May 2006

Oprah's taste in music

May 31, 2006 00:07

Oprah’s taste in music is under fire from hip hop/rap singers. (

Ludacris has complained about Oprah’s treatment of him when he appeared on her show last fall. "She edited out a lot of my comments while keeping her own in," he said. "Of course, it's her show, but we were doing a show on racial discrimination, and she gave me a hard time as a rapper when I came on there as an actor.”

The rapper 50 Cent said, "I think she caters to older white women. Oprah's audience is my audience's parents.”

Rapper Ice Cube is offended that Oprah has not invited him to appear on her show. “She's had damn rapists, child molesters and lying authors on her show,” he complained, “and if I'm not a rags-to-riches story for her, who is?"

In response, Oprah made a surprise appearance on a New York hip-hop radio station earlier this month to talk to DJ Ed Lover about her reported lack of support for rap acts. “I listen to some hip-hop," she said. "You know, I've been accused of not liking hip-hop, and that's just not true. I got a little 50 on my iPod.”

I’m disappointed in Oprah’s response. In my view, it’s not about age or race. It’s about music. Some of my friends say, “I like all music except rap.” My response is, “I like all music. I don’t consider rap to be music.” I really think Oprah should invite Joshua Bell to be on her show.

Of course, I’m just an older white woman.

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The magic violin

May 25, 2006 04:56

I am recovering from my fall and getting more mobility. Yesterday a friend came for a mercy visit and took me out to lunch and then to the grocery store. In my sorry, house-bound state, this seemed exciting. I was finally able to get to an orchestra rehearsal last night, a necessity if I am to play in our concert in a week and a half. It felt so good to be back! I have missed my friends and the challenges of playing orchestral music with my peers. From the very first note of the overture to The Magic Flute, I felt good. I could be happy playing Mozart every day of the year. We are also playing Bizet’s Carmen Suites 1 and 2 and excerpts from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and Scottish Symphony. I’m not overly fond of the latter, and when we were just a few lines into the piece, I began to wonder whether I could sit this one out. Then I remembered some of Wynton Marsalis’s advice: Always play the best you can. So I did, and I enjoyed it more that way. I was on my feet for a relatively short time yesterday, but it was longer than I have been since my injury on May 1. I paid the price for it later. I was in so much pain that I got no sleep at all last night. I’m glad I went anyway.

Here is a reproduction of a painting by Chagall called Die Zauberflote. It looks warm and romantic to me.


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O.K. Members in Europe: The Sequel

May 23, 2006 22:36

Okay, members in Europe...
Explain yourselves for *this* choice. So said Robert Niles in his blog on this website on May 22.

Here is a contrasting point of view.

The Shakespeare Prize is awarded annually for “outstanding contributions to European cultural heritage in English-speaking countries in Europe.” Now there’s a worthwhile competition. I’ll bet all the top contenders are good.

This year’s prize went to the Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel. Speaking of his ethnic heritage, Bryn has said, “…being born Welsh is not to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth, but music in your heart.” Born in 1965 to a Welsh farm family, Bryn learned to sing traditional Welsh songs and play the harp in early childhood. As a youth, he did the circuit of singing competitions in Wales. He later studied opera and made his operatic debut in 1990 as Guglielmo in Cosi Fan Tutte. He has recorded operatic arias and performances and Schubert lieder, as well as popular show tunes. His most recent CD, “Simple Gifts,” contains sacred, spiritual, and meditative songs. I have listened to two of my favorites – the Bach-Gounod Ave Maria and Simple Gifts on the Deutsche Grammophon website, and he sings them beautifully. This CD is now at the top of my music shopping list.

PS. Check my website.

