January 2009

iPod Blues

January 19, 2009 16:15

"I think you would benefit from listening to this music,' I told my student, who was struggling to memorize her latest piece.

Her mother looked at me apologetically, "The problem is that we no longer have CD player that works," she said. "We listen to everything on MP3 nowadays. But, the laser on our computer must be broken or something because I can't seem to rip it to our computer so we can listen to it there..."

Her travails made me philosophical; certainly she's not the only person with these kinds of problems. 

Advancing technology has certainly put a crimp on my own listening style. And, to date myself, I did start with vinyl. Then when I was a teenager, people collected cassettes. Seems like the minute I got my considerable collection of cassettes categorized and alphabetized, the CD revolution came. I have stacks upon stacks of CDs. I've moved all over the United States with them, dutifully packing and unpacking them, and by now they are complete mess and take up way too much space. 

Then, I was given an MP3 player. Wonderful, I can put all those CDs onto this MP3 player! I put a lot of them on there, only to get an iPod a few years later and be unable to transfer anything from one to the other. And as miraculous as is the idea of compacting my entire collection of recordings into a tiny, handheld device, I found that I actually didn't WANT them all in hand. Do I really need all 10 Mahler Symphonies there in my iPod, which is also my iPhone, which is also my address book, which is also my Internet connection, which is also my camera? Why not just carry around a small, auxiliary brain? My own brain is difficult enough to negotiate!

So I throw my hands up, sick of trying to organize my music, sick of trying to preserve it, sick of trying to acquire it, sick of trying to find a way to listen to it.

To be sure, I do love my iPhone. But I don't feel the same about my recordings as I felt when I had something physical to hold them. And yet, those technologies were flawed as well.

Recently I felt the urge to listen to Beethoven, Symphony No. 7. Where was that recording I had, with Sir Colin Davis? Ah yes, on cassette. Is it worth digging, to find it? Oh good, there it was, I found it. Ah, I love this recording. Except..what's that high pitched whine, that's getting louder and louder and...Oh geez, not the Old Cassette Whine, no! Fatal. 


I guess we'd better not stop making live music, folks! 

26 replies | Archive link

Making Music Resonate

January 8, 2009 15:42

My children just keep growing, and have moved well past first grade. But their first grade teacher, Mrs. Walker, has not forgotten the violinist mommy, and yesterday she tracked me down on the playground before school.

"You ready for Baroque music?" she asked, and I knew just what she meant. In addition to jumping through all the hoops to teach her classroom of 20 children "California state standards," this very ambitious teacher makes a yearly priority of introducing her first graders to classical music. "I need your help again!" she said.

Last week she made them listen to Gregorian chant as they practiced their ABC's, and this week she's going to play them recordings and read them books about Vivaldi, Handel, and Bach. In a few weeks she'll continue with classical composers: Mozart and Haydn, then on to romantic with Beethoven, as well as other composers and musicians, too! My own children wound up with a thick book of classical music from her class, complete with bios they'd written themselves in their wobbly first-grade print, and pictures of each composer that they'd colored.

"It just really brings it home for them when you come in, Mrs. Niles," she said. "Can you visit us this week?" It's not difficult to cajole me into preaching music to children; she knows the answer is always "Yes"! So this morning I brought my fiddle (yes, the Gagliano) to school along with my kids, and I dropped in on Mrs. Walker's class.

"Baroque music," I said to the munchkins, rosining up my bow as they sat "criss-cross apple sauce" on the big carpet.

"Baroque music!" they chimed back.

"Can any of you tell me what some people do with trees at Christmas time?" I asked. "What do they put on them?"

The hands went up: "Decorations!" "Ornaments!" "A star on top!" "Fake snow!" (Remember, we're in California)

"Exactly right. Some of those are the same words we use in Baroque music; it's music that has decorations and ornaments. Let me show you: here is the plain tree, with no decorations." I played the first 14 measures of Vivaldi's Concerto in a minor, the third movement. "Now, here's the same thing, with decorations:" I skipped to measure 30 and played the next section, the fancy version of the beginning. Ah, light bulbs everywhere, they get it!

"Did you hear the decorations?" They nodded.
"Did you hear the ornaments?" More big nods.
"The star on top? The fake snow?!!" They heard that, too!

"Okay I'm just joking about the fake snow, but you heard how that was fancier, right?" And they certainly did.

