Friday, March 30, 2007

Noch einige Fragen!

Golly, this is fun. I've had another three requests for interview questions, so I'll get to that in a minute, but first, some eye candy:

Daniel pretending to make soup:

Another crocus from the yard. Have I mentioned how happy spring flowers make me? It's all about the simple pleasures...

All right, then. Moving on.

For Jenn-Jenn the Mother Hen:
1. We were not only band geeks but flute-playing band geeks in middle and high school together. What was the best part of band (if any) and the worst? Don't hold back :)
2. Name one aspect of Texas culture you have absorbed, whether you meant to or not.
3. What's the nicest thing someone's done for you lately?
4. If you saw Bill Gates drop a $100 bill, would you keep it, or give it back to him?
5. If time and money were no issue, what hobby would you pursue with the most enthusiasm?

For Jen of Gonzopants:
1. What's your dream job?
2. What's the last book you read that you simply couldn't put down?
3. Were you ever voted "most ___" in high school? If so, what was it?
4. Name 3 items you own that you wish you didn't.
5. An anonymous donor grants you $20,000. You must travel and you must spend it all. Where do you go, and what do you do?

For Thorny:
1. What aspect of your personality surprises people the most?
2. Do you play any musical instruments? If so, what? If not, what would you like to learn?
3. What's the worst hairstyle you've ever had?
4. What's the most annoying piece of parenting advice you've ever been given?
5. Name 3 things that make you smile.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Three people have requested that come up with 5 questions for them, as per my last post. Let's hope these are satisfactory. If you didn't leave me a comment, but want to do the blog-interview thing, leave a comment here, and I'll come up with questions for you. Also, once you answer these questions, leave a comment so I can go read your Antworten. If you have more questions for me, fire away.

For Becca:

1. What's the most unusual thing about your hometown of [tiny town] KY?
2. What's the geekiest thing you've said or done in the last 24 hours?
3. Where's the most exotic place you've traveled?
4. Name 3 guilty pleasures you have.
5. If you found yourself sitting next to your favorite celebrity on an airplane, what's the first thing you would say to him/her?

For Steph:

1. Sorry to be unoriginal right off the bat, but I'm going to swipe #1 Feral Mom had for me: what piece of classical music do you secretly think is shite?
2. People often have most unkind things to say about your current state of residence, Kans-ass. What would outsiders find to be the most pleasantly surprising thing about the Sunflower State if they would just give it a chance?
3. What are you knitting right now?
4. When is the last time you cleaned your bathroom?
5. George W. Bush has agreed to compete in a boxing match or spoken debate with an opponent of your choosing. With whom will he fight or argue?

For Animal:

1. Where do you look to find inspiration to compose?
2. What do you dread/look forward to the most about fatherhood?
3. Are you going to video the birth of your child?
4. Have you ever had an embarrassing moment due to public flatulence? Please describe.
5. What's the last good book you read?

(ETA: I see that Jenn-Jenn the mother hen wants to play too. Goody! Jenn, I'll have some questions for you soon. Anyone else?)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Five Feral Questions

We all love to talk/write about ourselves, don't we? I'm not denying I harbor this little vanity myself. Hence the popularity of Memes. So when Feral Mom offered the opportunity to come up with five personalized questions for any of her readers who care to answer them, how could I just let it go?

Here we go.

1.What famous piece of classical music do you secretly think is shite?

Let's see. Where to begin...The Song Cycle of song cycles, Winterreise, is full of lovely music but it's basically 75 minutes of a guy dying of self-pity and about 1/3 of the way through makes me want to scream "GET OVER IT!" Even though I'm a pianist, I could do without the Chopin Ballades (though I very much like his smaller character pieces). Für Elise has been forever ruined for me and every other piano teacher on the planet because of countless mediocre renditions by young pianists (including my own craptastic performance at age 11 or so). Same goes for that Bach minuet in G. And here's the biggie: I'm not crazy about opera. For someone who purports to be a sometimes vocal coach, that's something I shouldn't admit, but it's true. I don't see why everyone gets so hot and bothered over Wagner. It's just too much for me. Too much chromaticism, too much drama, too much ego, and just plain too much music. Blasphemy, I know.

2. If you had to start all over again on a different musical instrument, which one would it be?

Heh, if I had to start all over I wouldn't be trying to play a musical instrument for a living at all. We artistes suffer so. If I started all over, I'd probably be far, far from the humanities and in some area of natural science, like animal behavior. Funny thing, considering how in college I took the bare minimum of these types of courses in favor of music and language and literature. I have since learned that I could enjoy these no-employment subjects without making them a part of my career.

