Friday, April 30, 2010

Sustainable Farming and World Hunger

Here's a thought-provoking article on the down-side of the trend toward organic, sustainable, locally grown food, and how that affects the wider world beyond our nearest farmer's markets.

A few notable excerpts:

"Influential food writers, advocates, and celebrity restaurant owners are repeating the mantra that "sustainable food" in the future must be organic, local, and slow. But guess what: Rural Africa already has such a system, and it doesn't work. [...] The result is nothing to celebrate: average income levels of only $1 a day and a one-in-three chance of being malnourished."

"The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition last year published a study of 162 scientific papers from the past 50 years on the health benefits of organically grown foods and found no nutritional advantage over conventionally grown foods. [...] Health professionals also reject the claim that organic food is safer to eat due to lower pesticide residues. Food and Drug Administration surveys have revealed that the highest dietary exposures to pesticide residues on foods in the United States are so trivial (less than one one-thousandth of a level that would cause toxicity) that the safety gains from buying organic are insignificant."

The article is clearly in favor of industrialized agriculture and foreign assistance. Whether you're a local, organic foodie, or a MacDonald's kind of eater, what do you think?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Brahms Op. 16

This past Sunday I played viola in a performance of Brahms' Serenade No. 2. This work doesn't have any violins, so the orchestra I played with asked those of us that could to be "switch-hitters" for this piece. It was a good experience for me, being not much of a violist (a viola joke lover might say I fit right in with the section!), and I found that I enjoyed playing the Brahms. The first movement is really nice, and the last movement was probably my favorite. The middle movements are a total snooze (sorry, Johannes). I'm including a video of the last movement below for those interested in hearing it. This is performed by the Vienna Philharmonic (notice the conspicuous absence of women? That's always a good clue!) and conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Concert Program

I played a really fun orchestra concert this afternoon featuring a great selection of pieces. It was a unique concert for me because I had never played any of the pieces before we began rehearsals, and had only heard one of them (the Walton) before! In case any of my readers are interested in expanding their musical horizons, I thought I'd post today's concert program with YouTube videos I found of some of the works. (Isn't it nice to live in a time when you can listen to music without having to buy a CD?) I think my favorite works to play were the Walton, Poulenc, and Copland, but I loved the Elgar too, and the Ginastera was certainly a wild ride... so come to think of it, it's hard to pick a favorite.

1) Crown Imperial by Sir William Walton
This piece is full of restrained sentiment and a strong sense of nationalism. An exciting opening theme followed by a beautiful melody:

2) Sinfonietta by Francis Poulenc
This four-movement French work for chamber orchestra was completely unfamiliar to me until just a couple of weeks ago. I think it's a wonderful piece!
1st movement
2nd movement
3rd movement
4th movement - one of my favorites:

3) El Salón México by Aaron Copland
Definitely a new favorite for me, this piece is kind of hilarious. Listen to it and you'll see what I mean!

4) Cockaigne Overture by Edward Elgar
This work was written to depict life in London, and is by turn both humorous and lyrical. You can hear a nice recording of this work on YouTube in two parts if you're interested:
Part 1
Part 2

5) Dance Suite from 'Estancia' by Alberto Ginastera
Most of the movements of this one are rhythmically-driven and at times almost frenzied, but I liked this lyrical movement in particular:

There you have it - today's concert program. Next weekend I'm playing Schumann, Brahms, and a premiere of a new viola concerto. The following weekend it's Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Franck. The weekend after that I'll lighten things up with a little pit orchestra playing (Beauty and the Beast, to be specific), then a pops concert the following weekend, and then... then... I get to have normal weekends for a while! (By "normal" I mean weekends where I don't have to work 8-hour Saturdays and 3-6 hour Sundays.) I am really looking forward to summer! But in the meantime, I'm grateful for these busy times in my musical life.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Ross Sisters

A friend of mine recently posted a link to a truly bizarre video on facebook. This is The Ross Sisters singing what appears to be a rather nonsensical song about "Solid Potato Salad" (here the term solid seems to equate to "good" or "awesome" rather than "non-liquid"), followed by a routine of dancing and contortionism that gets weirder as it goes along. The ending is definitely the most visually disturbing bit of all. I guess fame and success comes in all different varieties; apparently these ladies were big hits in the 40's - though never as big as The Andrews Sisters, which beats me since I now realize The Andrews Sisters are downright boring in comparison to these gals.

I can't find much information about the origins of this film clip. Was it simply an over-the-top advertisement for that great American picnic dish, a potato salad recipe to beat all others? One can only imagine.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Handel-Halvorsen YouTube Phenomenon

If you haven't already seen this making its way around the world wide web, you should definitely check it out. This is cellist Wells Cunningham playing the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia with none other than himself, performing the violin part as well.

I must say, this cellist gets around the violin better than plenty of violinists I've known!

Of course, there's a long tradition of musicians getting a kick out of switching instruments; this phenomenon starts in youth symphonies when kids trade instruments around during rehearsal breaks, and continues into adulthood, as evidenced by these great artists clowning around backstage in this clip from the film Remembering Jacqueline du Pre:

Pineapple-Orange-Spinach Smoothie

This morning I had oatmeal for breakfast rather than my usual smoothie, so I ended up wanting a smoothie for dinner this evening when I finished teaching violin lessons. Into the blender went:

1 banana
1 clementine
about 1/4 of a fresh pineapple, chopped
2-3 handfuls of spinach
8 baby carrots
ice cubes


Friday, April 9, 2010

Conductor or Surgeon?

