Saturday, January 31, 2009

more than a piece of wood

I swear, soon I'll go back to movie reviews or something. But gah.
As I was exiting a bus today, the strap on my viola case came unhooked and my viola hit the ground hard. It was 6 PM, and I was en route to making a brief birthday party appearance before heading to an 8 PM concert. As soon as it hit the ground I anticipated trouble, but it's too cold here to open the case outside so I headed over to the party. Inside, I opened the case, and...
A big crack, up the face of my viola at least six or seven inches long. My heart stopped. Thirty seconds later I was outside, coatless, on my phone dialing every violist I knew within easy train access. A friend of mine lives only a few houses away from the party I was at, but he didn't answer. Nobody answered, and I paced. Eventually, I tracked down a viola that I could borrow in Rogers Park (a few miles north) and ran my ass over to the train to head up there ASAP.
Here's where things really went to hell. I got on a train, went two stops, and then my train driver announced that there had been some sort of train-and-person accident farther north and that all the trains both directions were going to be staying where they were and cutting off power. I jumped back off the train.
Luckily, my original hope (the one who lived by where I had just come from) called me back. I took a bus back to his house, swapped violas, and went back to the train station, where the trains were still shut down. I took a cab, played the concert, and took a (mercifully running) train back to my friend's house to swap back.
Now I'm home. Things still haven't hit fully, but I'm becoming a little bit less comatose. I can speak in full sentences, that sort of thing. I was so exhausted by my efforts to get to the concert and by the overwhelming nature of the evening that I was practically incoherent when I was at the show. Now I'm just worried about my viola. It's an object, a thing, but very, very close to my heart. It's hard to describe, but my viola is very like a person to me. We've spent so many thousands of hours together. I've shared at least as many highs and lows with this piece of wood and metal as I have with any single person. My viola has made me cry, and laugh, and go more than a little crazy; I've shed sweat and blood for it. My skin and sweat and fingerprints are literally embedded into the wood. I first saw my viola when I was maybe 12: it was my birthday present, and I was in instant love the first time I saw it. Her. I struggled (vaguely, and not too often) in high school with the fact that my viola felt female to me and that I loved her. (This is funny now :) I'm hoping that they can fix the crack without too many problems, but the damage hurts in some undefinable way. Something constant in my life for well over a decade has sustained damage.
I'm not writing well. Thanks for reading. I'll post something not about me soon.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

horns, and not the french kind

Okay, this is completely personal, but I'm falling apart a tiny bit tonight and so... Here's my drama! For the last month or so there has been talk of travelling on a cruise ship for three months this summer playing string quartets. The initial idea was to travel to Europe, and hopefully to have some say as to when we would be leaving. We (or at least I and one other person involved) were also operating under the idea that if for some reason one of the people in the demo dvd we filmed couldn't go, we could find an acceptable substitute and bow out. As of today, all of these ideas are over and done. If we go, it will be to Alaska, with the exact personnel from the dvd, and earlier than anybody really was hoping for.
Here's the issue. While I'd like to take a cruise to Alaska, I don't really want to take the same cruise 15 times and miss the whole summer here doing it. I also don't have any actual schedule conflicts with the dates presented. The money would be nice, but for me this whole endeavor was more about the experience than the six grand or so I'd come back with at the end. For me, that was always a perk, not a reason. The problem is that for the organizer, that six grand is the main reason, and she's heavily implying that it is in fact crucial to her continued financial well-being. I don't have a concrete reason to not go other than the fact that I don't really want to anymore. On top of all of this, I have to give an answer by tomorrow morning.
I have a hard time, an almost impossible time, being selfish even in small matters. This, if I were to make the decision I honestly want to make, would be selfishness on a grand scale that I've never even contemplated before. Does my desire, based on a gut reaction with no concrete factual evidence, outweigh what is being presented as a factual need on the part of another? I might have a fantastic time if I go. I might not. The finances are much more clear-cut. Am I being pressured? In a very nice way, yes. The truth and the presentation are fuzzy, and that is making the decision all the more difficult.
Can I deal with myself if I deny somebody else something this large? Can I deal with myself if I make yet another decision based more around the desires of others than my own desire? My stomach is in knots, and at this point I've made the arguments on both sides to myself so many times that they are starting to lose meaning. I just feel incredibly icky. I know what I should do (not go), but I'm not sure if I can.
If anybody has words of wisdom, this is the time to offer them.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Wow, here's a review of the Civic concert. Apparently we did a good job :) That's making my somewhat angsty day better...
Also, an article on the mythical cello scrotum. At least the internet is good for something.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

