Monday, April 30, 2007

Kindermusik Queen

Yesterday morning our church held its annual worship service celebrating the work of our early childhood education center (where Sam spends his Monday Parents' Day Out), the children that attend, and our church's children. It was a delightful service with balloons dancing at the altar, children squealing in the halls, and ice cream cone cupcakes after the service. ( cream cone cupcakes)

My favorite part of the service (besides the ice cream cone cupcakes) is when the various childrens' choirs sing. No one sings with more pure joy than a five year old, and watching them is a lesson in Christ's teaching that we must become like little children to enter the Kingdom of heaven. This year, I was in the choir loft for the service, which meant that I could only see the back row of each choir, and the backs of the back row at that. So I was able to watch their director. Lisa is a dynamic director and watching her coax a performance out of the kids made me realize that she will be a marvelous Kindermusik educator when she starts teaching this summer for Joy.

After the service, I mentioned my opinion to Lisa. She responded with a comment of how glad she was Joy couldn't see her because a strategically located group of balloons. "She is the Kindermusik Queen," Lisa finished.

Lisa is right; Joy is an excellent Kindermusik educator, and since the Queen would never blow her own horn, her servant is here to do it for her. Joy keeps a Kindermusik blog for her families that lists fun ideas of crafts, and games, and outings around town. Her creativity sometimes astonishes me, and it must other people as well. In this month's issue of Tune In, Kindermusik's online newsletter, there is a link to a fabric-play activity suggested by a Kindermusik educator. One guess as to where that link goes.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Busy in the Yard

A few days ago I found pictures I took when we were looking for houses. Nestled among the pictures of ugly light fixtures and hideous carpet that I took for my amusement were the first pictures I ever took of our house. The lawn was lush and green, the plants thriving and well-tended, the house's facade clean and shining.

It made me sad.

Now our lawn is patchy and a little brown, some of our plants have died, and brown crusties have appeared on the facade. But along with spring came plans to do a little yard work. With May and Pop here last weekend, I was able to have a little help. First up were the azaleas in the front yard. When we moved in we had two, but one quickly died. The other has limped along, but isn't in good shape. Both had white blooms, which I find terribly bland, so we decided to replace them. We picked Girard's Fuchsia Azalea, planted them in the front of the house, and they look like this:
Ah, much better. Then, in the backyard, we had a dead tree. It was actually a dead treelet, barely into its preteen years and still using training wheels. In my pictures I was glad to see that we hadn't killed it, we had just let it sit there and decompose for a year. In any event, my parents brought a clipping from my grandfather's fig trees last year, and after letting it winter inside, I was ready to set it free. We picked a sunny spot along the back fence and planted it:
I have fond memories of eating figs at my grandparent's house, listening to the birds and squirrels fight over the fruits early in the morning, and watching my grandfather concoct various contraptions to keep said birds and squirrels out of the trees all together. I look forward to someday sharing figs with Sam.

Not bad for a Saturday afternoon's work.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Step, Step, Step

Since he started going up and down stairs standing up (and holding hands), Sam has enjoyed narrating his movements.

"Step, step, step," he'll chant.

He obviously hasn't mastered the art of inner monologue yet.

We've gotten used to Sam talking to himself, but last night while Joy and I were getting supper on the table, we heard a new sound. "Clomp, clomp, clomp," issued from around the corner followed closely by Sam's under-the-breath narration, "Step, step, step.

We were puzzled because Sam never attempts to walk up the stairs without our help, and we couldn't figure out what he was doing. When he suddenly appeared in the doorway a few moments later, we discovered the source of Sam's new fascination - Mom's sandals. The sandals' heels made him a good two inches taller and created a resonant sound as he pounded across the linoleum. But while I'm sure he appreciated the new vantage he had acquired, he was obviously concerned about how unsteady the heels made his walking. So he quickly traded out for Mom's slippers.

He spent the next ten minutes shuffling in circles through the living room, dining room, and kitchen, all the while muttering "Step, step, step." Joy and I spent the next ten minutes enjoying the show.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The British are Coming!

