Monday, February 28, 2005

You Know ... He May Be Right ...

"Why waste money on psychotherapy when you can listen to the B Minor Mass?" --Michael Torke

Wandering Aimlessly, Watching the Snow

I've been away for the blogosphere for a few days and am getting caught up while waiting for the snow to melt a bit. I don't have much to say this morning (other than, "Do I really have to go to work??"), so I'll write about some things that are going on elsewhere.

Actually, here are a few non-blog items of note in the world of people I know personally.

My good friend Amy at Inspire Company has updated her site for spring. This is a great site if you're shopping for unique gifts for families with babies and small children, neat springtime-inspired items, and a multitude of other unusual and often vintage-inspired gifts. It looks like she's recently begun selling antique dolls, as well. Her site includes an online magazine for those of you who enjoy crafts--on your own or with your kids.

Brad of Thirsty Soul hasn't updated his page lately, but his wife, Amy, has posted a photo of their alien son, Ethan. (He's not really an alien. He's actually very cute. Check out his site.)

Over on Trailjournals (a must-read site for hikers), Anna "Mud Butt" Huthmaker, the ever-adventurous cellist, continues to write about her life in Africa.

Meanwhile, Stacey has answered the interview questions that I asked her last week.

I'll write more later. I think I'm just burned out on writing about me, me, me for the time being. So I'm going to go read about other people, other people, other people. Then I'll probably have to leave for work, work, work.

Blah. I'd much rather stay home and watch the snow.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Happy Birthday to Rebecca!

Happy birthday to my old (longtime, not elderly) friend, Rebecca in Denver! Have a fun birthday weekend!

Theory Lesson! With Lots of Exclamation Points!

Today was Music Theory. We focused on Adagio Thing for the whole lesson. Here are a few things Vance (my theory teacher) said (paraphrases):

1) Adagio Thing sounds very Schumann-esque and romantic. I told him later that I've been listening to two- and three-instrument pieces to get an idea of "what Piano should be doing while the other instruments are singing," and that my favorites were the Brahms violin and cello sonatas.

"Ah," he said. "Then your choice of having Piano play more of an accompanying role at the beginning makes sense."

2) He seemed impressed with my bumbling, ignorant little attempt at composing ... and said IT SHOWS PROMISE. That is more than I expected to hear, so I am thrilled! Even if he was just saying that to make me feel good, it definitely did the trick!

3) I told him I felt like I needed more of a structure within which to work. Right now, I seem to be wandering through the woods, saying things like, "Ooh, this looks like an interesting path ... let's go this way!" and then "Let's follow this other path for awhile! Are we modulating? Neat!" But now that I've wandered into the woods, I need a trail, a line that I stick to so that I'm not just completely aimless, with no sense at all of structure.

So Vance suggested using a "song" format: basically making my current melody (the first part) the "A" section, and then having a "B" section and then going back to the "A" section. He gave suggestions for more complex "structures" I could try, but I told him that the song structure is just fine with me. My real "goal," if you can call it that, is to gain some ease in using secondary dominants, secondary diminished sevenths, and augmented sixths in my writing. So it won't be a big challenge to use them later, you see. Also, as always, I am working on harmonic movement and exploring the sense and feel inherent in the movement of a chord in one scale degree to a chord in another. So the simpler "song" structure would be perfect.

So, for next week, I'm going to work on the "A" section. I'll be following a relatively strict "form," with 4 measures to establish the key (F), then 4 measures to work my way toward the V of the key (C), then 4 measures to work my way back to the I (F), and then 4 measures to wrap it up before moving on to the B section.

And Cello is going to have the whole "A" section to herself (with Piano accompanying, of course). Clarinet doesn't come in till the "B" section. The part I've written for Clarinet is actually going to come in much later in my next draft. Which will be cool, because that's when I go from F to G minor ... and it will be good to have established the key of F in Section "A" with the movement from I to V to I.

Vance also gave me some ideas about how I can have the B section contrast with the A section. Some things to consider were:

- Changing tempo
- Changing the key
- Changing the melody
- Further exploring the different "voices" (Piano, Cello, and Clarinet)
- Some combo of all of these

The 4-measure "chunks" within the A section can all contrast with each other as well, in one several ways, which include:

- variations on the melody
- repetition of motives and echoing of motives from one voice to another

It was so exciting. It's like each suggestion or idea was a real person, a fascinating person, and suddenly I had all these fascinating people in my midst, but no time to get to know any of them. So I absolutely cannot WAIT to get home and start to get acquainted with all of the ideas that were generated today.

I am SO EXCITED about this!!!

Wedding Fight Song

Well, folks, I met with my bride last night. She and her fiance are getting married in July, and Yours Truly is the ceremony pianist.

This will be the first full wedding I've ever played, and the first wedding I've ever been paid for. I warned her that she's hiring non-professional, but she said that was OK. So we met last night to discuss the music selections and make music-related plans.

It was so much fun! I loved recommending things! There are a few things she wants that I've never played, but they should be easy enough to learn.

Except for the fight song.

That's right, folks. I'm to play the fight song of the groom's alma mater as he and the groomsmen enter the church.

I'm sure it won't be hard to play. In fact, I'm sure it will be humorous and fun, as the bride intends. Just like the Hubster's and my use of Nalgene bottles for toasting glasses at the reception at our own wedding was humorous and fun.



Has anyone ever heard a college fight song played as part of a wedding ceremony? On the piano? Just curious. I might need to make a deal with the "Trumpet Voluntary" trumpeter at some point ...

And wonder ... is it good to have a "fight" song played at the starting point of one's marriage?

Should we have more of a "love" song instead?

I almost think that the fight song might be more fun for the very end of the wedding ... for the recessional, or after the recessional, when folks are gathering up their purses and waking up their small children.

Any opinions? You can listen to my favorite fight song while pondering.

(Warning: Displaced Louisianians may suffer severe symptoms of homesickness while playing this song. Listen at your own risk.)

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Adagio Thing Update, and some Ruts

I really need to come up with a more interesting title than "Adagio Thing." But not today.

Today at lunch, Piano, Cello, Clarinet, and I worked on the draft (do they call them "drafts" in music?) for Piano and Cello, measures 1 through 8, and I've written measures 9 through 11 for just Cello and poor rejected Oboe Clarinet.

I think I heard Violin hanging out in the hall outside The Sanctuary. I suppose she wants to play, too. But for the time being, she's not allowed. My poor head is already about to burst.

Piano was supposed to be playing plain old chords while Cello sang, but no. Piano came up with this little motif on top of the chords it was already playing. So I just let her play it. If anyone in this little trio knows what it's doing, it's Piano. Even when I'm not sure where she's going, her instincts generally prove pretty good.

Whew ... B-flat Clarinet is confusing to write for because it doesn't make the sound it's supposed to make. If you write a "C," it goes and makes a D. Huh. Kind of like my singing voice, only different.

(See, I really am a beginner!)

So things are going fine, but Piano and I seem to fall into ruts. Here are a few of them:

1) The Cycle of Fifths Rut: That's where I just start playing/improvising and going round and round through parts of the cycle of fifths. It's musical masturbation. It sounds pretty and pleasant, and it makes me feel good about myself because I can do it without thinking ... but that's just the point. I'm not thinking. I'm doing because it's easy and because it's something I've done for years and years. Or I will come up with the nicest little transition and then realize that I've just repeated the same-old same-old.

2) The "How Can You Be So Unoriginal?" Rut: I don't let this one bother me too much. I'm so new at composing that I don't put a lot of pressure on myself to be original. I'm just trying to learn the ropes for now. When I feel like I've written something trite, I just remind myself that these are little old baby steps I'm supposed to be taking.

3) The New-Age Arpeggio Rut: Argh, this one annoys the heck out of me. I'll just fall into Yanni mode, without warning. Again, it's very pretty and pleasant, but it's easy and it's not the kind of thing I want to write.

4) The Cool Jazz Chords Rut: This is a bit of a variation on the Cycle of Fifths Rut. I once spent an intense few days learning how to do a ii minor 7 to V dominant 7 to I Major 7 progression in every key, in every inversion, when reading a jazz how-to book. It's a very useful little progression, and it sounds pretty and pleasant. But it's easy. And it's easy to fall into the rut.

These "ruts" are actually good tricks to have, and I'm sure I'll learn dozens more tricks as I study more theory. But for now, the ruts also seem like traps.

But I guess that's why I'm taking theory in the first place. To learn how to work my way out of these traps, these ruts, and let myself be led to someplace more interesting and challenging.

A Sort of Music Log

I'm keeping track of the things I listen to and making brief notes (to myself) about them. It's all part of my autodidactical education in music composition. Probably of interest to no one, but I just thought I'd tell the world of its existence. It's called a sort of music (b)log.

Hearing-Impaired Classical Pianist

Forrest Covington pointed me to the website of Valerie Zamora, a hearing-impaired pianist. Naturally, I'm interested in learning about hearing-impaired pianists, and it was so exciting to read about one who has actually performed at Carnegie Hall and was interviewed by The New Yorker.

