Thursday, April 28, 2005

sailing on Biscayne Bay

Some weekends in South Florida, it seems almost criminal to stay indoors. Last weekend was a good example, and I was lucky enough to get to go sailing with Lisa and Ron, New World Symphony board members and owners of a ship called R & R.

getting ready to hoist the sails Posted by Hello

Seven other New World musicians also came, and we shipped off from Key Biscayne, where the ship is docked. Ron and Lisa have a beautiful ship, with lots of miraculous sailing gizmos that make things like hoisting the sails and figuring out where you are, not to mention flushing the toilets, wonderfully easy. They are still fun to do, though, and you can still yell out lots of pirate phrases, as Katie W. did while handling the tiller. I'm not sure what would be the appropriate pirate phrase to yell while flushing the toilet. Swab the decks?

a bunch of weak-knee'd land-lubbers Posted by Hello

We sailed south in Biscayne Bay towards the highest point in Dade County, which is a dump called Mt. Trashmore. We had a nice lunch and traded stories and orchestra gossip while enjoying the beautiful day and the breeze on the bay. I got some nice photographs of downtown Miami as we turned back around towards the dock. We even saw some dolphins on our way in.

thar be land amast! Posted by Hello

Enjoy the photos, and if you happen to be Ron or Lisa, thank you so much for inviting us!

thar she blows! Posted by Hello

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

a poem on my name

math teller,
tell mr. heat:

"halt, melter!
let her malt
melt her wealth!"

he'll matter!

When Mike Valerio, an L.A. bass player who is a guest at New World for the alumni reunion concert this week, offered to buy me a cup of coffee before our evening rehearsal yesterday, I probably should not have said yes. I was up until 2 am, rearranging the letters of my name to form short phrases, which I strung together to create this really bad poem. I guess I inherited my mom's low tolerance for caffeine, along with her delight in poetic nonsense.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

seven unnatural wonders of South Beach

  1. Sand castle on Ocean Drive at 9th street Like all good South Beach landmarks, the sand castle is continually changing, periodically destroyed and rebuilt anew. At night, it is illuminated by torches and the continual flash photography of tourists. I like to visit it in the daytime as well; there is someone posted there 24 hours to guard it from sand castle marauders.

  2. Sand castle on Ocean Drive Posted by Hello

  3. Pizza Rustica There are better meals to be had in South Beach, but none for just $4! Pizza Rustica is a staple for New World musicians and others looking for a quick, inexpensive, very filling meal. My favorite is topped with arugula, olives, and other good stuff.

  4. try the arugula Posted by Hello
  5. The Holocaust Memorial People are always a little flustered when they see the big claw-like hand sticking up next to Dade Blvd., and even more disturbed when they get closer and look at the sculptures of emaciated people writhing in pain. Flustering and disturbing people is kind of the point when it comes to Holocaust remembrances, though.

  6. human suffering in the sunshinePosted by Hello
  7. New World Symphony I have to include my orchestra here. You won't see what's so wonderful about it though unless you come to hear a concert!
  8. plastic surgery No pictures here, as this is a family blog.
  9. view of Miami skyline at night Miami's skyline may not be the most classically majestic, but it takes on an enhanced beauty at night thanks to the lighting. There are many great places on South Beach to see the lights of downtown Miami, including the Venetian Causeway.
  10. the beach itself The beach is man-made, with perfect artificial white sand. Plenty of people seem to enjoy it natural or not, though, and seeing the sun rise on the beach is an all natural and always beautiful experience!

Miami's somewhat unnatural beach Posted by Hello

Friday, April 22, 2005

overdressed and undersized on Lincoln Road Posted by Hello

in homage to Humperdinck

I just got the 1978 Sir Georg Solti recording of Hansel and Gretel with the Vienna Philharmonic, and I have been falling in love with this music all over again. Engelbert Humperdinck was something of a one-hit wonder as an opera compose - I can't name another piece he wrote besides Hansel. However, there is a great career's worth of gorgeous harmonies, charming tunes, and brilliant characterization in just this one opera. This was the first opera I ever saw performed live, in 1996 at the Met, and I've been smitten ever since.

my new Hansel and Gretel cd Posted by Hello

Hansel is a children's opera, which makes it all the more remarkable how entertaining and rich a dramatic experience it is for any age. The musical styles range from simple child-like tunes to dense Romantic counterpoint. The most angst-ridden harmonies are used to portray a character being really hungry, though, or missing her mom, rather than any sort of love-death theme. Anyone who has been around little kids much can confirm that they can get just as emotional as a Wagnerian tenor who just fell passionately in love with his sister. It is refreshing to hear such music used for run-of-the mill domestic disputes, rather than the twilight of the gods.