That said, here's a list of instruments I wish I knew how to play well, in no particular order: accordion, guitar, cello.

3. Madison…great city or the greatest city?

Madison is definitely the greatest city I've lived in, but it's not competing with much: small towns in KS and KY. I feel like I often go on (and on) about how much I love living here and how progressive it is, and how it's nice that one can do things like commute via bicycle and breastfeed in public and recycle and not feel conspicuous about it. But there's an element of snobbery here that I don't want to be a part of. I don't want to be one of those Madisonians that speaks of Madison as though anyone who wouldn't want to live here is missing a few IQ points. So I'll say Madison is a "great" city, but not the "greatest" city.

4. Have you ever begged someone for forgiveness and been denied?

In 8th grade I once said some very mean things about a girl who was even less popular than I was. I did it for no reason other than the fact that she wanted to be my friend and that embarrassed me. I didn't ask forgiveness, but I should have and I have always felt guilty about it.

5. What are three random things that make you happy?

Daniel, obviously.

The first blooms of spring appearing today.

Beer. This ain't Oberon, but it'll do in a pinch.

My rotting, festering, worm-happy compost pile.

(Yeah, I know that's four, not three. Sue me.)

All right, Ms. Feral, I have a few questions for you in return, if you're not tired of interviews by now. Answer one, or all, or none. It's up to you:

1. What do you most dread/look forward to about moving to Tinsel Town?
2. What's your opinion on Bermuda shorts?
3. What do you think is the most surprising aspect of your personality?
4. Of all your creative talents (and I believe you have many), which are you the most proud of and why?

Lastly, I think this blog-interview thing is kind of cool. Any of my readers care to join in the fun? Leave a comment on this entry and I'll come up with 5 or so questions for you.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

in which I go on for a while about Early Music and continuo playing

Somewhere on my profile, or blog description or something, I mention that I play the harpsichord. I think a lot of people don't understand why. There are a few exceptions, like my dad, who isn't a musician but truly loves music written in the 17th and 18th centuries. There is also the early music crowd, which I've had the pleasure of experiencing via the Madison Early Music Festival. MEMF really is a unique event because it features world-class artists as faculty and guest performers, but the enrollment is open to any enthusiastic amateur who wishes to participate. How do I describe these gentle folks? Imagine a Renaissance festival without the sack cloths, more gender ambiguity, and a lot of really bad jokes. Hey, if you play the sackbut you've got to have a sense of humor about it.

But I love playing the harpsichord. For the last four years or so I've had a terrifically inspiring, quirky teacher, for one thing. (I think he may be the only male professor of organ who isn't gay, but he's eccentric enough to make up for it.) I've fallen in love with the repertoire, for another thing. Lately I haven't had the time or patience to dig into the solo pieces as much as I would like. There are some outstanding little gems in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book I've had my eye on for a while, for example. But I like accompanying and continuo playing just as much. I've had the good fortune of playing several involved songs by such composers as Monteverdi, Henry Purcell and Barbara Strozzi for soprano and continuo.

I'll explain a bit about this kind of playing, for those of you who may not be familiar with this type of music and might be a little curious. (Is anyone still reading? Didn't think so. Oh well. My blog, I say what I want. Tune in next time and I'll be more interesting, I promise.) When you look at a song by a pre-Baroque or early Baroque composer, it appears to be deceptively simple, yet at the same time quite daunting. This is because you are given two things: 1) the vocal line, written in quite a lot of detail, and 2) the very sparse bass line for the continue instruments (keyboard or lute and possibly a gamba or cello). There might be some numbers there, too, to indicate what chords go with the bass notes, but composers were fairly inconsistent even with those, so a lot of the time you just have to know which chords to play. So, if you are the harpsichordist, your job is to do everything you can with that bass line to support the vocal line. Sometimes you play just the bass note. Sometimes you play a whole chord, but arpeggiated so it lasts for several beats. Sometimes you play a succession of chords quickly and abruptly with lots of space in between. Sometimes you improvise counterpoint, a melody to go with that bassline. It can be very hard to decide what to do, but once you get in a groove, it can be incredibly freeing. The possibilities to be expressive seem to be without limit.

Unfortunately, this only works as well as the singer you're accompanying. I've worked with singers who are committed and knowledgeable, and it's a real treat to play with repertoire with them. I've also worked with singers who, bless their hearts, don't have a clue how important it is to think about the text and how it's set to music and what the composer meant when he or she used long notes or dotted rhythm or syncopation or what-have-you. Singers like that tend to distort the rhythm to suit their voices, and this makes it very hard for the continuo player(s) to respond properly to the music.

