Sunday, July 31, 2005

something greater

Last night's concert at Blossom featured The Planets by Gustav Holst, accompanied (or accompanying, depending on your perspective) by the latest satellite and computer imagery NASA has produced of those planets and their moons. Whether the audience mostly came for the music or the "movie", it was a fascinating concert and an enormous crowd.

It was a serendipitous programming choice, since this past week space exploration has been all over the news, with the shuttle Discovery's launch and a new planet identified. The other piece on the program was Strauss' philosophical tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra, equally famous for its beauty and its science fiction associations.

a summer evening at Blossom Posted by Picasa

When Holst wrote The Planets there were only eight known planets in our solar system, and he didn't bother to write a movement for Earth. The selection of Planets often gets further reduced in pops concerts to just Mars and Jupiter, which are the most famous movements. I had a newfound appreciation for the piece, though, hearing it played well, and I almost wished they would turn off the big movie screen so I could just concentrate on the music. The images themselves were fascinating, though, and perhaps added something to the wonder and mystery of the music.

It left me thinking about how we are drawn to things greater than ourselves, and not just in a gravitational sense. There is something wondrous and inspiring about thinking about other worlds, vast storm systems on Jupiter bigger than our own planet, distances and spans of time too enormous to conceptualize. Looking up at a big screen panning over one of Saturn's moons, I felt like an insect drawn towards a light in the darkness. Maybe part of music's power is to bring us closer to a physical understanding of those systems and processes which we can barely comprehend mentally.

I think maybe it's the same need that makes running along a river, like the Cuyahoga which runs through Kent, such a fulfilling experience. Following the coursing water of the river, part of the planet's own circulatory system, somehow makes me feel a little more alive myself.

my favorite running trail in Kent, Ohio Posted by Picasa

The one kind of annoying thing is that there are always these big insects which land on the back of my head and ride along as I run - I swat them away, but they always seem to want to come back. It's odd, because they never seem to bite, or they do so politely without leaving any itchiness behind. I like to think, though, that it's not out of bloodthirstiness that they grab onto my head, but out of the same sort of need I sometimes feel, to be close to the inevitable flow of something greater than my self. Not that there's that much great stuff flowing through my head, but maybe from an insect's perspective....

Thursday, July 28, 2005

vital celebrity health advice

In case you missed this hilarious interview by Bachem Macuno, "Tom Cruise on the Universal Efficacy of Vitamins in Treating Every Medical Problem Known to Man", please read it here! This piece represents everything I think blogging should be - engaging, informative, topical, possibly life-threatening...


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

whether to become a pod person

I haven't ever asked the readership of hella frisch for advice before, but I did read The Wisdom of Crowds and gained a new appreciation for the value of mass opinion. Whether the readership of this blog qualifies as a "crowd" is open to debate - I decided to get rid of my StatCounter so I really have no idea who reads this!

Anyway, my quandary is whether to buy an iPod, the little Apple gizmo that is revolutionizing the music industry. The economic arrangement at the Kent/Blossom festival is fairly complicated, but basically I have $300 or so of heavily subsidized "BlossomBucks" which I can spend on a new iPod, or I can consume mass quantities of Quizno's subs for the next three weeks.

Phrased like that, the answer seems obvious, but I have all sorts of moral qualms about becoming a pod person. I've begun noticing how common they are - here on the Kent St. University campus, I can walk past a dozen students without encountering one who does not have the earphones and the telltale bulge somewhere on their hips. No, I mean the other telltale budge.

I started talking to one about iPods yesterday, and he said, "It's just like Napster in the palm of your hand!" He must have sensed the cringe of someone who had hoped to have a livelihood in music one day - nevertheless, he continued, "Almost everyone has one, and you can copy maybe a hundred songs in a minute or so!"