Everyone knows that orchestral musicians are supposed to watch the conductor, at least for beginnings, important cues, tempo changes, etc.

The L______ Symphony has made sure that this is not a problem for those of us in the orchestra, by obtaining a handsome conductor for the upcoming concert who bears a striking resemblance to Dr. Chase of House television fame.

See the resemblance?

All eyes were certainly upon him throughout tonight's rehearsal. Which leads me to conclude that what the symphonic world needs is more attractive conductors, preferrably with accents.

[Of course I'm kidding around about watching him for his looks. He's a good conductor and it's enjoyable to play under his direction!]

U by Kotex Commercial

When I saw this on T.V. recently I laughed aloud, and couldn't stop laughing. Nathan wasn't quite sure what was so funny, so maybe only women will be amused, but this is definitely the funniest, most attention-grabbing commercial I've seen in a long time.

I'm trying to restrain myself from saying anything else on the subject so my Dad, who's probably reading this, doesn't blush, but I can't help it, so here goes.

I read in this New York Times article that the original ad used the word "vagina" at some point, and was rejected by all the major networks because of it. Now I don't think the world really needs empowering monologues about ladyparts, or overt use of certain terminology in commercials in order to signify how our nation champions the feminist cause. However, I do find myself curious why I hear phrases like "contact your doctor if your erection lasts longer than four hours" on T.V. all the time, but the word "vagina" is apparently taboo. Is it because children watch T.V.? Because, the thing is, if I had a kid, I'd probably rather explain to them what a vagina is than discuss an erection. I'm just saying.

Anyway, just watch the video, everyone, and have a good laugh. And according to the Times article, we can expect more humorous commercials in the coming months!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"The Talk"

Susan Wise Bauer has a funny post up, in which she elaborates on "the plumbing talk" with her daughter in response to the question (asked publicly of course, as children are prone to do with uncomfortable topics), "What is a prostitute?"

Highlights of the post include:

Me: So some men don’t have a wife to keep them company. And they can’t find a wife because they, er–

(I’m thinking, “Lack the capacity to form real human relationships.” Paraphrase, paraphrase.)

It's short and humorous - give it a read!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Strawberry-Orange-Spinach Smoothie

Most of my blog readers know that I love all kinds of smoothies and have at least one almost every day. I always throw in plenty of fresh spinach, and sometimes other fresh veggies too, like squash, kale, carrots, or cucumber. Here's my current favorite combo, a simple yet delicious one I've been enjoying over the past couple of gloriously sunny days:

About 1 cup of fresh strawberries (you could use frozen, but I got fresh ones on sale recently and am loving the flavor... it's better somehow!)
About 2-3 cups of fresh spinach
1 ripe banana
1 clementine
About 1/2 - 1 cup soy milk (however much you need to get the blended consistency you want)
ice cubes if you want it colder

Blend and enjoy!

Like a bird who rivers the air

I came upon some poetry by Christian mystics today. This poem in particular by Mechthild of Magdeburg struck me:

Love flows from God into man,
Like a bird
Who rivers the air
Without moving her wings.
Thus we move in His world
One in body and soul,
Though outwardly separate in form.
As the Source strikes the note,
Humanity sings -
The Holy Spirit is our harpist,
And all strings
Which are touched in Love
Must sound.

Certain types of Christians might read that poem and scoff at the mysticism of our union with God. But wasn't it Paul who said, "Nothing can separate us from the love of God"? So God and people are connected, and we are connected by none other than Divine Love.

I, with Paul, am convinced that nothing can separate us from this love. There are many theological details on which I am quite fuzzy - these days more than ever, perhaps - but of that I'm certain.

Another poem by Mechthild I like:

Of all that God has shown me
I can speak just the smallest word,
Not more than a honey bee
Takes on foot
From an overspilling jar.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Dr. Sanders at Scriptorium Daily has a good post up for today: Just As He Said.

Nathan and I had a busy, and overall very good, Holy Week. Lots and lots of church, which, as ecclesiophiles, we love. Lots and lots of music, which, as musicians, we love. And then today, good friends and good food (I hope it was good anyway; I made it) at our house after the church service.

Happy Easter, everyone. Christ has conquored sin and death! And I must go conquor the dishes.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Elijah During Holy Week

We spent the evening of Good Friday last night with friends at the Boston Symphony Orchestra's performance of Mendelssohn's great oratorio Elijah. I found it rather fitting to hear the Old Testament words about the prophet while contemplating the redemptive work of Christ.

Elijah is among my favorite musical works, and hearing it performed by such a fantastic orchestra, good chorus, and great soloists made for a sublime evening.

And then shall your light break forth as the light of morning breaketh: and your health shall speedily spring forth then: and the glory of the Lord ever shall reward you.
Lord, our Creator. how excellent Thy Name is in all the nations! Thou fillest heaven with Thy glory. Amen.