Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent Begins Again

Every year on this day the Christian Church begins its celebration of Advent. In our consumer culture it is a strange practice because we are to live in the darkness for the month until the light of Christmas, not celebrating through lights and tinsel until the big day. Impossible to do. But there are little ways of celebrating Advent and we've been experimenting with them for several years. So we put up this video today to share with you, but also to remind ourselves of some of the commitments we are making this Advent season, commitments to value people and time more than money and things. We'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mr. Turkey Says Happy Thanksgiving

Remember Ricky? Well, Sam decided that Ricky needed a new friend, so Joy helped Sam create one and Mr. Turkey was born:And Mr. Turkey says "Happy Thanksgiving!" And "Think twice before eating my cousin. I'm watching you with my downturned eyes and surprisingly sharp array of feathers!"

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Current Lives of Students

A few months ago, I wrote about a professor over at Kansas State who is trying new ways of interacting with students both inside and outside of the classroom by using technology in interactive ways. I was impressed by his ideas and have been attempting to incorporate some of them in my own classroom with varying amounts of success. The reason why I'm trying so hard to stretch the internet to serve my classroom purposes is beautifully illustrated in a new video from the same professor that chronicles the lives and expectations of students coming into college today. This is not a top-down, what professors see, but instead the result of a google document he put together that his students edited in true Wiki style. The results, which resemble an old INXS video, are startling:

As always, I welcome reactions and thoughts of ways to harness all this new technology.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Some Listening for your Holiday

We're officially on Thanksgiving break now, as the Conservatory takes off the entire week for the holiday. Taking the full week is a good move as otherwise students either skip the last two days before break or their brains skip. Might as well give us all the time to catch up on sleep, grading, and projects.

As you're getting ready to travel for break, here is a bit of listening for you: David Borden's Double Portrait as performed by yours truly and Andy Lee last Saturday. There are a few bumps in the road, but the piece has a great deal of energy and was a great deal of fun to perform. And, as you are filling your iPod anyway, check out Andy's wonderful performances of William Duckworth's Time Curve Preludes. He performed them with sensitivity and panache, and I know you'll enjoy them.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Can Your Feet Do This?

In my music history classes, we have reached the end of the Baroque era and spent the first part of the week talking about the rise of the German style of composition through its organ music. The prototypical sound of the organ that is running through your head even now is that of late Baroque German music. It is the sound that has haunted many a silent scary movie, particularly the Phantom of the Opera pounding away in his subterranean cave.

Perhaps most unique to that style was the use of the feet. Organs had long featured pedals, but a virtuosic pedal technique really developed through Buxtehude, Pachelbel (yes, that Pachelbel), and ultimately J.S. Bach. My students generally have limited exposure to the organ before class, so they are always amazed by the pedal parts in some of the works we study and their mouths hang open that people can move their feet so quickly.

I found a new way to drive home the point or organ virtuosity this week through a performance by a young organist named Cameron Carpenter. Carpenter wants to change the way people view the organ through expanding the repertoire, expanding the organ's sound through digital organs, and expanding the audience by putting on an entertaining show (Liberace is obviously his hero as he dressing like the pianist, from the sequins down to his unfortunately named Maverick organ shoes that allow him to play intervals with his heels). My mouth fell open watching him play Chopin's Revolutionary Etude. I played the work for my sophomore recital and know how hard the left hand part is when you use the hands; Carpenter uses the feet:

This will certainly become a fixture in my lecture on the Baroque organ.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Moment Your Heart Stops

This hasn't been a good week around our house. My sister-in-law remarked this evening that she wanted to find the person trying to kill us off one-by-one, and I tend to agree with her. I want to find the person and make them stop before it is my, or especially Noah's turn.

It started with a phone call this morning. Joy was putting Noah down for his morning nap and had the door to his room closed. As usual, Sam was trying to get in to be a part/disrupt the proceedings, when suddenly he left the door. Joy then heard a crash, followed by silence. The silence didn't last long - it was quickly punctuated by Sam's wailing.

Joy knew what had happened before she reached the door. We have a very large, very old mirror that is attached to the wall outside Noah's room, but is so heavy we also have it sitting on a bench. Sam loves the mirror because it stretches down to his height, so he can make faces in it and run his cars along the bench so there are two cars instead of one. Evidently after seeing that Joy wouldn't come out when he knocked on the door, he shifted his attention to the mirror. And somehow, that mirror came down on top of him.

