Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

Do We Need to State the Obvious?

Last weekend, flying home from our Thanksgiving trip to the beach, each flight featured a snack choice of pretzels, cookies, or peanuts.  I chose peanuts on the second leg of our flight and because I read anything and everything, flipped over the packaging to find the following warning:

Thank goodness they told us.  Otherwise I would be concerned about the soy content.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sam's Self-Portrait

Sam has long been obsessed with crafts.  His craft fetish runs so deep that Joy and I often joke that he was obviously born to the wrong family as neither one of us crafts for our artistic outlet.  But we have learned to cope, creating a desk drawer full of scratch paper he can draw on and cut and tape to his heart's content, asking for craft supplies and tips from his crafty Aunt Misty, and celebrating this aspect of his personality even if it mystifies us.

Recently Sam has moved into representational drawing as part of his artwork.  He draws Joy, me, Noah, dinosaurs and trains, and other important objects and people in his world.  And right before Thanksgiving, he produced his first self portrait:

Picasso would be proud.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Overheard in the Car

Eli (Sam's cousin): Sam, did you make up Changing Town?

Sam: No, I found Changing Town. I made up the real world.

(a little later)

Sam: babble babble babble babble babble babble (non-stop talking)

Eli: Sam, I have something to tell you.

Sam: babble babble babble babble babble babble

Eli: Sam, I have something to tell you

Sam: babble babble babble babble babble babble

Eli: Sam, Stop talking.!

Sam: babble babble babble babble babble babble

Eli: Sam, I need you to listen to me!!

Sam: babble babble babble babble babble babble

Eli: Sam, I need you to stop talking and listen!!!!

Sam: (short pause)...Energy.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Noah's Sleeping Adventures

Sometimes I feel as though I'm on a bad reality television show.  Perhaps it is "Sleep Deprivation Island" or "When Children Won't Sleep!"  Whatever the name, I'm ready to get voted off the island.

Back when Sam had trouble sleeping and going to sleep and staying to sleep, Joy and I had several excuses - Sam had been in the NICU, Sam had reflux, Sam hit his head on a giant falling mirror.  Whatever the reason, it was not us.  Now that Noah has trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, we must confront the idea that we create children who won't sleep.

I should qualify that statement - we create children who won't sleep for their mother.  For the longest time, Noah, our mellow child, easily fell asleep.  Joy would nurse him, they'd smile at each other, and Joy would read while Noah drifted to sleep.  Over the past year, that idyllic picture of maternity has steadily tarnished until Noah refuses to go to sleep for Joy.  On the weekends, I put Noah down for his nap, and he is asleep in ten minutes.   In the evening, I snuggle with him for ten to fifteen minutes, put him in his crib, rub his back, and he drops on off to sleep.  When we have babysitters, he lays down in his crib, snuggles down under his blankets, and goes to sleep.  When Joy tries to put him down for nap, he flounces, struggles, makes requests, and fights sleep for two hours.  In frustration, Joy spent the last month driving Noah around at nap time for thirty minutes to an hour just to get him to sleep.  Yes, our child is a major source of global warming.

At night, Noah has developed a pattern where he will call for the parent who will help him do what he wants.  For instance, when Noah wakes up at 3:00 in the morning, he's still tired and wants to go back to sleep.  So I hear his little voice intruding in my dreams calling "Dada.  Dada!  DADA!"  I go in to him, pick him up for comfort, he falls back asleep, and I return to bed.  When Noah wakes up at 6:00 or 6:30, he calls out "Mama!"  The difference in who he calls out for is clear in what he always says when Joy arrives in his bedroom: "Want to watch someting on T.E!"  When he's ready to get up and play, he wants Mom.  When he just wants to sleep, he wants Dad.

We have hope in Sam.  He now goes to his room and reads after his bath and comes down a little while later asking for a story and a snuggle.  One of us obliges, and Sam goes on to sleep.  Here's hoping that day comes soon for Noah.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I Think I'll Write an Opera

Every week I grow more and more impressed with Sam's Kindermusik class.  He just started Young Child this year and he's learning dictation and instrument sounds and rhythm and all the things that some Freshman music majors struggle to learn.  This week, the curriculum even exposed the kids to foundational classical pieces starting with Mozart's The Magic Flute.

Since Sam's class only listened to selections from the opera (and because I'm never one to pass up a musicological teaching opportunity), I brought home my DVD copy of the opera I use in class every year to show Sam, and we watched a few selections from Julie Taymor's version produced at the Met a few years ago.  From Tamino charming the animals with his flute to the Queen of the Night's aria to the Papageno Papagena Duet, Sam and Noah were enchanted.  Noah probably would have watched the entire opera and certainly will some day, but Sam declared that action was needed.  He was going to write an opera.

Over the past day, Sam's plan for his opera has slowly developed.  The title is "Elephants Sing at Night" and it features seven elephants, one of whom is the star and sings alone and six that always sing together (notice that he already has a diva role prepared).  Each elephant wears a waterproof costume because each has a bucket full of water next to them in the opera.  During the rests in the music, the elephants dip their trunks into the bucket and turn and spray water out over the audience.  He's already got a cast picked out and told me that at school today he plans to ask one of his best friends, Cole, to be in the show along with one of his teachers, Ms. Lori.  Joy and I have standing invitations to come and sit in the audience where we will sit on a bench that is as long as the stage (I suppose we all sit on one bench so that everyone gets wet equally).  If you're interested, I'm sure we can swing more tickets as the parents of the composer - just let me know.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween

Earlier this year, while out shopping we found some boots that Sam had to have. They were black and tall and altogether wonderful and Sam loved stomping around in them. Inspired, Noah had to have his own pair, leading to the two declaring that they would be cowboys for Halloween.

Joy took them to US Toy Company to find hats and they picked the adult size straw hats along with green bandannas.  I took them to a Western clothing store and found badges (a Texas Ranger one for Sam and a Sheriff one for Noah).  Then Joy made them matching brown vests last weekend.  Add white shirts and jeans and they were their own little posse.
Hope everyone has a happy Halloween!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Ah Yes, that Funky Musicology

I'm not really sure I have anything else to say.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Busy Writing

It's that time of the year again - midterms where I have mountains of grading to do.  In between that grading, I've also been busy writing, and I wanted to quickly share one project with you.

Earlier this year, David McIntire, composer and scholar and member of our minimalist cohort in Kansas City, decided to start his own label Irritable Hedgehog Music.  He decided the first project needed to be Tom Johnson's An Hour for Piano and that the wonderful interpreter of all things minimalist and postminimalist Andy Lee needed to record it.  The beautiful finished product was just released this week and you can hear it and buy your own copy now.  I was honored to be asked to contribute liner notes for the release, which you can also read on the website, download for continued enjoyment, or find on the CD.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Adventures in Birthday Cakes - Race Cars and Dinosaurs

Since Sam's birthday is in October, we often run into an interesting problem: grandparents come on the weekend to celebrate, but Sam's birthday is in the middle of the week.  The easy answer for Sam is to celebrate twice, or three times, or even four times.  The hard answer for his parents is how and when to make the birthday cake.