Of course, I can't stop technology from changing the music business, no matter how long I spend camped out on the moral high ground. It's ironic how the innovations that are most attractive to us as musicians can be the most destructive of our traditions - there was a great article by Alex Ross in The New Yorker last month in which he writes about the invention of the phonograph:
In an 1878 essay, Edison (or his ghostwriter) proclaimed portentously that his invention would "annihilate time and space, and bottle up for posterity the mere utterance of man." Annihilation is, of course, an ambiguous figure of speech. Recording broke down barriers between cultures, but it also placed more archaic musical forms in danger of extinction. In the early years of the century, Bela Bartok, Zoltan Kodaly, and Percy Grainger used phonographs to preserve the voices of elderly folksingers whose timeless ways were being stamped out by the advance of modern life. And what was helping to stamp them out? The phonograph, with its international hit tunes and standardized popular dances.
- from The New Yorker, June 6, 2005, p. 95

So I can say I'll use my iPod only for good and not for evil, but will I really? I said the same thing when I got a notebook computer, and now its hard drive is stuffed with music copied from the Charleston Public Library. I'm planning on deleting it all, really - just as soon as I get around to listening to it!

That's the other big qualm about digital music, and as Alex Ross puts it in the same article, "a paradox common to technological existence: everything gets a little easier and a little less real." Are all those pod people really listening even, I wonder? Or have they just created a nice sonic wallpaper for themselves, an extra layer of insulation so no one can bother them with annoying philosophical questions about the future of art?

For the record, I also thought that all people with cell phones were demon spawn until about five years ago. Please, let me know what you think - I'm listening, really....

You can read the Alex Ross article referenced here in its entirety by clicking here.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

music, time, and monumental cerebella

Today marks the end of my first three weeks at the Kent Blossom Music Festival, which continues for another three weeks. It's been a good time so far, meeting a lot of musicians and finding new ways to stretch myself musically.

Maybe the best thing about it has been getting to hear the Cleveland Orchestra. Last night, they played Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, conducted by James Gaffigan, my classmate at New England Conservatory (Jimmy played bassoon on my senior recital, performing the quintet arrangement of Strauss' Till Eulenspiegel!) I have a whole history with Shosti 5 as well - it was the piece that first made me fall in love with the orchestra, and all the colors and sonorities it can produce, back when I was 15 and played it at the Marrowstone Music Festival in Port Townsend, Washington.

It's been a long time since then, and my enthusiasm for the piece may have faded, but hearing it last night transported me back to my first discovery. As well as I thought I knew the piece, this performance brought so much I'd forgotten into brilliant relief - the plangency of the wind chorale in the third movement, the unbearably insistent strings in the finale. The orchestra played wonderfully, and Jimmy impressed me once again as a talented and inspiring musician.

Being at Kent State, surrounded by a lot of younger musicians, has brought back a lot of my memories of music school days - even back to my first real summer music festival, when I was 17 and went to Bard College in upstate New York for the American Russian Youth Orchestra. I was the youngest person there, and I remember being inspired and somewhat intimidated by all those older musicians - listening to them talk knowledgeably about pieces and musicians I'd never heard of, appraise the conducting in harsh but undoubtedly justified ways (I didn't even know what an ictus was, much less whether the maestro lacked one), and go out drinking. Where did the last 10 years go, that I've come full circle except now I'm the old one? It makes me think of that aria from the first act Der Rosenkavalier:

Time is a strange thing.
While one is living one's life away, it is
absolutely nothing.
Then, suddenly,
one is aware of nothing else.
One of my favorite places on the campus of Kent State is this huge sculpture of a brain in front of the university auditorium. It sits on a pedestal in front of these walls sculpted into shelves full of books - you can just make out the end of one of the bookshelves in the picture below. Also, strange tentacle-looking things are carved into the ground, as though the brain had its own nervous system that was grasping to suck all the knowledge out of those books.

Kent State, inspiring the leaders and mad scientists of tomorrow Posted by Picasa

In the next few weeks we have a lot more performances - as an orchestra as well as in chamber music. Probably my biggest challenge of the summer is Schoenberg's first Chamber Symphony, op. 9, a piece for 15 musicians which sounds like Richard Strauss on amphetamines. It's incredibly fast and virtuosic for all the players, and it's a lot of fun to put together and perform - hopefully to listen to as well!

