Monday, May 30, 2011

Public Relations Triumph

Well, it worked on me. I saw this 30-second ad on the television the other day, and I laughed and laughed. It is such a clever ad. I reminds me of the paper bag theater skits we used to do at camp when I was a kid. The writers of the ad set out the props (advertisements for brand-name products themselves), and present a surprise (yet somehow plausible) absurd situation. It's all over in 30 seconds. I imagine that I'm not the only person who told her family and friends about it. I imagine that I'm not the only person who looked up the ad on YouTube. I imagine that I'm not the only person who watched a few more equally amusing ads from this company that use the same clever format.

I felt less angry at the corporation for what it has done to small town America (as opposed to what they claim to do for small town America) when I went there this morning. I went there thinking that perhaps the corporation is not as bad as it used to be. In reality the problems caused by this corporation are so great that they clump together in a tangled mass, and the soma of the feel-good ad makes it easier to look the other way.

They certainly hired clever people to write these ads.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cicada Day 2011

I just came back from a walk on this beautiful and sunny day during the second 13-year periodical cicada hatching of my time in the Midwest. My first mega cicada day came 13 years ago, on our son's birthday, May 16. His present that year was a badminton set, and very shortly after we set up the net, it was covered with cicadas. That year happened to be the one time every 221 years that both the 13-year and the 17-year variety emerge at the same time.

This year we only have the 13-year variety.

13 years ago the sound of the cicadas was so loud that it was impossible to hear much of anything birdwise (or otherwise). When I played an outdoor wedding that June (the cicadas remained active for three or four weeks), the sound of the cicadas pretty much masked what we were playing--kind of like several giant lawnmowers.

This year the birds are singing happily, celebrating what is probably like a once-in-13-year Thanksgiving, while the click-click-click of the cicadas serves as a layer of faint and occasional percussion. 13 years ago there were piles of dead cicadas sitting around like piles of leaves, and dogs would gorge themselves on what turned out to be an unexpected treat.

The periodic hatching of cicadas, and the mole activity that precedes it, reminds me that in a world that we believe is growing smaller by media (such as the blogosphere, television, and podcasts) is really huge, and really awesome (in the literal sense of the word). Nature moves in rhythms that most of us don't notice much beyond the span of a year. Spring, when it finally does arrive, obliterates much of the winter that came before. It seems that one season is about as much as we can keep in our physical memories, because the here and now is so powerful. Anything else is just a snapshot (this is the same tree). I'm happy that I have been able to take musical snapshots.

Yes. I am working on some spring-themed violin duets, and you can bet that the sounds of birds and cicadas will work their way in.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

What you can miss if you don't look up!

There are whimsical figures painted on the walls and ceiling of the rotunda of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, but in the straight-ahead world of the museum visitor, the term "ever forward" seems to be more operative than the desire to "look up."

I found this violin-playing dolphin-riding figure,

and this odd encounter between a sphinx and a winged female character.

Before leaving the museum we had a chance to compare modern female figure icons on one of the women's room doors,

and after seeing Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams (a film about cave paintings) at the Coolidge Corner Theater), we looked up to find this piece of artifactual signage (my own term, coined just for this post) on a Brookline side street.

It was a grand day!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Static Emotional Energy is Counterproductive

I just returned from a week in New York, New Jersey, and Boston without an instrument and without my computer (hence the silence on this particular speck of internet bandwidth). I re-connected with my violin this afternoon. My fiddle playing sounds crude, sloppy, and out of tune, but the very fact that I can make sounds come out of my instrument using my two hands helps me feel far less fragmented than I felt while away--dashing from place to place, and expressing myself only in very limited, and sometimes guarded ways.

Practicing seems to re-ignite and lubricate my psychic pathways, and seems to make my energy flow forward instead of being in a state of stasis. Just like static electrical energy, static emotional energy is seriously counterproductive. After weeks like this one I am reminded that emotional energy is very real, and that I have an abundance of it.

The tactile part of expression is terribly important. What goes in (or on) helps make it easier for stuff to go out. I'm happy to be back in my own little corner and in my own little chair, with my own computer adjusted in such a way that I can type comfortably and read without my glasses.

I'll certainly have more to say about my trip, but right now I think I'll go back to practicing some Bach.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Awesome Ginastera!