We continued with me playing random Baroque music and pointing out decorations and trills and bariolage, etc. I played the beginning of Bach's E major Partita and explained that it's written for just one violin, but to sound as if more than one person were playing. They closed their eyes and listened, to see if it sounded like more than one voice.

"Did you know, when Bach lived, there were no iPods?" They looked terribly alarmed. "What else do you suppose they didn't have?" The kids helped me compile a list: CD players, video games, cell phones...."Bath tubs!" piped up one child, quite seriously. "Hmmm," I said, without laughing. "They actually did have bathtubs. I don't think they used them as much."

Somehow in explaining how the sound comes out of the violin, I had the idea of having one volunteer touch the scroll of my violin, to feel how the wood physically vibrates when I play an open "A." Then, of course, they all wanted to feel the scroll vibrate, so they formed a line. One-by-one they came forward to touch the violin scroll as I played a note. "Can you feel that?" I asked each one. "Yes!" each said, with some surprise.

"You don't just hear music," I said. "When it's live, you can feel it. It's different from an iPod with earphones."

"Is it fun to play the violin?" asked one little boy from the back of the class.

"At first, it's hard," I said. "But then you get good at it, and it's fun. Imagine, 20 people playing together, you feel the vibrations from the violin next to you, and from your own violin, and you are all making music together. Yes, it can be very fun!"

10 replies | Archive link

More pictures from the 2009 Rose Parade

January 2, 2009 11:57

Happy New Year! Robert gave you some pictures from yesterday's Rose Parade, but I'm here to give you the REAL PICTURES, the ones from ground level. Pasadena's Rose Parade is not only the biggest parade in the world, but it's also the most excruciatingly long one. People have to twirl their batons, ride their horses, boogie to the beat, play their tubas, CARRY their tubas, walk in their high heels...for 5.5 miles.

The place where we meet friends is at the tail-end of the parade, some 5.4 miles into the route. They are just a block away from collapse at this point, and what better place to take their picture? Truly, I'm amazed at how energetic and giving the performers still are at this point. So here is the story of our Rose Parade adventure, in pictures taken from my little iPhone!

First, we walk to our spot, and then we wait. The parade starts officially at 8 a.m., but the Rose Parade motorcycles and first float don't reach us until nearly 10 a.m. Meanwhile, kids and adults occupy themselves by throwing footballs, munching on cotton candy, tooting horns, shooting party poppers and party snaps and of course, spraying silly string all over everyone and everything:

Really, it's all about the silly string:

But eventually the floats arrive. Here was one of my favorites, "Hope Grows" by Vera Bradley. Seated on the float were breast cancer survivors and family members.

The Hawaii All-State Marching Band wore all kinds of grass skirts, but most impressive to me was this man who stood right in front of us and blew his conch shell:

Of course we had the cheerleaders from the University of Southern California, who was playing Penn State in the game later in the day:

Sometimes people stop doing their tricks late in the parade because of exhaustion, but this guy really impressed me, with this lasso trick. Geez, don't trip the horse, EEEK! This is really impressive when you are just a few feet away:

Can I have a pretty dress like this?

This was simply a gorgeous float ("Bollywood Dreams"), the costumes, the flowers, the colors, and look at all those smiles!

I was sitting with a crowd of locals, and they simply knew many of the people on floats. In fact, one of the kids was plucked from among us by his mother, to walk the rest of the parade! Here was someone who came over to talk to friends:

America the beautiful, look at all the flags, the horses:

And here are the Penn State cheerleaders, go Big 10! Ah well, ya can't win every time:

But these guys are winners: the Nittany Lions tubas! You go tubas! You've almost made it, 5.5 miles!

Yes, that is a violin bow you see that young lady holding up on the National Association of Music Merchants float. Violinists in the parade, YEAH!

Look at the detail on the rabbit. Everything in the Rose Parade is made of plants, seeds, flowers and organic material, everything!

This one gets the award for "totally over the top," the Jack in the Box float. I didn't get a shot of Jack, but look at these 70s outfits, the bell bottoms! I love it!

This is one freaky tree. Note, you can see on the right side that the float is collapsed. All the floats have to go under a bridge toward the end of the parade, and sometimes they don't raise them back up until they get to the very end and put them on display.

And this little detail, just for Emily, from the Alaska float:

Happy New Year to all!

6 replies | Archive link

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