Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
1/32, 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 size violins
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
The call was from a friend who likes to pick things up at second hand stores, hoping that they might be worth something and that they can repaired readily.
"Sure," I said. "When can you bring them over?" I was excited.
I was even more excited when I saw the instruments. The viola,
especially, was beautiful. I loved the grain of the wood and the
varnish. It was relatively light in weight with a gentle curve to the
back, resembling my violin. I looked it over and could not find any
serious flaws. It needed new strings and a new bridge, and if I were to
play it, a new tailpiece with four fine tuning screws.
|From My friend's viola|
|From My friend's viola|
|From My friend's viola|
"I want it," I said.
"You can't have it," he responded.
I knew that my luthier should look at both instruments, but I kept them on loan so that
I could play them for a while. I especially liked the viola. One
string was nearly worn out, and I broke another one while trying to tune
it. Even with only two strings, it sounded beautiful to me. I
spent a lot of time playing it before taking it to the shop.
At the luthier's, I watched with some trepidation while one of the professionals looked at it.
"It was probably made in the 1950s," she said in response to my first question. I asked her how she could tell. She explained that the varnish was relatively even throughout, with no evidence of antiquing. She also said that the light yellow color of the rims was characteristic of violins and violas made at that time.
I watched her run one fingertip along the edges where one piece of
wood was glued to another, feeling for cracks or separations. Her verdict was very good. It only needed gluing in one small spot. I know that even a small glue job should be done by a professional, or the instrument can develop new stresses that may eventually destroy it. When I knew that the viola was in almost perfect health, I was thrilled. I had her write down the cost of the repairs and replacement parts and told her to keep the instrument on hold until I consulted with my friend about the cost. I also asked her the rental cost for a reasonably good beginner viola, and I was pleasantly surprised by her response. I called my friend about having his viola repaired. He gave the go-ahead, and the viola was on its way.
When I went with my friend to pick up his repaired viola, I tried out his viola and several rental violas. My friend is not a musician, but he has built a few stringed instruments and he is an avid listener to many kinds of music. We discussed each viola after I played it, and we heard similar qualities in each one. I selected one of the viola rentals as just a bit better suited to me than his viola. The one I chose sounded a little tinny to me, so I had the strings changed from Heliocores to Pirastro Tonicas, and the viola sounded immensely better. I felt the kind of excitement that only a new instrument could bring.
End of prelude.
To be continued.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Bernstein was one of Marin Alsop's mentors. Here she talks about the first time she met him.
I must admit that I'm a bit jealous of Marin Alsop because she attended the live performances of Leonard Bernstein's Young Peoples Concerts even before she met him personally. I loved watching those programs on TV when I was a kid. Now I have a collection of 10 DVDs from that series, and I watch them over and over. Recently I discovered that some of these videos have been posted on Youtube, and I enthusiastically recommend them to people of all ages.
Bernstein said that he loves words in addition to music, and most of his compositions include singing. His well known "West Side Story" is a Romeo and Juliet type play/opera set in a slum in New York City. Here is a beautiful duet sung by the star crossed lovers.
I saw the film as a teenager, and some of my friends saw it three or four times. Even now, the song brings tears to my eyes.
Bernstein was an outstanding jazz pianist. In this clip, he plays piano and conducts an orchestra simultaneously for a beautiful, lively performance of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue."
I find this performance spellbinding. I just can't walk away from it.
I first realized what a great conductor Bernstein was when I attended a concert in which he conducted Elgar's Enigma Variations, a piece that I didn't particularly like. However, when Bernstein conducted it, I loved it. That says a lot about him. I love so many performances that Bernstein conducted that It's very hard to choose one to include here. I decided to focus on his conducting the final movement of Gustav Mahler's Ninth Symphony for several reasons. Bernstein was responsible for a comeback of Mahler's music, which had been neglected for years. I had a long lived antipathy to Mahler's music, derived in part from my experience playing second violin in his Symphony #1 (a dismal part to play) and, more strongly, my perception that Mahler's music was just too big for me to relate to. Once again, Bernstein made me love this music by conducting it and talking about it. The following video clip shows him conducting and explaining the very end of Mahler's Ninth.
