Tuesday, January 31, 2006

 

OY


I've (purposefully) forgotten a lot of the negative details of growing up with The Crone. At least one of her parents must have been quite a monster. I think (on scant evidence) that her mother was the evil one and her father just passive - and that somehow their next-door neighbor, shielded them in part from the mother - but for some reason, her sister more than mom.

The Crone should never have become a mother, with all that anger and frustration coiled up inside her, unable to recognize these issues in herself and try to deal with them, instead of taking out her mania on her own kids. I've tried hard in my life not to pass on any of that "f.....d-up-ness" to my own kids. There was a time or two when A and B were little, when I would catch myself heading into some dark territory and I would purposefully turn it off. But by the time Z came along, I had long ago defeated those particular demons in myself. It appears, at least, that I didn't pass it on to B (or he is doing a good job controlling it). He seems to be a really good father to his little girl. She's neat; B and his wife are doing a great job raising her. It doesn't hurt that she has such a bubbly personality; happy-go-lucky, like Z was.

The occasional outburst episodes were almost a release from an overload of the continuous psychological pressure she put on us kids. It seemed like she was always chose one or another of us as "victim of the week". The rest of us would feel sorry for whoever lost the lottery and was now under the spotlight and scalpel. Even between her more episodes, she would constantly insert those little barbs under our skin, digging at us, criticizing us, dumping on us, putting us down, belittling us, warping our sense of self. As we got older we became more defiant, and tried to fight back, but it was a losing battle, the only escape came when each one of us finally got out of the house.

Our childhood was one continuous guilt trip. She had us thinking they were so poor that we used to compete to get the cheapest dinner on the rare nights we went out to eat at the Cafeteria. What saps we were! But when we got into trouble, we used to dread the "look how horrible you've been to me" routine from her. Once in a while Dad would grumble something under his breath, but otherwise he let her rule. We used to wish she'd just go ahead and punish us overtly rather than give us "the treatment". How inadequate she made us all feel about ourselves.

My intense self-analysis throughout my late teens and early 20s led me to understand and eventually fight against the negativity that she injected into me. Once I understood what it was, and where it came from, I stopped hating her, instead I began feeling sorry for what a miserable person she was, being trapped in her life. By the end of her life, I had learned to accept her for what she was and even try to deal with her as my mother.


On a much more pleasant note, I'm playing my cello usually two hours a day – over two months, so far. I really enjoy making that sound. I'm starting to look online for a good cello to buy to replace my cheap rental.

I had my first formal lesson last Saturday; my next one is the day after tomorrow. I'm steadily progressing - making more accurate, smooth, rich tones. Lots of the rhythms and songs that I grew up listening to are popping up, and I find I can already play some of them purely from memory. I've come a fair way already, but I really have a long way yet to go. I recognize that it will take years of steady work to ever get any good at it. The way I see it, I have two options when it comes to learning the cello - reaching the age of 60 and maybe being a passable cellist, or just reaching the age of 60.

I'm willing to work at it and I am enjoying the process. Every once in a while, I suddenly find myself making a particular sound come out better, often not even being sure what I'd changed to get it. One day I want to play jazz. But I'm planning to first learn classical, up to a point. Already there are evenings when I'll set up to play in my bedroom in the dark and find myself just letting go and listening to the amazing (and sometimes hyper-frenetic) bowing rhythms that start coming out of my right arm and hand - for hours. At those times, I don't really play any songs, only the rhythms while my left hand meanders through a few of the chords and sequences of notes. Sometimes I'll loosen up even further and start sliding the bow just at the right, light pressure to get into the high harmonics (which you can get by touching the strings ever so slightly while they're being bowed) getting these eerie ringing tones that are many octaves higher up the scale. Add in the frenetic bowing and bow hairs start to snap, rosin dust flies, and the cello almost seems to get hot and begin to pulsate. I finally have to force myself to put it away because my bowing arm is worn out.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

 

The Physics of Music



I've been reading up on the physics of the violin family and of bowed strings. Back in the 16th century, stringed instruments were evolving from lutes and lyres in two somewhat parallel but independent paths in Italy: the viol family and the violin family.

The viols, which included the viol da gamba, the viol da bastarda, and the viol da braccio were developed first. While these instruments are somewhat similar in appearance to today's modern violins on first glance, they are quite different in detail and in sound. Viols have a flat back, have five or six strings that are more loosely strung, and many have gut wrapped around the fingerboard to serve as frets. Most of the viols have a pair of C-shaped cutouts in the top plate.

The violin family is believed to have originated by Andrea Amati in Cremona, Italy in the mid to late 1500s – many decades after the emergence of the viols. It’s likely he adapted the design of the viol da braccio, incorporating his own ideas into his new design. For a long time the viols and the violins vigorously competed with one another in the salons and music halls across Europe, with different composers and music patrons preferring one over the other. With their richer and more powerful sound, the violins eventually displaced the viols completely. Only the largest bass viol da gamba, known today as the double bass, is still in common use.

What made the violin, viola, and later the cello win out over the viols is probably their prominently arched backs, which were usually carved from solid maple. The size and shape of the chambers inside the violins, along with their F-shaped cutouts have everything to do with their quality and sound.

The shape of the instruments in the violin family is thought to have been derived from Renaissance ideals about beauty and perfection, which they expressed mathematically with formulae based in part on ratios of radii of circles. These shapes have remained largely unchanged ever since.

Other factors that are thought to be important to the quality of the sounds include the age, grain and drying of the wood. Even whether or not the spruce trees used for the top plates grew at higher altitudes, where they were subjected to greater stresses – which are thought to impart a higher quality resonance to the wood. It is widely believed that the violins improve over time with playing – with the repeated stresses and resonances essentially “training” the wood.

Another issue long believed important is the filling and finish of the wood. Some believe that the key to the remarkable quality of the Stradivarius instruments is in the varnishes he developed. These varnishes are prepared using various insects and natural solvents.

While the basic design and manufacture of the violin remains largely unchanged in the last 300 years, the secrets of the varnish are lost.

Then there are the strings. The physics of vibrating strings is the base for all of these instruments. The violins amplify these vibrations by transferring it through the bridge to the top plate and through the soundpost to the back plate. These vibrations transfer into the air inside the chambers and are affected by the F-holes on the top plate. The materials used in the strings also affect the quality and tone. Some types of strings use pig gut that is wrapped with fine steel wires. Others have a wire core similarly wrapped.

Finally, there is the bow. All bows use horsehair. Most bows are made of rosewood or pernambuco; some are round and some are octagonal. The natural shape of the bow keeps the horsehair tight.

After all this, even the best violin and bow require skill and practice on the part of the player. A skilled player can get a fair sound even from a poor quality instrument, while a poor player can never get a good sound from the best violin.

Today’s workout focused on: 1) keeping the right hand/wrist/arm in line with the proper hold on the bow (this was not easy, I had to keep repositioning my thumb); 2) drawing the bow perpendicular to the strings, using the right elbow at the upper end of the bow; 3) keeping the left arm out, relaxed; 4) keeping the left thumb relaxed and the fingers light on the strings. It was a challenge to try to do all this at once. But, every once in a while, I got it all together for a minute or two. Clearly this is going to take time. I’m know my teacher earned her $50 for that first lesson.

I worked through the Suzuki pieces for about an hour and a half, and then went back to my exercise book for a while. My teacher hadn’t seen this particular Mel Bay exercise book before, but she thought it would be OK for me to use it – especially for finger exercising and music reading.

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

 

Homework


My cello teacher gave me lots of homework. This morning I began trying to work it all into my techniques. I setup in front of a mirror in the bedroom so I could watch my posture, etc. It helped.

Holding the bow - Flatten my hand so it is in line with my wrist and forearm, this changes which muscles in the fingers do the controlling – this will take some work.

Drawing the bow – Work, at first, near the center of the bow and use my elbow joint to draw out the bow to the end. Keep the bow level and draw it across the middle “lane”.

Relax both shoulders!

Left hand fingering – Make sure the second finger falls on the string along with the third (I'd been holding it up). That wasn't too hard to switch over to.

Left arm position – Hold the forearm up and out.

Left thumb – Keep the thumb straight, using the side of the thumb against the back of the neck. Hold the thumb behind the second finger (I’d been holding it a bit higher). Keep the thumb loose and relaxed. S suggested I could put a piece of tape or something on the neck to help my thumb find its home base.

The cello sounded whiney and screechy today. It’s been very dry… I did play around with tuning using the fifths, but I wasn’t successful with the harmonics.

I bought a stool today – a typical four legged flat round top, but with an interesting twist – the top is split in half with a bearing between the layers, so the top layer swivels. When I got home, I cut four or five inches off of each leg. Now I have a 20” cello stool, which fits neatly under the computer desk. When I sit at it, my hips are about an inch higher than my knees.