After the Joshua Bell experiment, many people commented on how unmusical and uncultured American society had become while bemoaning classical music's future. But even with all the pixels spilled in outrage, I never saw anyone wonder if America was more unmusical than any other Western nation. The Independent evidently decided to test that theory and replicated the experiment with Tasmin Little outside Waterloo Station. Any guesses as to the outcome (and no cheating!)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

With Kryptonite Found, I'll Be Able to Take Over the World

Did you hear the news? Kryptonite was discovered recently in a Serbian mine. When the mining company couldn't match the mineral to any other known substance, they contacted Dr. Chris Stanley, a mineralogist working at London's Natural History Museum, and asked him to analyze it.

Of course they couldn't match it to any other known substance! It's the remains of a distant planet that fell to the earth with the Last Son of Krypton!

But I digress. Turns out that after ascertaining the mineral's chemical formula (which is sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide), Dr. Stanley did what any scientist and every student would do - he googled it. To his shock and amazement, he discovered that the grainy, white substance he was examining had the same chemical formula as the rock-hard, green kryptonite in last summer's Superman Returns.

No word yet on when Dr. Luther, I mean, Dr. Stanley will be using it to take over the world.

Come Back, MayPop

To say that Sam had a good time with his May and Pop this past weekend would be an understatement. In truth, he's been exhausted ever since because he didn't want to sleep any longer than absolutely necessary because he'd miss play time.

In the picture, he's wearing Pop's hat and feeling sad that they are about to leave. Or he saw a truck. Either is possible.

In any event, Sam's been taking extra long naps and falling asleep in the car the past two days to make up for lost sleep, while we're coping with the knowledge that we just aren't as much fun as May and Pop. Or Nana and Granddad. Or Uncle Adam and Aunt Heather. Or Uncle Stephen and Aunt Misty. Or Aunt Shelly. And especially not Cousin Eli. In fact, even Mr. Bear is more fun. At least we know our place in the pecking order.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

How Not to Steal a Yacht

Even though one is never needed, here's a quick excuse for posting a Johnny Cash video. The Times posted a story today about James Light, a worker at Sunseeker, a British luxury yacht maker, who decided that he wanted a yacht of his very own. The problem? Sunseeker's boats cost around $2 million.

What's a dreamer to do? Why, take a cue from Cash's 1976 song "One Piece at a Time," in which a Detroit auto worker steals parts of a Cadillac by smuggling them out in his lunchbox. That's right, Light took around $100,000 work of parts, including a 4ft radar mast and, yes, a widescreen television. He was caught when a DVD player box was found in his toolbox.

Think about this for a minute. He took these things out in his toolbox. He took a widescreen television and no one noticed. David Copperfield is going to be knocking on this guy's door before long, quickly followed by the BBC made-for-TV-movie. But until then, enjoy Cash's take on this story more than 30 years ago:

Monday, April 23, 2007

Kids' Recital vs. Traditional Concert: Stuffiness Optional

On Saturday morning, Joy and I presented a concert for the Kid's Club series the Community Music and Dance Academy hosts every year. We've done this sort of program before (back during our time at Millikin University we took an interactive classical music program into area schools), but it had been long enough that I had forgotten the differences between a traditional recital and one presented for ages 18 months to 8 years. So here, for your edification and amusement, are the top three differences between a Kids' Recital and a Traditional Concert:

1. Audience members talk back - Generally when we give a concert, audience members dutifully sit in silence, either enthralled with the rapturous sounds we're producing or sleeping. We really never know. At a Kids' Recital, the audience speaks up loudly and frequently. They let you know if they are having a good time. Or not having a good time. Or just thinking about their dog.

2. Audience members like to move - Attending a Traditional Concert is a bit strange. You're stuck away from home, unable to leave until someone else lets you; you keep hearing strange sounds that you can't always identify; it's too dark to read your program so you never know what's coming next; and water and food are scarce, even though you are thirsty and hungry. Throw in the possibility of sudden death and it's almost like being on Lost. But at a Kids' Recital, almost no one sits still. Kids are running around the hall, almost falling off the stage, wiggling fingers and toes and arms and legs and heads and anything else that wiggles. They are fully engaged in the performance.