This year was especially tricky because Sam is in Pre-K and birthdays at school at this age are a BIG DEAL.  That meant we needed to send cupcakes to school for Sam to celebrate with all his school friends.  Simple?  Not once Sam heard the plan.  He immediately decided we needed race car cupcakes.  Perhaps he was remembering his racetrack birthday cake from last year, perhaps he saw a friend with race car cupcakes, but wherever the idea came from, once it was in Sam's head, it stuck.  So the Sunday afternoon before his birthday, I dutifully helped Sam ice his cupcakes into a racetrack:

Sam, as you can imagine, had to taste each color of icing and declared the green color the best (even though each was the same icing, just tinted different colors.

After all that work, you would think the next cake could be a standard round cake, but Sam declared immediately after having the race car cupcakes that he needed a dinosaur cake for his birthday when Nana and Granddad came to visit.  Fortunately, Betty Crocker had a pattern on her website for cutting two round cakes into a dinosaur shape, so last Friday when the boys were at school, I cooked the cakes.  When they arrived home, both Noah and Sam helped ice the cake (both eating more icing than they put on the cake) and add in the candies (perhaps their favorite part to eat), and then collapsed in a sugar coma. 

(the smile was Sam's idea)  I think when May and Pop come to visit early next month, we'll forgo the cake and just have ice cream.  Much easier to manage.

Friday, October 15, 2010

More Thoughts on Irony and Glenn Beck

A few weeks ago, I discussed my fascination with the way music can often add ironic commentary (intentional or unintentional) to an image.  Then, by wonderful serendipity, I discovered some of the footage of Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally.  If you've not seen it, watch just the first minute or so of this clip of Beck's entrance:

Notice the music Beck chose for his entrance? It's "Hoedown" from Rodeo by Aaron Copland.  "What's so strange about 'Hoedown?' you might ask.  After all, Copland's music is as American as apple pie and overeating with that pie.  True, but in this instance, Beck's use of Copland's music lays a shiny veneer of irony over the proceedings.  In early 1953, Copland's Lincoln Portrait was slated for performance at a concert celebrating Eisenhower's inauguration.  Fred Busbey, a Congressman from Illinois, publicly questioned Copland's socialist leanings, and Eisenhower's staff responded by yanking Lincoln Portrait from the concert.  That's right, Beck used music from a composer known for socialist leanings who also happened to be a homosexual and is even the happy result of our immigration policies as both his parents were Russian immigrants.  This rally to "restore" America used music from a composer who represents the marvelous diversity of this country, not the homogeneous ideal for which many attending the rally falsely pine.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sam Turns Five

Today, Sam turns five.  He's been proudly proclaiming his "golden birthday" for weeks, telling everyone who would listen that he would turn five on the fifth.  In the past year he has become more loquacious than ever, largely due to his limitless imagination.  He daily tells endless stories that spin from his imaginary world of Changing Town (which mirrors our world except that everything is changed to suit his whims) and are populated by his friends Leilai, Rex-a-rator (the fastest robot dinosaur on the planet), and numerous other dinosaurs that he learns from Dinosaur Train, complete with their correct geologic period of origin.  He regularly sings, accompanied by his own drum track in the best beatbox tradition, songs that he creates and those from his Kindermusik class.  He sings so readily that a few weeks ago, when we were at a concert featuring a children's performer, he raised his hand up high when the call went out for someone who would sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."  Sam was selected and proceeded to sing the song (on pitch) while the performer improvised guitar and vocal lines around him.  Afterward one of his preschool teachers leaned over to me and mentioned that she'd been wanting to talk with us about Sam's lack of self-esteem.

Sam is unusually confident in himself, a self that is quirky enough that I pray he will never let it be quashed by unsuspecting friends or teachers.  We relish the unique and hope he'll find friends who do the same.

This past Saturday, Joy and I elected to give Sam his birthday present a bit early.  We wanted him to have a long time to enjoy it, and since weekdays are so often messy in timing we decided the weekend offered the longest uninterrupted time.

When we visited Stephen and Misty this past August, Sam fell in love with riding a bike and has not so subtly mentioned wanting one at least once a week.  Joy and I researched and picked out a bike with 16 inch wheels and training wheels and went to pick it up on Saturday afternoon.  We then drove Sam and Noah (who got to ride the plasma car - a rare treat) to a nearby church's parking lot that is long and flat and deserted late on a sunny weekend.  Sam climbed on and was off.

In that instant, seeing Sam tentatively circle around us and then slowly venture out from our protective reach, I realized that Sam had become a boy without the qualifier "little."  As he fell over, dusted himself off, climbed back on the bike, and triumphantly wheeled away, I discovered that he didn't need me to pick him up and tell him it would be alright - he was perfectly capable of doing that service for himself.  Sitting on the warm pavement with the sun slipping through the changing leaves and washing over us, Joy and I experienced a bittersweet moment.  Getting your first bike is about freedom, about the grown-up ability to go anywhere you want under your own power, to chart your course.  Sam is just beginning that journey and wonders await, but I still want to hold on to the little boy who needs me for help, for assurance, for direction.

Then, upon opening a lego dumptruck this morning for his birthday, Sam turned to me and said, "Dad, let's go play!" Great new experiences and wonders await me too.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Irony in Film Music

When I first heard about "The Facebook Movie," I must admit I was skeptical.  Sure I've loved most of David Fincher's movies and often imagine myself speaking Aaron Sorkin's dialogue when I'm teaching, but a movie about Facebook?  Come on.

Then I saw this trailer:

Do you know why this trailer works?  It's the music.  The images are nothing special in and of themselves - the standard teaser images we are used to seeing.  But notice how the music works with the images.

The song sung by the choir, "Creep," was originally recorded by Radiohead in the early 1990s (you can hear it here if you are not familiar with it.)  As much of Radiohead's early material, "Creep" feature a hard driving, heavy guitar sound, the opposite of what you hear in the trailer.  The lyrics basically describe a man obsessed with a woman who cannot figure out how to talk to her and sees himself as he believes she sees him:
"But I'm a creep,
I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doin' here?
I don't belong here."
Musically, this obsession plays out in the relentless modal ostinato that rocks between the tonic, sharp 3rd, and 4th scale degrees.  Even the intrusion of power chords around the chorus do nothing to stop the driving nature of that harmonic figure.

If the trailer's designers had decided to use Radiohead's version of "Creep," the impact would have been similar, but muted.  By using the Scala & Kolacny Brothers Bulgarian girls chorus version from the album "On the Rocks" instead, they highlighted one of the most marvelous things music can bring to an image that moving pictures have a hard time creating on their own - irony.  We are used to seeing how music can work with an image, but sometimes it is more effective to have the sounds consciously go against the image.

