Sunday, December 30, 2007

Early Morning Conversations

Occasionally, while at grandparents' houses, Sam has slept in the room with us for one reason or another. And with Joy pregnant, she often likes to sleep in a recliner to help ease any pain in her back. As a result, I'm often to first to hear Sam wake up and take care of whatever needs he may have.

Friday morning, around 6:00, I was awoken by Sam struggling mightily in his bed. He was flopping back and forth in a prelude to wakefulness, so I lay still, hoping he would return to sleep.

His groggy little voice dashed that hope, but left me something to laugh about the rest of the day in exchange for a little lost sleep. Right before he spoke I heard two distinct "ppffffbbpptttt" sounds from the crib. They were quickly followed by three statements of waking up fact:

"I have gases."

"I have two gases."

I thought he was finished at that point and made to retrieve him from bed, but stalled long enough for Sam to deliver the most profound of his observations:

"I am full of gas."

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Handel's Messiah, the History, the Traditions, the Strangeness

It's Christmas night, which means that while the family is watching a movie, I'm sitting at the computer thinking about the iconic Christmas music, Handel's Messiah. I suppose I'm suffering the gift and the curse of being a musicologist.

I began thinking about Messiah because my father-in-law introduced me yesterday to Christopher Rouse's Karolju, a work he heard on the radio and thought I would find interesting. I did think the music had merit (though I'd like to hear the entire work) but it got me thinking about how hard it is to create new "classical" Christmas music. Handel and Tchaikovsky pretty much have the market cornered, and of the two works, Handel's gets the most play this time of year.

Handel’s greatest success certainly was Messiah. It was first produced in 1742, written when he was 56. The work was commissioned from the composer as a benefit for various Dublin charities, and so was premiered in Ireland.

On the face of it, you would never expect Messiah to be the work Handel is remembered for. It doesn't match up with most of his oratorios. First of all, unlike most of Handel's oratorios, it takes its text directly from the Bible. Because of that fidelity, it lacks any real plot in the traditional sense. It doesn’t really develop any drama, but instead is more detached and philosophical. It is a vast musical panorama of the life of Jesus broken into three parts - Old Testament prophecies, Christ's Birth, Christ's Crucifixion and Resurrection - although most often we only hear the first two parts at Christmas. In addition to the lack of plot to hook in an audience, the whole thing lasts about three hours.

Still, this oratorio, which took Handel only 23 days to write the first draft of the entire thing, is the single work that survived Handel's life. In fact, there is a long tradition that developed around it. In 1859, for example, there was a celebration in London commemorating the centenary of Handel’s death.Included a performance of the Messiah with 2,765 singers, 460 instrumentalists, playing to an audience of over 81,000.The kind of festival happened every year thereafter for more than 60 years, and the Messiah was always the centerpiece.This sort of thing still goes on every year to this day in cities around the world. I know that in Kansas City, they have a yearly Messiah sing-a-long, in which the general public is invited to bring its scores and “perform” the piece.

I can't think of another piece of "classical" music that has this kind of hold on the general imagination. The hold is so strong, that when you hear examples like this one, you immediately know what is wrong and why it is funny. And probably you have heard examples like that one in your own lifetime, as everyone has tried the Messiah out at some point in their lives.

Reflecting on the situation, I can't help but recall George Bernard Shaw's penetrating remarks on the work – “I have long since recognized the impossibility of obtaining justice for [Messiah] in a Christian country…. A mood of active intelligence would be scandalous.Thus we get broken in to the custom of singing Handel as if he meant nothing; and as it happens… he meant a good deal….Why, instead of wasting huge sums on the multitudinous dullness of a Handel Festival does not somebody set up a thoroughly rehearsed and exhaustively studied performance of the Messiah…with a chorus of twenty capable artists?Most of us would be glad to hear the work seriously performed once before we die.”

Monday, December 24, 2007

Day 4 of 100 Christmas Gifts

1. Contagious laughter
2. Hot Showers
3. Uninterrupted Sleep
4. Time to yourself
5. Getting what you need before you even know you need it
6. Christmas lights
7. The wonder of a child
8. Firemen who let you drive their fire trucks
9. Granddads who take you to see fire trucks
10. Nanas who play with you in the white van
11. Dickens's A Christmas Carol
12. Fellow journeyers who share their story
13. Holy Communion
14. The excitement of a child at Christmas
15. Watching a child at Christmas
16. Late afternoon naps
17. The smell of cornbread dressing cooking
18. The adventure of making chocolate covered cranberries
19. Candlelight Christmas Eve services
20. God's Radiant glory

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Day 3 of 100 Christmas Gifts

Day three of our Christmas gifts, a day of rest and reflection:

1. Sam exclaiming at lunch: "My juice makes music!"
2. Live nativities
3. A little bit of a nip in the air
4. Reunions with old friends
5. Sunday afternoon naps
6. Christmas music at church
7. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
8. Hot rolls after lunch
9. Cheesecake
10. Cherries in December
11. Families who love you enough to be interested in what interests you
12. Feeling the baby kick
13. Deep, open conversations about faith
14. Late afternoon sunlight
15. Being understood
16. Being heard
17. Answered prayers
18. An empty work e-mail inbox
19. The promise of being able to live life to the fullest

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Day 2 of 100 Christmas Gifts

Today Sam's regular mealtime prayer took on a slightly different form. Normally he prays, "Dear Jesus, Thank you for trucks and buses. Amen." We have to prompt him to think of other things he might be thankful for or to ask God to bless the food. However, today was different. Today's prayer before lunch went as follows: "Dear Jesus, Thank you for Nana and GrandDad and the dogs. Amen."

The dogs are Rinski and Tucker, Heather and Adam's two dogs, which Sam has been looking forward to seeing all week. In fact, when we arrived at Nana's house, he had to inquire as to where the dogs were. Today, they finally arrived with Heather and Adam. Of course, when they all got here, Sam didn't care that Aunt Heather and Uncle Adam had walked in the door, only the long awaited dogs, which immediately brought squeals of delight and uncontrolled giggles.

All this to say, I think the dogs would make the top of Sam's list of ways God has blessed him today. Here are the other ways we have seen the light of God in our lives of late.

1. Car transporters
2. Blue juice (otherwise known as some special frozen drink for kids from Chili's)
3. Barnes and Nobles with Nana
4. A satifying meal for a pregnant tummy from Chili's
5. Watching Sam's delight over drinking said "blue juice"
6. Unexplained hand swelling that is finally gone!
7. Singing Christmas carols around the piano as a family
8. Sisters
9. Memories of loved ones
10. 4D ultrasound pictures and video of a new niece
11. Finished work and time off for family
12. The grace to remember when to stop
13. Long car rides that give unexpected time one-on-one with family
14. Rain (instead of snow)
15. Toddler pronunciations of the phrase "yellow jello"
16. Sleeping in
17. Sleepy ramblings over the baby monitor
18. Catch Phrase with the family
19. Discussions of differing viewpoints where respect reigns
20. Health and healthy loved ones
21. And of course, the dogs.