3. Audience members are vocal in their response - Let's face it, even if you are horrible in a Traditional Concert, you'll at least get golf claps. But at a Kids' Recital, if they like you they really like you, and if they don't, well, you should best get home quickly. It isn't uncommon to find loud shouts of approval or guffaws for a successful concert or constipated-looking faces peering back at you for less than stellar performances.

We had a great time with the performance on Saturday and thankfully received more guffaws than sad looks. Exposing children to classical music in an interactive and fun setting is a delightful way to spend a Saturday morning, and it seemed as though the kids had a great time. I gauge our success by this response: Joy asked for jokes at one point during the program. Afterwards, about ten kids came up to us to tell us their joke because we didn't have time for them during the show. Have I ever mentioned that Joy is excellent at what she does?

Sam was able to come with his May and Pop, although he spent most of the time going up and down stairs. Every once and a while he would stay on stage for a while, bounce a bit to the music, and then shoot off again. That's ok; he'll have to sit still for concerts soon enough.

Friday, April 20, 2007

How you know when your son doesn't want to go to bed

We've always had a bit of trouble with Sam and bedtime. He simply doesn't like to go to bed and miss out on all that is going on. It's as if he knows that we watch Alias after he goes to bed and is demanding to stay up and see what color hair Jennifer Garner sports in that night's episode.

Last night, we heard him fussing. And fussing. And fussing. When it didn't subside, I dutifully trudged upstairs and went into his bedroom to try and calm him down.

You see the scene I found. Sam's pants were off, his pacifier was out of his mouth, and he had thrown both on the floor. I had to leave the room to keep from laughing. Thankfully he went on to bed afterwards.

Stripping down to protest sleep is one thing right now, but I foresee much trouble if he doesn't curb this habit by college.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Minimal Legos

As a child, I spent many a happy hour exploring the depths of space with my Lego playsets. This was before the day of Star Wars Legos, Batman Legos, SpongeBob Legos, MC Escher Legos, and even the Bible as told by Legos. No, Lego hadn't sold out to the man in my youth. There was something pure in my gray and blue bricks with the occasional clear red or yellow cone thrown in to make it make it seem space-age. Something truly futuristic about all the Lego men wearing identical red, yellow, blue, black, or white suits and sporting a smile that said "I subsist on Soylent Green." Yes, something radical and, dare I say it, minimal, about the design.

In fact, this minimal design makes a lovely seque into today's video offering. In 1976, Philip Glass broke all operatic rules with his Einstein on the Beach. The work is five hours long with no intermission, the music is based on Glass's additive meters, where notes are slowly added and taken away in a remarkably consistent texture, the text is nothing but numbers and solfege syllables, and there is no plot. Einstein is simply a visual metaphor, nothing more. For a work that broke almost all theatrical conventions of the time, you might think it failed completely on its premiere.

It sold out the Metropolitan Opera House both nights it played there.

In fact, it has so entered the American Musical Consciousness that someone finally saw the tenuous connection between Legos and American minimalism that I've drawn here and did something about it. They performed a small scene from Einstein on the Beach with Legos:

I can't wait until I get to teach this opera again next year. I know what version I'll be showing.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What all Music Criticism Needs - More Venn Diagrams

For your amusement and edification today, I present one of the most groundbreaking, thoughtful, and penetrating pieces of music journalism I've read in a while:
by Rob Harvilla

I read this, I weep, I wonder why I didn't think of writing this article first. Seriously, have you ever seen your hotness so accurately and devastatingly diagrammed?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Counting to Ten

For several months I've been counting to three before blasting Sam off into the bathtub. He loves this ritual so much that he's recently taken to counting to three to do everything. Time to get out of the highchair after breakfast?!

Time to drive off to school?!

Time to count the animal magnets on the refrigerator?!

That was when Joy and I knew we needed to teach him a few more numbers. So this past week, we've been working on getting all the way up to ten. Yesterday after lunch, Joy and I were still sitting at the table while Sam was playing with his animal magnets, telling the monkey that he needed to be high and the elephant he needed to be low. (it's best not to me). Then he started counting while playing with the magnets. "Great," we thought, "we can see if he's got it down."!