I really enjoyed that article, along with the rest of Zamora's website. Her deafness--and her way of hearing music--sounds very similar to that of my own. Only I never even considered the possibility of playing chamber music because I simply cannot hear other instruments above the piano--particularly higher-ranged instruments such as violin and flute. But this woman is proof that, with the right amount of dedication, hard work, and talent, it can be done.

So she is an inspiration and there is hope. If "Adagio Thing" ever gets written, maybe I'll even play the piano section myself.

I love this quote of hers because it rings true with me:

"There are instruments that I know I’m not hearing in the same way somebody else does, but becoming familiar with the sounds I do hear, I can understand what the player is doing. It is in the scope of every musician to produce sound using all their senses, and I think that’s what I’ve developed, to produce sound not just using my training but to consider gravity, motion, dance, color, even touch and smell."
This woman is obviously a fascinating person as well as a talented pianist. Listen to a couple of her music samples here.

Thanks, Forrest!

Interview Questions for Stacey

Stacey, here are your five interview questions. Answer them on your blog/website, and offer to interview anyone who is interested. At the end of your answers, copy and paste the following so you can interview your readers:

1. Leave me a comment saying “interview me.”
2. I will respond by asking you five questions.
3. You will update your blog/site with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions. (Write your own questions or borrow some :o)

Have fun!

THE INTERVIEW

1. If you could have any type of “superhero power” (flying, x-ray vision, etc.), what would it be, and why?

2. What do you miss most about living in California, and what do you miss least?

3. If you could undo one thing or action in your past, what would it be?

4. What do you love best about your husband, Drew?

5. If you were to recommend a book, movie, or television show that would remind me most of you, what book/movie/show would it be (and why)?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Back from The Sanctuary

I’m back. The Sanctuary piano and I had a very productive hour working on Adagio Thing.

I love Adagio Thing. Adagio Thing is my friend. The following scene mostly took place in my head, but it also took place in The Sanctuary, which is what I’m calling my lunch-hour piano-practicing room.

So anyway, four of us met in The Sanctuary today: Piano, Clarinet, Cello, and me. Oboe didn’t show up because she was too depressed about having been so unceremoniously kicked off the team, so to speak. English Horn was busy (her feast-or-famine job was in feast mode, I guess), and was unable to make it (much to Clarinet’s relief).

I wrote/sketched twelve measures. It starts out softly with Cello and Piano, and then Clarinet comes in at measure nine, after Cello has played through the first little theme once.

Now, this will most definitely probably change.

I might have Clarinet start it. I will probably have the main theme played twice because nine measly measures just doesn't (don’t?) seem sufficient.

The piano is just doing chords at first, but the top note of each chord shadows the notes that Cello is playing. It’s two counts behind (usually), so there’s kind of a sense of Piano either (1) singing the melody back to Cello, or (2) trying to learn cello’s part by following just behind it. I don’t know why it’s doing that. Piano just said, “Let me try this,” so I did, and it didn’t sound too bad at all.

Of course, I don’t know the first thing about writing counterpoint, so I don’t know how long Piano and Cello will be able to stay in two-things-going-on-at-once mode.

Then I mess with secondary dominant sevenths and a few other things, and modulate temporarily from F to g minor. And that’s when the cello starts doing arpeggios and the clarinet comes in, singing the original theme, only a whole step higher. And it’s so purty. And when it resolves to an E-flat, it just ... does it for me. And you just know Clarinet was singing her reedy little heart out in my head so she won’t have to be benched.

Then I looked at my watch. The scene in my head came to an abrupt end. Cello and Clarinet became silent and disappeared. Piano looked at me expectantly. I had gone way overtime with this. Cubicle Land was calling.

These scenes in my head—and what they produce in real life—are what I live for, though. There is nothing so thrilling as getting into “creative mode” and being so focused on the “scene” (whether in fiction or music), that time just ceases to be a factor. I am such a beginner at this whole music-composition thing, but I have a strong feeling that it’s “right,” that for me, that composing is somehow “meant to be.”

Silly, I know. How do I know I’m “meant” to compose when I hardly know the first thing about it? I’ve always known I was meant to compose, though. I just never had the nerve or the patience before now to learn how to do it. And those “right” feelings get stronger every time I sit down at the piano, whether to write, play, improvise, or work through a theory exercise.

I don’t know how I know these things. I guess I just know. I just wish I had more time for all these things I'm meant to do!

Horny Outdoor Activities

Patty from oboeinsight points us to a website featuring photoshop-enhanced musical instrument pictures. Odd but interesting photos there. But I must say, the windsurfer with the horn doesn't compare the real-life tuba-toting hiker, Scott Rimm-Hewitt, a.k.a. Tuba Man.

Yes, that's a tuba in his backpack at Mount Katahdin's Knife Edge in Maine.

More of Tuba Man's 2000 Appalachian Trail thru-hike pictures are here. He and his tuba, Charisma, hiked from Maine to Georgia in 2000.

(For the record ... no, I am not going to thru-hike any trail with a piano. Ever. Unless, of course, some nice Hubster is willing to carry it for me.)

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Interview

I got the interview from sparrow, who got it from Kim. "The Interview" seems to be going 'round the blogosphere. If anyone wants me to interview them, just let me know in the comments. (Instructions are after the question).

Here are sparrow's questions for me, and my answers:

1. You're stranded on an island. You already have your Bible with you (you're so spiritual!), which 3 other things do you most want with you? (I'll let you have the Hubster with you too. Ain't I sweet? ;))

Yes, you are very sweet! Thanks for letting me have the Hubster, seeing as he's a lot better at building fires and shelters than I am. :-)

Let's see, the three other things I want most ...

(I guess I can't say "a computer with Internet access," because then I wouldn't be stranded for very long.)

Assuming the Hubster is taking care of our survival needs (ha), I think I would most want:

1. Pen(cil) and paper (can that count as one item?)--because I have to write or my head will explode. Plus, a Gilligan's Island-style memoir might be interesting to some.
2. A good knife--a necessity if I'm stranded in some wilderness-type place somewhere
3. Lots of ibuprofen--because I'll probably be sore and achy from helping the Hubster hunt and prepare food, build shelters, etc.

2. The power went out, everyone (even the cats) is safe. What are you going to do with the lights out? (this is a family blog)

Heh heh heh ... but this is a family blog! Seriously, I would probably play the piano. That's what I normally do when the power is out. If it's dark out, the Hubster would light the kerosene lanterns, and we might snuggle on the couch and just talk. (This is a family blog, so we're just talking, OK?)

3. How did you meet the Hubster?

I met him at the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers' Association (ALDHA) Gathering in Hanover, NH, in 1999. If you click on that link, it's a picture of the folks who attended the 2003 Gathering, which we missed because we were busy honeymooning. When we first met in Hanover, he had just finished his AT thru-hike and I was getting ready to start mine. We had no romantic interest in each other until 2001, when he was walking across the U.S. (Ohio to the Pacific Ocean) and happened to pass through my home state of Louisiana.

4. Which items are always in your grocery cart?

Ritz crackers. I'm addicted to them. Also bananas, orange juice, and broccoli.

5. You have a time machine. You can bring one person from history to the present and show him/her around. Who would it be and why?

My grandfather. He died when I was 12, and I miss him. It would be neat to show him how his grandchildren and great-grandchildren have turned out, and where we live and how we live our lives.

*******************

Want to be interviewed?

Here are your instructions:

1. Leave me a comment saying “interview me.”
2. I will respond by asking you five questions.
3. You will update your blog/site with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions. (Write your own questions or borrow some :o)

Terri Schiavo ... passing along some info

From World Magazine Blog:

"Terri Schiavo's estranged husband Michael plans to remove her feeding tube today, LifeNews.com reports. This though a hearing on whether to renew a stay preventing him from doing so won't take place until tomorrow.

"The current stay is in effect until this afternoon, when the Florida 2nd Court of Appeal is expected to finalize its decision against a claim by Terri's parents saying starving their daughter to death would violate her religious liberties.

"Once the mandate in that decision is issued at 1 p.m. EST, Michael plans to remove the feeding tube."
Much is being written on this tragic situation and controversial issue all over the blogosphere. Catez at Allthings2all provides details on ways to help Terri, and she links to a number of blogs that have written on this issue in the last few days. These bloggers also link to stories that give the real (and ugly) details of this case.

Adagio Thing in The Sanctuary

Last week I forgot my music, but I went to my lunchtime piano room (hereinafter known as "The Sanctuary") to practice anyway. I ended up just spending an hour on improvisation and exploration, coming up with melodies, incorporating concepts I've learned in theory, and modulating here and there. Doodling and moodling.

So I stumbled upon a really lovely melody. It's not particularly original, in terms of the harmonic progression, but it's a nice melody that I wanted to to explore some more.

So, after a few run-throughs on the piano, I realized that I actually imagined oboe "singing" it, with the piano merely accompanying.