Which is not to say that the opera doesn't get pretty dark at times, touching on child abuse as well as child cannibalism. Those old fairy tales could get pretty grisly, I guess. I would definitely bring a 9 or 10-year old, though - maybe my newborn nephew will even be ready to go see it soon. The music is what brings it to life, and makes me recommend it to anyone curious about opera.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

South Pointe Elementary career day

South Pointe Elementary School Posted by Hello

This afternoon five other musicians from the New World Symphony and I visited South Pointe Elementary School in Miami Beach for Career Day. Even though I still consider myself semi-unemployed, it was great meeting all these little kids and telling them some of the things I love about being a musician, and some of the challenges that come with the career.

We got there around 2 pm, so most of the kids had already listened to all kinds of restauranteurs, doctors, artists, and television personalities talking about their jobs. They were amazingly attentive, though, as we showed them several of the instruments of the orchestra and played a little bit on each.

Karen brought her oboe and english horn, and even though she has a severe week-old reed-making injury she played a little tune on each. I played the first Bach Bourree from the 3rd suite, and talked about how much variety there is in a musician's career, how we get to play different pieces and work with different artists almost every week. I also encouraged them to explore all kinds of styles of music, and to be open to whatever music seems to connect to them. Hao played a sad violin piece and talked about how his father spent 3 or 4 hours each day teaching him how to play from the time he was 5 years old. Seth brought his bongo drums and got them clapping a typical Cuban rhythm as he improvised. Our trumpeter Adam is really the best at community engagement; he has done a lot of these things and knows all kinds of ways to amuse little kids. I backed him up for a few choruses of blues, and then we took some questions.

These kids weren't satisfied with 'How long have you been playing?', they wanted to know everything from the technical means of locating notes on the bass, to whether we get nervous when we perform, to why musicians make such weird facial expressions when we play. All our kids were from the gifted third and fourth grade classes at the school, which made me wonder if the non-gifted classes are getting stuck hearing from the janitors at the Delano Hotel and the wait staff at Sushi Siam. Hopefully not - I heard the artist Romero Britto came, as well as a television anchor named Craig Stevens, and I'm sure they just couldn't take every guest to every class.

Seth and Adam and I are going to be putting together longer programs like this for a community engagement residency at local elementary schools the second week of May. We should have more of an opportunity to go into depth and answer some of these kids' more probing questions. I'll try to post some pictures and stories from those sessions - it's always such a great pleasure to get to talk to little kids about music!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

tastes great, or less filling?

Last weekend I took a trip to Milwaukee, a city famous for beer. I didn't try any beer, but I found it to be a very pleasant city with lots of sandwich shops - Potbelly, Jimmy John's, Subway, Cousin's, Erbert & Gerbert, Quizno's - the choices were endless, as long as you felt like having a sub. My hotel was on Wisconsin Avenue, an epicenter of sandwich commerce. Sorry if the photo is a bit dim:

the lobby of my hotel, featuring free continental breakfast and the most depressing fountain I've ever seen Posted by Hello

My audition was at the Marcus Center, home of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. I went to a concert of the MSO my first evening there, sneaking in after intermission to hear a vocal group called New York Voices sing arrangements of '60s pop songs with orchestral accompaniment. The music was a little cheesy, but the orchestra sounded good, and it seemed like a nice hall to play in.

Marcus Center, home of the Milwaukee Symphony Posted by Hello

Unfortunately, I only got to play there for one round, because I was cut in the prelims. I felt good about my preparation for the audition, and wasn't unhappy with the way I played, though it's always hard to remember objectively. The committee asked me to play two of the excerpts again, which is often a sign that they are at least interested. Whatever they were hoping for, though, I don't seem to have given it that day.

Dealing with the post-audition disappointment is always difficult, and it can be a very useful (or destructive) process. My first reaction was that I had been overconfident, and my sense of self worth swung like a pendulum to the opposite extreme. Confidence is meaningless, though, unless it is based on something real - in the case of an audition, knowledge of the music and an approach to preparation that develops and conveys that knowledge effectively. Losing an audition, as difficult as it is, doesn't do anything to that knowldge base, and it certainly doesn't devalue all the work that was done. In the best case, it can help to refine the preparation process, showing what is effective and useful to one's presentation, and what is needless effort.