Z’s best friend stayed over last night. He’s a good kid, very open and friendly. We love to watch them together. Those two were up until 3 am on the computer, the X-Box, the PS2, the PSP, the DSL, the Nintendo GameCube, and of course the TV. They slept till after 11 this morning. Those two sure have fun together. They’ve always been best friends since the second grade. So good, that until recently they never even argued or had disagreements. We couldn’t help but shake our heads watching them interact through the years. Now, though, they’ve both started to mature, and are changing in different ways, so they aren’t quite as close as they used to be. They are still best friends.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

 

Lesson 1


It was -10 this morning with a light snow falling. I pulled out the cello, tuned it up and played for about half an hour to limber up my fingers and hands. I packed up and left early, and it was good I did. There was no traffic going in my direction, and the roads were reasonable for this time of year - I made good time for the first 45 minutes. But then it started snowing pretty seriously, and finally about 15 miles out I caught up behind a plow and had to follow it at 30 mph on into town. I arrived at my new music teacher's house about 5 minutes early. They’d already gotten a lot of snow overnight and it was still coming down.

It was a good first lesson - mostly sounding each other out to see if we would be able to work well together. I quickly realized I would be very comfortable studying with her and could learn a lot from her. I know it’s up to me to put in the effort, but having a good teacher is good motivation. I think I'll get a lot out of it.

We talked about postures; finger, hand, and arm positions; relaxation of the shoulders, arms, and thumb; holding the bow (I was already pretty close, so it won't take long to adjust it); using the bow; doing string crossings. It's a lot to work on. I'm supposed to work on one step at a time, but I know I'll end up thinking about all of them at once.

She tried my cello, pronounced it OK, saying it did have a metallic sound. She played hers briefly; it was so much richer, purer, cleaner, deeper. She’d had it since HS, a student model that she was quite happy with. She said a lot of the difference was the strings. Then she let me try hers. I could “feel” the difference. More motivation.

I played one piece, “The Clown”, from memory – slower than I normally play it at home. I was nervous – my first “performance” since 8th grade – so my pacing and bowing were sloppy, but I did hit all the notes. I’m proud of where I am after two months. I wonder what it must look like for the teacher to have another student at my current level, having seen so many others at this level at one point in their studies? Hopefully, she’ll get to watch another student gradually improve.

I need to get a better chair. Something flat, about 20 inches high, with no back. I’ll look at Bigbox. Y has a vanity with a small, upholstered stool. It would actually work for me if it were tall enough. Maybe I can replace the legs with longer screw-on legs – that would be easier and cheaper, and more comfortable.

We’ve tentatively set the next lesson for two weeks, unless one of her students is willing to switch to Saturday next week (I can’t go that day).


Next Cello

I told her I had looked at some cellos at the violin shop in Anchorage. They showed me an Eastman V405 for $3,500 with a bow and a hard case. I saw one for sale (cello only) somewhere on the internet for $2,200. Apparently there is a big markup for stringed instruments. She said she’d try one out for me next time she goes to Anchorage – in a month, I think.

I looked in Stringworks.com and found a seriously nice cello in the $3,500 range that includes a decent bow and their best case. The Soloist is their level five intermediate / advanced in that line of work. I’m not sure, but it seems to be a much higher grade of instrument than the Eastman V405. Stringworks lets you try it out for 2 weeks and return it if you don’t like it. Still, it would be nice to try out several at once…


Tuning

S showed me how to use harmonics to tune the lower strings after finding A. That it was better to tune A by ear, but do whatever worked… Then find the D harmonic on the A string and bow it along with the D string. Then tune D until it matches. Undsowieter.

Also, bowing A&D together produces a “pure” sound. I have to try it out – lower the D while bowing these two together and see how much more uncomfortable it gets, then slowly raise it until they ring pure.


The Exchange

We got the covenants for the Tustumena Lake Road property. It appears that they won’t stop us from putting in our one-site RV park. Just to make sure there wasn't anything better out there right now, I called the owner of some property nearby, but they weren’t interested in selling it – they had just bought it. So I called a realtor we’ve known for years and told her about the exchange and what we were wanting. She said she knew of one or two possibilities and would call me tomorrow.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

 

Happy 250th, Wolfie!


Such an amazing amount of powerful music in such a short life! Why isn’t there a modern-day equivalent to him, or Bach, or Beethoven, et al? To be sure there are quite a few prolific composers in our modern world, but they hardly seem to measure up to these awesome geniuses of the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s as if tens of thousands of years of ancient repressed and unexpressed music in the soul of man flooded out all at once through a few great composers. Since then, the flow of musical creativity has slowed to a steady trickle.

Tomorrow is my first cello lesson. I’m jazzed.


Iran


I was quite taken aback by today’s Fox poll that said 57% of Americans favored attacking Iran to get rid of their nuke capability. It’s as if people think this can be done with a surgical strike that solves the problem and then we can go back to our normal lives. Sort of like Israel’s impressive attack on Iraq’s nuclear program in 1984.

Haven’t we learned that nothing is as simple as it seems? How many people expected the overthrow of Saddamn to be the end of the problem, rather than the beginning? Even after the unexpected appearance of all the underground terrorist cells throughout Iraq. I suspect these small cells are more tribal in scope, each cell made up of extended family members (and in-laws) that are only very loosely aligned with any major group such as Al Queda. Mostly they fall under the wing of some local mullahs, who may sometimes align himself (and his little army) with larger groups like Bani Sadr, etc.

It’s interesting that we’ve not seen much of this on-the-street reality discussed in any detail in the news. Probably a lot has to do with the fact that Americans can’t get comfortable with the concept of these mini tribal/family militias. We can’t understand why a worldly, educated, cultured young father would enlist and apparently gladly die for such a limited idea. Yet, if our country were invaded, wouldn’t a lot of us do the same thing? Don’t our youth enlist in the armed services for much less motive?

OK, so we attack Iran using our bunker busters to root out and destroy much of their nuclear capability. What then? How are we going to deal with the aftermath? Unfortunately, the Bush era’s most negative legacy will be the failure to have seriously planned beyond the overthrow of Saddamn.

We should expect significant chaos on the ground in Iran, chaos with probably most of its neighbors, and chaos possibly with most of the rest of the arab/muslim world; suicide bombers spreading out across the world to retaliate; reprisal attacks on the world’s oil infrastructure including terminals, pipelines and shipping; after-the-fact finger pointing and second guessing by the rest of the second and third world leading to an increasing isolation of this country. How long would we last with oil prices crossing $100 and then $150 and beyond? How long before the world’s economy has ground to a halt due to the disruption of international trade and commodities?

What will China and Russia do? (For that matter, what are China and Russia doing now?) I’m not worried about France and Germany; they’ve proven themselves irrelevant. But Russia is not asleep. Their leaders grew up under the Soviet Union and witnessed its humiliating collapse under their elders in the late 80s, and the resultant gloating and lack of involvement by the west during their struggle to recover economically. They haven’t forgotten.

Russia is playing Iran like a fiddle against the west, just like we used them against the Soviets up until the fall of the Shah in 1979. China and India both have significant interests in the success of an anti-western government in Iran. They rely on Iran’s oil. Russia and China will never allow the UN to do anything about Iran. At most they’ll all play a shell game of obfuscations, delays and deferrals until Iran has completed the development of its own arsenal. Then it will be too late.

Meanwhile I really doubt anyone of us will have the willingness to do anything. The time will never be ripe. It will take too many years to go through all the expected reasonable and “necessary” diplomatic, political and economic measures, including numerous attempts to do all this under the auspices of the UN. Bush will be out of office before these avenues are exhausted. Can you imagine how this is going to play out in the 2008 elections? Can you imagine what the demos are going to be saying? It’s one thing to talk tough while they’re out of power – how ridiculous Howard Dean sounds making forceful statements about Hamas! What path will Al-NY Times, Al-NPR, and Al-CBS take? As it is, I’m curious how they’re going to deal with this issue in the 2006 by-elections.


Palestine

Aren’t we in a box now? After calling for so many years for free and fair elections in Palestine (and Iraq and the rest of the middle east), now we are faced with a duly elected government made up of terrorists. It’s amusing in a way to see terrorists faced with trying to run a government (imagine, anarchists ruling a country!) Now what do we do? How can we complain about the result of a democratic process that we’ve lobbied for decades to put in place? And yet, we certainly have the right to disagree with an elected government – look at France and Germany, or Venezuela, or even Canada sometimes.

But what to do, when we’d essentially propped up the ex-terrorist Arafat and his gang of thugs for half a decade before Hamas? We’ve spent billions, over and above the all-too-pervasive graft, to help build up a governing infrastructure so that Israel would have someone to turn Gaza over to. It’s obvious we need to withhold any money from Hamas unless they put aside their terrorist tactics and acknowledge the reality of Israel’s right to exist. It would help if the rest of the world also took the same stance, but will they? Considering that this comes on the heels of the loss of Sharon from Israel’s government, it means that all bets are off in that area of the mideast.