This whole post started because I had one of those continuo performances tonight that was wholly uninspiring. It wasn't with a singer, but was actually with a chamber orchestra performing a Vivaldi violin concerto. I got the music at 4:00 this afternoon, rehearsed at 5:00, performed at 8:30. Granted, playing with a small orchestra lacks the intimacy of performing something with solo voice. But I had no time or opportunity to dig into the music with the other musicians. There was no awareness of the aesthetic of the piece we were playing. In fact, there were over a dozen other players and they were all playing modern instruments, so I'm pretty sure the harpsichord wasn't even heard.

I could never give up the piano and just be a harpsichordist. Hel-LO! Jobs are hard enough to find when you're a diverse pianist, much less exclusively a continuo player. But I confess I'm tired of playing harpsichord with people who don't have a clue. I know I sound terribly snooty, and I don't mean to be. I think it's great when modern musicians (like me) discover the wonder of Early Music and truly dig it and learn about it and how to play it. I don't even mind it on modern instruments, as long as the music is treated right. I just wish that if serious musicians (like grad students who have the opportunity to do so) are going to play Early Music, they would take the time to learn a little bit about the aesthetics and performance practice and do it proper. That's all.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Eye-candy Friday: Spring has sprung!

The last of a defiant pile of snow:

A tulip sprouting by the side of the house, a pretty thing popping up between the gravel driveway and the gray foundation:

My future lettuce patch. How I love the dark dirt! I actually planted lettuce and carrot seeds here last fall and covered the whole area with a huge pile of leaves for mulch. We'll see if anything comes up:

Daniel in the morning:

Monday, March 19, 2007


(Pam, I'm totally ripping this off of you...hope you don't mind!)

"Green" by Paul Verlaine

Voici des fruits, des fleurs, des feuilles et des branches,
Et puis voici mon cœur, qui ne bat que pour vous.
Ne le déchirez pas avec vos deux mains blanches,
Et qu’à vos yeux si beaux, l’humble présent soit doux!

J’arrive tout couvert encore de rosée
Que le vent du matin vient glacer à mon front.
Souffrez que ma fatigue, à vos pieds reposée,
Rêve des chers instants qui la délasseront.

Sur votre jeune sein laisser rouler ma tête,
Toute sonore encore de vos derniers baisers;
Laissez-la s'apaiser de la bonne tempête,
Et que je dorme un peu puisque vous reposez.


Here are fruits, flowers, leaves and branches,
and here, too, is my heart that beats only for you.
Do not destroy it with your two white hands,
and to your lovely eyes may the humble gift seem sweet!

I come still covered with dew
that the morning breeze has chilled on my brow.
Let my weariness, resting at your feet,
dream of dear moments which will bring repose.

On your young breast let me rest my head
still ringing with your last kisses;
let it be appeased after the good tempest,
that I may sleep a little as you rest.

See the little gift awaiting me when I arrived home today?

And just 'cause I can't resist...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Fare Thee Well, Syracuse, Fare Thee Well

Well, it's been quite the trip. The fever-and-aches part of this virus I've got finally finished running its course Saturday night. An entire box of fake Dayquil and countless Kleenexes got me through the weekend all right. I confess Daniel was no help, as he was clingier, whinier, and needier than usual. I know that's just a fact of life when you're traveling with a little kid and putting him in an unfamiliar environment sans his Daddy, but the hourly wakings throughout every night were really working my last feverish nerve.

All that aside, however, our performances went well. We did the same program twice, last night in Oswego (about an hour's drive north of here), and this afternoon at a Unitarian church here in Syracuse. The Oswego gig was the real reason for this whole program: Pam was invited to sing in a recital series put on by the Oswego Opera Company, she asked me and a violinist friend to perform with her, and we tacked on today's recital to make all the work more worthwhile. Today's performance was definitely better from my standpoint. Better hall, better piano, and I finally wasn't depending on those magic little gel cap pills to keep me upright. Plus, Pam's last name was spelled right on all the programs for today; this was quite the achievement considering the Oswego folks managed to spell it not one, not two, but three different ways in the literature accompanying last night's performance.

I know I sound really negative about this whole experience, but that's just the sore throat and congestion talking. Apart from all the excess mucus (and Daniel's sudden need to nurse every friggin' thirty minutes day and night), it's been a lovely trip. Pam's mom made me feel at home immediately. Pam's dad, when he saw how desperately I was trying to get Daniel to sleep this afternoon, offered to take the two of us on a driving tour of Syracuse (he fell asleep before we reached the end of the block and stayed asleep for almost an hour). And Pam...what can I say? Performing with Pam is always a wonderful experience. We just think alike; it's like I barely have to pay attention to what she's doing because I just know we'll be in sync. And dudes, you should listen to her rendition of "Depuis le jour." It will make you weep.

