You went to Bombay?

Where was I? Flat on my back on the wicker sofa with my feet up over the arm (of the sofa). I had just arrived home from work so I was tired, and explaining this to Gamma and how, no, I don’t feel like playing cards right this second, give me a minute.
Alpha was picking Beta up at the music school, so when the phone rang Gamma, after going, “Hello? Hello?” for a minute, brought it to me.
It was a neighbor lady.
Yes, hi, she said, I guess my daughter was afraid to talk to Gamma. We wanted to invite Gamma to a birthday party this Wednesday, well, not really a party, because only one other girl can come, so I guess to a get-together in our back yard.
Every childhood has one, doesn’t it? A little boy or girl to whose birthday parties no one wants to go, so your parents urge you to?
Hrm, I said. Might be okay. I’ll have to check the calendar first to make sure. We just got back from Pompeii, so I’m not really up to speed on the schedule for this week.
Where’d you go?! she said. What?!
Er, we went to Pompeii, I said.
Bombay?! You went to Bombay?! She was talking like a hard-of-hearing person.
Bombay, Pompeii – in (Austrian, at least) German they’re homonyms.
We went for the weekend, I said, just to increase the confusion for a second before clearing her up. Here I am, having a who’s-on-first conversation and sad at the same time. Southern Italy, I said. By Naples, big volcano?
Our front door opened, Alpha and Beta were home.
Hang on a second, I said. I’ll give you Alpha.
Alpha explained that Gamma was busy that day. She suggested the party be rescheduled.

This post sponsored by the International Apian Association

Alpha and I spent last weekend at a spa, I believe to celebrate the recent anniversary of our marriage. I described the trip to my mom. They had various saunas and steam baths there, hot ones and less hot ones, and a jacuzzi, everything the heart desires. Great food, too, and service, and nice rooms. My mom said it sounded like a movie star life, and I hadn’t even mentioned that a young fellow put honey on Alpha’s bottom.

Alpha enjoyed it, she said. Apparently it had something to do with a massage.

I also had a couple massages. Here’s some useful information: if you ever get so relaxed during a massage that you pass gas, just pretend you were sound asleep and give them a nice tip, and all is forgiven.

We also went for a walk while we were there, and for a bike ride. We didn’t just sit around and eat and drink and relax, we earned it, baby. However, being Austria, the bike ride took us past a hill covered with wine cellars and one happened to be open and we stopped to ask directions or something and got stuck there for several hours, sitting at a picnic table out front, tasting the wines.

Somehow we made it back to the spa.

This weekend (right now, in fact: in 15 minutes I rush to the train station) we are apparently going to Pompeii with some other people, we being Alpha, Gamma and I. Beta has to stay home and water plants and feed pets. Plus, she was there last year.

We’re going by train. I’ll use the opportunity to do research for a project I’m working on, as it involves fire.

Have a nice weekend.


Apparently, Alpha has gotten me nominated in the best writing category over at the satin pyjama awards this year, to celebrate 20 years* of marriage, the anniversary of which is today.

There’s no other explanation.

Thanks, Alpha!

I see she’s also gotten Novala nominated for most-underappreciated weblog, which is kind of a catch-22 category but we’ll stop kicking that dead horse and instead endorse Novala.
*or, as some people prefer, 10512000 minutes.

On amateurism and flakiness

I think I have mentioned this here before, how I thought, walking one summer day past the local music school, which looked beautiful, being in an old restored convent, and had music coming out the windows, how nice it would be to have a kid attending it so I would have an excuse to hang around there.

Then that came true. My kid started learning an instrument there and I eventually decided to try the cello, not to get good at it, just as a way to get a little closer to the window and look in on music a little better. I never had any plans to become a real cellist.

I still don’t. It would be nice if it happened, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

I get self-conscious about this amateur business. I don’t just do this, I also see myself doing it, and I can see that one could be of the opinion that it is flaky to be doing this. Playing music with children at their level, or below, as an adult. It is a good reason to learn music as a child and not an adult, it comes at a higher price when you’re an adult. Whether that price is people thinking you’re flaky or an unrealistic self-conscious fear of being thought so or (I suppose) a combination of the two is another story.