As I wrote and imagined it some more, I started hearing a cello in the background. It starts out doing a quiet pizzicato thing, then it shadows the oboe.

Good enough. But then a clarinet worked its way into the music in my head. Weird. I like the clarinet OK, but it doesn't compare to my three favorite instruments (piano, oboe, and cello).

And the clarinet has taken over. I mean, really taken over. When I imagine this tune now, I don't hear the oboe at all. It's a clarinet. With a cello. And maybe a violin. Piano, where are you? (Piano, you may be relegated to the bench for this inning.) (Sorry, George.)

So then I finally got around to checking out the instrument range chart (duh) on a music theory site and found that my "tune" is written in the clarinet's range. No wonder I couldn't hear an oboe singing it.

I suppose I could move it up a few key signatures if I really want it to be an oboe solo piece. But no ... the clarinet wants it, so the clarinet gets it.

So I appear to be writing a piece for the clarinet. I've been referring to this in-progress "work" as "Adagio Thing." So I guess that's the working title.

I'm hoping to spend a good hour in The Sanctuary working on Adagio Thing. Because it'll be really pretty if I can ever manage to wring it out of my head and onto the page.

Morning Funnies

The Blowhards made me laugh out loud this morning while sipping coffee. I just finished cleaning off the keyboard. You've been warned.

Here's another funny from my favorite make-me-smile website, Spamusement.

Another Mozart-related Post

I watched Amadeus again this weekend. It's my favorite movie in the whole world. I have much of it by memory (words and music), and I've literally seen it over 100 times. It's the only video tape I own, other than the Russian-language War and Peace. I do not yet have the Amadeus DVD (hint, hint to gift-buyers ... oops, I forgot. My birthday's over for this year.)

Anyway, here is what's strange but true: There are actually people in this world who seem more ga-ga over Amadeus than I am. I thought it not possible. But it is.

At least I scored 20/21 on their "Amadeus Quiz." Here's what it said about my results:

"15+ - Amadeus Immortal. Awsome!! You know everything (or nearly everything) there is to know about this incredible film, and you display some knowledge of the story behind it! Great job!"

Speaking of Mozart (I've been speaking of him a lot lately, haven't I), I recently finished the novel Marrying Mozart, by Stephanie Cowell. A quick read, and a fictionalized peek into the lives of the Weber sisters, their family, and "the young Mozart" who ultimately marries Constanze Weber. If you enjoy light historical fiction, might like this one. It also probably helps to be female. I thought it was OK ... not great, but certainly not horrible.

Ha ... when I went to amazon.com just now to get the link for Marrying Mozart, it said I might also like Sleeping with Schubert. Hmm ... considering how the poor man had a fatal case of syphilis, I don't know if I'd like sleeping with him all that much ...

Monday, February 21, 2005

George and Wolfie Still Love Me!

I had my piano lesson today, the first lesson I've had in a month (thank you illness, flu, and crazy schedules!). I was not particularly looking forward to it. I was looking forward to seeing Deborah (my piano teacher) and the cats (my piano teacher's cats), but not to showing her how low piano has fallen on my priority list for the last couple of weeks.

Well, it wasn't too bad. Wasn't bad at all, in fact. I played that A-flat-major contrary-motion scale like a pro, baby. Woo hoo!

The Mozart Fantasie wasn't so good. I have it note-perfect, but as I played, I felt like I was just playing the notes, the way I'd transcribe a report on the computer. There was no soul to my performance at all. Of course, it was obvious. Deborah commented that I'm playing it well but seem to have lost my emotional connection to it.

Yup. I agree wholeheartedly.

So my goal for this week is to get reacquainted emotionally with the piece. So that should actually be a fun journey to take.

The Dett sounds GREAT, as long as I play it one million times slower than it's supposed to be played. But that's a start. If I can get it right at a slow pace, that's a step toward getting it right at a faster pace.

So, all in all, I was happy with the lesson. I wasn't awful, as I'd feared I would be. And my reason for playing the Mozart so poorly this weekend (and depressing myself over it) isn't that Wolfie and George no longer love me. It's because I've lost an emotional connection to the piece--something that does get lost when you don't spend the necessary "quality time" with a piece, but something that can be regained with sufficient quality time.

So George and I get to focus on spending quality time with my beloved Wolfie all week. Yippee!

Deafness

A commenter recently asked about my deafness. I started to e-mail her privately, then realized that I have a lot more readers than I used to, and that a few people might not know about the deafness. So, for the benefit of those who are new to the blog, let me explain.

(If you're a regular reader of this blog, then you probably already know all of this stuff.)

I'm not stone-deaf. Far from it. Well, not that far ... but with my hearing aid, I'm pretty functional.

My right ear is pretty much stone-deaf. (I call it my "vestigial" ear because it's really just there for show and for storing earrings on occasion.) It just doesn't work. Never has.

My left ear isn't so good, either. It's better than the right ear (hence the moniker "my good ear"), but it also has quite a bit of hearing loss, particularly in the higher ranges (birds, cell phones, women's voices, children's voices, etc.).

Mostly due to my stubbornness, I didn't get a hearing aid until I was in my late 20's. To put it simply, the hearing aid has changed my life. My right ear is still my "vestigial ear," but my "good ear" can now hear birds, alarms, and the voices of women and children. It doesn't hear them well ... but at least it can now hear the sound. I still have a lot of trouble hearing/discerning the words of people with higher voices, particularly soft-spoken women and younger children who haven't yet learned to articulate their speech.

Don't ask me how I'm able to play piano by ear. It doesn't particularly make sense. It also doesn't make sense that, when I play piano while wearing the hearing aid, it sounds awful. When I play it "deaf," it sounds much better (to other people, as many have attested, and not just to me). Music just seems to make sense to me, whether I can hear it or not. I can't hear the higher notes (roughly the last octave-and-a-half of the piano, though some days I can hear better than others).

As far as I can tell, I've always had the hearing loss. The nerves apparently never did work. When I met my biological father, I learned that he has congenital hearing loss. So I guess it runs in the family.

So that's the abridged explanation of my hearing loss. For those of you who were wondering.

Check It Out

There's a good quote posted at A Circle of Quiet today.

In the Mood for the Monday Morning March

Ever wake up on Monday morning and just get a hankerin' to do the Monday Morning March?

I do. As I walked through the parking garage to work this morning, I had the Monday Morning March tune in my head, and found myself walking in time to the music.

Just as I think everyone should celebrate Hoodie-Hoo Day to chase away the winter doldrums, I think it might be a good idea for the world to chase away the Monday blues by doing the Monday Morning March. And today's rainy, cold, grey weather is crying out for such a march.

How does one do the Monday Morning March, you ask? It's a Buckskin Bill thing. In an old NR Corner comment, Rod Dreher (a Louisiana native) writes:

"It's hard to overestimate how much kids from the Baton Rouge area loved Buckskin Bill, and what a big part of our lives he was. How much we trusted him. Yet as is obvious from the old tapes, his program was extremely low-tech, and very gentle. There is no place for a Buckskin Bill in a Spongebob Squarepants world. Yeah, yeah, it's pathetic to listen to older people sit around whining about how they don't make 'em like they used to anymore, but I really do believe it's a huge loss for children that contemporary TV has formatted their brains to require jolts of manic entertainment, such that a Mr. Rogers or a Buckskin Bill comes off not as comforting but dull."
The Monday Morning March? Dull?!?

Ah yes. Back to the Monday Morning March.

According to Buckskin Bill, you march around the room in circles, playing a pretend flute. Then you take your pretend flute and pretend to be hitting imaginary bells. And then you can use your pretend flute as a baton as you pretend to be the leader of a marching band. And mostly importantly, you SMILE, because, as Buckskin always said, "You're never completely dressed until you put on a smile."

And by the time you're finished with the march, Monday has ceased to be such a doldrumy day. It really works.

Sigh. I really shoulda been a kindergarten teacher. Somehow it seems the Monday Morning March would go over more effectively in such a classroom than here in doldrum-soaked Cubicle Land (although Cubicle Land certainly needs it more) ...

Still, Buckskin Bill is kind of a hero of mine. You gotta respect a guy who dressed in buckskin clothes every day for several decades, marching around his tiny studio every Monday morning, playing a pretend flute, and making everyone smile.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

A Peek into my Neurotic Thoughts

I have a lot of dumb tendencies. Among my dumbest is my silly perfectionism. It's so dumb, and I know it's dumb, but it still makes me crazy.

Case in point:

I was sick for a week. Then I was very busy at work for a week. Then my piano teacher was sick for a week. All this time, my theory "classes" have been on hold, partly because my theory teacher has had several performances on Friday afternoons, which is normally the day that I have theory.

And poor George is tuned, but the string for the "A" the octave above Middle C had to be replaced, and it's already twanging off-key. Kind of a hard on the ear when you're working on a piece that goes back and forth from D minor to A minor to D minor to D major.

Plus, I haven't been able to practice at lunchtime for the last week and a half. Which means the piano and I, normally such close companions, are practically strangers of late.