romancing myself into a tired Finn

The craziness of the past few weeks is mostly over, at least in terms of music. I survived, and came out with little more injury than some sore (and calloused, my god) fingertips and a painful twitch in my back. Not bad, considering some of the possibilities I considered.

Interesting fact: of the three concerts that I performed in or saw this week, all of them involved Finnish people. Odd? Yes. Does it mean anything? No, except it reminded me of the Sandra Cisneros poem I misquoted for the title (Small Madness, from Loose Woman)and gave a me a reason to cover all three performances at once.

The first concert was with dal niente, the new music ensemble that I play with on a semi-regular basis. Our January 20th concert consisted of music entirely by one composer, Kaija Saariaho. A local college had, apparently, flown her in from Finland for some sort of residency and we timed our concert so that she would be able to attend. Playing a piece for the person who actually wrote it can be thrilling and alarming in equal parts, especially when that person is fairly famous within their circle. There was a little tension when she entered during our dress rehearsal, but she seemed (calmly) happy with our interpretation of her 20-year-old piece, Lichtbogen, as well as the other solo and smaller ensemble pieces that made up the program. She was actually supposed to be a participant in the Lichtbogen performance, manipulating an electronic patch and various sorts of amplification (we were mic-ed to the teeth), but unfortunately the publishers had neglected to send the patch and subsequent efforts to retrieve it electronically were not terribly successful. Luckily, the piece stands more or less on its own.

It's an intense thing to play; Saariaho creates so many different sound qualities for each instrument that the texture is amazing, but that effect requires the instrumentalists to follow at least five different directions for nearly every note played. Here's how I described my part in an email to a friend: "How loud? Is there a crescendo or decrescendo? Where on the string is my bow? (By placing the bow near the bridge, the piece of wood that holds the strings up, you get a kind of glassy whistling sound; by going the other way, far away from the bridge, you get a kind of hollow fuzzy sound.) Is there overpressure? (By pressing with more force than the string needs, you get a kind of creaking sound. this piece had a lot of that.) Am I vibrating, or not, or more than normal?" On top of that, I'm trying to count evenly to seven over a four pattern, or whatever. Whew! I was really glad that I managed to do the right thing for as much of the piece as I did, but I certainly was holding my breath through much of it. She was apparently quite happy with the performance, which was a really great feeling.

My second Finnish experience took place as an audience member, not a performer, at a CSO concert. At this point, I think I'm going to use initials to avoid the inevitable google of "CSO+"conductor's name"" just because I'll feel more comfortable writing freely in a somewhat more anonymous manner and because he's fairly famous. So anyway, I saw the CSO, conducted by a Finnish conductor and composer, E-P S. Part of my interest was personal, as I was going to be playing under this conductor's baton with the Civic Orchestra in just a few days. My impression? Dancey. A lot of movement. For players, that can go either way in terms of clarity, and so my initial (mean-spirited?) impression was that I was watching somebody who played primarily (or at least more than was strictly necessary) to the audience, not the orchestra. But I tried to reserve my judgement and enjoy the show and wait for my own personal experience with E-P S before I decided anything.

Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste was my favorite piece on the program. I'd never heard much of it on recording, and never live, and it's quite an experience. The string section is split in half and kind of arranged in a mirror image on the stage around a central piano and celeste. The first movement is fairly dynamically flat and smoothly seamless, but ooooohhh so full of tension. Harmonic tension, dissonance, and a quiet sort of menace that put me on the edge of my seat. The instruments enter one by one, forming a sort of fugue that just blew me away. The rest of the program did less for me: Arvo Paart's fourth symphony, and Debussy's La Mer, a tone poem about the sea. For me, it's kind of all flash, but I also haven't played it well personally and that tends to influence my evaluation. I'm very much a performer when I listen to classical music.

My final Finnish experience came when I finally played under E-P S himself. We played Mahler 9, the piece that has been killing me for upwards of two weeks. It's very difficult work, in terms of notes and also because, honestly, I just didn't understand it all that well. It's complex, and it requires so much concentration and for such an extended period of time (an hour and twenty minutes) that I frankly didn't have much brain left over to analyze structure or much of anything else. Every page has at least one "oh shit" moment, and some (like large portions of the second movement) are some of the most ridiculous orchestral parts I've ever seen. But after all that, it's actually pretty awesome. It was Mahler's last completed orchestra work, and it ends with this heartbreaking slow movement that finally, reluctantly, dies away with a repeated figure in (!!!) the violas. It's beautiful. And for all that my overall opinion of E-P S is still quite mixed (I'm highly skeptical of his rehearsal technique, but he's funny and charming and conveyed some passion during at least parts of the performance, which redeems him somewhat, at least as a person), I enjoyed playing. It was nice to feel moved by something. It was a good way to (kind of) end my Civic career (again) (maybe).

And now I'm done! Time to eat a mocha ricotta muffin and enjoy a cup of coffee before something else starts up. It's a dinner party kind of week, and I have to take my moments of freedom where I can find them.

were it not for the rain

I've been re-reading Li-Young Lee lately, discovering that there are beautiful poems that I glossed over before. This is part of one of my current favorites.

from The Weepers

I'd lean against this tree, and admire the beauty
of the weeping girls, the marble
twins who kneel together above a grave,
their white backs bent
in grief, their draped clothing conforming
here and there to the curve
of a breast, a thigh, while live
roses lie in their laps.

There have been times when I
was the one on the left,
hands folded between her knees,
withdrawn, almost inconsolable,
and times when I was the other,
who embraces her sister, kisses her
on the round shoulder.
At any time, both
live in me,
like sister branches of one tree,
the comforter and the comforted.
I am the father who comforts
his son, and I am the son
who returns in later years to give succor
to his father. I am the one
who walks among the dead,
and the one who waits
at home with warm bread and milk,
the way, I know, someone waits for me.

Friday, January 23, 2009

the future and the past are equally tiring

A list of things I have done this week:
-Slept six hours or less pretty much every damn night
-Painted swirly abstract blobs on walls for 4-5 hours
-Cooked and/or eaten teriyaki fish, brussels sprouts, spicy rice, smoky pumpkin soup, soy chorizo-potato turnovers, fantastic tofu scramble, and goat cheese-olive empanadas (again)
-Baked and/or eaten two types of muffins (banana blueberry and apple ginger) and two types of cookies (orange shortbread with chocolate chips and butter cookies with apricots and thyme)
-Had a platonic cookie date (a highly recommended way to spend an evening) and a not-so-platonic first cooking experience with my new ladyfriend :)
-Rehearsed with three different musical groups
-Travelled to Evanston and Hyde Park
-Performed a piece for its somewhat famous composer and gotten a good response
-Taken a pet to the vet for the first time (he's fine!)
-Gone to the doctor myself (I'm also fine! They told me to sleep more. Thanks, doctors.)

