Saturday, October 10, 2009

The color of sound (and other ramblings)...

I've always been fascinated by synesthesia, a condition that causes people to experience sensation in one sense when another sense is stimulated (i.e. equating a C major chord with the color yellow). In the late 1800s, spurred by Freud and a fascination with the subconscious, many musicians were obsessed by the concept of synesthesia. It pops up a great deal in my thesis research. In fact, the keyboard at the top of this blog was created by composer/synesthete Alexander Scriabin based on his color/sound perception of each key. Anyway, a cool documentary by Jonathan Fowler on synesthesia was recently posted on boing boing. Check it out:

In other news...
Our president was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Synesthesia or no, this is black and white, folks. No gray areas here. I'll admit, when I first heard the news, I was a bit shocked. Too early? Maybe. But as I continued to think about it, I realized Barack Obama was awarded a high honor for pursuing peace around the world. Pursuing. Not achieving. Sure, Gitmo is still open. But the president is working steadily to find a way to close it that is lawful and just. It is appropriate to honor someone who is actively seeking nuclear disarmament, an end to two wars, and peace in the middle east. Other Nobel Peace Prize winners did not end hunger or erase racism. They were rewarded for their work and tireless efforts in pursuit of those goals. I think we have a president right now who is tirelessly working toward peace.

And yes, we still don't have a health care bill and the economy is still struggling. I'm frustrated by these things too. But if I'm not mistaken, nobody suggested giving a Nobel Prize to the U.S. Congress. There are plenty of actual things republicans can be upset by right now (how are we going to handle Afghanistan? budget deficit, etc.). It is absurd to be angered by the fact that our president was honored for pursuing peace. Absurd and small-minded. It's time to stop playing the sore-loser card.

Last thing for the day...
In case you haven't heard, the (classical) music world is abuzz with excitement about the L.A. Phil's new conductor/music director, Gustavo Dudamel. We love him because he is hip and young, absurdly talented, and capable of generating some serious excitement about symphonic music. If there is anything the classical music world can always use, it is a little extra dash of youth and excitement. This weekend Dudamel started the season off with Mahler and a brand new Adams piece called, City Noir. You can listen to the whole thing (courtesy of NPR). Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I love it when...

people boo at operas.

It's just such a snotty pseudo-conservative-opera-goer thing to do. Seriously, haven't we seen it all when it comes to opera at this point? Must we continue to feign shock, horror, and disdain in the face of innovation? You spent $1200 on your seat. If I were you, I'd be disappointed if I weren't shocked.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Life lessons 'n shit (or, a little late night pedagogical musing)...

I teach a lot of F*@&ing piano lessons every week. This week has seemed particularly long (which is probably why I used the F word to describe piano lessons...wonder how often that's been

Anyway, I was reminded today of something my piano pedagogy professor used to say in graduate school: "Always remember that you are not teaching piano, you are teaching people." He reiterated the same sentiment by telling us to, "teach the child first, music second, and the instrument third."

Like so much one learns in school, this is a concept that made sense to me in the abstract while I was sitting in the classroom but has become increasingly practical in the day-to-day grind of teaching.

There are days when teaching music history or teaching piano really is less about the subject or the instrument and more about the person sitting in front of me. Piano students have parents who get divorced and death touches everyone - regardless of age. College students raise children on their own while trying to put themselves through school. Some college kids even fight in wars - real ones - like, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And I find myself, in the midst of all the awful stuff that sometimes makes up people's lives, trying to convince a 19 year old that Baroque opera is worth a second listen or an 8 year old that articulation and the shape of a phrase matters.

I'm keenly aware that my role is that of music teacher not music therapist. There are brilliant music therapists in this world who are well-trained for that job. However, anyone who teaches music is mindful of the fact that because music is personal and because it so often elicits emotional responses, the teacher/therapist role is sometimes blurred. The only way around that reality, I'm convinced, would involve a dispassionate or clinical approach to one's students and one's subject.

I really have no conclusion or point to this little rant, except to say that this has been a long week. Oh, and that I think teaching music is important and that it makes a real difference in people's lives.

And one more thing...

I've been meaning to post the following quote from Alex Ross's insightful article from the New Yorker last month on fictional music/musicians in literature. Seems to fit here:

"When we listen deeply, we aren't simply registering music's ebb and flow; we are remaking music in our own image, investing minor details with private significance."

Investing minor details with private significance.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

It's state fair time in Minnesota...

Yes, Minnesota...where Al Franken showed up and did this:

I'm impressed. I've watched this about six times tonight and while it isn't perfect (Tennessee for instance is a little stubby in his version), it's pretty damn good. Almost as impressive as winning that Senate seat, Mr. Franken...Now get back to work and get all 50 of those states some universal health care!

P.S. Just in case you haven't heard, this year at the Texas state fair one can consume (drum roll please) FRIED BUTTER. I kid you not. Fried butter.

Like I said, better pass that health care bill...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Hours and hours and hours of fun...

This just in (because I just found it):

Pitchfork listed its top 500 (yes, 500) songs of the 2000's. And they posted all 500 with MP3s. Go Crazy, kids!

(Just FYI, I think the Young Jeezy song "Go Crazy" is somewhere in the 300s. You know the one..."pop my collar then they swing they chain, all the gangstas in the street they be doin they thang...")

I'm going to stay up all night going through this list.

It's the freakin' weekend, baby, I'm bout to have me some fun....

(That was #19...)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Back to school blues (quote of the day)...

It's the first week of school and I'm dragging my heels a bit. I just had a really nice two weeks off and, as Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke can tell you, Reality Bites.

I spent a lot of time alone this summer and I think the sudden onslaught of students is overwhelming. All I want to do at the end of the day is sit in total silence and read. Feeling a tad like a hermit reminded me of this quote I heard on an episode of This American Life recently:

"Here's the thing about people: I don't really like them. That's why I find racism so curious. There are so many reasons to dislike people. You're gonna go with color? So I avoid the people whenever possible, try to keep my distance. It's really better for everyone."

~ Shalom Auslander

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I never go to bed on time (or, ode to fast food chicken and beautiful men playing banjo)...

I never go to bed on time. Never. Ever. I'm not even terribly sure what time "on time" is, but I'm sure it has to be sometime before 3am. Especially when your alarm is set to go off around 7:30...

Anyway, the point of this post is actually to give you a little ear (and eye) candy in the form of a new video of an acoustic performance by the Avett Brothers (just posted on

The Avett Brothers~Telling Time from LaundroMatinee on Vimeo.

Scott Avett has to be one of the best things North Carolina has ever given this world. Well, at least a very close third behind the first airplane and, of course, Bojangles Chicken 'n Biscuits. Actually, I could totally go for a BoBerry biscuit right now...or one of the cinnamon ones...oh man...a whole chicken basket is not a bad idea!

Now I'm starving.

Anyway, if you too suffer from insomnia and an insatiable appetite for cajun chicken biscuits, you should kill some time by watching the following clip. The second song they sing (around 7 minutes through) is my favorite ("things change and get strange with the movement of's happening right now to you...down with the shine, the perfect shine, poisons the well, ruins my mind, i get took for a ride every time, down with the glistening shine.....")

And if you have never eaten at a Bojangles, get in your car right now and drive east young man, drive east. You won't regret it.