Friday, August 29, 2008

The Many Faces of Noah, Part II

Noah continues to communicate with us through his facial expressions as well as through grunts, wheezes, and, just recently, giggles. But since I can't share those sounds with you, these pictures of his expressions with have to suffice.

Here is the thousand mile stare. He's sizing you up, figuring out what you are doing there sitting in front of him, and wondering when you'll stop wiggling your eyebrows at him and just give him something to eat. Or turn on his music. Or, in general, do anything but wiggle your eyebrows.

Won't stop wiggling your eyebrows at him? This is the result. Joy and I are a peaceful couple and try not to solve life's problems with violence even when TV tells us we should be solving problems with violence. Our children are another story. They use violence to solve problems most people solve with words. Sam regularly pounces on us to say "come play with me!" Noah waves his fist in the air to say "I'm having a great time, keep it up!" Neither seems to realize that fists of fury usually have the opposite effect.

Ah, everyone's favorite face, the "I'm having gas but you think I'm smiling face." Actually, Noah's past that phase and is truly smiling at us. In fact, he's a very smiley boy, always flirting when we go out to eat or to the store. But he does do this strange tongue thing, pushing it up to the roof of his mouth when he smiles.

There you have it, the many faces of Noah. This is just the tip of the iceburg and, more importantly, the selection that we can decipher. Surprised we don't know everything that he is saying with his face? Don't be. After all, I still barely understand all Sam says to me and he's been talking for two years.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Views From the Other Side of the Can

Last week, the News Hour with Jim Lehrer featured an eight-minute segment on Bang on a Can. I urge you to watch it because, like most items on that program, it was well produced and thoughtful enough to spark notions in my head, though I'm sure they were not the notions expected by the reporter. The segment was sparked by David Lang's recent Pulitzer prize (which I commented on back in April) and focused not only on him, but on the summer festival BoaC hosts every year at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. It highlighted Lang's surprising win, the melding of musical styles that characterizes much of the music composed by the BoaC composers, and the outsider status cultivated by these composers. It hinted at the traditions that influenced the style, barely discussed Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon, and didn't mention the legendary BoaC marathon at all.

Why bring up those omissions? Because they point to the dominant paradigm used by most people describing adventurous American music (as distinct from music inherited from Europe) - the maverick. Lang is painted as a composer working on his own who is scarcely accepted by any musical establishment and is striking out new ground unexplored by other composers.

The truth is more complex and more interesting.

Bang on a Can has been around a long time now; the first marathon was held in New York City in 1987 and is now routinely labeled "new music's biggest annual party." Its reputation is so well known and regarded that it has become the establishment all on its own, complete with record label and house band that tours extensively throughout the year. It has been so successful that I wouldn't be surprised to find it in the Grout textbook (the standard Music History textbook on college campuses) in the next edition or two. The fact that Lang was even considered for a Pulitzer, much less awarded one for a commission by Carnegie Hall shows that he isn't working on the fringes anymore.

Beyond that point, the notion that American composers work in isolation and obscurity needs to be revised. For the past one hundred years, these "mavericks" have encouraged one another, critiqued one another, stolen musical ideas from one another, performed one another, recorded one another, and created a thriving community. Harry Partch, who is often held up as the most iconoclastic composer of them all had regular contact with John Cage and Lou Harrison and Howard Hanson and Douglas Moore and had numerous disciples who worked with him and were inspired to then follow their own path branching off from his. Sure they were not played in orchestral halls or on operatic stages (at least not until Philip Glass and John Coolidge Adams), but that's because they were not writing for those ensembles. As you can see in the excerpt, even to today, these composers write for new groupings of instruments to find new sounds for their new music.

Now, I know Lang surely pushed the journalist to focus on the festival in order to spark more interest in and money for the project, but it was strange for me to see someone not invested in this music as I am to report on it. It served to remind me how far we have to go (and how daunting my job is in some ways) on educating the public about modern American composition.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

New Review - Craig Armstrong's "The Incredible Hulk"

Back in 2003, I reviewed Danny Elfman's score and the movie Hulk positively. I remembered when my review came out that I felt distinctly in the minority in my opinion on the film and the score. It took a few hearings for me to fully hear what Elfman was going for, but once I did I was completely on board with his vision.

