Category Archives: Blogging

Mundane Monday: Light

CatherinePalaceHeaterI’m hesitant to use this photo for the Mundane Monday challenge because it’s not really mundane. But in context it sort of is. I took these pictures on a tour visiting the Catherine Palace in Pushkin near St. Petersburg in 2016.

The Catherine Palace has so much going on–the chapel, the facade, the gardens, the amber room, the Nazi destruction, the ongoing restoration–that taking a picture of a wall and a wall heater seems a little silly. But I did anyway.

This ballroom is splendid all around. It’s the sort of place that makes you think of Disneyland and Mad Ludwig. All that gold has to be fake, right? Or at least not quite real, conjured by a cartoon fairy godmother. You expect Mrs. Potts, the talking teapot from Beauty and the Beast, to pop out at any moment and finish the tour.

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But this is the real deal. Princesses danced here on cold winter nights, and the heat and gaiety kept the wolf at bay.

CatherinePalaceHarpsichordThese palaces, outposts carved from the forest in homage to the great cities of Europe, humanized the Russian royalty for me in a way that I had never considered before. Everyone wants a beautiful hearth, home, companionship.

Everyone needs a candle in the dark.

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World Enough and Time: My Telemann Performance

It’s a bright, cool California day heralding the coming of summer, and I am free until the evening. I slept well overnight, in spite of reading bad news about someone I knew a lifetime ago. I earned my certificate for completing the 100-day practice challenge last week. Regretful emails trickle in: car trouble, a grandson’s recital, an urgent sample to be analyzed, an unexpectedly long appointment. But my red sparkly Bolero jacket arrived from Jet unexpectedly early. And it fits!

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The New World: Yosemite Valley

Once, before a different performance, I dreamed of breaking my bow, borrowing a replacement, and running endlessly over hills and valleys that opened up in between me and the concert venue as the bow morphed into an archery weapon in my hand. But all these current ups and downs . . . I just watch them from a comfortable distance. The new black dress materialized; the professional make-up job did not. The peach cobbler I baked for the reception didn’t turn out well; the persimmon cookies did.

Either way, it’s time to go.

Foothill Presbyterian Church
Foothill Presbyterian Church

“Here we go!” That’s what our fearless leader and conductor of the South Bay Philharmonic uses as the subject heading on his concert week emails. At Foothill Presbyterian Church, the concert venue, they’re just setting up, getting ready to take tickets, and my musician’s pass is buried somewhere in my gig bag. “I’m not sure where it is,” I say apologetically. “But that’s me!” I’m on the sign. I take a moment to post it on social media.

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Here we go!

I have a list of snippets to warm up, including shifts, string crossings, and the openings to the first and third movements. That list is today’s stick for the elephant trunk brain to hold onto. I made the list after the dress rehearsal, which wasn’t my best effort. I take my instrument out and stand on the stage where I’m planning to stand for the performance, look out, and play a few things from that list. I remember the low ceiling, pews, and decent acoustics from when I was here rehearsing with the harpsichord. Nothing has changed. It’s still mostly empty.

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In black, before the quintet

The first half of the concert will bring people on stage step-wise: a trio, followed by a quintet, followed by a septet, followed by my concerto with string orchestra. (The second half will be the full orchestra playing Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9). While this ascending sequence of prime numbers of musicians appeals to the nerd in many of us, it is also good for me personally: it gives me something warm up with, namely Dvořák’s “American” viola quintet, Op. 97, a thematic match to a concert featuring both the viola and Dvořák.

This still means a quick change for me though: play the quintet and then rush off somewhere to put on my red soloist jacket and get used to my Baroque bow again while the septet is playing. But where to rush off to? There is an AA meeting in the usual warmup room, so I cross an interior courtyard to put my stuff in a corner of the social hall and decide to eat the banana I tucked into my gig bag. The septet arrives while I’m eating the banana and starts warming up too. I can’t hear myself at all and I really need to practice the openings of the 1st and 3rd movements of Telemann. I haven’t done that yet, here.