Now. It's not like I'm in school and I'm required to do this. Piano and theory/composition are something I do for fun. I haven't the talent, the time, nor the ambition to be a concert pianist or a great composer, though it's fun to dream. I do this because I love this. Which means that, when Life gets in the way of Music, Life generally takes precedence.

(Now that last paragraph didn't feel right. Because a little voice in my head said, "But what if you do have the talent?" If I do--or did--have the talent, then that means I've wasted precious years of my life doing Other Things. Although I'll readily admit that I have never had the ambition to put in the time and effort required to achieve the perfection that I so irrationally expect of myself.)

But then, when Life is tired of hogging the spotlight and it's time to focus on Music again ... I get very, very frustrated with the fact that what sounded so beautiful a month ago sounds like crap now.

OK, so it doesn't sound like crap. But it does when you compare it to how it sounded a month ago. And I wonder why I even bother.

And I'm mad at myself. I get into this mode of thought that I should be the Greatest Cubicle-Dwelling Amateur Adult Pianist In The World. As good as an 8-Hour-A-Day Dead-End Job Technical Writer could possibly be at piano. The Most Musically Sensitive And Pianistically Talented Office Worker. Ever.

It's stupid. I know I shouldn't expect to be Great. I once did, but that was during childhood and in high school, before I made the decision not to pursue music for a career. Whatever a "career" is supposed to mean. Because I don't remember choosing Cubicle-Dwelling Technical Writer either.

And it's not like I'm regretting the decision not to pursue music. I like being able to afford meals and books. And my deafness is a big barrier to any kind of playing I might do with other instruments.

It just saddens me a little (a lot) that I'm not able to devote the kind of time to music that I'd like. When when I am able to devote an hour here or there, it saddens me that I struggle the way I do.

Sorry, y'all. I've been "up" for two days. Now I'm back down. Hoping to swing the other direction tomorrow. Then I'll respond to some of the wonderful comments you've all left over the past couple of days.

P.S. I know I'm taking myself too seriously. But as the title to this post tells you, I'm just giving you a peek into my neurotic thoughts. :-)

Friday, February 18, 2005

In My Birthmother's Words

This is today's post from my biological mother's private blog.

"On this day 35 years ago, a scared 17-year-old girl was in a hospital, giving birth to a baby girl. Most of it was a blur, because back then hospitals drugged up mothers in labor. Usually the drugs put the women to sleep, but the girl’s body was fighting them. Finally, the birth was about to happen, and they gave her a gas mask which finally put her out.

"Later, she woke up alone in a hospital room and felt her stomach. At first it seemed the baby hadn’t been born after all, but then she realized that yes, it had, and that was just the stretched out skin that remained. She pressed the call bell for a nurse, a nurse came, and she asked to see her baby. The nurse said that they would not be bringing the baby in for a feeding until sometime much later. The girl said, no, I don’t want to feed her, I want to SEE her, and I want to see her NOW. The nurse, surprised at the girl’s vehemence, said she could see her in the nursery, but could only get there via wheelchair. The girl waited patiently while the nurse left to get a wheelchair, but after half an hour, the nurse didn’t return. So she pressed the call bell again.

"The nurse’s voice came through over the intercom. The girl repeated her request to see her baby, where is the wheelchair? The nurse informed her that they had other things more important to do and would get to that when they could. The girl started crying.

"Some nice lady from a church came to visit the girl, and found her crying. The girl quickly recovered and put on a smile, for if they were to find her depressed, they might take her out of the private room she was in and into a room with three other new mothers. However, she didn’t fool the church lady. It wasn’t too hard for the church lady to determine why the girl was crying, and she immediately went to the nurse’s station and got a wheelchair. She wheeled the girl to the nursery where all the newborns were, but they weren’t allowed inside. So they parked outside the window and the girl searched for her baby among many in plastic see-through cribs, squinting at the name cards on each.

"Finally she found her baby way in the back. She knew it was hers even before she saw the name card "Baby Girl" on the crib. The church lady smiled at smiled at her excitement.

"Finally, the church lady wheeled her back to her room. The girl begged her not to tell anyone she had caught her crying, because it would kill her to be moved into a room where up to three happy mothers will be getting flowers and visits from their ecstatic husbands and parents. She didn’t want to be with them because she didn’t have a husband, and her baby would go to live with other parents.

"Fast forward 29 years, when the girl finally got to meet the child she put up for adoption. In her heart, she always knew it was the right thing to do, but when she finally met her, it cemented her long ago decision immeasurably."

My birthmom (Sherry) and me at the wedding in 2003.

It sure did! Thank you for giving me a birthday, and for loving your baby enough to let go and place her in such a loving family. You gave me to caring, intelligent parents who have showered me with unconditional love ever since the Day 1. And you gave me to a brother and sister who were instrumental in cultivating the silliness gene that I apparently inherited. And for these things I will be forever thankful. :-)


My real (adoptive) family in 2003--the family that raised and supported me (and bought a piano) and has loved me for 35 years. Plus the Hubster.

It's My Birthday, I Must Say!

I'm thirty-five today. My cuz'n LaVronica is very silly and wonderful (thanks, Cuz!). My birthmom wrote a wonderful blog post (see post above). My mommy gave me that nice gift certificate so maybe I'll do some online shopping today. My cat, Beau, slept on my head last night. Heidi spoiled me by snuggling with me and making me late for work. The Hubster brought me coffee in bed this morning and told me all kinds of sweet things about how much he loves me. And I'm wearing jeans in Cubicle Land! This weekend will be spent camping with the Hubster, doing paint-your-own pottery with some girlfriends, practicing George, reading, writing, and composing. Life is very, very good.

However ...

February 18 isn't just a big day for me, y'all. It's a special day for a lot of people. And a planet. And a whole country!

(Drumroll, please)

Happy birthday also to Kim at The Upward Call, John Travolta, my old flame Matt Dillon, Molly Ringwald, Yoko Ono, Jack Palance, Mary Tudor (Bloody Mary), Vanna White, Milos Forman (director of my favorite movie, Amadeus), Toni Morrison, Helen Gurley Brown, Dr. Dre, Juice Newton, Andres Segovia, Boris Pasternak, Dennis DeYoung, Irma Thomas, Cybill Shepherd, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (first published on this day in 1885), and the planet Pluto (discovered on this day by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 at Lowell Observatory).

And a very happy National Flag Day to the fine folks of The Gambia!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

My Sweet Mommy, Lands' End, and JEANS

My dear, sweet mommy gave me a gift certificate to Lands' End for my birthday. A nice gift certificate! So I'm looking forward to buying some purty tops to wear with my JEANS!!!

"Why?" you ask. "I can understand that Waterfall is excited about a gift certificate to Lands End, but ... why on earth is she so excited about wearing jeans?"

I'll tell you why!

It's because the new boss told us today that we are allowed to wear jeans to work. Every single day, if we want. And I want! Yee-hi! I'm going to burn these awful khakis that I've been wearing for the last year and a half! No more dressing like a chocolate-point Siamese cat! I'm wearing JEANS tomorrow, baby!

Thank you, Mrs. Gwen, for the wonderful gift certificate! Everything I buy will look so good with my JEANS!

Another Good Piano Music Site

Lynn at Reflections in d minor points us to In The Hands, a piano-music blog by Paul Cantrell that includes commentary on and recordings of piano music by Chopin, Bach, and Schumann, among others.

I was thrilled to find a recording of the Chopin's Étude Op. 25 No. 1 (in A flat major) here. I played this étude in high school (albeit not very well) and it is one of my all-time favorite pieces by Chopin.

It's Quiz Time! And I Get to be Gandalf!

I found this quiz over at I Was Just Thinking.

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

"A wandering spirit caring for a multitude of just concerns, you are an instrumental power in many of the causes around you.

"And so am I, very dangerous: more dangerous than anything you will ever meet, unless you are brought alive before the seat of the Dark Lord.

"Gandalf is a character from the Middle-Earth universe."

The quiz site also lets you view all of the other possible fantasy/sci-fi characters you might be. I wasn't Han Solo, but he's just so sexy I thought I'd put a picture of him here, too. :-)

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Hubster's New Game

“Waterfall, how does this sound? Do you think I should give the bassoon a bigger part in the second measure?”

“No, the bassoon sounds fine. You don’t want it to fight with the horn for attention.”

“What about the last couple of measures? I think I need to scrap them and start over.”

“Oh, I don’t know, Hubster. I kind of like the part where the violin gets hypomanic.”

“Then you think the sudden move to sixteenth notes sounds OK?"

“Mm-hmm. I think the element of surprise is kind of effective.”

Yes, this was a real conversation between me and my husband. It occurred last night, as I was reading in bed and he was on the computer, playing with his new game.

It’s really my new software, a free download of Finale Notepad that I use for some of my music theory exercises. The other night, the Hubster heard me working on an exercise. Curious, he came into the office (where I was) and watched me work.

“What a neat new game!” he exclaimed, jokingly, as he knew it was more of a tool than a game for me. (Even though it is fun.)

