Monday, January 31, 2011

I [Heart] Music

My friend, fellow violinist, and frequent stand partner Melissa and I have a thing we do when certain notes need a little extra, well, love. Maybe it's because they're so beautiful, maybe it's because it's a favorite part of ours to play, or maybe it's because the conductor told us to make those notes special. Whatever the reason, we, like seventh grade girls, shamelessly draw a little heart in the music when the occasion calls for it.

Are you wondering what a heart in music sounds like? The one above is in Brahms' Symphony No. 4. Start listening at 4:05 (or at the beginning if you'd like). At 4:33, well, that is what that heart sounds like.

Now you know.

You'd like another example? In the second movement, at 2:28 in the video below, that is what a heart sounds like.

I heart Brahms. I also heart our conductor for the upcoming Brahms concert this weekend, because he overflows with expression, he uses phrases like "joie de vivre," and his face positively shines sometimes. Also whereas many conductors use various vowels and consonants to express the kinds of sounds they hope to elicit from the orchestra, he is the only one I know who regularly uses lots of Z's, and I find it inspiring. "Zhaaa!" "Zheeee!" "Zhuuuum!"

Brahms, love, and joie de vivre. What a nice week this will be.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Proof of Sleep Deprivation

Tonight during a break from a rehearsal I checked my email on my phone and noticed an notification that I had been "tagged" in a photo on facebook. I clicked through to see this photo, which was apparently taken at a rehearsal for the recent run of "Pirates of Penzance."

I realize that this probably reflects terribly on my gig etiquette, but nonetheless, when I saw this picture I started laughing and showed my friend Melissa. She thought it was hilarious too, and soon I had tears spilling over from laughing so hard. Adding to the humor was a comment from someone I don't know saying, "That girl on the right is fantastic," and then a comment from a friend declaring my face a "quintessential Sarah expression."

Of course, as I looked at this picture, I couldn't help remembering a certain person from the church where Nathan works who complained about seeing me yawn in church.

So that's what I look like during long sermons! Why the complaint? Clearly, this is a great look for me!

For the record, I wasn't bored at the above-documented rehearsal, and I certainly didn't intend to be rude. I also wasn't screaming, or yodeling, or trying to eat the violist to my left. Sometimes I am just really, really tired, and apparently I have a bit of a yawning problem.

So, I am indebted to the person who happened to catch me in the midst of the hugest yawn ever. I think this picture is hysterical.

Let's just have one more look at it, shall we?

On that note, I should probably go to bed.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Alternate Career Option?

In a quartet rehearsal, my fellow musicians and I found ourselves swapping a few "horror stories" of previous chamber music experiences. I mentioned (not by name of course) a person I played with who had tragically made it to adulthood still under the impression that personal life difficulties made one exempt from having to show up for rehearsals or classes, come prepared, and be responsible.

I expressed my belief that sometimes life is difficult for everyone, but we're all adults now, and professors and teachers and peers alike need to stop enabling individuals like this and tell them to suck it up - sometimes life is rough, and you still have to be responsible, get your act together, show up to your obligations, and do a good job. Having a personal problem is not an excuse to stay in your pajamas for a semester and bail out on everyone and everything.

[I know... my empathy is astounding.]

Said Miriam, a violist, "Wow, Sarah, you should be a life coach."

Well, if violin doesn't work out for me, now I have a fallback plan.

[Really, it's not that I don't care. I just don't think getting a free pass to sit around feeling sorry for oneself actually helps anyone in the long run. Getting squared away and getting stuff accomplished is part of moving on, and that's life. I do have a heart... I think.]

Theory Exam

I should mention, for posterity and all, that I took the graduate music theory proficiency exam at the start of this new semester and passed it.

Without studying.

At all.

So I really hadn't thought about augmented sixth chords or voice leading or any other aspects of harmony, form, or analysis, in four years.

I can't decide if my passing means I should be really proud of myself, or really embarrassed of my school.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Move Over, Josh

Joshua Bell has long been considered one of the more attractive people on the classical music scene today. He was selected as one of People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" back in 2000, and his appearance seems to have generally added to the success he has garnered from being, in fact, a fantastic violinist.