Friday, December 21, 2007

One Hundred Christmas Gifts

Since we always travel home for the holidays, Joy and I have started a tradition of celebrating Christmas with our family the two days before we slide into the car and strike out on the road. This year, we decided to take Sam down to Union Station where every year they set up a large model train display. The trains set up are in G, S, and O scale, which meant for Sam, they were larger than any model train he had ever seen.





As you can see, Sam was enamored, especially when he discovered they had an entire section devoted to Thomas and his friends. He must have watched James and Thomas make the circuit for twenty minutes alone. There was also a train he could have ridden, but it was closed for the operators to run to lunch, so we had to content ourselves with watching the trains for over thirty minutes. Sam could have stayed there all day, which sounds a little impossible, until you realize just how large this display was. Here is about a fourth of the entire display:
This really was a bit of Christmas, or any day, heaven for Sam.

Finding this display was a bit of serendipity for us in that it helped solidify something Joy and I have been mulling over for a few weeks. In early December, we started our annual Christmas letter. With painting Sam's room and then our computer crashing (taking our Christmas contact list with it) we couldn't finish and get our Christmas cards out this year, but we had decided that we would share thoughts we had on trying to communicate to Sam the light and love of God that were sent to us in the birth of Christ.

One of the practices we've been practicing this year is from a blog on which Joy discovered the practice of counting “One Thousand Gifts”. The idea is to seek God in the ordinary, daily mess of our lives midst laundry and grading papers by simply pausing to see Him in the daily gifts He provides. But beyond that, the list of one thousand gifts is meant to inspire us to thank God (or simply to be thankful) for the gifts we have, rather than to spend this season making lists and then wondering why we didn't get everything we desired.

Truthfully, this is hard for us. Wanting makes us want more. We find ourselves too busy, too preoccupied, too scattered; but we were inspired and wanted to share the inspiration with you. Still, we wanted to start small, so here are our One Hundred Gifts of Christmas, twenty each day through Christmas (in no particular order, and from me, Joy, and Sam).

1. New step stools used to climb on beds
2. Handel's Messiah
3. Choo-choo trains at Union Station
4. Seeing our new baby on an ultrasound
5. Unexpected plates of cookies
6. Little boys who look up at you with big sleepy eyes and say, "can we snuggle?"
7. Buses and trucks of any shape, size, or color
8. Finished rooms painted deep blue
9. Packages with Christmas presents that ship faster than they should
10. Computers fixed by prayer because there is no other answer
11. Construction diggers
12. Playing piano with Sam sitting next to you, playing along and singing
13. Christmas lights in the shapes of trains
14. The warmth of the winter sun after a week of clouds, ice, and snow
15. Healing in the body of Christ
16. Birthday parties for Jesus with 2,3, and 4-year-olds
17. Snuggling on the couch under a warm blanket and watching a movie
18. Hearing Sam sing "Away in a Manger"
19. Unexpected Compliments
20. Uncontrollable laughter

So, there are our first twenty. This practice has been so grounding for us, we encourage you to join with us, either by posting some of your own in the comments over the next few days or by joining in on your own blog.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Big-Boy Room - The Painting Phase

In addition to our broken computer, painting Sam's room has kept me away from blogging. We decided with the coming of TK that we wanted to keep our nursery the way it is (we painted it a neutral green for that purpose two and a half years ago) and move Sam into the guest room. We bought the big-boy bed a few weeks ago and figured the next step was painting the room. Usually, painting would not be a big deal, but we were starting with the beige room:We call it the beige room because everything, I mean everything was beige - the ceiling, the trim, the walls, everything. And the beige must have been there for a while because the walls sucked up all paint we stuck on it and was a bit dirty looking. So first up, we had to paint the ceiling. To give you an idea of how beige the room was, here's the first coat on the ceiling:Then, because the paint on the walls was so old, we decided to prime the walls with a tinted primer. The color is what I delightfully call the blue pepto bismol would be if it decided to be blue:Then we got to the paint itself. Joy has a thing for dark, deep colors. Our dining room is a rich, deep red, and deep, dark colors are a pain to paint. Joy has never been happy with how the paint job on the dining room turned out, so she spent about two days looking up how to paint the deep blue, called Starry Night Blue, evenly. It took a few coats, but we finally figured it out:Doesn't the color just cry out for glow in the dark stars around the ceiling? I finished up all the trim last night, which was bright white, and it turned out well. Sam certainly likes it, and periodically puts his head in the room, points, and declares, "It's blue!" After a week and a half of painting, it finally is.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sporadic Posting

Just a quick note to apologize for the lack of posts around here. Funny things are happening and being said on a daily basis, but between painting Sam's new room, grading tests and papers, and our computer crashing, we've been unable to post. Never fear, though, new posts are eventually on their way!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New Supper Conversations

Tonight, Sam decided to outdo last night's conversation. It began with his request for more tomato. Usually we can easily handle that request, but tonight we had sweet potatoes and sliced tomatoes at supper. "Why does that present a problem," you are no doubt asking yourself. That is because Sam has decided that potatoes are called tomatoes. We've tried to convince him otherwise, but to no avail. When Granade stubbornness kicks in, it usually does so in high gear and only a breakdown stops its progress. So when he asked for more tomato, we weren't sure which he meant.

"Do you want more sweet potato or more red tomato?" Joy asked, exaggerating each word.

"More tomato!" Sam replied. Joy got up and went to get more tomato and Sam started crying, "More tomato, Mama!" over and over again. I diligently offered him some more sweet potato and he continued to cry about needing more tomato while scarfing down the sweet potato.

Crisis averted, Sam asked to look at the cars paper. I explained that the morning newspaper didn't include a cars section today, just the food section. Unfazed, Sam asked for the food paper. I handed it over and he immediately exclaimed "Oh My Goodness!" and began pointing to various things on the page, asking "Dada, what is it?" The conversation went as follows (and I'm not making this up):

Sam - "Dada, what is this?"
Me - "A cupcake."
Sam - "Dada, what is this?"
Me - "Some candied cranberries."
Sam - "Dada, what is this?"
Me - "Some cookies."
Sam - "Dada, what is this?"
Me - "A cupcake."
Sam - "Dada, what is this?"
Me - "A nun."

Now you know why Sam cried out when he saw the paper. How many times do you see nuns on the front of the food paper? Really, where else can you go from there?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

It's Beginning to Look a lot like Ice-mas

Sorry we've been out of the blogging loop for a few days - we're in finals, our computer crashed yesterday, and we've been hit by multiple ice storms over the past few days. No power loss and no accidents here, but it has meant we've stayed inside more than is probably healthy.

But being stuck inside means that we get to start our great painting project for Sam's new room. We got the first coat on today after painting the ceiling and priming the walls. Hopefully one more coat and then trim and we'll be finished. I'll have pictures to post by next week.

In the meantime, you can warm yourself with this image of Granade stubborness: Sam has entered the "what is this?" phase instead of the "why" phase since turning two. He'll pick things up, cock his head to examine them, and then ask in a sing-song voice - "Dada, what's this?" Most of the time he knows exactly what it is, which leads to interesting exchanges at the supper table:

Sam - Dada, what is this?
Me - A piece of sausage.
Sam - Dada, what is this?
Me - A piece of onion. You should eat it. It's good.
Sam - Dada, what is this?
Me - The piece of onion you just put in your mouth and took back out.
Sam - Dada, what is this?
Me - what is this?
Sam - Dada, what is this?
Me - what is this?
SSam - Dada, what is this?
Me - what is this?
Sam - Dada, what is this?
Me - what is this?
Sam - Dada, what is this?
Me - what is this?
Sam - A piece of sausage.