We still have a little ways to go.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Condiments: Protection Against Fussy Eating

Sam has discovered ketchup.

We've always known that he loves condiments. This is the boy who won't eat Mexican food unless it is smothered in sour cream. Actually, he'd eat any food drowning in sour cream. The sour cream fixation is so bad that we usually don't put the tub o' sour cream on the table because as soon as he sees it, nothing tastes good anymore.

Back to the story. Soon after returning from Arkansas, we were having potatoes. My son, who eats almost any and everything willingly, doesn't like potatoes of any kind. And these were tasty potatoes, all cut up and cooked in a little oil in the cast iron skillet with a bit of butter and a lot of Italian seasoning. He doesn't know what he's missing. But Sam being Sam, he was pushing them around his plate. Then, he noticed that Joy was dipping hers in this red substance. You could see the thought flit across Sam's face: "what is that? is it red sour cream?"

So I gave him a little dab on his plate.

I turned my head to attend to my own supper, and when I looked back, one potato was gone along with all the ketchup. Curious, I gave him a bit more and watched as he carefully dipped his potato in the ketchup, sucked off the delicious nectar, and then double-, triple-, and quadruple-dipped. If the potato hadn't fallen apart, one would have served for the entire meal.

I think Sam likes ketchup.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Separated at Birth?

For your Friday the 13th enjoyment:

Young Gustav Mahler, composer and nervous-wreck extraordinare


Young Damien Thorn, devil incarnate and world-wrecker extraordinare

Separated at Birth? You Decide...

We Share Everything Around Here

A week ago, Sam started school.

Half a week ago, Sam got sick.

This morning, my doctor confirmed that I'm sick.

Causation? Meh? Correlation? Enough of one for a quick post.

Sam's now 18-months, so we decided that social interaction beyond the kids in the backyard, and his church friends, and his Kindermusik friends was needed. Well, that and Joy needs time to teach. And think. And be herself. So, we enrolled Sam in our church's Parent's Day Out.

Sam loved every minute of his first day. He collected Easter Eggs, he ate hot dogs in honor of Baseball's opening day, he followed the big kids around on the playground, he even borrowed a new friend's illness and brought it home.

Last Wednesday and Thursday, Sam couldn't keep anything in him and was beyond lethargic. The boy who refuses to snuggle only wanted to be held. The boy who hates to go to sleep for fear of missing something drifted away while Joy rubbed his back. He was better by Friday and in full form on Saturday, but by Monday I wasn't feeling my best. I was lethargic, my muscles ached, I had a headache, and my throat was sore. Same symptoms as Sam? No, so for the first time this year I didn't pick this sickness up from my son.

But did I mention my throat was sore? Yes, the doctor confirmed this morning that I have Strep. An illness common in kids aged 5 to 15. Did Sam bring it home? Who knows, but let's hope that I don't spread it around. Some gifts are best not given.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Stop and smell the violins

On Sunday, the Washington Post Magazine published an article by Gene Weingarten - "Pearls before Breakfast." I've waited on commenting on the piece until a few days had passed because I wanted to think about the piece and feel free to give away a few of the conclusions.

Weingarten, who typically writes a humor column for the Post Magazine, decided to stage a deceptively simple experiment. He asked Joshua Bell, one of America's foremost violinists, to set up shop at the Washington DC metro L'enfant Plaza Station. Under the guise of anonymity, Bell, who you can usually see for $50 or so in a concert hall, then played a demanding program for the commuters. Weingarten's premise? See who, if anyone, stops and listens.

You can probably imagine the outcome - almost no one stopped. Bell ended up earning $32 and change in his violin case while playing on a Stradivarius that cost roughly $3.5 million.

The classical blogosphere immediately swarmed the story and it spread like wildfire over the internet. Weingarten has even remarked that he received more response to that story than to any other he's done. Kevin Drum, who writes the Political Animal for The Washington Monthly posted a snarky response that is still drawing comments three days later. Most people seem to object to the idea that our rush, rush, hurry, hurry society blinds us to moments of beauty and feel that the article speaks down to the vast majority of people who don't enjoy classical music. One of my favorite responses was that if Ringo Starr set up camp in L'enfant Station, he would surely get a crowd.