Well, if looks is the final ingredient along with talent, hard work, and whatever else leads to violinistic success [don't ask me; I haven't attained it], young violinist Charlie Siem should continue to do well for himself.

[Incidentally, I like men in grey suits. Also, violinists in general.]

And here he is in action, playing a Wieniawski caprice:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Language Lexicon

Sometimes Nathan, who claims to not be good with words, goes and surprises me with his clever language. Recently it went something like this:

"Hey babe, you should come arrange the covers the way you want them before I go to bed."

He thinks I won't see through this to his real meaning, which is,

"Hey babe, come arrange the covers for me so I can go to bed."

By using the phrase, "the way you want them," he implies that he's doing me a favor by allowing me to have the covers the way I want them. He is offering me the chance to prepare them myself, which naturally I must really want to do. He attempts to subliminally convince me that it's my personal preference that likes the sheets and covers straightened before bed, whereas many, many people actually prefer the sheets bunched at the foot of the bed beneath the quilt - which should probably be upside-down and sideways.

Pretty good, right?

I imagine that I am guilty of using clever language like this sometimes, too.

If Nathan had a blog, he'd tell you all about it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Pirates of Penzance

This week I'm playing in the pit for a run of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance at my alma mater. The pit is a combination of students and professionals, including a few alumni freelancers such as myself. The students in the cast are doing a great job and I'm enjoying the experience more than I would the average pit orchestra gig - my parents (and perhaps my Dad in particular) had a penchant for Gilbert and Sullivan and I was raised with frequent viewings of the Kevin Kline/Rex Smith/George Rose/Linda Ronstadt/Angela Lansbury movie. Even all these years later (it's been probably fifteen years since I've seen that old VHS tape) I'm surprised to find that I remember nearly every word and every note.

Who can forget this comical dialogue? [read it with a British accent to properly understand the ensuing confusion]

General: Tell me, have you ever known what it is to be an orphan?
Pirates: Oh, dash it all!
King: Here we are again!
General: I ask you, have you ever known what it is to be an orphan?
King: Often!
General: Yes, orphan. Have you ever known what it is to be one?
King: I say, often.
Pirates: Often, often, often.
General: I don’t think we quite understand one another. I ask you, have you ever known what it is to be an orphan, and you say “orphan.” As I understand you, you are merely repeating the word “orphan” to show that you understand me.
King: I didn’t repeat the word often.
General: Pardon me, you did indeed.
King: I only repeated it once.
General: True, but you repeated it.
King: But not often.
GeneralI Stop! I think I see where we are getting confused. When you said “orphan,” did you mean “orphan” – a person who has lost his parents, or “often,” frequently?
King: Ah! I beg pardon – I see what you mean – frequently.
General: Ah! you said "often," frequently.
King: No, only once.
General: Exactly – you said “often,” frequently, only once!

This afternoon in a rehearsal with the children's orchestra I conduct, I mentioned to the kids that I was off to a rehearsal for "The Pirates of Penzance" immediately following our little rehearsal. I asked them if any of them had seen or heard of the show, and a dozen little heads shook from side to side. A young violinist named Maria asked, "Do you mean Pirates of the Caribbean? I've seen that!" I laughed and said, "No... have you heard of Gilbert and Sullivan?" She replied, "No... do you mean Johnny Depp?"

Ah, it's 2011 and perhaps I'm a bit of an old relic. But really, what childhood is complete without knowing such a truly hilarious operetta?

The policemen in this particular production, as in most, really steal the show with their 'tarantaras' and other antics, making When the Foeman Bares His Steel one of my favorite songs:

And I love the irony and swashbuckling melodies in With Cat-like Tread:

Definitely a fun show, and one everyone should see!

Frozen informs me that it feels like -13 degrees right now here on the north shore of Boston.

So perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised when I went down to the basement this morning to transfer last night's load of laundry from the washer to the dryer - and discovered that all those wet clothes were frozen solid.