Joy says she loves watching the battles of Granade stubborness that happen daily. You know my response - what is Granade stubborness?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Shameless Link

Just a quick, shameless link today. Jaime has posted several great pictures from our weekend together that I thought you might enjoy. I've posted one here that imagines what our life will be like if we're having twins next June. Needless to day, Sam would think it were cool if he could feed them:Just click on the picture to enjoy the post.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Kansas City Curse

Just a moment of jubilation - I finished my last class of the semester today! Sure, I still have stacks of grading and a final to give, but I'm done traipsing to class and continually writing lectures.

Most importantly, I survived what I call the Kansas City Curse on my teaching. For the past three years, it has snowed on the last day of class, usually so bad that classes are canceled and I have to create new and interesting ways to deliver my last lectures. The past two years, music history has been a Tuesday/Thursday class, which meant it always got canceled. The weather must have something against Handel's Messiah. Perhaps the sky is tired of hearing that "Every Valley Shall Be Exalted." In any event, I jokingly told my music history class this year that they were special, because they met on Mondays and Wednesday, they were hearing a lecture I had never given before in Kansas City. My students laughed and declared that they shouldn't hear it this year just so I didn't break my streak.

Last night I went to bed convinced that because it was so warm yesterday, we were in the clear as far as snow as concerned.

I was wrong.

About 10:00 this morning, fat flakes began falling and the students began stopping by my office, e-mailing, and calling, all wanting to know if class would still happen. Fortunately, we only got about an inch, so I didn't have to finagle a new way for students to deliver presentations. But as far as snow on the last day is concerned, I'm still 3 for 3. We'll see what happens next year.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Big-Boy Bed

We've been planning on moving Sam into the guest room and keep the nursery for any other children that follow for the past few years, but with the coming of TK ("The Kid"), we've accelerated the plans a bit. We want Sam to feel as though getting a new bed and room is a privilege, not something forced upon him by the new baby that comes to live with us.

We decided we wanted a trundle bed so Sam could have friends (or grandparents) stay with him in his room, so about 2 months ago, we started watching Craigslist. After slogging through countless car beds and bare frames, we found an almost new trundle bed with new mattresses at a good price.

The problem? We found it the night before we flew out for Thanksgiving.

When we returned home, I called the guy selling it and he miraculously still had it sitting in his garage about an hour north of our home. We drove up the Sunday after Thanksgiving to look at it.

We weren't sure how Sam was going to take the news of a big-boy bed, but as soon as Joy put him on it just to keep him out of the way while we examined it, Sam proudly proclaimed, "this is Sam's big-boy bed."

Fortunately it actually was. We bought it, loaded it into my truck, and deposited it an hour later in our garage. Matt helped me haul it up to the guest room this weekend right before they left, so we now have room-o-bed, but every day since then, Sam has had to go and sit on the big-boy bed, read on the big-boy bed, and, of course, jump on the big-boy bed. I'm cool with all but the last one, and we're certainly glad he's excited about the bed. Here's a picture with the quilt and pillows from the guest bed put on it so it doesn't look so naked:
You'll notice that it is tall enough that Sam needs his step to climb into it. Now all we have to do is paint the room and build some bookshelves and we'll be read to move Sam.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Delightful Madness

This weekend our good friends from grad school, Matt and Jaime, came to visit us along with their twins, Zach and Marissa. That's right, we had 2 three-month-old twins and Sam, a two-year-old toddler in the same house. It was delightful madness. Sam was great with the twins, constantly asking about them, wanting to touch them, and in general parenting them as only a two-year-old can.

We spent time catching up, playing a new game, watching Jaime and Joy wipe the floor with me and Matt in said game, and taking care of our kids. As many of you know, with young babies you spend an amazing amount of time just eating, preparing to eat, sleeping, and preparing to sleep. Through it all, Jaime and Matt amazed us in their spirit and the care they shower upon their twins, even when times are hard and they are sleep deprived.

We were so busy with kids that I didn't get the chance to take many pictures, but when Jaime posts hers, I'll be sure to post a link. In the meantime, enjoy this one picture:

Monday, December 3, 2007

Mr. Chavez Takes Over the Music World

There has recently been a bit of a stink in the classical music world, as political reality begins to bleed over into the fantasy world in which music usually lives. Gustavo Dudamel, a young conductor who rose to international prominence after being tapped to take the helm of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009, has recently finished a U.S. tour with his current orchestra, the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela.

That's right, Venezuela.

Dudamel and his orchestra are products of El Sistema, a program that provides music education to youth who otherwise might not receive any. Anywhere else and the program would be celebrated. Because it exists in today's Venezuela, it is suspect. And because these youth were touring the world while other Venezuelan youth were marching protest against Chavez's failed bid to extend his presidency, they were taken to task for not saying anything against Chavez's gambit.

Alex Ross hits the nail on the head of what he calls "The Venezuela Problem" when he notes that the real problem is one of history - so many other musicians took governmental support as hush money when working under totalitarian regimes throughout the 20th century that musicians today want to make sure that they are not silent again. I agree. But with this particular orchestra, we are in a sticky situation. El Sistema was founded by José Antonio Abreu in 1975, long before Chavez. The students and Dudamel in particular are not staying quiet because the program is Chavez's, they are staying quiet because they realize the program is larger than Chavez and needs to stay beyond him. And we will get beyond him, at least it looks so now with the results of the recent election. If things turn differently very soon, I suspect Dudamel will say something, but right now he is doing the right thing - turning the classical world upside down by being the best orchestra at the Proms and proving that public music education works. Just watch this to see why Dudamel is rightly being hailed as one of the next great conductors:

Friday, November 30, 2007

Beach Pictures!

For the past several years, my family has all gathered at the Beach for Thanksgiving. It is the perfect chance to see all my family that lives in Alabama, and we always make great memories. This year was especially fun because it was the first time Sam and his cousin Eli really played together (previously "playing together" meant Sam and Eli played next to each other - this year "playing together" meant convincing each other they could "bounce" on the bed since they had only been told not to "jump" on the bed).

Sam, as you may recall, is a fish, and would have walked to Cuba if we had let him loose at the water. We also discovered that he was a, well, a sand-eating animal and loved to lick it while being buried in the sand. Click on the picture for more fun pictures:
Misty has a better camera and took much better pictures involving the entire clan. If you really want to see how Eli and Sam "played together," click on this picture she took and you can see her wonderful set of Beach pictures:

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

So You Want to Write a Fugue?

It's the end of the fall semester for teachers and for music history teachers that means one thing:

Bach.