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Getting better

May 20, 2006 00:40

I really hope my ankle injury heals quickly. I’m tired of inactivity. This weekend I was supposed to go out of town with some friends to a camp to play music and enjoy each other’s company. I still can’t walk much without severe pain, so I had to stay home. Next week I will start physical therapy. My doctor wrote me a prescription for six weeks of physical therapy, but my health insurance runs out May 31, so I’ll probably just have two sessions of PT. At first I was going to see a PT in the same building as my doctor, but the round trip cab fare would be $50, so I’ll go elsewhere. I got a list of PTs from my doctor and looked for something closer to home. I found a place about two miles from my home. Normally I could walk there, but if I could walk there, I wouldn’t need physical therapy. I checked some other places on the list and found one that is across the street from my favorite local violin store. What a happy coincidence! Of course, I won’t buy anything there that I don’t really need. I want to get some preventive maintenance on the violin which I got from my childhood violin teacher many years ago. It has tremendous sentimental value for me, and, besides, it has a warm, rich sound that I love. It was made in Germany ca. 1900 and has been played lovingly ever since. I want to try some carbon fiber bows to compare with the wood bows I have. Since I’ve been reading about violin and bow shopping by other v.commies, I realize how fortunate I am in having several very good, large violin stores nearby. The one I’m going to must have a couple hundred violins and bows in stock. Their violins range from about $600 to tens of thousands of dollars. I take a lot of my students there, and I always enjoy being there.

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Mother of invention

May 15, 2006 22:45

I found a good use for the walker I got at the hospital. However, I think it needs something more to beautify it. I tried some of my Christmas ornaments, but they didn’t look right. Any suggestions? One restriction: something that’s not very breakable.


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Iona in concert

May 13, 2006 22:49

I’ve been out of the house twice since I fell and injured myself – once to see my doctor and once to attend a concert. Guess which one was more fun? I got rides to and from the concert, and I got in free because I do volunteer work for the concert series. I appreciate the free ticket, but I would be happy to help anyway.

The concert series, put on by the Institute of Musical Traditions (IMT), features folk music of many kinds. This was a concert of Celtic music (one of my favorite kinds) by Iona, one of my favorite groups. Many people think of Celtic music as Irish or Irish/Scottish, but there are many, many kinds of Celtic music. The ancient Celts and their descendants got around, and they left their musical imprint wherever they went – areas that are now Ireland, Scotland, Shetland, Isle of Mann, Cornwall, Wales, Brittany (in France), Asturies (in Spain), Galicia (in Spain), Cape Breton (in Canada), Acadia (in the U.S.), and even Bolivia. Iona has scouted far and wide for traditional music which might otherwise be overlooked, and they deliver it to us with gusto. They play flutes, whistle, guitar, bodhran (a traditional drum), fiddle, border pipes (similar to the Highland bagpipes but smaller and less deafening), and others, as well as the human voice. They teach their audiences to sing in various Celtic languages and to do simple Celtic dances. They are very, very good at everything they do, and their concerts are always fun.

I’ve been asking myself what makes a music group like this great. It’s not just great instrumentalists and singers, although they are. Nor is it just their choice of melodies or their improvisational rhythms and harmonies, although these, too, are outstanding. It’s not just their arrangements for various instruments and voice, which are unique. It’s not just their stage presence and their adeptness at connecting with their audience, although they excel in these areas, too. All music, but especially traditional music, is reborn every time it is played. Each group of performers makes the music their very own. Any verbal explanation of how they do it is inadequate. I can only describe the source of Iona’s greatness as their sense/understanding of the music and their captivating way of delivering it to their listeners.

The founding members and backbone of Iona are Barbara Ryan and Bernard Argent, and they are just as nice, down to earth, and accessible as they can possibly be. They are executive co-directors of the Institute of Musical Traditions, and they find and book some wonderful musicians, including those they have met in their years of performing. The IMT concerts don’t generate much money. The tickets are reasonably well priced, but IMT still needs grants to keep the concert series afloat. If they had more money, they would pay the performers more. I do my best to help with PR on the Internet, spreading the word to people who would enjoy the concerts but simply aren’t aware of them. The tiny paid staff and the group of dedicated volunteers are wonderful people to work with. They give generously of their time and talents keep the concert series going. They may have stress in their jobs or in their homes, but they feel redeemed by working together in the cause of music.