With that in mind, I gave Craig Armstrong's "The Incredible Hulk" a few hearings just to make sure I was hearing it correctly (which is why my review is so late after the film's opening). Unlike five years ago, my opinion did not improve. Too often the score falls into standard action cliches from the past 10 years - pounding synth work, vaguely ethnic percussion, and a pedal point for it all to rest upon. Still, as you will read, there is a bright side to the score, especially in its distribution. Hope you enjoy.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Many Faces of Noah

Babies have it hard in this world. They get hungry and how do they let us know? They cry. They are tired and need to sleep and how do they let us know? They cry. They are tired of sitting in their own bodily waste and how do they let us know? They cry.

It's just as hard for adults. A baby cries and you have to try to decipher what he wants. Is he wet? Dirty? Hungry? Tired? Just want attention? Want his brother to stop bothering him? It's all a game of 20 questions.

The result? In the words of Strother Martin's Captain, "What we have here is a failure to communicate." Forget the experts who say you can distinguish a baby's cries - sure I know Noah's cries from most other infants I hear, but an "I'm wet" cry sounds an awful lot like an "I'm tired" cry to me.

Enter the face. Where crying fails to adequately communicate, Noah's facial expressions tell complete stories. I remember Sam having an expressive face, but nothing like Noah's. He tells us exactly how he feels with a raised portion of forehead where eyebrows should be. Don't believe me? Look at these:

Here is the always popular "I'll smirk a bit so you'll quit dancing and speaking nonsense in front of me so I'll smile" face. Noah's a smiley boy. He's also a talker, always flirting with people wherever we go. But sometimes he's had enough. This is one of those times.

This is a common evening face, the "I'm really very tired and don't want to be up playing these games, but I refuse to go to sleep on my own, so I'll be heavy lidded and frown a bit and maybe you'll help me go to sleep even though I'll cry" face. He doesn't have reflux like his older brother, but just like Sam, he hates going to sleep, no matter how tired he is.

Many infants cry to let their parents know they are hungry. Noah often just roots around. This, then, is the "I'm so hungry I'm going to scrunch up my nose, open wide my mouth, wave my head around, and hope food appears in my mouth" face. So far he's done pretty well by this face. It always gets him food.

Noah communicates just fine these days, you just have to now where (and how) to look. There are plenty more where these came from, so be on the lookout later this week for our next installment.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Boppy Camouflage

Sensing danger, the infant Homo sapien is able to change his coloration to fit into his natural habitat:Believing the infant to be on the boppy, but not seeing it, the older sibling, the natural predator of the infant Homo sapien, moves on to find someone else to torment.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Tastes Like Pocari Sweat

In a hot and parched August...
Sam seeks nourishment from his shirt. At least he's stopped licking the deck.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Guilt 2.0

Just as Sam was coming out of detox from his weekend with Eli, he got a cold. So the boy who had been clingy because he desperately needed someone to play with him 24/7 became clingy because he desperately needed to feel better. Last night Sam and I flew solo through dinner, bath, and bed since Joy had a meeting at church, so I learned firsthand how much attention he needed yesterday. I tried to clean up the kitchen after supper only to be thwarted by pleas of "play trains, Dad." I dutifully played trains and read books and had a great time with Sam one-on-one, the kind of playtime we haven't had in a few weeks.

This morning, as I was getting ready for work, Sam again wrapped his arms around my legs, looked up with his warm, blue eyes, and asked if I would play trains with him. I succumbed and played for a few minutes, but had to leave to get to work. I gave Sam a hug and kiss and headed out the door.

When I got to my office I had a voice message. Sam called to tell me he wanted me to stay home today. When I called Joy to hear the full story, she said that after I left, Sam came up to her and said through his tears that she needed to start the engine. Thinking perhaps he was speaking of his shinkansen that Misty and Stephen brought him from Japan, Joy asked him to clarify.

"Start the engine on the sliver truck so I can drive to work and go watch Thomas videos with Dad in his office," came the reply.

As my brother might say, that sound you hear is the latest version of guilt uploading through the automatic updater.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sam's Having Withdrawal

This past weekend, Eli slept in Sam's room on the trundle bed. Going to sleep was a bit of a hassle - Sam didn't want to stop playing - so we ended up putting them to bed in different rooms and then moving Eli over when we all went to sleep. The best part about that arrangement was that they woke up and entertained themselves, letting us sleep past 7:00 most mornings.

