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.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Writing Update

The month 'o writing is over and as of right now, everything is done in the rough draft for the book but two or three pages of the prologue that I play to finish this next week. So the month is going to be one of those long months that stretches into the next as I also finish revisions on two articles. Still, after ignoring the book for a year, it is nice to have the rough draft done and revisions underway. For you, that also means I'll be back to regular blogging now, and I've plenty of stories from the past month and our travels this month to share.