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Next step

May 10, 2006 23:58

Today I went to see my doctor about the ankle injury which has kept me grounded for the last week. He confirmed that my injury is not serious (sprained ankle and torn ligament), and that is good news. He gave me some prescriptions for medications that should reduce the pain and swelling. I started taking one of them at half the recommended dose in case it has side effects. He told me that he wants me to take physical therapy 2-3 times a week for the next 6 weeks. My health insurance runs out in 6 weeks, and there is no way I can pay for the PT myself. I had to take cabs to and from the doctor’s office because I can’t walk four blocks from the Metro station to get there. The round trip by cab cost me $50. Ow! The PT he referred me to is in the same building he’s in, and there’s no way I can pay for all those cab rides, so I’ve found a PT closer to my home. Walking around was physically painful, and the whole situation is very stressful. I nearly fainted walking up a couple flights of stairs to my home. En route, I saw a neighbor and asked him whether he might be able to give me rides some time, and he is willing. The day before I went to the ER, he went to the ER at the same hospital. His problem was more serious than mine, and he was admitted to the hospital for a few days. We amused each other with horror stories about the hospital.

When I’m in severe pain, I’m not as patient with other people as I usually am. I’m going to gripe. I thank Karin Lin for helping me keep things in perspective by telling us about the dried vomit in her car. (YUK) My complaints are nowhere near that serious. (1) One of my friends, aka The Princess, is very upset because her husband lost his job a few months ago and is still unemployed. (I’ve been unemployed for the last 4 ½ years.) He is depressed and is getting counseling. If he doesn’t get a job soon, she will have to return to the work force after being a stay-at-home Mom for a few years, so she’s asking her friends to help him find a job. (2) One of my students, who is healthy and employed, has not shown up for a lesson in about a month. For the first two weeks, he called me a day in advance to cancel. The third week, he called me and said that he would call me back in a few days and let me know whether he would come for his next lesson. He did not call. I called him twice before he returned my call. He is scheduled for a lesson tomorrow and I had no idea whether or not he planned to come, so I called him and left a message about my cancellation policy (if you don’t show up, you still pay for the lesson). He called me back about two hours later and apologized for noT calling me sooner. His reason: he was busy playing softball. He intends to come for a lesson with me tomorrow. Aaaaaaargh!

Now here is some better news. People have been nice to me, helping with errands and sending me get well cards. Yesterday I received some goods that I had ordered from LL Bean (a big sale, of course), and I need to return them. They sent me a mailing label to use to return the items by FedEx. I called customer service and explained that I can’t get out to a FedEx pickup place, so they are going to send someone to my home to pick up the package. Wow! That’s customer service! I just wish they could handle health insurance and medical bills that way. Fortunately, I can play my violin. That is very good news. I have discovered that I like playing ragtime music on my fiddle.

I have a possibility for doing some freelance science writing for a biomedical research organization. This would be very timely because most of my students disappear for the summer. The work is highly technical, and it would make use of my knowledge and years of experience. They emailed me some background material to read – a mere 10 MB – and I’ve got to discuss it with them by the end of this week. Wish me luck! Also, I’d welcome any advice people may have on how to set my fee.

Now I just need to take things one step at a time……….

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After the Fall: Part 2

May 7, 2006 23:18

It’s been one week since I fell, sprained my ankle and pulled a ligament. My healing is not going well. The swelling has increased quite a bit, and I’ve got plantar fascitis and various muscle cramps and pain. I’m going to see my doctor later this week. I have had many, many falls and injuries on my other ankle, and I had to have surgery to correct the problem. I have congenitally weak joints (thanks, Dad.) I can’t even sit up in a chair much. I sit on the sofa with my legs up on the sofa. My asthma and allergies are very bad, too, so I’m very tired and I sleep a lot. I haven’t even kept up with reading about my friends on! I miss everyone. Being a part of this community means so much to me.

I live alone, and I have no family or significant other to help me. I hope that those of you with support communities appreciate them. My students and their parents have been helping me by going to the grocery store, dumping out my garbage, and picking up my mail. I truly appreciate everyone’s help.

Fortunately, I can play my violin. Yay! The times I have fallen and injured my wrists I couldn’t do that, and that made my quality of life worse. I’m in a lot of pain now, and my best painkiller has been my portable CD player. Music has been my salvation so many times. When I’m tense or depressed, I get solace and help from music. I’m never tempted to turn to alcohol or drugs for escapism.