Today I began my two day journey through Bach's music and his life. Since Bach wrote so many wonderful organ works, the textbook I use has included two, including a prelude and fugue. This is the first full fugue we have covered, so I had to go through the entire process of a fugue. The fugue has always intrigued me because it acts like a form, giving shape and direction to a piece of music, and we discuss it as a form, calling such pieces "fugues," but it really is not a form. The fugue is more of a process: composers write a melody, here called a subject, present it once in each voice, bring it back in parts and pieces throughout the work, and end with a complete statement of the subject one last time in the home key. As a listener, you follow this process, your ears perking up every time snatches of the subject peek out of the dense texture.

You would think such a rigorous process would have quickly fallen out of favor, but the fugue has remained one of the most used organizational structures in music. It pops up in all sorts of places, perhaps one of my favorite from the past few years was in Kevin Gilbert's The Shaming of the True, a Gentle Giant-influenced concept album that featured the "Suit Fugue (Dance of the A&R Men)." It's a brilliant piece of a cappella fugal writing.

Along those lines, I've recently started showing my students Glenn Gould's "So You Want to Write a Fugue" in class to demonstrate how the fugue works. We have a strong vocal program, and for people used to following words, his verbal/musical explanation does wonders in making this abstract concept concrete.

As much as I enjoy this performance, it always reminds me about the deep-seated paradoxes I find surrounding Gould. About half way through the performance, a new subject enters, "Never Be Clever for the Sake of Being Clever." It strikes me that Mr. Gould wasn't or couldn't follow his own advice. Nevertheless, it is a marvelous way to teach this concept.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

See what a week with Cousin Eli will do to you?

During Sunday lunch, Joy began playing a game with Sam that has only recently begun to amuse him. She looked at him and asked, "are you an elephant?"

Sam, looking dubious, replied in his best, lilting little-boy voice, "Noooooo."

"Are you a turkey?"

"Noooo."

You can image how long this exchange went on. Throughout it all, Sam kept giggling until, finally, Joy asked him, "Then what are you?"

Sam peered up at her, a smile stealing across his face, and declared, "I'm a silly goose in a caboose!"

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Sam has a Message

Well, at least he will be on June 6 of next year.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Using PowerPoint Well, or How to Keep Your Audience Engaged

On Tuesday I began to lose my voice. It isn't as uncommon an occurrence as you might think; I lose my speaking voice about once a year to sinus infections, so I've learned to soldier on through. The main problem with this problem is the troubling fact that I make my living by talking. I have to stand in front of a group of people for hours at a time and talk. So when I come to weeks like this one, where the next week is break and the weeks following are devoted to student presentations so I can't cancel class, I have to come up with creative ways to teach my material without talking as much.

Enter PowerPoint. Most of my classrooms are what the university has designated ILE - Ideal Learning Environments. Unfortunately, ILE is simply code for "has a computer and projector and document camera," not "has comfortable seats, is a comfortable temperature, has an in-tune piano, and has a coffee bar at the back." I suppose that would be too ideal. But you take what you can get.

Before coming here, I had never used PowerPoint in the classroom before, so I've been on a steep learning curve. But I've figured out a few tricks that I'd like to share, mainly because I've seen it used poorly so often that I feel posting this can count as community, nay, service to mankind in my tenure portfolio.

Lesson 1: Omit Needless Words
Most of you will recognize that I'm stealing my first lesson directly from Mr. Strunk, but it holds true for PowerPoint as well. Most slides look like this wonderful one I stole from intuitive.com:
That is an incredible amount of text to read through. And do you know what happens the instant a screen with a lot of text is unveiled? All eyes dart to their paper to write down everything on the slide and their ears turn off. For the next four to five minutes (at least) you have lost your class. Now, occasionally you want them to write everything down you have on the slide because you are giving lists of musical works or obscure titles, so how do you have the best of both worlds? Bring in each section one by one. That way you can give them time to write down what you want to make sure they have down and have time to talk to them as well. But by and large, do not put large amounts of text on a slide.

Lesson 2: Use Slides to Enhance your Words
I'll give you an example of what I mean by this lesson. Yesterday, I had a presentation of the revisions I've made to my syllabus in response to the diversity training I've received this semester. Most people simply put their syllabi up on the screen and talked us through step by step. Of course, you now know what happened - we all began reading and stopped listening. For my presentation, I wanted to take them through my thought process in revising this syllabus. So I began with a series of 15 slides of pictures of composers along with their names and dates. Then, while describing the current state of the canon in music history, these images flashed rhythmically behind me. I didn't draw attention to them until they were halfway through at which point I asked my audience if they noticed anything similar in the pictures - they all got my point that music history is usually taught as a progression of dead white European males. More to the point, they were listening to me the entire time and the images served to punctuate what I was saying. If you haven't seen Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, you should just to watch how well Gore has mastered this skill.

Lesson 3: Don't be afraid of a Black Screen
Too often we leave up slides long after their relevance is gone. We aren't quite ready to move on to the next slide so it just remains. So our students stare at the information or images on the screen simply because they are conditioned to look at screens (ever try to talk while the TV is on mute? You still watch it). I've learned that you only put images up on a slide as long as you want your students to see them. As soon as you've moved on, go to a black screen. I literally put in black slides that I've turned the background to black so nothing is there for them to look at but me. It is all a matter of rhythm and timing, just like in theater, so make sure you know what words you want the slide to appear with and with what words it should disappear. Using PowerPoint in this manner makes for dramatic reveals and so is effective in helping with Lesson 2.

Lesson 4: Less is More
Above all in using PowerPoint in the classroom, remember that less is more. Imagine PowerPoint as a huge, delicious cake like the ones you get from Costco with the cheesecake filling and the mounds of icing. Those cakes are amazing and delicious and always welcome. But after you've eaten a small piece, you've about had all the Costco cake you can handle. If you eat a large piece, you'll probably be feeling it for a while. And if you eat more than one piece, you might just have a heart attack. Treat your slides like pieces of Costco cake. If you give your students tons of cake, they become lethargic and bloated and want nothing more than to go lie down. But if you only give them a little at a time, it is a delicious treat and they come back wanting more. Your PowerPoint is cake, so use it wisely. I like to throw one provocative statement on the screen like this one:
Just putting that up and letting my students read it always gets them talking. It starts slowly, but as long as that slide is up, they are talking. I, of course, follow it with a black screen.

Ok, I need to go and soldier through my class and see how much I can communicate and get them to talk with my PowerPoint. I'd welcome any suggestions you have as to the effective use of PowerPoint in your classrooms or even tales of PowerPoint gone awry.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Raking the Yard

This afternoon we decided to attempt the dreaded task of raking the yard. With Sam. With Sam holding a rake. And twirling it around near my truck.

You would think the rake would be the source of angst outside this afternoon, but actually Sam was a great help pulling his rake back and forth across patches of ground. No, the source of angst came from the pull of the neighbor's yard. Sam wants to explore. He loves running up and down the street. And no matter what we tell him, he can't seem to stay in our yard. So, after being warned that he needed to stay on the grass or risk going inside, he decided to stray again. And so he went inside.

(insert visual images of Sam screaming in protest here)

I stayed outside and kept raking, which was a much less tedious task than usual because I was raking under this tree:
For some reason our maple decided to be the last at the leaf-changing ball this year, but when she arrived, she decided to make an entrance.

