A VftBR Special Report: Your faithful bloggers prepare food!

From the View from the Back Row test kitchen:

I was going to say "cook", but that wouldn't be quite right.

A while back, Lauren and I played this gig for the director of the AWCB. In the course of making small talk, I pointed out that I had a cantaloupe that was going to go bad if I didn't eat it pronto, and the director gave me a recipe for cantaloupe soup. Well, last Saturday, Lauren was presented with a large, very ripe cantaloupe, which sounded to us like serendipity and opportunity. Thus, we decided to try the recipe, and blog about it. Because well... why the heck not, you know?

So to make this stuff, you need:

a cantaloupe
some other fruit
lime juice
a blender.

Lauren also had some peaches, so we used those. I got some vanilla yogurt, mainly because you've got your choice of plain or vanilla in the quart buckets.

It's really pretty straightforward. First you cut up your fruits:

Although you need to cube the cantaloupe so it will fit in the blender. And then... you dump it in the blender! What we did was put in about a third of the cantaloupe with half a peach and about a quarter of a cup of lime juice, and blended it on low speed until the volume went down. After that we added maybe a cup and a half of the yogurt, with some cinnamon and nutmeg. I didn't measure, so I'm not sure how much! Just go by taste anyway. With everything in, we just blended it until it was mixed, and a nice even color throughout. After that, just pour out and serve! And maybe add some extra cinnamon and mint leaves to make it look pretty.

It ended up about the consistency of potato soup, but was enormously yummy. Although my silly kids wouldn't eat it, but they won't eat anything.

Next time, I think we might try some different things. Pineapple would be great in this, as would using a higher peach to cantaloupe ratio. Fresh mint (as opposed to dried flakes) would be a nicer garnish. And I think using a flavored yogurt, even if it means getting a couple of the little tubs instead of the quart! And everybody kind of wondered what it would be like slightly frozen, or maybe with some ice blended into it.

Overall, this recipe is a major win: quick, easy, tasty, and full of wonderful vitamins! It's cold, so it's really nice summer food, right when cantaloupe is in season.


Book Review – A Devil To Play, Jasper Rees

I was drawn to this book by the cover – an old-fashioned French horn with a man’s head peering out of the bell with a look of utter confusion on his face. Having experienced utter confusion regarding the French horn many times in my life, I immediately picked up this book and could not have been more delighted by it.

This is the story of a British journalist’s journey to re-learn the French horn in the throes of a mid-life crisis. His plan: to perform a Mozart Horn Concerto before an audience of trained horn professionals at the annual meeting of the British Horn Society after not having even held or thought about the horn for twenty-five years.

The book details Rees’s journey in full. He introduces us to contemporary horn masters who he unabashedly seeks out and consults while he’s learning – frankly, I admire the man’s balls in doing so, walking up to the horn section of the Royal Philharmonic as a complete amateur and introducing himself like an established colleague. I suppose Rees’s journalism career trained him for this sort of behavior, because I cannot imagine doing anything like it myself.

There is also a smattering of intriguing historical information about the French horn, particularly Mozart’s compositions for the instrument and the backstory there. Rees tells us about the use of the horn in prehistoric times, in hunting parties, and as a developing orchestral instrument. Some of his historical information is couched in pure historical fiction, but all told in Rees’s endearingly self-deprecating style.

The book winds up with a narration of his performance at his big concert, a flurry of sentences in a highly emotionally-charged passage which lets us into his very thoughts as he performs the concerto. As I read it, I felt my own pulse racing as though I were standing there myself – it brought back memories of the adrenaline rushes of recitals past.

Even if you’re not a horn player or have never picked up a musical instrument in your life, this book is worth a read. Rees reminds his readers of what it’s like to be passionately devoted to something – no, to be ridiculously obsessed with it – to the point that you succeed at doing what you thought was impossible.


Veni, creator spiritus!

I'm late again, dear reader. (Singular?) I got run over pretty hard by the despair train this week, what with school starting and the stark realization that I've got four people worth of homework to parse every night, including my own, which I just turned in. (A good hour early, I might add!) But in order to get myself off of my own self-pitying behind, what better task than a quick blog post?