I’m using my inability to get around as a time to do some reading. I’m reading Isaac Stern’s autobiography, My First Seventy-Nine Years, and it is very good. Next in line are The Autobiography of Johnny Cash and Heifetz As I Knew Him.

I’m still teaching since I do that in my own home. I always enjoy that. Giving a first lesson to a beginner is especially fun. I get excited about helping people start on something so special. A few days ago I gave a five year old his first lesson. His parents told me that he is very excited about learning to play the violin. The kid is very smart and articulate, and he knows a lot for someone his age. He knew the names of a lot of the parts of the violin because he read about them. I asked him why he wanted to learn to play the violin, and he said, “I love to listen to music, and the violin makes the prettiest sound of all the instruments.” He got that one right. His father brought him to the lesson, and it was wonderful to see the two of them interact. I could see a lot of love there. His father took some photos of the boy while I was teaching him. It’s a major life event, and I love being part of it.

When can I stand up, take a shower, wash my hair, and go back to the gym for a workout?

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After the fall

May 4, 2006 19:03

I fell and injured myself on Monday and went to the ER in an ambulance. I had forgotten just how bad ERs can be. They did everything they could to make me feel worse, both physically and mentally. The injury is not serious (ligament and sprain on one ankle), but it’s horribly painful and I can barely stand up and walk. I’m also very tired. To go into or out of my home, I would have to walk up or down a lot of stairs, so I’m grounded for a while. ;-( I have no family, significant other, close friends, or even friendly neighbors, but some of my students and their parents have been helping me. Grumble grumble.

Sometimes I just wish could be somewhere else.

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Magic red shoes

May 1, 2006 01:04

When I was a kid, I read a story about a little girl who had magic red shoes. Whenever she wore them, she couldn’t stop dancing. Logic child that I was, I wondered how she could take the shoes off if she couldn’t stop dancing. Now that I’m an adult and I’ve studied science, I know that her shoes must have been a perpetual motion machine.

I recently got another perpetual motion machine – a book called The Craig Duncan Master Fiddle Solo Collection. When I open the book, I can’t stop playing my fiddle. In fact, I don’t even have to open the book or take my fiddle out of its case. I hear the music playing in my head, and I’ve got to take out my fiddle and play it. I was led to this book by my desire to learn to play more bluegrass fiddle tunes. Of course, I have my well worn copy of The Fiddler’s Fakebook. In fact, it is so well worn that the pages are falling out, and I had to buy a new copy recently. The Fakebook is a great place to start, but after a while, the arrangements seem too simple and boring. Not all the tunes in The Master Fiddle Solo Collection are bluegrass tunes, but they’re all fun, and, as the editor of the book says, “[This tune] is played by many fiddlers of various backgrounds.” For instance, “Miss McLeod’s Reel” is described as Old Time-Celtic. I first learned this tune as, strangely enough, a Scottish tune called “Miss McLeod’s Reel.” It’s also called “Hop Light Ladies” and “Did You Ever See the Devil, Uncle Joe?” If you say, “Did you ever see the devil, Uncle Joe,” you’ve got the rhythm, just as “Mississippi Hot Dog” morphs into Twinkle. What’s even more fun about this book is the variations on each tune – rhythm variations, bowing variations, and ornaments of many kinds. It’s amazing how many different ways you can play a single tune with only twelve notes of the chromatic scale and (usually) one key signature and one time signature. Even a rudimentary knowledge of harmony (Circle of Fifths, arpeggios, major and minor thirds) can enable you to do so many fun things with a tune. Bluegrass fiddle tunes use a lot of double stops; drones with open strings or fourth finger; unisons of open string and fourth finger; shifting positions, often with double stops; octave jumps; runs of eighth notes interspersed with triplets; slides; broken arpeggios; and shuffles (patterns of variations of bowing and rhythm which are hard to describe and great to hear). In fact, some of this music is downright pyrotechnical. I have a new infatuation with rags, polkas, and blues. I love the sentimental country waltzes, which are like the poor girls’ versions of graceful minuets.

Some of the tunes, like Blackberry Blossom, are so pretty even without ornaments that they keep bubbling through me long after I should be asleep. I go to the living room, take my mandolin down from the wall, and play the tune softly. Music is the best perpetual motion machine ever invented.

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