You may know that I'm on a Big Road Trip; and I'm no longer in Kansas.
I passed by the St. Louis arch ("Gateway to the East" in my case?),
We visited old stomping grounds at Indiana University in Bloomington, where we introduced the kids to Mother Bear's Pizza and I dropped in on violin professor Henryk Kowalski:
We also visited the newspaper where Robert and I used to work, the Herald-Times, where I could smell ink in the newsroom (ah, wonderful scent to me!) and we visited with editors Bill Strother and Andrea Murray, who helped turn us into journalists.
We stopped a bit in the Cincinnati area to visit family, among them, the adorable niece-munchkin Madeline:
(Note: yes, I did consume Graeter's ice cream while in the Cincinnati area, vanilla chocolate chip; as well as some Coneys from Skyline.)
Then, we arrived in Washington, D.C., where I didn't realize the motto on the license plates until I saw it:
We have been visiting government sites and also looking at important national treasures at the Smithsonian, such as, well, Kermit the Frog:
And, enough teasing, I saw some Stradivari, like this family of four:
Want to look closer? Here is a detail from the Strad 1687 Ole Bull:
And here's a detail from the Strad Greffuhle, about 1700:
And here is Orville Wright's mandolin, which looks a little like the one I've taken traveling with me. "He sits around and picks at that thing until I can hardly stay in the house," is what his sister, Katharine Wright, said of Orville's playing. I'm not telling you what my family says about mine...
And how could I miss Julia Child's kitchen, after recently reading the fun book, Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen?
Here is the family, with a statue of George Washington at the Smithsonian, a statue we know from an illustration in one of our favorite kids' books, George Washington's Breakfast.
Here I am, the steps of the Supreme Court with V.com member and fellow Suzuki teacher Stephanie Flack and members of both of our families.
More later; now we hit the road again, heading south!
Today our family trip across the country took us across the prairielands of eastern Colorado and Kansas, and this drive reminded me of one of life's little truths: sometimes when the scenery does not change, nor does it provide great color and excitement, we feel like we ought to be able to skip this part. But if you are really going to drive from Denver, Colorado, to Lawrence, Kansas, you can't skip the Great Plains. You can't make the distance any shorter, nor can you change what's there: mile after mile of corn, hay, grasslands and cows.
I was braced for more than 600 miles of "boring" driving, but after a while, my eyes began picking up on the more subtle changes in my surroundings. For example, the endless grassland is not all the same color, as it seems at first. Shades of green begin to emerge: the dark green of the corn, the bright green of the prairie grass, the blue-green of sage. Then there's the green-gone-brown of the hay and grain, not to mention the yellow wildflowers: black-eyed Susans, sunflowers and other sprays of yellow flowers I couldn't identify.
When the land is flat, with only gentle rolls here and there, the sky becomes a theater and the clouds show their personalities: the fast-moving low clouds seem to hurry their way to some gathering, the rain clouds on the southern horizon spill their discontent in a sheet of gray, the cumulus clouds high overhead keep their lofty distance.
Life is so hurried, and we rush to our destinations, discounting anything we think we know already. But there is so much we could be seeing!
I thought I'd let everyone know how the mandolin is holding up on the road. So far, so good!
After driving through several western deserts (high temp: 109 F), the mandolin has not melted. It had, however, gone wildly sharp when I took it out last night. After a lifetime of dealing with the quirks of a fiddle, I still don't get how a mandolin goes sharp and not flat! Can someone fill me in on the physics of this?
So last night at the hotel I took out the mando and practiced next to the pool, while my kids splashed around. This did not seem odd, though I later tried to picture practicing my violin poolside, and I couldn't quite bring that picture into focus – poolside Kreutzer? LOL! But pickin' at some Sam Bush tunes worked just fine, and my kids were no more mortified than normal by their eccentric musician mom.
In other travel news, I ditched my iPod earbuds for some big, geeky Sony earphones with leather pads, and suddenly I love my iPod as never before. If I look unfashionable with my large earmuffins, I could care less – the comfort and the sound are awesome!