One of the ideas I found recently in The Wisdom of Crowds, an excellent book by James Surowiecki, is that people tend to be better disciplined and wiser in choices about the future than in the present. He talks about this in the context of saving money - if people make a choice to save a set amount each month rather than just tell themselves "I'll try and save more," they will be much more likely to follow through. After the audition, I decided to try and put this idea to use in my practicing: rather than just say "I'll practice as much as possible," I started writing out a schedule for the next day before going to sleep each night, planning how I would structure my practice sessions, what I would work on, etc. This may sound silly to someone who works in a more structured job, but doing this kind of planning seems to be incredibly helpful in keeping me focused and motivated. I don't always stick to the plan exactly, but I am always able to be more productive than I would be without a goal. Also, it helps relieve some of that gnawing guilt during the times when I am not practicing.

Milwaukee's riverwalk Posted by Hello

One more picture of Milwaukee, from one of the bridges along the Riverwalk. Certain places in the city almost seem European, and other areas reminded me of Chicago, with similar neighborhoods and Midwestern sorts of people. They even have a lakefront path on Lake Michigan, where I went running my last evening there. The cars tend to be a bit crappier than in Chicago, but the sandwiches can't be beat.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Zoe's birthday

This past week, my sister Zoe celebrated her 30th birthday by changing diapers and trying to quiet down her labradoodle. That's what she was doing when I called her, anyway, though she may have had some cake and blown out candles later on. This has been a very exciting month for Zoe, and her life has changed completely, but it's a little hard to find out how she feels about it amidst all the crying and barking going on around her. I shouldn't make fun of her noisy, busy (and happy) life too much, since I was also rushing around when I called her, trying to get to a rehearsal on time and avoid getting hit by a bus.

I last saw Zoe last summer, but everyone in our family has been planning pilgrimages to go visit her and baby Isaac soon, and I will probably follow them in the next couple of months. The closest I can get for now is an occasional phone call or a visit to their ever-interesting web photo gallery.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Film reviews: Before Sunset, Melinda and Melinda

There's a great chapter about visual perception in Malcolm Gladwell's new book Blink. Gladwell describes a study of the way people watch movies, in which the researchers used instruments to map the movements of people's eyes as they watched Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. They found that people followed the conversation in remarkably consistent patterns, constantly shifting their focus between the characters in order to read on their faces the subtext of what they were saying as well as the emotional interplay taking place between them. I thought of this study as I watched two interesting and dialogue-rich films recently.

The writers of Before Sunset, Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy, seem to realize how enthralling and dramatic a conversation can be, because they built the entire movie around one. The film's two characters, played by Hawke and Delpy, first appeared in a 1994 movie called Before Sunrise, and this sequel begins with their unexpected reunion nearly ten years later. I haven't seen Sunrise, but Sunset quickly introduced their story and had me entranced by these characters, and in suspense about where their conversation will lead. The movie lasts only around 80 minutes, but both actors are on screen for almost the entire time, and even without the beautiful scenes of summertime Paris the quality of both actors' performances provides plenty of visual interest.

I watched the movie yesterday on DVD, and immediately wanted to tell other people about it, so I took my DVD player to the TV lounge in my building. A bunch of other people there watched and were just as captivated as I was - at first I worried they might be bored, because no one said anything, but I soon realized they were hanging on every word.

Another film I saw recently was Woody Allen's latest, Melinda and Melinda. The idea here is that a single story can become either a tragedy and a comedy, depending on the talents and inclinations of the playwright. Interestingly, Allen skips over the original story and drops us right into the tragic and comic transformations conceived by his two playwrights. He actually pulls off the slightly gimmicky premise pretty well, though the audience I saw it with in South Beach laughed a bit more at the tragedy than the comedy. I would attribute this to Will Ferrell, the lead actor in the comedy, who is even more lame than usual as one of Woody Allen's standard good-naturedly neurotic New Yorkers.

On the other hand the lead actress, Radha Mitchell, is really effective in both the tragedy and the comedy, and her performance alone might make it worth seeing on video. I found it made a neat sort of puzzle trying to piece together the original story, and picking out the many similarities between them. Melinda is definitely a cleverly constructed film, but I would rate Before Sunset as stronger and more compelling.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Karin's birthday

I always try to not remember rather than forget. - from "Not going anywhere", a song by Keren Ann (thanks, Dan!)