Perhaps. Perhaps not. But as someone who works in classical music and is used to the idea that although "classical" music represents a tiny fraction of music's market share it has a monolithic cultural position, I'm finding that most people are missing an important underlying point in their, yes, rush to judgment.

As I was driving into work yesterday afternoon I was listening to "Day to Day" on NPR and heard a re-broadcast of a piece written 26 years ago about the new-fangled Walkman. Reflecting on that piece it struck me that the most penetrating line in Weingarten's article is almost a throw-away. Commenting on a young boy who tugs at his mother's arms to investigate the music, Weingarten wrote: "The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother's heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too."

It isn't so much that people were too busy to stop and listen to the music or that they don't appreciate classical music or that if Bell had played in the afternoon people would have felt free to pause and listen. Instead it is that we simply don't listen to music anymore. Music as background noise has become so ubiquitous that we no longer listen. I was in Home Depot one time with Sam soon after he started signing. I noticed him emphatically waving his arms, making the sign for music. For a moment I thought he was just trying out signs until I realized that Madonna was softly playing over the din of banging boards and clanging nails. Some market research had uncovered that Madonna makes us think of pointy metal things and therefore more likely to buy pointy metal things, or some other equally obscure equation, and so Home Depot piped her in. And yet here I was, a trained musician who couldn't study in college while listening to music and I didn't hear her. It took a child to notice. It took a child to listen.

Music accompanies our driving, our shopping, our movie and TV watching, our house cleaning, our exercising, but we so rarely really listen to it. Before recording technology, music was a special, prized artifact that princes and popes kept for themselves. Hearing it was a rare treat. Do I want to go back to that time? Not at all. I love that we all have access to any music we want any time of day. But I'm afraid that in the process of making music easily available we've also made music commonplace. The article jolted me, especially when it came during a time I was working on Cage's music, music that politely asks that we open ourselves to the music all around us. Children do that instinctively; as adults we lose that awareness. Maybe it's time we stopped hearing and started listening.

Musicircus Redux

Just a quick report - the Musicircus last night was a triumphant success. Sitting in my spotlight at the prepared piano, I wasn't able to see any of the event, but I was washed with stray sounds that drifted in from other works down the hall. People moved freely about, lay underneath the piano on a large mattress, reclined on the cushy pillows we had strewn about, and stuck their head inside the piano to gaze at the preparations as they rang with my performance. Most notable to me were the children enthusiastically taking in the event. (except for the one child who inexplicably covered his ears while listening to the toy piano. I still haven't figured that one out.) They ran around, entranced by both the music and the freedom to move, dance, and experience a concert completely on their own terms.

Here's one example to give you an idea of the evening's atmosphere: While I was playing, someone came up and stood beside me while a friend took our picture. I have no idea who this person was, but if you're reading, I'd love a copy!

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Musicircus - Kansas City Style

A quick plug for the concert I'm putting together for ArtSounds along with Dwight Frizzell at the Kansas City Art Institute:

The Musicircus is
a kaleidoscopic event that resembles a carnival more than a concert because everything is performed simultaneously. Besides the Sonatas and Interludes, we've got people reading Cage's "Lecture on Nothing" and "Lecture on Something," the Suite for Toy Piano, Four6, Radio Music, and much more. It should be quite the shindig. If you're free Tuesday night at 8:00, come on by Vanderslice Hall at the Kansas City Art Institute and check it out.


As Sam notes - it's all about the eggs.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Blue buses and things that move

Yesterday morning at breakfast (yes, the breakfast where I was told in no uncertain terms to sit back down) I was telling Sam all about the day to come, just to get him ready for it. "We're going to get in our car, and go to the airport, and ride a bus, and ride in an airplane, and then we're going to see Nana and Grandad!" Sam immediately picked up on one word in my litany:


Sam has a small thing for buses. Ok, a not-so-small thing for buses. We have favorite books about buses that we read over and over. We have songs about buses that we sing over and over. And we have pictures of buses all over our house. In fact, Sam's favorite way to get our attention when we are working on the computer is to grabs our legs tightly and cry "boo bus!" We dutifully pick him up, set him in our laps, and google blue buses. (who knew that there were so many blue buses on the internet?) So the prospect of seeing a bus up close and personal was almost too much for his 18-month-old brain to handle.