Here's one more picture, just to savor. I usually hate raking leaves, but this made my day a little better. That and Joy finally getting to help rake leaves so I didn't have to do it alone for at least the first half. Hopefully next year Sam will get to help more, especially since when the leaves fall from this maple, they make great, colorful piles to jump in.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Have Camera Will Travel

This past weekend, we journeyed down the interstate to visit Joy's sister Heather, her husband Adam, and, most importantly for Sam, their two dogs. We went to celebrate Joy's birthday (which is today - Happy Birthday Shout Out to Joy!) and had a wonderful time. Joy and Heather went for makeovers and to generally cause mischief so Adam and I kept Sam. As you can see from the picture below, his uncle is already getting Sam ready to go to OBU and ride the tiger (or lion...just go with it).

Click on the picture to see more of our great weekend, including Sam in the doghouse. Enjoy!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Late Night Talk

Sam has recently begun a new habit that Joy and I find hilarious: after we put him to bed, he'll talk for about 30 minutes before falling asleep. Alone, this behavior isn't too strange; after all, many parents report that their children talk themselves to sleep. What is interesting is that Sam seems to realize we can hear everything he says over the monitor, so he talks to us. A few choice excerpts:

"Mama, open the door please."

"Sam has a green bus and and blue bus and a red bus in his room."

and my personal favorite, playing off his pronoun confusion:

"Mama rock you."

Friday, November 2, 2007

New Lyrics, Sam Style

Sam must still be reading the blog because last night he decided to begin changing all the lyrics to the songs he knows. It started innocently enough. We were driving back from school where I had picked him up from Joy's Kindermusik class and commenting on the passing buses and trucks, when Sam decided to begin singing. Evidently, he's just learned "God Is So Good" in bible study and as with every new song, he sings it all day long.

But last night he put in a twist.

He got me to start singing along with him and after a few verses he looked at me, cocked his head, and declared,

"Dada, sing 'God Loves Trucks!'"

I complied, but I draw the line at "God Loves My Thomas the Train Shoes." He may indeed, but it just doesn't scan with the song.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I'm a Monkey! Boo!

And I'm scary because I eat cheese, not bananas. Cheese!!!

New Review - Danny Elfman's "The Kingdom"

I must confess that with this review and the last one, I've reviewed back to back two of my favorite film scorers working today. And, unfortunately, in both cases they did not live up to expectations. Danny Elfman's new score for The Kingdom is perhaps the deepest cut of all because I was looking forward to his return to adult action-adventure movies after a few years of scoring children's films. But alas, he has descended into noodling. Interesting noodling, but noodling nonetheless. You can read all about it here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Hey! Did you know this keyboard makes letters appear on the Computer Screen?

3 8 * - / E R , , D X B T FFY5JM N6HH

/[NJ

SAM

DADA


Okay, so that was all Sam. Now instead of asking to look at Blue Buses on the computer, which is still exciting, Sam has started begging to push letters on Mama's keyboard. Of course, this all started because I gave Sam an old keyboard to play with to keep him away from mine, and he immediately started declaring, "Look, Mama. There's a B." Then we started playing "find the letter" with Sam's keyboard, and now you can see how it's evolving. Now we open Word Documents, put on the caps lock and have fun exploring keys.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Importance of Good Diction

When I was a choir director back in Champaign, I often told my choir members that they needed to over-enunciate their words to ensure the congregation understood the message we were attempting to impart. My favorite example of the strange mistakes in understanding caused by bad diction was always to sing them the opening line of "Lead On O King Eternal" and mumble enough so it came out "Lead On O Kinky Turtle."

Obviously someone in Britain thinks the same way I do and has posted this absolutely brilliant video that should be required viewing for all choir members:

Even watching the congregation's lips you would swear that they really were singing about Richard Gere. Anyone out there know what hymn they are actually singing?

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Happy Video for Your Friday



It has choo-choo trains! What could be better!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Harry Partch and the Sorcerers's Tone

I've long been aware of the distinct similarities of my studies of Harry Partch and my love of the Harry Potter novels. Many times I've stumbled and used one name for the other, most humorously in my graduate class one day. Well, I've learned I'm not alone - enter Uncyclopedia, the content-free wiki that deflates the pretensions of Wikipedia to authoritative knowledge with blistering acuity. Their entry on Harry Partch is a masterpiece of a mash-up between these two cultural icons. My only problem with it? No one has edited it with a name and synopsis of the final book. Harry Partch and the Deathly Harmonic Canons? Harry Partch and the Death of Hallowed Music? Add your own ideas in the comments, and I'll post the best along with a synopsis to the Uncyclopedia.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Hope You're Enjoying New Jersey

Yesterday morning I received one of those calls you hope you never receive. Chase came calling to let me know that my Visa had been used Monday evening in New Jersey. I suppose New Jersey is a bit out of my normal spending habits as is $800 at CVS and $600 at a convenience store. Thankfully, they caught the strange charges, called, and canceled the card before any more damages could be done. I have no idea how this person/these people got a hold of my card since Joy and I both still have our physical cards or a hold of my number since I'm careful to shred all documents related to it. Besides, that card is a backup and almost never used.

So, to the person who stole my card number and took it (of all places) to New Jersey: hope you enjoy what $800 can buy you at CVS. And hope they catch you soon.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I'd Hate to be Thirsty Nine

This morning at breakfast, I was putting Sam in his booster seat, trying to secure his squirming bottom, when he grabbed his juice and declared:

"Sam is thirsty too!"

I nodded, and agreed that he was, seeing that he had already downed half his glass that morning. Then he continued:

"and Dada is thirsty five!"

Monday, October 22, 2007

New Review - Alexandre Desplat's "Lust, Caution"

While waiting a few hours for my plane in Detroit, I managed to finish my latest review and get it posted. Ang Lee's Lust, Caution (Sie Ji) is already generating controversy for its explicit sex scenes and its designation as originating in Taiwan, China, a sticky political situation to be sure. In my book, the more interesting controversy is how similar Alexandre Desplat's score for the movie sounds to his excellent The Painted Veil from last year. A bit less caution and a bit more daring on Desplat's part would have made this a more satisfying score.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Spring Dreams at the New Music Festival

This afternoon, I'm giving my presentation on exoticism and modern music. I thought you might be interested in my thoughts, at least as they relate to Chen Yi, a composer on our faculty back home and the guest composer at the festival this year.

"Modern society is like a great network of complex latitudes and attitudes – and despite their differences, all cultures, environments and conditions have something valuable to contribute to the whole. They keep changing all the time and interact with each other, so that each experience that we come across can become the source and exciting medium for our creation. In this sense, a composition reflects a composer’s cultural and psychological makeup." – Chen Yi in interview with John de Clef Piñeiro

Chen Yi was born into a musical family. Her mother and sister played piano and her father played violin. During dinner, the family would listen to classical recordings, and they attended weekly symphonic concerts, ballets from France, England, and the Soviet Union, and the ethnic song and dance shows from the Congo, Japan, and elsewhere that traveled through her hometown of Guangzhou. Hers was an eclectic musical upbringing that, much like Partch’s, crossed the line between East and West, between so-called high and low culture.