I'm seriously considering a move back to my California roots.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A First

Today marked the first day that I ever taught violin lessons on a Sunday. Previously I had naïvely clung to my belief that I didn't work on Sundays. I eventually realized that this was an illusion, as I almost always have concerts and/or rehearsals on Sundays. So this week when I needed to shift around my Saturday students a bit to accommodate a Saturday afternoon sitzprobe for an upcoming run of The Pirates of Penzance, I decided to put five lessons on Sunday afternoon between church in the morning and an orchestra rehearsal in the evening.

It really wasn't bad, teaching on this particular Sunday, although I hope it doesn't have to become a regular event.

Sometime last year I started to notice that never (okay, rarely) having a real day off gets tiring after a while. It's not that I never have free time - I do! But I think there's a real difference between 24 hours of collective rest throughout a week, and 24 hours of uninterrupted rest at the conclusion of a week. Maybe God knew what he was talking about with that whole Sabbath thing. Maybe someday I'll have the luxury of having Sundays wholly without work. Maybe someday my husband will, too. In the meantime, playing and teaching music on Sundays, while not always restful, is at least usually not unpleasant. I really can't complain.


... it snowed again. Nathan had class but my day's activities were mostly cancelled, so I acquiesced with his request for company and drove into Boston with him. I dragged a friend along for an adventure.

Jillian and I strolled through some stores on Newbury St. Jillian tried on shoes (cute, but too expensive) in a shoe store. The store happened to have a big mirror. We decided to document the day with a photo.

Before picking up Nathan from school and heading home, Pinkberry was a necessity. They opened one on Newbury Street in the fall, and Jillian had never been to a Pinkberry before. I usually get fruit toppings with frozen yogurt, but I decided to branch out and try a combination of hazelnut praline topping, toasted almonds, and mochi.

I might be slightly addicted to tart frozen yogurt. I might be saying this because I might have also gotten Pinkberry (with raspberries and mochi) the day before with my friend Melissa after our first class of the new semester. And might have had Red Mango the day before that with Chaz and Nathan after a recital in Boston. Might have, maybe, hypothetically.

So, Friday. All in all it was a nice adventure for a snowy day.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Unusual Conversation

Sometimes we have weird conversations. Take this one, for example:

Sarah: Hey, can I get a taser?
Nathan: Nope.
Sarah: But it might be useful if someone tried to nab me on the street.
Nathan: Nope. But you can get a gun.
Sarah: Wait, what?!
Nathan: Tasers have a range of approximately, you know, zero. Guns on the other hand are sweet. You should get a gun.
Sarah: I don't seriously want a weapon. I was just messing around.
Nathan: But it would be so cool if my wife had a gun.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

From The Sartorialist

Love this photo from the sartorialist.

Love these too.

And this one.

And also this one.

Okay, I love everything the sartorialist does.

Such as this photograph, which is from a long time ago but I've always admired. Beautiful subject, beautiful outfit, beautiful photograph.

I like how good photographs can bring one thing clearly into focus while putting a nice blur over other things. [I love blurriness.]

It's the power of the photographer I suppose - a good photographer gets to command your focus on what he or she wants you to really see.

[Read about Scott Schuman here.]

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Virtual Shopping

At her violin lesson on Saturday, a four year old student of mine declared, "I love shopping for clothes. And Target is just the best."

Ah, these tendencies of the female sex start so early, don't they?

I continue to find polyvore to be a suitable substitute for the actual kind of shopping that involves spending money. I can dream up outfits from the comfort of my couch without spending a dime! Brilliant!

Of course, I made these fashion compilations while I was still on vacation. Now that I'm back to work and back to school, I doubt there will be any more time for polyvore. And yes, I recognize that this is probably a good thing. But sometimes when one is on vacation one actually just wants to waste time. It was fun while it lasted.


Last week we had a big snowstorm. Schools were cancelled for not one day but two days in a row. We got about 18 inches of snow in one day, I think. It was pretty epic.

I took pictures through our kitchen window because I'm a wimp like that.

