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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Number One: The Larynx. The Larynx.

Whenever I drive without the radio on, one of two things happens: (1) I roll repeatedly and endlessly through snatches of earworms until I start composing something myself (or become excruciatingly stuck at the earworm stage), or (2) I think about strange things.

For instance, today while driving home from Penn, I thought about larynxes. Sorry, I mean larynges. The plural form of the word is pretty strange, but stranger too is the actual body part. It suddenly hit me: the larynx is kind of amazing. It makes sound. (No, I swear I'm not on any psychoactive drugs besides Wellbutrin.)

Can you imagine how awesome it must have been for the animals who first started being able to make sounds with their larynges? Woah. I no longer have to go over and bite that dude to get his attention. I can stand over here and use my larynx to piss him off wirelessly. With invisible waves. Just by repurposing this sphincter thing that keeps crap out of my lungs. That must have been about as exciting as the development of the Internet. It's a pity evolution happens so slowly that most likely no one ever stopped to marvel at how awesome it is. Suck it, lizards! I have a multifunctional larynx! Booyah.

This is probably why I prefer driving with the radio on.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

From the Vault episode 1

I keep finding things in my filing cabinet that I feel are worth posting for their sentimental value. Today I present:



In 1994, as you can see from this meticulously designed poster, legendary jazz musician Don Burrows participated in a residency at my high school. Of course, the school went completely nuts over it. Don Burrows this, Don Burrows that, you must all learn to behave like angels because Don Burrows is coming, Don Burrows deserves the utmost reverence so be prepared to genuflect at all times -- and there were these "DON BURROWS: THE MAN AND HIS MUSIC" posters all over the school.

There is a curiously Australian quirk: for every hype, there is an equal and opposite anti-hype. It's at least partly related to tall poppy syndrome. Anyway, because I was sick of the hype, as a bit of a lark, I took one of the posters and did the above to it, photocopied it (I only had a purple pen), and posted it back on the noticeboard from whence it came.

Silly me. Somehow the administration found out it was me, and I got in enormous trouble. Called to the principal's office and made to repent. I think I had to give some kind of formal apology.

I still think it was funny.

Don Burrows, incidentally, turned out to be a really awesome dude, hilariously irreverent, good-natured, and of course, a musical god.

Monday, August 01, 2011

The Pines of Rome

One of the dirty little secret side effects of studying full-time for a Ph.D. in music is that, gradually, you listen to less and less music in your leisure-time until you listen to virtually none at all. Talking radio or television is fine. Silence is fine. Music while I read books or clean the house or catch up on e-mails? Drives me nuts. Hell, I can barely stomach listening to music when I drive. I was embarrassed when I first noticed the trend, but as it continued, and the hard drive that contains all of my recorded music lay ever more dormant, I began to quietly discuss the symptom with other full-time music scholars to determine if I were somehow defective. To my relief, the vast majority of them seem to have experienced the same thing to some degree; I may be defective, but not abnormally so. If I live as long as Peter Maxwell-Davies, I may find that the condition becomes even more acute.

Matt and I have been making steady progress on the final renovations in our Downingtown house this summer. We usually work until about 10PM Sunday night, which means that we always listen to SymphonyCast on the drive back to Philadelphia. Thus, not only have I been forced to listen to music, but to old chestnuts that I wouldn't normally have thrown on even when I did leave background music playing willingly. Old chestnuts being the bread and butter of most orchestras, more often than not, I've performed the pieces myself.

A few weeks ago, it was Beethoven's Fifth. I can't even remember the last time I sat and listened to a recording of the Fifth beginning-to-end. I groaned when it was announced. And yet ... damned if by the repeat of the exposition, I wasn't singing along. By the Andante, I was playing air viola. Last night, the mystery encore was Respighi's The Pines of Rome. God, that piece is great. I mean, sure, it's the Pines of freaking Rome, but -- I just -- the build in the Appian Way is -- IT'S SO FUCKING GREAT. SCREW EVERYONE WHO DOESN'T LOVE THIS PIECE. I CAN'T STOP YELLING, IT'S SO GOOD. I guess a lot of my love for it is tied up with my performance experience of it. One of the first pieces I played after switching from violin to viola, The Pines of Rome was performed in 1994 by a massive multi-school festival orchestra I was lucky to be a part of. There must have been at least 120 string players and something like 14 desks of violas (if I remember correctly, we also played Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, which was similarly inspiring). I still remember the blast of the brass section in my ears and hair, the laughs the first time the bird whistle sounded in rehearsal and even the jokes John Curro cracked (my first encounter with one of my favorite conductors).

Hearing all these pieces again has done something unthinkable to me. I sent an e-mail to the conductor of the Penn Orchestra and inquired about auditions. I picked up my viola. I played scales. Scales. On Friday I broke out the Bach suites and got so wrapped up in them, I didn't notice that my shoulder and neck were starting to get really, really pissed at me, so on Saturday and Sunday, I had to fix the plumbing* in Downingtown with an achy trapezius.

Let's see where this leads. Maybe it's just a phase.

* Cut all the copper out of the basement and replaced it with PVC. Helluva job. Satisfying, though.