And as if by providence, a box appeared in the mail yesterday. I love getting boxes in the mail; it's one of my major addictions, up there with classical music cds, anime dvds, and playing trombone really loud. In the box was a cd I've been waiting for for two whole years: the San Francisco Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas recording of Mahler's Eighth Symphony.

This is the last symphony in the cycle to be released. There is still a recording of the Songs of a Wayfarer and the Ruckertlieder due, which I will commence waiting for now, but this covers the nine symphonies, and includes the adagio from the abortive Tenth. I love the cycle, from the ground up: the understated cover designs, the simple yet gorgeous cds themselves, the extensive booklets that actually (get this) include the names of the musicians that performed. (It is a personal pet peeve that cd booklets rarely include the orchestra, and I have to do extensive internet searches to dig up the name of the oboe player in the Seattle Symphony in 1986 to find out who did such a nice job on that solo.) There is also a wonderful picture of the assembled armies necessary to perform the piece: it is called "The Symphony of 1,000", and it's only slightly facetious.

But while the accouterments are nice, I still don't buy cds (especially at $30 a pop) because they look nice. And this series doesn't just look nice, they sound fantastic. There are a number of Mahler cycles in progress right now, such as the Valery Gergiev/London Symphony, and my own Pittsburgh Symphony is recording a cycle with new music director Manfred Honeck. Of these, Tilson Thomas and San Francisco absolutely set the standard for consistency in high quality musicianship and interpretation. The soloists are impeccable, crisp and clear at all points, brought to the front of the orchestra to stand out as they should. This is, believe it or not, a problem in some recordings of Mahler 8, where trying to record that sheer mass of musicians leads to compromises that diminish the efforts of a handful of critical parts. The balance between the choirs and the orchestra are maintained as required throughout, showing Tilson Thomas's habitual sensitivity to the line and to parity among voices. The opening of the symphony, a dramatic interplay between organ, orchestra, and chorus, is forceful and immediately present, setting the tone for the remainder of the work, with the opening "Veni, creator spiritus!" declared with conviction that would certainly draw out any self-respecting muse.

Of the several recordings of Mahler 8 in my collection, between the sound quality and excellent performance, this one is almost certainly the new favorite, continuing (if not concluding!) the standard of excellence laid out previously by conductor and ensemble. And now I will start eagerly waiting for the (presumptive!) final cd in the cycle!


On practice methods

It's a theme; I'm now riffing on my own post from last week, but at least this time I'd already said I was going to do so.

So, about practicing and how I've changed my methods. I hate to admit this, especially in front of the public, but with graduate school and a romantic relationship kicking my ass and a general lack of musical motivation (which came from rebellion at being away from music school), I don’t think I practiced a lick between the summer of 2007 to the summer of 2008. Then I got better, but my routine was nowhere near regular. On January 1, 2009, I made a New Year’s Resolution to practice twice as much as I had the year before.

Not that that was a big difference, but still.

(Two times zero is… zero!)

I didn’t kick it into gear until May. I would make excuses – or, rather, my Little Hater would make excuses for me. It was only after I realized that the AWCB had a concert coming up very soon and my parts were nowhere near ready (and I feared embarrassing myself in front of my amazing sectionmates) that I realized that I needed a routine.

So, I promised: every week, I would practice for three hours. Whether this was one hour on three days or a half hour on six days or one and a half hours on two days, I would do it.

Needless to say, this worked about as well as my regimen in music school did. The Little Hater was back with the same old song. So...

I changed my routine.

I set goals for myself in outcomes, not in times, and this was something my Little Hater did not know how to deal with. Let me give you my goals for August 1, for example:
1. Be able to produce a high C when warmed up without working up to it.
2. Re-master the Blazhevich clef studies in C, Bb, G, F, and D.
3. Practice triple tonguing T-T-K until I can play Castles in the Air at 50 bpm using T-T-K only.
4. Be able to play any Bordogni etude using jaw/lip vibrato and not sound like ass.

