Tag Archives: music

Echoes of Chamber Music

guitar up closeThe mythology goes something like this: when I was three years old, I told my parents I wanted a piano. They may have chuckled, or pet me on the head, I don’t really know, but the upshot was that I was not taken seriously. I mean, why would anyone entrust a toddler with an expensive musical instrument that would test the floor joists? So I asked them again a little while later. And again. Persistence was my modus operandi. When I turned five, I got a Baldwin upright piano from my folks, a chestnut brown instrument with carefully turned legs and brass pedals. My brother David promptly scratched it up with his hair pick, but it almost looked like a whimsical music bar, so I mostly ignored the destruction of the varnish. I practiced with a teacher, mostly by ear, learning boogies and ragtime and all kinds of classical songs with a contemporary piece thrown in here and there. I won an award when I was seven, but I don’t think I was ever much good at playing. I had heart, though.

Over the years I developed an eclectic taste in music, and I still love any artist who can surprise me or do something new. I’m also a big fan of music education because I think it gives young students so much—it’s helpful with math, creativity, developing auditory skills, teamwork, practice, and patience. In a world where mere participation in group activities earns one a blue ribbon (rendering blue ribbons what? a simple color?), learning a piece of music is a rich reward all in itself. I may have gotten away from playing as an adult, but I still have a fondness for the feel of polished keys, and I can still tell if any of an instrument’s 88 keys are off in tone. Read More…

The joys of apartment dwellings

Here I am, pushing my way into a new novel, and like all project beginnings it takes quite a degree of commitment to stay focused, when there is a lot of white space on the screen and not nearly enough little black letters. In my writing, there is strength in numbers, as I tend to write more than I need and then winnow it down in the rewriting process. I also didn’t like being at school when there weren’t enough people around, like in the afternoon when most folks had left, so maybe I just feel more comfortable in crowds than the average person.

And even so, I have my limits. Some things, like the persistent plucking of an errant guitar string, will get on my nerves after not too long a time. Too bad the inept musician lives right upstairs. Read More…

The trickster in us

Susanne and I went to see an evening of cabaret with Tomson Highway, a Cree musician, playwright, novelist, and songwriter. It was not a Gershwin medley — these were songs from two musicals he’s written, namely, Rose and The Incredible Adventures of Mary Jane Mosquito. The latter is a children’s play, in case that wasn’t already abundantly clear. We all piled into a small auditorium, about 40 of us, and were subjected to Tomson’s wacky presentation style, which was this entertaining mix of Victor Borge wit and Elton John effete manner. Unfortunately, the music itself was a little on the simplistic side — interesting enough chord progressions but then that was about it. There were times when he would jam during a vamp portion of a song and I could see that he could play really well, but those weren’t things he’d written into the songs. He was joined by a singer, also from the Cree Nation north of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and a sax player from Walla Walla who did a very good job on an instrument that is not anywhere near my favorite. I’m more of a woodwinds and strings fella, but that’s another story. 


Tomson Highway

Tomson Highway



There was a portion of his cabaret where he talked about the Cree’s notion of “the trickster,” a spiritual being with no gender who is like a lightning bolt of divine magic from God. The trickster is behind your laughter, lightening you up from the moment, an ephemeral gift from God. Or in Tomson’s language, he’s bumping your butt. Which made us laugh. Which made Tomson point out that he was bumping our butts again. Which made us laugh again. You can see where this is going. It was a butt-bumping laughfest for a while there.

Another moment of hysteria, when I thought I would just lose it — he remarked that this next song was a good song, because you know, he wrote it. Not to blow his own horn, you know, because he doesn’t play the horn. And don’t think he’s going to blow the piano tonight. Though that might be interesting.

I will point out here that the idiom is “toot” your own horn, not blow it. Perhaps those Cree have their own take on such things. Certainly it made for a funnier story. I did go home humming a few tunes about mosquitoes who take the train to find new friends. Groove Armada it was not, but it was a nice event. And, I suppose, very Wallyworld.

As for the music…

Yesterday on the iPod:

Duran Duran, Decade

Jamie Cullum, Twentysomething

Bitter:Sweet, The Remix

Anna Nalik

Today on the iPod:

Zero 7, The Garden

Indigo Girls, Live

Dirty Vegas, One

Michael Buble

Eat, Pray, Love, book on CD

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