I can't pretend to deny that my entire family has been counting the days until a certain movie premieres in the U.S. – a movie involving a green-eyed, bespectacled young wizard with that irresistible British accent. Come to think of it, the entire cast speaks that way. Ahhhh.
But I digress. Robert and I have read all seven Harry Potter books out loud to our kids – twice. And yet our devotion pales in comparison to many people we know, who have read them even more times – one friend is re-reading the entire series, this time in the colloquial British version.
I'm guessing some of you have, and some of you have not, read the Harry Potter books, but since we all love the violin, I wanted to note that in many, many instances throughout this book, one could replace "music" for "magic." Moreover, the whole world of "wandlore," with wandmakers, shops, the choice of a wand – is so much like lutherie, I found myself wondering if author J.K. Rowling had ever visited a violin shop or talked to violinists about their instruments.
For example, when Harry gets his wand at "Ollivander's – Maker of Fine Wands."
Ollivander, a total wand wonk, absolutely reminds me of certain luthiers, who are full of the knowledge of their craft, and of their customers' preferences.
Page 83, from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone:
"Yes, yes. I thought I'd be seeing you soon. Harry Potter." It wasn't a question. "You have your mother's eyes. It seems only yesterday she was in here herself, buying her first wand. Ten and quarter inches long, swishy, made of willow. Nice wand for charm work."
Mr. Ollivander moved closer to Harry. Harry wished he would blink. Those silvery eyes were a bit creepy.
"Your father on the other hand, favored a mahogany wand. Eleven inches. Pliable. A little more power and excellent for transfiguration. Well, I say you father favored it – it's really the want that chooses the wizard, of course."
Mr. Ollivander had come so close that he and Harry were almost nose to nose. Harry could see himself reflected in those misty eyes.
Harry is clearly intimidated by the hundreds of wands in the store, and by their mystique. I was reminded of being a college student, looking for a bow at Bein and Fushi. My musical Muggle parents were not present, and it was up to me to decide. Suddenly I felt like I didn't actually know how to use a bow, or how to play the violin, because I didn't actually know how to choose a bow.
"Well now – Mr. Potter. Let me see." He pulled a long tape measure with silver markings out of his pocket. "Which is your wand arm?"
"Er – well, I'm right-handed," said Harry.
"Hold out your arm. That's it." He measured Harry from shoulder to finger, then wrist to elbow, shoulder to floor, kneed to armpit and round his head. As he measured, he said, "Every Ollivander wand has a core of a powerful magical substance, Mr. Potter. We use unicorn hairs, phoenix tail feathers, and the heartstrings of dragons. No two Ollivander wands are the same, just as no two unicorns, dragons, or phoenixes are quite the same. And of course, you will never get such good results with another wizard's wand."
Harry suddenly realized that the tape measure, which was measuring between his nostrils, was doing this on its own. Mr. Ollivander was flitting around the shelves, taking down boxes.
They try wand after wand, dutifully searching for the one that will best enable magic to flow from Harry's fingers.
"Tricky customer, eh? Not to worry, we'll find the perfect match here somewhere – I wonder, now, – yes, why not – unusual combination – holly and phoenix feather, eleven inches, nice and supple."
Harry took the wand. He felt a sudden warmth in his fingers. He raised the wand above his head, brought it swishing down through the dusty air and a stream of red and gold sparks shot from the end like a firework, throwing dancing spots of light on to the walls.... Mr. Ollivander cried, "Oh, bravo! Yes, indeed, oh very good. Well, well, well...how curious...how very curious..."
Now, I certainly didn't find my perfect bow, or my perfect violin, the first time I tried. It was a greatly attenuated process, but this description sounds exactly like how it felt when I found the right violin – how it felt immediately familiar, how I felt like the violin itself was making requests of me.