Back out into the courtyard, the Beethoven septet fades into quiet. People are arriving now in earnest, but they’re mostly staying over in the main sanctuary. A few are hurrying towards the social hall to put away their cases. I set my electronic tuner on the bench around one of the courtyard trees and play the opening measure several times. I take my hand off the instrument, put it back on, and play a B again. I watch the tuner; the intonation is fine. I don’t know what was happening during dress rehearsal and I don’t really want to know. Whatever it was that was making me come in out of tune, the problem seems to be fixed now. I fixed it.

The wind blows and rustles my hair, the skirt of my dress, and the leaves of the tree where I am practicing. The sun is starting to go down, lengthening the shadows of the hurrying musicians. I am vaguely aware that someone, a friend, is taking pictures. I just keep playing the first movement. This is the last time I am going to be playing Telemann before the concert. It is the end of the beginning, and the light is turning to gold.

Golden Light

The quintet movement went well. At least I think so. I didn’t play it perfectly, and I didn’t play it badly. Dvořák wrote the Quintet while he was living in Spillville Iowa, immediately after the “American” Quartet, Op. 96. It is not played as often as the Quartet, and sometimes overshadowed. It almost didn’t happen at all when our 2nd violinist headed to the Middle East on a business trip, but we were able to engage a sub who learned the piece in 3 weeks and did a great job. Also, the viola 2 part was played by a cellist on an alto violin (more on alto violins another time, perhaps. But I’ll be sticking with the regular on-the-shoulder method of playing the viola for the foreseeable future!)

Back out to the social hall, put on the red jacket, visit the rest room and wash my sticky hands, take out and tighten my Baroque bow, check the tuning on my viola, and back across the courtyard again in heels. The septet is nearing the end, and I stand to one side of the stage with George, the conductor, as we prepare to go on.

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Here’s the complete video of the performance:

For an encore, I prepared a spiritual called “I’m Just a-goin’ over Jordan” from Solos for the Viola Player by Paul Doktor. It’s a relatively simple melody, repeated several times in different octaves and with different dynamics and tempos. It takes advantage of the lonely, bluesy sound the viola can make. I played it as a meditation in church a while ago. To “go over Jordan” can be like crossing the River Styx in another mythology, to a better life in the next world. Would Dvořák still recognize, in today’s America, the “New World” he wrote of in his symphony?

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***

I was asked, on Facebook, “what did it feel like to be on stage with an orchestra?” The first answer is “surprisingly unremarkable.” I wasn’t that nervous. The temperature was warm enough that my hands weren’t cold, and my bow didn’t shake. Mainly, I had a script to follow: 1. While the orchestra is playing and I’m not, look out into the audience and smile; 2. When the orchestra hits a predetermined passage, usually when it goes up in pitch and foreshadows the cadence, that means it’s time for the viola to come in soon, so I raise my instrument to my chin; 3. While I’m playing, focus my eyes on where my bow contacts the string; 4. When necessary, particularly when the orchestra comes in after the cadenzas, turn my head to look over at George and the cellos.

That was it. I followed the script, and it was almost like a tape, or a DVD, was playing in my head and through my hands. That was what it felt like to have world enough and time to prepare, to know a piece so well it that had become a part of me. Although I didn’t take risks or stray from the script in the moment, it was fun. And as I headed into the last repeat of the last section of the 4th movement, the thought came to me, “I might really get through this whole concerto without screwing up!” And I did.

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Thursday Doors: Tokyo National Museum

So, I have come to my last doors from the trip to Asia. We spent our last few days in Tokyo, and I took a break from doors while we walked around the palace, went to Robot Restaurant and Tokyo Disney, and then we got to the National Museum.

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Doors here are ornate and orderly.

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These were the last interesting doors we saw before getting on the plane back to the States!

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This post is for Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors, a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. 

It is the last in a series from my trip to Asia in the summer of 2017. Other posts from the same trip can be found here:

Seoul Walk

Downtown Seoul

Changdeokgung Palace

Hutong

Beijing City Wall

Palace Museum in the Forbidden City

Chinese Coke

Great Wall Shopping

Shanghai, Xintiandi

Shanghai, the Bund

Zhujiajiao, water town, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Lamps

 

 

Little Women 150th Anniversary Anthology

My copy of Little Women, shown here on my daughter’s bed, is over 40 years old. My mother read it to me and I was happy to read it to my daughter when she was about 12.