It’s just, here I am, looking for the window. Or, now, the door. Opportunities are offered to me, so I take them and find myself playing in an amateur orchestra. Or composing. The music school has some very dedicated and brilliant teachers, and some of them ran a composition workshop this year. Gamma said she would do it if I did, so I signed up too. Last night there was a concert where about a dozen compositions were performed, results of the workshop.

Two adults took part, me and another father. I sat there trying to decide whether this was flaky or not, because I figure as long as you realize it might be flaky, it isn’t flaky yet. There is the risk that that makes it even flakier on some metaflaky-level but I’ll just have to live with that.

Mostly, I am grateful to have this chance to fool around with this stuff. A couple professional composers were there and spoke, and one mentioned how composition ought to be taught to children the way we let them paint in school, or write stories and poems, without expecting they’ll be the next Picasso or Shakespeare. Here, at least, you can’t usually study composition before the university level.

We also got to meet with them before the concert and discuss what we had composed. They were nice guys. They said nice things about what I had composed. (The concert was recorded and I ordered a CD. If the sound quality is ok, I’ll post an MP3 here eventually).

I told them how amazed I had been by the process of composing. How you can start with absolutely nothing and end up with something that generates images and feelings and a narrative, that evokes something specific and intended, if only for yourself. I could have explained what I was trying to get at with the piece for a long time.

It is, somehow, a different process, and a different result, than other amateur creative pursuits I engage in. When I write a text, the origins of the text are more mysterious, usually, as are the intentions, usually. A painting is even more so. The tune, on the other hand, was extremely concrete and specific. It was, specifically, about grief being overcome (or balanced) by life. The good, old yin/yang thing. It was about that dead fox at the side of the road, and a happy badger walking off into the woods of a warm summer evening.

Gamma’s piece was one of the more interesting compositions, as was mine. (She had the guts to perform hers herself. For a shy kid, she can be rather fearless.) Neither one of us won the “audience prize” that was awarded by the end of the show, because people are philistines, but we were praised by real musicians, including the composers, who (in our private conversation) encouraged me to continue with this.

This was cool: when you compose, you can create a language for that piece that is specific to that piece. I did this consciously, build a set of rules the piece must follow etc. And the composers (and others last night) mentioned this to me, that is, they got it. That was neat.

They also said the cello part hadn’t made the most of what a cello can do (which was true, but again, the cello part was simply following the rules of the piece) and one or two other things could have been better. One problem was the use of mobile phone ringtones in the piece – do you use them only once, at the beginning, or more often? I used them only at the beginning, and some listeners found it odd and expected them to turn up again. But if they come again later, I thought, that could also be too much – I didn’t want to run that gag into the ground (or, turn it into a joke).

Another thing to do while looking for the door. Another thing to do for love and fail at, although please note that I am using the word “fail” in a slightly different sense here.

I can’t praise the teachers enough who organized this, or the school for offering it, or the various entities that supported this program. It was a very cool experience in so many ways, and who gives a shit if you’re one of two adults in a group of kids. It was amazing to see a tune go from idea to performance, and it was neat to see my daughter and five other harpists and a cellist playing it, and it was neat to see Gamma and her cousin climbing around inside a grand piano playing her tune. Even the ice cream we ate afterwards was neat, as was the balmy summer evening.

Last summer? At orchestra camp?

I just wanted to mention a couple things about my involvement in the local youth orchestra, before I forget everything. There were, I think, about 62 musicians this year, more than last year, including a full woodwind and brass and all that section. Oh, and two harps. Five full-sized adults, that is parents, played in the orchestra, including myself, and at 48 I was not the oldest one; but none of us were professionals or experts, but rather towards the beginner end of the spectrum, having begun learning our instruments as adults, usually in reaction to having a kid at the music school. Several of us had kids in the orchestra, which is a fun experience, playing in an orchestra with your kid.

I suppose it might have looked funny, a couple white-haired guys in the local youth orchestra, but it was nice of them to let us play and you can’t demand that they change the name especially for us.

There was quite a range of kids playing, from little violinists etc who had just two or three years under their belts, to kids like my daughter who will be turning 18 soon and has been learning harp for 11 years, and several who have sort of graduated and are in their early 20s but still hang around. A diverse group.