Saturday, July 23, 2005

a view from the lawn at the Blossom Music Festival Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The New Yorker covers a bass audition

In this week's The New Yorker magazine, there is a "Talk of the Town" piece about the recent Metropolitan Opera Orchestra bass auditions. Click here to read it online.

a last look back after the Met audition this May Posted by Picasa

I met the author, Ryan D'Agostino, and talked to him briefly while waiting for the semi-final results. It would have been nice to have come up with something quote-worthy to say, but at the time I was too absorbed in worrying about how I had played and hoping I might advance!

The piece is quite good, and sad in a funny sort of way. It's a peculiar strength of that magazine's writers, I think, capturing people in fascinating situations and showing the wonder and the humor of it all. It would have been nice to have made it into the New Yorker (and even nicer to make it into the Met Orchestra) but I suppose those will have to wait!

Tommasini on the Baltimore controversy

In today's New York Times, Anthony Tommasini writes his opinion of the controversy over the Baltimore Symphony's possible appointment of Marin Alsop as its next music director. While it is hard for anyone outside the orchestra to make any conclusive statement, I agree with Mr. Tommasini that Ms. Alsop would be an excellent choice for musical reasons as well as the precedent it would set.

It is a difficult question that Mr. Tommasini raises, whether an orchestra needs to be happy with its music director in order to make great music. Clearly, there have been many cases where the quality was good even though the relationship was antagonistic - on the other hand, my most treasured experiences as an orchestra musician have been with conductors who I enjoyed as well as respected.

At a dinner party with Cleveland Orchestra bassist Scott Haigh recently, he and his wife expressed the view that there always needs to be a certain distance between conductor and musicians - if only the knowledge that no matter how friendly he or she may appear, one's career depends on that conductor's approval. This distance and vulnerability inevitably leads to some tension, and even with the conductors I've most admired, it has never been easy or comfortable to strike up a collegial conversation.

You can read the article online if you have registered at - click here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

where do you put the groceries? Posted by Picasa

There is a thin line between really messy car and potential tourist attraction, and this station wagon may have crossed it. As you can see, there was already a small crowd attracted to the impossibly stuffed Ford Taurus when I parked my bike nearby. A woman warned me that I might return to find my bike inside the car as well. However, I was more worried to get a good photograph before the owner returned.

The book slightly visible through the rear window is Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul. I also saw a Low Fat Cookbook in there and several bags of tortilla chips, among much else.

recommended reading: The Atlantic fiction issue

This past week I read The Atlantic magazine's "Fiction Issue 2005". Apparently this is an issue they publish annually, filled with short stories, poetry, and essays on literary subjects. It will be on sale in bookstores and newsstands now through October, and it might be worth getting if you find a copy; I read it cover to cover, and every story was fantastic.

The authors were mostly people I had not read before, with the exception of Joyce Carol Oates and Nathan Englander. Oates' story, "*BD* 11 1 86", is about a high school senior raised in foster homes who wonders why adults seem to be treating him differently - avoiding eye contact, not wanting to talk about his future plans - and only discovers on his graduation day that he has been raised as a "body donor". The development of the character and his gradual realization of his fate make the horrific premise all the more chilling.

Englander's story, "How we avenged the Blums", is one of several in the magazine that concern the persecution of Jews. In this case, it is a group of kids in Long Island being bullied by a kid they call The Anti-Semite - they resolve themselves to fight back, with comic and tragic results. The other Jewish stories are much darker - "The House on Kronenstrasse" by Shira Nayman, in which a woman discovers how Nazi persecution transformed her family's fate and her own identity, and Maximilian Schlaks' "Tell them, please tell them", a Russian soldier's account of a Jewish friend tortured by fellow soldiers.