For instance, the trailer opens with images taken from Facebook user profiles while the choir sings about wanting control and a perfect body and wanting people to notice us (all matching the images we are seeing).  Because of cultural conditioning, we hear the resonant girls' voices and simple keyboard accompaniment as heavenly or other worldly - as though we were getting an outside comment on our current cultural condition.  But then, just as the chorus begins to kick in with "I wish I was special," the face of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg pixilates into view and we slide into a traditional trailer.  At this point, the music falls down in the mix and instead of working with the images, creeps toward irony.  As we see a young man create a transformative website and have the standard movie-issued problems that are associated with success (jealously, mis-understanding, rivalry, sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll), we hear the choir sing that he is a creep.  We accept the sounds which seem to float above the images as truthful and when we should be admiring the self-made man, we begin to question him.  Then notice where the music stops - as Zuckerberg asks for recognition.  The choir returns with one final comment - " I don't belong here" - a thought that contradicts the trailer's written message of having 500 million friends.  The images, lyrics, and sounds all work together to create an additional layer of meaning to the trailer that at once distances us and makes us want to see the film.  It is a masterful use of music, and I only hope the film's music is as smart as its trailer's.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The House Renovations that Never End

Every summer (and most Christmas breaks) I spend a large chunk of my break transforming various parts of our house.  I enjoy the work because it is opposite what I do most days. I usually sit or stand around and talk and think and write - physically inactive work.  But working on the house is physical labor that I find rewarding (though I would not want to make my livelihood at it).

I'm aided in my enjoyment by a wife who always has ideas for improving our house.  So over the five years we have lived in this house, we have now changed every room in some fashion, some quite dramatically and others only marginally so.  Throughout it all, we've always had the ultimate goal of removing our carpet and exposing the hardwood we knew was underneath.  We were simply waiting until the boys were old enough that hard wood would not meet soft heads on a regular basis.

So this summer, I slowly started taking up carpet, one room at a time.  Our bedroom was not bad - it was small, could be closed off for the kids, and we could sleep downstairs on the pull-out couch.  However, once the carpet was up I discovered that the floors needed a bit of work.  Evidently, two layers of carpet had been put down and when installing the second layer, the workers left the staples from the original carpet pad in the floor and then gouged the floors in sections putting in goodness knows what.  I had to pull two layers of staples out, fill in the holes and the gouges, sand down the floors, clean them, and then apply a few new layers of polyurethane.  A bit of work, but not bad because we could keep the boys out of the room.

Not so with the hall, living room, and dining room.

I tackled each individually, and Joy gamely took the boys on excursions.  We ate at odd times and in odd places (especially when the piano was sitting in the middle of our kitchen), had mountains of furniture to try and keep the boys off, and had dust and dirt from the carpets everywhere.  That was our impression of it.  The boys?  They just loved having all that exposed, hard floor that was better than a bowling alley or a roller rink.

We have a bit more to do painting-wise, but the floors are finally finished and we've been enjoying them (and the boys still ride all their machines on them constantly).  Noah had discovered they make a great loud sound when you throw things on them and the boys have had to stop tackling each other on the stairs (which is a happy consequence of this change), but overall we've settled into new floors quite well.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sam Joins the Vampire Craze

I suppose he tired of all this talk about Edward and figured he would get in on the action.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Harry Partch on YouTube

I tell my students every year when I get to Harry Partch in the Music since 1945 class that the day is my vanity day - a chance for me to spend a day reveling in a composer I find endlessly fascinating. This morning, I was searching on youtube looking for a specific video when I discovered this:

That's right, the Beck song I blogged about last year that grew out of a feud between the lead singer of The Fiery Furnaces and Radiohead has a video. Most of the images are taken from the Partch documentary The Dreamer That Remains and is full of vintage Partch. Hope you enjoy as much as I did.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Adventures in Potty Training

Joy and I have been making the preliminary motions toward potty training Noah (which means we think he's ready but haven't had the time to hit it hard core yet). For the past month, I've been having him sit on the potty every night before bath, even though he normally just looks around and smiles at being up so high. Last week, however, he decided that sitting on the potty was for girls, and he wanted to stand at the potty like Sam. So now, he stands there with Sam with his penis sitting on the potty's edge because he is not quite tall enough.

Joy had rarely seen this ritual until last night when she took over bathtime duties so I could go to a meeting. As usual, Noah stood naked at the potty, but with a crucial difference - this time he produced. Joy was so taken aback that she exclaimed "You're doing it, Noah!" causing our youngest to immediately stop and look to see what had his mother so exciting.

Joy immediately began encouraging him to keep going, but Noah could not figure out how to make it work again.

Until he had a revelation.

Noah looked down and began jabbing his penis with his finger, loudly proclaiming, "I just push the button!"

Monday, September 13, 2010

New Boots

For the past few months, Sam has wanted a pair of boots. I believe it began with a pair of rain boots our neighbor gave us that Sam and Noah both love tromping around the house in. Sam quickly took to calling them him "power boots" and wearing them while playing super guys. Then, his good friend Cole got a pair of boots that he refuses to take off. Cole has been wearing said boots every time I've seen him this summer and Sam has declared them "cool."

So when we were in Branson last weekend, Joy stopped on our way out of town to buy a new pair of sneakers. The store was having a buy-one-get-one-half-off sale and they had a perfect pair of boots. We bought Sam a pair and Joy warned me we should get one for Noah too. I foolishly ignored my wife and my own experience of two years with Noah following in Sam's footsteps and declared we would buy him a pair if it became an issue.

Yesterday morning, getting ready for church, it became an issue.

Sam wanted to wear his boots to church and proudly stomped down the stairs to show them off. Noah screamed louder than Ollie, "I want BOOTS!" and ran upstairs. He appeared a few moments later wearing the rain boots (which fit Sam, but are boats for Noah) and insisted he wear them to church.We'll be getting Noah a pair of boots this week.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Latest Apple Invention

For some reason, this flew under the radar of last week's Apple announcement of changes to the iPod:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Waking Up

This past weekend, we went to Branson to spend time with Joy's family. We stayed in a two bedroom condo, which is quite a treat for us because we get to put the boys to sleep in one room and Joy and I can take the other. Unfortunately, as plans always go awry, Noah decided to wake up at 6:00 on Sunday morning. I heard him mumbling over the monitor and padded down the hall to get him only to find Noah standing over Sam declaring "There's Sam!"

I suppose the novelty of finding your brother asleep in the same room with you reduced Noah to fits of obviousness.

I scooped him up before he could wake Sam up and took him back to our room where Joy turned on the TV for him to watch. I was unable to sleep with Noah watching TV, so headed back to Sam's room and slipped into the bed to doze for another hour.

A little before 7, I heard Sam stirring this time and, opening one eye, saw him get up and head for the door. He had only moved a few steps when he loudly proclaimed, "Super Guys, Away!" and ran out the door.

I'm glad to have firm proof that his imagination never rests.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Our Summer Obsessions - Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs have long been of minor interest around our house. Sam has long loved going to the T-Rex restaurant and had a favorite book when he was two called Dinosaur Train (the name alone shows why the book was beloved). But dinosaurs were a distant third in favorite things to trains and cars.

Early this spring both Sam and Noah became simultaneously infatuated with dinosaurs. Perhaps it was from a book, perhaps from a show they watched, but my best guess for their new found love was a box of dinosaurs our next-door neighbor dropped off one dreary February day. The box was full of small dinosaurs and large ones, multi-hued ones and several monochromatic, and watching the boys with those dinosaurs was like reading Sammy and the Dinosaurs. They ate breakfast with dinosaurs, they slept with dinosaurs, they took baths with dinosaurs, and they took dinosaurs to church. Soon, both boys wanted to wear dinosaur shirts everywhere we went and they stomped up and down "roaring" at everyone we met. We were dinosaur central.

