Saturday, October 26, 2013

Learning again

Since the beginning of September, there has been a piano in my apartment.  It is a marvelous old instrument that belonged to my grandmother, an accomplished pianist in her own right.  It has loaned an air of gravitas to my hobbled-together little home.  I had to give away an Ikea metal-framed futon to make a place for it.  This looks a little more grown up. 

Isn't it lovely and dignified?  It's a bit beat up, but the wood just longs to sound out - If I sit on the piano bench and talk on the phone facing it, the wood vibrates with my voice and tries to send it back out to me.   

I absolutely love having it in the house.  The weekend after it arrived, I assembled all of the pictures and items to put on top of it, filled the bench with music, and went about playing through a few of the pieces I studied when I was taking piano lessons.  

My grandmother was a piano teacher, although since we grew up a couple of hours away from where she lived, I never studied with her.  We always played our recital pieces for her when we visited her, though.  I took piano lessons from the third to the eleventh grade.  I was never great--I had a mental block against the complexity of playing all of the notes in a chord at the same time--but the sheer hours of practice did have an effect and under the tutelage of a very skilled teacher I managed to do all right.  In each of my last three years of lessons, I learned a movement from a piano concerto and worked on a cumulative repertoire that in the last year reached 21 pieces.  I played these annually for the local music festivals (a misnomer if there ever was one--they were not so much joyous celebrations of music as panic-inducing audiences before judges).  My grandmother always wanted me to hit 25 pieces in my repertoire, but the time came to stop taking lessons and I had not yet hit that mark.  

From the time I left for college until now, I have not had consistent access to a piano.  Having one now is a treat; however, I have searched for the list of the 21 pieces I learned in high school and although I thought I would know just where to look, I haven't been able to put my finger on it--the situation definitely threatens my potential to ever hit that 25-piece goal.

See the sheet music on the piano in the picture?  That is an arrangement of Woodkid's Iron.  I  love how sheet music is as widely available online now as  is any other kind of information.  I found the arrangement for Iron here on Sebastian Wolff's site this week, and I finally had a chance to tackle it today.  
It has been a long time since I have tried to learn something new, and skill-wise, there is a lot to re-learn.  Counting, for one, and re-figuring out how the notes fit together to fill out a measure.

I gave the piece a quick and awful run-through sight reading first.  Well, quick might be an exaggeration, and awful isn't nearly strong enough.  You might say painful.  I made it through, though, then walked away for a bit.  I went back to it this evening and decided to tackle the rhythm.  See, I know what the rhythm sounds like when the professional taiko drummer plays it on the album, it just doesn't easily translate through to my fingers on the piano, especially when the other hand is busy trying to figure out cords.  So I stepped away from the piano and tried to clap it through.  I was pacing through the house counting and clapping, trying again and agian, but no bones.  So I pulled out grandma's metronome.  Sadly, something has happened to it in the time between when she owned it and now, and it clicks with a slight limp.  I was in the zone, though, determined to get this rhythm right, so I got on Amazon to see what a new metronome would cost me.  And then, as I was looking, the 21st century dawned in my brain and I realized that there is probably an app for that.  And lo and behold, the free app of the day on Kindle was the full version of Creative Metronome.  Go figure.  My stars must be lined up right.

This app is superb!  It has a little woodblock sound that you can use to hear how different rhythms would fall within a the main clicked metronome beat.  I was able to set it so a woodblock sound went off on the half beats, which helped me finally get the rhythm down.  

This was so much fun, just to the edge of frustrating without going over, and a challenge for parts of my brain that have lain dormant for years.  I worked on the first four pages (lots of repetition within them) and called that practice for tonight.

We'll see if I can still do it tomorrow.

Here's the Woodkid song I really would like learn to play next.  Too bad I just don't have the skills to figure it out myself.

Woodkid - Conquest of Spaces

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Musique d'auteur

So a person who watches night-time comedy content produced by Comedy Central is bound to see a lot of advertisements for adult beverages. Most ads are just icky.  Few rise above the scuffle.  One company, though, long known for its iconic print ads, does so consistently.  The ad I saw this weekend while catching up on the Colbert Report on hulu was as visually and musically arresting as an ad could be.

So I went hunting.