That was quite a journey -- walking with a tortured man to his death. I would be scared to take that walk by myself, but Bernstein helps me by showing me the surrender and peace at the end of life.
Bernstein conducted with his whole body and his whole being. To watch him conduct is to see the music embodied. He becomes the music he conducts.
It takes a special talent to laugh and make others laugh about one's personal, artistic predicament. Bernstein once had a real predicament when he conducted a piano concerto in which the pianist was the notoriously eccentric Glenn Gould. Bernstein preceded the performance with a disclaimer in which he spoke about his need to "submit to a soloist's totally new and incompatible concept."
Leonard Bernstein revealed himself and his thoughts on music vividly in his writing. Here are some quotes from him that I particularly like.
"Music, because of its specific and far-reaching metaphorical powers, can name the unnamable and communicate the unknowable."
"Stillness is our most intense mode of action. It is in our moments of deep quiet that is born every idea, emotion, and drive which we eventually honor with the name of action. Our most emotionally active life is lived in our dreams, and our cells renew themselves most industriously in sleep. We reach highest in meditation, and farthest in prayer. In stillnessevery human being is great; he is free from the experience of hostility; he is a poet, and most like an angel."
"To be a success as a Broadway composer, you must be Jewish or gay. I'm both."
"Life without music is unthinkable. Music without life is academic. That is why my contact with music is a total embrace."
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Saturday, September 18, 2010
August is a very slow month for me as a violin / fiddle teacher because most of my students are away. Some of them, mostly beginners, will not come back to me for violin lessons because they lose their momentum during the summer. I'm writing emails to them. I believe that some of them will resume lessons when they know more about their school and after school schedules. One of my new students is someone I taught several years ago, when she was six years old. She had so much fun at her lessons that she didn't want to leave, but her parents could not get her to practice at home. Now she is in middle school and is more motivated. She has been placed in a violin class at school with kids who have been playing violin for two years. Her mother decided that she needed private lessons, and she remembered that her daughter and I had a good relationship, so she called me. That made me so happy. She is my first "reclaimed student." I have a few other new students, both adults and children, and beginning to learn to play the fiddle is exciting. Violin shopping is fun, and I did that with one of my new adult students. Some of my adult students have returned from summer vacations, and it's fun to be with them again. I love teaching as a way of helping others to enjoy the experience of playing music, and I also love it because it enriches me. I have learned so much about music and have become a better musician since I started teaching. My students are of different ages, ethnicities, lifestyles, and cultural backgrounds, but music brings us all closer to each other.
Annual series of concerts begin in September. I just got the tickets I ordered earlier. Overall, the prices are up compared to last year. Perhaps I splurged, but I feel good just thinking about the concerts I'll attend. I'll hear two of the greatest violinists around: Hilary Hahn and Joshua Bell. I'll also hear two of my favorite pianists, Andras Schiff and Yevgeny Kissin, and the incomparable musician Yo-Yo Ma. I've only begun to appreciate chamber music recently, so I bought a ticket to hear the Tokyo String Quartet.
I do volunteer work for the Institute of Musical Traditions, which puts on a great series of concerts of many kinds of folk music each year. (See their Youtube channel for high quality clips of previous concerts.) It's very hard to keep a series of good concerts like this afloat financially. A lot of people work hard as volunteers because they love folk music and want to sustain live performances. Some of them are extremely talented and knowledgeable about both electronics and music, and they work the sound system. I help by doing PR work on the Internet, a good task for me because I don't have a car. I don't attend every concert because I have a schedule conflict, but I go there as a volunteer any time I can. I always feel welcome there. The volunteers are a great group of people. I bake something and bring it to sell during intermission. I do a lot of grunt work, too, like helping to set up and tear down stuff for the concert. I attended the first concert I could this week, and it was fantastic. The performers, the Claire Lynch Bluegrass Band, had an awesome fiddler. I could tell by his posture the instant I saw him that he had been classically trained. In one song, he played solo backing up the singer, and his classical training obviously helped him a great deal with that. He had a wonderful vibrato. After the concert and the cleaning up, someone gave me a ride home. I left feeling really good.
Happy musical new year to everyone.
