Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Twas the Night Before the Night Before Christmas

Last night, after putting the kids to bed and planning our Christmas Eve, we all sat down to watch a movie before turning in. About 20 minutes into the movie, Noah woke up crying, an uncommon occurrence these days. He wouldn't go back to sleep, so Joy and I abandoned the movie and brought him to bed with us.

An hour later, he began to vomit. And not just a little bit, but everything he had eaten, including a McDonald's strawberry shake. As Joy comforted him, I started cleaning up the bed, and the trail into the bathroom, and the bathroom itself, and all Noah's and Joy's clothes (said strawberry milkshake? Majorly stain-inducing.) Joy's sister Shelly was helping get things into the washing machine when she slammed her finger in the sliding door that goes into the laundry room. Joy and I deposited sleepy Noah and bandaged Shelly on the couch to recover for a bit and got Shelly a drink, which she promptly dropped out of her hurt hand onto the tile floor where it shattered, throwing bits of glass all over Sam's train track left out for early morning play. We finally finished cleaning around 1:00 this morning, only to have Noah continue to throw up about every hour until morning.

Needless to say, we're now planning a low key Christmas Eve. Hopefully Santa will bring us some deep sleep and Shout stain remover for Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

On Video Games

Last night the grandparents took the grandkids to Chuck E. Cheese and the parents got to tag along. The pizza was as bad as you'd expect (really, does even pizza sauce need to be sugared so kids will gobble it down?) The building was so overstimulating that you needed to step outside just to avoid a seizure. And the kids were in heaven.

At one end of Chuck E. Cheese was a stage full of animatronic anthropomorphic creatures all playing instruments and singing "Feliz Navidad" and "The Dreidel Song" and "We Wish you a Merry Christmas." Noah and Ana, our neice, were entranced and watched and danced for most of the night.

Sam? He couldn't care less about dancing animals. Not when there were video games to play. Last year when we took Sam, he thought the moving trains and cars like those outside grocery stores were the best thing in the world. This year, he wanted to try every single video game that you drove or flew. So we drove big rigs, batmobile-like off road vehicles, race cars, wave jumpers, fighter planes, and even go carts. Most of these games moved so much they had seat belts, and Sam was in heaven. I operated the pedals while he steered and once he discovered that most of the rides had turbo buttons, we never went below 150 mph and never missed an opportunity to crash into other cars.

Noah, who wants to be like Sam in everything, tried the snow mobile game with Joy driving him, but one seat vibration and he was done. That was fine with Joy, who was getting motion sick from the games, but it won't be long until I'm hoping from game to game with two little boys who want to drive. I see many sugar-laden pizzas in my near future.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sam Loves His Alphabet

Yesterday, as we drove to visit grandparents, the boys were being restless so I decided to engage Sam in the alphabet game. We started spotting letters on signs, finding A and then B. When I mentioned we needed to start looking for C, Sam declared from the back seat, "C is my favorite letter!"

We had never heard this before, so I innocently asked, "Why is C your favorite letter?"

Sam paid me no attention and continued, "And T. T is also my favorite letter. Oh, and R too. My favorite letters are C, T, and R."

Completely flummoxed, I asked again, "why are those your favorite letters?"

With more than a hint of incredulity in his voice, Sam responded, "Because all my favorite things start with those letters - Cars, Trains, and Railroads!"

Of course. How could I have been so silly.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What I Saw When I Opened Facebook This Morning

I'm still trying to figure out if this is some deep statement on the precariousness of marriage with two small children demanding constant time and energy or simply Facebook being weird.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It's Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas

We drove home last night through gently falling snow, listening to Christmas music and Sam exclaim over every snow plow we passed. Although we only got about 1/4 of a inch on the ground, the powdery snow was irresistible to Sam. He could barely eat breakfast for looking out the window and longing to do this:Unfortunately, Noah, who experienced snow for the first time in his memory this morning, wasn't so sure about it:He especially wasn't sure after Sam (who spent his entire time outside running around, making snowballs, and throwing snow everywhere) tossed a bit of snow on him. Ok, Sam threw snow in Noah's face. Thus ended this morning's adventure, but with temperatures hovering around 15 today, you can bet we'll be back in the snow this afternoon.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Future of Ensembles?

My dean directed my attention to this phenomenon yesterday:

I'm sure that the ensemble does more than play drones and theme songs from Zelda, but I haven't found any full length videos of performances other than this one at Michigan last month. I think harnessing new musical instruments is a great idea (and can you imagine how they would sound using Bloom:)

So what do you think? The future of musical ensembles? Or catchy gimmick?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sam's Assignments

The other night, we had all had it with each other. With getting back in our normal routine after Thanksgiving, getting our house decorated for Christmas, and the boys both having small colds, we were snapping at each other left and right. So as we piled in the car to go to a friend's house, Joy came to our family's rescue:

"I have an assignment for everyone," she announced. "We each have to say one thing that we love and appreciate about each other member of the family." Joy went first and proceeded to refocus us on why we enjoy each other's company. I started to follow Joy when Sam piped up, "No, it's my turn!" His list was on how much he likes to play with us all (and how much he enjoy's Noah's words like "Mehmo" for "Elmo.") I followed with my list, and afterwards, we each felt a little calmer, a little more peaceful towards one another.

But Sam wasn't finished. "Are you ready for your next assignment?" he hollered from the back seat. "Sure," Joy and I tentatively responded. "Ok, now you have to tell what you love and appreciate about....the highway!"

Joy and I played along as one assignment followed another. We had to tell what we appreciated about the airport, about cars, about Union Station, about the interstate - basically anything that crossed Sam's mind was fodder for his assignments. It was a hilarious trip through Sam's imaginative mind. And as we arrived at our friends' house I realized that as exasperating as it can be, I'm truly appreciative of that imagination.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cute Photos for a Thanksgiving Day

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone. Enjoy cute photos of the boys along with your turkey.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Stop Stalking My Family, Pottery Barn

I have a hard enough time convincing Joy not to spend a bazillion dollars at Pottery Barn when the catalogs arrive every month without this showing up in the most recent one:
That's right, our children's names are hip enough to share a photo shoot in Pottery Barn. *sigh*

Saturday, November 21, 2009

50 Most Important Albums

Have you seen this yet? This week, NPR's music gurus got together and decided on the 50 most important albums of the 21st century's first decade. They weren't interested in the best, but the ones that were game changers in some ways. Most of their picks you would have guessed, and many are right on. I'm glad they singled out Osvaldo Golijov as his music has definitely made people sit up and take notice, but I would have picked Ayre as the game changer (who expected anyone to get Dawn Upshaw to growl?). But besides picking Britney Spears, I couldn't believe that they thought John Adams's On the Transmigration of Souls was a huge shift in perception or composition. Come on, he's been composing and releasing albums in that style for 20 years now. What about David Lang's Little Match Girl Passion? I know just from my students that the composition and album have changed the way they hear compositions from the branches of minimalism.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Harry Partch in the News

It isn't often that the main subject of my scholarly inquiry ends up at the center of a feud between rock musicians. So imagine my glee when I discovered this single this morning:
That's right, Beck has posted a song called "Harry Partch" over on his website. Granted that listening to it he borrows from minimalism as he does from Partch, but he's got some sounds that mimic Partch's plectrum instruments and he plays around in a justly tuned toolbox.

