Monday, December 27, 2010

Changes in plan

I went to the airport tonight fully expecting to get on a plane to Detroit and then get on another plane to Syracuse at the crack of dawn.  I couldn't think of a single reason why it shouldn't happen.  The storm is much farther east, so why should any of my flights be cancelled?  Not only is there not supposed to be any snow in either Detroit or Syracuse tonight, but even if there was, both cities are known for their ability to deal with snow.  Syracuse has already had 72" and from all reports I've heard, everybody is going about business as usual.  Unfortunately however, when I got to SFO at 8:30pm this evening, I found out the soonest I could expect to arrive in Syracuse is midnight on Tuesday.  And, I might as well go home and get some sleep because they re-routed me through Chicago and the connecting flight doesn't leave until 9pm tomorrow and I could get on a plane tonight, but then I'd just end up waiting all day tomorrow at O'Hare.  Actually, my original flight to Detroit is due to leave as scheduled, but the connecting flight from Detroit to Syracuse was cancelled for reasons unknown and I would have ended up stranded in Detroit.  Since JFK is closed right now because of heavy snowfall, it can be speculated that either the flight was cancelled as a precaution or the back up of passengers waiting to leave NYC took precedence over my need to get home.

One of my co-workers has been talking a lot lately about how Mercury is in Retrograde, explaining this phenomenon as the reason why so many things are not working out as planned.  I have to confess that Astrology is something that doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense to me.  As much as people have given me examples about all the commonalities they see amongst friends who are one star sign or another, I just can't see that there truly are any logical correlations.  And, I can't say whether being told you are probably going to turn out a certain way might influence how you actually turn out.  That said, it does seem like a lot of kooky things have been going on lately.  Still, isn't that often the case around the holidays?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Today, although I am feeling content knowing that I will see my family very soon, I am reminded that the holidays can be a very stressful time for a lot of people and thought it might be a good time to remember some of the tricks I have used throughout the years to change my perspective when times are hard and I need to find more peace and calm.

1. I imagine that I am slowly zooming out over my physical location and place myself, as if I am on a map, in the room I'm in, the building, the street, the neighborhood, the city, the state, the region, the country, the continent, etc. until I am just a speck in the universe.

2. I close my eyes and imagine myself hugging and exchanging good will with everyone I can think of who I am not feeling completely at peace with.

3. I think back in time to what I was doing yesterday at this time and then last week, last month, last year, five years ago, ten years ago, etc.  It helps me remember that troubling things are transient and that the themes of what is important to me remain pretty much constant.

4. I imagine myself as a ninety year old woman talking about my life -- the things I am most proud of and the things I regret -- to help put into perspective specific things I am currently worried about.

5. While walking around town, I imagine that everyone I walk by is my brother, sister, or close friend.  Or, something else that works in a similar way for me is to imagine that all the people I am walking by are exactly equal to me in every way and in no way better or worse.  

6.  Additionally, I have found Metta helpful and also simple breathing meditations.

What tricks do you have?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Getting to Know YOU

1. What musical things have you done today?

2. Did you watch the lunar eclipse?

3. Have you had any egg nog yet this season?

4. What do you like best about the holidays?

5. What is your favorite board game? Or, if you don't like board games, what sort of games do you prefer to play?

[Me: 1. I practiced violin this Noon and I had choir rehearsal this evening; 2. Yes - I watched quite a bit of it from my window until the moon was covered by clouds, then I watched the whole thing on a time lapse video; 3. Yes - in several varieties; 4. Seeing my family; 5. Probably Scrabble.]

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Experiment

This morning I learned second hand about an intriguing study.  I was told that two separate control groups were established and that one group was exposed to a big poster board with the word "Yes" all over it and the other group was exposed to a big poster board with the word "No" all over it.  After seeing the poster board, each person was given an MRI to record brain activity.  And, interestingly, there was considerably greater brain activity in the control group who had seen "Yes" than those who had seen "No".  Also, a follow up phone call one week later revealed that the control group who had seen "Yes" felt considerably more satisfied with their lives than those who had seen "No".

It seems reasonable to me that a person who is told "No" over and over again could become discouraged and that continual rejection might lead someone to feel less satisfied with life, whereas hearing "Yes" and being accepted could have a more positive effect.  And, perhaps just seeing the word "Yes" is enough to provide results.  The brain is certainly complex and mysterious enough to me that I am willing to consider this possibility.  