Dinomania escalated when grandparents started visiting this summer. First, Nana and Granddad came to visit and took the boys to T-Rex and got them a few more dinosaur figures to love and adore. Then May and Pop came and we all went to Union Station's "Dinosaurs Unearthed" exhibit which featured dinosaur bones and moving recreations of dinosaurs. The boys were in heaven (as you can see with Sam here holding a Stegosaurus's tail spike):To top the visit off, May and Pop got the boys dinosaurs at Build-A-Dinosaur, Sam getting a pterodactyl and Noah getting an orange, fuzzy velociraptor. Now with our plastic and stuffed dinosaurs, we are never far from a dino explosion at our house.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Our Summer Obessions - Star Wars

Now that Sam is nearing 5 and Noah is firmly 2 (in every sense of that word - he does everything he can "by self!"), we've discovered a surprising facet of their development. They tend to cultivate obsessions, often of the same thing. We've seen this a little before with the obsessiveness with which Sam devoured everything Thomas the Tank Engine when he was 3, but with Noah as a multiplier, our household has become a bastion of a few choice things. The rest of the week, I'll slowly show the various characters and objects that have caught the boys' fancy, starting today with Star Wars.

An obsession with Star Wars is not that uncommon; I'm of the generation that grew up with Star Wars and had the Star Wars sheets and the plastic figures with lightsabers up their arms and the Darth Vader helmet to store the figurines in. But neither Sam nor Noah has seen Star Wars (and when I've tried to get Sam to watch it he expresses no interest). Sam's obsession comes completely from Lego Star Wars for the Wii. Noah's interest comes from Sam.

When we traveled to Huntsville in early August to see my brother and his family, we hatched a plot to take the kids to the Space and Rocket Center where they were having a giant Star Wars exhibit. Eli, my nephew, had a Lego Star Wars-based love of the series as well, so we bundled the kids in their Star Wars shirts and off we went.The exhibit itself was marvelous. Props and costumes from the movies filled a large exhibit area and alongside the movie memorabilia were small hands-on projects to explore the science behind the movies. So Sam and Eli got to build hovercars out of magnets and legos, see if a robot could recognize whether one or two people stood in front of it, build and program a robot to do small tasks, and even ride on a hovercraft for a few minutes.Since the exhibit, Sam and Noah play Star Wars constantly. Joy's mom got them small foam swords they have christened their "lightsabers," and they run around fighting each other (and us on occasion). Sam makes up stories about being a super guy and flying in outer space. And Sam regularly declares he is a padawan learning and Noah follows up that he is R2-D2. I can't imagine what life at our house will be like once they eventually see the films.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Noah's Birthday at the Zoo, or Animal Overload

Sam was always into vehicles. When he was just a few months old, we took a road trip back to Champaign-Urbana to let him meet our friends there. On the way back, we left right before his morning nap thinking he would sleep.He didn't.
Every time he would be close to sleep, a large truck would pass and he would jerk awake, excited to see the big trucks pass.

Noah enjoys vehicles because Sam enjoys vehicles, but his heart is with animals. He's the kid who sleeps with a different stuffed animal each night and can name animals before he can label his colors. So we decided to take him to the Omaha Zoo for his birthday. Omaha is about a 3 hour drive and our original plan had been to drive up one afternoon, go out to eat, play in the hotel pool, and then hit to zoo first thing in the morning when the kids were rested. Great plan, right? It was until the day before when we learned it would be storming in Omaha the morning we planned for the zoo. So we packed up and left early on Wednesday morning to spend the entire afternoon seeing animals. It was a good call, since a rainstorm of Biblical proportions hit Omaha on Thursday.

The Omaha Zoo is amazing, full of natural habitats for the animals including a huge desert dome and an underground, dark setting for nocturnal animals. We got to walk through a shark tunnel and gaze at a column of jellyfish. In the insect house, butterflies darted around so fast the boys could barely catch sight of them. And in the gorilla house, one came right up to the class and stared at Noah for a bit before turning around and plopping down. Noah was entranced the entire time, as you can tell when we saw one of his favorites, the giraffe:Sam, on the other hand, ran from place to place, barely stopping to see anything. His favorite part of the entire zoo, the one thing he wanted to see again and again?
That's right, the rope bridge in the jungle. This is why for Sam's birthday we go ride trains.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dad's Awesome Birthday Song

I'll get back to chronicling Noah's birthday this weekend, but I thought you might enjoy "Dad's Awesome Birthday Song" (trademarked - Sam Granade).

I just appreciate that I'm rearing two little postminimalists.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Reflections on a Father

Our pastor asked me to reflect on what I learned about love from my father for our service this morning, and after talking with my brother yesterday, I decided to share it here just as I did in church this morning:

Occasionally, but only occasionally, my brother Stephen and I would find ourselves in a situation where we were tired of doing an activity, didn’t want to start it in the first place, and certainly were loath to see it to completion. In those moments, my father could always be counted on to tell us to keep at it because it would “build character.” Perhaps you have heard this phrase in your lifetime too, and perhaps you feel about it the way Calvin did. You know Calvin – not the theologian from the 16th century, but the theologian from the 1990s funny pages. Calvin’s father came out one night and called “It’s getting dark, Calvin. Time to come in and go to bed.” Calvin ambled up and responded, “But Hobbes and I were catching fireflies. Can’t we stay out a little longer?” Always ready at teachable moments, Calvin’s dad responded, “Ha! First you didn’t want to go out, and now you don’t want to come in. See, by not watching TV, you had more fun, and now you’ll have memories of something real you did, instead of something fake you just watched.” Later in bed, Calvin confessed to Hobbes that “nothing spoils fun like finding out it builds character.”

Fathers can always be counted on to help us build character, which is why Joy regularly rolls her eyes and restrains herself when I parent by telling Sam or Noah to pick themselves up, shake off their tears, and have another go. A father’s tough love is a cultural cliché – walk down the Hallmark aisle in May, and you’ll be assaulted by pink and white frilliness that proclaims a mother’s tenderness while the next month, the same aisle is festooned in blue and brown straight lines that let us know that dad, by contrast, doesn’t appreciate that nonsense. But that tough guy formulation masks some of the greatest truths about love that we learn from our fathers.

Looking back, one important fatherly truth stands out to me from my own upbringing – love is never embarrassed. Perhaps all fathers have this propensity, but mine was uniquely gifted at embarrassment. Riding through my small Southern hometown in my dad’s blue Chevy Luv truck was an adventure, primarily because he was always on the lookout for treasure. Driving by a household pile of garbage, he’d slow down, his eyes would rifle through the pile, and he’d tell me or my brother to jump out and grab something. We would make sure no one was looking, dash out as quickly as possible, grab the object and toss it in the back, and slink back to our seats with our heads down. Can you imagine how a 13-year-old boy felt performing this ritual, just knowing that someone would see, tell their friends, who would tell your friends. Embarrassment knows no greater field to flourish than a 13-year-old boy’s heart.