Evidently the single was inspired by an argument between Radiohead and The Fiery Furnaces. Radiohead recently released a single called "Harry Patch" in honor to the oldest WWI British Soldier who died this summer. The lead singer of Furnaces responded:

"'Oh, please listen to our new song about Harry Patch'. You brand yourself by brazenly and arbitrarily associating yourself with things that you know people consider cool. That is bogus. That's a put-on. That's a branding technique, and Radiohead have their brand that they're popular and intelligent, so they have a song about Harry Patch. How's the song? Is it 48 notes to the octave? What does it have to do with Harry Patch? Oh, my wife says I am being very rude. She doesn't like me insulting Radiohead. She's afraid they will send their lackeys through the computer to sabotage us. But they needn't worry -- we are a band that sabotages ourselves."

Yes, he mistook Harry Partch for Harry Patch. That's ok, I do it all the time. Still, it made for a great moment in the sun for good ole Harry.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sam Continues His Plan for World Domination

Monday night,we were all sitting at supper, eating and chatting when the topic turned to Sam's day at school. We innocently began asking him what he had done when under his breath he mentioned kicking. Shocked, Joy and I looked each other for a moment before Joy cautiously asked:

"Sam, did someone kick you?"

Sam turned and looked at Joy for a moment before he started laughing maniacally. In between his laughs, he managed to say, "No, no one would kick me!"

That's right, Sam is so sure of his place on the playground that it is a hysterical thought just to contemplate someone kicking him.

*sigh* He was probably laughing because we had been laughing all through supper, but still, we though it useful to talk about how we should solve our frustrations through nonviolent means. You know, like mind control.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Autotuning as Internet Meme

I've written before of my serious problems with autotuning when it is hidden from the listener and we're allowed to believe that singers can actually hit the notes they are hitting correctly. But what of obvious uses of autotuning like T-Pain? Or those Carl Sagan mashups Stephen has been posting the last few weeks? Well, in order to understand those, I think we need a lesson from Weird Al:

Know Your Meme: Auto Tune (featuring "Weird Al" Yankovic) from Rocketboom on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sam Plays Games

Joy and I are gamers from way back and since having Sam, have been looking forward to the day when he was ready to play games. Since this summer, he's been mildly interested in them, but over the past two weeks, he's become obsessed. He has been pulling games out of our game drawers and asking to play them, particularly "Bitin off Hedz," a dinosaur game where you try to make it to the end of the board without another dinosaur throwing rocks at you or, ahem, bitin off your hed.

"Bitin off Hedz" is a silly game and perfect for letting off steam after a long week, which is exactly how we used it in graduate school. For Sam, he is just eager to march around with dinosaurs and throw rocks. He and Joy have played it almost every day this week and I'm sure I'll play a few games myself today. But my favorite part of this whole adventure was when he told Joy he wanted to play that "Chia Pass" game. She looked at him with a confused look until she realized that he was misreading the company's name that makes "Bitin off Hedz" - Cheapass Games.

Yeah, that's totally our new name for that company, replacing what my cousin used to call it - Cheapbeep games.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Teaching at the Speed of the Internet

I'm always trying to make music history come alive for my students, so when a colleague mentioned that she wanted to get some pianos tuned in historical temperaments for her advanced ear training class, I jumped at the chance to have my early music history students experience the temperaments for themselves. Our piano technician tuned three harpsichords for us, one in just intonation, one in meantone, and one in Kirnberger well temperament. He then took the time to explain to the students why these various temperaments existed and the types of music written for them (if you'd like to know more details, let me know in the comments). Once he was finished demonstrating, he invited the students to come and try out the harpsichords. One student came down and tried a bit of Scarlatti, another played a little Bach. Then, one of my jazz studies majors, decided to try a little improv on the Kirnberger and modulated all over the place. Now, all of these temperaments have keys that aren't fully in tune, though the well tempering does make all keys usable; just some are more usable than others. When he modulated, he was able to find all the bad keys and the result was amazing.

After the demonstration, we headed back up to the classroom and discussed the various instrumental genres that wrote in those temperaments. When I got back to my office after class, a student had e-mailed me the following video:

That's right, a friend of his videoed my jazz student and then posted it to youtube while we were walking back up to the classroom. My classroom is instantly expanded where the students can now go back and hear the temperaments whenever they want. Technology is truly changing teaching.

New Listening Journals

In case you are interested (and have a burning passion for Josquin or Palestrina), my students have all posted their latest round of listening journals. I need to figure out a way for them to stream musical examples to make the journals that much more engaging, but they are fun to read as they are. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

More Fun Historical Tidbits

Yesterday, I brought you a bit of musical history restored. Today here's a bit of musical history that you no longer have to dig for. Life Magazine is all on google books and all searchable. That means that the legendary review of Cage's percussion concerts from the early 1940s is now available at the click of a button. I've long had the text, but now I also know that pictures of the ensemble rest side-by-side with "the single slice of have that serves five!"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Futurists Return

I've long been fascinated by a little known early 20th century composer named Luigi Russolo. Russolo rejected everything about music of his time, especially the fact that it was created by traditional instruments and instead urged composers to write for the sounds that serenade us everyday without our conscious awareness. As he wrote, orchestras and pianos were inferior to “the crashing down of metal shop blinds, slamming doors, the hubbub and shuffling of crowds, the variety of din from stations, railways, iron foundries, spinning mills, printing works, electric power stations, and underground railways.” In other words, Russolo had a vision in which “every factory will be transformed into an intoxicating orchestra of noises.”

Those lines come from his 1913 Futurist manifesto "The Art of Noises." Not content to just write about this new sound world, Russolo began creating it. He began inventing instruments based on the hurdy gurdy principle where the sound-producing object is in a box and the turn of a crank operates it. He called these instruments called “intonarumori” (noise intoners) and first performed with them in early 1914.Fascinating ideas that influenced countless composers in the 20th century from Stravinsky to Cage and on down the line. The only problem is that all his intonarumori were destroyed along with most of his compositions so we've had, at best, ear witnesses to tell us about the works.

Not any longer.

I just discovered this video that comes as advertisement for a concert this week featuring the intonarumori:

(and yes, that is Mike Patton of Faith No More) Isn't that amazing? A piece of history restored that still seems ahead of its time.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sam and Noah Do Halloween

For various reasons, we've been away from our house on Halloween for every year before this one. So we didn't know what the neighborhood was like on the holiday nor did we know how Sam would react to trick or treating as all he had experienced was getting candy at church.

Looking back we shouldn't have been so surprised at the outcome.

Early Saturday afternoon, we headed up to a neighborhood church that was hosting a big Halloween carnival. As we walked up the street, we saw a big tractor pulling a wagon covered with hay. Sam was excited, but Noah was beside himself. He frantically signed truck until we arrived at the church and climbed on for the hayride. Then Noah reversed positions and began crying about the ride (probably because of the loud tractor) until we were finished.