I wonder if you will join me in an experiment.  Find a piece of paper and write the word "Yes" on it multiple times - in big letters and small letters -  so that it covers the whole page.  Hang up this piece of paper on the wall of your house/apartment somewhere where you can see it (by the piano, by your desk, in the kitchen or bathroom, etc.) and leave it there for a week or two at some time when you will be around (and not on vacation somewhere else).  Don't try to judge the effects it has on you.  Just let it be there.  I'm going to ask you about it later. :-)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Violin

I started playing violin around the age of four (and grew up the daughter of a professional violinist).  I played throughout school with varying degrees of interest, the height of which was in high school while preparing Kreisler's Praeludium and Allegro for the state solo competition.  When I chose to major in voice performance in college, it didn't occur to me that keeping up my violin chops would have been a smart thing to do.  I did take a few professional gigs playing in a wedding string quartet group after college, but since I was playing with others who were much better at their instruments than I was, I assumed that I really should just stick to voice.  I should say, though, in retrospect, that I didn't really practice much or give myself a chance.  I just assumed violin was something I wasn't that good at.  Years later, I have picked up my violin again, and have written a set of five songs for singing violinist (or violin playing singer) that I will be performing in front of people.  What is unique about this situation is that I wrote the piece, so I purposefully wrote music that I can actually play.  I do have to practice every day, though, because my muscles are still not really used to playing on a regular basis for any length of time.  I know I have a lot of room for improvement in the quality of my playing, but I don't feel as discouraged as I have in the past when trying to play violin.  The main reason for this is because I am noticing that I feel considerably happier after I have been playing the violin.  It makes sense to me now that returning to something I did for the entirety of my childhood would make me feel more grounded and at peace.  And, I am really glad to have finally come back to it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Museum Trip

Last evening I went with a friend to the modern art museum here in town.  There were a good number of interesting works, but my favorite pieces of all were a collection of watercolor paintings done by African children from Southern Rhodesia.  Two of them can be seen here, but honestly, it doesn't do them any justice, because the vibrancy of the colors was really the best thing about them.  They were incredible and very inspiring.  It was very hard to believe they were done by children, because they looked like they must have taken a lot of time to create, and when I think of children in our American culture, I don't think of them having a lot of time to devote to any one activity, especially not artistic ones.  We live in such a busy world.  It really made me think.  Also, re: the vivid colors, I had to wonder how the watercolors were made.  I have never seen watercolors in such beautiful colors.

I haven't been to an art museum in quite a while, but while I was a student at New England Conservatory, I was in the habit of going to the Museum of Fine Arts almost every Saturday.  As a student, we could go free, which was so cool.  I have to admit that the first time I went to an art museum here, I was a little disappointed, because I was used to seeing much bigger collections.  But, what I realized when I went last night is that I love to look at art and there is a lot of art here in town that I haven't seen yet.  Also, museums frequently change their exhibits, so it's always cool to go back even if you think you've seen everything.  Which reminds me, there is a cool impressionist exhibit at another SF museum that is only here until January.  I'd better get on that!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Getting Into The Spirit

Today I bought a fiberoptic tree and some egg nog.  
My kitty cat is not sure what to make of the tree.  
Luckily it is much too small for her to climb.



Sunday, December 12, 2010

Empty glass :-(

Oh no, Nashira!  My glass is empty!


"NOOOOOO!!!!!! Say it isn't so!!!!!!" says Nashira.


"Yeah.  Here.  Check it out." says Pam.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

True Confessions

My friend Heidi, a mezzo I sometimes have the pleasure of singing with, has made it clear that she thinks it's not a good idea to blog after drinking three glasses of wine. Well, I say POO! Having drunk half a bottle of wine myself, I would like to say that this is the perfect time to write a blog post. :-P What could she possibly reveal that wouldn't be deliciously fun to read?

Interesting...

So, you probably remember a few years ago when I started posting Getting To Know You questionnaires on my blog. I was doing it weekly for a while and am always happy when people answer. Thanks, Susan and Scott! :-) I have to tell you, I am so amused because today on Facebook, I noticed that someone else has started doing this! [I noticed that two other friends were tagged in a Getting To Know You quiz, but I was not, so I don't know where it originated.] I'm sure it's not impossible that someone else was doing a Getting To Know You quiz before me, but I can't help but wonder if someone got the idea from me. Maybe I'll never know!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Getting To Know You

1. Is it snowing where you are? And/or, is there snow on the ground?

2. What is the last thing you practiced doing?

3. When is the last time you taught someone something? What was it?

4. What sounds can you hear where you are right now?

[Me: 1. Nope. Nope; 2. I practiced some music for my upcoming recital last night; 3. I taught a voice/piano lesson to a high school girl last evening; 4. I can hear traffic and construction vehicles.]