The other stories in the issue are equally fascinating, exploring themes of family, relationships, sexuality, spirituality, etc. The level of writing is so consistently high, it is impossible to choose a highlight. I want to quote a bit of an essay by Saul Bellow though, his credo on morality in art, which especially struck me:

To look for elaborate commitments [of morality] is therefore vain. Commitments are far more rudimentary than any "position" or intellectual attitude might imply. I should like to suggest that commitment in a novel may be measured by its power to absorb us, by the energy it contains. A book which is lacking in power cannot be moral. Dullness is worse than obscenity. A dull book is wicked. It may intend to be as good as gold, as nice as pie, as sweet as can be, but if it is banal and boring, it is evil...

An art which is to be strong cannot be based on opinions. Opinions can be accepted, questioned, dismissed. A work of art can't be questioned or dismissed.

The Atlantic Monthly fiction issue 2005, p. 95

Monday, July 18, 2005

our Martinu sextet group, with coach Scott Haigh Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 17, 2005

the dirty room theory of practicing

Max Dimoff's bass on stage at Blossom Posted by Picasa

Lately I've been thinking a lot about practicing, and coming up with bizarre theories and analogies as I often do. I think that practicing is a little like cleaning your room - both tasks never seem to quite get finished, and both can be a bit of a chore, even though we're much happier after we've done them well.

Also, just as the way you clean and organize your room says an enormous amount about you (Malcolm Gladwell's Blink has a great chapter on this subject!), practicing can be an extension of your personality. In the past, I've been the type of person who keeps things in a state of semi-disarray, just messy enough that if someone is coming over I can quickly shove everything into drawers and closets and create an illusion of neatness. I'd like to be more organized - not only is it stressful to have to shove things in drawers all the time (stressful for me, as well as the drawers), but it's pretty obvious when someone lives this way. You don't have to poke around much to find the chaos beneath my veneer of order - just ask me for a pair of scissors, or where I put my keys!

If keeping one's room in constant disorder is an unpleasant habit, practicing this way can be disastrous! When an audition comes along, I try to pull everything together, spray a little polish on all the excerpts, hide the problems or just not think about them too much. Just like the quickly cleaned room, though, I can never hide the mess as well as I'd like. Ask me to play it a bit faster, or with a different articulation, and all the dirty laundry comes tumbling out of the closet.

Which is why I posted this picture of Max Dimoff's bass - Max is the principal bassist of the Cleveland Orchestra, and he is an inspiring example of dedication to practice. He does a routine every day, maintaining his technical fundamentals; and he practices in the same systematic, organized, and brilliant way he plays. There is a tremendous ease and naturalness to his playing, but it is grounded in the careful and consistent work he does.

Lately I've been challenging myself to be just as conscientious - a daunting challenge, which makes my respect for great musicians like Max still greater. No one likes living in a dirty room, though, and I figure that if I practice in the right way, it will make me happier as well as a more organized musician. I also might not have to worry so much about people smelling my dirty laundry.

You can see pictures of Max Dimoff and other members of the Cleveland Orchestra at the orchestra's website by clicking here.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Baltimore Symphony hires Marin Alsop

I just read an article in the New York Times, reporting that Marin Alsop will soon be named Baltimore Symphony's music director designate. She will be the first woman to serve as music director of a major US orchestra, and I am sure she'll do great things there. I've gotten to play in orchestras under her direction a couple of times before, and she will also be conducting the New World Symphony next April.

Click here to read the article at You will need to register to use their site if you haven't already. Marin Alsop also has a website,

Thursday, July 14, 2005

a 187 on Otis

Otis, after last night's shooting spree Posted by Picasa

There was a knock on my door early this morning - it was still dark out, and at first I thought I was just dreaming, but I got up and went to the door, and there was a woman there asking if I was Matt Heller. Did I own a white Suzuki parked outside? Yes, I did - that was Otis the Barbiemobile, the '99 Vitara that I inherited from my sister.

Otis had been shot.

Someone went on a shooting spree with a b.b. gun last night in the Kent State parking lot, and Otis was one of several victims. I'm not sure how many, but when I called the auto glass place this morning, the woman who answered the phone said, "Oh, another one of those?"

Oddly, the parking lot where this took place is just a short distance from the site where Ohio National Guard officers shot thirteen demonstrating Kent State students, killing four. Not to compare that shooting with this one, which was probably perpetrated by some dumb kid, who doesn't seem to have been demonstrating anything except that guns are cool. .