Inside the church were games galore, and everything Sam did, Noah had to try also. Sam decorated a cookie? Noah smeared icing all over one too. Sam wanted to race the wind-up pigs? Noah wanted to pick one up and carry it to the finish line. Sam threw the bean-bag and knocked off Humpty Dumpty without knocking over the wall? Noah threw the beanbag and knocked off Humtpy Dumpty without knocking over the wall. (seriously - we were very impressed and plan to start baseball lessons soon).

Afterwards, we came home for a bit of nutritious supper before heading out to trick or treat. I volunteered to stay home and hand out candy, but Joy insisted I go. I later discovered why she wanted me to go. Door to door trick or treating in your neighborhood when you know most of your neighbors is nothing more than an excuse for parents to revel in people fawning over your adorable children.

The boys had a different reason for being out on the street. Sam quickly figured out the pattern that we only stopped at houses with lights on and would run screaming "trick or treat" from house to house, barely waiting for us to catch up. Once we caught up to him, Sam would always mention that he needed extra candy for his brother just to pad his certainly rich coffers. In fact, in crowds of children, he was the one who sneaked a hand in the bowl to get a piece of candy and then held his hand out as if he hadn't already received some. Noah, on the other hand, wasn't too sure of the entire process and even tried to give the candy he got at the first house to the owners of the second house. But he quickly figured out the game and by halfway through the night, was toddling up to doors, smiling and saying "trii tree" and "than oo" to get candy.

Even with all the candy, the favorite prize of the night was from our neighbors across the street. They gave out plastic kazoos and since Saturday night, our house has rung with double kazoo playing from morning to night. But that's alright - perhaps the kazoos will distract the boys enough so they won't notice that half their candy has mysteriously disappeared.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Composer Theft

Have any of you been following this story? Turns out that Peter Maxwell Davies, a wonderful English composer, has been swindled out of over $850,000 by his agent and manager of over 30 years, Michael Arnold, in order to sustain his gambling addiction. The story broke late last year, but in the past few weeks Arnold has admitted to the theft and received an 18 month jail sentence.

Who does this? Doesn't everyone know that contemporary composers are, by and large, not a rich group by any stretch of the imagination. The revelation comes on the heels of Terry Riley's website getting hacked. Who is attacking all the cool composers?

The one thing that gives me great joy in the entire episode is my learning that Max Davies is currently the Master of the Queen's Music. Why do I take such great joy in Davies having this position? Because he is perhaps best known for his Eight Songs for a Mad King in which King George III progressively descends into insanity, ultimately destroying a violin on stage. Perhaps that's why when he was appointed, they changed the position's tenure from life to ten years.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

We're Pirates - Aaaarrrrrr


We'll be taking Sam out for his first true trick or treating tonight since he's fully discovered that Halloween is all about the candy. Hopefully we'll all still sleep tonight, even with the sugar rush. You can tell in the picture that he's not only saying "Aaaarrrr!" but also plotting about his candy. Noah? He's just along for the pirate ride. And wearing a hat.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Da Is

We've had many conversations around our house about the differences between our two boys. One loves to snuggle, one only snuggles when extremely tired. One has always had a mind of his own, one happily goes with the flow. One loves trains and the other loves trains...oh, wait.

Presently, the most notable difference is their acquisition of language. Sam has always been a talker. He babbled all the time as a baby and learned to talk early and quickly. Language simply fascinates him. Noah could care less. He understands everything we say to him and then some, but is in no rush to speak it back to us. In fact, most of his words are sounds for things - "woof" for dog, "moo" for cow, and the like.

But recently he's begun making stabs at English words and sentences. Our current favorite is "da is," for "there it is." We play peek-a-boo all the time and constantly ask him where things are, so he constantly needs to proclaim, "there it is!" You can see what I mean:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I Can Help!

On Tuesday nights, we've started going to a living room group through our church. We meet together with other adults and discuss a Biblical passage and have warm drinks and conversation. The couple that host have a downstairs playroom where we send the kids to play and read. An ideal set until I fill in one final detail:

Sam is the only boy.

Currently, Noah is small enough to stay with us and wander around and not cause too much trouble. Sam, however, runs downstairs and plays with the three other girls. Well, perhaps "plays with" is too strong a phrase. "Plays around" is more accurate.

Last Tuesday night we heard a screaming cry issue from downstairs and Joy and the girl's mother ran downstairs to see what had happened. They discovered that the young girl had been playing with legos and Sam had, as is typical, come over and knocked down her carefully built house. Joy talked with Sam about how his actions made the girl feel, and he allowed that she was probably upset. Joy asked what Sam could do to make her feel better, and Sam responded by telling the girl he was sorry. Then Joy asked the fateful question: "Do you think you could help her with the legos." Sam nodded and walked over to her and in an earnest voice, desperate to please, told her:

"I can help you knock the rest over!"

Friday, October 23, 2009

Seeing Classical Music

A few weeks ago, my brother Stephen posted a fascinating entry on his blog concerning visualizing music. I've been promising him a post on how the visual aspects of written music can drastically change the performed sound.

This is not that post.

I've been too swamped with writing and teaching and grading to fully form that post (which will appear in the future). But I recently came across these two videos from last year that almost perfectly captures, for me, the experience of listening to a work by Olivier Messiaen:


These films juxtapose the creation of a painting with Messiaen's stunning Quartet for the End of Time. Whoever had this idea hit on a brilliant notion. Color is a basic feature of Messiaen’s music as he felt the word "tonal" had no meaning. For him, music was not tonal or atonal, but either had color or lacked it. He experienced a mild form of synaesthesia, which in his case manifested as the experience of color when he heard music. And even though he never saw the colors visually, they impacted his composing. He even went so far as to notate the colors of his music in several scores, such as in one of my favorite of his works, Des canyons aux étoiles.

This is one way to beautifully visualize a piece of music. Enjoy.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Musicians with Day Jobs

The first weekend of November, I'm taking a group of musicology students to hear Nolan Gasser speak. You may not be familiar with Gassar. He's a musicologist and composer who teaches part time at Stanford, but spends most of his time working with Pandora.

I wasn't familiar with Pandora until late last spring when a student introduced me to the music genome project, an attempt to classify all music according to specific characteristics. Like the human genome project, the music genome project is an attempt to outline the fundamental stuff of music. In the project, a group of musicologists take a song and classify it according to almost 400 characteristics, from "Blazin' Rappin'" to "Interesting Part Writing" to "Wah-Wah Guitar" (you can peruse the list of characteristics here). Those characteristics are grouped according to "genes," and those genes make up the vector of each song. Those genes and vectors are then related to the vectors and genes of other songs through an algorithm to begin to find commonalities among pieces of music. It takes almost half an hour to catagorize a song, so even though they've been working since 2000, they've managed to only scratch the surface.

Still, the project is a remarkable achievement, particularly through Pandora. With Pandora, you enter a song you like and the algorithm kicks in and finds a related song you might like. You then listen to the song and tell Pandora if you like it or not. As you continually rate songs, the genes between songs you like and songs you don't like are continually compared until, theoretically, Pandora only plays songs you will like, regardless of commercial interests pushing songs on you.

