Thursday, April 30, 2009

A New Reason to Celebrate

You may remember that last year around this time, Joy received notification that her Kindermusik program had been awarded Maestro status, putting them in the top 5% of Kindermusik programs worldwide. Well, Tuesday, Joy got confirmation that she's moved up a level to not just be a Maestro educator, but a member of the Maestro Conductor's Circle. What does that mean? It means that in less than three years, Joy has built her program to be in the top 1% of all Kindermusik programs worldwide.

Isn't that amazing?

If I may brag, my wife is terribly good at what she does. She's certainly found her calling.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Scary Polar Bears

Last Saturday night, we took Noah and Sam to their first wedding. One of Joy's former teachers, my former students, and Sam's former babysitters was getting married invited us and made sure we knew that Sam was more than welcome to attend. We decided to chance it and see how he would do.

During the ceremony itself, Sam was fabulous. He wanted to know what was going on at the front, and since we sat at towards the back in case a quick exit was needed, he stood on my lap and strained his neck while I provided narration. After the ceremony, there were appetizers upstairs while dinner was prepared in a tent outside, a perfect arrangement since Sam's hungry stomach could be filled while we waited for dinner. All would have been perfect had it not been for the little girl there.

The little girl just turned 4 last week and is the daughter of another former student of mine. Sam instantly wanted to talk with her and play, but in her princess dress with matching bag, she wanted nothing to do with a loud, active, sticky-fingered boy. So Sam did what all young boys have done around young girls since time began - he pestered her.

Recently Sam has become enamored with polar bears. I'm not sure if it is based on his love of this book or his songs and "polar bear paws" (socks pulled over his hands) from Kindermusik last summer, but for the past few months he's been on quite the polar bear kick. He loves to run around the house and growl at people, expecting the proper reaction of being startled to find a polar bear behind you when you thought it was a young boy. He eats what polar bears eat, sleeps with his "paws" on his hands, and in general lives the polar bear life. So when he wanted the little girl's attention at the wedding, he naturally growled at her.

Her response?

"Stop growling at me."

followed by

"Leave me alone."

Sam's response?


Already chasing the ladies and at a wedding no less. They do grow up so fast.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Proof of Noah's Stair Climbing Ability

On Tuesday, I wrote about Joy's surprise at finding Noah in the bathroom since he had to conquer the mountain of stairs to get there. Since then he's been a stair-climbing fool, as evidenced by this video from yesterday:

Notice Sam applauding when Noah attains the summit. He may be clapping now, but since he can't easily move his toys to another level and away from Noah anymore, we'll see how excited he remains.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Who Left the Barn Door Open?

You may remember that last year I noted that I usually don't appreciate the Pultizer Prize winners in music but with David Lang's win, I was going to have to reconsider my position. We, it appears as though once minimalist-influenced composers broke that particular glass ceiling, there is no going back. A panel including David Lang has chosen Steve Reich's Double Sextet as this year's winner. One of the most influential composers of the past 50 years, Reich managed to change music by radically simplifying its materials. Although he's since moved on from the hard-edged process-driven music of the 1960s and early 1970s, his music still features the strong, regular pulse and polytonal harmonic structures that characterized that style. Double Sextet was written for Eighth Blackbird, one of the premier New Music ensembles today and features two identical sextets of instruments, each made up of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, vibraphone and piano. Those sextets can be 12 instrumentalists or six who play with a recording of themselves. NPR has a substantial excerpt from the work on their website or you can get a sense of it from this video of Eighth Blackbird recording it:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Baby Gates, Here We Come

For the past few months, we've put Noah on a level of our house confident that he would stay on that level. Sure, he began crawling right after Christmas, but while he could get his hands on the first stair, he rarely could get his legs up even one stairstep.

Not anymore.

This afternoon, Joy took Sam up to the bathroom and while Sam was finishing up, Joy heard a soft "pad, pad, pad" behind her. She quickly twirled around only to find Noah smiling up at her, proud as he could be that he had just conquered the mountain of steps to find where Mama and Sam had gone. After Noah's failing down the stairs in early January before we realized how fast he had become at crawling, we've had a fear of Noah and the stairs. Looks like its time for the baby gates to migrate to the bottom of the stairs as well as the top.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

In Case You're Curious

The reviews from last night's Carnegie Hall concert by the Youtube Symphony are in, ranging from a positive review in the New York Times to a middling one in the Washington Post. Most seem to agree that the event was producing beautifully but the orchestra needed more rehearsal time. Still, if you'd like to judge for yourself, youtube has of course put up the concert for the world to see.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Globalization in Classical Music

I've been watching with interest the development of the youtube symphony orchestra over the past few months. The idea was fairly simple: find a composer to write a new piece of music, put the parts out on the internet for enterprising young musicians, ask said musicians to create a video audition of themselves playing sections of the new work, pick the best submissions and invite them to New York to play together in a premiere performance. Add names like Michael Tilson Thomas as conductor and Tan Dun as composer to the mix and you've got guaranteed press coverage.