And I'm freaking exhausted. I feel tired in a way that is new to me, where I actually feel like I could fall asleep right now if I laid down. I've gotten nauseous from lack of sleep before, or gone a little crazy, or just cried a lot, but this exhaustion feels bone-deep. I'm going to sleep in just slightly tomorrow to see if I can catch up enough to prevent myself from passing over into actual illness.
But tonight I'm seeing the CSO, tomorrow night I will be happily stuffing myself at Rose-Anne's late birthday dinner, and on Sunday I will rehearse Mahler 9 for 6 hours. Oy. My brains are already leaking out of my ears just thinking about it. In other words, this is the last time I expect to be relatively articulate for a few days (most likely until Tuesday) so I opted to make the most out of it by making a list for you instead of practicing Mahler. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

new days

Also this, my favorite postsecret from this week:

When i saved it onto my computer, the file title was "makesureyoucallhimmrpresident". Nice.

my purpose is to keep on dreaming

Another scattered week. Another week of wanting to post and not knowing what to say. I'm grateful that I'm having a hard time writing because I'm happy and busy, instead of because I'm stressed out and sad, but I still want to be writing more. I have a dorky personal goal to post more than 200 times this year, but I want them to be 200 good posts instead of crappy ones. I don't want to write for the sake of a number; I just want to write more.
I put in a link menu to past posts I particularly like this week, and finding those links required me to at least skim through all or most of my archives. It was... interesting. I didn't start at the very beginning, but that's partially because I'm secretly a narcissist and I've read those before--er, several times, I think--in a fit of "what did I sound like in 2003"-ness. (Check out, for example, my first oh-so-optimistic post.) One thing I noticed right away was that my old posts are almost all significantly shorter than what I write now, and most are more about what I was doing than what was outside myself. (There are also an irritatingly large number of posts that go something like this: Wow, I read this awesome book, but I'm not going to give you any juicy quotes or tell you what it's about or anything useful! Ugh.) I had a hard-ish time finding things I liked, that were memorable, from before this year and maybe last year. There are a few exceptions (I particularly like the entry about Audre Lorde and her take on bdsm. Hint: we disagree!), but most of the earlier links are to poems I love, or short movie reviews, or similar things.
I like that my posting style has changed. Interestingly, I think that the reason partially relates back to a blog post I didn't link to (but oh boy, one I get a pretty fair amount of statcounter hits for) which is partially about being able to move outside of yourself when times are good. For most of the time I've had this blog I've been horribly overworked, or incredibly (probably clinically, at times) depressed, or fighting for some sort of stability that I was lacking. I was struggling so hard just to keep moving, to stay alive and on my feet, and I can tell that when I look back at all my entries about nothing much important. Now, when I'm finally happy and finding some sort of balance, I have the time and energy and desire to write about things that matter to me, that take me outside of me. It's a strange form of narcissism that makes you want to show others the things that make you joyful. Maybe that's not the right word anymore.

Friday, January 16, 2009

what to make when it feels like -30 (again)

I awoke, inexplicably, at 4:45 this morning and was unable to go back to sleep. I tried, oh yes, of course I did, but to no avail. At 5:45, knowing that my alarm was going off in half an hour anyway to rouse me for my morning rehearsal, I finally just decided to get up and make coffee.
The upshot of this is that I now have extra time to write about the dinner I had last night. Madeleine was paying me a visit, and on her last trip north we had an unusually good meal: green salad with a lemon-olive oil dressing, basil-feta-pine nut muffins, spaghetti squash with red sauce, walnuts, and mozzarella, and a lemon tofu pie with raspberry coulis. Consequently, I wanted this meal to be particularly good and exciting. I had a reputation to live up to, after all ;)
After some hemming and hawing and flipping through of cookbooks, I found a recipe from Moosewood for a creamy spanish soup, Creme Andalouse. It's a blended soup--oh my, how I hate blending soup, but sometimes it's worth it--with leeks, tomatoes, potatoes, and heavy cream, tarted up with tarragon, cayenne, and a little lemon juice. Just reading this recipe made me drool a little bit, so I started looking for a companion dish. After a few false starts (savory bread pudding being the most appealing, but a little too lengthy in terms of prep time), I decided that perhaps some sort of cheese empanada would go well. A quick google search led me to a recipe for goat cheese-olive empanadas. Bingo! (Ha.)
The recipe is somewhat based around having discos, flaky pastry rounds made by the Goya company. I didn't have those, so I just made little shells out of my very favorite pie crust recipe and called it good. (I don't have much empanada experience and I'm certain these are completely inauthentic, but I can't honestly think of a more correct term right now.) And oh my, it was good! The empanadas were deliciously salty and flaky and buttery, the soup was creamy and filling and well-spiced. One thing I normally don't like about blended soups is that I can never blend them into complete smoothness, but with this soup the little leftover bits of potato and leek made for a really nice texture. Seriously, I love potatoes. I told Madeleine that this menu was another keeper, and we laughed and finished our wine. Then I sent her out into the cold full of warm goodness and went to bed happy.