We still aren't sure how the mirror came down; all Sam will say is that he touched it. We are sure of the results; Sam standing in a field of broken wood and glass. The mirror fell on Sam and evidently broke over him like a wave, leaving him standing in the middle of it. There was blood everywhere, so Joy frantically scooped him up and called me to come home. I told her to get Sam in the shower to get the glass off and find out where the blood was coming from and that I would be home soon. When I did arrive home, this is what I found:Miraculously, Sam only had a small cut on his nose and a small gash on his forehead. By the time I was home, he was watching Thomas - clearly shaken up, but no worse for wear. Tonight at his bath, I cleaned out his wound again and put butterfly bandaids on it, and he was completely fascinated by the new bandages, and I could see him thinking how he might get more on his body. The only after effects I've seen was when Sam climbed in my truck tonight. He reached back and touched the back window and quietly claimed "This window won't fall on me; it's glued to the truck."

After Joy stopping my heart on Friday night and Sam stopping it this morning, I'm not sure what else I can take. I'm ordering a calm Thanksgiving week this year.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How Not to Prepare for a Recital

Have you ever had one of those dreams where, when you wake up, you cannot shake the feeling that your dream was real? It is as if your dream sneaked a tendril into waking life and is becoming manifest. That feeling overwhelmed me this weekend.

It began Friday night. Joy had been having abdominal pain for the past day and a half, and while Sam and I were eating supper, she was throwing up food that had been in her stomach for the past day. Never a good sign, that food's presence convinced us to send Joy first to urgent care and then on to the ER.

While Joy was off to the doctor, I got Sam in bed and Noah back asleep (after both broke down and attempted to outcry the other) and sat by the phone waiting. Joy called periodically to say that the doctor thought she might have some sort of blockage and had ordered X-rays; that the X-rays didn't show blockage, so he had ordered a CAT scan; that the CAT scan showed a ring around her small intestines that could be a host of things, including Chron's disease; that she was severely dehydrated and was being hooked up to an IV; and finally, at 3:00 in the morning, that she was being admitted.

I know that Joy must have been a little on edge through all this (but remained remarkably calm and upbeat on the phone with me), but I was a basket case. I had a friend on standby to come over and stay with the boys, was calling parents frequently with updates and ultimately asking Joy's mom to come and help out no matter what happened, was trying to get Noah to take formula for the first time in his life, and was trying to control the urge to drop everything and go to the hospital. Through it all I got about three hours of sleep, just what you need when you are playing a recital the next day at 5:00.

This was the first time we've encountered the problem of having young children and needing care for them while one parent goes to the hospital. Of course, if Joy had been suddenly scheduled for anything other than "sit in a room while various doctors throw various opinions at you" I would have been there in a heartbeat, but we both had a hard time figuring out the balance between staying home and normalizing our boy's lives and being there to support the other one. Why are these things in the parent manual?

Ultimately, I had a friend come over Saturday morning early so I could go to the hospital, Joy was released later that same morning, and we still have no firm answer on what was wrong with her. The entire weekend was a waking dream, and I'm still not sure what fears were real and which were symptoms of being up at 3:00, utterly helpless before a 5 month old and an agonizing decision between staying and going.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Bit More Musicology

After reading my post from yesterday, Joy reminded me of the biggest PR coup musicology has had in several years - Prince's song and album Musicology. That's right, the purple one himself promoted my little discipline with a song that people hailed as Prince getting back to the basics (looking into his own musical history as it were). I remember when Prince brought his tour to Champaign-Urbana several of us in the department wanted to go over just to get t-shirts. We were hoping they would have one of these two favorite lyrics on them:

"This is just another one of God's gifts - Musicology"


" Kick the old school joint 4 the true funk soldiers - Musicology"

Really, can you get any better than musicologist being called the "true funk soldiers?" So, in celebration this Friday, here's Prince's video:

Don't you love how even the iconography of the video plays with musical history?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Jane Fonda's a Musicologist?