Parts of me shake my head at the entire endeavor. For the auditions, the selection of members for the orchestra is certainly no more arbitrary than typical orchestral auditions, but I hate to think that a great young player who didn't have access to decent recording equipment might get passed over simply because their sound quality was poor. And an orchestral sound take lots of practice together to gel - a few days in April won't create a cohesive unit.

Still, it is an interesting idea and since the orchestral is playing in Carnegie Hall tonight, it was a perfect lead in to my class today. We've been discussing globalization in music of the past 20 years and talking about how you deal with issues of exoticism and cultural borrowings with composers like, say, Toru Takemitsu. If you don't know Takemitsu, he was a Japanese composer who first became enamored with Zen Buddhism from John Cage. He then began writing quite avant-garde pieces in a Western style that were influenced by Zen Buddhism and other cultural notions from his homeland. So he was a Japanese composer presenting Western music tinged with Japanese elements that he first encountered through a Westerner as artifacts from the East to primarily Western audiences. And if these kinds of cross-cultural brain twisters don't send you into contortions as you try to figure them out, just think of someone like Tan Dun who was born in China, trained in the US, and pulls multiple influences from all over the world. Once I figure all this out I'll let you know in my seminal article on the subject.

Along those lines comes the youtube symphony which pulls in musicians from around the world with multiple languages and musical customs but all playing Western-inspired music from a Chinese-American composer. I'm not sure how it will all work out, but it does raise interesting questions of who is borrowing musically from whom and where musical meaning rests since the music is from multiple cultures.

And if you are interested in the entire process, check out this mashup they made of all the audition recordings from the people accepted into the orchestra:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Baking Birthday Party

When we were in Champaign weekend before last, we stayed with our good friends Andy and Maria. Their son Will is about six months younger than Sam, and they are fast friends. We spent a weekend with them and our friends Matt and Jaime and their twoddlers Zach and Rissa last fall and since then, Sam hasn't stopped talking about Will. It's always "Will and I" this and "Will and I that." Will and Sam have such a bond that Will enters into Sam's pretend play almost as much as his cousin Eli. They enjoy each other's company so much that on the way over, Sam had his first round of "when will we get there" as he asked repeatedly if we were at Will's house yet.

Will's 3rd birthday was the week after we visited, so Maria kindly scheduled his birthday party for the Saturday we were at his house. Here's his cupcake birthday cake complete with gummy letters and fish:

Will's birthday party was a chef party, so all the children received aprons with their names emblazoned upon them and the adults brought their own aprons to wear as well. The aprons were a great idea, because the children made their own pizzas with parents acting as sou chefs. Naturally, there was flour and pizza toppings everywhere. Sam had a great time kneading his dough and kept asking when his pizza would be ready.

It took a while for the pizzas to cook, so while they did, Joy lead the children in a bit of food-inspired Kindermusik. They sang songs based on the kitchen and different foods, played kitchen utensils as instruments (in the picture, you can see them all coming to get cookie cutters, pots, pans, and lids to play). The kids and adults had a great time dancing around and singing and working up an appetite.

After music time, the food was ready, so we all went in and ate pizzas and cupcake birthday cakes and in general enjoyed ourselves and everyone's children. Maria certainly knows how to throw a party, and Sam had a great time. He already loves to cook, and we regularly have to tie up our refrigerator to keep him from cracking eggs and pouring milk, all without our supervision (and I do mean tie up since he's long since mastered the toddler locks; I literally tie a rope around the fridge). So this party was right up his alley. I suppose we'll live with several more months of Will worship at our house.