Saturday, September 4, 2010
Thursday, September 2, 2010
One of the most moving pieces Perlman ever recorded is the theme from Schindler's List.
One of my personal favorites is Perlman playing Dvorak's Dumky Trio with Yo-Yo Ma and Rudolf Firkusny. Of course, there are many, many more that I could have added.
He was also a great musical comedian, as shown in this clip of him performing with Professor Schickele, aka PDQ Bach. I think this will especially appeal to violin teachers.
Perlman is also a great teacher. He answers questions that people send to him via his Facebook site, and his answers appears on his Youtube channel. Here is one of my favorites, about practicing.
Thank you, Mr. Perlman. I hope you had a great birthday.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Compare this to one of the worst, most infamous mine disasters in history, the one in Springhill, Nova Scotia in 1955. The mine was a massive labyrinth of galleries, some as deep as 14,000 ft below the earth's surface. On October 3, 1955 the mine experienced a large "bump." (In a masterpiece of understatement, "bump" means an underground explosion.) The "bump" was so strong that it was felt by people outside the mine. Rescue teams worked heroically, descending down partially collapsed mine shafts and carving out new tunnels, looking for survivors. The rescue operation lasted for 8 days. Out of 174 trapped miners, 100 were miraculously rescued. The biggest miracle of all was the survival of 12 men trapped in a gallery 100 feet long and only 3 feet high. The heat was intense, the air dark and smoky, and the food provisions woefully inadequate. When the food and water ran out, the men sang songs to keep their spirits up. Less fortunate than the current Chilean miners, these 12 men they lived on "songs and hope," as described by Peggy Seeger, until they were rescued.
Today, more than 50 years after the explosion, the mine is largely filled with water but still burning, providing a source of geothermal heat. The tragedy is described in powerful terms in the song "The Ballad of Springhill" by Peggy Seeger. Here it is sung by U2.
Monday, August 23, 2010
I remember very well the first time I heard the song "Kodachrome." It was late winter / early spring, the time of year when we get a few spring-like days that make us feel good and then we're plunged back into winter. I missed greenery so much that I dug up and looked at some of the photos I had taken in summers past. Then I heard the song "Kodachrome" on a recording I had just bought. Wow! I got excited! Then something else good happened. A friend called and suggested that we go canoeing at the earliest possible opportunity. The song "Kodachrome" heralded good times ahead outdoors for me.
Because of Kodachrome's long and renowned use, the last rolls of Kodachrome had to be used in ways that were special. Steve McCurry, the man who took the famous picture of the Afghan refugee girl, requested and received the last 36-exposure strip. He spent months planning how to use it. When he started photographing, a crew of TV cameramen from the National Geographic followed him. The National Geographic Channel plans to make a one hour documentary of McCurry taking the photographs. Of course, McCurry asked Paul Simon to pose for a photo, but Simon declined, so McCurry photographed Robert de Niro as a symbol of the world of filmmaking. Then McCurry photographed the Brooklyn Bridge and Grand Central Terminal. (Ah, the mind of a New Yorker.) After that, he made a radical change. He returned to some of his old haunts in India, where he said that color is culturally important. He photographed members of tribes which, like Kodachrome, were heading towards extinction. Finally, McCurry shot his last few photos in Parsons, Kansas at Dwayne's Photo, the only existing lab that still processes Kodachrome. Of course, McCurry felt under enormous pressure to get great photographs with the very last roll of Kodachrome, so he used a digital camera to help him evaluate composition, light. and perspective. When McCurry's roll of film was processed, he was happy with the results.
This is a story with a happy ending. I look forward to seeing the National Geographic documentary early next year. Right now, I can listen to Paul Simon sing "Kodachrome"and enjoy it.