"Wanna learn how to play it?”

“Yeah!”

So I explained about quarter notes and half rests and key signatures and tempi. In Finale, you basically click on the quarter-note symbol if you want to add a quarter-note. And, depending on where you place the note on the staff (by clicking), Finale “sings” the note back to you, in the voice of whatever instrument you’re writing for. Then you can click the “play” button, and Finale will play the composition back to you.

So music-writing software is a very cool thing. The Hubster appreciates that. Even though he doesn’t know the first thing about reading or writing music, or even playing an instrument (though he does play a mean air guitar with his Leki poles).

Would you believe, that man played with Finale Notepad until late into the night? I know, because I went to sleep with the sound of odd, dissonant notes being played by instruments out of their range. The violin was playing four-note chords at a Paganini-esque pace. The bassoon sounded more like an oboe having a panic attack. But, in a strange way, it sounded … not bad.

Last night, I opened Finale to find that the Hubster had “written” two pages of “music.” I played it. Every now and then the strangely dissonant chords would fly past a triad or seventh, bringing a sense of … order? to the “music.” And the sudden shifts from a measure of quarter notes to a wild two measures of sixteenth or thirty-second notes did have kind of a nice element of surprise, of movement.

I played my own music-exercise from the night before, and it sounded languid, limp, and bland in comparision. It sounded planned. Figured-out. Boring.

The Hubster’s “composition” sounded exciting. Particularly when you got to the measures where he obviously learned how to use the “sharp” and “flat” icons.

What’s the lesson in this? Should I ditch my hard-earned theory knowledge and just wildly click notes onto the page, as the Hubster did?

Of course not. But I can also stand to be a little less controlling. Yes, I’m just a music-theory student, and yes, most of my exercises are for competence rather than creativity. But it wouldn’t hurt for me to throw in a little hypomanic rush every now and then among the slower parts. Or a braking near-stop among the faster parts. I can do that with the harmonic rhythm as well with as the tempo itself.

And maybe the occasional wild flinging of clicked notes onto the screen isn’t such a bad idea. Who knows what kinds of insights the results will yield?

Hubster’s new game really is a good game. His experience of the sheer excitement at having “written music” also gave some insight into why I spend so much time with George in the Inner Sanctum, studying Bach chorales and trying my own harmonizations. There is such a thrill in having created music. Someday, when I have money and know a bit more about composing, I'll invest in Sibelius notation software, as Emrah has recommended.

Life is good. I love music. And I have the greatest Hubster in the whole wide world.

Brilliant Deduction of the Day

Warm, snuggly husbands are not conducive to pre-dawn workouts at the gym.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Bound by Deadlines

I have a couple of silly deadlines at work today that are barring me from the blogosphere. Go read other blogs. Or check out my favorite pundit's latest Impromptus column. Or go read about hiker Mud Butt (a.k.a. Anna Huthmaker), who is working with children in Africa, of all places. Perhaps she is teaching them her family trade of making huths?

Monday, February 14, 2005

The Bliss of Ignorance

Woo-hoo! Wee-hee! I'm feeling alive again!

Why do I feel alive again? I'll tell you why.

I ate music for lunch. Skipped lunch and spent my lunch hour at the chapel piano downtown. Sat down to work on those pesky contrary motion scales (which are sounding quite good, by the way), but started making stuff up instead.

I was in F. I don't like F all that much. But things just started in F.

I had a pleasant little motif going, so I did a simple, run-of-the-mill progression of I-IV-ii-V-I. Easy. Simple. Boring. But pretty. Particularly since I had an oboe singing the melody in my head. That oboe sounded really nice.

OK. So then I started playing with some of my concepts I've been working on in theory. Practicing improvisation with all of these new ways of doing things. At first, I played it safe with secondary dominants ... venturing shyly into secondary dominant territory, then resolving pretty quickly back to G minor, so I could lead to a nice, definitive V-I cadence.

Then I started venturing a little further ... into the secondary dominant sevenths. And instead of resolving to the expected triad, I would resolve to a dominant seventh or a major seventh of the expected triad, which gave the music a really jazzy feel. And the oboe in my head sounded so nice.

And before I knew it, I had modulated to another key, then another, then neatly back to F ... but the resolution back to F was unexpected for some reason, so when I resumed the beginning motif in F as the resolution (it kind of dovetailed), it was just so ... magical. Like a measure had been skipped. Like I was expecting the entree but was given a yummy dessert instead. Musically, I knew what I was doing, sort of, but it just took me by surprise when I came back to the original key. It was a little ray of delight. Hee hee, that sounds kind funny, but that's how it felt.

Thing is, this compositional improvisational exploration I'm doing is so very basic, and my learning in theory and composition is so very slow. I'm kind of glad I'm not in music school right now. I don't think I could deal with anyone (other than me) saying, "Oh, those motives, those progressions, that piano style is so ... (boring? New-Agey? Andrew-Lloyd-Webber-sounding? bland? sappy? soporific? see what I'm getting at?)

Because right now I think it's important that I allow myself to play. If a progression truly is mundane and bland, then I'll tire of it soon enough. If it still excites me six months from now, after I've played it a zillion times in a zillion different ways, then I'll know that there just might be something there.

Of course, there are no mundane progressions in music. There are only mundane ... interpretations? attitudes? ???

Yup, I'm acutely aware of my ignorance. As I continue to study theory and composition, my ignorance will lessen. But for now, I'm basking in its bliss.

Today's Listening Selection

Robert Schumann: Works for Oboe and Piano (Jeno Jando, piano / Jozsef Kiss, oboe)

Here are three good reasons for listening to this CD today:

1) My latest assignment in music theory is to write a piano accompaniment to a short melody played by a wind instrument, so I'm exploring the way that this kind of thing has been done by composers who, unlike me, actually knew what they were doing.

2) My favorite instruments in the whole world are piano and oboe.

3) Schumann is my friend.

I'm listening to this CD on naxos.com, but I think I like the Holliger/Brendel CD (snippets available on Amazon.com) better. It's slower, softer, more velvety (to use a wine-tasting word I encountered this weekend), and more ... human.

Vallum Time Weekend

Yes, when I was a little kid, I thought the paper hearts we made were "vallums" and February 14 was the special time of the year for vallums, ergo Vallum Time Day.

Life is actually kind of interesting when you're hard-of-hearing.

Anyone wanna hear about my Vallum Time weekend? If not, go read another blog. 'Cause you'll be sadly disappointed if you keep reading this one. It's really long and basically rambles about my Vallum Time weekend.

Friday Night was social night. We had a big fancy banquet to go to for the Hubster's job. There are two men that work closely with the Hubster, and their wives, like me, generally get dragged along to the Social Functions. Only one of the wives (Melissa) was dragged along on Friday night, so I sat next to her. Because we are both introverts who, quite honestly, would rather stay home and work on our respective creative endeavors (she's a painter) than go to Social Functions, we get along pretty well when thrust into these situations. We really should be friends and do friend-things together, like go for coffee or watch chick flicks, but this pesky job limits my ability to do friend-things with anyone, seeing as I leave for work before sunrise and get home after dark every day. Grumble, grumble.

We celebrated the Time of the Vallums on Saturday, the Hubster and I did. Spent part of the morning relaxing at my favorite coffee shop, then headed to the Biltmore. I'd been to the Biltmore once, but Hubster had never been there, and we had tickets he'd bought at an auction last year.

It was a beautiful day. At first, we regretted that we weren't going hiking, but those regrets ended soon enough. The Biltmore was very cool. We rented the little headphones for the "audio tour," and they were well worth the $7 apiece. And it was fun being a tourist.

Next we headed over to the Biltmore winery. Now, Biltmore wine is available just about everywhere in western North Carolina, from high-end wine shops to the gas stations at the I-40 exits. The Hubster and I have never been particularly fond of the Biltmore wines we've tasted, so we weren't sure what to expect of the winery.

The tour wasn't much. We thought it would be more of a "tour," you know, something like the house tour, but on a smaller scale. No. Most of our time at the winery was spent standing in line for the wine-tasting room.

"Hubster ... we're standing in a really long, slow-moving line to taste wine that you can buy at the gas station."

But we stayed in line. And when we finally got to taste the wines, we discovered that there were several Biltmore wines that we really like. Of course, they are the higher-end wines that are only available at the winery (and not the gas station). We ended up buying a few bottles and stocking up our mini-wine rack at home. The best wines (in my opinion) were Cardinal's Crest, Biltmore Estate Syrah, and the Sangiovese. I am not a big fan of white wines, rose' wines, or dessert wines, so I can't give you an opinion on those.

So then we went to Olive Garden and had a yummy meal, with more wine. We spent our one-hour wait in the bar, drinking merlot (ah, vino) and talking about our upcoming PCT thru-hike.

Yesterday I started The Artist's Way (again), along with a tentative blog for that "journey." It probably won't be interesting to anyone but (1) me, and (2) people who are interested in this book. I'm not sure if I'll ever find time to post very much to it ... like I said, it's a tentative blog.