When you consider that my chops hadn’t even fathomed a high C in about a year, #1 was a lofty goal (I made it, by the way -- the C isn't totally consistent and still sounds a little strained, but I got it!). #2 was easy, it was just there as a motivator to get me working actively with tenor and alto clefs again. #3 – working from T-K-T triple tonguing to T-T-K – is something I’ve always known I needed to do. And #4 is the subjective goal, depending on your definition of “sound like ass” (mine is, usually, "play it so that my neighbors don't call in a noise violation on me").

My Little Hater got to me the most with #3. “You’re never going to play this piece publicly again,” she said, “why are you working on it? Furthermore, you can already play it hella fast using T-K-T, why change a good thing?”

And then I would flub a T-T-K once, and it sounds better as T-K-T than everything else I’ve been trying to use T-T-K on, and my Little Hater would tell me that I shouldn’t mess with something that’s not broken. “You’ll never be able to change it, Lauren,” she said.

My response? “I have to get this down by August 1.”

Sure, this leads to some procrastinating at the beginning of the month. Sometimes my Little Hater will tell me things like “You don’t have enough time!” at the end of the month. But this leads to those intense practice sessions that do the most good for me, the ones where I get a lot accomplished in a short time because I’m really focused.

So thank you, Little Hater, for forcing me to work around you and inadvertently making my practice time more worthwhile.


I'm talking to him right now!

Riffing on Lauren's post from last week...

Back when we started this blog, we settled on a schedule: better to get readership, according to one of Lauren's seasoned blogger friends. I was supposed to post on Tuesday, the better to record shenanigans from weekly band rehearsals.

For those not paying attention, it's now Thursday, and here I am doing a major re-write of this week's post, because I've been having a lot of conversations with my little hater. On many topics, one of which is this post.

I should say, I've never thought of him as a hater. Or as a "he" particularly, although I guess anything living in my head is at least mostly male. I've always viewed him as more like a trickster, your Anansi or Brer Rabbit or Loki type, who makes me do stupid things the stupidest way possible and then laughs at me. Like this week he's been saying "nobody reads the blog, and nobody cares about your opinion!" Which is almost certainly true, but completely ignores the point of doing the blog in the first place.

Futility seems to be his major weapon. (Or her, the tricksters always seem to be whatever gender gets the job done, right?) And the best part is he talks with the same voice as the rational side of my brain. So I'll start off with something that would be tough to argue, like, "This player is better than me." Which is often debatable, but at least an easy argument to make. But then it goes to "so there's no point in working hard if you're going to be second best regardless." Which is completely wrong: for starters, I have to work pretty hard right now to be fourth best, but I don't play to be the best, I play to make music, have a way to express myself, and to connect with other people. All of those goals become easier to achieve with the quality of musicians you play with, and you don't get to be the fourth best trombonist in an Award-Winning Community Band by resting on your laurels!

Which brings me to another of the defenses against the Hater, or the Inner Loki. (I'm feeling particularly Danish this week, for no apparent reason, so I'm going with the Norse theme.) I mentioned last week listening to musicians that inspire me- well, I'm in a section full of them right now, and I want to be able to hang, to contribute, and to not let them down. That's a pretty strong motivation for me; an Inner Baldur, knocking back the spears, to continue the Norse theme. And as long as that view keeps winning (which it does most days) I'll keep practicing.

Now if I could actually get blog posts out on time, we'd be set!


Ponyo Ponyo, swimming in the ocean!

Every so often, a small group of us wander off to movies on a weekend night. This past Friday, we had planned to see Star Trek for a dollar (each), but while looking through the paper for show times. Jon saw that Ponyo on the Cliff, the new Hayao Miyazaki movie was playing, which lead to a number of "Who?" and "What's a Ponyo" kinds of questions. But with a little insistence and a promise to go see Star Trek next week, we all went off for a ten o'clock showing of a kids movie! And here, in our soon-to-be-signature symposium style, is our review.

Jon: The first thing that struck me about this movie, right from the opening, was that Miyazaki's art style had changed. Talking to my brother, he seemed to think it made the movie more like a kid's book, which is true. I think it might have owed something to the "superflat" style, emphasizing motion and fluidity over detail. Especially in the way the adults (except maybe the old ladies) are animated.