The music in the ad is by Woodkid, an artist new to me.  And WOW.  Let's just say this: remember how I have spent previous posts gushing over The National and Mumford and Sons?  Let me now gush for Woodkid.  His real name is Yoann Lemoine; he is French; he has already done a lot of film work with lots of big artists whose names trigger instant recognition but who I really don't listen to.  But now he is doing his own thing and it is amazing.  There are a couple of EPs, Iron and Run Boy Run, followed by a debut album, The Golden Age.  There are music videos for Run Boy Run, I Love You, and Iron.  The work is just so impressive taken as a group that I'm breaking with my usual self-imposed limit of one video per post.  This just doesn't seem like the time for moderation.  Shall we take a look?

Woodkid - Iron

Woodkid - Run Boy Run

Woodkid - I Love You

There are also "Quintet" versions of I Love You and Iron.  

Woodkid - I Love You (Quintet version)

Woodkid - Iron (Quintet version)

And finally, there is the title track of the album, which I find so intriguing.  Not that I don't find the rest of the album intriguing/arresting/necessary, it's just that I want to revel in the similarity of the staccato horn work starting at 1:34 with the brass in Bjork's Wanderlust.  Different but similar.  It's really such a driving, urgent sound.

Woodkid - The Golden Age (and the rest of it).  Downloadable on Amazon.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

For the record

Some numbers, in case you didn't think my thoughts on charter schools held water:  forbes  

I guess it comes down to who you feel is deserving of a paycheck: an investor or a teacher.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

What September Brings

I first heard of charter schools 11 years ago when I became a teacher.  It was apparent that the school reform movement was a mask for a movement bent on turning a public good into a private source for revenue.  My opinion of the dangers "reform" posed to schools only became more firm two years later when I became the testing coordinator at my school and became a witness and participant to the hoops our school was jumping through in the name of "verified credits."  During my time in that position, testing moved from paper to electronic format, with no relief or redress to the school as the testing company rolled out a system that barely functioned.  I also witnessed the utter waste of instructional time teaching the students how to take these tests on the computer and teaching to the test, and the waste of teachers' time training them to administer these tests and forcing them to do so during their planning time.  The testing company profiting from the policies mandating this definitely saw growth during my time as a teacher.  From where I stood, it was obvious that our school was participating in these tests to comply with federal and state laws, not because we believed that it represented best practices.

When I first read Diane Ravitch in classes 8 or 9 years ago, she was still cheerleading these reform mechanisms.  I couldn't stand reading her.  She has since changed her mind.  I admire her public about-face.  I'm linking to this article because she has a bigger soapbox than I do.  I only hope that some of the local, state, and national decision makers will listen, think, and change their minds too, in spite of the money machine that has bought them for too long and the incessant media droning on about a nonexistent death spiral for all public institutions and the voracity of the hoards of self-interested teachers seeking to profit off the backs of distressed children.  Charters, "choice," reform, and privatization are a dangerous path that will undermine the work that has been done to offer a free public education to the children of this country: an education that instills the value of being a citizen of our public into our young people.  I am a product of the schools that the famous study of the 1980s accused of putting our "Nation At Risk;" I now work in a school with real challenges that has managed to continuously provide a quality broad-based comprehensive program to city students.  I am proud to teach there.  I see students I have taught who are now achieving in college, in grad school, and working as productive members of our society.  I am proud of them for their success.  

It's time to stop demonizing schools and time to stand behind them and uphold them as one of the central organizations in our community.  It's time to stop demonizing teachers and students.  They are real people working together who accomplish good things.  Mostly, it's time for every citizen who is "choicing" their children out to re-evaluate whether their participation in this public good might bolster their whole community and their own families.  ("Ask not what your country can do" and all that..)  Maybe once we stand together in the public arena we will be able to abolish this high stakes nonsense and get some public education policy that reinforces what American schools do best: provide an American public prepared with the creativity, flexibility, and will to meet the challenges of the future that we know are coming and that we can't yet foresee.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

No words.

I have wanted to post and I have started drafts and nothing has come off of my keyboard quite right.  It is a pitched time.  I have never felt so much like things are going along but still falling apart at every turn quite like I have this year.  So of course the writing does not want to come together.  Most recently, I have wanted to indict the idiots of congress who say things along the vein of "now the sequester is hurting normal Americans" when all the sequester has done is hurt normal Americans.  News like that causes bursts of insane laughter to come out of my shower in the mornings, because I cry enough over normal things that laughter is all that is left.

But I haven't been able to put it together quite right, and the moment has passed.

So today I am posting for the sake of the music.  Because for the first time today I came across this one.  Oh, Mumford & Sons.  Masters of the slow crescendo of intensity, and the crushing wave that is the full impact of the song's resolution.  I have no words.