Then we went to church where, afterward, the pastor lent me his copy of Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. I think this is the only book by Jon Krakauer that I haven't read yet, so I'm looking forward to reading it, once I finish the other books I'm reading.

I spent most of the afternoon planning a fun trivia game for the Sunday night class that I help teach (elementary kids), then went to the library to run some copies of handouts. When I got to church Sunday night, a guy who has a degree in music composition brought up the idea of collaborating on and composing all of the music for a Sunday service. Wow. Talk about something that will motivate my lately-lazy composer/arranger-wanna-be self. We talked a bit about it and were very excited as the prospect. We have a first-rate violinist in the church, and I already have some ideas in my head for music that will incorporate the violin.

Got home last night and practiced piano. My fingers are finally starting to un-knot (they felt very arthritic last week with the nasty medication reaction), so I had my first decent piano practice in over a week.

Woke up this morning, wrote, worked out, and made it to work. Already it's been a very productive morning. Speaking of productive, I'd better head back to work. Life is good on this Vallum Time Day.

The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

From Dream Work, 1986

This poem posted without permission. This blogger has no intention of making any money off of it. She only hopes that folks will click the Dream Work link above and purchase this collection of Mary Oliver's poems. Like all of her collections, it's really good and will give you hours of reading and moodling pleasure.

Friday, February 11, 2005

I Really Would Prefer to Watch Clouds

I remember taking the aura test when I was in college. A girl in our dorm had a book titled What Color is Your Aura?, and we all had great fun taking the test (which was really nothing more than a personality test) and learning our results.

I was a lavender. Here's a bit of the description from the Aura Colors website (which also includes the test):

"Lavenders tend to live in a fantasy world."

"It is challenging for these airy beings to live in three-dimensional reality."

"These child-like personalities are sensitive and simple."

"Lavenders would rather spend time watching clouds float by or daydreaming."

"They prefer to escape this reality with all of its demands and responsibilities."

"They are more familiar with other dimensions and imagined realities."

"They tend to experience events in their imaginations, but they are not usually grounded enough in physical reality to actually accomplish anything tangible."

How pathetic. Somehow this description makes me feel like I should have unicorn posters hung all over my bedroom. Like I should dot my i's with smiley faces or hearts, and put glittery star stickers on my spelling book.

But it does sound like me, sadly enough. In my defense, I must tell you that I do accomplish tangible things sometimes. Not very often, but every now and then.

This for-fun test isn't nearly as good as Myers-Briggs (of course), but it's kind of interesting.

A Little Blog Before I Go

Welp, I just finished a big chunk of a project at work, and I'm leaving for Music Theory in just a few minutes.

It's going to be a social, social weekend, and the prospect has this mildly depressed introvert wanting to run screaming anywhere, anywhere but to a social function. I still haven't completely recovered from last week's sickness, and the last thing I want to do is go somewhere public, put on a smile, and be polite. Really, I just want to go to the woods and embark on a long, quiet walk. No people. No computers. No ads. No gossip. No talking at all.

Only 434 days until my PCT thru-hike begins. I wonder if my sanity will hold out that long ...

OK, I have to go. Was just looking for a way to fill in these 15 minutes before hitting the road.

Homesick

Sometimes I wake up with just the most profound homesickness. And the homesickness is always for the same handful of places:

1. New Orleans, Uptown, Maple Street, Spring 1989

2. Billings, Montana, some restaurant within walking distance of the Best Western Ponderosa Inn, Spring 1989

3. Perks Coffee Shop on Perkins Road, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in late afternoon during a thunderstorm, mid-1990s

4. New Orleans. No specific spot. Just New Orleans in general.

I'm not sure why I get so homesick for these places. I don't particularly want to go back to any of them. I don't feel particularly sad that I'm not there now. I just have this overwhelming sense of longing in me, and that sense is accompanied with traces of the sounds, smells, and feel of those specific places and times. It's the oddest thing.

The first three--uptown New Orleans, Billings, and Perks on Perkins--are all places where I did a lot of writing. A LOT of writing. They are also places where I felt most acutely a sense of possibility. They were also what I call "in-between" times--more-or-less transitional periods of my life.

In New Orleans in Spring 1989, as I took a class on the History of Jazz, I had my first real taste of freedom and subsequent self discovery. I spent a lot of time on Maple Street uptown, writing and working on my Duke Ellington term paper at PJ's, then walking to Maple Street Bookstore, then to some little hippie/head shop where they sold cool jewelry and crazy gypsy skirts.

In Billings, I was just an overnight guest at the Best Western; the next morning, I would go to Yellowstone National Park, where I'd been hired to work at Grant Village for the summer. Freedom again, particularly for a sheltered 19-year-old who'd just completed a tumultuous freshman year of college.

Perks on Perkins was my favorite place to study and write when I was in grad school. In the afternoons in spring and summer, we'd get these horrendous thunderstorms, and the doors to the coffee shop would be open, and the smell of rain on the pavement would combine with the smell of coffee brewing. Perkins Road would always flood when it rained, so I'd be happily "stuck" there for at least a few hours, reading and writing, while the water drained.

The fourth place I listed is New Orleans in general. I don't know why I get this New-Orleans nostalgia so much. I've been there a million times, but I've only actually lived there twice; I was too young to remember the first time (two months as an newborn while waiting to be adopted), and I was miserable the second time (first semester of my freshman year at Tulane). But there are days that I wake up with such a longing for New Orleans. No matter what I think or do for the rest of the day, New Orleans with its heavy humid air and stinky trash smell just keeps creeping back into my thoughts, and I'm overcome with longing for a home that was never really home.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

A Clarification, and Feeling Honored

Wow. I feel better since I wrote the previous post. It actually helped loosen the blogger's block a little bit.



And I hope I didn't give the impression that I don't want people to link me. That is not what I meant at all. That is not it, at all. (OK, so I'm feeling Prufrockian today.)



I am feeling honored right now. Honored. My blog has been linked on Outer Life. This is one of my very favorite blogs; the blogger is an excellent, insightful writer whose thoughtful posts have a certain depth and appeal, day after day, that is rare in a personal blog. Go read it. Today's post, "Human Shields," is a good one. Maybe even one of his best so far. It was a nice companion for my Prufrockian mood this morning.



Thanks, Outer Life Guy!



Update: Speaking of links, I rearranged the links on this page yesterday and just noticed that I inadvertently deleted some. I apologize to those who got deleted, and hope to add them back soon, probably this weekend.

(Belated) Music Update

It's been a while since I've provided a music update. That's because it's been a while since I've done much in the way of music. When I was sick last week, one of the symptoms was painful joints in the fingers, so I couldn't even practice piano on the few occasions that I did feel get enough to get up from the recliner.



But I do have good news.



George has been tuned! George has been tuned! Hear, hear! George has been tuned!



He sounds good. He'll never be a grand, but he sounds good for a 30-year-old Kimball Console.



Now, for piano and composition activity updates.



PIANO. Another reason I haven't updated is because my piano practices have been very painstaking of late. I mean, one can only talk about contrary-motion scales for so long before one's audience falls asleep. But really, the focus of my practices for the past couple of weeks has been learning to play (and improve) the contrary-motion scales and contrary-motion arpeggios in all keys, major and minor. I can play the notes in the Dett piece, though it's far from perfect and not near up to speed. The Mozart is sounding good and doesn't seem to have suffered too much from my near-week of not practicing.



To be honest, I'm anxious to move on to another piece. I feel like I have this Mozart in my repertoire, and I'm looking forward to doing something else. Deborah things I should wait until I have the Dett going a bit better, and I agree with her. But I'm feeling a bit impatient about it.



THEORY. Theory? Am I taking theory? We've had several cancelled appointments over the last few weeks, due scheduling difficulties and illnesses on both our parts. I'm working on an analysis of my Mozart piece, so I'm hoping that we can discuss that for most of the "lesson" this week. Hopefully I'll soon be back on a regular schedule with theory lessons. When we miss a few lessons, then my "homework" tends to get moved to the back burner.



I've met with a lot of frustration lately at not having being able to devote more time to theory and particularly composition.



LISTENING. Lots of Dvorak lately. Thanks to Pei Yun for the recommendations.



Time for lunch.

Stifled

Recently, I was asked if I wanted to be included on the Women4God blog aggregator, which is a great listing of blogs by Christian women.



My blog is definitely not a "Praise Jesus" or a "Lord Lord" blog because I'm decidedly not a "Praise Jesus" or "Lord Lord" kind of person, but I do frequent a few Christian women's blogs and take part in some of their discussions. And since I fit the criteria for the aggregator, I said, "Sure, I'd like to be on the aggregator. Even though my blog will probably be the most non-theological blog there."



That was fine. And I've discovered some excellent, informative, and thought-provoking blogs I hadn't known about before, such as Rebecca Writes, Wittenberg Gate, and Allthings2all. And the number of visitors to my blog increased. Traffic is good.