And now, off to bed. I brought a skein of sock yarn along with me, apparently under the delusion that I might have some time to knit a bit in the evenings. Ha! I didn't even look at it once.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Are you wearing green today?

I'm not wearing green (yet) but don't even think about pinching me.

Daniel and I are in Syracuse, NY for a few days so that I can do a St. Patrick's Day recital with my friend Pam. It's been lovely seeing her again, and we're staying with her mom, who has made me feel right at home and has done some babysitting while we rehearse.

Unfortunately, I'm sick. I don't like to complain about physical ailments on this blog, but this weekend has been quite the challenge. Daniel's getting over a cold, so when I woke up Thursday morning with a tickle in my throat, I thought that's all I was getting. I started shivering at the end of the first leg of the flight out here, and by the time we landed in the Detroit airport, I was feeling heady and feverish and generally like crap. What do you do when you have to carry a 20+ pound child and two large carry-on bags halfway across an airport when you feel like you've been freshly run over by a Mack truck? Well, you just do it and hope you don't faint. We got to our gate for the flight to Rochester, and I wanted nothing more than to melt into that airport chair and never, ever get up again. Daniel had other ideas, namely trotting around the gate area holding a Ziploc baggie containing a dirty spoon and the uneaten half of his banana, and saying to anyone who would listen, "ah-na! ah-na!"

To make a long story short, I arrived in one piece, but two days later I'm still fighting this thing. It appears that with the help of many, many fine over-the-counter drugs (specifically, the generic version of Tylenol Cold and Flu), I will live. I just hope I don't give this nasty little virus to the woman who has to, you know, sing.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Music and Knitting

A long while ago, Katie asked me to write about knitting and playing the piano. They seem like odd things to compare, no? But I spend a good deal of my time doing both of those things, so I'm finally getting around to the topic.

Knitting and Music aren't a whole lot alike at first glance. Knitting is a relatively quiet activity (yes, I know there are stich'n bitch groups that can get pretty raucous, but it's the people that make so much noise, not the yarn, what?), where as music is by its very definition, sound. If you make a mistake in your knitting, you can simply undo it and try again. Or, if you rather, toss the project aside in disgust and start a new one. If you make a mistake in the act of performing music, you can't take it back. You have to know how to deal with it and move on in that instant. A knitted object is permanent. Music is fleeting because you can't physically hold onto a moment in time.

When I was thinking about this post, though, it occurred to me that knitting and music have a lot more in common for me than I would have expected. Both require patience. It takes many hours of practicing to prepare a recital program for successful performance, just as it takes many hours of making loops with sticks and string to produce a finished knitted garment. In fact, Stuart has commented about both these activities - practicing and knitting - "I don't know how you enjoy that; it seems so tedious!" (He's never said that in a way that puts me down, understand. He just doesn't get it and freely admits that. I could very easily say the same thing to him about learning to program in C++, which is how he spends his free time.)

There's no question that music is such an important part of my life. Duh, I'm getting a doctorate in Collaborative Piano Performance, and I want to make it my career in some way or another. The better I get, the more I enjoy it, too. In yesterday's recital, for example, I nailed every single blooming difficult passage in the Moscheles (and missed a few of the easier ones, alas!) because I knew I could, and didn't question myself, and it was fun.

That knitting is such a big deal to me might come as more of a surprise, though. I've known how to knit since my mom taught me at the tender age of 8 or 9, and I've really gotten into it since I started grad school [a few unnamed number of] years ago. As with piano, I've gotten better at it, and more confident. I made my parents' Christmas presents this year, and from what I understand, they were used well and often this winter. (Note to muggles (non-knitters): this is how it should be. Should someone give you a hand-knitted gift that you treasure, the best compliment you can pay that person is to use the heck out of it, wear it out, and then hint that you'd like another.) So knitting, like music, is something that has been with me since my childhood, and I can't really imagine my life without either one of those things.

Since Daniel was born a little over a year ago, my priorities have shifted, and my time is divvied up in ways it never was before. Of course my family is more important to me than anything else, but staying at home pretty much full-time also means that the opportunities I have that make me more than a housewife are also more valuable to me than ever. I sincerely believe that Art in its various forms (music, painting, knitting, dance, writing, all of it) brings meaning to life as we know it. Art is how we make sense (or nonsense, depending on the artist) of the world. Whenever I am knitting, whenever I am practicing, I am Creating. Not every minute spent doing these things is equal, to be sure. But that's why I knit and why I play.