These two events, Sharon’s departure and Hamas’ election, will eventually prove to have been a major turning point in that part of the middle east. The risk is that things could turn either way. On the one hand, the relationship between the two sides can slip into chaos, with a tit-for-tat that could escalate into a full-scale invasion and reoccupation of Gaza. Even that won’t stop the intifada and suicide bombings within Israel proper.

On the other hand, it could be viewed as a new beginning; an opportunity to make overtures, bring in new ideas and new faces in order to work toward resolution. The problem is the distrust on both sides – both of their own new leaders as well as the other side - is probably higher now than it has ever been.

It will take careful handholding by some trusted third parties to guide both sides towards the center. Who do they both trust? Nobody. Maybe advocates could be drafted to work with and guide each side separately, at first; advocates who command a general respect in that part of the world – probably not the US, nor Russia/China. Nevertheless, these advocates would have to be genuinely supported by the US and Russia (and whomever else thinks they have to become a sponsor).

As I sit here, I can’t think of anyone who’d fit the bill… Japan? Australia? – probably not anyone who’s been helping with troops in Iraq. What about Iceland? Finland? – probably not anyone who’d been involved in any remote way with the debacle in Europe in WW2. Brazil? New Zealand? Chile?

Bush will have to approach this very carefully. Too bad the demos are going to harp and double-block every move – in order to gain their own short-term political advantage at the cost of a developing any realistic unified policy towards the middle east.



The New Axis of Evil: Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Al Queda

Syria has long controlled Lebanon and they’ve always given safe haven to Hamas, providing funding and training. Since Saddamn’s fall, there has been an unholy alliance between Iran and Syria (which is interesting because Iran is Shiite while Syria is Sunni.) I’ve always believed that Iran has been backing Al Queda – in fact, I’ve long suspected that although Usama has stationed his henchmen in Pakistan, he himself has been laying low on the Iranian side of Afghanistan’s border - with the full knowledge and backing of the Iranian government.

Now, we face a new alliance in the Middle East, with a four-part agenda:

1. Destroy Israel;

2. Take over Iraq;

3. Overthrow Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf States - replacing them with fundamentalist mullahs;

4. Attack US interests throughout the world by pinching off the flow of oil and sending terrorists against us at every opportunity.

It will be an interesting year.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

 

Still very cold -27 F this morning


Still COLD, clear, and sunny, with sharp blue skies. The mornings and evenings are noticeably longer, too. Poor Maggie gets to stay in most of the day when it’s like this; but she sneaks down to her bed in the laundry room whenever I start playing the cello. What a critic!

Looks like the 1031 Exchange thing might work out after all. First, though I have to see if the covenants on the Tustumena Lake Road property aren’t too restrictive. Supposedly the seller mailed it today. I filled out all the paperwork for the Exchange broker and told them to hold off a few days until we’d decided about Tustumena Lake Road.

I played Suzuki for two hours – just going through the drills, trying for that beautiful sound. I sure hope my teacher tells me I’m ready to move on. The next step is using the second finger. I’ve gotten through the first four measures of Bach’s Prelude from Cello Suite No. 1. I’m working on it slowly and carefully – at the end of my regular playing time.

Short post tonite, my brain is tired.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

 

IRC 1031 Exchanges


We might be able to put off the capital gains tax on the land sale from Hawaii. At least part of it, maybe... Apparently we can do an “IRC Section 1031 Exchange” of the capital gain on that property by using it to buy the property on Tustumena Lake Road. I’ve read several websites of Qualified Intermediary firms that describe how these work.

http://www.exchangeauthority.com/tutorial.htm

http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3681/is_200001/ai_n8896108

It seems simple enough: First I hand the title of the Hawaii property to the QI, who sells the Hawaii land and takes receipt of the money. Then the QI buys the Tustumena Lake Road lot and hands that title to me. The QI never actually takes possession of either title in the process, they just receive and pass on the titles. The buyer of the Hawaii land and the seller of the Tustumena Lake Road land are technically part of the exchange, but they don’t have any additional financial or tax-related involvement.

The capital gain from the Hawaii land would otherwise be taxed at 20%. If I exchange the full amount – I think the amount has to include the original cost basis and all the gain, I’ll essentially defer the tax until I sell the land on Tustumena Lake Road (or exchange it for something else later). It’s like a tax-free loan from the IRS that doesn’t get paid off until we sell this new property (and don’t just exchange it again). This deferred tax is not attached to the estate, so if I kick off before selling that exchanged property, the tax liability is forgiven.

Supposedly, “you cannot extract cash from an exchange, or if you do, it is taxable as what is termed "boot." A successful exchange moves up in price and up in equity from the property sold to the property replaced.” If the Tustumena Lake Road property costs less than the Hawaii land sells for, then I'll have to pay the 20% capital gains tax on the remaining “boot”. Then I’ll still eventually owe the IRS the tax on the deferred gain when I sell the Tustumena property. Additionally there will be some fees with the QI.

In the end, it may actually be too late for us because the Hawaii property has gone into escrow.

I don’t really want to go into my cello playing today, but that’s why I’m doing this blog, so: I didn’t get to play early like I’ve been doing, instead I had to go to town. So after lunch I setup and began to play. I was drowsy and the direct sun made me hot. I was surprised to find that the G string had loosened a whole note. The only thing I can think of is that the peg got hot from the sun yesterday afternoon and then cooled off beside the window overnight (-25F). Why not the other pegs? This hasn’t happened before. I got it retuned, and ran through the scales and rhythms for about 45 minutes. I worked the first 6 or 7 exercises for another 45 minutes. I just wasn’t getting a good sound – maybe the cold and the sun affected the whole cello. So, I put the cello away.

I’m also jittery about Saturday’s lesson. I have no idea what to expect.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

 

-20 but sunny blue skies


Early this morning, while I was playing my cello, I looked out and saw the bright yellow slivered moon hanging at its zenith, really low in the dark sky just above the trees to the south. It had that classic cow-jumped-over-the-moon crescent shape. While the sky slowly lightened, the moon edged behind the bare branches of the aspen trees at the south end of our hill. The sun rose in the southeast as the fading moon slowly slipped below the hill across the creek valley to the southwest.

The air was super nice out today – cold, dry, sharp, crisp, crackly. The sun is still low in the south all day, but it was quite bright. The sharp sun and sharp air was an interesting combination. Although the sun wasn’t very warm, enough radiant heat got through to eventually melt the thin layer of frost/snow on our A-frame’ metal roof.

After lunch Y and I drove up to the 9-acre lot on Tustumena Lake Road we’ve been considering to take another look at the views from its hill on a sunny, clear day. We do like a lot of the features, especially because the top of the hill would make a great motorhome spot. Tustumena Lake is visible along with most of the Kenai Mountains to the east, and to the west we can see the top 2/3 of Mt. Spurr and Mt. Iliamna. The trees on the hilltop just west of us block out any view of Mt. Redoubt. There is a small swamp (probably an old lake) on the west side of the property, which worries me – mosquitoes. There’s been some equipment work on the property, but with the snow cover it’s hard to tell where, and what those parts of the property actually look like. Although I’ve let the seller know I’m still interested, I won’t make an offer until I see it after breakup.

Since I was already dressed to play outside today, I spent a few hours tinkering with all the cars – see yesterday’s post. The SVX started OK, even at zero; although I immediately smelled gasoline in the air. So I popped the hood and immediately saw gasoline squirting out the end of the hose (!) connected to a small plastic canister mounted beside the engine – it might be a filter. I quickly shut down, loosened the clamp slid the hose further onto the nozzle and reset the clamp. It held. The left front tire was completely flat, so I pressured it up. Now it’s ready to go to town tomorrow. The battery from the old SOBurban thawed out overnite in the garage without cracking or leaking, so I put the charger on it. Six hours later it measured 12 volts. Maybe it’s OK after all. I’ll install it tomorrow and see if I can get the SOBurban running so I can plow the driveway.

Tough day on the cello. It started with my left wrist hurting. I tried to relax it and each time I thought of it, it helped. But my playing sounded whiney. I wonder if the extreme cold affects the bow? Especially the A string. I like the sounds I produce from the lower three strings, as well as their upper fingerings. But I haven’t gotten that sound from A, yet. Although its D does reverberate, the B is especially sour, no matter how I finger it. I also had trouble today not hitting adjacent strings.

Great Cello Jokes
(Click the link… here are some of my favorites:)

Q: How is lightning like a cellist's fingers?
A: Neither one strikes in the same place twice.


Q: Why do cellists stand for long periods outside people's houses?
A: They can't find the key and they don't know when to come in.


Q: How can you tell when a cellist is playing out of tune?
A: The bow is moving.


Q: What is the range of a cello?
A: As far as you can kick it.


Q: What's the difference between the first and last desk of a cello section?
A1: Half a measure.
A2: A semi-tone.