I’ll also never forget how my father appeared at my wedding rehearsal and dinner decked out in the brightest yellow shirt you can possibly imagine. Small suns have less luminescence than he did that night. His reasoning was true to his life and training as an historian – Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (and even tiny Elizabeth) wore bright yellow as evidence of their extreme happiness when news of Catherine of Aragon’s death reached them. My father’s happiness certainly exceeded theirs and for better reason. I should have been mortified, but I wasn’t. A strange thing had happened in the ten years between those occurrences. The lesson my father had been nurturing had sunk in. Turn to the person next to you – your spouse, child, or dear friend. Think of all the things they have done over the years that made you cringe and shake your head. But you’re still here. You still love them. You see, love is never embarrassed because love is accepting. Love sees the other as they truly are, as a unique child of God whose life enriches your own beyond all understanding. Picking up trash, wearing yellow, proclaiming to the world that he is who he is was the greatest act of love my father performed toward me. He gave me permission to be myself, to love others for themselves, and to see a penetrating glimpse of God’s love in the process. And it is that treasure, more than any we picked up through those many Arkansas days, which encapsulates what is unique about a father’s love. It is a gift of love that truly builds lasting character.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Noah's Elmo Cake

Noah's second birthday was last Friday, and after a week of celebrating, I think I've finally recovered enough to begin to share a bit of the festivities here. Joy and I are still in a state of denial that Noah's now two years old, but his increasing moodiness and tantrums are helping reality quickly set in.

Noah is current obsessed with Elmo - he sings the Elmo's World theme song all the time, sleeps with a stuffed Elmo, and will stop any forward motion when he glimpses a bit of the red monster. So I decided an Elmo cake was necessary for his birthday.
The problem is that while there is an Elmo cake pan, I didn't want to spend the $12 for a pan I'd use one time (unless Joy decided she wanted Elmo for her birthday...). So I invented my own solution.

Using Misty's fabulous chocolate cake recipe (which she rightly claims is the best chocolate cake recipe in the world), I made two round 9 inch cakes. After they cooled, I carefully cut around the top of one cake to make Elmo's googly eyes and then took part of the leftover cake and stuck it on the bottom of the other. I then mixed up some buttercream icing and set to work with the food coloring. The fully intact cake I frosted plain white and then used a dessert decorator with the round tip to pipe a bit of blue icing as an outline before writing "Happy Birthday Noah!" across its length. Sam helped drop sprinkles on it (as well as write "Noah") and we called that second cake a balloon. For the Elmo cake, I frosted the eyes with plain white and put two black jelly beans for eyes (the black are Sam's favorite - go figure). I mixed a bit of red and yellow to make an orange nose (which Sam loved doing almost as much as eating the left over icing). Then, after using almost half a bottle of red dye, I used the round tip again to pull short lines of icing together to make the top look like fur. It came out pretty well:After blowing out candles with Noah, I cut into the balloon thinking he'd like to save the Elmo part. I was wrong. Noah screamed and cried to eat Elmo first. He loves Elmo so much he truly wants to eat him up.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Short Takes

On Saturday, we spent the afternoon at Old Shawnee Days, a fair a neighboring town throws the first weekend after Memorial Day every year. It has what you might expect - a Ferris Wheel and rides best described as death traps, performers of all stripes from musicians to mentalists to a bullwhip comedian, and lots of fried food. Sam and Noah had a good time wandering around, but Sam especially enjoyed getting all the free stuff. Like new hair:When we got home, we had breakfast for supper. We put Noah's omelet in front of him. he peeled back the egg to gaze as the mushrooms and tomatoes and cheese inside and declared "Wow!" It was the best reaction my cooking has ever gotten.

Sam has a new favorite joke that he'll gladly tell you: "What's the pretzel's favorite dance?" "The Twist!"

Noah has completely figured out the word "hello." Any time I walk in the room, he shouts, "Hello, Dada!" But he also wants us to say "hello" to everyone and everything, leading to interesting dinner conversations, where we say "hello" to every bit of food he puts in his mouth - "hello mushroom!" "hello tomato!" "hello dried up Cheerio you found on the floor!"

Thursday, June 3, 2010

We're Full of Water

After the great family room flooding of the past few years, I doubted I would have so much water in my life a mere year later. But with Sam starting swim lessons, we're up to our ears in water these days.

Sam is loving his swim lessons. He goes twice a week right now and will go every day for four days in the next session at month's end. Although he still has trouble sitting still in the pool, he's learning quickly. At his last lesson, he was messing with his goggles and accidentally stepped backwards off the step and into the pool. He valiantly dog paddled and managed to almost keep afloat until the teacher rescued him, but his face was under water. He didn't panic, however, and seems to have found new confidence in his swimming. The lessons and the teacher are hard core and great and once Sam is comfortable putting his face in the water, he'll be swimming.

Noah, of course, wants to do everything Sam does, but has more hesitations. Joy's parents were here this past weekend to celebrate Noah's 2nd birthday a bit early. We decided to try out a local pool that has a playground in the water, a small wave pool, and a few bigger slides along with the pool itself. Sam loved the pool and the water guns and getting splashed; Noah was uncertain at first. He sat next to Nana and Joy and me at the water's edge until we found some small fountains he could splash in. Although he never warmed to the water slides, he did float like crazy in the water - he's much more relaxed than Sam and so finds it easier to let go and let the water take him.

This is the kind of water I can handle in the summer - let's hope it continues to stay in the pool and out of our family room.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Thoughts on Composing and Computers

This past month I've spent more than my fair share of time staring at a computer. My tenure and promotion portfolio has consumed my life as I've pdf'ed every document I needed and created a massive electronic compendium of the past five years (and yes, I know "pdf'ed"is not a word, but it has as great ring I needed in that sentence). During that time, two links came my way that got me thinking about the use of computers and composition. First, this article in Slate by Chris Wilson profiles a computer program that is composing based on analysis of other words in the classical canon. Then, this video of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring performed by the Vienna Symphonic Library (in other words, but sampled sounds rather than live performers:

I've some thoughts on these developments, but was curious as to your initial reactions.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sam Lost His Hair!

Every once and a while, Sam's hair gets long enough that it needs to be cut. And anything that employs sharp objects around the children automatically gets tasked to me in our house, so the heavy burden of making sure Sam isn't a ridicule based on his haircut falls to me. I've generally kept his hair about the Sam since it came in - he has my wavy hair, so I've kept it long enough to see the wave which usually results in cute hair, but in strange weather tends to stick up in awkward places. But with the coming of summer and Sam's need to run around outside all day long and get little-boy sweaty and his new swim lessons, I decided he needed a little boy summer haircut.

Enter the buzz:
Sam likes the new haircut because it makes his hair feel all prickly when you run your hands over it against the grain and because it takes less time to wash it in the bath. In fact, he celebrated his new hairstyle by posing for his emo singer album cover photo:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Swim Lessons

Since we often spend a decent amount of time at Greer's Ferry Lake with Joy's family in Arkansas, we've been wanting to get Sam swim lessons for some time. Now that he's four going on 12, we decided this summer would be the one to start. So Joy scoured local lessons and asked for recommendations and found a group of teachers who keep class sizes small and teach even young children to swim and not just blow bubbles in the pool.

Sam's first lesson was yesterday and before he went we had to fill him in on the rules. He diligently wrote them all down including doing exactly what the teacher says immediately when she says it (we often have slight problems with that rule at school) and raising hands and waiting to be called on to speak. To Sam's credit, he followed all the rules, though his hand was up for much of the lesson.