Otis is scheduled to get a new back windshield tomorrow afternoon.

Otis' view of the damage Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

press secretary for the common man

Yesterday, while driving back to Kent, I was listening to NPR news and admiring the performance of White House press secretary Scott McClellan. Mr. McClellan has an incredible ability to deflect, delay, and generally discombobulate all the press corps' most difficult questions. Often he does this not so much by what he says but by his manner of speech, especially the use of long, unnecessary pauses which somehow convey the impression. Of unimpeachable honesty. And forthrightness.

Obviously, not everyone can have such a skillful press secretary. I started to imagine, though, what the world might be like if we could. Here are three scenes from the imagined life of a teenager named George:
George's mom: Didn't I ask you yesterday to take the garbage out? Were you planning on doing that anytime soon?

George: Uh, yeah, I guess, but uh...well....was I awake?

George's press secretary: George is not going to set any arbitrary timetable for taking the garbage out. I can assure you, however, that George is now one day closer to taking the garbage out than he was yesterday.

George's sister: Did you pee on the toilet seat again? George, that's soooooo gross!

George: Oops.

George's press secretary: I look forward to talking about the toilet seat at some point, Amy, it's an important question and I'm glad you've brought it up, we are all very eager to discuss the matter fully. But it's not the appropriate time - I don't think it's helpful for me from this podium to get into discussing what is an ongoing investigation. I think it's most helpful for me to not comment while that investigation continues. I don't think we should be prejudging the outcome of any investigation at this point.

George's boss: You're late for work again! How do you expect me to keep you on the payroll if I can't depend on you to show up on time?

George: Uh...I dunno.

George's press secretary: First of all, George wants to express his great admiration for the management of Wacky Jack's Taco Shack. They have shown remarkable resolve, fortitude, and tenacity in continuing to employ George in the face of vicious, unprovoked attacks from co-workers like Tracy and Franco from the night shift.

Now, let me back up - you raised the question of, can the management of Wacky Jack's Taco Shack depend on George? Well, let me assure you, anyone working here has Wacky Jack's complete confidence. George would not be working at Jack's Shack. If the George did not have. The complete. Confidence.

Of Wacky Jack.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

learning from losing in Louisville

Louisville's Kentucky Center, site of this morning's rejection Posted by Picasa

This morning I played an audition in Louisville, for a one-year assistant principal bass position. I didn't advance in the preliminaries, unfortunately. It was a bit of a let-down, since I felt I had been playing well, but clearly there's another level I need to reach.

Since I've been in Kent I've had a few lessons with Scott Haigh, a bassist in the Cleveland Orchestra. I wasn't sure whether I would mesh with Mr. Haigh's teaching style at first - for one thing, it's been a while since I had a teacher who preferred to be called 'Mr.' - but his lessons have all been incredibly inspiring and encouraging. He has a great ability to focus on all the things I too often forget to notice - vocal quality, variety of width and speed of vibrato, rhythmic drive and precision, longer phrases.

It has also been very nice to have a teacher who takes a real interest in me as a person. Before I left for Louisville, he told me, "Just remember, if you win, it was meant to be, and if not, it means you'll get something better pretty soon." That helped me so much to keep my perspective, and not wallow so deeply in my rejection.

If I still had an ankle mired in self-pity, reading the recent postings of two friends of mine, Aaron and Amelia, also helped pull things into perspective. Both have been grieving and struggling with reminders of mortality - Aaron's grandmother was just diagnosed with leukemia, and Amelia just lost her great-aunt. My post-audition blues seem trivial next to their suffering, for which I offer my condolences.

It's important to remind myself what matters most, the people around me, and I want to keep a healthy balance, and not become audition-obsessed. I also need to develop a certain tenacity and focus, however, and not allow my attentions to drift from one interest to the next. The lessons I take away from this audition, I think, are about life and not just about music - have a seriousness of purpose, clear priorities, and strong conviction. Also, it helps to sleep the night before.

