This happens to me every so often. I hate something, hate it, hate it. Then one day, mid-sentence, I love it. Love it. Nothing in between, either.
Beets were the first I remembered experiencing this way. I hated them for the longest time. They were strong and sweet and pretentious. Then one day, they were all I ever wanted to eat. I couldn’t get enough of that passionate red, the sweet pickled tang, the soft slices bleeding into my green beans and mashed potatoes. Suddenly, that was okay when it wasn’t before.
Musicality has its taste, too, just like certain foods. I don’t mind it if some of my students aren’t into Bartok at this point in their lives, or if Beethoven just doesn’t cut it. It’s only my job to keep introducing it every once in a while and to make sure they keep an open mind. Force feeding doesn’t work; ask my mom about my onion resistance. Onions had to come into their own, with a little coaxing from batter-fried rings.
I love the fact that at my age, I can still suddenly change my taste like that. I specifically look forward to these moments, because at that precise moment that I cross over from the hate side of things to the love side of things, I am enjoying something fresh and new. Fresh and new things become increasingly rare the older we get.
Tonight, I sat down at the piano and played through one of my favorite anthologies from high school for a change of pace, and to liven up my musical taste buds. Sometimes, I forget how to imagine things on the violin, especially when I’m playing a lot of the same stuff over each day. It becomes so tasteless, I can’t make sense of it.
Toward the end of the book is a short prelude by Shostakovich (Op. 34, No. 19), something I used to skip over unless my teacher had assigned it. When she did, I would awkwardly pick through the accidentals, my ears blinded by dissonace and unable to assist. It was ridiculous. It sounded like a sick joke on romance, like a hippo and a sinister clown kissing. I was embarrassed to even force my fingers to make such sounds. It was so repulsive that a spider crawled between the pages and died there, leaving a brown stain that darkens a space in one of the measures to this day. That’s how I remembered this piece.
Every year or so, I play through my anthology and give the Shostakovich another whirl. The past couple of times, it wasn’t as bad as I’d remembered it; it left me scratching my head, at worst. But tonight, I decided I should play it like a romance, and to put as much feeling into the phrases as I could understand how to do. If I could find a way, I would play it meaningfully, at least.
Suddenly, it was as though I had decoded an encrypted message. Every dissonant chord took shape in a bigger scheme, and the melody became painfully beautiful. I played it through a dozen times, each time discovering a little more about the hidden characters and statements being made. It was a portrait of love–awkward, bittersweet, and unresolved love--and it was more beautiful because of the imperfections. It hurt me to tears.
Secretly, I think I’ve always wanted to be the one who decided the fate of young hopeful artists and musicians, bestowing gifts, prestige, and highly coveted popularity upon my chosen ones. Being asked to choose the winners of a talent show–well, let’s say I’ve finally tasted a hint of that power, and I liked it. Oh yes, would you believe such power was granted to me this evening? (Wait for a moment while I bask in local smugness...) However, once the reality of being called upon to judge began to sink in, I realised what an awesome responsibility fell on my shoulders. More than anything, I wanted to be fair and unbiased, and have the wisdom to make good choices. I hoped it would be an easy decision.
The show began, and the musicians took the stage. One by one they came round, like a line of show horses treading circles in a ring. By the fifteenth guitar solo, I began to worry I wouldn’t be able to tell one from the other enough to make a decision. Even my copious notes were becoming redundant. In that case, I would have to either go by the applause meter or best outfits. ...What was I being reduced to? Is this really how stars are made? By wardrobe and audience appeal? Where was the show-stopping talent?
Tonight’s decision ended up being clear-cut, after all. Tonight’s best performance came from an exchange student from Greenland who played a folk song from her homeland. I had never seen nor heard anything quite like it before tonight. I cannot explain it, only that it ended far too soon, and when she was finished, I wished she would play it again. None of the other songs made me wish this.