This past weekend, the New York Times Magazine ran a story on Pandora and the music genome project that got me thinking about the ways Pandora is changing how we receive our music. With the iPod world, our music is extremely specialized - the notion of sitting around and listening together and sharing a sonic experience is diminished. In some ways Pandora takes the iPod idea to its logical conclusion. Now you never have to stretch yourself with music; you only hear what you already like. As a music educator there are parts of the process that thrill me (discovering new music) and parts that terrify me (boxing in musical taste). It will be interesting to see where the project develops from here.

Still, the article is worth a read if you haven't already, especially because it has given me my new favorite definition of musicologists: people "who, really, are musicians with day jobs."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Avoiding the Balls and Other Useful Life Guidelines

This past weekend, we celebrated Sam's birthday with my parents. Having another birthday was a huge deal for Sam; he kept mentioning this was his "third" birthday to everyone we met. His first birthday was the weekend Joy's parents and sister came. The second was his actual birthday when we took him to eat ravoli (his current favorite food). I'm surprised when he received more presents yesterday (this time from his good friend Alexander) that he didn't declare the day his fourth birthday. At least then we wouldn't have had to explain to everyone that he was actually turning four, not three.

As part of the birthday celebration, we went to a local play place. Sam loves this place. There is a pretend village, a giant water table to splash in, a train table full of trains he doesn't have, an area for cooking and one for doing crafts, a sprawling outdoor playset, and the ball pit and plastic tubes to climb through.

Beforehand, Joy and I agreed to keep the boys out of the ball pit. With the flu and other viruses circling around the city like buzzards, we thought it best to limit exposure to the petri dish that is a ball pit. Then we noticed that everyone else evidently had the same idea and the ball pit was essentially empty. Then our kids, playing the next room over, began to notice the ball pit. Then it was all over.

Sam is an old pro at ball pits. He jumped and tumbled and threw balls through the bullseye and in general had a great time. Noah? He stood.
That's right - Noah treated the ball pit as his own private runway. I'm filing this one away for when I want to ruin his life by being a stage parent for his modeling career.

They both had a marvelous time the entire weekend, but the germy pit of balls was clearly the winning moment.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Film Trailers and Music

Last Friday, Spike Jonze's adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are hit theaters, carrying in its wake the expected critical reaction. My local reviewer found the film profoundly boring, a claim I can't counter as I haven't seen the movie, but one line in his review did provoke me to a response:

"A word about the creatures. Constructed by the Jim Henson workshop with their faces digitally augmented in post production, these towering, shaggy, overstuffed monsters perfectly capture the look of Sendak’s timeless illustrations. That’s why this film has one of the coolest trailers around." [emphasis added]

Have you seen the trailer? If not, or if it has been a few months, take a gander before continuing on:

Reading that line, I was amazed that he actually believed that creatures themselves made the trailer. They were certainly a part of the equation, and I'll admit to a thrill of recognition this summer when I first saw the preview before Harry Potter. The creatures are Sendak's drawings come to life. But the reviewer seems to forget that trailers are primarily visuals and music. The trailer for Where the Wild Things works because the trailer was cut to a song that perfectly matched the film's intent.

Most trailers are cut to portions of the temp track, a rough outline of previously composed music the director gives to the composer as a guide for the type of music he'd like to hear in the final mix. And most directors know little instrumental music other than film music, which is why James Horner's Aliens or Wojciech Kilar's Bram Stoker's Dracula keep getting used over and over. But occasionally the people who create trailers take the time to find a perfect marriage of sound and image, resulting in a powerful trailer.

Think back to earlier this year with the Watchmen trailer. The trailer opens with two cues from Philip Glass's Koyaanisqatsi, "Prophecies" and then "Pruit Igoe." This is movie music, sure, but it moves at the same pace as the images on screen. Then, in a stroke of beauty, the music segues into Muse's "Take a Bow," a song that Matthew Bellamy claims is based on his listening to Glass's soundtracks. But beyond the musical coordination, the song's lyrics include the lines:

"And our freedom's consuming itself,
What we've become is contrary to what we want
Take a bow.

Death, you bring death and destruction to all that you touch."

These lines summarize much of Watchmen in a few short words. In other words, the trailer is a perfect match to the movie and works profoundly on multiple levels

Returning to Where the Wild Things Are, the trailer opens with footsteps, birds, and hints of the wild things themselves, allowing the impact of seeing those creatures to fully register. But then, the song "Wake Up" by Arcade Fire enters halfway through the song with these lyrics:

"If the children don't grow up,
our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up.
We're just a million little gods causin' rain storms turnin' every good thing to
rust."

Here is a song about growing up and closing off your heart to wonder and love and emotion accompanying a trailer for an adaptation of a book that celebrated how the imagination of children allows them to deal with complex emotions. And when the wild rumpusing begins, the trailer circles back to the beginning of the song, a wordless vocal jam that moves in tempo with the images. Sure the creatures startle and amaze us, but the music grabs our heartstrings and plays them perfectly so we respond intellectually and emotionally to the trailer. That's why some trailers last and why some draw us into the theaters to watch films.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Virgil Thomson's Plow and Image Manipulation

Last night I gave a talk on Virgil Thomson's film scores for Pare Lorentz's Depression-era documentaries The Plow that Broke the Plains and The River. If you have never seen the films, they are powerful statements on how mankind has recklessly harmed the environment and the effects the nation was reaping at the time from agricultural over-cultivation (just think of the Dust Bowl) and deforestation (the regular flooding along the Mississippi and her tributaries). Thomson's scores work to crawl under your skin and help you feel the impact of the searing images on screen, and I firmly believe the films would not be half as successful as they are without the music. Though there is narration, these are essentially silent films and the music tells you what to feel long before the narrator in most cases.

But as beautifully constructed as the films are, as I was researching them for my presentation I was struck by their genesis more than their outcome. Both of these films were financed by the government. They are New Deal propaganda pure and simple. When Rexford Tugwell took the reins of the Resettlement Administration, he recognized that many were going to view its job of telling people where to live and how as socialistic (a view that did ultimately force him out of that job). Hoping to cut off criticism, he established an office of information for the RA and began churning out an amazing number of images that define the way we see the Great Depression. In the Photography Project, top-notch artists documented the Depression's human impact - resulting in the most iconic image, Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother. In the Special Skills Division, Sidney Robertson (who later married Henry Cowell) collected folk songs in California, music that was the basis for Woody Guthrie's career. And in the Film Project The Plow that Broke the Plains and The River transformed the way the RA and the Tennessee Valley Authority were viewed by the public. All these artistic products were paid for by the government, were produced during Roosevelt's bid for a second term, and told Americans why the New Deal was necessary.