I'll be honest: I am not the snow adventurer I was when I was a kid. I don't like the cold. I'll go out to shovel snow when necessary, but I don't think to myself, "Oh snow, hurray, I think I'll go build a snowman and have a snowball fight and get wet jeans and damp socks and cold snow down my neck and frostbite on my fingers! I'll lie in the cold wet stuff and make snow angels, and slide around on it and get it all up and down my pant legs, and then when I go inside I'll track it into my house so my floors can be wet!"

Like I said, wimp. And you can add boring to the list if you want. I'm okay with it.

I did venture out to get a picture of some icicles on our house:

I snapped this picture just before my index finger froze and dropped off at my feet. You don't believe me? You must not live in New England. It is really cold here.

For example, last night it was seven degrees out by 9:00 pm. Seven.

This kind of weather does not make me altogether happy, although it does look very pretty - as long as I can stay inside where it's warm.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Second Semester

School starts again this Wednesday.

It was so nice having a break.

To think that I used to think teaching and gigging made me busy! Now, having time off from school and "just" teaching and gigging feels like a vacation, a walk in the park, a relaxing holiday.

In the next four weeks, I have exactly five evenings free where I can be at home. I'm sure in the following months it only gets worse, but I don't know - I can't bring myself to flip any further in my day planner. It's too overwhelming. And my Saturdays? I teach from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Sundays? Church in the mornings, and usually various concerts in the afternoons and/or rehearsals in the evenings.

As for school, I'm changing violin teachers this semester, and I think it's going to be an improvement. I'm excited about that.

My school orchestra is playing Beethoven 7. I'm excited about that, too.

But the semester hasn't even started and I already have an exam tomorrow. I am NOT excited about that.

[I haven't studied for it. Way to start the new year off brilliantly, Sarah Marie.]

Colin Firth

And like a charm, just after I sang his praises in my post on The King's Speech, last night Colin Firth snagged best actor (drama) in the Golden Globes!

Clearly, I have excellent taste.

[in men and in movies]

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The King's Speech

Last weekend Nathan and I went with some friends to see The King's Speech. I cannot recommend this film highly enough! If you haven't seen it, go to a theater and see it at once.

Do you need to be convinced?
1. Colin Firth
2. British accents
3. A soundtrack that includes the second movement of Beethoven's 7th Symphony

Since any one of those points could be pretty convincing alone, I think the three of them are a solid argument in favor of seeing this movie.

[I should mention one slight caution - the film does contain bad language, primarily utilized as a means of speech therapy.]

The King's Speech tells the true story of King George the VI of Britain and his reluctant ascent to the throne during the difficult time of the outbreak of WWII. On a personal level, it chronicles his battle with a speech impediment during a time when royalty were expected to address their people in speeches over the radio. King George VI is played by Colin Firth, the king's wife played by Helena Bonham Carter [I kept expecting her to put a curse on someone; thanks to her marvelous performances in the Harry Potter films], and the king's speech therapist portrayed by Geoffrey Rush.

With a cast like that you can expect a good film, and yes, they deliver one.

73-year-old screenwriter David Seidler had a personal interest in telling the story of King George VI - Seidler was a stammerer himself who had drawn inspiration from the king's ability to overcome his speech condition. This Newsweek article says,
At the conclusion of the gala presentation of The King’s Speech at the Toronto film festival in September, 2,000 people rose to their feet to give the filmmakers an ovation. “I was overwhelmed,” Seidler says, “because for the first time ever, the penny dropped and I felt I had a voice and had been heard. For a stutterer, it’s a profound moment.”
You can hear the real King George VI's speech on YouTube:

Colin Firth's rendition is dead-on. Superb.

Throughout the movie I found myself particularly struck by how the king's wife served as a source of strength and support to him, never faltering in her belief that he could overcome his speech difficulty and be a great king to his people. Considering the personal problems that the film indicates led to his stammer, I imagine that the unconditional love and support of his wife - as well as the more overt help of his speech therapist - made a great deal of difference in helping him overcome his stammer. Most movies today are interested in the beginnings of love stories, and not the everyday middles of marriages. It's refreshing to see a movie that portrays a real relationship, a grown husband and wife who display love and affection and solidarity through life's difficulties.