2. Doggie toy
3. Track repeats
5. Alien communication
7. Fly fishing
11. Nourishing OCD
13. Heart rate monitor
17. Airport hoaxes
19. Deep breathing exercises
23. Countdown on New Year’s
29. Calculating absolute stationary
31. Nagging small children
41. Contacting the dead
43. Retriever training
47. Slave driving
53. Purging puerility
59. Eradicating evil
61. Reiterating redundancy
67. Techno beat
71. Counting sheep
73. Stocking stuffers
79. Fun for the whole Baptist family
83. Fun for the whole Nazi family
89. Silencing objections
97. Courting a shorebird
101. Stifling rubato
103. Ignoring the phone
107. Instilling fear
109. Synchronized eating
113. Pest extermination
127. Stoning the wicked
137. Playing the theme to “24"
139. Impressing Joshua Bell
149. Counting to 1,319
151. Getting fired from an orchestra
157. Faking a pulse in a hospital
163. Cheating for an audition
167. Picking up hot violin chix
173. Impersonating the microwave
179. Arguing with Toni Furman
181. Improving your SAT’s
191. Beating a dead horse
193. Boring people to death
197. Entertaining Alaskans
199. Pure, unfiltered, 100% organic insanity
Is today really Saturday? What happened? Where am I? What is the square root of 1,739,761? I can’t seem to remember anything that happened over the past 36 hours. Boy, and I had the craziest dream, something about a hypnotic red light and 440 A...
So, it looks like the Earth didn’t break out of orbit, and the Enchanting Wizard of Rhythm didn’t come after all. Maybe that sterling performance with Andrew last night wasn’t real, either. I’m confused. I’m feeling dazed and disoriented and strangely... rhythmic.
Hey, look, I have a new digital metronome on my desk. I wonder how that got here.
From afar, it came today, just like I was told it would. I knew I could believe in them because they never lie. Although I’d envisioned how the scene would unfold, the reality of it was something I could never have been prepared for, no matter how much I had anticipated it.
When I first laid eyes on it, I didn’t know what to make of the unusual fixtures all over the front. What could be the purpose of such contraptions? Certainly, that light across the top did not wave as a peaceful beacon. No, It was a sinister shade of red and rather hypnotic. On the left side, I saw something that resembled a large speaker, perhaps for communication purposes. I don’t know what possessed me next. Gingerly, I extended my hand with my index finger pointing.
It spoke. Whatever it was inside the vessel was trying to tell me something. Concerned, my dog approached, and I blocked him with my arm. “No, Ben, stay back!”
I guess it was okay. I felt a bit insecure about having the cellist from the LA philharmonic over to my house for dinner, since I didn’t grow up having company over regularly, and my hosting skills are a bit rusty. I was nervous about the crust on my foccacia, and about how George’s delicate hand-made ravioli came apart a little during the boiling, but no one mentioned it. Well, I suppose only a rude guest would actually make mention of it, and of course, none of my guests last night were rude. None, that is, except for my metronome, which has this annoying habit of hogging the conversation.
It occurred to me today that when it comes to tempos, we simply don’t do enough practice involving the prime numbers. Is it possible that by clinging to multiples of five (or fours) when picking metronome speeds, our cognitive paths have developed ruts of mundanity? Could I be missing some important mental epiphany by doing so?
I charted all the prime numbers up to 1,319 by color-coding the various multiples (which, as a byproduct, also creates a nifty pattern for a potential future quilting project). From now on, we will be using only prime numbers when specifying tempos. We feel pretty good about this decision.
I make a point not to ever leave home without my metronome, because I never know when I might need it, and also metronomes shouldn’t be confined to the mundane routine of the practice room; it isn’t healthy.
Today, my metronome and I went shopping at Fred Meyer for a new potted flower, in celebration of the Easter holiday. I found a lovely fresh African violet of a bright magenta hue. We also picked up some creamy mascarpone and some savoiardi to make tiramisu, my favorite dessert to pair with basil and cheese ravioli.
I had a really bad day. I have no Easter plans, either. Even the coffee shop will be closed on Easter.
Thank God for my metronome. I’m not sure what else I would be doing right now without it, even broken as it is. I’m sure I will fly through at least three hours this evening practicing rhythm drills on that two-measure passage in my Mozart concerto. Such a feat I could never otherwise accomplish without the steady encouragement of my monosyllabic friend. I’ll begin slowly, and when I finally creep it back up to the original tempo, I’ll cut the tempo in half and repeat the process two or three more times. What fun, what endless fun is the metronome. Certainly, I’ve barely tapped the surface to the wealth of entertainment that awaits me in a metronome.
Oh yes, it is that time. Moonlight insomnia? Perhaps, partially. But actually, it’s not the moon this time that has me up. Rubbing my hands together, sitting on a mass of stored energy that’s welling up in my gut, I won’t sleep now because I’m excited.
I’m excited because right now, I own more hours of daylight than the folks in the Lower 48. We’ve been saving all winter for this, and now the dividends are about to pay off. Yes, my yard is still a massive snow drift, and it looks like the ice on the lake will be going out about two weeks later this year, but I know what happens next, and I can’t wait.
