Monday, April 17, 2006

Green Bean Casserole!

I don't really have time to post because there is so much other school stuff to do, but I'm going to do it anyway because I'm feeling bitchy. One thing I'd like to bitch about is the Easter vigil mass we went to on saturday night. It had been a few years since I've been to a vigil mass, and I forgot how insanely and ridiculously long they are. It started out very magically with the dark church, and everyone was holding a lit candle, and the choir director was singing a beautiful chant. Then, after the fifth reading of the Old Testament and fourth musical interlude we were wondering how many more readings there were and started passing notes to each other (we went with a couple friends of ours--2 of us were Catholic, the other 2 weren't) and getting the church giggles. After the seventh and final reading we thought we were getting close to the mass parts, but there were still baptisms and confirmations to be done. And the mass parts were super long--the choir director was singing every single saint name that ever existed: "St. Ann pray for us, St. Anthony pray for us, St. Francis, pray for us...." You'd think that after mentioning a few key saints they would sing, "and all the other holy men and women...pray for us....." But I think he sang about thirty saint names. Finally I dared to look at my watch. Almost three hours had passed. Well, at least the music and light show was good. The choir sang some great Renaissance polyphonic music, and also some more contemporary music involving an entire brass section with timpani (I was told later the brass people were Spokane Symphony members). Seriously, why can't they do baptisms and confirmations at a less jam-packed mass? I don't think I'll ever be able to go back to another vigil mass, which is too bad, because it really is lovely, minus baptisms/confirmations.

Also, school is again beginning to grate on me. I'm back to grading papers for the music history prof, who has the students write summaries of the chapters they had to read, to make sure they've read them. There are so many things wrong with this that I can't even begin to name them all (students are so sick of school by the time they reach college they don't give a shit; it's another way colleges are dumbing down, etc....don't get me started). Concurrently I'm reading a great book that in turn is making me feel very hopeless about higher education. It's called, Declining by Degrees, and I just finished reading one of the essays, which is basically all about how colleges throw students into huge lecture classes so the college can make more money, and they hire professors mainly to do research, with the teaching of undergraduates of little importance. Anyway, it's a great book and it will piss you off so you should read it. How can I possibly persevere to the end of grad school? I'm so drained from the week at school that by the time the weekend rolls around I want nothing to do with it, and so do everything but study and practice. On the weekends I finally feel like myself again, and all I want to do is go antiquing, go to the public library, read good books, and maybe do some crafty things.

Well, those were the two main things I've been bitchy about. On a lighter note I just read Kate DiCamillo's new book, "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane." It's very good and it made me cry at certain parts. It was a good book to read on Easter, because it's about a china rabbit. Speaking of Easter, we had 14 people at our apartment for an afternoon feast. We managed to squeeze everyone at the gorgeous antique table that came with our apartment and everyone brought yummy side dishes. We provided the ham and I made an orange mango chiffon pie. A couple friends stayed late and we all drank more wine and had some good conversations, although I can't remember what about (did I drink that much wine)?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Crazy Percussion Fest

So sunday night I got home from being at the Northwest Percussion Festival this weekend. It's a really cool deal where percussion ensembles from colleges in Idaho, Oregon and Washington get together and play for each other. It's totally non-competitive and a chance to hear what other groups are doing. I think I want to be a percussionist now. I never realized in fifth grade that percussion was more than playing the snare drum, which I found boring. I've learned that anything and everything can be a percussion instruments. Some groups played these great compositions, most of them contemporary, consisting of hitting pots and pans, upside-down hanging clay pots, crystal glasses, the underside of the vibraphone, a box of rocks, clicking stones together, body and vocal percussion, and aluminum cans dropped on sheet metal. How cool is that? And the sounds they made were amazing when combined with the marimba, bass drum, and other more traditonal instruments. The group from Southern Oregon State did some great performance art pieces, one involving non-traditional notation and stones: different shapes had been placed over watch faces, and when the second hand hit a certain shape, a certain sound was made. For example, a square might signify a scraping sound, and a circle might mean a clicking sound, etc. The whole ensemble was making these sounds while two percussion instructors improvised on wooden boxes. The stones sounded like crickets, and the whole effect was amazing. Another piece involved students strategically placed around the recital hall with a pile of paper that each of them improvised ripping, shredding, scraping, tapping, and other sounds you can make with paper. Why have I been playing Chaminade when there is this?