Today is the birthday of Karin N., my ex-girlfriend. I don't talk about Karin much anymore, but hardly a day goes by that I don't think of her. This is largely because when she left Miami about a year ago, she left behind many of her cd's and kitchen supplies, which I continue to use to this day. I have a lot to be grateful to Karin for, and not just when I listen to her Ravel cd or sprinkle her curry powder over my couscous.

When a relationship ends unhappily, though, it's hard not to think back with some bitterness. So I thought that to celebrate her birthday, rather than writing something new I would share something I wrote about her in September 2003. At the time we had been living together for just a few weeks and were very optimistic about our future. This letter was written to my Grandma, who passed away last fall; many of the letters I had sent to my Grandma were returned to me a couple weeks ago. Reading over this one brought back a lot of nice memories:

....We're now visiting Karin's parents in Rochester, NY, which is not where I was when I began this letter. We flew up here on Friday of Labor Day weekend, planning to spend a few days in Rochester and at her parents' cottage on the Finger Lakes, which is a beautiful area of rolling hills, farms and wineries and skinny, calm lakes in upstate New York, where people go fishing and waterskiing in the summer.

We drove out to their cottage yesterday, and met some more family and friends of theirs, including a baby cousin of Karin's named Emma, just over a year old and walking around and saying a few words. The baby was the center of attention all day yesterday, since the weather was cloudy and a bit cold for waterskiing. We went out for a long walk with Emma and her mother Jackie (with a stroller) and when we got back Jackie told everyone she was pregnant with a second baby, who would be due next spring. Emma is adorable, with blond curls and a very friendly, open nature, and hopefully their next baby will be just as wonderful.

Jackie and John recently got a minivan, and gave up their two-door car to Karin. It is ten years old but in great shape since John (father of Emma) took such excellent care of it. We had planned to drive the car back to Charleston after Labor Day, but Karin woke up with an eye infection this morning (Sunday). It is a recurring condition and she'll have to stay here long enough to get treated and possibly even have an operation on it, as she did a couple years ago.

I feel sorry for her, especially as she tends to be very pessimistic - this morning when she woke up, she told me her eye would have to be removed if it didn't get better! She is just impatient and can't stand being bothered by things outside of her control, but she calms down eventually and is incredibly sweet in general. I'm not sure why I'm trying to describe her whole character to you, as you're sure to meet her soon enough and would probably rather form your own opinion. It's just been a revelation to me to learn so much about a person, and see her bad moods and good ones, and take a broad perspective on the whole person, not just the latest passing emotion....

Happy birthday, Karin, and best wishes!

Saturday, April 02, 2005

spring training

Yesterday three other bass players and I drove up to Port St. Lucie to watch the Florida Marlins play the New York Mets, on a beautiful warm Friday evening. It was sort of senseless to drive all that way to see the Marlins up there, I realize, since after the regular season begins on Tuesday they'll be playing just north of Miami - there's something special about spring training, though, seeing all those big league players in a minor league stadium.

Steve, Andy, and Sean at spring training Posted by Hello

We sat on a hill over the fence in right field, called the "Berm". Jeff Conine played right field for the Marlins for about half the game, then later Juan Encarnacion, a former LA Dodger, took over. Our screaming drunken neighbors had a great time yelling at Conine, but they couldn't say Juan's name very well, which limited their heckling.

if you can't scream his name, you've had enough to drink Posted by Hello

There were lots of fielding and pitching substitutions, giving everyone a chance to play. One of the Marlins pitchers we saw, Jim Mecir, is written about in a great book by Michael Lewis, Moneyball. Jim and the rest of the pitchers last night had trouble keeping runners off the basepaths, though, as the two teams combined to score 20 runs. The Marlins pulled away in the seventh inning with six runs. They led 11-4 going into the bottom of the 9th, but the Mets almost came back, with a two-out grand slam by Chris Woodward to pull to 11-9. That's the way it ended, though.

the final score, framed by palm trees Posted by Hello

The Marlins and Mets play their last spring training game this afternoon, and the season officially begins tonight with the Red Sox playing the Yankees on national TV. I'll be playing Tchaikovsky, though.

my early World Series prediction: Mariners over Nationals in 6