From the moment they began playing in the morning until the moment we separated them at night, the boys played together. Most of the time it was without drama (though there was the occasional foray into "I was playing with that" territory) and Sam and Eli seemed thrilled to have full-time playmates to race cars, taunt Liza, make up stories, and even tussle:
We parents just stayed out of their way and had a lovely time talking and carrying on.

Then Eli left.

Sam is currently in detox. This morning, he didn't understand why I had to get ready for work and couldn't play with him from the moment I awoke. He's always been one to play by himself for long stretches of time, but now that he's experienced the thrill of constant attention, we may never go back. Going cold turkey is a bit tough.

Monday, August 18, 2008

How We SpentOur Weekend

Here's how we spent our weekend:That's right, we had four children four and under at our house. My brother and his family came to visit and meet Noah over the weekend. General mayhem and madness ensued, but the two oldest, Sam and his cousin Eli, went off and did their own thing (usually chanting that staple of Calvin and Hobbes - "get rid of slimy girls" - as they closed the door to Sam's room) while Liza tottered around after us, fascinated by Noah. In between, we entertained the children by going to eat at the local dinosaur restaurant and to Kindermusik class, playing outside in the sandbox and on the swingset, and inspecting every toy in the house.

You would think that with our busy days, we old folks would crash every night, but when the kids are asleep, the adults will play, so we ended up in bed around midnight each night. Fun times all around, but I think Joy and I will be sleeping through the rest of the week. If Noah and Sam will let us, that is.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Here's a cure for the Summertime Blues

When we were in Arkansas visiting for a week, it was hot.

When we got home from Arkansas and back to our normal routines, it was hot.

And when it's hot and isn't raining, how do you answer the desire to be cool?

Stick your head in the sprinkler:
Our favorite new activity at the Granade household is running through the sprinkler. Sam hadn't been much into the activity in years past, but this summer he's attacked it with a vengeance. Every time I go outside to water, he begs me to turn the hose on him, when we went to a local park that had a tractor sprinkler going, he ran through the spray continually, and if there is a puddle left on the deck when I finish watering he splashes in it and tries to lap it up like a dog.
That's what we do to stay cool in the dog days of August. Other ideas?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Now I Know How Noah Feels

Last Friday, we took the longest car trip of our life back from Arkansas. We were driving on winding roads early in the morning and Sam got carsick. We pulled over, he threw up, we got back on the road, and we went a bit slower. Then Noah decided he didn't want to sleep, at least not in the car seat. He cried so much that Joy hopped out of the car to rock him while we were stopped for a lane closure, and we finally pulled over in the middle of nowhere Arkansas where there was only a small rest stop for miles around to eat lunch while Joy rocked Noah desperately hoping he would sleep.

Since all that happened in the first 2 1/2 hours, you can imagine how we felt by the time we rolled into home 7 hours later.

I couldn't sleep that night and woke up feeling achy and sick. Joy had Kindermusik demonstrations scheduled, so I bravely tried to keep the kids and even took Noah and Sam up for a spell, but elected to go home after almost throwing up twice in the bathroom. I lay around barely able to move all day, having almost no control over my gastrointestinal system and only slightly more over my gross motor movements. Sam figured the ability to jump on me and crawl all over me without protest was too good to pass up, so while Noah hung out with Joy and her teachers at the demo, I sat at home being pommeled and hardly caring. But somewhere in the entire ordeal, a realization struck: this is how Noah feels every day. He can't control his body movements, he's constantly spitting up, and strange people are constantly doing strange things to him. Whoever said babies have it easy definitely doesn't remember the feeling.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Review: Music from the Films of Tim Burton

We're back after a long hiatus. There are plenty of stories to tell, and they will be told, but a quick post to get you back in the groove of stopping by here on your daily rotation.

I just finished a review of the The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir's recording of music from Tim Burton's films. I was a natural to do this review as I've long admired (and reviewed) Elfman's scores for Burton's films, but this release was made to capitalize on the acclaim for Burton's version of Sweeney Todd and so opens with three cuts from the musical and has nothing from the best Elfman score for a Burton film, Big Fish.

Still, although I usually do not appreciate symphonic orchestras taking on film music as a way to make a little extra money, this release works. Just ignore the hopelessly convoluted title and check it out.