When the Cultural Revolution overtook China in the 1960s, Chen tried hard to continue her music studies, practicing violin at home with a heavy metal mute and piano with a blanket between the hammers and the steel frame. But in 1968, she was sent (along with her violin) to the countryside in order to be “re-educated” and perform forced labor. During this time she found her personal voice, later remarking that "In the countryside, I also found my own language when I realized that my mother tongue really is the same as what the farmers speak! I also found that when I translated it into music, it’s not the same as what I was practicing everyday! For this reason, I believe that I really need to study more deeply and extensively, and find a way to express myself in a way of real fusion of Eastern and Western musics in my music. The result should be a natural hybrid, and not an artificial or superficial combination....I think that my music is a kind of fusion and merger, a marriage of the consonant and dissonant, the tonal and atonal. It really sounds to me like speaking in Chinese, in a Chinese color, but it’s written in a Western music idiom."

Although she does quote from Chinese musical materials, she is more interested in reflecting an entire culture, not just a part of it. For this reason, when she approaches a vocal work, she delves into the depths of Chinese literature, finding words that can help her translate Chinese culture into musical form.

In order to understand the method of Chen Yi’s, shall we call it neo-exoticism, I want to briefly look at her a cappella work for chorus that will be performed here at the festival, Spring Dreams. The text was written by the T’ang poet Meng Hao-ran, and although Chen is writing for the traditionally Western ensemble of SATB chorus, she keeps the text in its original language, providing a pronunciation guide for the singers. This simple choice has profound consequences on the work’s overall form. The piece is built upon layers of ostinati, as is typical of much of her work. The altos and tenors enter with short nonsense syllables of strong consonants and vowels that are performed as breathy unpitched speech. By the time the basses enter whistling in imitation of bird calls a minute into the work, the audience feels surrounded by birds and insects calling to each other on an early spring morning. The text finally enters last in the sopranos, floating above the cacophony with a melody that in its contour and sound mimics, but does not quote, the sound of Jingju, Beijing Opera. Sonically marking the texted line by putting it in the upper voices and setting it to a recognizable melody allows Western audiences to distinguish that line as carrying the text; otherwise the nonsense syllables could be construed as bits of the Chinese language. Futhermore, by using a Jingju-like melody, Chen highlights the practice in that tradition of crafting new words to match pre-existing melodies in contour and linguistic tone, a connection that would have been lost had the poem been translated.

The total affect of the work’s first half is achieved through heterophony, a dominant organizational principle of Chinese music, especially the music of the regional operatic styles. In the work’s second half, the music becomes much more Western and chordal, as though upon awakening, the poem’s speaker realizes that he has been in a Chinese dream and is back in the Western tradition. The voices begin moving in homophony, building clear chords while the nonsense syllables are relegated to one tenor voice. However, traces of East Asia remain in the construction of those chords which undermine triadic tonality in their quartal and quintal formations. Chen operates in a Western mold while refusing to capitulate to its most basic and foundational practice, the creation of the triad.



Throughout this work and others, Chen Yi operates like a conceptually exotic composer firmly writing in a Western style influenced by an East Asian one, but the outcome is quite different because of Chen’s unique background as an Asian composer trained in China and the West who now presents back to the West its own music fundamentally altered. Yo Everett terms this type of exoticism synthesis, where it is difficult to see where one culture fades into another and you wonder if the struggle to find the individual strands enriches or diminishes the whole.

How, then, are we to hear this new type of exoticism? I believe we need a new formulation or at least a new addition to our discussions of exoticism. In challenging Edward Said’s original construction of Orientalism, Michael Richardson writes: “The problem here is that if reciprocity between subject and object is impossible, then, by the same token, the object cannot challenge the subject by developing alternative models.” This notion of reciprocity is key in understanding the currents of exoticism that are evident in our examples. Although questions of power invariably must come into the discussion, we cannot forget that once Western musical culture has been imposed, it can be taken and twisted back upon itself to create new spaces for dialogue. Think, for example, of a composer like Chen Yi. She has lived in the United States for over twenty years and is fully conversant in America’s cultural perspectives. Can we truly consider her an East Asian composer any more? If not, what do we consider her? In response, I can do no better than offer you her own words: “I think music could become a bridge between peoples from different cultural traditions. I hope that it can be inspiring and helpful to improve the level of understanding between peoples from different parts of the world. The answer to which culture she represents is “yes.” Chen Yi and other East Asian composers currently working in the Western world offer us a new answer to our old exoticism questions, one based in the music itself: through the act of creating and sharing in the listening experience, we begin to create our identities anew, outside of the lens of oppressive exoticism. Social science literature is full of theories of identity development and the ways in which healing between races and cultures can begin when we reconstruct our personal and professional identities in authentic ways that do not participate in the dialogue of oppression. Through the act of offering this music, Chen Yi speaks through her own unique identity and asks us to look anew at ourselves and our relationship with others; the act of listening to her music cannot help but begin the process.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Even Goths Need Security

This morning, I arose early to travel to Bowling Green, Ohio, where I've been invited to give a paper on Orientalism in new music as part of the Bowling Green State University New Music and Art Festival. I'll have more stories to share later about my experiences at the festival, but I wanted to grace you with a marvelous encounter I had this morning on my flight to Detroit. I was sitting next to a young woman who was quite Goth, with the died black hair (with a carefully placed strand of pink), dark clothes, and multiple piercings in her nose, lips, and tongue. She was cordial and quiet, a good seatmate for a 2 hour plane ride, but what struck me was her iPod. When the flight attendants announced that portable electronics were now permitted, we both whipped out our iPods (hers was black of course) and began to scroll for tunes. Once hers was playing, she turned it over and I noticed a large sticker with a bullseye on it. Curious, I looked closer and saw that she had not only bought her iPod at Target, but had also purchased the extended warranty on it.

Goths need long-term security too.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Worst Songs Ever Inspire Thoughts About Music's Power

Recently, Blender.com (which loves nothing more than making lists and ranking songs) decided to tackle the 50 worst songs of all time. Their scientific methodology for arriving at said songs? Evidently they got a bunch of writers in a room together and vamped on what songs annoy them the most today and which they are most ashamed of having liked before. How else do you explain that almost every song on the list is a former number one? And how else do you explain Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" being one number away from Color Me Badd's (the extra "D" is because they're extra bad) “I Wanna Sex You Up”?

The list has provided many minutes of rumination around our house, mostly revolving around the inclusion of Bobby McFerrin at number seven (!) with "Don't Worry Be Happy." We love Bobby McFerrin around our house, and are baffled at how anyone could not love a video that stars Robin Williams and Bill Irwin and was the first a capella pop song to chart at number one? Still, the real reason we love Bobby McFerrin is because of a solo concert we attended a few years ago at which he did this:



Audience participation and imparting a love of music in this manner is an amazing gift. He creates community out of a huge group of people, and I challenge you to watch this or, better yet, attend a concert and not get chills at moments like this one. He truly demonstrates the power of music.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Filling the Wall - Built in Bookshelves

Back in August, I mentioned that I was building built-in bookshelves on either side of the fireplace in our living room. We had some bookshelves that I had thrown together in grad school and they fit in the area we had available and looked fine there, but being Granades, we needed more space for our books. Here's what we originally had:
So in early August, I measured and schemed and came up with a plan for five shelves for books and sundry other artifacts that reached to the ceiling anchored by larger cabinets underneath. I took the old bookshelves downstairs and put in temporary cabinets that are now next to my side of our bed, because Joy was hosting a baby shower and needed something to fill the space. It looks a little strange without any shelves there (but you can see the normal state of our living room with toys strewn everywhere) and we lived that way for about a month.