"Are you in trouble? I hid it!" – smiles

Sometimes, you may want to link to another webpage, but have it open in a new browser window, leaving the original webpage open beneath it. To do this, you can just add target="_blank" to the link. This tells the browser to make a new, blank window for the link. The link would then look like this: <a href="http://URL" target="_blank">TEXT</a>

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Monday, January 23, 2006

 

My battery was frozen



[This has nothing whatsoever to do with my post tonite, but it looks so cool! I’d really like to see it up close, if I didn’t have to fly all the way to KL, Malaysia, first. I’d also like to see the new, tallest tower in Taipei – when I was there several years ago, it was still under construction.]

I haven't driven the Suburban for a month - since it last snowed enough to have to plow the driveway. Since it snowed again yesterday, I went to startup the old beast, but it wouldn't even groan. One look at the bulging end-walls on the battery told me it was frozen. The only way for that to happen is for it to discharge, first. I sure wish I knew how to find that short to ground. So, I brought the battery inside in hopes that it will thaw without bursting. If I'm lucky, I'll try to recharge it. If not, I'll have to buy another. The last time I used it, it had been idle for almost three weeks, but it was much warmer too. Lazy me, all I have to do is take the battery out after I’m finished plowing each time and store it in the garage. But for whatever reason, I didn't. Now I'm probably going to be out $60 or more for a new one.

We’ve got too d…n many cars. For two drivers, we have four vehicles and a motorhome. The Excursion is primarily for winter use and long trips. The Saturn is for town trips in the non-winter season, and for towing behind the motorhome. The Suburban has a plow, which is supposedly meant to be used in the winter. In the summer, we haul our bikes around in it, but we don’t use it for much else. Finally, my SVX: it’s too fine a car to sell, fun to drive, and really surefooted on the ice. But it has recently developed a small leak in the heater core, >$500 to fix. It also has a leaking front left tire. I haven’t driven it or the Saturn in more than a month. Tomorrow, though, I’m going to get them all running. The SVX and Suburban are both 14 years old and not worth selling, but it is getting to be a pain keeping them in good running condition. Z won’t be driving for at least 3 1/2 years. I’m hoping the Saturn will still be in good enough condition for him to use, but I wonder if the old Suburban would still be working…

Turns out that after my ranting last nite about WestWing’s totally leftward tilt and banal, listless plots, NBC decided to cancel it! They actually listened! Look out CBS and ABC! When they do come up with a good idea, they quickly kill it off – like Arrested Development.

I ran through the same cello pieces out of Suzuki for two hours this morning. I’m not wearing out as soon as I had been, even though I am now bowing a lot more intensely. I’m still working to improve accuracy, speed, and making a beautiful sound. I’m also playing all of the pieces in the keys of D Major, G Major, and C Major, which helps me learn the relationships between the sounds as well as memorize the fingerings. I am playing most of the time from memory, now.

I still heard that richer sound when I did get the notes right. John Holt talked about a type of neural feedback – where your ear hears if a note isn’t exactly right and then instructs your fingers where to go to get it right the next time. Once your ear is able to start telling if each note is right or wrong, your fingers will soon learn hit the notes accurately every time. This happens behind the scenes, without the overt involvement of the brain’s controller function.

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

 

West Wing and Commander in Chief


Both of these shows are lame attempts by Hollywood to demonstrate that Democrats and/or women are better presidents than Bush. Tonite WestWing is trying to show that the TV democrats do FEMA better than Bush's FEMA did New Orleans last summer. The other day, the Geena Davis = Hillarious stand-in was shown doing a great job standing up to N.Korea. Not that Hillarious' husband WeeWillie did that good of a job, there; he let Maddy Albright go over there and get cozy with KJI, and then let that whole issue slide while he focused on denying any boinking with Monica.

The whole point of Commander in Chief is to show that Hillarious will be a good, strong, “manly” type of president, who can handle anything that’s pitched her way. As long as Hillarious has time to work out a PC answer, she will certainly say the thing that is most likely to p..s off the least number of people. The pre-packaging of Hillarious is an interesting dance. She’s got to look tough, supportive of the military, strong against terrorism, strong on national defense and international policy, yet somehow anti-Bush at the same time.

The thing that drives the democrats crazy is that Bush has broken the mold. He says what he thinks and he sticks to it, regardless of the media’s howling and wailing, in spite of the showboating by bloated old-time democrats such as fat Teddy and Pelos!

Now tonite, West Wing is doing Hollywood’s trashing of nuclear power plants. In one scene one of the twits asks “why do they build these things so close to population centers?” The real question is why haven’t we built more of these, everywhere? In 20 years, the US is going to be a third-rate nation, after losing the upcoming energy wars, because we are the only ones who haven’t continued to expand our nuclear power generating capacity. We haven’t built a new nuclear plant in ?? years, and none are in the pipeline. Since our political system involves pandering to the loudest contingent of potential voters, no politician has the balls to stand up and make the case for nuclear power. We will continue slogging along in the status quo, because it takes the least effort, and no one can be blamed that way. Meanwhile, Venezuela and Iran turn into hardline anti-US, anti-west, oil exporting OPEC giants; now Bolivia with all its gas is about to join them; who’s next?

Would anyone be surprised to learn that China and Russia are sitting behind the scenes watching, pulling a string or two, and laughing?


Cello

This afternoon, I uploaded Camilla’s marked up version of Bach’s excellent Prelude from Suite No. 1 in G Major for Unaccompanied Cello onto my cello webpage:

http://www.radatilly.com/CelloFingeringChart.html

Then I posted the link on the Cello Heaven forum.

This morning I played two hours, easily working through the faimiliar Suzuki pieces. I noticed today, that I was getting rich, sonorous tones from the cello whenever I hit certain of the notes dead-on. The closer I got to the exact note, the more the cello hummed. I’d seen this before for a few notes, but today, it seemed to happen with more than half of the first position fingerings.

It was really Nice!

I read somewhere that celli improve with playing. The wood apparently “learns” and adapts to the sounds being produced. I like to believe that’s what is going on here. In any case, I really felt good playing today. I felt like I was approaching that “beautiful sound”. I need to focus on maintaining bowing rhythms. I’m trying to use the entire bow when possible for half notes, etc.

For a few minutes at the end of my session today, I tried the first few measures of Bach’s Prelude from Suite No. 1. I didn’t get very far, but for a moment or two, I actually did “hear” it.

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

 

John Holt


I finished "Never Too Late" by John Holt. Yesterday, I described this book in some detail. A few more thoughts:

It appears that Holt always aspired to become a "skilled cellist". He certainly fought his inner demons to play frequently in public and with other groups. I think he used the pressure of performing with and in front of others to push himself to improve. It would be nice to read an update or maybe an interview with him about his music, before he died (7 years after writing the book).

My sights may seem to be set quite a bit lower. I want to be as good as I can get to be; but I prefer to be surprised as I go along rather than build up a bunch of expectations that I may or may not be able to meet. I don’t need to set myself up for a disappointment for not getting far enough fast enough. I do expect that I’ll always work at getting better, especially recognizing that it’s a slow, almost imperceptible process. The way I see it, I have all the time in the world to keep working at it. I don’t ever foresee reaching the day that I’ll say I’m good enough. I’ll always want to improve – even if it’s just to add to my repertoire. I want to play folk, bluegrass, country, jazz, alternative, rock, etc. I want to be able to take popular music from my favorites and transpose them for the cello.

I looked up John Holt on the internet and was mildly surprised to learn how eccentric he really was, in his personal habits, as well as in his professional (non-musical) life. He was fired from several teaching jobs because of his outspoken views about the damage the school system did to children. An interesting quote from a parent of one of his students, illustrates his approach – “a parent stood up and asked why we (the school system) were doing so much testing, ‘it’s like you are pulling up a plant by the roots every day to see how it was growing’.” He was a leading early advocate of home schooling (he called it “unschooling”). He approached life with an unusual intensity, with his emotional involvement always on the surface.  A remarkable person, who wrote an inspiring book.

I played hard today for almost 2 hours. I’m still just working on Suzuki.  Today, though, rather than play it just as written (I’d do this for four or five rounds until I felt I was getting the rhythm, intonation, and speed right), I’d then play it through transposed to the other strings – all I’d do is play the same fingerings on the other strings. It helps me memorize the piece and to pay attention to the connection of the sounds. I worked all the way up to the same stopping point - just before starting to use the second finger (C, F, Bflat, and Eflat). I worked on producing a big, but beautiful sound. I worked on bowing as rapidly and accurately as possible. I worked on fingering as quickly as possible.

One more week till my first lesson.


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Friday, January 20, 2006

 

Never too old to learn the cello


Learning the cello at age 55
I stopped after only an hour and a half today; it was just one of those days, I guess. I just wasn’t getting a good feeling from it. I probably should have switched to the scales, which always ground me, but I suddenly felt lazy.

It started out all right at about 7:30. After waking at 5:30 and exercising (fast walking at 5.0 mph on the treadmill) for a half hour, I shower and dress and take Z down to the bus at 6:30. Another hour to drink a few cups of strong dark roast and eat a piece of toast with crunchy peanut butter, while reading yesterday’s local rag and watching Fox news.