Lauren: I really liked the children's book style -- I thought it fit the overall theme of the movie, and the interactions between the characters. It would have been strange if the art had been elaborate while telling the story that it did.

Jon: I was impressed at the lack of dynamic tension in this movie. It's like they wanted to make sure four year olds could watch and not have nightmares- but please note, that's not a criticism. It took the innocence of, say Totoro, or The Cat Returns, and cranked it back a notch. I think some people might be going into this looking for Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke, which are phenomenal movies, but come away a little surprised. They shouldn't; they don't call Miyazaki "Japan's Disney" for nothing.

Lauren: Yet, there was still much in the film that adults could appreciate. I definitely liked the little interwoven story about Lisa (the mother figure of the film) and her relationship with her husband and her son, and the way she reacted to Ponyo's sudden appearance in her life. The differing attitudes of the old women at the senior center gave me a few giggles, too.

Jon: That's a really good point. One of the things Miyazaki has always had a good understanding of is children, and how they interact with the world,and especially with adults around them. I loved the scene where Sosuke is signalling his dad at sea, and Lisa is refusing to say anything but "BUG OFF" because she's mad. Sosuke doesn't understand much, except that he wants to talk to his dad.

Lauren: And a lot of the time, I found myself simply listening to the fantastic score.

Jon: The music was interesting. The vaguely Wagnerian part where Ponyo is jumping on the fish was kind of odd. And the song at the end, I guess that's what you get when you try to make a faithful translation! I was not aware that having a round belly was the epitome of the nine year old girlish figure, but ok. I had a lot of fun with the crowd, too, that would come to see an animated children's feature at ten o'clock on a Friday night!

Last thought: imagine this with "Ponyo" replacing "Narwhal", and feel free to complain in the comments section!



On my Little Hater

My friend KJ shared this video with her readers, and I think the message here is an incredibly resonating one for creative people out there of all types. Go on, watch the video.

"I'm sure there are people who wake up every day confident that everyone wants to look at their face and listen to them talk, but I'm not one of those people. When I'm in the groove, and getting work done, and feeling like I'm making the connection with you guys out there... it feels natural to keep showing up and maintaining that connection. But if I go too long without putting work in, and it feels like that connection is broken, there's a little voice inside my head that starts playing tricks on me, and starts trying to convince me that the connection was never really there. And I think this is true for most creative people, that we each have a little hater that lives inside our heads, and tries to set up traps for us."

He asks his listeners to post in their own blogs what their “Little Haters” sound like and what they say to try to dissuade creative output.

I definitely have a Little Hater. Since practicing is the most relevant for this blog, I’ll focus on that – but I get the same arguments from her in all areas of my life.

Back in music school at the RLMU, I practiced every day because I had to or I would fall behind. Nowadays, my practice habits are less intensive, but I still try to keep up with things (more on practice habits later). And when I fall behind –as I did especially during the end of my second year at the RLMU – on the first day, my Little Hater would tell me: “You’d better practice twice as long tomorrow to make up for it.”

Then, Procrastination would hit me:
I need to block out three hours in a day to practice, but with two majors worth of courseloads and two minors and friends and the band and the allure of the Internet, where am I going to find those three hours? Certainly not today, but maybe tomorrow when I have fewer classes.
Then Uselessness had its turn:
I haven’t practiced in four days. What good will it do me now? I’ll never catch up in time for my lesson, I might as well go totally unprepared and impress Joe (my instructor) with my sightreading skills.

(Note: this never worked.)

Nowadays, the cycle is less vicious but just as potent. I’ve found myself having to change my practice routines to accommodate the words of the Little Hater, but by acknowledging what it is that the Little Hater is telling me, I’ve been able to both fight her and find better ways to tackle projects and problems in my life. Look for a blog post next week on how I've changed my practice habits to try to work around these issues.

What does your Little Hater sound like?


In praise of musicians who inspire me

A few posts ago, Lauren said something about every great romance needing a bad breakup. I kind of hope that's not true, but I can vouch for the idea that my own great romance with the trombone has gone through a number of periods of distance and mistrust. Usually it starts with me setting a goal that's too ambitious, goes through a stretch where conscientious practice doesn't achieve the goal, moves on to a period where I don't practice and get worse for it, and eventually get so frustrated I put the horn down for a time.