Scott Haigh is also coaching an upcoming performance of Martinu's Sextet, which I wrote about last Friday.

Monday, July 11, 2005

people arriving at Blossom last Saturday evening Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 10, 2005

birthday of Marcel Proust, greatest blogger of all time

Today is the birthday of Marcel Proust, my favorite author and the creator of the enormous blog-like masterpiece known to English readers as In search of lost time. No other author I know of expresses so perfectly so much of the human condition. For example, I was just flipping at random through one of the volumes of ISOLT this morning when I came across this sentence:
The progress of civilization enables each one of us to manifest unsuspected virtues or new vices, which make us either dearer or more unbearable to our friends.
- from Sodom and Gomorrah, p. 130 in Sturrock translation
Nothing could better explain the regret I felt yesterday, after posting my ridiculous blog experiment and asking three friends whom I respect to take part! Of course, Proust died in 1922, never having heard of a blog. He wrote that sentence thinking of an equally dangerous modern invention, the telephone.

For Proust, a line like the one above is just a virtuosic display offered in passing, like a violinist who tosses off a Wieniawski Polonaise before diving into the Bach Chaconne. Excerpting passages from Proust is a little like extracting a phrase from a work of music, pleasurable enough in itself but a poor replacement for experiencing it in context. Still, perhaps a couple other excerpts will help to explain why I adore Proust so much.

Among Proust's great preoccupations are romantic adoration, infatuation, and love, and he writes brilliantly on these topics, as in this passage about love's earliest stages:
....we do not look at the eyes of a girl we do not know as we would look at little chunks of opal or agate. We know that the little ray that colours them or the diamond dust that makes them sparkle is all that we can see of a mind, a will, a memory in which is contained the family home that we do not know, the intimate friends whom we envy. The enterprise of gaining possession of all this, of something so difficult, so recalcitrant, is what gives its attraction to that gaze far more than its mere physical beauty....
- The Captive, p. 222-3 in Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright translation

Perhaps the greatest subject of Proust's novel is the work of art itself, and the transubstantiation of life into art. The following passage ponders the passing of the narrator's favorite author, the fictional Bergotte. Bergotte has gone to an art gallery, despite his failing health, because a critic has written of an exquisite patch of yellow in Vermeer's painting View of Delft. He dies while admiring that painting, prompting this meditation:
He was dead. Dead for ever? Who can say? Certainly, experiments in spiritualism offer us no more proof than the dogmas of religion that the soul survives death. All that we can say is that everything is arranged in this life as though we entered it carrying a burden of obligations contracted in a former life; there is no reason inherent in the conditions of life on this earth that can make us consider ourselves obliged to do good, to be kind and thoughtful, even to be polite, nor for an atheist artist to consider himself obliged to begin again a score of times a piece of work the admiration aroused by which will matter little to his worm-eaten body, like the patch of yellow wall painted with so much skill and refinement by an artist destined to be for ever unknown and barely identified under the name Vermeer. All these obligations, which have no sanction in our present life, seem to belong to a different world, a world based on kindness, scrupulousness, self-sacrifice, a world entirely different from this one and which we leave in order to be born on this earth, before perhaps returning there to live once again beneath the sway of those unknown laws which we obeyed because we bore their precepts in our hearts, not knowing whose hand had traced them there - those laws to which every profound work of the intellect brings us nearer and which are invisible only - if then! - to fools. So that the idea that Bergotte was not dead for ever is by no means improbable.

They buried him, but all through that night of mourning, in the lighted shop-windows, his books, arranged three by three, kept vigil like angels with outspread wings and seemed, for him who was no more, the symbol of his resurrection.
- The Captive, p. 245-246
Thanks for reading, and please take a moment today to reflect on Proust and all the other great authors, composers, and artists whose creations make life seem worth living, even after they have long since died.

You can find out much more about Proust at, an excellent site by Mark Calkins.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

not so fast!

now if only I could get Gilles to do something about the writing.... Posted by Picasa

Last week I installed this thingy from a website called statcounter on my blog, which is able to tell me all kinds of interesting things about the people visiting hella frisch. Don't worry, I'm not going all Big Brother on you, and I'm not going to hack into your computer and take control of your kitchen appliances. Not that I couldn't, I'm just above using my powers for evil.