But is it really?



I blog because it's an outlet for my poor mentally ailing mind, which will explode if I don't write things. It's a creative diversion from a maddenlingly monotonous desk job. It's my at-work sanity-saver. My original reading audience consisted of (1) me, (2) Sherry, (3) Stacey, and (4) Cuz'n LaVronica. Less frequent readers were (5) the Hubster, (6) my mom (7) Megan, and (8) Jonathan.



But then more friends and family started reading. And as I visited more blogs, particularly in the music/culture sphere, I got more visitors from those places, and some of them pleasantly surprised me by actually liking my blog and linking it on their blogs.



But still, even though I knew I was getting a bit of an "audience," I just blogged about whatever I wanted to blog about--one morning it might be a humorous little story about my cat, another morning it might be an expression of my joy in music, another morning it might be a poem or a link to another blog, and another morning it might be my boring laundry-list for the day.



And you people read this fluff--and then you keep coming back for more. What's wrong with you?! Actually, I am thrilled that you keep coming back. It's flattering to know that people actually enjoy my writing. Or are that bored that they have to keep reading me.



Back to the aggregator.



When I go to the aggregator, I see my posts listed with everyone else's posts.



It's like seeing a snapshot of oneself when one is eating, or in half-blink, or looking really fat in that outfit that you thought you looked so good in.



And then when I start writing a new blog post, it's as if I'm thinking, "How is that going to look? Is my bra strap showing? Does my butt look too big? I hope this big zit on my nose isn't too obvious ..."



Then I decide that, yes, the bra strap is showing (I know this is a cool thing now, but it wasn't when I was an overly sensitive 13-year-old, which is how I'm feeling these days), yes, my butt looks gargantuan, and yes, not only is the zit showing, but it's practically taken over my nose and is screaming for attention.



So when I sit to write something, I find myself stifled. Blogger's block. I'm defeated by the thought that I have nothing interesting to say, so I might as well not say anything at all. It doesn't matter that I haven't had anything interesting to say for months, and that hasn't stopped me. And that hasn't stopped people from visiting, reading, and commenting.



So I need to figure out what to do. I had myself taken off the aggregator once because I knew my blog didn't "fit in" with the others. The woman in charge of the aggregator reassured me that my blog fits in fine, so after a few days, I asked to be put back on.



Now I wonder if I should be taken off again. Not because my blog doesn't fit in, but because of that weird, self-conscious seventh-grader feeling I get when my posts show up on the aggregator. And the stifledness that results whenever I sit at my keyboard to blog.



Am I overanalyzing this? Am I being way too self-conscious for my own good? Thing is, I know it's really not such a big deal in the great scheme of things. Even with the aggregator, it's not like my blog gets that much traffic.



I just hate this stifled feeling of blogger's block. This is not common for me. Even with my non-blogging writing, I rarely get stuck like this.



Comments are welcome.

Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Noble Artists

Here's a link to Species of Light, a selection of paintings by Sarah Noble, a local artist whom the Hubster and I met recently. Some of her more recent paintings are here, and her contacts and links lead to the artwork of her brother Jay Noble and another artist, Tai Lipan. All three are currently MFA students at WCU.

Ash Wednesday, Lent, and Cream Soda

Ash Wednesday was "back-to-school" day when I was a kid growing up in south Louisiana. The previous long weekend (Saturday through Tuesday) was the big Mardi Gras weekend, with parades all day long and reveling well into the night.



Of course, as little Southern Baptist kids, we didn't know or care much about reveling (we'd find about that later in life). But our parents did take us to Kenner or Metarie to watch some of the smaller (read: kid-safe) parades.



And then Mardi Gras was over, and it was Ash Wednesday. National Hangover Day. The beginning of Lent. The beginning of six long weeks of prayer and penitence. Back to school. Groan.



In the Baptist church, we didn't make a big deal of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter. Our friends--nearly all of them Catholic or Episcopalian--took Lent more seriously, giving up this or that or the other. From my childlike point of view, though, it was just sort of a second chance at failed New Year's Resolutions. "Hm, my resolution to give up coffee in 1976 didn't last for three days ... maybe I'll try to just give it up between now and Easter, and see if that works."



My friends would give up candy, or cream soda, or pizza. My dad would give up smoking and drinking (neither of which he ever did ... ha ha, get it? It's a joke). I would give up cream soda because that's what my friend Jane gave up, and I figured that cream soda was as good of a Lenten-season taboo as anything. Besides, Jane was Episcopalian and knew more about these things than I did. (Not that I ever even drank cream soda much as a kid, but that's another story ...)



On Ash Wednesday, back at school, we'd have a special chapel service (it was an Episcopal school) where we'd all go up to the front and the priest would rub ashen crosses on our foreheads. The cool kids would wipe the crosses off on their way back to their seats. I tried to be a cool kid one year, but I felt bad about it. I didn't follow the ritualistic traditions of the Episcopal and Catholic churches, but ... well, you're not s'posed to wipe the ashes off.



So I haven't thought about Ash Wednesday much for most of my adult life, other than as the day after Mardi Gras. National Hangover Day. The beginning of Lent. The first of six long weeks of prayer and penitence. Back to school. And no cream soda allowed. Groan.



But I was thinking about it this morning and found some information on the significance and traditions of Ash Wednesday.



Being the word nerd I am, I also had to share this, which I got from the Catholic Encyclopedia online:

"The Teutonic word Lent, which we employ to denote the forty days' fast preceding Easter, originally meant no more than the spring season. Still it has been used from the Anglo-Saxon period to translate the more significant Latin term quadragesima (French carême, Italian quaresima, Spanish cuaresma), meaning the "forty days", or more literally the "fortieth day". This in turn imitated the Greek name for Lent, tessarakoste (fortieth), a word formed on the analogy of Pentecost (pentekoste), which last was in use for the Jewish festival before New Testament times."
The Catholic Encyclopedia (link above) makes for good reading if you're interested in the history, meaning, symbols, and historical information about Lent, or any of the other religious traditions that most south Louisianians grew up with to some degree (whether they were raised Catholic or not!).



Break-time over. Back to school work for me. For some reason, I'm really craving an ice-cold cream soda this morning ...

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Insomnia-induced Quiz Fun









You Are the Individualist






4









You are sensitive and intuitive, with others and yourself.



You are creative and dreamy... plus dramatic and unpredictable.



You're emotionally honest, real, and easily hurt.



Totally expressive, others always know exactly how you feel.







Today's Listening Selection

Palestrina: Pope Marcellus Mass. Go listen. I cannot even begin to describe the transcendence of this music. It is another one of my lengthy "morning listens" that have become a habit (ritual?) for me since moving into Cubicle Land.

The Illness

No, I'm not going to bore you, my dear readers, with the details of the illness that flattened me for a week.



Just want to thank those of you who sent good wishes and visited my blog, even though I wasn't here to greet them.



The illness itself was a severe allergic reaction to an Evil Drug in my system. It will take a few days for me to recover completely, but I shouldn't be worse for the wear by the time I get through this thing.



I sure am ready for springtime, aren't y'all?

Observations During Sickness

Here are some not-so-profound observations that I made while bedridden (OK, recliner-ridden) in front of our mindless television for the better part of a week.



"Buffy" and "Meg Pryor" look just alike. Do you supposed "Meg" grew up after her Bandstandin' 60s life in Philly, got married, and gave birth to a vampire slayer?



The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a good book and a quick read. Highly recommended, particularly if you have an autistic person in your life.



Hideaway (the calico) is more snuggly than Beau (the bobcat), but Beau has seniority when it comes to snuggling in the recliner.



My fantasy-dad, Paul McCartney, looks really good, as always.



The Hubster is an angel.



Time does not fly when you're not having fun at home, any more so than when you're not having fun at work.

Happy Birthday Gras

Today is a double-whammy day. Not only is it Mardi Gras, but it's Cousin Veronica's birthday. Not only is it Cousin Veronica's birthday, but it's Cousin Veronica's twenty-first birthday. Which means she's legally all grown up now.



Happy Birthday, Cuz! And give yourself a "Birthday Gras," or "Fat Birthday," and eat lots and lots of good king cake!

Monday, February 7, 2005

Another Good Quote

This is a paraphrase of a quote that some guy said on some Michael Jackson biography show I was watching while recliner-ridden the other day:



[Update: A commenter has provided the actual quotation, so I've deleted my inadequate paraphrase. Thanks, commenter-person!]



"America is a great country. Where else can a poor black boy grow up to be a rich white woman?"

I. Love. Walker. Percy.

Actually, it kind of annoys me when people put periods after every word in a sentence, just for emphasis. It's ... punctuationally incorrect.