We often moan about the ways politicians spin ideas and manipulate images from Bush's "Mission Accomplished" banner to Obama's greek columned acceptance speech in Denver to the infamous death panels. But to see these films with newly recorded soundtracks was to realize that today's politicans are inept at harnessing the media to manipulate the public. No wonder Congress in Roosevelt's day scuttled his attempt to have a joint session viewing of The Plow that Broke the Plains.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Taking the Stairs

The following video came my way this week and I had to share:

I appreciate the idea of getting people to use their legs and try the stairs by making them fun, but my mind immediately wanted to hear the musical results of rush hour, midnight, and all the times in between. Just when the video was getting interesting and more people were going up and down it, they cut over it with nice, pleasant, tonal music. But the indeterminate possibilities of the resulting music boggle the imagination. This calls for a field trip with recording equipment.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

More Listening Journals for your Enjoyment

We're about 1/3rd of the way through the semester and that means that it is time for listening journals again. This semester, five students are braving the writing intensive class to produce writings about recordings they are exploring and what their friends are hearing as well. We're trying something new this semester by writing together on a wiki before we post our thoughts for the outside world to see. Hopefully, we're building a bit more community and polishing our prose a bit more as well.

You'll find the list of blogs if you head over to the class website in the toolbar on the page's right. Dig into these journals, find new music you've never experienced before, and join us in opening up our ears to the sounds of the medieval world.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sam Turns Four

Sam was born on a day very much like today four years ago. Fall had come in with a vengeance only days before and the evenings were cool, the days perfect.

Sam's birth was not perfect - we had several frightening moments leading up to an abrupt C-section. But by 4:30 that afternoon I was holding my first born, awed and scared at his 8 lbs, 2 ounces.

These past four years have only compounded my feelings of awe and terror. Sam has developed into a generous, funny, energetic boy who loves to sing and dance and run and jump and push every button he can, from elevators to his parents'. He stays on step ahead of us, always working to out think and out fox our plans, but never with malicious intent. His spirit inspires us and frustrates us and we work hard to keep from snuffing it out.

A few examples: This past weekend, Joy's parents and sister and our niece came to celebrate Sam's "first birthday," as he has taken to calling it since my parents are coming later to celebrate again. We went to a local pumpkin patch and played the games offered, rode the trains and the hay wagon, and even shot corn out of a corn cannon. Sam careened from location to location, embracing the day the way he embraces life - wholeheartedly with no reservations. It did not matter if the sign clearly stated it was for older kids; Sam wanted to try everything. He wore us out that morning.

That evening, after all our family had headed back home and we had taken well-deserved naps, we went to Toys R Us to purchase a new train for Sam. He was looking at his various options and decided against picking his favorite train because, as he put it, "I'm getting Henry for my second birthday." Who knows how he perceived that, out of everything on his birthday list, Henry was already purchased is beyond me, but he was right.

I cannot believe the 8 lb bundle I held four years ago is now reading Elephant and Piggie books to me at nighttime, that the baby who slept in my arms now stretches to almost half my height. But I see in the four-year-old who now lives in our house that baby's wide-eyed fascination with the world around him, and I pray he never loses it.
Happy Birthday, Sam.

Friday, October 2, 2009

My Teaching

Ever wondered what it's like to be in my classroom? Here's your chance. Last May I gave a presentation to the faculty on my use of blogging in the classroom. The presentation was recorded and then posted to UMKC's youtube.edu website as a resource.

Most of you are familiar with the end product, as I post links whenever a group of listening journals is finished, but you might not know the pedagogical reasons why I use blogs or even the mechanics of it. So if you are curious and have roughly an hour to kill, here's where you can see that particular talk. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Slow Transformation VIII: The Bathroom Completed

You may remember that back in May, this entire renovation began with the bathroom. In the house, it was the one room that always bothered us but that we had done nothing about for five years. The upstairs bathrooms were worse, but we fixed them within the first year of our buying the house. Downstairs we figured was mainly for family, so it could wait.

It had bad wallpaper, carpet on the floor, bright blue paint, and an ancient vanity that gave you no room to put things you might need in a bathroom like soap and toothbrushes and towels.

So I spent last May ripping off wallpaper, painting the room (twice - it took a while to find the right paint), and cleaning the floor. In June, we put down the new flooring and put in a new vanity and towel ring. In August, I ripped up the floor where there was a leak and put down new flooring and installed a new light fixture. This month, I've hung a new mirror, added a shelf, and we picked out towels and a rug. With this portion of the renovation finished, I can finally see the light at the end of the project. Here's a bit of a comparison for you between May and this morning:























I'm very glad to have that piece done, and the bookshelves are close to finished. Once I get the doors on and touch up a few areas of paint, I'll be ready to call the entire room finished.

At least for now.

Monday, September 28, 2009

I'm Totally Fit

I remember when my brother got his Fit and tracked the fuel efficiency, I was amazed by the 37 miles he got to each gallon. So I decided to start tracking my Fit (which is the next generation after his) and let you know what I found.

I had my first fill-up yesterday after driving 389 miles I put in 8.97 gallons to fill the tank up, which means I averaged about 43 miles to the gallon!

Who knows how that will level out as the engine gets broken in, but considering that I used to average about 14 miles to the gallon, I don't think there is any way the old bank account (and the atmosphere) won't feel a difference.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Noah Learns to Jump

None stop excitement around our house these days, especially since Noah has determined that if Sam can do it, he can to. That means that in the backyard, if Sam climbs the ladder to the 6-feet-off-the-ground treehouse, Noah does it to. And if Sam thinks pushing Noah down is funny, then obviously Noah pushing Sam down is funny too. We've had lots of bumps, bruises, and close calls recently from this new policy of Noah's.

Perhaps most funny of all is that Noah has decided that if Sam can jump, so can he. You can see the results for yourself:

This policy may cause problems when Sam starts driving.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mozart Died of...Strep Throat?

Did you happen to see this article last month? After years of speculation about kidney failure, mercury poisoning from syphilis treatments, fevers, and (my personal favorite) trichinosis caused by consuming undercooked pork chops, a group of researchers believe they have figured out what killed Mozart - strep throat.

We've always known from eye witness accounts that in his final days Mozart's body was so swollen that he couldn't move in bed and that he was covered in rashes and spiking with alarming fevers. What we haven't known was that Vienna that winter was suffering through a rise in streptococcal infections, which can often lead to glomerulonephritis where the kidney's blood vessels are inflamed and the body swells.

So how do you treat strep? With antibiotics like penicillin, which Alexander Fleming discovered in 1928, 137 years too late for Mozart.

The case is logical and is as good a theory as any and I was truly interested to learn about the research. But do I really have to tell my students now that Mozart died of strep? The old jealous Salieri killing Mozart by having him write his own Requiem mass is a much better story.

Monday, September 21, 2009

They Come in Threes

We've had an eventful few weeks, from the conference, to getting a new car, to Sam repeated throwing up in said new car and everywhere else yesterday. But for some reason, our house has come under the most fire the past month. You remember the incident of the bathroom floor. I spent the days around the conference frantically digging a new drainage system for our backyard next to the house so we wouldn't have to worry about flooding under the new flooring again.

Then, two days after I finished the new drain, we heard a loud crash right after we had gone to bed. I jumped up to make sure both boys were in their beds and hadn't fallen out before collapsing back to sleep, figuring I would find out what the crash had been in the morning.

This is what I found in our backyard:
That's right, a giant limb had fallen from a tree in the backyard, hit the ground and then the broken end somersaulted into our house. The only reason it did not come into our bedroom was that it hit a supporting wall joist.