I did learn a lot, though: for instance that I'd been linked to by a website called, which praised a posting I wrote in these lofty terms: His list is good. Also, that the average hella frisch visitor stays for approximately 1.7 seconds. Interestingly enough, however, last week, when I had posted a picture of my brother's cute dog Gilles, that "sticky quotient" (that's what I like to call it, anyway) was up significantly, to something like 4.6 seconds.

Obviously, this calls for some serious research - the blog-surfing community is hungry for eye candy, but exactly what type of eye candy do they prefer? Cute puppies, sexy women, comically self-impressed red-haired guys? In the interests of science and self promotion, I've decided to compare the stickiness quotients of:
  1. another picture of Gilles
  2. some beautiful women who are friends of mine in swimsuits
  3. a somewhat pale red-headed guy, also a good friend (until now?), also in a swimsuit
As you can see, the experiment has already begun, and your visit has made an invaluable contribution to the advancement of socio- blogological research. Those other pictures will have to wait until I can get my friends' permission. I already got Gilles' permission - he said it was fine as long as I rubbed his tummy afterwards.

I plan to post the results here after my little study, if that will induce anyone to return. If not, please keep a careful watch on your toaster oven.

Gilles has appeared twice previously on hella frisch, July 1st and March 29th.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Martinu's Sextet appeal

This week I have been rehearsing a string sextet by Bohuslav Martinu, the 20th-century Czech composer. Martinu wrote the piece for two violins, two violas, and two cellos - then he wrote a double bass part as well, marked "ad libitum"; the idea being, I guess, well if you've got one around anyway, what the hay.... It just doesn't seem to have been the cool thing to do, writing a septet, Beethoven's excepted - my theory is that if people had started calling it a "heptet" it might have caught on much better.

I'm sort of a non-essential chamber music employee this week, I guess, but the great thing about chamber music is that the less you have to play, the more you can listen to what everyone else is doing and pick on them in rehearsal. "Mr. First Violin, can't that pianissimo trill sound more like a baby sparrow cooing to its mother? Ms. Viola, can those sixteenth-notes be like the insistently crashy waves on a Mediterranean Sea beach in Tel Aviv?"

I spend a lot of the rehearsals making up all kinds of stories about what is going on in the music - we've decided that the last movement is a dramatic chase scene, in a park on a Sunday morning, with the hero being pursued by a sadistic grandmother. The sillier and less pertinent my comments are, the more difficult they are to contradict!

Martinu is a pretty fascinating composer, though - my roommate here is Czech, and he showed me two websites where you can read all about Martinu and see the church where he lived as a child. Martinu was the youngest of four kids, growing up in this little church tower in a small town called Policka, and his father was a shoemaker who also rang the church bells and watched for fires. Here's what the New Grove dictionary has to say about the traumatic effects of this upbringing:
On his own admission, Martinu's boyhood in the tower affected him in later life. Compositionally, he stated that he strove to embody in his work the space constantly before his eyes as a child; as a man, the isolation may well have contributed to the elusive quality of his personality and a tendency to disorientation when first encountering new places.
We'll be performing Martinu's Sextet next weekend, in Ludwig Recital Hall at Kent State University, Sunday, July 17th at 7:30 pm. If you know anyone wandering around northeast Ohio that day, tell them to come hear our concert - it's free, and it's a rare chance to hear a heptet by a disoriented Czech.

To learn more about the Kent/Blossom music festival, follow this link to the official website.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

meeting Mr. Cassandra

I don't have any great unique insight into what happened this morning in London. This afternoon, though, I did run into Mr. Robert Spirko, author of a thriller novel called The Palestine Conspiracy. I was browsing in the university book store, and Mr. Spirko approached and told me all about his book, which he wrote in the mid-1980s. In the novel he predicted many of the recent disasters of terrorism, but no one was willing to publish it until a few months ago. He came to Kent State's book store to see how it was selling - I guess days like this tend to be good for terrorism thriller novel sales.