But I do. I do love Walker Percy, that is. I'm re-reading Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self Help Book, and just had to share this quote:



It has been observed that artists live longer and drink less than writers. Perhaps they are rescued from the ghostliness of self by the things and the doings of their art. The painter and the sculptor are the Catholics of art, the writer is the Protestant. The former have the sacramentals, the concrete intermediaries between themselves and creation--the paint, the brushes, the fruit, the bowl, the table, the model, the mountain, the handling and muscling of clay. The writer is the Protestant. He works alone in a room as bare as a Quaker meeting house with nothing between him and his art but a Scripto pencil, like God's finger touching Adam. It is harder on the nerves.
I'm rather wary of preachers, pastors, ministers, and such (not to mention psychiatrists and therapists and other "guide" types). I can't help it. It's just the way I am. But I knew that I would like the pastor of our church when, in probably my first discussion ever with him, he told me that he loved Walker Percy's books, and that his favorite Walker Percy novel was The Second Coming and his favorite non-fiction book was Lost in the Cosmos.



If someone tells you they like Walker Percy, then it goes without saying that they're probably bright, wise, and cool human beings (as human beings go). But when they say that their favorite Walker Percy books are The Second Coming and Lost in the Cosmos, then you know you've met someone who just might have some understanding of your own existential craziness. And that's not a bad thing to find in a minister-type. Not a bad thing at all, particularly if you're a skeptical minister-wary type like me.



I'm sure I'll be discussing this book more in the next few days, so stay tuned.



And yes, I'm back from my blog sabbatical.

Friday, February 4, 2005

Break Time

I'm going to be away from the blogosphere for a few days. Y'all have fun without me.

Thursday, February 3, 2005

Dances of Joy are in Order

Most heartfelt congratulations to ...

Cousin Veronica, who is a senior at NYU and has secured a real job.

Marla Swoffer and her hubbie, who welcomed a new baby into the world. Marla, a.k.a. The Proverbial Wife, writes that their little one "made her debut just as the Iraqi people exercised their newly granted right to vote." Cool, huh? Go visit Marla's whole blog. It's really good.

That's all I can think of for now. Back to bed.

Health Update

No, I am not going to bore everyone by hanging my health woes out for all to see. I'll just give you two short paragraphs, and that is all.



I feel a little better, but not good enough to go to work. (And you know I must feel bad, because this means I had to cancel Music Theory, too). My temperature is down half-a-degree, but my fingers and the back of my neck are just aching something awful.



I hate to call Deborah and tell her I won't be able to make it to the group piano lesson tomorrow, particularly after putting so much effort into the D-minor Fantasie (it'll probably be the last time I play it for this group before I move on to a new piece). But what can you do?



If I feel better later today, I may get back online and blog a little here and there. But for the moment, I'm going back to bed. Y'all have a good day without me!

A Gem from a Non-Poet

Can you believe it? I usually don't quote non-poets on this blog.



But I read this in Jay Nordlinger's Impromptus this morning, and had to share it with someone. Jay Nordlinger is my favorite writer/editor/columnist/journalist/pundit/whatever.



I wonder, is it normal for people not particularly interested in politics to have a favorite pundit? I probably don't agree with him on everything under the sun, but still ...



It's just that I love his writing. He also happens to love Dubya and classical music. And he's such an expert in both politics and music that people pay him to write intelligent things about both for a living. He can write even the most erudite and controversial things with such a disarmingly friendly style that, whenever one of his columns shows up on National Review Online, I smile and think to myself, "That's my friend, Jay!"



Once the Hubster was watching some annoying show on Fox News and I came out from practicing my Bach, and I saw this unfamiliar balding guy being interviewed. At the bottom of the screen, it said, "Jay Nordlinger." I let out a happy little squeal of recognition, pointed at the screen, and exclaimed, "That's my friend, Jay!" (He didn't look anything like I'd imagined, though.)



Poor Hubster just looked up at me and said, in a most intelligent tone of voice, "Huh?" (He's used to seeing me act this way when Benjamin Bratt is on the screen, but not when right-wing pundit-types are on Fox News.)



Anyway, enough tangent-chasing. Here's what Jay wrote:



Sure, the president has made mistakes, as anyone would in a job so big (and as we all do, in jobs much smaller). But I believe that history will remember him as a man who did miraculous things for liberty — and hence for the well-being of the world — in the first decade of the 21st century. And his critics will seem like so many gnats around the ankles of a great, beneficent beast.



I'd wager to say that he's right on the button. You can read today's entire Impromptus column here.



Sorry, y'all. End of bi-yearly political post.

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

The Culprit

Remember that headache I was writing about this morning?



Well, I found the culprit. Apparently I have a fever of 102.



I even feel to bad to watch the rest of Dubya's speech.



'Night, all.

I Lied to Jeanette

I did. I lied through my fingers. She was feeling sad, so I (along with a few others) told her I was doing a handstand, just for her.



But I wasn't. Truth is, I can't do a handstand to save my life.



I'm pretty good at headstands, though.



So Jeanette, dear, these are for you. Hope they bring a smile to your face.



By the way, don't you just love my fashionable footwear?







I tried to wave at the camera, but I quite failed at that, as you can clearly see.







And for those of you who know me personally and were marvelling at my unusually slim hips but couldn't help but wonder ... YES, these pictures have been altered somewhat. (Gotta love Paint Shop Pro!)

Poetry for a Gray Day

That Sweet Flute John Clare

by Mary Oliver. From West Wind (1997)



That sweet flute John Clare;

that broken branch Eddy Whitman;

Christopher Smart, in the press of blazing electricity;

My uncle the suicide;

Woolf, on her way to the river;

Wolf, of the sorrowful songs;

Swift, impenetrable mask of Dublin;

Schumann, climbing the bridge, leaping into the Rhine;

Ruskin, Cowper;

Poe, rambling in the gloom-bins of Baltimore and Richmond--



light of the world, hold me.

Morning Pages, and a Boring Quiz

I didn't get up in time to write morning pages today. Went to bed with a splitting headache and woke up with same, despite the Vitamin I treatment. I'm not sure why I had such a bad headache, but I'll tell you one thing: those headstands I did before bed didn't help one bit.

I'm not in much of a mood to blog today. So, let's have some fun instead. I don't remember where I found this quiz, if it was on a blog or in an e-mail I got months ago.

HIGH SCHOOL QUIZ

When did you graduate from high school? 1988

What were your favorite clothes? Remember the “Units” fad? They were modular, one-size-fits-all knit pieces with HUGE shoulder pads. Well, I liked my “Units” clothes. They were "slenderizing." And I also loved my ROTC skirt. It was the most “slenderizing” thing I owned. And those stripey shoulder-padded mock-turtleneck tops from The Limited.

What was up with your hair? It was really short in my senior picture. I guess I was a rebel ‘cause the rest of the girls had the big-hair-with-poofy-bangs thing going.

Who were your best friends? We had a whole big group of us. But my best, best, best friends were probably Lulu Kitty (yes, my cat) and Duchess (the dog). (I just re-read that answer … I really wasn’t all that pathetic. I just spent more time with the animals than with anyone else ...)

Where did you work? At my dad’s office every summer. Nowhere during the school year.

What did you do after school? In the fall, volleyball practice/games. Otherwise, I’d go to my grandmother’s and watch “Sesame Street” and that new talk show “Oprah” with her while waiting for my athletic sister to finish whatever athletic practice she had so we could go home.

Did you take the bus? Not after 10th grade. I drove myself and my sister to school and made her listen to shared many fond hours listening to "Simon and Garfunkel: The Concert in Central Park" over and over and over and over and over again.

Who did you have a crush on? My brother’s adorable puppy-dog-eyed friend Christopher. (sigh …)

Did you fight with your parents? Not very much. I was very secretive about things they would otherwise disapprove of, and thereby avoided major fights.

Who did you have a CELEBRITY crush on? Sting

Did you smoke cigarettes? No. I wanted to, and actually decided to start smoking, thereby increasing my giving me some semblance of a "coolness factor." But then my grandmother was diagnosed cigarette-induced cancer the week after I decided to start, I figured God was trying to tell me something. So I "quit."

Did you lug all your books around in your backpack because you were too nervous to find your locker? Yes. No. I lugged all my books around (in addition to about 10 extra notebooks, which held drafts of my "novels" and collections of my "poetry"). But I wasn’t too nervous to find my locker. I was just lazy.

Did you have a "clique"? I suppose. I don't know if it was really a "clique," per se. But we did have our little group of ex-Duranies.

Admit it, were you popular? No, not at all. Not one teeny-tiny little bit.

Who did you want to be just like? William Blake.

What did you want to be when you grew up? An English major. If not that, then I wanted to be a Great Writer, Great Poet, Great Essayist, Great Composer, and/or Great Musician. And I dreamed of walking across the U.S.

Where did you think you’d be at the age you are now? I really didn't think I would live this long. My lifelong dream was to be an English major. Oh, I suppose I figured that someday I'd either be (1) a Great Writer living in New York or some other exciting place; (2) a composer/arranger for Disney, or (3) comfortably ensconced in the ivory tower. Yep, I kind of imagined I might be a wizened old English professor with lots of down-time to write Great Novels and do other Great Things.

I'm pretty happy at the moment, except for the fact that I don't have enough down time to do all those Great Things. :-)