The tunes we played this year were harder than last year. Part of a Vivaldi concert for 2 violins. Two little ten-year old girls played the solo, and were fantastic. Grieg, a march from “Sigurd Jojrsalfar” that had some pretty tough bits. A Handel concert for organ, arranged for harp, in which my daughter and another girl had a beautiful solo. Three Lehar waltzes. Brahms Hungarian Dance #5. We played Glen Miller’s Pennsylvania 6500 as an encore.

It all went rather well this year. The kids developed so much between when we started rehearsals and our final concert. They even made progress between the first concert and the final, fourth one. The teachers and other involved people worked hard and did a really good job. And the kids made the most of it. It was cool to be sitting in the middle of all that.

When I first heard we were playing 4 concerts this year instead of 3 like last year I thought, oh god, somebody’s getting ambitious; but it turned out to be good for everyone’s playing, more time to perfect everything before the final concert in our home town.

Our music school cooperated with two other schools this year in connection with the orchestra. One was a little school in a spa town, and were really nice people. A couple of their kids played in our orchestra, and we had a joint concert with their own little orchestra, and they were really nice and everyone got a lot out of it. The other was with this other ambitious music school in a town near Vienna. We felt like the Bad News Bears. We played two concerts with them, first in their town and then our final concert at home. They had relatively few real pupils in their orchestra, and mostly teachers, kids studying at the university level and even a couple they paid. So they totally outplayed us at the first concert.

I don’t really get why someone would want to stuff a music school orchestra with so many ringers, unless they’re really uptight about perfection. Our orchestra had a few teachers playing in it in the beginning, but that was just because the kids were too small and there really was no one else. But I believe the situation was different with the other school.

I wasn’t really crazy about their choice of music, either. Beta thought it was cheap that they played Andrew Lloyd Webber, for example. With a drum set!

Anyway. We had the home court advantage for our final concert, and the kids were phenomenal. Everything you can do right in an orchestra, they did. The stage was too small for all the people we had, so I had a good look at our conductor’s face (she is a genius, by the way) and she looked so happy and proud of the kids after every number. Everything we screwed up in the previous concerts we did right this time. Everyone remembered their pianissimos and their fortissimos. No one played into a rest. (Well, almost no one. The kid sharing my music stand did once, but he was very quiet about it. Better him than me.) Everything came together into this giant inverted funnel of music that rose into the sky and exploded like fireworks into a big unicorn of light before fading.

Or something.

My wife just showed me the local paper. There’s a picture of the orchestra and you can even see me if you look close, I’m the little white dot in the bass section. Beta is even mentioned by name in the article.

Anyway. I failed again this year, but at a higher level, so I’m happy. I couldn’t keep up with the fast bits in the Grieg, although the Lehar went much better than I’d feared. The stage at the last concert was rather tiny, so I had to devote half my brain power to getting the bow directions right and not stabbing the kid to my left. By the fourth concert, I was no longer so entranced by the harp solos that I missed the part where I was supposed to start playing again, although they were very entrancing.

It’s all about failing at a higher level each time, for me at least.

Evolution is not picky about direction

Running sushi. I’m not sure about that one. Does that make it a sad thing that the human race is headed for extinction, or a happy thing? Some things, like digital photography, are clear. Happy thing. Good riddance, you think. Excellent idea: colorful light to distract them and then one day, poof, no artefacts. Other things, such as certain music involving the cello or harp you think, aw too bad. Bach, for example. Handel with the two dots over the A. Certain AC/DC tunes. Bone saws that shut off automatically before they slice into the brain.
But running sushi confounds me.
We were at the running sushi place recently. They had a new maki going around. It was square and rather intricate, but all it was was seaweed, rice and a little fake crab in the middle. I only had about ten of those.
We were there so long that they finally shut off the conveyor belts and it was simply “sushi”.
We’re often like that, the last ones to leave a party.
Maybe it’ll be like that when the human race finally goes extinct. Me and my family wandering around going, “look at all these digital cameras. The Panasonics even still have a charge.” Gamma could wander through supermarkets gathering all the pop music fan magazines she wanted. Alpha could finally get that carport. Beta would be going, “well, that virus was a little more virulent than I meant it to be…”.
The sky is grey and cloudy. It looks like smoke over my neighbors’ houses.
Not really. It looks like clouds. Lots of clouds.
Imagine playing checkers with Bj