Hello sun! God was good to make you. Awaken the bears, thaw the ice, return the loons, and fill us all with green! That green... did I mention, there is a particular shade of green that only happens right here? It’s the exact same shade as magic. See, when the light gets this way, things grow and change at astonishing rates. I am about to witness nine months of seasons all squished into four, and the enthusiasm with which the earth thrives during this period is like nothing else I’ve experienced anywhere else in the world.
After breakup, the midnight sun drives the soul forward a lot like a full moon provokes lunacy. It zaps people with a solar power surge, and they get all antsy, running about trying to collect and save time like squirrels hoard mushrooms in the fall. Even in basking lazily on a nice day at the coffee shop, I get a heightened sense of awareness of the here-and-now and its precious value to me; every color, taste, and scent is more full-bodied and intense. It’s a high, for sure. It won’t last, but it shouldn’t, either. You have to pay a price to get such an experience; summer needs the stark contrast of the long winter in order to be most effective.
I’m probably doing myself harm in getting worked up so soon. We have to see the end of breakup, yet.
I think I see some grass here. Albeit it's brown grass, it's definitely not white, so that counts.
Students may argue against phrasing, philosophies, or interpretation, but they can't deny the truth that is the metronome. It is logical and absolute, uncompromising and unbiased. The tangible sign of improvement I get after a good speed drilling excites me just about as much as adding receipts, or calling the weatherman, or arranging rows of cookies, or counting stitches in my knitting. This is what a metronome gives me: solid proof of numerical achievement in an otherwise rather subjective pursuit of perfection. (I truly like numbers, by the way; I could take them and create a graph, too, if you like.)
My metronome is twelve years old. I can't think of any other item off the top of my head that I have been able to keep track of for this long. I bought it in college on a shoestring budget; it was the cheapest one I could find. No, it's not the beautiful wooden pyramid with the swinging pendulum that I cut my musical teeth on, but it's portable and doesn't require winding, and the electronic beep is polite, at least. I've since heard other metronomes with nasty drill sergeant demeanors, but this isn't one of those.
My training partner has seen better days, I suppose. It looked just fine up until my dog got a hold of it when he was in puppy-chew stage; he found it to be the perfect size and texture for breaking in his adult teeth. The corners have frayed, and the plastic face eventually came undone, but with a little tape, I've been able to keep it in commission--that is, until I sent it through the wash in my vest pocket last week. I wasn't even aware that I had forgotten it there until my ears picked up a familiar steady beep emitting from the laundry room.
Now, I still use it, but the digital numbers have ceased to make sense. Instead of 56, 72, 120, I see foreign shapes repeating in regular patterns. Every once in a while I can make out a 1 or a 4. In order to find specifics, I have to first locate 60 or 120 by the tempo of my watch, and then follow the patterns up in groups of ten until I reach my desired speed. Reluctantly, I have to admit that this is no longer going to be tolerable. It's just a shame to have to retire it when the battery still works and the cheerful beep persists, even after all these years.
Sometimes I don't like to move onto new things.
Between the violin shopping, the music, and the coffee, I decided that if ever I were to live in a city, I would pick Seattle. What an enjoyable trip!
So, long story made short, I brought home a new violin. I made my decision after sampling over sixty violins and taking four out on trial. I’d already made my mind up by Thursday, but an interesting turn of events led me to fellow violinist.com member Gennady Filimonov, member of the Seattle symphony. He got my friend and I into their concert that weekend, and we met for drinks afterward.
He had a beautiful new Italian violin by Gianluca Zanetti that he urged me to try, so we met the next day at his home. He played the Zanetti along with my favorite pick that I’d brought with me, and the difference was pronounced. My former favorite lost most of its tone just a few feet from it, while the Zanetti filled the room with its robust, vibrant voice. I wasn’t as fond of it under my ear, but I considered the fact that most violinists end up with a new instrument that is similar to the old one because they are unwilling to branch out when listening for quality sound. It would be unwise to listen narrow-mindedly.
My ears made an important discovery this weekend. Rather than keep the sound to myself, I needed to better understand how to “share” it with the room, listening to the sound that came back to me instead of the immediate production happening under my ear. When I focused on this, I could then hear the workings of a good violin. I could tell that this violin not only sounds great in the room, but has potential to mature and grow with me as I spend more time with it. After playing both for my friend, I saw that she also agreed that the Zanetti was the best she’d heard on this trip.
I bought it. I brought it home and proceeded to deafen all my students today as we played together in my little studio. I’m staying up late, now, thinking about it, and when I close my eyes, I dream about violins, just like I used to dream about ponies when I was a girl. I’m in love.
More entries: May 2006 March 2006
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