LittleWomenCover

This scene, of a mother and daughters gathered around a piano singing together, has always touched me, even though it is more substantial to me in imagination than in real life.

In real life I’m a shy, tremulous singer and a self-taught one-finger picker of keyboard melodies. Instead I have found a voice on the violin and viola, and in writing. My family members are not singers either, although both my kids have played, or still play, various non-piano instruments. We played together when they were younger, but teenagers tend not to want to play with mom so much.

Several years ago, when Susan Cain’s book Quiet, the Power of Introverts came out, I was reading Little Women to my daughter, then in 7th grade. We lived in the Boston area then, close enough that we could visit Orchard House, and we did so twice, once for the Girl Scout troop my daughter was a member of, and again years later for her Coming-of-Age class at our UU church.

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I started to think about the March girls according to their temperaments, introvert or extravert. In particular, I was able to put my feelings about Beth March in a different context. In the past I had always been a little ashamed that I identified so strongly with Beth. In the book, she was too quiet and introverted to live. What did that mean for me and others like me? I wrote these thoughts down and put them first in a blog post, and then in an essay that I submitted to a new anthology for the 150th Anniversary of Little Women.

I just found that my essay has been accepted for publication in the anthology, which will be coming out later this year, from Pink Umbrella books.

newpinkumbrellalogoFor generations, children around the world have come of age with Louisa May Alcott’s March girls. Their escapades and trials punctuated our own childhoods—maybe we weren’t victims of “lime-shaming,” like Amy, and we probably didn’t chop off our locks for the cause, like Jo, but Alcott’s messages of society and independence, family love, and sacrifice resonate over a century later. 2018 marks the 150th anniversary of Little Women, published to wide acclaim in 1868.

 

 

 

 

Mundane Monday: Squares

The Mundane Monday Photo Challenge is under new leadership. The challenge was created by Trablogger an Indian travel blogger named Jithin from Kerala. After three years of linking to “mundane” photos from people’s everyday lives around the world, he handed it off to Dr K Ottoway, a rural physician in the eastern United States. (Reading that paragraph makes me smile. How else other than blogging can you meet people like that and not even have to leave your dining room table?)

SomersetSquareParkThe theme for this week’s Mundane Monday challenge is “All the Squares,” Dr. KO shows an interesting pattern in a fence. I have one like that too: Patterned Leaves, or this one on the left, a square lamp skirt in Somerset Square Park in Cupertino.

But she goes on to say that her post was inspired by this poem by AA Milne:

Whenever I walk in a London street,
I’m ever so careful to watch my feet;
And I keep in the squares,
And the masses of bears,
Who wait at the corners all ready to eat
The sillies who tread on the lines of the street
Go back to their lairs,
And I say to them, “Bears,
Just look how I’m walking in all the squares!”

Square Paul Painlevé
Square Paul Painlevé, Paris France

Over the weeks I’ve been doing this challenge I’ve had to interpret the theme in creative ways. The poem’s reference to the streets of London helps me do that. “Square” is not just a sidewalk shape, but a town meeting point, a place of some importance. I’ve been walking in these squares too.

Tiananmen Square, Beijing China
Tiananmen Square, Beijing China

 

 

Book Review: Outside the Limelight by Terez Mertes Rose

Outside the Limelight (Ballet Theatre Chronicles. #2)Outside the Limelight by Terez Mertes Rose

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed the first book in this series very much and eagerly looked forward to the second. In most ways it did not disappoint. The author’s love of ballet and her extensive knowledge of the subject informed the story at every turn. I also appreciated the complexity of the relationships she delineated in this book. I have grown weary of stories that always hew to a formulaic hero’s journey or romance, and so I appreciated that Outside the Limelight dealt with other kinds of human relationships: siblings, parents, divorce, failed mentorship, work colleagues and teams, professors and students, and friends.

