Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Natalia has been with me for over forty-five years; Jess, over fifty.

Natalia and Jess have been my constant companions. They have accompanied me on journeys around the country and to foreign lands, accruing enough miles to circumnavigate the globe, twice. They’ve been there for every important event of my adult life. When I have needed them, in every instance, they have performed to the best of their ability.

I love them both dearly, and I want nothing for them but the best and fullest that life can offer.

Which is why it’s time for them to go.


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Hugo RinaldiThis week one of my high school teachers passed away. Reminiscing about our relationship got me thinking about the nature of teaching. It’s a very nebulous and squirmy thing, teaching is.

Hard to pin down. Hard to define.

Hugo Rinaldi taught music at San Rafael High School, leading the orchestra. Where most students only have a particular teacher for a single class, for a semester or perhaps a school year, I was Hugo’s student for my whole four-year run at SRHS. He conducted the school orchestra, the youth orchestra, and the chamber orchestra, all of which I was a member. He encouraged me to switch from violin to viola. He gave me the opportunity to conduct orchestras, bands, operas, and musicals.

Being a music teacher, Hugo didn’t have “classes” in the usual sense. There were no syllabi, we had no tests. We had rehearsals. Our homework was to practice our parts. Our finals were the concerts we gave for our proud (but often wincing) parents. He didn’t instruct us on how to play our instruments; that was the realm of our private music teachers. Hugo taught us how to play in an orchestra.

Big whoop, right? Like I’ll use that in my daily life.

Here’s the thing: I do. (more…)

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The world of classical music has changed a lot, since I was last playing on a regular basis. I mean a lot.

forScoreExample 1: When I got my viola repaired I purchased a backup-bow. It is not made of pernambuco wood. In fact, it is not made of wood at all. It’s made of carbon fiber. Carbon fiber!

Example 2: I can get sheet music online, in digital format, and display the music on my iPad. A lot of parts in the public domain can be found, free of charge, too. No more stacks of oversized sheets cluttering my office.

This second item is very exciting to me–I can have Symphonic Karaoke sessions!–but I was not satisfied with the way the standard iPad applications (iBooks, Kindle, DocsToGo, etc.) handled sheet music, so I went in search of a more suitable application. (more…)

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NataliaWhile I’m taking a hiatus from writing (and if you didn’t realize I’m on hiatus, you haven’t been paying attention), I’ve been reconnecting with the musical avocation I put down when I picked up the author’s pen.

David T Stone and company did an excellent job repairing my instruments, including fixing the divots left in my viola when a mic boom fell on us during a performance. Natalia (my viola) looks wonderful, and my violin is once again in playing condition.

I, however, am not. (more…)

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SwordleafThe last time I walked into David T. Stone‘s luthier shop, I didn’t have much money. It was a quarter century ago, and I was going through tough financial times. My wife’s health prevented her from working outside the home, we were suffering through a long string of cheap but unreliable cars, and we were trying simultaneously to pay off our credit card debt and save the down payment on a house, all on a single salary. So, back then, when I brought my viola into David’s shop, I was just there for the bare minimum.

As a semi-professional musician (principal viola for the Bellevue Philharmonic and member of a couple working string quartets), the bare minimum meant two things: cat-gut and horse-hair.

Strings and bows.   (more…)

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A Sixty-Fourth NoteI used to be a musician. In my early years, it was my destiny, my fate, and my doom.

It was my destiny because of my mother. Her father was a music teacher and she herself played piano. She encouraged all her children to enjoy and play music, leading us in “kitchen band” sessions where we accompanied her rendition of “The Girl from Ipanema” with our percussion section made of pots and spoons. I showed an aptitude for it, and thus I graduated from a ladle-struck saucier to a real instrument: a violin.

Fate stepped in when it became clear that my aptitude was actually a talent. In addition to playing in school orchestra (back when every public school had a music program) I also began private lessons. These torture sessions–scales, arpeggios, the dreaded Kreutzer etudes–were held in the back room at a neighborhood music shop. The shop was a dark, cluttered space that smelled of rosin and slide grease. Instruments hung on the walls like hunter’s trophies, and the glass case was filled with paraphernalia of all kinds, from strings to reed cutters to mutes of all sorts. Mr. Meacham, my violin teacher, was a stern, unhappy man with curly grey hair and a prim smile that never reached his eyes. He set a very high bar which I approached but never met; it always seemed to be just out of reach, moving higher each time my skills improved. (more…)

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Chairman MeowThe week started badly, and ended with a…  What? It’s only Thursday?

Well, Hell.

So, it’s been a trying week, so far. I’ve had injury (wrenched back), illness (rhinovirus), family issues (no comment), excitement (took our neighbor to urgent care after an accidental toddler-induced head-butt), day-job frustrations (left hand…have you even met the right hand?), and finally, last night, disbelief (I pressed the button to close the garage door and watched as the motor bucked, juddered, and then, with a thunking crunch, deposited bits of plastic, pieces of metal, and one long, greasy chain onto the top of my car).

And it’s only Thursday.

So, what’s a cowboy to do? Or, more apropos, what’s a crabby old fart with barely a scintilla of patience to do?

As I did before this wretched week started, I shall turn to music. (more…)

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