You'll also notice that there is a rather dead looking bunch of leaves underneath the branch. During the summer, we had a tree next to the house die on us, so when we had the branch removed and the wall patched, we had the tree removed as well:
Ah, if only that were the end of the saga. Early last week we began noticing that the refrigerator was not as cold as it normally was. I attributed this to Sam who has taken to standing with the refrigerator door open, longingly looking at the things he can't eat. I just figured he had finally noticed the knobs that control the temperature and turned them down.

If only it were that simple.

By Wednesday, we knew we had a problem, so I called for a repairman and he came last Thursday morning and in five minutes had replaced the fan motor to fix our refrigerator.

So if you are keeping count, that's three for the house and none for us. But the bottom level is almost finished, and once it's done, I'm counting it as a huge win for us.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Japan Feels Like

Since I spent the summer I turned 18 in Japan on an exchange, I've often been asked to describe what it felt like to live in Japan, especially in Tokyo, a city where past and present collide on every street corner. I've shown my pictures, related my stories, but nothing ever seemed to come close to the texture of the experience.

Then, today, I came across the following video. Although the saturation of colors makes it seem hyper-real, this video is the closest I've ever seen at describing what Japan felt like when I lived there. Hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Slow Transformation Part VII: Finishing up the Stairs

The project that has consumed my evenings for the better part of five months is finally winding down. I'm in the middle of painting the new bookcases (more on that later) and once they're in this weekend, I'll only have a few small things to fix from the great transformation of our downstairs.

During the week of the conference, I wanted a small project to work on. I had started the bookshelves, but knew they would take more time than I had that week, so I decided while I was sanding wood to use on the bookshelves I would sand, stain, and paint the stairs as well. Originally doing the stairs wasn't part of the grand transformation plan, but we discovered that stairs that have rested under dirty carpet for many years tend to need a little TLC.

First thing I did was fill in all the holes and divots that had formed over the past 40 years with a bit of wood filler. Then I went to town sanding.

Joy and I both decided we wanted the stairs to have a bit of a distressed look, so I didn't sand down the stairs to the most absolute smoothness. As you can see, the middle of each stair was still a bit darker than the edges and the filled in spots stand out ever so slightly.

I also only lightly sanded the rise on each stair because we decided to paint them to give the entire stair a bit of a lighter feeling.

The main point in all of this was to make the stairs feel smooth underneath our feet and give them a durable finish so we didn't worry about the kids dropping things.

After sanding, I put a thin layer of a light stain and then coated them with polyurethane. That process was fascinating because we couldn't walk on the stairs. So each night I'd put a coat on and Joy and I would run out of our garage and up to the front door when we heard Sam or Noah in the evening or when we wanted something to eat. I'm sure my neighbors wondered why we kept carrying ice cream into our garage those nights.

During the conference, I came home in the evenings and painted the rise before collapsing into bed. Only two coats of white paint and look what we have now:
(and yes, that's Noah wondering what is going on down there) I only have to figure out now if I want to put white quarter round down on each stair step.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Photos from the Conference

In case you're curious about how the 2nd International Conference on Minimalist Music looked, Scott Unrein has posted a great collection of the photos he took over the five days, including this one:
Scott has a great eye for capturing moments and just looking at the photos, I'm swept back to those times in sounds and smells as well as sights. Just click on the photo to get to his slide show.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Look, I'm Fit!

That's right, after almost a month of waiting to get my car, the gov'ment finally came through for us! The old truck held on (though I was very careful with it) for another four weeks and we didn't have to get the major work done on it that would be needed for a second four weeks.

The color is Blackberry Pearl (who thinks up these names) and it is extremely zoomy. As you can see, even Sam is into the car, all ready here for school this morning.

So if I don't blog for the next few days, you'll know that I'm vrooming all over town.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

2nd International Conference on Minimalist Music - The Concert

Let's face it, after having children the number of concerts Joy and I attended dropped dramatically. Back in our halcyon graduate school days we went to everything we possibly could, both in Urbana and in Chicago. We saw operas, symphonic concerts, piano and voice recitals, late-night improvs, avant-garde instillation. We poured every drop out of the opportunities presented to us. Once we moved and had Sam, however, going out became much more difficult. We now see a few concerts and plays and movies, but we pick and choose carefully and savor them more, in some ways.

I mention this as backdrop to my attending five concerts in as many days during the 2nd International Conference on Minimalist Music. And the best part of the concerts? I got to help plan who would perform and what would be performed. When we started planning this conference in earnest a year and a half ago, we on the steering committee (David McIntire, Scott Unrein, Jedd Schneider, and Andy Lee) put together a dream list of performers and performances. Everything on that list was featured last week. So to say the concert series was minimalist heaven for me is no understatement.

These five concerts were the meat of the conference, the events when the general public could experience minimalist and minimalist-inspired music. And each one lived up to the high expectations I had. Wednesday night, Mikel Rouse presented his film Funding. It was held at the KC Public Library and with it being free and the local-interest surrounding Rouse (he graduated from UMKC and the KC Art Institute) it was the best attended of our offerings. I've long been an admirer of Rouse's music and aesthetics (see these clips of Dennis Cleveland at U of I where I saw it to get a sense of his style) and his film did not disappoint. Easily the most traditionally minimalist of his scores, Funding is both a personal reflection on his experiences producing art in New York City from the late 1970s to 2000 and a meditation on the power of art to transcend economics, a message sorely needed today.

Thursday night, newEar, the local new music ensemble, presented the longest program I have heard them give in the past four years, an over-two-hour minimalist smorgasboard. There were early and forgotten pieces by Terry Riley, one of the founders of the style; drone-based multimedia pieces; texted, improvisatory pieces; strict process pieces; and, yes, pieces with a sparkling sense of humor. The concert was the most varied and in some ways the most challenging for its variety, but never less than fully engaging.

Friday night vies with Saturday night for my concert highlight. Sarah Cahill, a fabulous new-music pianist with an impecible ear for interpretation presented a concert of minimalist and minimalist-inspired pieces. Each work was an exquisite gem, including a reconstruction by Kyle Gann of an improvisatory work by Harold Budd and selections from Mamoru Fujiedo's Patterns of Plants. Rarely have I heard a piano recital in which every work is played with utter conviction and every work connects with the audience. Sarah is an artist who doesn't go through the motions, but rather inhabits each piece and opens the door for her audience and then invites them in.

Saturday night was overwhelming in every sense of the word. Legendary Charlemagne Palestine, who hasn't played in the states in years, gave a performance of his Schlingen-Blängen, and the name itself gives you a sense of his personality. Charlemagne always plays surrounded by teddy bears and with a glass of brandy close at hand. For the work, he manipulated an organ, slowly building up a chord of mind-blowing power, and then allowed his audience to walk around in the sound for a while. Harmonics that he was not playing spin through the air and you literally feel the work (some had to step outside because the sound is so overpowering). I've heard this work on CD several times and never have I fully understood it. His music is not expression, but experience.