That said, I think the author may have taken on too much in this volume, and it ended up losing focus. The medical details of Dena’s tumor, operation, and recovery went on too long, as did the development of her relationship with Misha. The parallels between Dena and her sister and Misha and his brother did not need to be spelled out and dramatized in this much detail, especially because much of this quiet and somewhat dull post-tumor part of Dena’s story came at the expense of dramatizing the arc of Rebecca’s relationship with Ben. The denouement to that part of the novel was dramatic but confusing. I was glad all the characters got their happy endings but while I could see Dena/Misha coming a mile away, Rebecca/Ben came totally out of the blue for me. There had been so little sexual tension or chemistry between Rebecca and Ben throughout most of the story that I had assumed Ben was gay.

Rebecca’s on-again, off-again relationship with Anders formed the tight core of this novel for me. It takes place in 2010-11, just on the precipice of the current re-imagining of mentor relationships between powerful men and young ambitious women in the arts (and many other fields). One wonders if Anders Gunst’s career would survive the #MeToo movement. And even if so, how his life and those of the dancers under his tutelage would be forever changed.

This book strikes me as transitional in other ways too. It shows the beginnings of a new path by which dancers can open up the closed, insular ballet world and take charge of their own careers and lives via social media. What can happen in this brave new world is the story I really want–really need–to read now.

View all my reviews

April WATWB: Out of Harm’s Way

We are the World LogoThe “We are the World” Blogfest (#WATWB) is in its thirteenth month! This blogfest is a blog hop that takes place on the last Friday of every month. This event seeks to promote positive news, stories that show compassion and the resilience of the human spirit. Your cohosts for this month are:  Shilpa GargDan Antion, Simon FalkMichelle Wallace, and Mary Giese. Please link to them in your WATWB posts and go say hi! Click HERE to check out the intention and rules of the blogfest and feel free to sign up.

I have chosen this story, Louisiana Islanders Find a New Home Beyond the Water, by Nicky Milne. Isle de Jean Charles is a small strip of land in Southern Louisiana. In the 1950s it measured 11×5 miles. Since then it has lost 98% of its land. Its inhabitants are mostly descended from the Biloxi, Chitimacha, and Choctaw tribes who took refuge from white settlers on the island in the early 19th century.

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What I think makes this story good for We Are the World is the community effort the inhabitants are making to resettle all the families on the island.

Chantel Comardelle, the Executive Secretary of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe, won funding from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to purchase land where the islanders can move. She says that the plan “blazes a trail for other groups who face the prospect of losing their land, both in the United States and other countries.”

“Right now, there’s very little positive in the form of relocation or resettlement of people,” she said. “We presented a different model of doing it – a community-designed, community-driven process.”

Lowlander Center logoThey are also working with a group called the Lowlander Center, a non-profit organization supporting lowland people and places through education, research and advocacy.

The inhabitants of Isle de Jean Charles are climate refugees right here in the United States. Climate change is no longer a “slow-moving disaster” happening somewhere else in the distant future. It is happening right here, right now.

Photo credit: Newlands Sugarcane farmland near Shriever, southeast Louisiana which has been purchased by Louisiana State for resettlement of the community of Isle De Jean Charles. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Chad Owen

Thursday Doors: Zhujiajiao, Part 2, colors

The ancient water town of Zhujiajiao really has a lot of doors! I grouped them into three different blog posts to try to give them some structure. Part 1 showed doors right on the water.  In Part 2, here, I planned to focus on doors of different colors. China in general and Shanghai in particular was a brightly colored place.

But once I had organized the pictures, I discovered a lot of brown. That was the color of the majority of doors in Zhujiajiao, and you can see that clearly even in part 1. The trim would sometimes be bright red, or more occasionally blue. But most of them were a rich, reddish brown color. So I grouped the brownest ones together here, and what might stand out more are the differences in shape and trim. Some doors certainly look a lot more welcoming than others.

And then there were the occasional different ones. Red. Blue. Teal. Gray. Aqua. (But even these tended to be juxtaposed with brown).

14ZhujiajiaoRed17ZhujiajiaoBlue22ZhujiajiaoTeal26ZhujiajiaoGray27ZhujiajiaoAqua

Why so few red doors? Feng Shui may provide an answer. According to one article I read, red is the color of the South, and of the fire element. Building codes in ancient China stipulated that only high-ranking government officials could paint their doors red, which is one reason why red is associated with prosperity.