The usual path back for me is a reminder of why I do this. Usually this comes from hearing some other musician do something I really want to be able to do, usually through a recording, and oddly enough, almost never from another trombonist. Most often when I hear a really good trombonist, the Joe Alessis and Alain Trudels of the world, I think, "I could never do that!" and come away discouraged. Most often it's not a trombonist at all.

One of the most vivid instances of a non-trombonist pulling me back into trombonery happened a few years ago when I re-discovered the great German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Every male who sings lieder- which is probably every male who's taken more than two or three voice lessons- knows Fischer-Dieskau as one of the best lieder singers of the past century. (I can't vouch for the women, I'm sure they've got their own lieder virtuouso! Although Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson comes to mind as my personal pick.) He has his detractors- people say his voice is too small for opera, and that's probably true, and they say that his low range is not as good as it should be for a serious baritone, and that's probably true too.

But for my money, among baritones, there is simply no one better at providing the range of emotions and characters necessary to flesh out the gamut of German art song, whether it's the delirious joy of parts of Schubert's Schöne Müllerin or the horrible melancholy of Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, his impeccable phrasing, near perfect technique, and loving attention to detail and character bring out the stories behind the songs, without any compromises to the soul of the music. And once, when I had laid the trombone down with the full intention of never picking it back up, I listened to a cd I had of Fischer-Dieskau, with Leonard Bernstein playing piano, of Mahler's Rückertlieder, and I remembered why I do this: there are some events, some emotions, that are simply inadequately expressed through any other medium, and some places you can only get to through playing music.

So I got the horn back out. I think it still took me a couple of days, but it was inevitable as soon as I had heard that cd again. And temporarily chastened, I set back to the diligent study of the Rochut etudes to try to find the places that people like Fischer-Dieskau take me when I hear them perform, and some small fraction of his ability to take people with him.


Bad influence where?!

Nothing is quite like escaping the 110 degree rehearsal room during the break to run outside with your stand partner and jump barefoot in puddles...

...and then subsequently sitting through the rest of rehearsal
with dirty feet.


Verbal hijinks (or: Concert Review: Crafton)

So Thursday the AWCB played a concert in Crafton, a suburb out west of the city. The concert was well-attended and in an intimate park setting with the audience close to the band and a baseball game going on in the distance. The weather was also absolutely gorgeous.

The venue left something to be desired for a band, though. It was almost like a disembodied piece of a warehouse, with anti-anti-glare stage lighting on either side. (We say anti-anti-glare because the lights pierced both of our anti-glare glasses coatings.) The lighting was distracting and the acoustics were bizarre – Lauren confessed that she could only hear Jon when he was playing above C; anything in the staff was completely inaudible to her, sitting about two feet away from him. Jon confessed to never really listening to anybody, but quickly retracted that in light of Lauren's previous post, and said he could barely hear Lauren and the horn player right in front of him.

The concert – what we could hear of it, anyway – sounded good, with some nice playing on all accounts. The trombone section boasted two amazing verbal solos. One was pre-arranged – a solo “scream” part in an arrangement of Phantom of the Opera that fell to Lauren tonight because no one else would do it. Before the concert, she whispered to Jon, “I was practicing the scream in the car on the way here. I figure it has about a 50/50 chance of coming out as either blood-curdling… or tentacle rape.” (Dear reader, please don’t Google “tentacle rape” if you don’t know what it is. Just take our word for it that it’s not in any possible way an appropriate scream for Phantom.)

By all accounts, the scream was indeed more blood-curdling than tentacle rape, which pleased Lauren immensely.

The other verbal solo was not pre-arranged – well, not really. If you’ve ever played the silly arrangement of tunes called Instant Concert, you know that in the middle there’s a cue for the whole band to go “Ugh!” as sort of a verbal punctuation to a line. (Unfortunately, neither of us know what tune is being played when the "ugh!" happens, so we can't explain how to look for it.) Well, the gentleman in the trombone section who we will call in the most loving way imaginable “Cantankerous Jazzer” (CJ) felt that this percussive verbalism needed “some extra texture”, so he let out with this falsetto fall that started at about two octaves above the rest of the band.