The concert parade ended with a final experience, the premiere of a reconstruction of a lost early minimalist masterpiece called November. This four-and-a-half hour piano work is perfectly constructed and flows logically for its duration. Only the most stalwart stayed for the performance, but those of us who did recognized something monumental in the music. It was a fitting capstone to an amazing week of sound.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Better Late than Never

Ah well, my plan to keep you up-to-date on the concerts we had fell apart about the day I stopped sleeping. The conference is now officially over and officially a resounding success, so all that's left to do is recoup and get back to real life.

Before that happens, however, I will be providing a bit of a postmortem on the conference. Look for it in the next few days. Until then, enjoy the video that Scott Unrein, composer/musicologist/fellow conference planner, took of Charlemagne Palestine warming up for his nearly two-hour opus "Schlingen-Blängen" at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral Saturday night:

Charlemagne Palestine testing an organ from Scott Unrein on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Conference, Day 2

Day 2 of the conference is when we held things together and got over the few crises to keep the whole event going. Sarah Cahill was supposed to get in last night and have a masterclass this morning - her flight was canceled and we had to reschedule. We shuffled around two paper sessions at the last minute and had to print new (and more) programs. But the sessions were fascinating and all attendees seem to really be into the conference. Many students are making their way to the conference and entering the discussions they find. Conversations are producing new insights and connections. And I got to meet Charlemagne Palestine (more on that Saturday).

To top everything off, newEar gave a fantastic concert that, at over 2 hours, was easily the longest program they have ever done. There was a beautiful miniature work for cello and piano by Serbian composer Vladimir Tošić, the professional premiere of a companion piece to Terry Riley's called In C called Autumn Leaves, and a shimmering and moving work Sun on Snow by Barbara Benary. And, of course, this work, which has been on my list of pieces to do for a few years just for the amusement factor (it can really bring down the house, too):

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Conference Day 1

Since I'm going to papers and concerts all week, I thought I'd keep you up with what I'm busy doing by posting a few videos of the performers I'll be hearing. Tonight, we start off with Mikel Rouse, a composer and performer I've enjoyed since he brought his talk show opera Dennis Cleveland to Illinois while I was there. A year later, I performed in his setting of Cage's An Alphabet. Since that time, I've regularly taught his music to my classes, especially as he's an alum of UMKC. Here's a bit of what he's recently been doing.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Why I'm Not Around This Week

Here's a heads up for all of you wanting your (mostly) daily mix of kid stories and musical musings - I'm swamped. For the past two years I've been helping organize the 2nd International Conference on Minimalist Music. It started when David McIntire sent me an e-mail from the 1st conference with two words: Charlemagne Palestine. I've long found Charlemagne's music fascinating, but since he rarely performs in the states anymore, I'd long since written off experiencing his concerts live. David knew that name would get my attention and get me on board with his new project - co-hosting the 2nd conference.

Since that e-mail two years ago, I've helped plan the conference, referee the papers and organize the sessions, and work myself silly on music I love. This week it all kicks into overdrive with the conference starting on Wednesday. We've gotten some good press in the local paper and on blogs and have everyone lined up to arrive in the next few days, so this conference is happening whether we are ready or not. Needless to say, I'll be overrun with all things minimalist until Sunday night when I collapse and try to put my brain back together to teach again on Tuesday. At least the minimalist fun won't stop then - I'm teaching a class on the subject all semester long.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Following the Rules

Sam is definitely almost four. His tantrums have gotten smaller and less frequent, he is beginning to reason through solutions to his problems, and he wants to make sure we always do what is right. For instance, the other night at dinner, Sam was sitting across the table from me and Joy, telling us about his day, when suddenly he exclaimed:

"Mom! Give Dad his drink!"

We were a bit confused and asked him what he meant.

"Mom, you're drinking Dad's drink and Dad is drinking your drink."

He then leaned over, exchanged our glasses, and sat back down satisfied. Joy and I were mystified for a moment until we realized that I was drinking coke and Joy water. Almost every night we both drink the opposite, so he assumed we had gotten our drinks confused. And then he wanted to make sure that everything was right.

Like I said, he's really almost four.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Writing Away the Summer - The End?

The book is now officially finished! All pages are written and for the first time in the three years I've been working on it I can see the end.

It's time to celebrate!

At least until I consider the amount of revision I have ahead of me.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Arguing Beethoven's Fifth

Every once and a while I'll put up a video both for your amusement and to remind me to use the video in class later on. Today I've got one such video for you. From about 1953, here's Sid Caesar and Nanette Fabray miming an argument to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony:

Their gestures immediately bring out points in the Fifth Symphony that make those musical points instantly memorable. Visuals like this are invaluable in teaching young undergrads about musical form and rhetoric. And having videos like this available is why I love teaching in the age of the internet.

Slow Transformation Part VI: The Saga of the Toilet

I know you probably thought I had forgotten about our downstairs, but truth be told, since late June I haven't done much on it. Much, that is, except fight the toilet.

You may remember that when I started redoing the downstairs, I started in the bathroom. That was last May. Since then, I've had the toilet taken apart four times, and in those three months, it has been usable perhaps 1/3rd of the time. I first took off the toilet's tank to paint behind it (1). Then I took the toilet out to put in the new flooring (2). I then took it apart because there was leakage around the base, and I determined that I needed a bigger wax ring (3). At that point, I thought I was done, and we confidently left for the month of July thinking everything was fine.

I didn't count on water from the backyard.

Occasionally we've had seepage into that bathroom from the backyard. This increased when our backyard neighbors kindly began pouring their runoff into our yard. Last summer, Dad helped me fix the problem, but erosion caused it to happen again in May. I thought I had fixed the problem again until we returned home from Arkansas in early August. My brand new floor was buckling in places and there was water around the toilet. Water had seeped in again and gotten under the flooring, slowly turning it to mush over the course of a month. So the first thing I did upon arriving home, even before unloading our car, was take apart the toilet so the floor could begin to dry (4).

That was almost three weeks ago. With all our traveling I didn't get to the floor until this weekend. I dutifully pulled up the offending boards, wiped up all the remaining water hiding under the underlayment, and then put down new flooring. Night before last, I put on my two wax rings (I wanted to be sure there was no more seepage there) and attached the bowl to the floor and then put on the tank. Once I turned the water on, however, I realized I had forgotten one of the cardinal rules of putting together a toilet - always replace the bolts and rubber washers. That's right, my tank was leaking around the bolts, so I had to take it apart until I could get more bolts.

Yesterday, Noah and I went to get more bolts (and a new rubber gasket just to make sure), and last night I finally put the toilet together, officially finishing that bathroom after a grand total of five times the toilet has been in pieces. Well, almost finishing. I put in the new light fixture yesterday, but we still need a mirror and a shelf above the vanity. *sigh*

Friday, August 21, 2009

Sam in a Car


Last weekend we traveled to Branson, Missouri to catch up with Joy's family, especially her sister Shelly who's been overseas all summer. In thinking of fun things to do, we didn't yet know that Shoji Tabuchi had the best restrooms in the nation, so we were casting for fun distractions and landed on go-carting.

Noah and his cousin Ana were too little to go-cart and the womenfolk wanted to go shopping, so Joy's dad, our brother-in-law Adam, Sam, and I all loaded in our car and headed out by ourselves.