Mr. Spirko struck me as a modern-day Cassandra - blessed with great prophetic vision, but doomed to be continually ignored. He explained to me his perspective on the future of terrorism, the need for more sophisticated preventive measures, the increasing ability of terrorists to evade the tightest security. Then he offered to personally sign a copy of his book, at which point I had to awkwardly try to explain that I really appreciated all he had told me, but I didn't want to buy his book.

After all, it was $15. For a paperback. And besides, I don't read thrillers, and there was a blurb on the back by "A New York City book reviewer". No name, no publication, just "New York City" - I would have been only slightly less impressed had he quoted the critical acclaim of his mom. I didn't tell him all this, I just sort of squirmed uncomfortably. I figure that if I start reading crappy thriller novels, the terrorists will already have won.

Mr. Spirko seemed to take it pretty well - he said that writers are used to rejection. Still, I couldn't help feeling bad for him, as though I had just pissed all over his birthday candles. Sorry, Mr. Spirko - please let us know about any future wooden horses you come across!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

souls and clowns

The human soul is a box out of which a clown is always ready to spring, making faces and sticking out his tongue, but there are times when that same clown merely peers at us over the edge of the box, and if he sees that, by chance, we are behaving in a just and honest fashion, he merely nods approvingly and disappears, thinking that we are not entirely a lost cause.
- from The Double, by Jose Saramago

Lately I've been raving to everyone I know about the Portuguese author Jose Saramago, and after finishing his most recent novel, The Double, I feel compelled to rave about him to everyone I don't know as well.

Saramago's style seems to be to build a philosophical discussion around the plot he creates, bringing in all sorts of brilliant ideas and observations. These might emerge from the narrator's voice, as in the passage above, full of irony and layered meanings. Or a minor character might come up with some shining observation, momentarily dumbfounding the main characters as well as the reader.

The Double is about two men living in the same city, with different careers and relationships, who are exact duplicates of one another. Being an identical twin, I was intrigued by the premise, but the ideas that develop out of it would be fascinating to anyone. What are the differences that make us individuals, how do we distinguish ourselves from one another, how do we communicate with others and with ourselves - and how do we keep that perverted clown of the soul at bay?

Saramago might be classified as a novelist of ideas, but what left me entranced were his questions, the way his characters search for meaning and clarity amid the puzzling and ridiculous circumstances of living. I began this novel thinking it was a great primer for anyone curious about being a twin - after finishing it, I think it is a great primer for anyone curious about being human. Consider yourself raved to.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

zoned for tragedy

Since Sunday I've been staying at Kent State, a large university in Northeast Ohio infamous as the site where four students were shot protesting the Vietnam War, on May 4th, 1970. It's strange walking around the campus, seeing the little reminders that seem to haunt the place. There is a May 4th research room in the library, where I suppose you can read all about the horrible events of that day and the context in which they happened.

I haven't visited that room yet, but I did walk over to the parking lot across the street from the building where we are staying. This is where the shootings actually occurred, and three parking spaces have been marked off as a May 4th memorial. In the corner of each space is a marble slab engraved with the name of the student who fell and died there.

a macabre parking spot at Kent State Posted by Picasa

The spot shown here has a plaque with the name of one of the victims, and while it is not her actual burial place, it still seems odd and somewhat grisly to park next to it. So much of our architecture, especially at a university, seems to proclaim the grandeur, optimism, and permanence of human achievements. Even if it were not in a parking lot, I think this display of human cruelty, senselessness, and fragility would come as a shocking reminder. People die all the time, it seems to be saying, in all kinds of horrible ways, and we can't really consecrate every human resting place; or else we would have nowhere left to park our cars.

Friday, July 01, 2005

a summit with Gilles

While visiting my brother Dan in Los Angeles, I took this photograph of Gilles, his Welsh Corgi. Gilles' interests include climbing hills, wading in shallow pools, and carrots.

Gilles, hiking up Mt. Washington Posted by Picasa