Monday, April 13, 2009

New Listening Journals Available

Last week, my students finished and posted their listening journals on music from 1900-1945. I thought you might be interested in heading over to the main blog site and looking into those journals as they looked at some fascinating music, including Kodaly’s Psalmus Hungaricus, Malipiero's "Vivaldiana," and the early chamber works of Carlos Ch├ívez.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Guns: Burma Shave Style

For three years in the early 2000s, Joy and I drove 45 miles each way between Decatur and Champaign, IL two or three times a week. We did this to teach at Millikin University while still living in Champaign and if there is a more dull drive in the country, I wouldn't want to see it. The land is flat, through most of the school year the fields are brown with the remainders of harvested corn, and there is little to break up the monotony.

But one thing does stand out in that landscape, an element I had completely forgotten but made both of us laugh every time we saw it - the ads. About ten years ago, the Champaign Country Rifle Association decided to begin putting Burma Shave style ads up on all major interstates radiating out of Champaign-Urbana. The ads were simple and outrageous and so over the top that you couldn't help but laugh when you saw them, but they certainly worked to get the group's point across. I thought you might enjoy seeing what we saw those three years and what I saw the two times I made that drive this past weekend:
Almost too much to believe.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Playing the Alphabet Game

Last Thursday, Joy and I packed up the family and drove to Illinois so I could attend a conference on music in small towns hosted by my old workplace Millikin University and so Joy could hang out with our friends in Champaign.

The trip over there took a long time - we had an hour's worth of errands to run before we could get out of town and then lunch took over an hour as we juggled two kids, four meals, and a line in the restaurant about 10 deep. Trying to keep Sam entertained was entertaining itself, so Joy decided to play the alphabet game with Sam.

She told him the ground rules and then pointed to a passing sign, exclaiming "I see an 'A' in 'Auto!'" Sam quickly caught on, almost too well. He would sign the alphabet song to the next letter, declare we were looking for "D," and then start looking on every sign. And when he got stumped, there was always pterodactyl. On that "D," Sam couldn't find one and so said, "Hey, my friend pterodactyl is flying next to the car. And look, he has a sign in his hand. And on that sign is the letter D. Look, look, pterodactyl has a D."

Sometimes we wished he had made up a sign instead of reading what he saw. While looking for "G," Sam suddenly yells out, "I see a G in that sign that says 'Girls! Girls! Girls!" Joy quickly said, "And I see a "G" on a sign over there." Thankfully we got to put off the "What does XXX" mean for a few days - he didn't notice that element of the sign until we were driving back yesterday.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Maurice Jarre Dies, Few Take Notice

On Monday, I began furiously prepping my film music class for Tuesday evening. We've reached the 1980s in the class and I was sorting through various scores and movies to determine what I wanted to play for the class. Since the late 1970s and early 1980s saw the fruition of the synthesized score, I wanted to play them an example, but figured most had heard the use of synthesizer in action films, and I was already showing two science-fiction movies so needed some contract, otherwise I would have played bits of Vangelis's excellent score for Blade Runner. Suddenly, Maurice Jarre's intriguing score for Witness came to mind and so I pulled it off the shelf and began writing about it.

I covered Maurice Jarre two weeks ago when we were in the 1960s and we discussed his magnificent score for Lawrence of Arabia. I gave a bit of his background (his training was in percussion, which points to why his scores are so rhythmically based), flashed a picture, and moved on. I decided I needed to flash a picture with his birth date again, so I googled him to make sure I had it correct. And there, buried a few links down, was Maurice Jarre's obituary. I teach contemporary music; composers die and I dutifully mark in their death dates in my notes, slides, and handouts. But I had never had a composer die between two mentions in my class two weeks apart.

Even that oddity wasn't what really struck me. Instead, I was stunned that I hadn't heard anything. Nothing. Here was the composer of Lawrence, Doctor Zhivago, Fatal Attraction, Witness, and Mad Max III, yet few in the American press or blogosphere took note. So, here's a bit of Jarre, his overture for Lawrence of Arabia, his greatest accomplishment:

Surprisingly, Jarre was not the first choice for the score. Director David Lean wanted Malcolm Arnold, who scored Lean’s Bridge on the River Kwai, then tried for William Walton, then Benjamin Britten, then Richard Rogers (of Rogers and Hammerstein), and finally Aram Khatchaturian. But Jarre brought an admirable restraint to the film. Yes, he used a full symphony orchestra, but also an electronic instrument – the ondes martenot, a plucked string instrument from the region – the cithara, and an Arabian hand drum – darbuka. He then used his timbres to produce two sounds: English tunes that represent Lawrence and the West and Arabian tunes to represent the land and Lawrence in Arabia. A forward-looking score for its time.