Mumford & Sons: Home

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Music Holdings

Long ago, in the days of audio cassettes, I fell in love with rock and roll.  I actually experienced the first blushes of that love even earlier - the first two albums I acquired were on vinyl. (The first one, Heart's self-titled album, my parents picked up for me after a night of babysitting, which was a responsibility, not a job that earned me extra cash.  I found out later that they had double checked with my uncles that the music wasn't too inappropriate for their child.  The second one, Invisible Touch by Genesis, I purchased my self with money I earned babysitting other people's children.  I still have a fondness for the Heart album.)  After that it was cassettes - including the quintessential 80's experience of trying to tape music off the radio without too much deejay talkover.

I collected the music because I loved it.  When I was 21, my mom asked me to count my CDs.  When I told her how many I had, she just looked at me and said, "That's a car."  It would have been a used car, but what good would the car have been without anything to play in it?  

I still do collect music, even in this age of free unlimited plays on YouTube.  I am waiting A-N-X-I-O-U-S-L-Y for The National's new album to drop in May.  Within the last week I have purchased 4 or 5 albums and a few random songs.  That is higher than a normal week for me, but not unheard of.  There are a lot of people in the world with music collections larger than mine, but I am still happy with the lifetime of music listening that my collection represents.

One of the bonus reasons I always wanted to collect music was so I could expose my kids to it.  I figured that nothing could be more important to any child of mine than knowing the ins and outs of late 80's new wave and electronica, or understanding who was who in indie in the 90s.  Besides, I still like it when my dad pops on the Beatles and tells me about the memories he associates with the different songs.  As for me, the kid thing didn't really work out, but one of these days the nephew and the niece are going to get an earful!  (The niece already likes to dance with her daddy to The Cure.  He is doing right by her.)  

So.  What is the collective memory of our age that we want to pass on?  If you would like to, dear reader, drop a comment.  Tell about what you always wanted to share with a future child of yours and why.  Tell how it turned out if it did, or how it might kind of turn out if it still just might.  What is the thumbprint you want to send forward?  What memory do you want the future to have of your experiences?

Here is one for me.  This is a song that I would want perpetuated.  It reminds me of the liberty of days off from my summer job in college - exploring the swath of the country covered by the southern parts of Nevada and Utah and the northern reaches of Arizona.  Riding in cars with friends looking for adventure.  And sometimes finding it.

New Order - Regret

Sunday, March 31, 2013

I am a hypocrite, but I have reasons for that.

JC Penney was playing Morrissey the other night - Every Day is Like Sunday - and I want it on record that I don't approve of my youth becoming the new cool vintage for kids to appropriate much the same way I appropriated peace signs and other trappings of the '60s to be cool when I was a teenager...

There is a bigger thing going on, though.  Morrissey isn't just some musician - he is a voice of disillusionment, of angst, of despair - of trying so hard and finding you still do not belong.  He is not the voice of insatiable retail hunger.  He is not the voice of the suburban American dream.  He is not the voice of a hamburger and a Coke, or of a McFlurry, for that matter.  Next they will play Bengali in Platforms, all about how no matter what you buy, your otherness and desperation to fit in will ultimately sink you.  And they won't see the disconnect - they will just think they're pushing tall shoes.

The Smiths - Stop me if you think you've heard this one before

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Life is bigger than I am.

... and I find myself seeking escape in just about any way I can.  Books.  Sleep.  Music.  Sleep.  Sleep.  Netflix.  Books.  Sleep.  Sleep.  Sleep.

Lauren Hoffman - Out of the Sky, Into the Sea

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Story for a Full Moon

I love Italo Calvino's stories. Tonight I ran across news that an album of music inspired by If on a winter's night a traveler... will be released this week, and the samples sound lovely. I'll write more once I get my hands on the whole thing. I hadn't heard the following story before, but I thought this little film was just beautiful.

The distance from the moon - Italo Calvino

Friday, December 30, 2011

Mountain Vistas

So yesterday I was flying over the Rocky Mountains. They are so beautiful. I was flying home after visiting family for Christmas. Of course, once I got off my diet of work-related stress, my body relaxed so much I spent much of my time away feeling sick, but I also did a lot of hard playing with my nephew and niece. They are two fun kids. My nephew is sweet as can be, and my niece is a spunkcat! We spent a lot of time laughing and coloring and having fun. Yesterday before I flew out we played "camping," which I hope is what we will be doing the next time I go home.

Also on this trip out, my sister-in-law treated me to a pedicure, which is something I've never managed to do before. Very nice and enjoyable. We've decided that it needs to be an annual girls'-day-out activity - hopefully next winter my sister and our to-be sister-in-law will be there too.