When the cabinets and shelves were done, I pulled up the carpet, took off the baseboards, and put the cabinets in place, carefully replacing the baseboards on the cabinet's front and relaying a bit of carpet. I then built the bookshelves right into the wall and painted the entire thing. We lived with open shelves most of September until two weeks ago, with the help of a good friend with great tools, I got the doors finished. Just yesterday Joy picked out hardware for the cabinets and we can finally declare the entire project done. I don't think Joy was expecting how long the project would take, but she's pleased with the results:

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Rest is Noise

Just a quick link for you to enjoy. Every day in my job I fight against the prejudice of musicians against music from the past century. While Jackson Pollack's and Robert Rauschenberg's paintings sell for millions and contemporary literature is consumed every day, contemporary music seems to languish because people just don't know about it. I'm always amazed to watch how any non-musician students are immediately excited by modern music more than that of the classical period.

One of my favorite writers on contemporary music is Alex Ross (no, not that Alex Ross), the music reviewer for the New Yorker. He has a new book out this month (and if you're shopping for Christmas presents for me, here's a big hint) that beautifully places music of the past century in its historical, cultural, political context. He talked a bit about the phobia towards music from the past 100 years this afternoon on All Things Considered and you should really give it a listen.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Thoughts on Diversity - You Can't Teach What You Don't Know

This year I'm participating in a workshop series offered by my campus aimed at helping us infuse diversity into our classrooms. The idea is to help us develop an ideological as well as practical framework for moving beyond simply tacking on diversity to our classes to having it threaded throughout. I'm reminded of the old Grout/Palisca A History of Western Music where they wanted to add diversity and so stuck an extra chapter at the end on American music. The underlying meaning was if you had time to get there, great, but you needed to get through the important stuff first.

I've been wrestling with how to do this successfully in my own survey of Western music and how to deal with issues of power structures in music for some time so the workshops have been interesting to me. We had reading assignments for tomorrow, including the book You Can't Teach What You Don't Know, and we had to write a reaction essay. I thought others might find it interesting and perhaps thought provoking as well, so I offer my response to the text:

Perhaps it is because I have a 2-year-old at home who is obsessed with trains, constantly crashing them, taking them apart, and putting them back together, or perhaps it is just the beauty of the phrase, but Gary Howard’s description of the mental state that occurs in White teachers when we begin to confront the legacy of our privilege as a “train wreck in the mind” has resonated throughout me for several days. Elsewhere in his book We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know he describes the experience of Whites recognizing White privilege as fish realizing they are swimming in water, and while a beautiful metaphor, it does not hold the same power for me. I believe my attraction to the phrase exists because it more accurately describes my current state as a teacher and human – I recognize and have long recognized that I am swimming in the wide ocean of White privilege, but I haven’t allowed the train of my life to come off the tracks enough to being to be a solution to the problem. I haven’t allowed my knowledge to crash through into experience.


We live in an age where White men and women are beginning to push back against the sea of change that has engulfed our nation over the past forty years. Many of us as White educators have felt so put upon by the emphasis on multicultural education, have felt so blamed for the sins of our fathers, that we have begun reacting negatively against implementation of this type of equality. This reaction is most notably present in the linguistically interesting phrase “reverse discrimination,” where we take up the blame game and point the finger back at other races, claiming that they are now discriminating against us. To justify this stance, I have heard my colleagues say, and have said myself, that I am a colorbind teacher, treating all my students equally, so why can’t everyone else. My personal mantra has been that race is a social construct and we are moving past it. But as Gary Howard so eloquently points out, such stances are merely symptoms of our engrained privilege:

Many privileges have come to Whites simply because we are members of the dominant group: the privilege of having our voices heard, of not having to explain or defend our legitimate citizenship or identity, of seeing our images projected in a positive light, of remaining insulated from other people’s realities, of being represented in positions of power, and of being able to tell our own stories. These privileges are usually not earned and often not consciously acknowledged. That our privileged dominance often threatens the physical and cultural well-being of other groups is a reality that Whites, for the most part, have chosen to ignore. The fact that we can choose to ignore such realities is perhaps our most insidious privilege. (Howard, 66)


I appreciated Howard’s approach because he was able to short-circuit knee-jerk reactions to the laying of blame and move on towards a goal of healing. My train has stayed firmly on the track of White privilege even while I decried its effects because I felt blamed. I’ve been stuck in what he labels the “Disintegration stage,” where I’ve been attempting to create the illusion that racism is a construct that can be overcome without direct action by ignoring it. But both race and racism are reality for most people in our country and need to be addressed. We need to see people for who they are, and by claiming that we are colorblind, we are in effect saying we cannot see them. The way forward, at least according to Howard, is the personal creation of an authentic White identity that acknowledges the reality of personal, cultural, and institutional racism and seeks to learn from all groups of people while developing deep personal relationships and interactions with people “across the boundaries of difference.” This notion was a great source of healing and a breakthrough in my thinking. I’m not sure at this point if I fully agree with all his stages of the development of White identity, but I do recognize the potential power in the outcome. It was encouraging and inspiring to believe that teaching actually can make a dent in the hegemonic culture we currently sustain, to see ways to make my teaching effective for all races, genders, and orientations that walk into my classroom, and to know that I can begin breaking down dominance by giving voice to all students and learning from them as much as they learn from me. Forming a way of teaching, and indeed any personal relationship, that is authentic, culturally responsive, and culturally competent is a high goal, but Howard’s great gift in his book is to demonstrate a way to approach it with grace and humility.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Does anything beat a Thomas the Train (tm) birthday?

There are few things in life as full of joy as a 2-year-old's birthday party. We had all of Sam's grandparents and his Aunt Heather here for the weekend and had a great time. On Friday, we went to Kindermusik in the morning and to Fritz's Train Restaurant for dinner. At the restaurant, a model train that runs around the ceiling brings your food to the table, and Sam could barely sit still and eat for watching all the trains run. The next morning, we went to Carolyn's Country Cousin's Pumpkin Patch. They have a train you can ride (are you sensing a pattern here?) and animals you can pet and feed and tractors you can ride and slides you can, um, slide. All in all, a perfect playground for Sam and he did not stop running the entire time we were there. After his nap, we opened presents and had chocolate cake, the first time Sam had ever had chocolate. He was so excited Saturday night that we could barely get him into bed.

Below you see Sam enjoying his new Thomas the Train Lego set. Click on the picture for more fun pictures from this weekend.



Monday, October 8, 2007

Ninja Musicians

I promise to post about Sam's birthday soon and get pictures of the weekend and our new shelves up as well, but for right now, here's your quick mood lifter of the day:

Jamie Foxx, Oscar-winning actor and classically-trained pianist, has recently begun learning to play the violin and cello for his next film, The Soloist, where he plays Nathaniel Ayers, a young musician who developed schizophrenia in his second year at Juilliard and ended up homeless on the streets of L.A. In an interview with The Daily Record (reported by none other than Siobhan Synnot) he described his cello teacher in this way: "The guy who shows up to show me how to play the cello is nothing like what I expected. I thought it would be a stiff guy. But my guy is like a Ninja cellist."