Happy Friday!

Today my office is having our holiday party, so we all get to eat a delicious meal, drink wine, exchange secret snowflake gifts, and then go home early! Woo hoo! Still, I think I should probably resist the urge to drink too much since the weekend is only two days long and I have a lot of music to learn for the (all contemporary music) recital I am giving in Syracuse on December 29th. I actually just got two of the pieces I will be singing yesterday, so I'll feel much better once I have learned them. And... I am planning to perform the pieces I just wrote, accompanying myself on the violin. My mother has offered to be my back up in case I wimp out, but I am going to practice and see how far I can get. Lots of work to do! But first... party! :-)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Letting Go

My good friend Scott proposed the following advice about composing:

"Never be afraid to throw your precious music in the trash. If something just doesn't work, get rid of it. Don't get too attached too soon."

It just occurred to me that perhaps this is really good advice about other aspects of life as well. :-) Like Scrabble.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Inspiration

My experience performing last night left me feeling so inspired that today I ended up writing a five song set of pieces for voice and violin that included the one song I had already written. I had actually written two others songs with texts by the same author, but had written them for voice with a simple piano accompaniment (that I never liked), so I decided to rewrite them for violin and then decided to add two other pieces with texts by the same author. They are all short and I may very well continue to revise them, but I am really excited. I never thought I would accomplish anything like this. I am surprised at myself!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Performance Challenge

Tonight I have agreed to perform a piece I wrote for voice and violin *by myself * at what I hope will be a very mellow house concert. That was not the original plan, but when the original plan fell through and I needed to come up with something else to perform, I asked a friend of mine if he would be willing to hum the violin part of a duet I wrote while I sang and he said he thought I should try to accompany myself. I decided this would be an interesting challenge, but now I am trying to figure out how to take on this challenge without making myself look like a bad musician. I have to say, I have a tendency to play it safe when it comes to musical performance. I have only performed my own music in public one time outside of a composition class and that one time was in a remote art gallery corner (singing and playing piano) where people were milling about and not really listening. Also, I have not played my violin in public in over ten years. I tend to only sing music I think I will sing well. Honestly, I am pretty scared of having people think I stink at what I do. So... tonight I am pushing the boundaries in two areas. Not only am I singing a piece I wrote in public, but I am accompanying myself on the violin. It doesn't sound too terrible... but I am trying to figure out a way to perform the piece so that part of the time I am singing without the violin just to show that I can actually sing and sing in tune. It's remarkably hard to sing with good technique with a violin on your neck. Also, it's quite difficult to sing in tune with a violin you are playing. Wish me luck! Am I crazy?

UPDATE 1:05am: Performance over and it went pretty well! It was definitely a good experience over all.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Listening

Yesterday evening I came home to find 3 big envelopes in my mailbox! My acceptance letter and certificate from NATS, my new glasses, and six concert CDs I ordered from NEC. The CDs are an interesting mix of styles. One is from the Joni Mitchell concert I sang on with the contemporary improvisation department. I sang two unique interpretations of Joni songs I love on a concert along side some of the best jazz and contemporary performers and composers out there. It was neat! One is Hadyn's Harmoniemesse on which I sang the soprano solo with some really talented operatic singers and a great chorus and orchestra. The other three are from the Tuesday Night New Music series, which was the Composer Forum series. The CDs I ordered were of big pieces I did with orchestra. It's been interesting to listen to and revisit these really interesting works. What an interesting and exciting time that was!!

Writing

I'm convinced that the act of writing regularly is essential in learning to write well. The reason I started a blog in the first place, in addition to wanting to keep in touch with Susan after leaving Madison, was to learn to write better. And yet... since I had trouble finding anything to write about, I didn't post here for a week.

I think it must be the same with writing music. I have written a fair amount of music for someone who has never formally studied composition or songwriting and I would love to do more of it and get better at it, but I am always thwarted by the idea that I am no good at it and so therefore shouldn't try. It occurred to me the other day, though, that the fact that I keep wanting to write -- write words and write music -- is enough to make it worth while. And, maybe I should even consider taking lessons. I feel pretty certain, though, that the very first step is just to do it -- and do it regularly.