Monday, August 9, 2010
Barenboim is exactly the right person to break this taboo. His grandparents were Russian Jews who fled to Argentina to escape the Pogroms in Russia. He was born in Buenos Aires in 1952 to Jewish parents, who started teaching him to play the piano when he was five years old. Before long they recognized that he was a child prodigy, and they wanted him to grow up as a musician in Israel, among his own people. They traveled to Israel and settled there in 1952. Although he grew up primarily in Israel, he was absent for long periods of time as he studied and concertized throughout Europe. In his own words, he grew up "in Israel with European culture and values." His multinationalism is evident in his official papers. He has citizenship in Argentina, Israel, and Spain, and he holds a passport issued by the Palestinian authority. His feelings towards Israel began to change during the 1960s, particularly after the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, when he felt sympathy with both Israelis and Palestinians. As a talented and acclaimed pianist and conductor, he tried to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together through music. Along with his close friend David Said, a Palestinian-American, he co-founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, whose members were young Israeli and Arab musicians.
Barenboim is well aware of the problems posed by Wagner's music for Israeli Jews. Wagner was a notorious, vehement anti-Semite long before the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party. However, Wagner's music took on a new dimension when Hitler made it a symbol of Nazism and had it performed at official Nazi ceremonies. Because of this link with official Nazism, Wagner's music was abhorrent to Holocaust survivors, and an unofficial taboo on playing Wagner's music in public was observed in Israel. Barenboim, while sympathizing with and respecting the feelings of Holocaust survivors, felt the absurdity of the taboo, especially when he heard some of Wagner's music played as ringtones for cell phones in Israel. He decided to give his audience a choice about listening to Wagner's music. On July 7, 2001, after he had finished conducting a concert and one encore, he asked the audience whether they wanted to hear something by Wagner as a second encore. A 30 minute debate followed, and a few dozen people left in anger. The great majority of the audience stayed and listened to Barenboim conduct Wagner's Prelude and Liebestod to Tristan und Isolde. When the music ended, the audience gave an enthusiastic ovation. Barenboim's experiment with Wagner had no lasting effect. Israel's unofficial ban on live performances of Wagner's music continues to this day.
Mark Twain once said that Wagner's music is really not as bad as it sounds. In Israel, it is worse.
(If you want to read about this in Barenboim's own words, see his journal on his website.)
Barenboim has conducted Wagner's Prelude and Liebestod to Tristan und Isolde with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra outside of Israel.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
"Dancing in Auschwitz" is a controversial film that really dramatizes the "affirmation of life" theme. The film made in 2009 by Jane Korman, shows Ms. Korman, her 89 year old father (a Holocaust survivor), and Ms. Korman's three children dancing at Auschwitz and other former Nazi concentration camps. Ms. Korman posted a clip of her film on Youtube, and she was surprised at the negative backlash she got for it. It soon went viral and was re-released on You tube. I tried to watch it on Youtube, but got a message "This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by APRA."
This photo by AP, taken during the production of the film, shows Holocaust survivor Adolek Kohn and his grandchildren in front of the gate to Auschwitz.
I was brought up in a family which was ethnically Jewish but not religious, and I feel the Holocaust issues very deeply. I suppose that I would have been horrified by the film if I saw it before my friend told me about the "affirmation of life" perspective. If I could see the film now, I think it would kick up a lot of deeply rooted emotions in me, but I would probably end up liking it.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
It's been a rough week. Last Sunday was my birthday, but I was not feeling well. Air quality was and continues to be terrible, and so has my asthma. I felt tired and depressed all week. One morning, while waiting for my first student, I fell asleep on the sofa. When he knocked on the door, I got up to meet him, trying my best to look well rested and healthy. I didn't fool him. The first thing he said to me was, "I think I had better reschedule this lesson." I agreed. "Before I go," he said, "I want to give you your birthday present." He handed me a book of sheet music, gave me a birthday hug, and left.
He had chosen my gift carefully. He knew that it was just what I wanted. A few weeks earlier, he had shown me a pile of music books that his wife had bought for him. The one that particularly interested me was a large book of songs with lyrics, sometimes many verses for a single song. I told him that I often learn fiddle tunes as tunes, not songs, and I only find out that there are lyrics when I play the tune and people sing along. I told him that I was especially interested in this songbook, and he bought me my own copy as a birthday gift. Wow!