Creme Andalouse

Thank you, Moosewood.

2 tbs butter
3 leek bulbs (just the white part), rinsed and chopped
6 fresh tomatoes, chopped, or 4 cups undrained canned tomatoes
7 cups veggie stock or water
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup heavy cream

Saute the leeks in butter until soft. Add the tomatoes and simmer for ten minutes. Add all of the remaining ingredients except for the lemon juice and cream and simmer until the potatoes are thoroughly cooked. Puree in a blender or food processor, adding the heavy cream and lemon juice. Gently reheat, but don't bring it to a boil or your cream will curdle. Feel free to garnish with herbed croutons and parsley.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

eat more cake

I was discussing a promised back massage with somebody recently, and she said I would be a good subject for massage study because my muscles and bones have nothing to cloak them. Everything is right there, in the open.

While meeting another person, I mentioned having high metabolism, and she looked me up and down and said "Yeah, I can tell" in this amazingly snarky voice. I felt so... I don't know. Ashamed. Small. Guilty for being skinny when everybody else is so worried about not being skinny.

These two little clips from my week are prompting me to finally write about my relationship with food and my body on here, something that I think I've subconsciously avoided so far. (Unless I didn't, in which case you get to read about it again! Damn my bad memory.) I'm not going to be all sad about it, because I'm not. But whenever people are talking about weight, I feel oddly left out. It's strange to have the opposite problem from the majority of other people.

Those of you who know me (which is most of you, although according to statcounter there may be a few wildcard readers out there. Hi!) know that I'm pretty skinny. To be exact, I'm 5'6" and I weigh about 105 pounds right now, which is slightly on the low side for me; usually, I weigh about 110. (Ironically, the "ideal woman" that you sometimes hear about is supposed to be 5'7" and 110. Also blond. Somehow, I don't think I'm what they have in mind when they say that.) I don't diet, and in fact I eat a ton most of the time because if I don't then I lose weight and it's really hard to gain it back. Or I get cranky and pissy and shaky and perhaps almost pass out. (A year and a half ago I started eating fish again after, following a week where I was constantly hungry no matter how much I ate, I almost bit it in the shower.) I carry trail mix with me everywhere I go. It's extremely lucky that I like to cook so much :)

All of this is fine, but it does put me at odds with most people. Whenever this comes up (and I try to bring it up sometimes because who wants their side of the story to go unrepresented?), somebody inevitably makes a comment about how they wish they had my "problem". Oooh, bitch-slap! No you don't. Culturally, it's far easier to be skinny that to be fat. I know that, and I feel guilty for having a weight problem that is actually coveted by others. (I responded to snarky girl by squeaking "Not on purpose!" She looked a little ashamed, like she'd just figured out that that was a little not nice.) But this is also a big pain in the ass. It's a lot of work to keep enough food around so that I can eat every two hours or whatever. I worry that people think I have an eating disorder. I worry about passing out mid-rehearsal because I can't get to a granola bar.

The thing is, I like my body. I don't know how others see me, but I'm happy with the way I look. (I could do without being able to see every freaking rib I have, but you can't have everything.) On the train the other day, I scribbled this in my notebook: "My body is lacking in artifice." Which is not maybe that profound, but it summed up how I feel pretty effectively. Nothing is hidden. My skeleton, my muscles, my tendons and veins are, to use a perhaps slightly icky term, on display. (I suspect I'm a bit of an exhibitionist at heart.) Maybe I feel this way because society has told me that I should like being viewed, or that I'm somehow automatically sexy because I'm skinny. Whatever. I own my body. We get along. As long as I don't forget the damn trail mix.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

bare necessities?