Then I set up the music stand in the middle of the living room; plug in the mike; load up the tuner/analyzer on the desktop; setup my laptop on the footstool beside me with the Suzuki disc loaded and the CD remote on the music stand; bring out a kitchen chair; pour a cup of coffee; mute the TV; tighten the bow and whip a few strokes of rosin onto it; put on my reading glasses and finger cot (for a little more dexterity, I cut the cot shorter today – now it just covers the tip up to the first knuckle); and then get the cello from the stand.

I spend a few minutes tuning it up - the C string at 65.4 Hz, the G string at 98.0 Hz, the D string at 146.8 Hz, and the A string at 220.0 Hz. I first tune it by plucking (pizzicato), then I rapidly bow each string several times and recheck the tuning. After tuneup, I haven’t really been using the tuner much anymore. (Below I describe an interesting tuning technique I learned about today.)

The next step is to bow the open strings for a while, varying speed, rhythms and techniques. I run scales up and down each string - one at a time, then two at a time, jumping back and forth to all four strings. Lately, I’ve been increasing the bowing speed and using the new Suzuki rhythms -"1-da-and-da, 2 and", "1-da-and-da, 2-da-and-da", and "1 and-da, 2 and-da".

Finally, after the warmup, I start on the simple exercises and work into the Twinkle variations. I listen to each one (while the piano helped set the rhythm, I sure wish they would offer a track with no piano at all; I’d really like to hear what the cello sounds like alone; that’s what I’m hearing as I play it myself); play it through four or five times, stopping once in a while to work on any difficult transitions; and then I listen to it again.

Suzuki talks about always striving to play beautifully. I’m trying.

I’m working on sound volume and quality. I really like playing it loud – especially when it causes the other strings to reverberate:

#1 (D) on the C string,
#4 (C) on the G string,
#1 (A) on the G string,
#4 (G) on the D string,
#2 (C) on the A string , and
#4 (D) on the A string.


The open G string is especially interesting on my cello, sometimes the whole body hums.


“Never Too Late”

In 1978 John Holt wrote an engaging memoir called “Never Too Late”, in which he describes taking up the cello later in life. He recounts his encounters with music throughout his life – singing a bit in high school, his awakening to jazz and the big bands in the 40s, and then gradually opening up to classical music. He picked up the flute at 30 but put it aside after a few years.

At 40 he bought a cello, started taking lessons, and eventually got involved with various local chamber music groups and quartets. He describes some of his early performances and experiences with various groups, one time where he completely lost his place and ended up just sitting and waiting for the piece to end. He describes how he approached his studies, and how he learned the various pieces he was playing.

His message is that you are never too old to learn. He relates an encounter with Janos Starker, a renown cellist, who upon hearing Holt was trying to learn the cello as an adult, told him that while older students have a much more difficult time developing the necessary muscular controls and coordination, they have one big advantage over younger students, because they can ask questions of themselves and then strive to answer them. This really struck a sympathetic vibration in me.

Many years ago, I read somewhere – maybe it was even Dear Abbey – about a 40 year old woman who was afraid to go back to college to become a teacher because her friends and family laughed at her and told her she was too old, that she wouldn’t even finish until she was 44. Abbey restated her question: So you say that you are worried that you’ll be 44 before you become a teacher; but if you don’t back go to college now, then what would you be when you reach age 44?

For years I put off exercising (absolutely necessary in order to lose weight) because it would be hard and it would take too long before I saw any results. I didn’t have the patience to diet and exercise for the six months it was going to take to seriously get my weight down. If I couldn’t have it all at once, I couldn’t get myself to do it. Strange, huh?

We all want instant gratification. Is that why so many people have trouble dieting? If the pounds don’t drop all at once, we don’t feel like it is worth the effort? Of is it that we don’t feel like it is really possible, since the results are incremental. You can’t see the changes as they happen, but if you keep at it you’ll be able to look back and see where you used to be.

One evening in September 2004, I realized that before long I was going to be 54 1/2 regardless of whether I weighed 250 pounds or 185 pounds; that it was my choice. Once my goal became weighing 185 at 54 1/2, but obviously not at 53 and 1/2, it was easier to wait for serious results.

The same thing happened when I started learning spanish. Obviously I wasn’t going to speak it perfectly when I began trying. I was going to have to work at it patiently, and I would eventually improve. After a year and half of intensive studying, I was just reaching the point where I could speak grammatically and colloquially correct castellano in groups of acquaintances or even one-on-one with strangers. [Later I’ll tell about our experience with emigration when we left Argentina for the last time – my verbal skills were not only functioning, but I was expressing anger, frustration, impatience, and most of all determination. I believe that is what got us out of the country that night.]

Holt realized that the first step for him in learning was the realization that it was going to take time, but that if he was willing to put in the time and patience, he would continuously improve. I have no illusions of greatness. I can’t see me ever being good enough to play in an orchestra, but I do want to play good enough to please myself. To be able to work out songs from memory (or favorite rock songs from my albums) and from listening to them, to be able to develop a cello version using Finale NotePad, and then learn to play it with a beautiful sound.

Holt described some of his discoveries and insights into the cello and music in general that I want to try for myself. When he struck an A-tuning fork and put the post on his bridge, the A string would vibrate in response. The closer it was to being a pure A, the stronger it vibrated. Then he described how he would bow the D string and leave the bow on the string, stopping the sound, and if the D was a pure 5th below the A, it would cause a sympathetic vibration in the A string. If it was off a bit, he’d see if it was sharp or flat by touching the D string at the nut to see if it made the A vibrate stronger. He applied the same technique to the other strings both working up the chromatic scale and down. I want to work on this tomorrow.

Holt makes a powerful case for learning with patience, humility and perseverance, to enjoy the process and not look for some future result. Sadly, John Holt died in 1985 at age 62.What a wonderful book. I’m adding it to my profile.

Comments:
I'm not sure if you'll ever see this comment, you did blog this in 2006. I just wanted to say that before I read your blog I was in need of some inspiration, to pick up the cello for the first time, learn other languages, go to the gym in the morning and keep studying for the bar. So, thank you.
 
And here we are several years later still :)
I am good in the motivation department overall but I do like to know there are others out there making the same journey. If eels as if we are all lanterns on the current floating in the same general direction at our on speed and time. It looks quite beautiful from afar. Thank you for sharing!
 
I'm a bit late but I just wanted to say thank you
 
I am VERY late to the blog, but, I am 55 years old, and about to begin cello lessons. I've never played an instrument, and don't really read music, but I LOVE music. I am gathering my courage, and making the move. The comments and advice that I've found here, are going to keep me moving toward my goal...to enjoy trying something new, and to appreciate the journey. Thanks!
 
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Thursday, January 19, 2006

 

Buenos Aires


My first impression of BsAs was the heat and humidity, the crowded six lane freeway running about 40 miles in from the airport, the crazy drivers, the ten story apartment buildings everywhere. BsAs is an immense city, sprawling at the edges, but compressed towards the center. Coming off the freeway onto 9 de Julio, the main drag into the city centre, the character of the "city" began to emerge. The closer to the center, the more unique the style, the age, the architecture. There were quite a few new high rises scattered around, but the predominant buildings in the major streets of the "old town" are from the 30s and 40s, with large gray stone block sidings, tall windows on the ground floors, and grand portico entrances often with doormen posted just inside. The commercial district was much more chaotic, with storefront displays spilling out onto the wide sidewalks, which were packed with people.

My first impression was how much the city called to mind parts of Washington D.C., with splashes of New Orleans and San Francisco. Also a taste of Paris and Madrid. All in all, very unique, and very much its own city. I was entranced every time I went to the city, and would spend hours wandering its streets, watching the crowds, the storefronts, the kioskos, the street scenes. Each neighborhood had its own character, its own style of architecture, its unique stores and kioskos, its own types of people. We liked to scour all the main streets of each new neighborhood looking at the stores, the restaurants, the public buildings. We'd walk so much that we'd be dead tired by the end of the day - which ended quite late because you couldn't eat supper till 10:00.

All in all over the year and half we lived in Argentina, we spent about 6 weeks in the city, which meant lots of walking. Supposedly the city was "dangerous" for tourists who walked the city at night. That was a relative term, since their crime rate (at that time) was far lower than most cities in the US even at their best. [It's different now in Buenos Aires, because of their economic decline -robberies and kidnappings are way up.] I never once felt the slightest hint of danger, no matter where we roamed in the city, nor whom we talked to.

Cello Stuff
Worked at Suzuki, the same pieces, for two hours, with slightly better results. I've been reading an interesting book by John Holt, who took up the cello at age 40. His perceptions and discussions of how music affected him strike a chord for me. He wrote the book in 1978 at age 55. He died seven years later. Inspirational.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

 

We get to Buenos Aires


We left Alaska on a cold (-20F) dark, snowy morning and 24 hours later we arrived in Buenos Aires at +30C (85F). The visa was accepted without any issues and the customs process went smoothly enough, and we were funnelled into the guantlet at the exit into the general airport. Several flights had landed all at once, so both sides of the guantlet were packed with people hollering and calling out to each other (in spanish, of course).

If Argentines have to line up for any reason, they actually tend to do it submissively. But if there is no rule about a line, everyone pushes to the front, forming a mob. Same on the highways. In the US, drivers are expected to stay within the lane they're driving in, unless there's a legitmate passing opportunity. Argentine drivers will take any opportunity to pass, even when there is no passing lane; they'll slip around on the shoulder. They'll even swing out into the oncoming lane long enough to scream by and then dive back just in time. What's weirdest, though, is what happens at stoplights. If there's four legitimate driving lanes, you'd expect two cars in each direction. In Argentina, people will ease up around the outside and inside lanes and form a solid wall at the front - sometimes five cars across. When the light changes, you have to be careful not to run the red from the cross streets, or you'll get run over in their race to be the front car in the lane after the light.

Argentine drivers hang a medal or cross - specifically blessed by their priests, no less - from their rear view mirrors, so god will protect them from their insane driving habits. This is coupled with an interesting fatalism. If a friend or acquaintance is killed in a car wreck, their response is to dismiss it as god's will - with no consideration whatsover that it might have been preventable if the person or anyone else for that matter had worn seatbelts, used their headlights on the remote highways at night while screaming along at 140 kph, or just driven a little bit more responsibly.

If you drove defensively in Argentina, you'd have to drive in reverse to avoid all the close calls. I learned to watch out for the situations in all directions. I became an extremely alert and attentive driver, I developed a set of eyes in the back of my head, and could work my way through town as good as the best (worst) of them. On occasion, I even found myself playing the greenlight game.

We didn't know the person who was meeting us at the airport. After weaving our way through the mob of people blocking the narrow exit, we saw a guy holding a small sign with our name on it. He had already singled us out as the "janquis" he was there to meet. Nice guy, warm smile, friendly. Turns out this was my new Brand X boss - pretty much as I'd expected after talking on the phone with him several times in the previous two months.

He grabbed our bags and herded us past the shouting remise drivers, taxi driver, bus company shills, and anyone else hoping to make a peso off of us, and guided us out to his car along with a remise he'd hired to carry the baggage.

Cello
I played from the Suzuki book and CD again today. Same repertoire as yesterday. A little improvement, both in what I heard and what I played. I bought some headphones today, they sound much better than the tinny speakers on this computer.

Now for some fun:

THE YEARS BEST HEADLINES OF 2005

Crack Found on Governor's Daughter
[Imagine that!]

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says
[No, really?]

Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
[Now that's taking things a bit far!]

Is There a Ring of Debris around Uranus?
[Not if I wipe thoroughly!]

Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
[What a guy!]

Miners Refuse to Work after Death
[No-good-for-nothing' lazy so-and-sos!]

Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
[See if that works any better than a fair trial!]

War Dims Hope for Peace
[I can see where it might have that effect!]

If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile
[You think?!]

Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures
[Who would have thought!]

Enfield ( London ) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide
[They may be on to something!]

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges
[You mean there's something stronger than duct tape?!]

Man Struck By Lightning: Faces Battery Charge
He probably IS the battery charge

New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
[Weren't they fat enough?!]

Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft
[That's what he gets for eating those beans!]

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
[Taste like chicken?]

Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half
[Chainsaw Massacre all over again!]

Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors
[Boy, are they tall!] And the winner is....

Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead
[Did I read that sign right?]

Thanks Bob
posted by M. North on http://southbros.blogspot.com/

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

 

Suzuki Method was OK


I wasn't that bad after all. I did play differently, based on what I heard. I played better for it. I even played at reasonably good speeds with a tolerably good sound. I was surprised at myself. For a few moments, I liked what I was hearing. It did help to listen to it being played out exactly as intended. After an hour and a half, I just closed my eyes and started working on one of the many songs lingering in my memory from when I was a kid - I eventually got it. I hope my new teacher won't discourage this.

I've got a nice setup, the CD is in my portable laptop, and the little remote unit (which stores in the computer's card slot) is on the music stand. For each piece, I'd listen to it through one time; then I'd play it a few times, listen again, and play it again. Meanwhile, the desktop is displaying the tuner/analyzer with the mike clothes-pinned to the music stand.

I'm worried that the CelloHeaven forum is grasping for life, right now. Although its membership has actually grown by almost 25% since I joined in early December, the rate of postings seems to be down (I've not actually dug through them to see if that's really true, actually). But, several days these past few weeks, it has gone more than 24 hours without any postings. Several of the formerly active long-term members seem to have dropped off. Maybe they got PSPs for xmas.

So why would a forum die? It just got a new sponsor, but the moderators haven't yet introduced themselves. I suspect Stringworks is planning to somehow incorporate its own forum into Cello Heaven. It's such a cool name - that feeling you get when you hug your cello to your test and make it sing.

There's something so sensual in playing a cello. Horn players use their mouths to make music, but it's not the same thing. You hold this shiny brown, elegantly carved, torso sized (and shaped) wooden box tightly between your legs and pulled up against your chest, and then as you press its strings against its neck and stroke it with your bow, it sings! How hot is that? You control what notes it plays, how loud it is, and how it sounds - you can make it as rich, as smooth, as mellow, as brassy, as whiney, or even as raunchy as you want. I can make it moan by sliding my fingers up and down the strings, while bowing so gently. I can also make it whistle in the highest octaves by playing the harmonics close to the bridge.

I'm guessing that after the next ten days, I'll be able to pull off a passable imitation of the first half of the Suzuki Volume 1 book. I'll also be able to continue working on through. The next logical step is to start using the second finger, and the first and fourth finger extensions.

I Googled my new teacher today. Not much there - no website that I could find. Apparently she, her husband and daughter are involved in a few local and peninsula-wide community orchestras. According to the local paper's Arts section, they just gave a local recital this past weekend. Would I have gone if I'd known? No.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

 

Suzuki Method


I'm duly humbled tonite.

I listened to the Volume 1 Suzuki CD today. I'm so far from being able to mimic any of what I heard. But now, after hearing what the music should sound like, I can start working in the right direction. I'm usually hitting the notes right, but I've not had any sense of how they were actually supposed to flow from one to the other. I'm hoping to move a little bit closer by next Saturday. At least I have a direction to be working toward, now. Tomorrow, I'll work a little differently, listening to each one a few times while I'm playing it.

I only wish the piano was a little more muted in the pieces. Or not there at all...

When Z learned spanish in Argentina, he was just 5-1/2. He was able to pick up the language just from listening and speaking it. He had no instructor. Within weeks he was able to get by with his new friends and was already starting to interpret for Y. Within six months he was speaking like a native. At his school, Abraham Lincoln, half the classes were supposedly taught in english and half were supposed to be in spanish. But since the teachers weren't that skilled in english, spanish tended to rule the day. The headmistress spoke only a little english, herself.

Z did well. By the time we left a year and a half later, not only did he speak the argentine dialect without a hint of an american accent, he had learned to read spanish and was starting to write it. He had even learned some arithmetic in spanish.

This is what Suzuki is talking about. Learning by imitating. Exactly what motivates the learner may or may not be as important as the simple fact of wanting to do it. In Z's case, his motivation was to be able to get along with his friends, and to figure out what was being said to him. (That, more or less, was my motivation too - to be able to figure out what the hell my supervisors, and coworkers were saying to me. For a long time, I just smiled a lot and nodded my head until I slowly began to comprehend.) In the case of a young Suzuki student, the motivation is provided by the desire to imitate and please the mother and teacher. Either way, it's not the motivation that counts, I believe it's the age that's so crucial.

Z learned to speak spanish (castellano, as they insisted on calling it) without trying. No formal lessons, no verb lists, gender rules, etc. He just "picked it up". For me, though I had to work at it. I took it head on. I took two-hour classes three to five times a week. I put up posterboards with verb declensions and vocabulary words on my walls. There weren't any teachers who taught spanish, for the simple reason that we three were probably the only non-spanish speakers in the city. I had to turn to an english teacher, Maite (short for Maria Teresa). She spoke english passably well, but before working with me, she really didn't have an opportunity to use it on a day-to-day basis.

I knew from the start that I was too old to learn spanish without the formal classwork, but at first, I also felt I was too old to undertake the role of a lowly student. I soon got over that part... I eventually, got to where I could understand it quite well, and I was beginning to speak it a little more confidently. I was able to understand the jokes and jests during the lunchtime conversations; even to offer a comment or two in the right group.

I've started searching for some discussions about how well adults do when they study the violin or cello using Suzuki's listen/imitate method...

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

 

Volcano is quiet now


After several days of belching and puffing, the Volcano rests. Not sure how much ash has fallen on Homer and Seldovia the past few days; fortunately so far, we've ducked it. The winds are blowing towards the east and southeast but I expect we'll get hit sooner or later.

I hate that Volcano. Most of the time, it looks so fine with an impressive sharp cone snowcapped in white above a gray rocky base. This is the third time in the 30+ years we've lived here, that the Volcano has burped awake.

The first time, in early 1976, I recall some dust in the air for a while, but no noticeable buildup. Then, one night in January or February 1986 we got a quarter to a half-inch layer of Augustine ashfall. It coated everything, and since it was cold, the ash was powdery and stayed in the air for days. The roads were dust bowls. Even wearing dust masks, it coated our throats and lungs. In our hair. In our eyes. In our clothes. On our shoes. You could taste it. Whenever the dog came in the house, it was like Pigpen from the Charlie Brown comic strip. I put nylon stockings over the air intakes on the cars, and changed them out several times, but I'm sure it took years off those poor engines.

After a week or so, it snowed enough to cover all the ash. At least we didn't have to sand the roads that time. A few snowfalls later, the ash was almost forgotten. Then came breakup. Within a week or so, the top layers of snow had melted and like all the dogs--t the brown/grey ash was back as a muddy mess. Several days later the snow was gone, leaving behind a layer of muddy ash (and soggy dog turds) on top of everything. And when it dried, the dust ordeal started all over again. Spring rains eventually washed most of the open areas clean, but all that summer, and even into the next, we'd stir up little clouds of volcano dust whenever we walked out on the tundra. And years later, I'd come across dust piles in our old firewood stacks.

There's not much you can do about it, especially in the winter. In the summer you can hose things down.

I thought I might be getting sick, like first Z for three or four days, followed by Y up to today. Z missed four days of school. Y stayed in bed since Thursday. I've been assuming it would soon be my turn. Even though my stomach has been uneasy all day, nothing else, so far. It could be all the vitamins I take; the extra C is supposed to help. It could also be the Zinc I've been taking for the last week. Z's friend T was getting over a cold when he stayed over a few weeks ago.

Ugh. I hate colds! It's like hell. What purpose do they serve? As I understand it, the symptoms that most aggravate us - the fever, the sinuses, and the coughing, are all part of the body's defense mechanism against the infection. Great, so it turns out that we make ourselves sick to fight an invasion.

Y has been secretly hoping I'll get sick, too. She thinks it's not fair that I always seem to skate. I tell her that it's because I wash my hands a lot whenever I've been around someone sick. Even when Z was sick, I wiped down the keyboard and mouse and phone every morning with a alcohol/soap based HandiWipe. I washed before eating.


Suzuki Cello

I played an hour and a half this morning in my bedroom - I thought Y was going to wake Z up and I knew he'd want to hop on the computer as soon as he got up. But she didn't get him up till after noon.

Anyway, I worked from the Suzuki book 1. It was pretty easy to work all the way up to the start of the second-finger placement. That's pretty much where I've stopped in the other two books. I didn't listen to the CD yet. A lot of overlap, with some of the pieces showing up in all three books - "Go Tell Aunt Rhody", "Long Long Ago", and a few others. Trouble is, according to the Suzuki theory, I'm not supposed to be sight reading this music, only repeating what I hear.

I'm a little concerned about having to switch over to Suzuki. I've not seen anything, yet, that suggests that Suzuki works with adults - especially if they already have some basic music training. That's not to say I don't have a lo-o-o-ong way to go, but will Suzuki make me unlearn what I've done? My teacher says she's taught Suzuki for a long time - even with adults, so...

Last nite I logged into another strings-based forum I found through Google groups, and I even posted a comment. That was before realizing that one poster was dominating more than 80% of the last four weeks. Most of the postings were violin-related. I logged off.

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

 

Ice Fog




Unless you've seen one, it's hard to describe what an ice fog is. Here's how it works. When it's zero or minus a few degrees, the unfrozen water of Cook Inlet warms up the cold dry air sitting above it. The warmer air has a higher dewpoint, meaning moisture is sucked out of the water into the air, forming a fog. Since it is very cold, the moisture doesn't condense as a liquid, but immediately crystallizes out as minute ice particles, which stay suspended.

In the morning, a light breeze pushes the fog onshore. We live far enough inland that it takes a couple hours before the ice fog envelops us. As it rolls in, we'll see a heavy black cloud appear low on the western horizon. It appears to rise up in the sky (actually, it is just moving closer and closer). Eventually the hills across our creek valley disappear and finally it shrouds us in gray. You can also feel a slight temperature rise inside the fog - it's always a few degrees warmer.

Then, if you watch carefully, you can see everything slowly turn white and thicken. Not from above like in a snowfall, but from every side - even underneath. Even the littlest twigs on the leafless aspen trees get thicker and thicker as the ice builds up all around them, magnifying them. All the trees slowly turn into dramatic white ice sculptures. They look as if they've grown billions of tiny white needles.

A few of these pictures sort of show the effects, but I've looked at quite a few photos from Google Images and didn't find anything that does justice to what's outside my own window right now. Maybe tomorrow morning, while the moon is still full in the northwest and the sun is just coming up in the southeast, I'll go outside and try to snap a few pix before the next fog rolls in, and post them here tomorrow.

I scratched at my poor cello and made him squeal for a couple hours today. A little progress. I did try to pay attention to using the full bow as much as possible. It helped me play some of the triplet quarter note slurs a little better. I also tried holding my left hand like Eric Edberg's videos, palm parallel to floor, forearm slightly elevated, elbow hanging loose, fingers angled. I seemed to hit the notes better, whenever I remembered to do it right. It will take a long time to be able to do it without having to make an effort.

My Suzuki books and CDs came today from Shar Music. I read one of the companion books about Suzuki's methods and the status of the system today. I'm a little nervous about having to go back to playing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star variations for several weeks. Is my teacher going to make me go start over playing pizzicato only? Tomorrow, I'll start listening to the first CD. I guess I'll also do some work on the pizzicato, too.

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Friday, January 13, 2006

 

Cello Technique Videos


(Z made this in school!)

Eric Edberg a professor of music at DePauw University in Indiana, put together a series of cello technique videos for his students that he has recently posted online for anyone to use. He talks about how to use the plane of the hand, the angle of the fingers, and the height and weight of the forearm to help hold the fingers against the strings, rather than squeezing them against the fingerboard with the thumb. Not only is it much more relaxing, this lets me shift the part of my forefinger away from the tip of the bone, so I can play without the finger cot. He's made 5 videos, although the second one mostly answers a few comments about his first video. He plans more.

I found them pretty useful, so I recommended them to the viewers of Cello Heaven.

Today I played for 3 1/2 hours, my regular workout this morning and then an extra round this evening after supper. I mostly worked on bowing tonite, but I also tried fingering using Edberg's suggestions. That's how I found that I could twist my forefinger just enough to get away from the tip of the bone, so I could play without it hurting.

On nights like this I get sounds out of my cello that I don't hear on any recordings - that's because the formal music world would probably find it an abomination, although I think a really loose alternative-jazz setting might appreciate it, if I can ever get deliberate control over it. So far it just flows out of my right hand and arm without much direction from my brain. For a little while tonite, my two hands coordinated themselves as if they were bypassing my control center (my brain). My fingers danced from note to note at the same time my bow stroked, tapped, and slapped at the strings with an almost pizzicato-type sound, and with changing rhythms and intonation.

Every time I find myself in this groove, I get so energized about the cello.

I was watching Judith Glyde's Cello Teaching Videos in slow motion and was fascinated by her fingers moving from note to note. Clearly it will take a lot of practice to ever do anything like that, but it also makes believe that I could learn to do it too. My long term goal is to learn to play "The Swan" by Camille Saint-Saens.

The Augustine Volcano has been erupting (sort of) for the past two days. Small eruptions, not the big one. But some ash dusting in and around Homer. Fortunately the winds have been off-track and not blowing from the ssw up the inlet like more normal winters. Instead they are blowing to the east, causing a fog to roll in off the inlet that coats all the trees with a thick fuzzy layer of ice crystals. It makes the world look like an ice crystal fairy land. We're keeping our fingers crossed, but sooner or later, we're going to get dusted if that damn mountain keeps rumbling.

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

 

Brad didn't tell Jenn that Ange was pregnant!


Rep: Aniston Wasn't Alerted to Pregnancy
This was ninth of ten top headlines tonite on the Yahoo site's: AP Top Stories"! This story was number 10:


The Donnor Party may not have been cannibals after all. So sez an archeologist who unsuccessfully looked for residue of burned or boiled human bones. Apparently raw bones decay rapidly but cooked bones last for a long time.

Nuff said.


I want to talk about Limbo.

I was raised a catholic, by parents who thought it was their duty to make their kids go to church. In hindsight, I doubt they'd have been churchies if they hadn't had kids to martyr themselves for. We went to church every Sunday and all the holy days of obligation.

We went to catechism classes whenever school was in session. In elementary school, catechism was a unendurable hour every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. I have no reason to believe the priests and nuns back then were preying on us for any overt sexual reason, although their behavior could easily have been driven in part by their celibacy. But their quickness to resort to slaps, whacks, yanks, raps, bops, and sometimes outright smacks for relatively minor infractions and misbehaviors only made us more defiant. In the lower elementary catechism, we got smacked for not being able to recite our line, when our turn came around.

Bro4 was the most ill-behaved of us 5 kids. The rest of us weren't angels by any measure, although Bro1 and Sis5 were usually goodie-goodies compared to Bro2 and myself. So, sometimes the three of us (but never Bro1 or Sis5) would skip catechism and hide out in the drainage ditch separating our public school from the catholic school. Usually there were other kids around, but not always. We'd play hide and seek, devil-in-the-ditch, or if we had our bikes we'd ride up and down the sides.

But since our parents would eventually catch us and submit us to the guilt process, we went to catechism more often than not. It was hell. The droning recitation of snippets of the church dogma. Our "homework" involved having to memorize 20 to 30 aphorisms and then on class days, the nun worked her way up and down each row, making each successive kid recite the next line in the catechism book. I always sat in the center back. So I'd figure out which line was going to be mine and I'd quickly memorize it. When my turn came, I stood up, recited my piece, sat down again, and tuned out catechism till the next time. Even though I only bothered to learn my particular 5% of the mumbo jumbo so I wouldn't get smacked, somehow most of the rest of the dogma ended up filed in my memory, although I didn't buy any of it.

Out of sheer boredom I also learned the mass in latin, to where I could read, understand and speak it. I had to sit through it weekly for most of my childhood, and since I had nothing else to do I memorized it all. Then, they stopped doing the mass in latin. I quit paying attention to the english version.

I never believed.

Catechism classes were held in the catholic school classrooms at the end of the day. Needless to say, their desks and belongings were fair game for us public school kids. They eventually learned to bring home anything valuable on those days.

I finally stopped going to catechism classes in tenth grade, when I told my parents I was no longer going to go to church. They didn't try to stop me, so I never went again. In no time, the rest of my brothers all dropped out, then my father, and eventually my mother and sister. Eventually, they only went on special occasions. After we all left home, my mother started going to a presbyterian church, like the one she had been raised in - mostly it was for the singing. I guess they sang a wider variety of songs than the catholics did. I'm guessing that dad probably went along as her attendant.

So, Limbo. That's where babies used to go who died before being baptized. I guess, for a while the church carved out a small section of limbo for heroic figures from history, like Moses and Plato, who did good things but weren't baptized. It was neither heaven nor hell, yet it wasn't purgatory either. Limbo and purgatory both fit in between heaven and hell, and limbo was sort of closer to heaven and purgatory was closer to hell. In limbo things were OK, just not heavenly. You didn't suffer or feel any anguish in limbo. Sad to think of all those baby souls laying around listless, bored, waiting.., just because they hadn't been baptized.

As it happens, catholics were the only people who had a shot at getting to heaven, especially if you got in one last confession before dying. Everyone else went to hell.

Last month the catholic church announced they're thinking about getting rid of limbo. They'll just say it never existed. Kind of like how they scrapped the whole system of indulgences, and nowadays won't admit it ever existed, even though it was the currency of catholicism in the middle ages. You earned indulgences with cash or services on behalf of the church - usually granted by the bishop to his suckups. Supposedly indulgences reduced your term in purgatory, or could even give you a bye if you had enough. So, instead of penance, you could cash in your indulgences. You could buy services or favors from other parishioners and pay for them with indulgences.

Seems like limbo was dreamed up in the 4th century to solve a deep philosophical problem within the dogma of the church. People were beginning to ask questions. What about the innocent babies who died before being baptized. Since your fate was in your hands (in other words in the hands of the church, which got you to do their bidding by threatening you with hell), you had to be able to choose to be good or bad. Babies weren't capable of sin. Also, only those who were baptized could go to heaven. But if a baby died before being baptized, they shouldn't have to go to hell. So the church invented limbo.

That early limbo was really close to hell, but it did keep the babies separate from the true evil doers - such as those who didn't kowtow to their bishop and his minions. In time, this too, became a problem, because it still didn't answer the basic question, why should the babies have to suffer at all? By the 12th century, limbo was pretty much an OK place. At least the babies weren't suffering anymore, now supposedly they were happy. But in recent years, limbo has again become a problem for the catholic church. Pope JohnPaulJohnPaul, just before he died, appointed a commision to revist the whole limbo issue.

It will be interesting to see how they'll wiggle this time. They can never admit that limbo was wrong in the first place, yet they also can't admit that a person - even an innocent baby - can go to heaven if they aren't baptized.

What about reparations? Especially for the babies who went to limbo at the begining. They've really had to endure all the levels of limbo, only to be told now that limbo was a mistake, after all. Shouldn't they get some super-indulgences for all those centuries of suffering? Seems to me they've earned the right to go to heaven, along with an apology and maybe a higher cloud.

I'm still wondering about what happened to all those people who ate meat on Fridays, back when I was a kid? Back then it was a sin. If you up and died all of a sudden before you had a chance to clear that one off the slate by saying a couple hail marys at your next confession, the best you could do was purgatory. So when it suddenly was OK to eat meat on Friday, what did the church do to make amends to all those souls who'd been suffering in purgatory - some for centuries?


Cello Stuff

I played cello for almost two hours again today, working on the same repertoire that I've been doing all week. I am noticing improvements. A small chalk mark on the side of the fingerboard - got that idea off the Cello Heaven forum - helps me hit the notes more often, with only an occasional glance at my fingers to see how close they are to the marks. I'm also working on trying to keep left thumb relaxed, and trying to use good, relaxed posture in both arms and hands. I seem to be holding the bow properly. I hope my teacher agrees.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

 

Justice Sam Alito


I am really offended by the innuendo and personal attacks that are being directed at Judge Alito, by the fanatical far-left democrats. It is unbelievable watching them attack this truly honorable man. By the time this fiasco is over, no one should have the slightest doubt about his integrity, his decency, his humility, his honor - as well as his patience and tolerance. If only more judges were like him.

Can you imagine having to undergo these vicious attacks and snide insinuations (the worst were from Kennedy, Feinberg, and Schumer)? In front of your wife and children? In front of your friends and relatives? In front of your neighbors and colleagues? In front of the whole world?

Why would anyone subject themselves to this kind of character assasination and public humiliation? Why should anyone be forced to undergo this? It is fair to question whether a person has the necessary abilities to serve as a Supreme Court Justice. It is fair to assess their honesty, their integrity, their knowledge of the constitution, their impartiality, and their overall sense of right and wrong. Once you are assured of this, however (and who could still be doubting Sam Alito after the first morning's interrogation?) then you must step back, admit you are dealing with a good person, and then thank him for being willing to serve.

Today the democrats' questions became insulting, rude, crass, and profoundly disrespectful to a decent man who will most likely wind up with a prestigious career as a distinguished, well-respected, well-liked, and renowned Justice. What did Sam Alito do to deserve this treatment?

The democrats should be ashamed of themselves. If you are an elected official, you have to play politics to survive. The better you are at it, the further you advance. On the other hand, if you are a judge the better you are at being fair and impartial, the further you should advance. That means being willing to hear both sides of every issue before forming your opinion.

Imagine a Senator of either party doing that instead of trying to figure out what's in it for them, and how they can look good as a result of it! Whereas we want our Supreme Court Justices to be impartial and not to take sides until they have heard all the evidence. Who thinks that the demos had not already taken sides before any one of them had even met the man personally, or had a chance to hear him speak, or read any of his writings?

Here's where the two systems of government service ultimately clash. Start with the worst of the worst politicians, (many of whom are using the process to advance their own personal agendas) and then turn them loose like a pack of hyenas on a decent man who has been honored by being proposed to the highest court in the land.

If this is allowed to go unchecked, why should we expect our best judges to be willing to go through this kind of inquisition in the future? If we want an impartial judiciary, one that stands equal to the executive and legislative branches, we need to stand up as citizens and demand that our elected legislative branch keep their own gottcha brand of politics out of this profoundly important process of appointing a judge to the Supreme Court.

This approval process is one of the few occasions when all three branches of government are intersecting like this. One of the only other times is when an impeached president is put on trial. Even then, we all expect that the presiding Chief Justice will remain fair and impartial. But if this is how we treat our candidates for that job - especially those who are trying to score points with their followers on the back of the process - why would any member of congress expect that they are really doing themselves or their constituents or their country any good when they use this august occasion to trash the reputation of a man who could very likely be one day presiding over that other process with them in the hot seat? Would they try to disqualify him because he might harbor some prejudice against them for their treatment of him during the concurrence process.

Here's one where they just have to admit they don't have a case, that they have been presented with an outstanding candidate whom they can't complain about any more than they could complain about Justice Roberts, and then go ahead and fulfill their own constitutional obligations. After that they can go back to their political games. No one is saying they have to vote for or against Judge Alito, only that their role in this process now is to go ahead and take the vote!

The more I watched him, the more I admired him.

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