Extra texture indeed! We were lucky that we had rests after that little shenanigan, or else the first trombone line would have been nothing but a bunch of giggles.

So, all in all, it was a successful, fun concert – even if we couldn’t see or hear anything.


On being part of a section

One part of my trombonist Jedi training (another thing that will someday have to be explained) was this all-important lesson:
Being a member of a section is a whole different beast than playing by yourself.
The thing is, when you’re on your own, you’re totally in control. You control the speed, you control the style, you control the musicality. When you’re in a section – say, in a community band -- all of a sudden you find yourself in the middle of six or seven other trombonists (if you’re lucky to have that many, like we are), plus someone far away with a stick telling you how fast to play.

In an ensemble, I’m always thinking about the dreaded L-word – listen. We, as trombonists, are used to hearing this word most often regarding intonation (“wait, where’s fifth position again?”); it was one of my coming-of-age moments when I realized:
playing the right note isn’t everything.
Consider style, for example. When I’m sitting in the trombone section in the middle of these six other people, I find myself listening obsessively for stylistic considerations and trying to act like a diffuser so that we sound like a section. As an example, if all I see is an accent mark (>), is it separated, connected, heavy, or light? Bell tones, even? How hard am I supposed to smack these things that only give me “>” as an indicator? Theoretically, I could make my own decision and stick to my guns, but how does that help us sound like a coherent group?

It doesn’t.

The Jedi training here is to be the bigger man (or woman) and listen. Usually I listen to whatever Jon is doing (because he usually seems to know what’s going on), and I copy as fast as I can so that the guy sitting next to me can hear what I’m doing (and, theoretically, that Jon and I are doing it the same way) and copy me. And so on and so forth down the line until we all learn and remember how it’s supposed to be. Or until the conductor yells at us that we’re doing it wrong.

In an ideal band world, we’d all be completely familiar with every piece we play and have done our research and know exactly how all of the styles and dynamics are supposed to be. I don’t live in that world, though, so I do my best to at least make some improvement as I go along. In a band, it’s all about trying to match each other to create this solid, unified sound; to sound like a band instead of sounding like a bunch of sections thrown together -- or worse yet, a bunch of individual musicians sitting in a room playing their parts.


Speaking of John Adams

I was in a very good mood yesterday. Along with the usual trappings of a good mood, like an inspired reading of the Wicked Witch of the West in the latest nightly bedtime chapter of the Wizard of Oz, I found an immediate karmic balance in an unaccountable compulsion to listen to Rutter's Gloria. To excise this piece of musical pablum from my mental ipod, I decided today to listen to a cd I bought a little while ago: John Adams's Doctor Atomic Symphony, as recorded by David Robertson and the Saint Louis Symphony.

The piece is based on the opera of roughly the same name, most of which I heard when it was simulcast from the Met in October 2008. Due to circumstances out of my control, I missed the middle, but heard the beginning and end. What I remember of it are some of Adams's distinctive musical constructions: obviously the signature minimalist perpetual motion, but the falling interval that described Joseph's angst at finding his wife pregnant in El Nino and a terrorist's attempt at explaining his motive in Death of Klinghoffer found its way into Robert Oppenheimer's existential discourse on the atomic bomb, sung by the amazing baritone Gerald Finley in the original production. There was a lot of play on "Trinity"- the name of the test, appearing in the libretto (through texts by John Donne, I found out later) and in a number of allusions throughout the other chosen texts. (I should point out that having read some of the libretto later, I was kind of glad that I got more of the music than the words on a first listen, but that's another post!) The ending was especially memorable: the warning siren signaling the first detonation of an atomic bomb is overlaid with a recording of Japanese woman asking for water, shifting from the pre-bomb world to the post. It was a very effective moment, I thought.