There are only three kids in Sam's class (including Sam) and right off the bat they worked on floating, proper form in kicking, in hand and arm posture, and keeping your face in the water. While the teacher worked with one kid in the middle of the pool, the other two stood on the stairs and were supposed to be practicing. Instead they looked around, mesmerized by standing knee deep in water.

Sam seems to be enjoying the lessons so far, but I'm a bit worried about what lesson he is bringing home. He had the most trouble with keeping in face in the water and humming and blowing out bubbles, so he's supposed to practice in the tub. With Noah. Who will also want to practice. And Sam might want to help. We'll see how it all goes.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Noah has discovered his closet. It used to be that he didn't wonder about what was behind those two big white doors in his room - he was happy just to play with the toys in his toy basket or pull books off his shelves or, if he were lucky, sneak into Sam's room to get some of the good toys. But last week, he began opening his closet door and pulling out all the toys hidden in there. We generally keep toys and clothes he has just outgrown or hand-me-downs from Sam that he isn't ready for yet in the closet, but Joy also keeps some of her Kindermusik toys. In the Kindermusik section of the closet rested a baby doll. Sam never showed any interest in the doll and so we never bothered getting it out for Noah.

Big mistake.

Noah found the baby and was instantly smitten. He carried around the baby all morning, feeding it, singing to it, and even demanding a blanket for the doll. Sam, not wanting to be left out, asked for a doll of his own and together the boys happily cared for their babies. Joy, overjoyed at this display of nurturing, decided to call me at work and let me know how loving our children were being toward these dolls. She walked over to the phone but was stopped short by a sound. It was a rhythmic thumping like hollow superballs hitting the ground, but louder. She went to investigate and discovered Sam and Noah gleefully grasping their baby dolls by the ankles and using them as swords to bash each other.

Ah well, at least they are MacGyver-esque in their ability to create weapons out of anything. That's a useful life skill, right?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Post-1945 Journals Available for Your Reading Pleasure

My students have finished their final round of listening journals, and you can find them over on the class's blog. My recent profile linked to the blog, so hopefully the students have been getting useful feedback from complete strangers and you can help that process by going, reading, and commenting. Enjoy!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Noah sings Elmo

I suppose that most kids these days go through their obsessions. For some it is Dora, for some (like Sam) it is Thomas, for some it is Marvel ms. Capcom. For Noah, it is definitely Elmo.

The obsession started innocently enough. We had an Elmo's World DVD that Sam had received but never cared much for and one day, feeling desperate for some time with the boys occupied, Joy put it in.

Be warned - "Elmo has Two Feet, Hands, and Ears" is a gateway drug.

Both boys loved it, but Noah, who was just beginning to speak, began saying Elmo (he certainly said it more than Dad). For Christmas, he got an Elmo that he now sleeps with most nights. For Easter, he got the Sesame Street Dinosaurs DVD which features what Noah calls an "Elmo-dactoo," an Elmo flying dinosaur. But the kicker has been the song. First Noah just sang the "Elmo's World" theme song, but now he puts in everything to the song. "That's Elmo's dinosaur World!" "That's Elmo's snake World!" "That's Elmo's car World!" He even sings it in his sleep. Who knows what new turn our obsession will take in the coming weeks. Perhaps an entire singing and dancing number?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I'm Everywhere

Yesterday afternoon in my 4:00 class, my students were getting their presentation material off their e-mail and our Blackboard site, and repeatedly this appeared. As my students said, "Dr. Granade, you're famous!" Of course, that was only after the entire class went "Ooooooo!" in unison. I just told them I'm basically like Big Brother - they can't get away from me anywhere.

You can read the entire article on me here.

Friday, April 23, 2010

My Child, the Nudist

Since the weather has turned warm, we've been spending as much time as possible in the backyard. The boys are now old enough to play outside without our constant supervision (meaning we can sit on the deck and read, check e-mail, or what have you), and they run themselves silly making bedtime much easier. It's a win-win for all involved.

Earlier this week, Joy sent the boys out back and went to get her book. Coming back outside, she sat down on the deck and started to read, glancing up at Sam and Noah. Sam had climbed into his fort and was playing happily, but Joy noticed that he had no pants on.

And no underwear either.

Joy called out to him, "Sam, why do you have no pants on?" He just laughed. Joy didn't. She reminded him he really needed clothes on and they went about their day.

The next afternoon they were outside again when Joy noticed Sam making his "I've got to use the bathroom" motions. She called out to him that he needed to run inside just as Sam started to pull down his pants. "SAM!" Joy shouted. "I'm just going to go outside," he responded, "just like that time I had to go on the side of the road when we went to visit our friends." True enough, last summer we pulled off at an exit to change Noah's diaper because he had horrible diaper rash and there was no reststop for miles. Sam declared he needed to go, there were no public restrooms at the exit, so I helped him go off to the side of the road. But beyond acknowledging his crazy good memory, Joy wasn't going to give an inch on using our backyard as a bathroom and sent him inside.

I think we're going to have to make him wear suspenders and tie his pants on this summer.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sam's Life Lessons

Recently, Sam has experienced an enormous outpouring of spelling and writing. He wants to know how any word he's never encountered before is constructed. He wants to understand the finer points of sentence structure. And he's even started writing, so every project that comes home from school bears the stamp: "To Mom, from Sam." (yes, I never get the love in these scenarios)

I attribute this outpouring to a late Christmas gift of the LeapFrog Word Whammer, a jet-shaped magnet for your refrigerator that allows you to create 3-letter words and have them spelled and said back to you. While Noah loves the toy because it plays the Alphabet song and he can sing along (though he tends to get stuck at E and just hold the vowel for a very long time), Sam loves that it has upper- and lowercase letters and allows him to create massive sentences in our kitchen. One night a few weeks ago, I came downstairs after putting Sam to bed and found this on our fridge:
I pondered over the meaning for quite some time, trying to figure out if Sam was thinking of a recent time we went out to eat or if he had a more existential meaning, some important life lesson he needed to share but was interrupted by bath time. My curiosity only grew the next morning when I was making breakfast and Sam marched over to his letters and added three more:
(in this one you can see the Word Whammer itself) Evidently, whatever his tip was, it shrunk in the night. Any guesses as to Sam's obscure meanings?

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Return

The past two weeks have been a bit hectic at our house. Both last weekend and the weekend before, I had conferences where I was presenting new research. So I spent the week leading up to each talk researching, writing, and getting my slides together. Add in papers to grade, two reviews to write, and a set of four programs to annotate and my family hasn't seen much of me recently, much less this blog. Most of that is behind me now (and one of the papers went so well that I was invited to submit it for a graduate student award), so back to filling you in with stories of Sam and Noah and general musicological musings.

If you need something to fill your time until then, you can see the redesign of our church website I've been finishing in my spare time the past three weeks. It isn't done quite yet, but it is at least ready for prime time.

Monday, April 5, 2010

First Day Back from Spring Break Videos

Everyone knows that students and faculty are useless the few days before a break, particularly Thanksgiving and Spring Breaks as the stretch before them is so long. But what most don't know is that the first day back from a Break can be just as bad. So as I'm trying to pull myself back together, here's a little video that I might just use in class instead of me teaching.

