Sometimes they're by the composer, and sometimes they are, literally, by an editor instead.


I was trying to use shorthand because it's a bit tedious to type out dynamics, accents, tempo and slurs. Is there a better term for these things, collectively? No offense but it doesn't seem all that confusing as we had been talking about composer's intention the whole time, as opposed to editor's. (Right..?)

Anyway, I guess I meant editorial in the sense that one edits one's own work to clarify musical intention. But it's really just word choice and not something that needs to be belabored unless you really want to. In which case feel free to whip out the OED and set me straight. I find tedium about grammar and usage a bit anal myself, but that's just one woman's feeling about it.

You're right that we were talking about composers and not editors, but more often than not we cannot tell the difference unless the edition is specifically Urtext. I think that is a very important point, and very much worth pointing out. What's the point of talking about a composer's intent at all if it can't be distinguished from an editor's or we aren't mindful of the distinction?

I don't think there's anything tedious or 'anal' about grammar and usage, BTW. Precision and clarity are important in communication, which is after all the very purpose of language.

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#2076725 - 05/03/13 03:34 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: music32]
BruceD Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 17845
Loc: Victoria, BC
Given the various musings that have appeared in this thread, I think we mostly agree on several things :
- a written score is only an approximation of what the composer intended for the performance of a given work
- a written score, by its very nature, is only an approximation of what musicians do when interpreting it
- the common indicators of tempo and dynamics are, themselves, not only somewhat imprecise but each indicates a range within which there is some leeway
- composers were/are human! (What?!)

I might add, given that last astute observation, that any one performance by a composer of his own work may not necessarily be deemed definitive, and may well partly be the result of the inspiration or the circumstances of the moment.

Regards,
_________________________
BruceD
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Estonia 190

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#2076726 - 05/03/13 03:37 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: music32]
mermilylumpkin Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/08/13
Posts: 121
Again just difference of opinion :-) It's quite all right I think. Clarity and precision are very important to you. It's maybe not so nice to find little errors in other people's usage and go about pointing them out, but rather focus moreso on setting a fine example of clarity and precision in your own language. But no harm no foul. I guess you just get a bit of that on an internet forum typically, don't you?

Yes, maybe composer's intent sometimes cannot be distinguished from an editor's... That's worth thinking about. Sure.

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#2076731 - 05/03/13 03:45 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: mermilylumpkin]
Goomer Piles Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/14/13
Posts: 122
Originally Posted By: mermilylumpkin
Again just difference of opinion :-) It's quite all right I think. Clarity and precision are very important to you. It's maybe not so nice to find little errors in other people's usage and go about pointing them out, but rather focus moreso on setting a fine example of clarity and precision in your own language. But no harm no foul. I guess you just get a bit of that on an internet forum typically, don't you?

Yes, maybe composer's intent sometimes cannot be distinguished from an editor's... That's worth thinking about.

Your last paragraph is the point I was trying to make, and the only meaningful point here.

I don't know what you're going on about in your first paragraph, as no personal criticism was intended. You seem to have chosen to be offended, and one does get a bit of that on internet forums. Your 'no harm no foui' is contradicted by your perplexing choice of words and tone.


Edited by Goomer Piles (05/03/13 07:37 PM)

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#2076734 - 05/03/13 03:50 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: music32]
mermilylumpkin Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/08/13
Posts: 121
Oh, my. It sounds like we should stick to the point about the composer's intent/ editors! For sure. I'm not quite sure where it got nasty, but let's un-nasty it now, why don't we?

Anyway, BruceD, that was a very nice summation. Carry on!

Thanks, I actually appreciated the minor edit. We cool?


Edited by mermilylumpkin (05/03/13 10:05 PM)

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#2076743 - 05/03/13 04:12 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: JoelW]
cefinow Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/27/10
Posts: 355
Loc: Western NC (US)
Originally Posted By: JoelW

... Music doesn't belong in such shackles.



So, if we may not let the Muse be free,
She will be bound with garlands of her own.

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#2076860 - 05/03/13 08:51 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: BruceD]
Thracozaag Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/06/04
Posts: 1979
Loc: Salt Lake City
Originally Posted By: BruceD


I might add, given that last astute observation, that any one performance by a composer of his own work may not necessarily be deemed definitive, and may well partly be the result of the inspiration or the circumstances of the moment.



Very well stated.
_________________________
"I'm a concert pianist--that's a pretentious way of saying I'm unemployed at the moment."--Oscar Levant

http://www.youtube.com/kojiattwood
https://www.giftedmusicschool.org/

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#2076871 - 05/03/13 09:05 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: mermilylumpkin]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7767
Originally Posted By: mermilylumpkin


I was trying to use shorthand because it's a bit tedious to type out dynamics, accents, tempo and slurs. Is there a better term for these things, collectively?


Yes, there is. They are generally called "expression marks".

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#2076889 - 05/03/13 10:07 PM Re: about whether we can truly realize the composer's intent [Re: music32]
mermilylumpkin Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/08/13
Posts: 121
Yes! Thanks.

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