I mentioned that sometimes I spend a lot of time thinking about, among other bodily things, sex. Sometimes, it's even in a theoretical sense. This week, I've just barely barely barely started reading a book called Times Square Red, Times Square Blue by Samuel R. Delany. I'm reading it for (this is amazing, and makes me like technology a tiny bit more) a queer feminist book group that meets in bars to discuss, which I was invited to join over okcupid, a dating website. This is like my 21-year-old-newbie-feminist-self's wet dream.
Anyway, I've heard of this book before, but I've never managed to get around to reading it. It's basically about public sex culture in New York and how the city's "renovation" of the Times Square area has effectively erased what the jacket describes as "points of contact between people of different classes and races in a public space." Given that I've only read a few pages so far, there already seem to be lots of interesting questions popping into my head, which bodes well for the book. Is public sex necessary? What purpose (for either people or for the dynamics of urban spaces) might public sex interaction fulfil? Is there a difference between the types of interactions that happen in, say, men's restrooms and the interactions that might take place in some sort of safer and more accepted theoretical space? Can such a space be permitted to exist at this point in our society?
If this is good, I might have to go on a little public sex reading binge. Ooh, if I were an academic... I'm envisioning using theory and erotica and mass media sources to form one really awesome paper abstract.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

written in the body

I think that the problem is that, while I sometimes am able to get outside myself and write about things other than memememe, sometimes I just can't. (And even when I can, I'm always inevitably present in my own writing, of course. There's just greater and lesser extents of memememe syndrome.) And this is a definite memememe week, but I don't want to just write about myself so I'm stuck.

The word "self-centered" is interesting, isn't it? Shouldn't that be a good thing? I want to be centered in my self. But when I am, at least in the corporeal sense, it's so easy to feel irritable and distracted as my body steals the show.

Because it's just been such a body week. For me, there are times when the ways I deal with the world are so strongly dictated by the whims of the flesh that everything else comes second. I can't stop thinking about food, or sex, or I'm hungry all the time but nothing appeals, or I can't sleep, or something. This week I'm full of sore muscles and pleasantly distracted mind and waaaaaaay too much Mahler and in between thinking about all of the other pieces I should already know. Which is all fine, but not inspiring me to lift myself out of my body.

Oh well. Maybe soon.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I'm going through one of those phases where nothing jumps out at me and asks me to write about it. But I really want to write, so it makes me a little grouchy and uncomfortable. I have the blog version of writer's block! Which leads to pointless posts like this one.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Tell me how--after the winds/severed a wing--I flew on

I wish Amazon would stop sending me emails telling me I should read (er, buy) Gender Trouble. Like I don't know that I should, jesus.

My friend Louise suggested writing a "Top Ten Moments of 2008" post, but she only did five so I'm going to follow suit. I wonder if I'll be able to remember anything from the first half of the year? There was such a big change midway through 2008 that I'm having a hard time thinking of the two halves as a whole. Here they are, in a mostly chronological order.

1) alaska! What can I say? I had just moved into my studio and I got to get away from all the stress and pain that came before by running away to visit my best friend in an absolutely amazing and isolated place. I also met Cassalyn for real, and ate some good food (even if, to get the food, I had to spend some helltime at Fred Meyers). The hiking cleared out my brain, the talk unburdened my heart, and I felt my soul lift for the first time in what felt like years.

2) equinox dinner! My first real cooking/dinner party involving more that one other person and teamwork since I left Tucson. I saw old friends, introduced a bunch of people, and got to meet Rose-Anne in a much more decided way. It was the start of many beautiful friendships and new interconnections, plus a hell of a lot of good food. It's also where the candida dinner concept was born.

3) my birthday! Practically everybody I knew showed up and got along with each other. Amazing. I felt so loved and happy. And full of sushi :)

4) amanda palmer! Such a freaking amazing concert. It made me want to have anywhere near that sort of energy and creativity in my everyday life.

