Saturday, January 24, 2009

...and we're back

Now that's what I call a hiatus! As of yesterday, it's been four weeks since my last post. I'd intended to take a few weeks off, partly for travel reasons and also simply to take a break, but getting started back is always the hardest part, so I've kept putting it off. Ironically, one thing that's held me back is the feeling that I needed to restart with some fantastically engaging post, but it now occurs to me that I've been gone so long, there might not be much of an audience left to enjoy a fantastic post; so my only goal here is to get things going again. If this ends up being a mediocre, self-obsessed blog entry about blogging, so be it. I do feel good that The Violin has remained at the top of the blog; this little gem of a film has now been viewed more than 100 times. I don't know how many people have actually made it through all 20-something minutes, but hopefully it's won a few new fans.

We've been back in school for more than a week, but I'm still transitioning myself back into "thoughtful academic" mode. The day after my most recent post, we set off on a fairly lengthy road trip to Georgia and back - three children in a van for many days. I learned that it's possible to have three separate audio streams going on at once and not go crazy. For example, there was a moment when my daughters were watching "High School Musical" in the back seat, my toddler son was watching Caillou in the seat behind us, and we were listening to Anonymous 4 in the front seat. Although I could hear all three sources (especially since Caillou's DVD player was right on the other side of my headrest), it was amazing to realize how well the brain can filter out what's not wanted. Well, most of the time - that Caillou can be pretty whiny. Still, I can happily say I wouldn't recognize anything from "High School Musical," and even happier to add that my nine-year old ended up not being that enamored of it. (I'd bought it as a road treat for a girl who was devastated at having to leave her flock of Southern cousins behind.) The world of portable DVD players has certainly made this kind of travel more bearable.

Upon our return to Massachusetts, I went into one of my entirely predictable too-much-time-on-my-hands buying sprees. Yes, I had just gotten some wonderful Christmas presents (including my beloved new Keurig single-cup coffee brewer, which has, so far at least, broken my daily Dunkin Donuts habit), but nothing rouses my need to buy like not being busy. (It's a good thing I have a job to keep me busy or I'd be broke.) Most alarming of all was the discovery of a certain Craig's List. Well, I had known of it, but now I really know way too much. First, because we've been doing some major house reorganizing, I suddenly found myself carting a new-to-us loveseat down three frightful flights of South Boston stairs, the last flight being a steep set of outdoor steps which hadn't been de-iced from one of our many, many winter storms.

Even more exciting, a few days later, I found myself at Cambridge's famous Toscanini's handing over an envelope full of cash in exchange for a brand new Tablet PC. Yes, I've finally taken the plunge into Hugh Sung's crazy world of hands-free page-turning. Although Hugh is now advocating a method of playing from a more traditional laptop, I really like the idea of a light, portable, tablet approach, so I took a chance on that probably risky Craig's List deal (figuring that the Toscanini locale was good musical omen), and then ordered Hugh's Airturn wireless pedal system. The pedal system works great and is remarkably simple to use. Of course, I completely whiffed on my first two turns in my very first rehearsal experience with the Airturn, but I quickly got the hang of it. (One problem I face is that I have a bit of a soft-pedal addiction that means my left foot likes to hang out there; thus, shifting over to the page-turning pedal is a little more complicated. Honestly, I'm hoping this helps me detox a bit from my over-reliance on the soft pedal.)

I did find it ironic that, just a couple of days after I got started, Hugh posted a series of nightmare scenarios for the digital page turner, but I'm enough of a worrier that I'd already anticipated most of his cautionary tales. I've already invested in a back-up battery, and am working out other back-up strategies before I even think about hitting the live stage this way. I'll probably spend at least a few weeks getting used to the whole process in rehearsals. I'm also still working out the best strategies for scanning music into the computer. I've already got tons of downloaded PDFs in my collection (mostly from the unbelievably wonderful, but that's just a small start.

However it all works out, I have to say that I love my Tablet PC. I'm really surprised this technology hasn't taken off more. Lecturing from this machine is a dream; I can mark up projected scores so easily that I've now begun scanning in all the selections from our music history anthology. I'm still regretting a missed chance from last weekend. I went to a recording session for a chorus I accompany - since they were recording all a cappella rep, I was just there to listen and help guide the session, so I hadn't bothered to scan in the music. However, I realized halfway through that if I'd taken the time to scan the music in, I could've done color-coded markups of each take directly onto the scores. That would have been sooo cool - infinitely better than my improvised shorthand system of page numbers, measure numbers, etc. that even I couldn't decipher.

Anyway, there's much more to say about all this, but my daughter's morning orchestra rehearsal is ending now, and so must this post. Good to be back. I promise my next post will be less than four weeks away!

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