It might also explain why our house isn't cleaner. (Sigh).

Happy Birthday to Stu!

The husband is 29 today. Welcome to the last year of your 20s, Stubert. If our son ever decides to detach himself from my breast, I just might make you a birthday cake.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Comfort Food

First of all, thanks for the affirming comments on the Kansas recital and the competition, everyone. My confidence needed this victory. There's something about having a baby while in grad school that makes me wonder if everyone will start thinking things like "Oh, now she won't be willing to work hard, now that she has a kid. Her work will suffer." Oddly, having Daniel in my life has helped me focus. I don't think there's any profound reason other than the fact that I simply don't have the time to work on more than one or two things at once, so I'm not being pulled in as many directions as I'm used to - musically, anyway.

Still, the majority of my time is devoted to childcare and housekeeping (ha! you should SEE the dust-bunnies in the corners...on second thought, maybe you shouldn't...), and today was no exception. I was supposed to teach piano lessons today, but Daniel woke up from a typically short nap (less than 30 minutes) whimpering and feverish, so I cancelled the lessons, gave him some Tylenol, and let him sleep on my shoulder for most of the afternoon. He woke up good as new (go figure), but I still wanted comfort food for supper. Nothing fancy or elaborate. Just homemade mac 'n cheese with some extra yummies to spice it up. So, because I spend a good share of my time thinking about and preparing food for my family, I'm sharing this with y'all, too:

1/2 lb of your favorite pasta, like fusilli or elbow macaroni
1 onion, chopped
1 buttload of garlic, chopped
2-3 T. oil or butter
2 T. flour
1 t. concentrated broth or 1 bullion cube (I use vegetarian, but chicken's probably OK)
2 c. milk
1 t. or more chili powder
1 can Mexican-style chopped tomatoes
1 c. shredded cheese, like Jack, colby, cheddar, or a combination
a couple handfuls bread crumbs (not necessary)

1. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package. It's better if it's slightly under-done rather than over-done.

2. Sauté the onions in the oil or butter for 5 minutes, then add the garlic and sauté for another minute.

3. Add the flour to the onion mixture and stir, then add the milk, broth or bullion cube, and chili powder, plus a little salt, and let it come to a boil.

4. Grease a 2L casserole dish (9x13). Mix the noodles with the tomatoes and cheese, then pour the milk sauce over all of it and stir a little. Spread bread crumbs over top and bake at 350 until it looks done, maybe half an hour.

5. Serve with broccoli or green salad to counter-act the guilt you may feel (though you should not!) over all the milk and cheese and butter .....mmmm butter..... in the pasta dish.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


So I've been busy, obviously.

1. Daniel's into climbing. Fortunately, he has yet to explore certain pieces of furniture (like bookshelves), and we don't have stairs in the house aside from the basement steps that are always behind a closed door. Still, any phone book, cardboard box or open drawer is fair game. I finally pulled out a mini step-ladder we used for painting and gave it to him to play on. I figured, hey, if he's going to climb, he might as well be practicing on something that's sturdy and won't slip around.

2. I just won a competition at the school of music with a bassoonist. This is a really big deal for me, in part because I rarely enter competitions and when I do, I never win. Also, the über-rich guy who put up the money for the competition in the first place is going to be at the winners' recital on Sunday, so we'll get to meet him. He wants to have the performance recorded and sold to raise money and awareness for the collaborative program here. So, it's a big deal for my teacher and well, it's just a big deal.

3. It's March already, and if I want to finish this degree before the end of the calendar year, I better get moving. I have a lecture recital to prepare in the next six weeks (ay yi yi), a final project proposal to write, and an exit recital to plan and eventually execute. I also need to find some grant $$ for the final project because I want to do a recording with this fine singer and plane tickets and hours in a professional recording studio don't come free.

4. Next week I'm going to Syracuse to do a recital with Pam (the soprano mentioned above). I can't wait to see her again, but I have to, ahem, learn a couple arias and re-learn some French songs we already performed together in December 2005. Don't worry Pam. I'll be prepared!

The Danimal in His Natural Habitat

Saturday, March 03, 2007

If you want to celebrate Daylight Saving next Sunday...

...come to Morphy Recital Hall at the UW School of Music at 3:30pm to hear me and a fan-tabulous bassoonist play in the first annual Irving Shain Woodwind/Piano Duo competition winners' recital. I'll be playing piano and harpsichord, and a flute/piano pair won, too, so there's a little something for everyone.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I believe there's a celebratory glass of wine calling my name. Cheers, all.