The combination of a new book of sheet music and an unexpected gift from a friend turned my whole day around. Somehow, I got the energy to look at the songs and to play a lot of them on my violin. The songs were from several Celtic cultures, and many of them were from the Hebrides. I knew that the islands of the Outer Hebrides are a very harsh environment for human habitation. One of them, St. Kilda, is considered the last outpost of civilization in that region. Many songs from St. Kilda are bright and happy. In spite of the harsh environment there, the people had warmth and joy within themselves, and they expressed these feelings in song. Those songs are an affirmation and a celebration of life. That book was just the right thing for me when I was feeling down and out.
How can I say "thank you for a very special gift"? I sent my gift giver an email thanking him, of course. In addition, I'm going to learn some of the songs that inspired me and play them for him at his next lesson.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
I'm so depressed that I don't even feel like playing my violin today.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
The first piece on the program was Leonard Bernstein's "Age of Anxiety," which I had never heard before. The performance was interesting even before it began because of the sight of an unusually large orchestra. I counted four percussionists, each with a complete set of timps, etc., and there may have been more that I couldn't see. The cellists, likewise, were numerous. There were not one, but two, harps, which I saw but did not hear. The first violins were on the conductor's left. The cello section started behind the first violins and spilled over to face the audience. The second violinists were on the conductor's right, and the violists were behind them. There was a grand piano in front of the conductor in a place where the pianist could lead the orchestra. The composition was a cross between a symphony and a concerto for jazz piano. Bernstein loved to play jazz piano, and he played the piano at the premier performance of this composition. I really liked the piece. It had lyricism, the feel of jazz, and lots of changes in coloring. The latter is probably due in part to Dudamel. I liked the piece so much that I felt sad when it ended.
The other piece on the program was Tchaikovsky's Symphony Pathetique, an old friend to music lovers like me. It was born again, as all music is each time it is played, with the infusion of the personalities of the music makers. Here Dudamel shone. He put so many subtle but very effective changes into the coloring of the piece. The performance was fun to watch, making it more engaging and endearing than a recorded version. The string sections were configured the same way as they were for the Bernstein piece. I loved watching the themes bounce from one section of instruments to another, and I loved watching the conversations or volleys among the instruments. I especially loved all the little surprises that Dudamel and the orchestra put in to a piece I knew and loved.
The concert ended with tumultuous applause and something I've never seen before: an encore for the orchestra. Actually, it was only a small group of the instruments. They played an excerpt from Massenet's opera "Manon Lescaut." The audience loved it. After the concert, as I was waiting in line for the shuttle bus that took people to the nearest Metro station, I got into a conversation with the woman standing next to me. She was a member of the second violin section of the L.A. Philharmonic, going to visit a friend rather than staying with the other musicians. What an opportunity I had to ask her questions and learn from her! I started with enthusiastic, heartfelt praise for the orchestra. She said, somewhat apologetically, that the orchestra would sound much better in a year or two because it takes that long for an orchestra and a conductor to get to know each other really well. (I thought of the reviews by music critics that I've read. They have a mixture of praise, sharp criticism, and wonder about the future.) I had read that this was Dudamel's first job as a conductor of a major symphony orchestra, and I asked her about that. She said that, technically, that's correct, but Dudamel had been associated with the LA Phil for two years, conducting the orchestra from time to time. I know from personal experience how important it is for the orchestra members to have a good relationship with the conductor, so I asked her how Dudamel was to work with. She gave me a big smile and said, "He's so nice." I was especially interested in the Tchaikovsky symphony. I've played violin parts by Tchaik that were not in violin-friendly keys, notoriously D flat major. I asked her whether the Tchaik symphony was difficult to play, and she said, "Technically no, but artistically yes. Dudamel makes so many subtle changes in tempo, for example, that the players really have to be sensitive to the conductor."
Soon she and I parted ways. On my way home, I kept thinking about the concert and feeling excited. Even now, whenever I think about the concert, I feel excited.
Monday, May 31, 2010
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Elvis Presley was incredibly good at singing many kinds of music. Of course, there is the sexy, hip swinging, genre which brought him fame. A good example is "Jailhouse Rock."
He also had a clean cut genre, as shown in this clip, made when he was in the Army in 1960. His leading lady here was a puppet, and his audience was children. The song is a German folk song, but the tune is identical to a tune in Suzuki Book 1, which I teach to my beginning violin students.