Whereas blue is associated with water, and with relaxation. And brown doors are associated with wood and earth elements, and with stability. Based on my very unscientific sampling, stability seems to be highly valued in Zhujiajiao!

Thursday doors is a weekly feature in which door lovers share their pictures from doors all around the world. Stop by Norm 2.0’s blog to say hello and see some of the others.

 

Thursday Doors: The Bund, Shanghai

This week for Thursday Doors, am continuing my series of door posts from my trip to Asia last summer. Last time I posted pictures of our tour of Xintiandi, a hip shopping tourist district in Shanghai.

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The Bund, on the Western Bank of Huangpu River, is the next stop on the tour. “Bund” means an embankment or quay. The buildings of the Bund are height restricted and built to look European. (There is even a clock tower that chimes like Big Ben in London!) They stand in contrast with the buildings on the opposite bank of the river, which boasts the modern skyscrapers of Lujazui in the Pudong District. Pudong is the location of the Shanghai Tower, as of this writing the world’s 2nd tallest building with the highest observation deck.

As I mentioned in the previous post about Xintiandi, we didn’t have great weather the day we were in Shanghai. Clouds can be seen below in the panoramic picture, and rain on the ground in front of the doors. These doors open into sober establishments like department stores, hotels, or banks. Many of them are labeled (so you can tell them apart?)

I took all of these pictures from the window of a moving tour bus, so the angles can get a little creative, but at least I stayed dry!

Even though there are no doors in these other pictures, I’m including them anyway, because no post about the Bund would be complete without a View from the Top of Shanghai Tower. The clouds add mystery to this view from above. The tower practically has its own weather:

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And a view of the Eastern Bank, taken from an evening river cruise.

PudongSkyscrapers

The Bund is a study in contrasts: the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, the two faces of Shanghai.

BundPanorama

Thursday doors is a weekly feature in which door lovers share their pictures from doors all around the world. Stop by Norm 2.0’s blog to say hello and see some of the others.

We are the World Blogfest: Strings for Haitian Musicians

This is the second year that the Musicians of the Utah Symphony (MOTUS), led by their music director Thierry Fischer, have gone to Haiti to teach young musicians there in an orchestra institute. Last year’s institute received coverage in The Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News, and others.

Fischer said the students’ work ethic and eagerness to learn quickly dispelled any qualms about “talking about intonation when they don’t have a roof over their heads.” Beyond musical technique, he hopes the lessons learned at the institute strengthened skills and traits the students can use throughout their lives: “persistence, consistency, determination, discipline.”

–Salt Lake Tribune, April 30, 2017

The Utah Symphony musicians are in Haiti right now for this year’s Institute, and are blogging about it here on Tumblr: MOTUS in Haiti.

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Kate (L) with Mercedes (R), the principal flutist at the Utah Symphony

A violinist friend of mine, Kate Little, pictured at left and on the Tumblr blog, collected used-but-usable strings to be sent along with the musicians in their luggage. The climate in Haiti is such that strings deteriorate quickly, so they can make good use of our old used strings that are still in decent shape.

Kate put out a call for strings in some online music groups that I am a part of and I collected them from friends and teachers and sent them on to Kate, who gave them to the traveling musicians to take in their luggage.

The collection of strings pictured here is a selection of what was donated by friends I play music with in local community orchestras. It includes violin, viola, and cello strings! My son’s cello teacher also gave me a large envelope containing strings, collected from her professional colleagues and her own closet.

StringsforHaiti

The orchestra under Maestro Fischer is currently rehearsing Tchaikovsky’s 5th symphony!

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We are the World Logo

We Are the World Blogfest,” posted around the last Friday of each month, seeks to promote positive news. There are many oases of love and light out there, stories that show compassion and the resilience of the human spirit. Sharing these stories increases our awareness of hope in our increasingly dark world. The #WATWB co-hosts for this month are:  Belinda Witzenhausen,  Sylvia McGrath, Sylvia Stein,  Shilpa Garg, and Eric Lahti. Please check out their posts and say hello!