Being around percussionists is different than being around flutists, or any other instrumentalist for that matter. They have always been the cool kids in band, and the guys and girls who stick with it emanate coolness. The few girls that were involved were cute and hipsterish, wearing chuck taylors, silk-screened tote bags, and edgy hairdos. The boys for the most part were either cool and aloof or goofy and friendly. I wasn't surprised that there were fewer girls than guys, but is that because most girls are drawn to the pretty, melodic instruments (flute, violin, piano, clarinet), or is it because they were discouraged to play the more boyish instruments of bass drum and snare? Or was it because they felt uncomfortable in fifth grade band being the only girl? I remember having a fascination with the drums in fifth grade, but either talked myself out of it, or was talked out of it by someone else. I was also very girly and prissy. Anyway, most of the groups consisted of mostly guys with one or two girls. Portland State featured a group of four girl percussionists on one piece, and they were amazing. It got me thinking that I would love to, if I ever had the chance, start up an all-girl percussion ensemble at St. Kate's. I really think more girls would be involved if they knew it involved marimbas, vibraphones, and other gorgeous instruments. I don't think I even knew what these were in fifth grade.

Anyway, aside from getting hit on by the Yamaha salesman (I think I was the only student there older than 21) the people dynamics were very.... interesting. Everyone in my ensemble is a freshman or sophomore, and I had to stay with them in an unchaperoned conference/retreat center across the street from Central Washington University (which has a gorgeous new music building). I really like my classmates--the guys are really friendly and helpful and very goofy and fun. But I had forgotten what 18-19-20 something boys are like--completely out of control and crazy. After each concert ended at night and we were left with some free time, the boys would go to Albertsons and buy three energy drinks each. Then they proceeded to climb up the stone walls of the grocery store, push each other around in a shopping cart, climb into and get stuck in dumpsters, toss a dry-erase marker around the foyer of the gorgeous new music building, and proceed to write with said marker on the windows of new music building, move around parking signs, slide down the stairs on a table in the conference center at 3 in the morning, etc, etc. The list goes on. Mind you, I did not accompany them on these exploits, but the two other freshman girls with me did (who can blame them? They're cute, charming, boyish boys, if a little rambunctious). As a result, I didn't get much sleep, because the girls would return at 4:30 in the morning, while the other girl that was staying with us, insisted upon staying up to watch a movie in the same room I was trying to sleep in. She thought that turning the t.v. around away from me would help, neverminding that the sound comes out of the back. And she was talking to herself outloud while watching the movie. And I was the one driving the next day. I really felt old. I felt like the old crabby lady that complains to the youngsters to turn down their loud music. Had I been ten years younger I probably would have stayed out til four in the morning. I was realizing that these kids were ten when I was twenty. That's a world of difference. They're not even in my generation. One night they were gathered around the computer in the lounge and looking on their MySpace accounts. They were stunned when I told them I wasn't on MySpace. I already have a blog, and I can chat with friends on gmail, so why would I need a MySpace account? They didn't understand this reasoning. I was also remembering that I didn't even know what email was until first year of college, and in the sixth grade we were playing the Oregon Trail on those Apples with the green screens. When they were in sixth grade, which was only about seven years ago for them, they already had XBox and cell phones and email accounts. It's like they can't live without technology. I felt completely out of my element, and wished I had someone to go have a beer with. So in a way it was refreshing to hang out with them and their craziness, but on the other hand even if I were their age I still would not be into climbing into dumpsters or drawing on new music building windows with a dry-erase marker or sliding down stairs on tables that weren't mine (or stairs that weren't mine, for that matter). The most trouble we got into as freshman was smoking a couple Virginia Slims in our dorm room, which was on a smoking floor, making forts out of blankets in the study lounge, dyeing our hair in the yellow bathrooms, and sneaking around Durham hall at night. I should have just hung out with the directors.