It would be just as good as anything I could do, right?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

New Listening Journals Available

Just in time for Spring Break, my students have posted their listening journals for music from 1900-1945. With this unit, we've entered into music that many are either unfamiliar with or perhaps a bit nervous about. In fact, this video sums up many people's reactions to this music, and I often play it for my students just to break the ice a little.

Music in the early 20th century certainly was full of brash experimentation, but it produced music as strange and as beautiful as any ever produced. You can find out about some of that music by digging into the blogroll on my class's main page.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sam Skis

Last month, Sam and I watched a lot of the Winter Olympics. I wasn't sure what Sam would be interested in as we began the two week event, but he quickly gravitated to two events: the biathlon and the slalom (though ski jumping was a close third). For the biathlon, we had long discussions on what you use a gun for, how you use it, and why in the world you might want to ski and shoot at the same time. For the slalom, he just decided to set up his own course and shoot off down the hill on his "skis."

I figured this was a better way for him to experience the Olympics at home than shooting at us and Noah all day.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Virtual Choirs

Last year, I wrote about the YouTube symphony, and the delicate balance such an undertaking seemed to create between democratization of music and a devaluing of what music schools stand for. At the same time, however, I realized that tapping into YouTube's potential for world-wide music making was a new frontier and it was only a matter of time before a composer latched onto it in order to promote his own works.

In that vein, I give you Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir:

Whitacre is a savvy composer when it comes to marketing himself to his fans. He started this project last summer on his blog when he put up a track on YouTube of himself conducting his piece Lux Aurumque to a piano accompaniment and provided musical instructions as to style, dynamics, pronunciation, and interpretation, much as you would preface a new work to a choir. Singers were then instructed to download the sheet music from his website, record themselves singing to this track, post the results on YouTube, and wait to see how he sculpted all the tracks together to form a virtual choir. Just think about the network he's creating for his pieces, the groundswell of support from teenagers in choir who ultimately grow up to lead school choirs of their own. No matter what you think of the musical results, the idea is really stunning.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Listening, Not Talking

This afternoon, I had the opportunity to go on a soundwalk with Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer. Schafer is a fascinating composer, perhaps best known for coining the term "soundscape" and drawing attention to the way the world around us sounds. He began putting together a World Soundscape Project in the late 1960s that made attempts to record the soundscapes of various cities and regions and then began asking questions about how rapid industrialization was impacting what we hear and therefore how we live. He went so far in his 1977 book Tuning the World to propose that we always ask what impact new sounds would have on the soundscape before releasing them into the world.

For the soundwalk, Schafer seemed to have two goals: 1. make us begin using our ears, and 2. to tune us in to Ottawa's soundscape. We started the walk with a few ear cleaning exercises: we closed our eyes and he and an assistant walked around the room constantly talking and we had to follow them with our hands; he passed around a sheet of newspaper and we each had to make a new sound with it; we had to fill in the blank as to what sound an object would make before we heard it. Then, we stepped out into the busy Ottawa downtown.

I wasn't sure what to expect, but focusing on the sounds around me rather than the running dialogue constantly in my head was an amazing experience. Schafer stopped us every once and a while and asked pointed questions about what we were hearing - the sound furthest from us, the lowest sound we heard, what definite pitches we discovered. Then, when we arrived in a large park, half of us were blindfolded and led to a space we had never been. He ran around making sounds (shouting, crinkling, banging, scuffling) and then asked us to describe where we were. I was fortunate enough to be one of the blindfolded participants, and I can't remember when I've ever used by senses as deeply. There were certainly aspects I missed, but the simple act of listening opened up new worlds.

I'm now extremely curious to listen on the soundscape of my every day life. Schafer is right that just as we destroy old buildings without a thought, we destroy sounds than can never be recaptured. He's proposing something of an eco-music where we actively work to conserve sounds before they disappear, but its a hard sell in a world where even musicians like myself rarely truely listen.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Growing Up

Last Friday, I dropped Sam off at his school as usual and in doing so, I got a peek into his future. He ran into the building, his usual exuberant self, stopped next to a girl in his class and said "Hi!" with a big grin. She looked at him, turned on her heel, and grabbed her friend to run down to the classroom. She didn't respond to Sam, but her body language clearly said, "Why are you talking to me?" Sam, unfazed, was off to drop off his bag and ride the tractors with his friends, but I stood there, holding Noah, and fighting off the urge to ask the 4-year-old where she got off ignoring my son.

This insignificant exchange was a lightbulb moment for me. Sam and Noah go to school every week, but for the most part their interactions with other children have been through us and through church - they primarily play with the children of our friends and acquaintances. We have a lot of control over the people with whom they associate and the worldviews that shape them. But in that moment, I saw that my children will grow up and leave my protective grasp, venturing out into a world of people who will not like them and will act toward them in ways fundamentally opposed to the way we treat them. Deep down I know that it is healthy and normal and desirable for them to find their own way and forge their own path, but I can't help but want to hold them tighter to me for the fading years in which I can.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Speaking too Fast

I suppose I spoke too fast yesterday in announcing that Noah now knows himself. Asked this morning who he was, he responded: "Elmo!" This made Sam laugh, so Noah kept repeating that he was Elmo over and over. Who knows how long this identity crisis will last. Oh well, at least he was wearing red pajamas.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Noah Discovers Himself

After Noah's word explosion of a month ago, he's quietly cooled his language acquisition. He still picks up words every one and then, but more often than not he just repeats what people say to him that he finds funny.

In terms of names, he firmly has Joy and I down as Mama and Dada, and he calls Nana and Pop by name, but his favorite person in the world (Sam) he stills calls by sign language. Eventually he'll say "Sam," but right now he just likes to sign "eat" "Sam" when Sam's having a snack or "bath" "Sam" right before bedtime.

But finally, Noah seems to have learned his own name. Sure, he's been responding to it for a long time, but whenever you would ask him his name, he'd look at you quizically and say "Ja," which is his baby-German way of saying "yes." But today in Kindermusik, we were playing with mirrors and he was pointing to me in the mirror and saying "Dada" and when he suddenly pointed to himself and said "Nohna." Sure that double vowel is a bit tricky, but it's fun to see that he finally has a sense of self enough to use his own name for his own reflection.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

More Reasons Why I Teach

I just gave a big music history test yesterday to my undergraduate students and endured the typical grousing about how the subject doesn't relate to what they do and they get tired of memorizing facts.

No matter how many times I tell students the ways in which music history can enrich their musical vocabulary and make them better performers, many refuse to see. That's why I was encouraged by the article "In Search of Lost Sounds: Why you've never really heard the "Moonlight" Sonata" that appeared on yesterday. In it, Jan Swafford gives wonderful audio examples of the differences between the pianos Beethoven wrote for and our modern, equally-tempered and equally-voiced Steinways. The article is an ear-opening read, and I encourage you to jump over to Slate and listen. For me, it was encouragement that music history is important. As a pianist, hearing those recordings opened up new interpretive strategies in my mind and made me hear the music afresh, a goal of all performers of others' music. It is a concrete example of why music history is important. Do you have to play differently because Beethoven wrote for a different piano? No. Do we always have to try to replicate the exact circumstances and choices of pianists in Beethoven's day? No. But I would argue that our music takes on deeper resonance when we understand the choices we are making and the options open to us as musicians rather than blindly playing whatever is before us on the stand. The musicians in any realm or genre that last, that continue to impact us 10, 20, 100 years after their life and work are the ones who understand this simple rubric. History, style, ideas, do matter and matter deeply.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Questionable Musical Choices

Every other Tuesday night we go to a friend's house for fellowship and bible study with a group from our church. Since we start around 7:00, and our children's bedtime is 8:00, twice a month they get to stay up a little late. Often both Sam and Noah are so exhausted that they fall asleep on the way home, and we usually dress Noah in his pajamas before we leave for that eventuality. But sometimes they are too wound up to sleep.