I am very moved when I hear Elvis singing gospel music. It's almost enough to make me a believer. Here is a very poignant video of Elvis's funeral procession overlaid with a live recording of Elvis singing "Precious Lord Take My Hand."
Elvis also took a beautiful song by Paul Simon, "Bridge over Troubled Waters," and sang it like a gospel song. I love the original Simon and Garfunkel version, but I love Elvis's version even more. What soul! It reassures and inspires me.
It's no wonder that he's called "The King."
Monday, May 24, 2010
Sunday, May 16, 2010
The comic book Romeo and Juliet are both very different from the same characters in Shakespeare's play.
Juliet has a new personal history. Her own attempt at suicide failed, and she is ashamed of Romeo's presumed death. She is now totally dedicated to fighting for the oppressed, and she leads the resistance against the evil King Richard III.
Romeo, contrary to Juliet's belief, did not die. He was rescued by the Priest of Verona and raised by the clergy to devote his life to Shakespeare the Creator. Like Juliet, Romeo is determined to kill the evil Richard III.
Romeo and Juliet are joined by Hamlet, Othello, Fallstaff, and Puck and opposed by Lady Macbeth, Iago, and King Richard III, himself.
The comic book was released for sale in April 2010, and its sale is being promoted in a very modern fashion, via its own website and much ado on social websites. You can get the latest news updates and people's comments on Twitter at @killshakespeare or on the website itself. One commenter said that he/she loved the idea of 5 Minute Marvels, taking 5 minutes a day to draw superheroes with your children. I suppose that this is great for parents who have only 5 minutes a day to spend on quality time with their children. Another advantage of this approach is building skill in speed drawing.
How good or bad is the idea of reincarnating Shakespeare's plays in new formats such as Twitter and comic books? After all, Shakespeare's plays were adapted into other art forms, including opera (Otello), ballet (Romeo and Juliet), and music (Romeo and Juliet, once by Tchaikovsky and again by Prokofiev). The opera, ballet, and music were inspired by Shakespeare's plays and were expressions of the story, characters, and emotions in the plays. The Twitter and comic book adaptations are linked to Shakespeare's plays very tenuously, and I certainly would not call them works of art. In fact, I view them as jokes, ways of using contemporary technology to create or promote forms of entertainment which are definitely not works of art.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
I just learned that Lang Lang has played some piano music for Rolex's watch advertisements. Rolex takes the point of view that the arts, sports, and their watches are all related. "Shamis K" has made a video compilation of Rolex ads with Lang Lang, ballet, opera, tennis (Wimbledon), and equestrian performances. I think it's very good entertainment, maybe even art.
Lang Lang has also given a hilarious demonstration of the mingling of art and technology. As the first of four encores to one of his concerts, he played Flight of the Bumblebee on an iPad.
Monday, May 10, 2010
What a surprise I had the other day when I got sick on the Metro system. I was changing trains, and while I was walking, I suddenly felt very dizzy and faint. I leaned against a large post to steady myself, and a woman stopped and asked whether I needed help. I told her how I felt, and she told me to sit down so that I wouldn't fall down and injure myself. She asked me whether she could do anything to help, like getting me something to drink or summoning a Metro employee who could send for an ambulance. I kept telling her that I'd be OK if I just rested for a while. She didn't want to leave me alone, but after I reassured her repeatedly that I'd be OK, she left. By then, two of the Metro employees had come over to me and offered me the same help the woman had. By this time I was drinking some of the water which I always carry with me and feeling somewhat better. The Metro workers were reluctant to leave me alone and sick, so they stayed with me and kept watch over me. Then the most amazing thing of all happened. A male passerby stopped and asked whether I needed help, as the others had. I soon realized from the questions he asked me that he had had medical training. He asked whether I was unaccustomed to the heat and humidity of Washington, whether I was taking any medications, whether I was under a doctor's care, where I was going, whether someone would meet me there, etc. I asked him whether he had a medical background, and he told me that he was a retired LPN. When I asked him his specialty, he said, "Resuscitation," and I felt very lucky. He took a pen and a small notepad from his pocket, took notes, and handed the paper to me to keep. It was a list of the responses I had given to his questions, and these notes would be important if I were later taken to a medical facility. I could tell that I was still too confused to tell my story myself, and I understood and appreciated the importance of what he had done. Then came the most amazing thing of all. He offered to accompany me to the Metro station I was headed for, where I had a previously arranged rendezvous with a friend. I gratefully accepted his offer. The combination of rest, drinking water, and his proffered help made me feel much better. Soon we were on our way, and I just couldn't stop thanking him.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Azaleas are in bloom in profusion. They come in many colors, although I've only shown two here.