So I went into the recording of the Symphony with a number of expectations and preconceived notions, and came away a bit disappointed on the first listen. The piece is divided into three sections, The Laboratory, Panic, and Trinity. The first section has the normal moto perpetuo that defines a lot of Adams's work, punctuated by irregular percussive bursts from the brass section. This is what I missed on a first listen, while trying to hard to make sense of the piece in terms of the opera. While these certainly happen in the opera, and the opening of the symphony is essentially the same as the opening of the opera, the opera opening is necessarily setting up for dialogue that doesn't occur in the symphonic version.

The second movement passes vocal lines through the brass, creating an orchestrational dichotomy between the ragged, harsh spikes of the first movement and the melodic, if perhaps delirious, lines in this movement. Solos in the trombone, trumpet and tuba are clearly adaptations of sung parts, following the patterns set out in other Adams operas and choral works. The liner notes list Michael Sanders as the tubist, and Timothy Myers as principal trombone. Myers (presumably, since soloists aren't listed and it wouldn't be the first time I've mistaken instruments) does some wonderful playing on some very difficult passages, but Sanders (again, presumably) does yeoman work on what sounds like an incredibly difficult solo, coming across as in complete control at all times.

The ending movement mirrors the first- the powerful ending of the opera is changed, but the new ending brings closure to the themes developed as a necessity of the new medium. The very end invokes the same percussive brass, although more insistent and more often this time, with the strings clawing away through the moto underneath, until the entire affair is cut off abruptly with a final crash. This is definitely a reimagined symphony, and not a suite from the opera.

I don't know that I would recommend this as a starting point for folks who don't know Adams- I still think Naive and Sentimental Music is his most accessible large-scale work, and Short Ride in a Fast Machine the easiest to get in touch with overall. And it will probably confuse people who are expecting a Paganini-esque suite from the opera. But for those already familiar with his body of work and compositional tendencies, it's another solid entry to his catalog, and absolutely worth a few times through to get in touch with.


This is not an innuendo, but....

Ok, I know. I have conversations that would make a normal person think I needed to be on heavy medication, or that I was on heavy medication, or maybe make them question their belief in a just and caring god. I watch cartoons for fun, and not just cartoons, foreign cartoons that aren't even in English. I am (even right now!) completely surrounded by literally thousands of recordings of classical music, many of which wouldn't be recognized as music by people that I talk to every day. I roll down the street playing Shostakovich and John Adams and Mahler at obnoxious levels. I actually like listening to Messaien. So I'm in absolutely no position to take any kind of viewpoint that questions how other people enjoy themselves.

But driving home from Ligonier last night, Lauren and I saw this license plate cover on a big blue pickup truck, and thought... what the hell?

You can buy it here!


I hear they keep sheep in the window (a.k.a. Concert Review: Ligonier)

I should note that I am typing this on my laptop from the passenger’s seat in Jon’s car.

With that out of the way, allow me to give you a report of our concert tonight in Ligonier, PA. This is probably the farthest that any of us travels to do a concert, but there’s definitely a reason that we do so. The crowd was phenomenal. (Case and point: we’re standing at the end taking the applause, and some guy in the back starts shouting “YAY TROMBONES!” This gets my approval every time.)

We had an unusual setup for the trombone section tonight with the thirds sitting behind the firsts and the seconds. It was a delight to actually hear the third part instead of having it get mixed with the tubas and euphoniums all the time. Jon calls the experience “like being in a warm insulated cocoon, surrounded by all three parts”. I think he’s a little tired, but I’m not going to question, because he’s behind the wheel.

Jon also reports that he was having a battle with the key of C, particularly the whole “B” idea. I, personally, was just having issues seeing. It was a cloudy, overcast evening, which played havoc with the page on the far side of the stand for me. I think I only missed about a third of the notes, however.

As much as both of us hate playing the march “Them Basses” by composer G.H…. something. The music is in the trunk, and I’m not going to crawl back there and find it. Anyway, we both hate that piece, but tonight we kicked it old school. There’s nothing like a bunch of low brass playing the melody and ignoring pretty much everything around them.

But seriously- what's this all about?

And now we’ve just passed a drive-in movie theater that had gerbils on the screen. I think I fear for my life, so this is Lauren, signing off from… somewhere east of Pittsburgh.