I even called my violin an enchanted piece of wood – was it magic? For me, yes. Of course, a few details were different (sparks didn't literally fly, and my violin doesn't have a magical phoenix feather at its core, much less a mysterious connection to Evil Lord Voldemort....)
Still, many violins do have connections to other musicians, and this is another aspect mirrored in the Harry Potter wand world. Just like the ghost of Jaqueline du Pre seemed to hover with Yo Yo Ma when he first played the Elgar on the cello that was once hers (see Stradivari's Genius), a wand in Rowling's magical world also will retain the last spells it has performed, and under special circumstances, reveal them, a phenomenon called "Priori Incantatem."
And how about the mystical "Elder Wand"? Is this perhaps a bit like our Messiah or Il Cannone in the violin world? Is studying this wand a little like trying to uncover the secrets of Stradivari and replicate them?
From page 497 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, about the "Elder Wand":
"You really think this wand exists, then, Mr. Ollivander?" asked Hermione.
"Oh yes," said Ollivander. "Yes, it is perfectly possible to trace the wand's course through history. There are gaps, of course, and long ones, where it vanishes from view, temporarily lost or hidden; but always it resurfaces. It has certain identifying characteristics that those who are learned in wandlore recognize. There are written accounts, some of them obscure, that I and other wandmakers have made it our business to study. They have the ring of authenticity."
Then on p. 498, Ollivander talks about a competing wandmaker, who was alleged once to have the "Elder Wand" in his possession:
"It was a rumor..." whispered Ollivander. "I believe Gregorovitch himself started it. You can see how good it would be for business: that he was studying and duplicating the qualities of the Elder Wand!"
Hmmm, looks as though wandmakers are as competitive and back-biting as... oh never mind!
So I'm getting ready to traverse the entire U.S. of A. with my family and I've decided that instead of bringing my fiddle and risking that it turns into a puddle in the trunk, I'm going to bring along my mandolin.
Thus, I dug out my dusty mando and set about resurrecting it today. I still had a gift card that a student had given me last Christmas, so I took my mandolin to my local music store, Old Town Music, where I was able to buy an entire set of strings -- eight of them -- for $4.50! Then for another $10, they strung it for me -- nice. What a shock, after spending something like $79 on four new strings for my violin last week, and of course, when has anyone strung an instrument for me, since I was 12 years old?
During the reinging, we meandered to the back of the store, where I looked through some books, hoping to find something that would work for me, the classical violinist. It's not easy; I find mandolin tablature to be unnecessary and unfamiliar, just plain difficult to read! And I don't really need the super-basic "this is the A STRING..." kind of book. Yet, I'm a beginner on mandolin: A left-handed person who has only trained my right hand to use a bow. Pick technique is a new challenge, and though I want some instant gratification, I need just the right thing to help me develop this new technique.
As is typical, I was thumbing through everything, frowning, concentrating, brow furrowed, finding nothing, when my son, Brian, popped up with, "How 'bout this one, Mom?"
Hmmm, Sam Bush Teaches Mandolin Repertoire and Technique...The music is all written out, there's a little CD, the notes are fairly basic but considering the pick issue, it promises some challenge...Looks good.
So I'm all set up, and after listening to a bit of the little CD, Sam seems like a good teacher. And heavens, he seems like a good player!
P.S. For his efforts, I spent the rest of my gift certificate on a harmonica for Brian -- he's not going to bring the piano in the car, either!
That is, happy Independence Day to V.com friends in the United States, and a simple happy July 4 for everyone the world 'round!
I looked around YouTube for something that showed some American spirit, and naturally I chose a piece by a Belgian composer...;) Thank you to V.com member Krzysztof Ruciñski, who was 18 when he recorded this with pianist Chase Coleman, during the Recital launching Foundation to Assist Young Musicians in Las Vegas in December 2007. Enjoy, "Souvenir d' Amerique," Op. 17 by Henri Vieuxtemps, or, Variations on "Yankee Doodle."
Laurie Niles is from Pasadena, California. Biography
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