Honeysuckle vine, which spreads across many fences, is in bloom now. I wish I could share its sweet fragrance with you.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
He is especially well liked by people like me who love to hear him talk. He has such a mesmerizing effect on his audiences. He sounds so humble and so personal at the same time, in a way similar to Yo Yo Ma. I've heard him give Q and A sessions after concerts, and he appears quite open and honest with the audience.
His life story is an interesting one. He was brought up in poverty by parents who strongly wanted him to succeed and gave up the little creature comforts they had to pay for him to live and study in Beijing when he was only a small child. Lang Lang has told his story repeatedly and lovingly in ads for his music when he worked for Deutsche Grammophone and in two "as told by" books. His CDs and DVDs sell like hotcakes. He endeared himself to a worldwide audience when he played at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Lang Lang recorded for a long time on the DG label. DG has a history of hiring the very best artists, making the very best recordings of them, and educating people about them on their website. Here Lang Lang talks about the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio on the album "Tchaikovsky / Rachmaninof Piano Trios," another of my favorite recordings by Lang Lang.
Lang Lang no longer works for DG. Recently, in a move that shook up the classical music community, Sony "bought" Lang Lang from DG for a mere $3 million (3,000,000 USD). Lang Lang has caught on to the entrepreneurial spirit in a big way, as noted by the magazine Success. He is promoting three products on his website , which I am presenting in order from the sublime to the ridiculous.
First is a series of Lang Lang Youth Pianos made by Steinway.
Lang Lang said that as a child, he dreamed of playing the Steinway, and he wants other children to have the chance to do so. The Lang Lang series pianos bear the star's signature in Chinese and English (simplified to LL) and gold stars on the vertical piano cover and sometimes inside the piano.
Next, as described on his website,is a silk scarf in "regal blue and black with a vibrant illustration of a classical piano in fuchsia" priced at a mere $150.
The third item blew me away. I thought, "At least Lang Lang is endorsing goods related to the arts, not athletic shoes, a la Michael Jordan."
Enter the Adidas originals for Lang Lang, a limited edition pair of shoes worn by Lang Lang himself, but presumably not at performances in the concert hall. As quoted on the Adidas website, Lang Lang says "As an international pianist I combine both artistry and enthusiasm for sports – especially football...Therefore the linking of sports and culture is a very natural combination.” These black shoes bear Lang Lang's Chinese signature in gold on the heel, a golden silhouette of a pianist playing a concert piano on the side, and golden piano pedals printed on the sock liners.
Lang Lang sounds just as humble and sincere in his commercials as he does in his talks about music. I don't know what to make of his brash money making, but I still believe that he is an incredibly good musician.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Julietcap16 is distinctly less eloquent than Shakespeare's Juliet. The former says such things as, "Morning tweeple!! Tweeting live from my bed... Need to leave for school in 20 mins but... My 17th viewing of Twilight is taking over!!" However, she did use Youtube to give her followers the benefit of a tour of her bedroom, complete with a photograph and a sentimental trinket of her beloved Mum. The characters on Twitter often speak in obscenities, but so did Shakespeare's characters. "Such Tweet Sorrow" is pulsing with audience / reader participation. At 7:25 AM, April 14, Julietcap16 has 3,786 followers and 109 Tweets.