Musicology has always had a strange reputation in popular culture. Most people on first hearing the word think it is made up ("The study of music? Really?") and then take a few minutes processing what it is we do ("You talk and write about music? Isn't that like dancing about architecture?"). That doesn't mean musicologists have been absent from the pop culture scene - every so often on the listserv for the American Musicological Society there is a back and forth about musicologists in the movies and the discussion always comes down to Peter Bogdanovich's 1972 screw-ball comedy What's Up Doc? That movie starred Ryan O'Neal as Dr. Howard Bannister, professor of musicology at the Ames Conservatory of Music in Ames, Iowa. Bannister go to San Fransisco with his fiancé to compete for a musicology research grant, when he runs into none other than Barbra Streisand as Judy Maxwell, a directionless but brilliant young woman who falls for Dr. Bannister. Hilarity ensues through a case of mistaken luggage, a jewel theft, and some government spies, with all ending well.

Add to that triumph of musicology PR Jane Fonda's triumphant return to Broadway after forty years as, yes, a musicologist. She's starring in 33 Variations, described in the press release as "the story of Beethoven's fascination with a trivial waltz, and the modern-day musicologist Katherine Brandt (Jane Fonda) who sets out to discover the root of his obsession. As Beethoven's indisputable genius and delightful humanity come to life on the sheet music in front of her, Katherine not only reveals the true nature of his gift, but also comes to embrace the beauty and legacy of her own life." Ah, a musicologist finds herself in her fulfilling work.

Who knows whether or not the play will be any good, but this kind of publicity is miles better than the last time musicologists were in the news: when a musicologist went on the show Beauty and the Geek and you can guess what side of the equation she was on. My favorite quote about her participation came from the article which boldly stated, "Nicole is a musicologist from San Francisco, which probably tells you a lot about her — she doesn't wear makeup, has issues with personal space, and wears a shirt that says "I Love Nerds." That about sums us up.

Ready for your debut as a member of this crowd Ms. Fonda?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More Prepared Piano Pictures

After yesterday's post, I thought you might be interested in some fabulous photos Misty took of my preparations (and I say that because the photos themselves are wonderful, not necessarily the subject). You get to see a bit of how I do it and can see the crowd that developed around the piano as I worked and talked and made (slightly) witty remarks. (Click on the picture for the entire set.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Preparing for a Recital

Even though I usually only perform once a year at best, this fall has seen a large upswing in my performing schedule. It started when I began talking with George Keck about my coming down to Ouachita Baptist University, the ole alma mater, to perform Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano. You may remember that I performed the work on a Musicircus in Kansas City a little over a year ago. I love the work and am always looking for opportunities to play it, so we scheduled the concert for the day before Halloween, and I began preparing (in all the senses needed for the work).

I decided to open up my preparation of the piano to any interested students; over twenty showed up. Misty and Stephen came for the performance and Misty took pictures while Stephen helped me prepare. The number of curious students should have made me realize that the concert was going to be a big event. I was expecting perhaps 50-100 people for a odd Cage recital. At least 250 showed up. The concert was great fun, and the audience members seemed to be entranced by the sounds floating out of the piano. Both before and after the concert the piano was mobbed by people wanting to look inside; I think the piano was a bigger celebrity than myself as performer.

After I had scheduled the Cage performance, a student with whom I'd worked on a project about postminimalist piano music asked me to play David Borden's Double Portrait with him. Long fascinated by this beautiful piece of music, how could I say no? So this Saturday, only two weeks after my Cage performance, I'm on stage again playing a piece that has challenged me in ways no traditional piece of music ever has. Perhaps after this weekend I can take a small break.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

What Today is Really About

This morning, Joy and I woke up about the same time before either one of us needed to be up, a feat that never happens. We had decided last night that we would walk up the street to vote this morning, but hadn't decided when.

"Do you want to throw on clothes and go vote?" Joy asked, "or go after breakfast and showers?"

"I don't know," I responded in my usual noncommittal way. "Let's ask Sam."

So we did. Sam wanted breakfast first, so we ate, then loaded Sam into his stroller and Noah into the sling, and then headed up the street. We asked Sam who he was going to vote for on the way. "Barack Obama" he shouted. When we got to the polling place I asked Sam again who he was going to vote for. "John McCain" came the reply. Want to find those 6% of undecided voters from yesterday? Sam's evidently one of them.