And we managed to see the new Muppet Movie. It earned my laughter and my tears and my stamp of approval - finally something with the Muppet name has been created with Muppet spirit. Which may be the biggest compliment I could pay for that one.

So it's winter, and I find myself less talkative. At least today. Maybe tomorrow I'll be more loquacious. Anyway, the vacation was all-too-short, and yesterday I found myself flying over the mountains. Which leads us to today's song. Make yourself happy and blow up the video - whoever put this one together did a beautiful job. And the view at 1:34 reminds me of home. Not in winter.

Midlake - Core of Nature

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I tried rutabagas.

The secret is that Garrison Keillor made me do it.

I have a love-hate relationship with the Writer's Almanac. I find the information fascinating and I love to read the poems again afterward, but I am not the president of the Garrison Keillor fan club. I just disagree with his way of reading most of the time. Too slow. Too many pauses for breath. Tone of befuddlement, especially in situations where befuddlement doesn't work. And yet, I have to listen. I like most of the stories, and the poetry! It's all about the poetry. And yet... there is this one other issue. Of course, a few years ago I wrote a poem about it:


Why I really regret having picked up the habit of listening to Writer's Almanac every morning

When, standing in the bookstore aisle, I open up somewhere in the middle of a new book of poetry to peruse and test its waters;
When, settling in with a new collection, repetition and flow wash over me (O that this poet's words were mine!);
When, pencil in hand, I dot the final line of my own feeble attempts, scanning back over my own lines with some satisfaction;

Elation! Joy! Soaring! But too soon,

that crazy Writer's Almanac theme music
(zippy from the end of the show, not slow and plodding from the introduction)
rips through my mind announcing
the end of the poem.
Garrison has finished his reading for the day.
Time to put the poem down. I am off to
Be well, I set my hands to
Do good work, and I try to figure out with whom I would like to
Keep in touch.

Oh, wait. I had more poetry to live.
Lost, I search vainly to figure out where I was.


So last Tuesday, Garrison read a poem about rutabagas. And I was so taken in by the description of them as having a
"...dug-up texture,
the hint of dirt
that couldn't be baked away,"
that I went out that afternoon and bought two rutabagas.

When I started peeling them, I was shocked at the thick layer of paraffin coating them. I cut them into large cubes and roasted them with cubed pork loin and with other vegetables: sweet potatoes, baby red potatoes, carrots, garlic, and mushrooms.

The rutabagas were a delight. They tasted just like the poem said they would. Point Keillor.

Here is a song from a Christmas album I downloaded this afternoon. I may post more from it while the holiday season is on. I liked the Christmas albums so much I went back and downloaded everything Amazon had by them. I think this is a band I will enjoy getting to know better. Anyway. Enjoy the surprise halfway through this one.

Future of Forestry - Joy To The World

Friday, November 25, 2011


So it's fall and the trees have been very busy dumping their leaves. Thanksgiving is always a reference point for me. It seems like my first few years living here, there were still lots of leaves left on the trees as we rolled into the last part of November. This year, definitely not. We have had some early cold, and most of the leaves are down.

I write about this because my new classroom has me parking on the back lot of the school now rather than the front, and in the back lot, there is a tree with different leaves. In the front it's all maple and other super-broad-leaved trees; in the back there is a tree with smaller, skinnier leaves. (Sorry, I do not know which trees are which, so you'll have to believe this rudimentary description.) They are rounded at the base, about three inches long and 1/2 inch across, and they form a slight point at the end. Go figure. Anyway, this tree must have dropped millions and millions of these little leaves. They are all over the back of the lot, and when it rains, they coat your car like fur.

But what struck me was walking out to my car in the rain the other day - the sound of the rain drops hitting the leaves was so staccato, like a million rattlesnakes rattling, just beautiful - and so different from the normal sounds of rain hitting pavement or (more silently) grass. It reminded me of rain in the forest - it reminded me of the green expanse beyond the city that houses most of my life. I felt wonderful and alive.

The next day when I got in my car after school, more leaf madness. As I drove along the street, one of these leaves flew up from the vent area below the the windshield wipers and behind the hood, and started to dance across my windshield. Because it was damp, the ends stuck to the glass, but the middle rippled and waved and forced slow movement upward toward the top of the car. When I came to a stop, it fell, and it blew away.

Hooray for leaves. I will be glad in the spring when they come back again. I'll have to take a closer look at that tree so I can figure out what kind it is.

Bing Crosby - Autumn Leaves