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.