If all this is confusing to you, look at http://www.suchtweetsorrow.com/ for a good explanation.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
One evening earlier this week, I stepped off the bus, and the warm humid weather hit me in the face -- and the lungs. I have allergies and asthma, and both have been bad lately. My destination was only about two blocks away. I started walking, feeling dizzier and dizzier with each step. I tried to cross the street, but by the time I reached the median strip, I felt as if I were about to faint. I have had some fainting spells recently, so this was a realistic concern. I grabbed on to a pole that was holding up a street sign and let it hold me up, too. A sympathetic driver stopped right next to me and asked me whether I was OK and whether he could do anything to help. I was genuinely moved. I told him that I was beginning to feel better and that there wasn't anything he could do to help me. "Do you have someone to call?" he asked. That hurt, as the thought of it always hurts. No, there is no one looking out for me, no family, no significant other, no close friend who would drop everything and come to help me if the need were severe. "No," I replied simply. "Are you sure I can't do something to help you? Don't you have anyone to call?" he kept asking. When he was finally convinced, he advised me to go sit down on a bench and rest, and then he drove away. His advice was excellent. I should have thought of it myself. If I'm sitting down when I faint, I can't fall and hurt myself. I sat for a while and rested until my stubborn determination got me up and going again. I was so happy when I arrived at my destination that I hugged every friend there.
"Don't you have anyone to call?" I've been thinking about that for years, and it always hurts.
We've had a spell of unusually warm weather, and everything happened quickly. All the trees are green. Daffodils and forsythia have bloomed and withered. My Japanese cherry tree has lost all its flowers and gone completely green. Bradford pears have bloomed and are now shedding their flowers. Tulips and crab apple trees are blooming now. It's hard to keep up with everything, especially because the time frame for changes is shorter than usual. It's as if spring came in at fast forward.
It's almost 3 AM, and I can't stop exclaiming,"Wow!" as I watch something I just found on the Internet. It's the Hubble 3D Imax page. It's a great find for anyone interested in astronomy or space exploration, as I have been since I was a kid. I have vivid, exciting memories of the first Sputnik, the Russian/American space race, the first human walk on the moon, and, especially appealing to the scientist in me, the accumulation of a wealth of data about our solar system and places far beyond.
The Hubble space telescope was launched in 1990 and orbited the earth collecting data from the far reaches of the universe and transmitting the data to Earth. When Hubble developed some serious problems with its scientific equipment, there was a heated debate about whether or not to send humans up there to fix it. The Hubble telescope was, by then, a cherished symbol of man's desire and ability to push the limits of our astronomical knowledge. The decision was made: Several crews of astronauts were sent "up there" at different times to fix Hubble's ailing scientific equipment, a formidable task. The astronauts did it successfully (wow!). A new Imax film about the Hubble repair job was released on March 19 of this year. I can't wait to see the film on the huge Imax screen at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. Right now, I'm reading and watching a video about it online. I'm also wow-ing over the fantastic photographs we've got from Hubble. If you love the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, as I do, you'll love the Hubble site and the new film, too. You can download one of Hubble's photos for your computer's desktop, and I downloaded the little icon you see above.
Watch it! It's great!
I often get very attached to my violin students and, if they're kids, to their families. Losing a student can be very hard on me, especially if the loss is totally unexpected.
Recently I got a letter from the mother of one of my best students saying that her daughter was stopping her violin lessons right now and would participate in other activities instead. I was stunned. I have taught her daughter for about three years. She is a very sweet and talented girl, and she loves to play the violin. She even practices regularly (many talented kids do not), and I'm always impressed with the progress she makes in just one week. Her mother is musical and has been quite supportive of her daughter as a violin student until now.
I'm very fond of this little girl. Recently I bought her a small violin related gift for her and wrote her a note of praise. My praise was specific and heartfelt. The girl was really excited about it, and I had her read it out loud to her mother.
I will write back to the mother and implore her to let her daughter continue violin lessons, if not with me, than with another teacher. I'll tell her that her daughter has an unusual gift, and it should be nurtured. I'll tell her that her daughter will feel very bad if she is separated from something she loves so much. I'll offer to lower my charge if money is tight. I'll tell her everything I can think of.
I hope that the sweet, talented little girl will be able to take violin lessons, if not now, then at some time in the future. I'm very glad that I praised her so much when I did, not knowing how soon I would lose her. I hope that my praise will stick with her, reminding her that she is blessed with talent and keeping alive the wish to resume her violin lessons.