Many thanks to the person who put this deeply out-of-print recording of the Variaciones Concertantes, Op. 23 on YouTube:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Oseh Shalom performed by the Camerata del Ré

This past weekend a terrific baroque ensemble (with a very clever name) performed part of my Quartetto d'amore in Delray Beach, Florida, and they played it on baroque instruments, at A=415. Many thinks to Robert David Billington, (baroque flute), Silvia Suarez (baroque violin), Richard Fleischman (viola d'amore), and Elena Alamilla (baroque cello). Also many thanks to Keith Paulson-Thorp for organizing the concert.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The New New New Math

This talk actually makes math seem like fun:

(If you are going through a reader, you'll need to click through to the post to see the video.)

Here's Dan Meyer's blog!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Banjar "Playing Hookey"

This is from a Contra Dance in Urbana, Illinois that Banjar played on May 13, 2011. Our son Ben is playing banjo, Claire Johnson is playing violin, Daniel Flora is playing bodhráin, and Zach May is playing cello.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

From The Top Initiative for Investing in Arts Education in America

Finally we have a 88-page government pamphlet describing the virtues of teaching art and music in schools. If you don't have time to read the whole report, you can read a summary here.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Creative vs. Evaluative: a vicious circle

I'm constantly walking the line between the creative and the evaluative when it comes to music. These two "personae" fight for superiority in my own personal world. When my creative side has a slight victory, the evaluative side comes in to tear it apart, belittle it, and make a case for me never to take any more risks. I guess I could blame my whole personal schism on my parents (one who is organically creative and one who is organically critical). I suppose my situation is genetic.

It's much safer to be a critic than to be a composer.

But critics don't make music, and critics don't bring personal enjoyment to anyone, really. Critics have a vested interest in being right. Composers have a vested interest in the constant possibility of being wrong, because (if they are worth their salt) they do things that haven't been done before. If a composer does something that has been done before (or writes with the voice of another composer), a good critic will point it out. This kind of thing gives the critic a chance to give a tangible evaluation, and to put something in context. The job is done. The critic has spoken.

There's nothing that hampers creativity like having an in-house critic, particularly if that critic inhabits the same brain and the same personal space as the person trying to create. The creative part of the personality has to silence the critical part in order to get anything done, at least while the thing is moving from "concept" to "thing."

The critical part of me sneers when this happens. The creative part of me struggles to press on, because it simply must. The critical part of me can never win because it needs fodder in order to exist. The creative part must create, even if only to give fodder to the critical part, which almost always responds negatively. This encourages the creative part, in spite of criticism from the inside (or apathy from the outside), to press on.

The critical part of me suggests this isn't a new idea. Consider the ouroborus:

Friday, May 06, 2011

Wall Street's Off Pitch Singing of a Schwann Song for "Classical Music"

Proper Discord is adding fresh and deep thoughts to the question of whether "classical music" is doomed to die. I have nothing to add to his or her argument (Proper Discord is properly anonymous), but if you haven't read this post yet, I would suggest doing so now.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Golden Coach

In an interview about his 1952 film The Golden Coach, Jean Renoir mentions that he had an important collaborator by the name of Antonio Vivaldi. There is a lot of Vivaldi in the film, and the characters of the Commedia dell'arte incorporate unusual instruments into their comedy. There are a bunch of large lutes, a piccolo, a serpent, and, at the very end, there's a character that dances while playing a viola d'amore. There is also a lot of music that is not by Vivaldi. I heard some Martini, and what sounded like Scarlatti--the film is deeply anachronistic to say the least. It is a total fantasy, and a deeply enjoyable one.

The film is in English, and Anna Magnani did not speak English when she made it. She is a remarkable actress who clearly understood the meaning of every line she spoke in the film ("Where is truth? Where does the theater end and life begin?"). Occasionally she speaks in Italian, and she sings in Italian, which is a treat.

Here's the trailer, and here's a great article about the film.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

. . . in a music appreciation class at a rural community college

This morning I was telling my class that Sergei Prokofiev

was supported by an American businessman from Chicago named Cyrus McCormick, Jr.,

but I couldn't remember which farm equipment company he owned, so I asked the class to name a few tractor companies. It is a small class, but they came up with more than a dozen tractor companies, including some I had never heard of. Nobody mentioned International Harvester, even though a song about one of their machines holds an esteemed place in the country music canon.

Here's an interesting story about Prokofiev's journey to America.

Monday, May 02, 2011