When we arrived at the airport and boarded the bus, we were sure he'd be thrilled, all his dreams fulfilled. Instead he cried. And screamed. And proclaimed that he was all done. Until we realized one important fact we had neglected to point out - the long-term parking buses are all Blue Buses. Life was good again.

Friday, April 6, 2007

The demands have begun

In my first post, I mentioned that Sam's burgeoning vocabulary is one of the reasons we moved over to this blog. Breakfast this morning was a case in point, and also reminded me that the genie is out of the bottle.

Yesterday, Sam was very sick. He picked up a bug somewhere and couldn't keep anything inside. As a result, he was lethargic, literally going to sleep on the floor just because Joy was rubbing his back. This from the child who is usually bouncing all over the house and hates to go to sleep because he needs to look at the truck book just one more time, please?

This morning, he was much better, probably because we medicate him so much that he feels no shame in striding up to us, circling his hand on his chest and begging, "please...medicine!" After his morning dose of candy-flavored goodness we went out to get the paper, and then I fixed his breakfast. We sat down to eat like we always do, but Sam was only picking at his Chex. I finished before he did, something that never happens, and got up to put my dishes away. I was standing in the doorway talking to Joy when Sam turned to me, pointed his finger at my chair, and said, "Dada; sit chair!"

Obviously we need to stop his language now before he demands the car keys.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Piano Prepared, Dream Accomplished

I've long harbored a secret dream. It began as an undergraduate when I first encountered John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano. I was mesmerized by the delicate sounds that were so unlike anything I'd ever heard the piano produce. The work immediately found its way into my honor's thesis, and I began scheming to play it, or another prepared piano work, on my senior recital. Visions of three pianos littering the stage danced in my head: one for my Classical and Romantic requirements, one for an electronic work, and one prepared piano.

I ended up having two pianos on the stage; the prepared piano there in spirit only. I went to graduate school, focused on the academic side of music, and played when and where I could. But still no prepared piano.

Then, last year, I began developing a new course on a few of the American Mavericks - Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, Harry Partch, and John Cage. I came up with the idea of having my students experience Cage's music first-hand by performing it in a Musicircus. Here was my chance, I could finally prepare a piano and perform the Sonatas and Interludes.

If you aren't familiar with the prepared piano, here's your quick and dirty introduction: In 1938, Cage was asked to write music for a dance. At the time he was mainly composing for percussion orchestra, so he planned to continue that trend. But when he showed up at the theatre, it was tiny. The stage would barely hold a piano. So he began putting things inside the piano. Eventually, in later works, the items grew to include screws, bolts, nuts, pieces of weather stripping, pennies, and even an eraser.

Preparing the piano takes a long time, as Cage was initially very specific about the sounds he wanted, but I had a blast putting things between the strings of the piano. I felt like I was playing hooky from my job and vandalizing a piano to boot. Piano prepared, dream almost accomplished. Now it just waits for me to play it next week. I'll keep you updated.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

We're so hip, circa 2004!

For those of you who have been reading Sam's blog, you've probably noticed a distinct lack of posts on his part over the past month or so. I'll admit that part of that has been my running around to various conferences and meetings and performances and Alias.

Yes, lots of Alias has been watched at our house over the past month.

But truthfully part of my hesitation about posting for Sam has been his word explosion. Sam has become a sponge, soaking up every word that drips from our mouths and repeating it back, usually with fewer consonants. It seems strange to be putting words in the mouth of someone who has become perfectly capable and more than willing to put those words there himself.

After discussing this change, Joy and I decided to make the move over to a family blog. We'll post Sam's experiences, our experiences, ideas and art and activities that excite us all, and general nonsense we know you'll be delighted to read. Hope you enjoy.