5) the decision to live for myself. This is much more personal. In September when I was in Colorado for a very stressful audition, I had a major epiphany in a hotel room after the audition was over. I realized that if I never started actually caring about myself, living in a way where I was important in my own life, I would be miserable. I would never be happy. I had to admit that being myself was more important than just being nice or doing things or acting in ways that would make others feel better. It sounds so simple, but the recognition that I had been acting for everybody else for so long was shattering. I feel like that was the moment when my life truly turned around. That was when I became myself again.

That's all. Thank you, 2008.

Monday, January 05, 2009

sometimes, life gives us lessons sent in ridiculous packaging

Today I had one of the more unexpected gigs I can recall playing, but in a good way. I was hired by a conductor I work with to play as part of a string quartet with one of his conducting students. Playing orchestral music this way is a fairly common teaching method for your conductors, but it's sure a pain in the ass. Normally, if an orchestra part is difficult you can at least console yourself with the fact that probably, somebody in your section is playing worse than you are. But alone? Eep. I've been slightly nervous about this since I accepted it, because I wanted to acquit myself well and I was worried that I wouldn't.
This turned out to not be an issue. I think that perhaps my hire email was a little misleading; instead of playing with one of the teacher's regular students, we were playing with a professor of Baroque music who had requested instruction. He's also terminally ill. Terminally ill, yet still pushing himself to learn new skills (or, as it turned out, a skill he already had some fundamentals in). A good friend of mine is currently undergoing testing to determine whether she has a degenerative illness, so this hit even closer to the heart for me than it would have otherwise. I am always awed when I rediscover how fucking strong people are.
We were playing a piece by Bach, which was only fitting for a scholar and teacher of Baroque music. I love Bach with all my heart, and I so rarely play his music anymore, so that in and of itself was a treat. The teacher/student gave us a set of rough guidelines for playing (no vibrato, hold our bows in a different place to more accurately mimic actual period bows) and we were off. He was surprisingly good; we had been warned that he might not have any actual conducting knowledge, but this turned out to not be the case.
The actual rehearsal was almost besides the point (at least, in terms of what i took away with me). It's always a bit fascinating for musicians to hear conducting lessons, I think, because it's like a behind-the-scenes peek at what goes on up on the podium, and this time was no exception. But this was my moment: In the piece we were playing, out of nowhere there is an amazing viola line that seems like nothing else in the movement. It's gorgeous and fantastical in that pre-romantic sort of way. When we got there, he and I locked eyes. His conducting improved dramatically as we thought together. I played, he smiled. We had a moment. I was so touched to see him taking so much joy in this thing that he had spent his life with. Nothing else mattered then.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

something new, something old

It's been a frazzling two days or so; I've spent a fair amount of time in Evanston playing a freebie gig as a favor to somebody, and I also have some fairly difficult first rehearsals coming up in the next few days that I'm trying to prepare for. On top of that, my computer may or may not have something like forty-one horrible viruses. When did I get so bad with technology? These windows keep popping up talking about the forty-one viruses (virii?), and they look legitimate but I think in actuality they are not. I'll have to find somebody more tech-savvy and cook them dinner in return for a little maintenance. I'm all about bartering.

But anyway, so I've been feeling just slightly harried and unfocused, and it's not helping me learn Mahler 9 at all. So instead of trying to focus my poor mind tonight, I decided to opt for comfort food instead.

I've already had comfort food once today: an abbreviated version of Rose-Anne's Amazing Cheese Sandwich. In return for being a cat sitter for a week or so, my friends brought me back a loaf of fresh-baked rosemary bread all the way from Kansas. I used Port-Salud cheese picked up on a whim at Trader Joe's last week, Dijon mustard (Rose-Anne, please know that I have not made a mustard-less cheese sandwich since reading that recipe!) and tomatoes because I didn't have any spinach. I'm actually not a very good grilled cheese maker; I have a hard time getting both sides browned without burning anything, and I also have a tendency to add far too much cheese and the resulting spillage can be quite messy. Today, however, my sandwich came out as close to perfect as I could hope to get, brown on both sides and gooey in the middle with no fall-aparts. I used too much butter, but what the hell, it was delicious.