We were lucky at our polling place and there was no line. I took Sam with me and Joy took Noah when we voted. Sam was fascinated by the electronic voting machines we use and quietly whispered my choices on the "yes" or "no" answers so I didn't have a secret ballot. But I must admit that the geeky side of me (which is admittedly all sides) reveled in showing Sam the democratic process.

With our fresh "I voted stickers," Joy and I decided to take advantage of all the freebies in town by eating lunch at Chick-fil-a (free chicken sandwich with sticker!). We decided to meet up after my 10:00 practice session at the one halfway between the house and work.

I arrived first and the line coiled outside the door and down the sidewalk. I took my place in line behind a couple with their young son up on the Dad's shoulders. The boy wasn't much older than Sam and had evidently recently potty trained because his underwear and pants were hiked down lower than the proverbial plumber. That's right, his bottom was exposed right at my eye level. I sighed in relief when the boy finally wiggled his pants up and I heard the woman behind me mumble "I was praying that would happen."

She was an African-American grandmother of 14 wearing her Obama hat, shirt, and button. We began talking and through our conversation both before and after Joy joined us the import of the day fully hit me. She had woken up at 3:30 this morning, so excited to vote that she couldn't sleep. After lounging in bed until 4:30, she finally decided to head down to the polling place behind her house to be first in line when the polls opened at 6:00. She was second in line, but that didn't dim her enthusiasm at all. Talking with her I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by her generosity of spirit and her outlook on the day. She kept repeating like a refrain "Isn't this a beautiful day," and she wasn't only speaking of the gorgeous weather we've had the past few days. No, she was talking about her ability to vote for a man who looked like her, something she never thought would happen.

No matter who you voted for today, I think you have to agree that woman radiated the spirit I hoped Sam would pick up when we went to vote this morning. Here she was, a woman who had felt kept on the margins of our society as a child living long enough to see a world where her grandchildren, boys and girls Sam's age, would grow up knowing that anything they dream of is within their reach. She felt alive with the promise of this country, a promise I pray will continue to expand, that anyone and everyone can strive and dream and achieve. It is indeed a beautiful day.

Go Vote

You knew it had to come. Your public service announcement from sonicgranades. So here's your commercial reminding you through means both sarcastic and sentimental of your duty today.

So go brave the long lines and join in with all the new voters and make your voice heard.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Listening Journals from the Renaissance

As usually happens about once a month, my students in music history have finished and posted their listening journals. This round covers music from the Renaissance and, coincidentally, all responded to the same earlier post except for the author of that original post. So you get four chances to look at responses to one post, something that had never happened in these journals before. Go, read, enjoy, and perhaps find a new CD with which to fall in love.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Halloween Picture Only One Day Late

A week before Halloween, Joy and I packed Sam into the car and headed off to find a costume. We went to Old Navy, which last year had cute costumes for the toddler set, but found nothing of interest to Sam. Then we went to the Target next door. The costumes were a mess, obviously pawed over and in disarray. Sam was overwhelmed and didn't like any of the costumes. We didn't push anything on him and headed off to pick up some pictures we had waiting at JC Penneys.

But next to JC Penney's is another Target, so we decided to try one more time. In this Target, the costumes were all in a row, neatly arranged and hung, and Sam was much more interested in the process of finding a costume. Of course, the hunt was over when I found the Thomas costume. I pulled it off the hanger and Sam's face lit up as though he had just found the Holy Grail. We've since worn it three times, including last night, and his face never fails to look like this:Noah, on the other hand, couldn't care less if he were dressed up or not. I found a great shirt that declared "This is my costume!" and put it with a pumpkin hat that glowed in the dark. It became a litmus test for me because as we paraded him around at Kindermusik and then at various church festivals, the women always cooed "What a cute little pumpkin!" while the men always read the shirt and laughed. It truly was the best of both worlds - a costume suiting mom and dad.

Sam had a great time this Halloween because he finally discovered what the holiday is all about - CANDY! Last night after his bath, he waddled in to give Joy a hug and kiss before bath and croaked, "My throat is scratchy. I need a piece of candy." We'll see how long our huge bag lasts this week.