Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Picked-up Pieces

So, I basically took a month off from blogging. This taught me two things. 1) I missed blogging; 2) I really enjoyed not blogging. Ah, the paradox. Curiously, most of the time off was also vacation time when, in theory, I should have had more time to blog, but it didn't really work out that way. Here's a quick review of my month away:

Took first long family car trip in many a year. With five in the family, we decided to drive to the South for Christmas rather than fly for the first time in a long time. This decision inspired us to upgrade to the dreaded, mid-life crisis inducing minivan, but the trip was quite comfy. When I was growing up, my large family made many long car/van trips, but we could never have imagined having access to DVD (what?) movies and hundreds of albums at the ready via an iPod. When we were looking at the van we bought, I casually asked if it had an mp3 jack. I tried to play it cool when the salesman said it didn't; then, naturally, he discovered that it did have one on the test drive. I'm not proud of it, but on some primitive id-level, I may have made the decision to buy the van at that point. It's kind of like I bought a $2X,000 stereo - and I'm fine with that.

It's amazing how much listening to music helped to pass the time. Among the works which made the mid-Atlantic region pass quickly by: piano quintets of Schumann, Brahms, and Dvorak, the Schubert cello quintet, Appalachian Spring, the Ravel Piano Concerto, and The Soldier's Tale (in the indispensable, and criminally unavailable-on-CD, but converted to digital-via-LP recording by Gielgud, Courtenay, Moody and the Boston Symphony Chamber Players). One important thing I've learned about minivans (at least our Odyssey), is that they're not that mini; this meant one or both daughters could be watching a DVD in the backseat while I listened to the iPod and there wasn't really much conflict. There was an odd moment when I realized I was basking in the perfectness of the Schubert quintet, while audibly aware of the horrible Carly Simon singing that was going on in Piglet's Big Adventure - but you know what, the human brain can deal with that. In its way, this experience confirmed what I realize more and more; that music is much more sturdy, even in the face of poor performances and/or listening conditions, than we sometimes admit, so focused are most of us on demanding the highest standards.

Other observations from my time away from blogging. I continue to find that my quirky sidebar lists of favorite movies and TV shows hold up. We watched Barcelona a few weeks ago, and it confirmed its place in my Top 14. Honestly, I can never really remember what makes it so great once it's not fresh on the mind, but I loved every minute of it. Yes, Whit Stillman owes a lot to Woody Allen, but I'd put Barcelona above all but the practically perfect Purple Rose of Cairo. Some choice quotes:

  • "Positive thinking is fine in theory. But whenever I try it on a systematic basis... I end up really depressed."
  • "Is this some strange Glenn Miller-based religious ceremony?" "No, Presbyterian."
  • "You are far weirder than someone merely into S&M. At least they have a tradition. We have some idea what S&M is about. There's movies and books about it. But so far as I know, there is nothing to explain the way you are. "
  • "Fred: And one of the things that keeps popping up is this about "subtext." Plays, novels, songs - they all have a "subtext," which I take to mean a hidden message or import of some kind. So subtext we know. But what do you call the message or meaning that's right there on the surface, completely open and obvious? They never talk about that. What do you call what's above the subtext? Ted: The text. Fred: OK, that's right, but they never talk about that. "
  • "There was a limbo stick."

I could name more, but it would basically be the same as pointing you to the screenplay. It may be the funniest movie ever.

Also, I've been putting to test my assertion that The Dick Van Dyke Show belonged in my TV pantheon along with Seinfeld, The Simpsons, and The Office. I picked up Season 1 on DVD - the first few episodes were a little disappointing, but then it started to hit its stride. Yeah, some of the vaudeville stuff's a little cheesy and Rose Marie can be annoying, but it's a very smart show, hundreds of times better than that I Love Lucy thing, and then there's Laura Petrie. Enough said.

Oh yeah, and we had our very successful Opera Scenes program, prep for which consumed the end of my vacation. One thing I realized today as I was preparing to introduce myself as the accompanist to a musical theater class that I play for mostly because - well, because, as I realized, I love playing the piano. I don't really love practicing piano, which has had its disadvantages, and I don't always love obsessing over the details of piano playing, which can be a challenge when teaching - but I definitely love sitting at the piano and playing what's in front of me, especially in collaborative settings. It's not that I love musical theater rep, but even with songs I can't admire, the music-making aspect is very satisfying. It's odd, because I'm not the most naturally sociable person, but accompanying choirs, shows, voice lessons, violin lessons, cello lessons, coaching singers - that's my natural habitat.

Opera isn't my first love, but there's also something so rewarding and different about performing for audiences that react audibly. It's true that even in a recital one can feel, to some extent, the involvement of an audience, but theatrical performances are something different. We played to two packed houses which infused lots of energy and one sleepy-ish matinee audience that provided . . . less energy. Amazing how different the experience of playing the notes is based on the audience feedback. When the seemingly foolproof machinations of Cenerentola's opening scene don't get laughs, one starts wondering: am I playing too fast? too slow? too loud? too sloppily? has Rossini lost it? Truth is, it was just a kind of quiet crowd and another truth is that an audience made up entirely of me's would be pretty quiet, so who am I to complain?

Oh yeah, and the boy learned to crawl, a good 2+ months earlier than his sisters had. And the Patriots are one game away from . . . no, I'm not gonna jinx it.

1 comment:

Dan B. said...

I'm glad to see someone else out there knows Barcelona. It's part of this pantheon of movies (along with Broadcast News) I always find appropriate times to quote it, but never anyone who gets the quote.