The soundtrack is stellar, utilizing music conservatively rather than constantly as some movies do, and featuring really the best of the best at just the right moments. The regular underscoring is your usual movie music fare, but then they also work in Mozart's Overture to the Marriage of Figaro, and a bit of Brahms' German Requiem, and the second movement of Beethoven's "Emperor" piano concerto, and at the high point of the film, they hit you with the deeply moving Allegretto from Beethoven's 7th, and you may find a tear rolling down your face - or maybe that's just me.

I'm tempted to say it may have been my favorite film of 2010. It's definitely not to be missed.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Anniversary Trip, Day 3

Day 3 of our anniversary trip started with breakfast at James Brown's Place, a diner in Rochester. (Again, found thanks to Yelp.) Nathan had two servings of Eggs Benedict - one with ham and one with bacon. I had one order, modified from menu offerings to be: English muffin, cooked spinach, black beans, poached eggs, and hollandaise sauce. Delicious.

[Photo taken with my iPhone]

After breakfast, it was off to the George Eastman House, where we spent the day touring the house mansion, viewing the current rock 'n roll photography exhibit, and looking at displays of cameras of decades gone by. Of course, there was plenty of time to take some pictures of my own, too.

George Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak Company, was an inventor and philanthropist who brought photography to the masses and made it possible for everyday people to enjoy as a hobby. I had no idea what a fascinating person he was - an entrepreneur, a leader in employee benefit programs, a lover of music, and much more. You can read all about him here.

The estate was absolutely incredible.

The guy had a library to be envied:

Safes throughout his home:

And um, lots of hatboxes...

He also loved plants and had incredible outdoor gardens (which of course weren't part of the tour in December) as well as an indoor conservatory. Unfortunately, Mr. Eastman enjoyed participating in the fashion of the time to travel to exotic places and bring home "trophies."

Yes, he had an elephant head mounted on the wall.

As well as a myriad of other dead animals "decorating" his home.

[I know... decidedly unappealing.]

But at least he had excellent taste in music! He had a nine-foot Steinway with a case made by Tiffany's, a personal string quartet he established that played on his estate, and an Aeolian pipe organ in his home.

In fact, he was a great patron of the arts - he founded the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, funded free music lessons for children, and established a symphony orchestra.

Speaking of the arts, look - two violinists in one picture:

And some further proof that I'm becoming a shutterbug:

I sort of liked how these two pictures came out:

The house had a little cafe with espresso beverages, sandwiches, and gelato. I had never had gelato before, so after our tour and extensive wanderings through the estate, Nathan and I decided we should each order some. Mine was a scoop of strawberry and a scoop of their holiday gingerbread flavor.

I liked it, but Nathan informed me that it wasn't as good as real Italian gelato. So we decided that we'll have to spend another anniversary, some year in the future, in Italy.

After our truly enjoyable afternoon at the George Eastman House, we drove from Rochester to Albany. We stopped along the way in Utica, where we had dinner at The Lotus Garden, a nice little family-run Thai/Japanese/Cambodian place. Our waitress was friendly and helpful, and we both enjoyed our meals. Nathan ate two orders of spicy chicken wings, and I had a noodle vegetable dish in a spicy peanut sauce.

[iPhone photo again]

After dinner we finished our drive to Albany, where we stayed at Hotel Indigo. We both really liked how this place was nice without being stuffy or looking like it was decorated by grandmothers. [Nothing against grandmothers; I have nothing but love for grandmothers!] The decor was sort of hip and modern - definitely a bit different than your standard hotel fare.

We enjoyed our stay there - the last night of our trip before driving back to Massachusetts on December 31st.

And that was day 3 of our anniversary trip, minus the kissy-kissy, smoochy-smoochy, stare-into-each-others'-eyes parts, which - again - you can thank me for omitting.

It was a good vacation.