The place we picked had a large wooden track that spiraled up three times into the air adn then plunged back down through a small series of hills. It was bar none the best track I've ever seen. But because it was wooden, it was shaky and loud. As you can see, Sam's passenger seat had its own steering wheel and he held onto it with all his might on the first lap, unsure of the entire process. But by the second lap, he was banging the middle of the wheel and shouting "get out of the way!" to the other drivers, so he caught on quick.

Now Sam is a quiet processor so right after the rides, he was pretty quiet, taking the experience in. Joy's dad and Adam weren't sure Sam had enjoyed the ride, but I figured the excitement would come out that night.

It did with a vengence.

Back at the condo, Sam and I had to play go-cart where we got in a chair together and pretended to race around the room. At supper he talked of almost nothing else. And the next day he convinced his Granddad to take him back for some more runs.

If this weekend were any indication, we're in for it when he turns 16.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Playing a New Album

I'm also a sucker for new musical instruments. Part of my early obsession with Harry Partch came from those beautiful instruments he created, and I had a rather large musicologist geek-out when I first walked into the room with them for my dissertation research.

That's why I had to share this crazy video that came across my inbox today:

That's right, he's basically made a light-sensing Theremin out of his album cover. I might buy it just for the novelty.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fit for a Clunker

Back in June, when the Cash for Clunkers program was first announced and then signed into law, Joy and I talked it over and decided to participate. We had been saving towards a new car to replace the truck so we'd have two safe cars for the boys to ride in and felt $4500 from the government was too good a deal to pass up. Since we were gone most of July, we planned on going as soon as we returned home.

During that time, we followed the news about the program with interest, watching the lines of people collect at dealerships to cash in on their old cars. We fretted that we might not be able to participate, but when the extra $2 billion was signed a week ago, we made plans to go test drive and buy.

We looked at several different cars, but ultimately settled on the Honda Fit for its size and gas mileage. This car will basically be my commuter car and needs to be able to haul the boys and their ever-expanding gear a few days a week as well. If you haven't been in a Fit before, it has almost as much room as our CRV, is amazingly fun to drive, and gets in the mid-30s for gas mileage (though friends and my brother who have one all report regularly getting in the upper 30s). So last Thursday we loaded up the boys and headed to the dealership.

Now, up until now my truck has not really been a clunker. Sure, it gets around 12-13 miles to the gallon and has almost 200,000 miles on it, but it still runs great. At least it did until we we to replace it. The truck must have known it was being thrown over for a shiny little upstart, and so on our way back from the dealership, decided to overheat. On the interstate. In 90+ degree weather. Turns out that not only does the car leak oil (a problem I had known about but didn't monitor since we were gone a month), it also was basically out of coolant. I limped it to an exit and finally got it a nice drink of coolant and drove it on home Thursday night. Now it is getting evil glances from the family and is a bit of an outcast until our deal is cleared by the government, at which point we'll go swap it in for the new car.

Of course, with the way the program is going right now, it may be out of money by the time our request is processed. If that happens, I'm afraid we're in for a bit of the Exorcist in our household. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I'm Ready for My Closeup

I think someone will be competing against Sam for the "Ham of our Family" award.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Signing up a Storm

Over the past month Noah has become a signing machine. He's reached that point I remember with Sam where new signs come quickly and easily. Unfortunately, he's also at that point where his coordination is not the best, so many signs look the same. That means that when he walks up to me when I'm in the kitchen cooking and frantically waves his left arm, I assume he wants to go outside and politely tell him it is too hot right now. Only after he dissolves into tears do I realize that he means water, and so his thirst is finally quenched.

What has most surprised me about Noah's signing is that he's grouping multiple things under one sign. Sam pretty much signed for what we told him a sign stood for. Sure we used the sign for car for bus and tractor too, but Sam never initiated that kind of grouping.

Noah has.

And he does it most with animals.

Sam was always a vehicle boy. When he was 9 months old, we drove to Champaign to see friends and Sam wouldn't go to sleep if a semi happened to pass his window. That was a fun trip. Noah, on the other hand, is an animal boy. Sure cars and trucks (especially garbage trucks) are fun, but nothing is better than a duck. And since we haven't given him many animal signs (mainly because we didn't have to learn many with Sam), he's started combining animals. All birds get the duck sign, most four-legged animals get the dog sign, etc.

The funniest is when he actually sees a duck or a dog because then he starts saying "da! da!! da!!!" with the vowel going up higher each time. The other night we were watching Bolt and Noah woke up. Joy went to get him and brought him down to see if he'd sleep in her arms so we could finish the movie (Noah gets away with more than Sam ever did). Of course, Noah saw a dog on the screen and sleeping was a lost cause. He frantically signed dog and shouted "da!! da!!!" and refused to look anywhere but the TV. So much for sleep that night.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Oh My, How They've Grown

We spent last weekend celebrating my mother's birthday with the whole family under one roof for three days. With four children napping at different times, having different eating habits, and needing various levels of parental involvement, we had our hands full. But the days were just packed and slipped away from us much too fast.

Most remarkably was to realize that this time last year, my brother brought his family to meet Noah and at that time, the kids looked like this:
Now? One year and many miles later, they look like this:Yes, there are brown leather couches wherever we go, but more importantly, Eli has become a young child, ready for kindergarten; Liza has grown lots of hair and even more personality; Noah can now hold his own and has more curls than you can shake a stick at; and Sam is somehow still Sam, only with less tantruming.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Merce Cunningham (1919-2009)

Two weeks ago, Merce Cunningham died in his sleep at the ripe old age of 90. I'm late to the blogging party in eulogizing Cunningham, one of the best of mid-century modern dancers, but I wanted to share my memories of him.

I first discovered Cunningham the same way many musicians do - through John Cage. Cage's music is almost indescribable apart from modern dance as many of his best works were written for dancers (the prepared piano was even invented for dance concerts). And perhaps no dancer had more impact on Cage's development than Cunningham. Their collaborations are legendary as they would decide on the general timing of the production and then each would work alone. The music and dance would be put together as a final product with hardly any change right before the concert.

Learning of their working methods may make you question my statement that Cunningham had an enormous impact on Cage's music, but their aesthetic moved ever closer and closer together the more they collaborated. Together they opened dance and music to ideas often thought of as against all the arts forms stood for.

As a result, when I met Cunningham in 2002. Joy and I both were in the US premiere of Mikel Rouse's realization of Cage's James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, Erik Satie: An Alphabet
where I played Robert Rauschenberg, Joy played one of Brigham Young's wives, and Cunningham played Erik Satie (Rouse was James Joyce for the production). Although Cunningham had to be carried on stage because his legs would not hold him up, he delivered his lines with relish and had the best humor through the long nights of practice of anyone there. Backstage, he regaled us with stories of his time with Cage and treated us all as equals, providing kind attention even to a young musicologist.

Cunningham was truly a link with the past, with a pivotal part of American musical and artistic history. As I teach my post-1945 class I'm continually saddened to watch so many great musicians slowly disappear, roughly one a year. But I'm also gratified to see their legacy live on in younger musicians who take their ideas and twist them to their own purposes just as once Cage and Cunningham did the same. Life is short but art is long indeed.