Oh, the mind boggles at what his next movie project could be...

Thursday, October 4, 2007

New Review - Kevin Riepl's "Gears of War"

After the light and fluffy No Reservations I posted last week, I must have felt the need for some dark apocalypse brought on by giant mutant insects on a far away planet. That's right, I've posted my first official review of a video game score for Epic's Gears of War. With all the hype over Halo 3 in the past few weeks, it seemed the right time to delve into this newly emerging genre that has already produced composers like Michael Giacchino of Ratatouille fame. So, enjoy!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

106 Books: The Kansas City Granade Edition

Yesterday, Misty posted a blog entry about the 106 books most marked as unread by LibraryThing users. She listed it on her site with the books she's read in bold, the ones she's started and not finished in italics, and all others in normal typeface.

"Interesting list," I thought as I read it, and then promptly moved on.

"I should do it too!" thought Joy as she read it, and then promptly made her own list. Bowing to peer pressure, I made my list too. Here are the results:

Joy's List:

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment

Catch-22
One hundred years of solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Ulysses
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and peace
Vanity fair
The time traveler’s wife
The Iliad
Emma
The Blind Assassin
The kite runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great expectations
American gods
A heartbreaking work of staggering genius
Atlas shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Middlesex
Quicksilver
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury tales
The historian : a novel

A portrait of the artist as a young man
Love in the time of cholera
Brave new world
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s pendulum
Middlemarch
Frankenstein
The Count of Monte Cristo
Dracula
A clockwork orange
Anansi boys
The once and future king
The grapes of wrath
The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
1984
Angels & demons
The inferno
The satanic verses
Sense and sensibility
The picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
To the lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s travels
Les misérables
The corrections
The amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The curious incident of the dog in the night-time
Dune
The prince
The sound and the fury
Angela’s ashes : a memoir
The god of small things
A people’s history of the United States : 1492-present
Cryptonomicon
Neverwhere
A confederacy of dunces
A short history of nearly everything
Dubliners
The unbearable lightness of being
Beloved
Slaughterhouse-five
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud atlas
The confusion
Lolita
Persuasion
Northanger abbey
The catcher in the rye
On the road
The hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance : an inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s rainbow
The Hobbit
In cold blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
White teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers


And Andrew's List:

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment

Catch-22
One hundred years of solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Ulysses
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and peace
Vanity fair
The time traveler’s wife
The Iliad
Emma
The Blind Assassin
The kite runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great expectations
American gods
A heartbreaking work of staggering genius
Atlas shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Middlesex
Quicksilver
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury tales
The historian : a novel
A portrait of the artist as a young man
Love in the time of cholera
Brave new world
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s pendulum
Middlemarch
Frankenstein
The Count of Monte Cristo
Dracula
A clockwork orange
Anansi boys
The once and future king
The grapes of wrath
The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
1984
Angels & demons
The inferno
The satanic verses
Sense and sensibility
The picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
To the lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s travels
Les misérables
The corrections
The amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The curious incident of the dog in the night-time
Dune
The prince
The sound and the fury
Angela’s ashes : a memoir
The god of small things
A people’s history of the United States : 1492-present
Cryptonomicon
Neverwhere
A confederacy of dunces
A short history of nearly everything
Dubliners
The unbearable lightness of being
Beloved
Slaughterhouse-five
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud atlas
The confusion
Lolita
Persuasion
Northanger abbey
The catcher in the rye
On the road
The hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance : an inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s rainbow
The Hobbit
In cold blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
White teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers


I'd post Sam's list, but it is noticeably void of bold, unless you count Veggie Tales versions of The Grapes of Wrath

Monday, October 1, 2007

How Much Would You Pay for Beethoven's Hair?

I recently discovered the LifeGem. As a culture, we've tried to cheat death in so many different ways, that it makes sense that something like this would come along. For a mere $3,500, you can order a .2 carat diamond made out of a bit of your loved one (and for $20,000 you can get a full carat to show you truly cared for your loved one). "How does this happen?" you might ask. LifeGem takes a lock of hair you provide and, using a carbon capture and purification process, turn that hair into a diamond. That's right, a diamond made out of bits of people (soylent diamonds, anyone?). Instead of putting Aunt Maude on the mantel, you can wear her around your neck.

As if that isn't strange enough, to publicize their business, LifeGem recently auctioned a diamond made from Beethoven's hair on Ebay. Originally they wanted to auction it for $1,000,000, but I suppose since it was one of three in the world, fans could only muster $202,700 for it.

This cult of Beethoven that began in the Romantic period shows no sign of abating. How is it that a short, grumpy, deaf man who lived in Vienna 200 years ago is still held up as the pinnacle of our artistic heritage? I'm not denying that Beethoven was a brilliant composer, but it fascinates me how every composer since has felt bound to either confirm or deny Beethoven's influence on their work. He is regularly heralded as the greatest composer of great composers by people who quite possibly have never heard any of his music completely as he wrote it. Entire websites are devoted to locks of his hair. And now some lucky winner is going to get to have Beethoven around his or her finger. It is truly an intriguing phenomenon.

Does our obsession with the cult of celebrity have no end?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Harry Partch - The Diamond Marimba

Today's instrument is one of Partch's first forays into the world of percussion. When he was presenting his music around New York City in 1943 and 1944, one of the most frequent criticisms he received was that his music lacked rhythmic interest. Many seemed to feel that Partch concentrated too hard on pitch to the exclusion of rhythm.

So when he arrived in Madison, Wisconsin, Partch set to work adding some "rhythmic interest" by creating percussion instruments. One of the first fruits of this new focus was the diamond marimba.

Before describing that instrument, I need to make a slight detour. One of Partch's great contributions to microtonal theory was his formulation of the tonality diamond. In the diamond, he took his starting pitch (a G for him) and built chords of six pitches above it following the overtone series to the 11th limit (which he called otonalities) and then built chords of six pitches flipping the overtone series and going down (which he called utonalities). He then arranged these in a diamond shape with the starting pitch (that G) in the middle and the otonalities moving up towards the right and the utonalities moving down towards the right, resulting in 29 pitches altogether. It looks like this:
(Here's a website where you can listen to the various pitches.)

Right up the middle, you can see the same pitch rendered in the various limits - 1/1, 3/3, 5/5, etc. Recognize this shape? Yes, the diamond marimba is nothing more than the tonality diamond come to life with a few modifications for ease of playing. Partch worked with Warren E. Gilson in Madison to create the instrument, making the blocks out of Brazilian rosewood and Pernambuco, mounting them on thin foam rubber, placing resonators of Brazilian bamboo below the blocks, and holding the entire thing together on a stand of white pine with bronze posts supporting it.

Here's the beginning of Partch's song "The Waterfall." You'll hear the diamond marimba make runs as well as the sweeping chords that are its most distinguishing characteristic: