Tuesday, January 29, 2008
MY READING LIST (through 6/10)
Sunday, January 27, 2008
A Winter Concert
Guest conductor Jung-Ho Pak presented a brief pre-concert lecture about the three pieces - Mozart's Adagio and Fugue in C-minor, Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 in C-major and Dvorak. Pak is a charismatic and enthusiastic lecturer - and an energetic conductor who uses his entire body as he dips, sways, reaches out with both hands and then seems to physically pull the sound out of the orchestra - at least that's what we witnessed during the first half of the program. In the second half, all eyes were on Alisa as she calmly sat beside the conductor, waiting while the orchestra played the rich, extended introduction of the first movement.
Dvorak's Cello Concerto is my favorite piece for the cello. I've listened to many different performances on CDs (and on Youtube - see today's posts by Rich Rodriguez for a version by Pierre Fournier), and I know what to expect as the cello finally weighs in, yet each time I am caught by the intensity as the bow cuts into the strings. Weilerstein's presentation was up to the challenge. She holds her cello high, with the scroll in front of and well above her head, and her bow flies all over the strings. Her fingering appeared (from the distance of the mezzanine) to be confident and accurate. She is every bit as good as promised, producing a rich, romantic sound; passionate and energetic.
The orchestra, under Pak's direction was also energized. Maybe a little too much. If I have any criticism at all, it was that the orchestra tended to overpower the cello when they all played together - especially the horns. The intense, large sound projected by the cello at the beginning seemed to diminish by the end of the first movement and the start of the second. I'm guessing that Pak realized this and worked to bring them back into balance because the finish of the second movement and most of the third sounded much better.
Three "events" marred this otherwise fantastic evening. Someone two rows behind me ate an awful lot of candy last night, judging from the amount of cellophane that they unwrapped from each piece. I guess they figured that if they opened it very slo-o-owly it wouldn't make as much noise... instead, each separate little crackle rang out, one-by-one. Why can't people wait for intermission (or at least until the end of the movement)?
Then there was the enthusiastic "me-firster" who almost leapt from his seat with shouts of bravo and frenzied clapping - just as the second movement closed. His wife hurriedly grabbed his arm and pulled him back down. Someone even hissed out: "not yet!" I am actually in favor of some applause between movements, and I wish it were more commonly accepted, but this was a lot more than that.
But worst of all and the most pathetic, was the old woman who settled in about a half dozen seats away from us in our row. She had arrived alone, with a cluster of fur coats, purses, and a few other bags, and then pulled out her cellphone and proceeded to talk to someone all the way through the concertmasters' tuning. Only after the usher turned and whispered to her did she turn it off and quiet down. This lasted until midway into the first movement when she began to mutter to herself and started to pull out her cellphone again. Someone shushed her, and she apologized and calmed down for a while, but about halfway through the second movement, as the cello finished playing a slow descending pianissimo phrase, she moaned and then called out, loudly, "Oh Cleo!" More shushes followed... By the third movement, an usher had moved to sit beside her, ready to put a hand on her arm to calm her down, and/or bring her back to reality.
I guess if we expect a perfect listening environment, we can invest in a top-of-the-line sound system with a pair of high-quality headphones. I do enjoy my music that way, and I do have to remind myself that attending concerts means that there will be others in the audience who cough and sneeze and make various shuffling noises. I sympathized with the dementia (tourettes?) person nearby, and hoped she was able at least to enjoy what she heard even if she did detract from the listening pleasure of those around her. I even have a small bit of sympathy for the poor guy who jumped up so enthusiastically after the second movement (and a whole lot more sympathy for his extremely embarrassed wife). But there ought to be a special place in hell for that candy-unwrapper... Oh well, at least no babies cried and no cellphones rang.
Finally, I guess I probably don't get out enough lately, because I don't understand why they need a sign language interpreter at a concert.
I talked to another conductor recently who said his orchestra has been criticized for "moving too much," but he thinks you can't express the music without moving. I haven't heard them yet either, but hope to soon.
I wondered if you'd seen Jung-Ho Pak conduct yet. You're in for a treat. He's also quite passionate about advocating various musical outreach efforts.
Hmmm... He'd be a great interview for your local paper. If you do ever talk to him, tell him he has at least one new fan in Alaska. :)
As far as applauding between movements goes, that is most annoying. For the performers on stage it takes away part of their concentration en attention. Especially if it's an applause because you're supposed to applaud. A spontaneous appause now and then is okay, but not all the time. But in most cases it's better to save you're applause for the end of the entire piece.
It has HD video! Here's a great clip of the Bach 5th Suite Prelude:
I'm normally not too lenient towards over-eager applauders, but I still feel sorry for the poor man who jumped up after the 2nd movement! I'm sure he probably thought it was the end... ;-)
Glad you had fun!
BTW, my Triple Concerto review is finally online. There was a little snafu last week and none of the stories from Friday's paper made it.(The paper is published twice a week.)
The Triple Concerto has three movements, but the 3rd follows the 2nd with no pause (one of the big moments for the cello). After the first movement, not only did the audience applaud, but the conductor and soloists acknowledged the applause. I have not seen that happen before.
By BERNARD HOLLAND
Published: January 8, 2008
Concertgoers like you and me have become part police officer, part public offender. We prosecute the shuffled foot or rattled program, the errant whisper or misplaced cough. We tense at the end of a movement, fearful that one of the unwashed will begin to clap, bringing shame on us all. How serious we look, and how absurd we are.
When Chopin played his E minor Piano Concerto in Warsaw in 1830, other pieces were inserted between the first two movements.
“Silence is not what we artists want,” Kenneth Hamilton quotes Beethoven in “After the Golden Age,” a detailed reflection on concert behavior in the 19th and early 20th centuries published recently by Oxford University Press. “We want applause.”
George Bernard Shaw, wearing his music critic’s hat, wrote that the silence at a London performance of Liszt’s “Dante” Symphony represented not rapt attention but audience distaste. Liszt, Anton Rubinstein and virtuosos like them would have been offended had listeners not clapped between movements, although in Beethoven’s case the point is moot, given that hardly anybody played more than one movement of a Beethoven sonata at a time.
I owe this information, along with most of the anecdotes that follow, to Mr. Hamilton’s delightful book, which you should read. People, he writes, also clapped while the music was going on. When Chopin played his Variations on “Là ci darem la mano” with orchestra, the audience bestowed its showstopping approval after every variation. As late as 1920, a Berlin audience was applauding Ferruccio Busoni in the middle of “La Campanella.”
Liszt, the composer of that piece, was observed in dignified old age, yelling bravos from the audience as Anton Rubinstein played Mozart’s A minor Rondo. Hans von Bülow boasted to his students that his performance in the first-movement cadenza of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto regularly brought down the house, no matter that the movement wasn’t over.
In condemning modern recitals as canned, without spontaneity, literal and deadened by solemnity, Mr. Hamilton sometimes overstates the case. In the best of circumstances silence during a good performance becomes something palpable, not just an absence of noise. Involved audiences can shout approval without making a sound.
In describing the hypocrisies of “golden age” pursuers and other nostalgia freaks, on the other hand, he has a point. If music is to go back to original instruments and original performance practices, it has to acknowledge original audiences too.
Elias Canetti’s 1960 book “Crowds and Power” offers the best metaphor for modern concerts: the Roman Catholic Mass. Worshipers accept instructions from an executive operating from a raised platform at the front. They speak when spoken to and otherwise shut up. Mr. Hamilton attributes a lot of this recently acquired holiness to the recording age, but I think it has more to do with Germanic art’s taking itself deadly seriously. Every Mozart sonata is like Wagner’s “Parsifal,” and listeners should get down on their knees.
Audience participation was taken for granted in the 1840s. The pianist Alexander Dreyschock was criticized for playing “so loud that it made it difficult for the ladies to talk,” Mr. Hamilton writes. Today’s listeners, still eager to make themselves known, have been reduced to subversive acts in a fascistic society. When they are not interested, they cough. Opera goers long to be the first to be heard as the curtain falls. Anticipating the final cadences in Donizetti doesn’t make much difference. In “Parsifal” it is a disaster, and a frequent one.
Concerts were different back then. Liszt could get away with the radical idea of “one man, one recital,” but musical events were usually variety shows in the manner of vaudeville. The star pianist or violinist was just an occasionally recurring act in a parade of singers, orchestra players, quartets and trios. When Liszt did his solo acts, there was none of the march-on, march-off stage ritual of today. Liszt greeted patrons at the door, mingled in the audience and schmoozed with friend and stranger alike.
Whole recitals also took place between acts of an opera or movements of a symphony. When Chopin played his E minor Piano Concerto in Warsaw in 1830, other pieces were inserted between the first two movements. Perhaps the most celebrated such interruption was at the 1806 premiere of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in Vienna, where the soloist thrilled listeners by playing his violin upside down and on one string.
Memorization was evidently as much prized in the 1800s as it is now, though people like Chopin and Beethoven thought that playing with scores increased accountability. Virtuosos like Anton Rubinstein learned by heart but frequently forgot what they had memorized. I once heard Arthur Rubinstein become lost in Ravel’s “Valses Nobles et Sentimentales,” simply diddling idly on the piano for a while before remembering what came next.
No one seemed to mind mistakes. If Liszt landed on a wrong note, he would treat it as a modulation, inventing a new passage on the spot. The idea of “Werktreue,” or honoring what the score says, was a weaker argument in the 19th century. Bülow told pupils that the occasionally planted clinker showed audiences how hard the piece at hand was.
My favorite music criticism is from a German on Brahms’s playing his own B flat Piano Concerto. “Brahms did not play the right notes,” he wrote, “but he played like a man who knew what the right notes were.”
There are still flickers of audience involvement in concerts, but so brainwashed are we by prevailing decorum that they make us nervous. Once in Havana I became troubled by two men in front of me talking excitedly during a performance of a Liszt piano concerto until I realized they were arguing the interpretation blow by blow.
Another time, late on a Spanish evening many years ago, I heard a village band competition at the bullring in Valencia. The playing was astonishing, and as a particular performance gradually took hold of the audience, low hums of approval would grow into something approaching wordless roars. It was the most profound concert experience of my life.
Still, it's almost as if these writers are justifying (even encouraging) more audience misbehavior today, just because they have concluded that it was "acceptable" back then. But, I would bet plenty of people in those long-ago audiences did not appreciate the chaos.
Finally, I take exception to Mr. Holland's depiction of today's "concertgoer": I do not feel too "serious" or at all "absurd" for expecting a quiet, respectful, and well-behaved audience [i.e. "decorum"] after shelling out more than $100 to attend a concert.
There are so many other entertainment opportunities these days that if people don't want to behave properly during a wonderful live musical concert, let them stay home and play video games.
During the Beethoven symphony in the first half of Saturday's concert, the conductor, Mr. Pak, did turn slightly and briefly acknowledge the smattering of applause after the first movement. This would be a good topic for your future interview with him, Maricello.
I work on programmes, and I had a discussion with a coworker about whether we should put something like 'Please keep coughing to a minimum as this performance is being recorded' on the programme - I disagreed saying it sounded a bit rude as most people try their best to keep quiet anyway don't they? My coworker laughed and said she didn't agree, it was only because I'm a musician she said, and think sensitively about the noise I might make - lots of people don't seem to understand.
Conductors and musicians seem to all feel differently about clapping and making noise in between movements. I've seen conductors turn around and shush people, I've seen some graciously acknowledge it. I watched the violinist Nicola Benedetti shake her head and look very agitated when someone started clapping at the wrong moment in the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto - she clearly found it distracting.
Cellophane unwrappers deserve a quick blow to the back of the head. I think it's perfectly acceptable to lean forward and say something quietly - a few quiet words is better than listening to that horrible crackling for the next 20 minutes.
But the worst offense I've ever seen was the reopening concert of the Royal Festival Hall last summer. Three or four bars into The Rite of Spring and someone's mobile phone went off. Vladimir Jurowski stopped the London Philharmonic Orchestra and glared up at the box where it came from, shook his head and restarted the piece. The poor bassoonist playing that brutal solo twice!
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Friday, January 25, 2008
This is fun
Without realizing it, my two-hour practice sessions have stretched to three or even more.
I can't believe I'm already playing it - well sort of...
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Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Moving on again, already
We started out playing through the C-minor scale and talked for a while about imprinting the Ab and Bb on the D string in extended fourth position, both going up the scale and coming back down. She suggested I focus on fingering from the G to the Ab to the Bb and back, watching my fingers (for a while) and using my on-screen tuner as a check.
Then we played through the Gavotte at a pretty good tempo and fairly cleanly - I only stumbled slightly in a couple places. We went back and played through those points several times, talking about various ways to practice them.
Next, the Minuet, playing through the C-minor part somewhat more slowly. Nevertheless, I even surprised myself. Although it was still ve-e-ery slow, my rhythm and most of the shifts were pretty accurate (even the G - Ab - Bb in extended fourth position, for the most part). My teacher was quite complimentary, commenting that we'd only discussed my starting this piece at the last lesson. We spent some time going over two or three sections that still need work.
Then she said I was ready to move on. We turned to the Humoresque by Dvorak (#8 in Suzuki Book 3). At first glance it seemed pretty intimidating. But after working through several parts, my musical memory of that unique and unmistakable rhythm kicked in and I was able to pick out the first two lines fairly confidently. There are a lot of tricky shifts and fingerings to study, but I'm confident. I'd been working on playing the C-scale to the third octave, so when we got to the parts requiring Bb - C - Bb - A in 5th position, I was able to produce a clean, resonant sound. She commented that I'd obviously been practicing my scales.
We ended the hour by playing through a couple of the trios that Ellen at Cellos2Go had just sent me, including a collection of 12 trios by Rudolph Matz.
My teacher mentioned that the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra was playing the Dvorak Cello Concerto in B minor (my favorite), with guest soloist Alisa Weilerstein this weekend! As soon as I got home, I booked three of the last handful of seats and a hotel for the night. Cool...
Last night, I shared the Rudolph Matz trios with my Cellocracy partners, and we started playing through the first three. These are just right for us - enough of a challenge that we don't get bored, but clearly within our reach, and they also are pretty tunes - "crowd-pleasers". We agreed to choose five or six pieces to focus on over the next several months. Ellen also sent some fiddle tunes arranged for cello trios that we'll also look through.
Our string orchestra conductor told us Monday that the orchestra will be getting another cellist - a high school student who just moved to the area who wants to join. We are hoping to persuade her to come to our Cellocracy sessions (which would then make us a quartet - the more the merrier).
I put a link to a YouTube video of Yo Yo Ma playing the Humoresque on CelloBloggers awhile ago. You should take another look now - for inspiration <g>.
(BTW, I'm still chuckling over the comment you left on my "Bittersweet Sixteen" post.)
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Thursday, January 17, 2008
Now you can learn to like any kind of music
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Wednesday, January 16, 2008
We haven't settled on our "spring" repertoire yet, we're still "trying" out several new pieces. Meanwhile, we're continuing to play through our old repertoire.
At home, I've continued slow-playing all of my practice pieces. I started using the metronome again - it took several days to get used to it after a couple weeks of "freedom". A few days ago I began increasing the metronome rate a few bpms at a time, on the older pieces, up to where I began to stumble again, and then backed off a step...
I've progressed through the C-minor part of the Bach Minuet #3. Yesterday, after several weeks of pizzicato, I began bowing it. My main challenge on this one, for some reason, has been mostly rhythmic (?) The older piece, the Bach Gavotte in C-minor, is coming along quite well.
Not much else to add... Next week, I'll have my first lesson since early December.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
I guess I am Cello2.
Cello3 is another late starter who's been playing about a year. We've been getting together weekly for an hour or so at Cello3's house since September. She also can't make the long drive to Homer for lessons, so she is currently taking lessons from our string orchestra conductor.
Since Cello1 is busy with lots of activities (sports, clubs, etc.) she's had to skip several sessions and she wasn't able to play at our alternate Christmas concert. So our strings orchestra conductor, a violinist who is currently learning the cello, sat in for Cello1 at that concert.
Also Viola1, a flautist who's been learning the viola for about a year, has come to some of our rehearsals. We were working on a four-part piece for our Christmas concert, Carol of the Bells, arranged for us by Terry, but since our main gig was canceled we didn't get to play it. We decided to keep working on it, and might play it at our orchestra's spring concert in April.
Cello3 and I are also working on the LeClerc/Rameau duet, Tambourin. We might eventually play it somewhere, someday...
Quite some time ago, we noticed that Cello1 was getting a lousy sound from her A-string. Her D-string sounds OK, and her C and G strings are really nice. I remember her saying the A-string had snapped last year and she'd ordered a new one from the local music store (not a strings shop - there aren't any of those around here). She does seem to be pretty frustrated with her A-string tones and always appears to be hunting for a better sound.
Finally, one evening I casually asked her if I could look at it, and I noticed that her bridge was way out of alignment - almost half an inch off on the upper string side. She said it might have slipped when the string broke. I told her the misalignment would probably affect the A-string sound (I really didn't want to imply that her sound was off)... and suggested she ought to either reset it herself, or take it to a luthier. She was not comfortable resetting the bridge herself and has not been able to take it to Anchorage, so she has been struggling on.
So I asked my teacher about it. I've often talked with her about the technical setups of my cello and mentioned that I wouldn't think twice about resetting my bridge if needed. She said she has had to adjust her younger students' bridges - which frequently get knocked around when carried in soft cases. She suggested I could offer to Cello1 to do it for her - just loosen the strings a bit, ease it into its proper place and carefully re-tune it. So a few weeks before Christmas, I told her I'd be happy to reset it for her. She didn't seem to be very interested, but in any case she was in a hurry that evening and had to leave.
So, here's the rub... Her A-string really doesn't sound very good. Last night, at our first get-together since then, it sounded even worse - if that's possible. I'm pretty sure it would improve a lot if the bridge were adjusted. I'm guessing she's not very comfortable with me resetting it for her - after all, what do I know? In her place, I'd also be a little uneasy about some guy wanting to fix my cello. I don't want to push it, so I've decided to wait another week or so and then offer one more time.
Now, we're looking for some new trio pieces to start working on. Any suggestions?
For music suggestions: Well, I don't have any specific suggestions, but would recommend getting a copy of Shar's string sheet-music catalog. It's quite comprehensive. And they list pieces for 3 cellos. However, I haven't had much luck using their online catalog search engine.
For trios, you might try Twenty Trios for Young Cellists or Folk Strings for Cello Ensemble (Martin). Folk Strings is for cello quartet, but you could omit either the more challenging descant-like second part or the easier fourth part, depending on your group and the particular piece. These books also come in versions for violin and viola, so your violist should be able to join in if they are in the same keys.
Another series I like is Cellobrations (from which my cello ensemble took their name). There is a Cellobrations and a More Cellobrations, and, just now searching the Johnson String site for options, I found another one called Easy Cellobrations. These are also quartets, but maybe a part can be transposed for viola.
Here are my suggestions, if you haven't already worked it out.
1) put a Larsen soloist A, "mittel" on there. I have yet to find a nicer sounding A string for most cellos.
2) the soundpost might have been bumped in the same mishap that moved the bridge. I had no idea how finicky that bugger was until a transatlantic flight shifted mine and created a series of wolfs and chirps on my A string.
3) switch cellos and make sure it's not pilot error.
4) make sure her bow isn't rolling. You know how temperamental the A is. If she's not playing on an ideal setup, that makes a precise bow technique (flat of the hair, smooth changes, no crazy angles) even more important.
Thanks for the snowy picture, btw. It's raining here and I am in heaven!
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Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Friday, January 04, 2008
If you can't beat em...
In early-November his grades had fallen, drastically. I met with his teachers and learned a few things - several late and missing assignments, missing or incomplete homework, some messed up quizzes, a few really bad tests, and so on. Z admitted he hadn't tried too hard to stay up with everything, and although he wouldn't acknowledge that it was related to his online gaming, he did say he really wanted to get things back together and was willing to work hard for it.
So we made a deal: two hours of studying earned one hour of WoW (school nights only)... real studying, with a pencil and paper, and worksheets, etc.
I realized I should start spending a half-hour or so each night with him to review and explain some of the missing concepts - especially in Chemistry and Geometry. Even after teaching Chemistry (almost 35 years ago), and working as a chemist for several years (about 25 years ago), I was surprised how much of the basic stuff I'd forgotten, but it all came back quickly enough; although I don't really like the way it's being taught now. On the other hand, today's Geometry syllabus puts a lot less emphasis on proofs than I had to learn.
We were relieved (and proud) to see Z take this all pretty seriously and put in the time and effort to bring those grades back up. He spent quite a few lunches and time after school going over problem areas with his teachers. He also brought his homework to me every day - not so much to prove he was doing it, but so I would look through it with him. Gradually the grades started to come back up. He really studied hard for the semester finals and by the end of the term his grades were back in line, in fact somewhat better than before.
Along with all the studying, he still took his hour of WoW every night. In any case, he did fulfill his part of the agreement.
He's wanted an Xbox since the first one came out several years ago. So, we caved.
Rather than set it up - as we had expected - on the old TV in the game-room (admittedly not the best quality), he immediately plugged it into the new "Home Entertainment" system I was installing. Over the past week, he invited me to "help" load and setup each of the games, drawing me into the character selection and story line development. I have never had a lot of patience with video games, usually getting bored with them pretty quickly. It had been several years since I'd even tried one. But, the quality - graphics and capabilities - of the new systems is astounding. I admit it, I got hooked into playing along. Sort of. That is, mostly watching and advising Z as he plays. I still don't have a lot of interest in manipulating the characters directly, unless it's riding a horse on the trail from one town to the next. Each time a threat appears on the path, I hand the controller over to Z to fight off the wolves or bandits or whatever. Then he hands the controller back for me to ride onward. Still, I've enjoyed working through the situations with him and figuring out ways to overcome the latest challenges.
I find I still get bored with it rather quickly, but with the long nights and cloudy, cold days, not much consulting work this time of year, and all the TV shows on recycle, I've been willing to give it a go. I don't think I'll get hooked, but I finally think I can see the attraction.
As we face the next term, we've agreed that two hours of studying will earn two hours of gaming. If his grades hold through the quarter, we'll loosen it a little more.
I have a strict policy on games and TV. Basically, none during the week unless you have straight A's. Three A's get you 1 hr with Dad if he plays an acceptable game with his xbox night. And no TV during the week, except if Ihave to leave for rehearsal and Dad isn't home yet and your homework is done and your room is clean, then you can watch until he gets home.
So yeah, I'm the mean mommy. :) But this works for now since my guys are much younger.
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Wednesday, January 02, 2008
In the coming year, I am hoping for even more music opportunities. Our Cellocracy trio's performance at the Christmas concert was so satisfying that we want to continue playing together, maybe even adding some few pieces that include a viola.
I've continued my slow-playing all week, mostly without the metronome. Today I brought out the metronome and set it at 80 bpm; but I found it to be rather distracting - it took away some of the enjoyment - so I put it away. I've also been playing all my scales slowly. This week I started working on the C-major three-octave scale, while continuing to learn the A-major two-octave scale (and the corresponding one-octave scales on the C, G and D strings). The challenge right now is finding the third-position/third-finger location on the descents.
I'm now playing the latest Suzuki piece (Bach's Gavotte in C-minor) - slowly - without any errors at all (usually, by now, I would have picked up the pace regardless of how accurate I'd become, which means any minor mistakes would become magnified at higher tempos). Once I got used to the fingering on the D string it all seemed to fall into place. So now I'm working on intonation - especially that Ab on the D-string - before picking up the pace. I've also started working on the fingering (pizzicato) for the next piece, #7 in Suzuki Book 3, which is Bach's Minuet #3 repeated from Suzuki Book 2, but with an additional part in C-minor. I like playing C-minor.
My cello continues to sound so nice. It seems to weather the ups and downs of temperatures and humidities without any noticeable change in sound quality. A few weeks ago I moved the wolf-suppressor over to the C-string, after reading a suggestion by Andy Victor in Cello Chat. That seemed to take care of the "refracted" wolf that had been bugging me off and on for more than a year.
These short days have really been tough for us SAD sufferers... We had just enough snow at Christmas to cover the inch or so of hoarfrost that had accumulated the week before, but since then the daylight hours have been gray and cold. Strangely, the nights are often clear and starlit. Why do the clouds show up just before daylight?