Tonight was one of those nights. We loaded in the car and immediately Sam started scat singing to make Noah laugh. Hearing Noah laugh just made Sam laugh harder and scat louder, so I decided to short circuit the cycle by turning on a little music. I picked a beautiful, slow work by Lou Harrison that is meditative and calming off the iPod and turned on the stereo.

The music didn't phase Sam and Noah.

I sighed, resigned myself to staying up late with both boys coaxing them to sleep when we got home, and turned my attention to Joy. We talked about our day and I mentioned that I was teaching Post-Romanticism and had gotten my students' attention with a disco/funk recording of Also Sprach Zarathustra by Eumir Deodato. I flipped over to the recording on the iPod so Joy could hear it and immediately the back seat went dead quiet.

This immediate, strong reaction to disco can only mean one thing - Abba is not far in our future.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

More Wheat, Please

One of the great things about having a four-year-old boy is the insatiable curiosity with which he attacks each day. And one of the most exhausting aspects of having a four-year-old boy is the constant questioning of every little thing on the planet. Joy read that the average four-year-old asks 400 questions a day.

Sam surely doubles that number.

But we don't want to squash his inquisitive spirit, especially when he is obviously so eager to learn about everything under the sun. Including this week's obsession - wheat.

Given that we live in Kansas, being curious about wheat is not too strange, I suppose; we learned more about corn in our years in Illinois than I thought I would ever want to know. But with Sam, wanting to know about wheat means a level of depth you've never imagined. We have found videos about wheat growth and production, read treatises on how wheat gets from the field to your table, explored the food pyramid to see wheat's nutritonal value, dug through the nutrion information on everything we eat to see if it has wheat, and even played internet games about wheat (did you even guess there was such a thing?) Every morning for breakfast this week, Sam has asked if he could have wheat for breakfast (I had to make pancakes with wheat flour this morning, which were surprisingly delicious). He's asked if his tomatoes on sandwiches have wheat and then not been sure he wanted to eat them. It has been nonstop wheat at our house.

Oh, and the Olympics, but don't get me started on trying to explain the biathlon to him.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Snake Dancing

Wonder what we've been doing for the past two weeks instead of regularly blogging?

We've been sick.

But beyond being sick, we've also been dancing. Dancing with snakes.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Little Light Reading

Looking for a little light reading? Have access to online journals through your local library or institution of higher learning? Then you should check out my new article "Rekindling Ancient Values: The Influence of Chinese Music and Aesthetics on Harry Partch" in the Journal of the Society for American Music. The cover features my picture of Partch's Chromelodeon and is full of fun facts like Partch's experiences in San Francisco Chinese theaters. You can read the abstract and more about the article on the journal's webpage.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Big Day

Yes, if you'll look closely this is Joy writing and not Andrew, and yes, I almost never write on our blog. To be honest, blogging stresses me out. Sounds stupid, but it's very very true. I greatly, what would bring me out of blogger hiding to write? Some very exciting news for Andrew. (He doesn't know I'm doing this. He forgets I can login to our account.) Drum-roll, please...

Yesterday Andrew was given the "Chancellor's Early Career Award for Excellence in Teaching"! Yep, out of all the young, assistant professors at UMKC, Andrew was chosen for this prestigious award, which is "UMKC’s highest honor for excellence in teaching for an assistant professor." If you'd like to know more of the specifics of how he was chosen and exactly what this means, you can read here. It's really pretty cool.

Needless to say the boys and I are awfully proud of him! Congrats, Andrew. We love you!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Classical Listening Journals

For those of you who like to keep up, my first round of listening journals in my undergraduate writing intensive class is now up for your enjoyment. Just head over to the class blog, peruse the blogroll for Spring 2010 listeners, and find something that interests you.

Monday, February 8, 2010

What Excited Me in the Superbowl

I'm not much of one for the Superbowl. In fact, I can't recall ever actually sitting down and watching one. In grad school, Joy and I often used the sporting event as an excuse to go to the movies when attendance would be low (though we attended strange art house movies that weren't hurt by the Superbowl, but it was a good excuse nonetheless). However, we often get invited to Superbowl parties and so I'll go and play games and take breaks from the games to watch the commercials.

For those of you who watched the Superbowl and know of my previously stated love/hate relationship with autotuning also know which commercial was my favorite:

Sure it wasn't actually the best Superbowl commercial, but what is a better punchline than T-Pain autosinging about guacamole?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Words for Muggles

For your Friday, here's an excellent graduation speech on the power of failure and imagination, two ideas I would love my students to take to heart (thanks to Peter Witte):

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Last Weekend

We've been quiet around here because we've been busy. And we've been busy because last weekend we traveled to Champaign-Urbana to do research, attend a concert, and see friends. Having those three intersect was fortuitous, and Joy and I decided to take advantage and brave the possibility of snow and the likelihood of children meltdowns to travel.

We left Thursday morning later than we expected, but Noah, who had decided not to sleep the night before, decided to sleep for over half the trip. So we were able to make record time to Champaign and only had to entertain one child for most of the time. Things were looking good for team Granade.

Friday morning, I packed myself off to the archives to do a bit of Partch research (discovering a wonderful review of a Partch production by Roger Ebert, of all people), while Joy met up with our friends and their children for a playdate. Here was the result:Yes, everyone got so carried away that they stayed past the saturation point into full-boil meltdown (even our even-tempered Noah is getting in on the action).

Saturday morning, we all met at Barnes and Noble at story time so the kids could be afraid or indifferent to Clifford the Big Red Dog, who was making an appearance, and instead play with trains or books or stuffed animals or each other. All went so well that we decided to try dinner that night:Ah well. At least Sam was the only one tired of this party. He had places to go, people to see, bedtimes to miss. That's right, we decided to put him and Will, son of our friends with whom we stayed, in the same room for sleep. The first night, Sam crashed. But the second night, we heard them giggling and getting out toys and saw the light come on in their room. We reminded them that it was nighttime and threatened to separate them if they didn't stay in bed. We checked later and the light was out and though we heard soft giggling, thought nothing of it. When the giggling didn't die down, we investigated further only to discover that they had shut the door so we wouldn't see the light and had been up playing from 9:00 until after 10:00. They are already outsmarting us at four; I worry for fourteen.

Saturday night after dinner, I attended the excellent concert of Mikel Rouse's Gravity Radio, a composer I'm starting a project on who writes incredibly interesting and marvelous music. By Sunday's drive home, we were all happy but exhausted, a condition we are only now remedying but happily took upon ourselves because we had such a fantastic time. (and thanks to Jaime for the pictures.)