Anyway, percussion is my new thing, and to all my young percussion friends here: someday you too will need eight hours of sleep and drink decaf instead of Red Bull.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Chad the folksinger lives here

This blog post is going to be pretty random. I don't really have any school issues to bitch about, because I've been on spring break, and just started up this week. It was only a week-long break--hardly long enough to recover from the hell that was last quarter. I've just learned that I won't have any research papers to write this term, unless I have to write one for my conducting class, which I doubt. I'm taking Baroque music, which involves preparing two presentations: one on Handel's Messiah, and one on Bach's Goldberg Variations. I already know a little something about the variations, so that should be fairly easy. I also get to be in orchestra this quarter, because the principal player has tendonitis. It's been years since I've played in a student orchestra--hopefully I won't suck too badly. You're a little more exposed as a flute player in orchestra--I'll be playing first so I'll get all the hard solos. I guess I have to practice this quarter! I also just found out I'll be playing in a Leone Buyse masterclass at the end of April, so I really can't slack off. I've always wanted to play in a masterclass, but it might be kind of scary. I hope she's kind.

Anyway, I've been having a sort of dilemma with the flute, like I always have. What am I doing? Do I really like it? I've realized lately that one doesn't have to stick with the instrument they started in fifth grade, and that sometimes people outgrow their instruments. It's not that I don't like it--I just feel indifferent to it sometimes. Is this bad? I'm really not a big fan of flute literature--most of it's very fluffy and girly. There are no great Beethoven or Mozart or Brahms sonatas in the flute literature, so we miss out on all the good, juicy stuff. I don't even know if I like practicing it. Trying to control the breath and stay in tune while energizing the abdominal muscles and trying to stay relaxed everywhere else is like trying to spin plates with your hands and juggle with your feet. And do people care about the flute? I mean, really? Maybe in church, and maybe in an intimate chamber setting. But will your average 20-40 something go out of their way to pay for a ticket to a flute recital? And in jazz--no one takes you seriously unless you also double on sax. I'm trying to decide how far I want to go with this instrument. Am I happy being a church-playing amateur, or do I want more? All these issues spin around my head as I try to practice, which makes for very unproductive practice sessions. But the other dilemma is this: do I start playing another instrument, one that I might enjoy more, but which could take years to get to a decent level of playing? I don't know, but for this quarter I've got to focus on flute.

Other unrelated things: I found out a couple weeks ago (and didn't remember until now) that Chad of the folk-singing duo Chad and Jeremy, lives in Spokane and buys furniture from this store in Spokane where a friend of mine works. And apparently some other folk guy lives here too, one from the New Christy Minstrels, or something. I can't remember. Isn't that great? Spokane is really weird and random that way. It is getting more cosmopolitan though. We're gradually getting better, fancier restaurants, and a ton of posh condos are going up downtown. I'm hoping it'll turn into a Portland jr. within the next ten years, although who knows if we'll stick it out that long? I really like it here, especially the weather, which is so vanillla, that I never have to get kidney stones worrying about severe weather again. I just really really miss going to art museums, having good Chinese and Mexican food (seriously, there is none to be found here), coffeeshops that stay open past six, good second hand stores (either you have Ann Taylor or Goodwill--there is no inbetween, like Ragstock or Buffalo Exchange), good record stores, and never-ending opportunities in the fields of folk-music, puppetry, modern dance, the Alexander Technique, etc (I'm thinking of Cedar Cultural Center, Zenon dance company, Heart of the Beast, Tapestry folk-dance center, and of a woman I'd like to take Alexander Tech. lessons from in the cities. There are none here). So, grrr. I'll be okay for now.

Books: I did get to read something for fun over spring break. Gintastic gives great book reviews, so I decided to read Pamela Dean's Tam Lin. I really enjoyed it, except I kind of got lost in all the Classics and English Literature speak. Don't get me wrong, I love that stuff, but it all gets so heady and dense that I get lost and my brain glazes over at the mention of books and authors I've never read or studied. It was like A.S. Byatt for high school students. Very interesting, but hard to read at times. I was also kind of shocked? surprised? but the ending, which breaks into this weird science fiction/fantasy thing for the last thirty pages or so. I get that it's based on this old Scottish ballade, but the rest of the book was completely based in reality. I was kind of thrown off by that. Call me a philistine if you will, but sometimes I just need to read trash to rest my brain. Maybe I should balance it out with a terrible harlequin romance?

Other things: currently obsessed with June Carter Cash (and the Carter family in general), percussion ensemble and the marimba (is it too late for me to be a marimbist?), free-writing shitty short stories in coffee shops (really really shitty, but fun nonetheless), old homemaking books from my school's library, and watching Rick Steve's Europe on PBS. He's so dorky that you can't help but love him. It also gives me ideas of places I'd like to visit: Toledo, Greece and Turkey, Copenhagen....