I continued the trend tonight by making what may be my oldest and most-cooked recipe: Aubergine-Chickpea Ragout. (Also known as Eggplant-Garbanzo Bean Ragout to the less-fancy-sounding.) I remember finding this recipe in my first-ever vegan cookbook (the somewhat mediocre Easy Vegan Cooking by Leah Leneman--some good recipes, but it's hard to tell which ones they are) and deciding to try it out. This was way back in the day, when I was just beginning to make a real effort to cook for myself in a vegan fashion, and I think my main purpose was to see if I could actually cook an eggplant. (I can!) In my memory, the eggplant chopping was a hellacious experience; I didn't know how to approach it, whether I could use the skin, how big the chunks should be, or whether all of that eggplant would fit in any pot I owned. But I sallied forth, tossing out most of the skin pieces just in case before dumping them in a pan with a little bit of hot olive oil. That was the first time I realized how much olive oil an eggplant can soak up, and I was kind of horrified. But after I added the garbanzo beans and canned tomatoes and simmered, I was sold. Served with rice, the dish was an instant hit with my housemates. It went into my first vegan cookzine as a matter of course. I kept making it regularly, adding more ingredients as it suited me, changing the spicing. But really, I think the original is best in this case. For me, this is right up there with mac-and-cheese or oatmeal. It warms my belly and reminds me of happy kitchen times in my crappy first house in Tucson.

1 medium eggplant (should be firm and not too large, as they have more seeds)
1 small can garbanzo beans
1 large can petite diced tomatoes (this size works best for me, but regularly diced or even crushed works just fine)
olive oil as needed
1 tbs dried mint
salt and pepper to taste

Chop the eggplant into small cubes. You can salt these and cover them with paper towels for a few minutes to remove some of the bitterness. Heat up some olive oil in a large pan, making sure it's pretty hot, and then add the eggplant. It appears that the hotter the skillet the less oil you might need, so keep it sizzling and stir frequently. Add more oil if needed. (You can also use half water/half oil, which is healthier but I find works not quite as well. The only thing I don't like about this recipe is all the oil it uses.) After the eggplant is all more or less cooked and soft, add the drained garbanzo beans, tomatoes, and spices. Simmer for 20 minutes. Serve over rice or with a crusty bread.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

"and every pop song on the radio/is suddenly speaking to me"

Last night, I went to a concert called Pop-Song Prolongations at Heaven Gallery, a space in Wicker Park that hosts a lot of new music concerts. I don't quiet know how to describe this show briefly, which is usually a good sign. My friend Eric had taken very short (20-30 seconds, maybe) sections of two pop songs and stretched them into very long, semi-formal compositions, interpreted by himself on solo piano and then by a septet of piano, vibraphone, violin, two flutes, and two saxes. The pieces--Silver Mt. Zion's Movie (Never Made) and Joanna Newsom's Peach, Plum, Pear--were completely unfamiliar to me. The point was to expose the textures and harmonies in a slower time frame that could lead to greater depth and appreciation, to really take the microscope to these tiny bits of much larger songs, and I think it was mostly successful and definitely interesting.
The Silver Mt. Zion song was prolonged using solo piano, prerecorded tape, and vocals, done by the pianist and arranger. I didn't have a good grasp on the original clip (even though he played it right before, I just have an ironically shitty head for melody), so it was more a listening exercise for me than an enlightening experience. That's not necessarily a criticism; I still enjoyed the interplay between piano and tape, and I liked the sparseness of the instrumentation, which echoed the original nicely. It was definitely an interesting and thought-provoking listening experience, I just don't know that I got what I was intended to out of it.
The Newsom, though... It was pretty sweet. The ensemble gradually swelled and receded during the performance, adding and then subtracting instruments slowly until, essentially, the last person felt like stopping. The melody and harmonic structure of the original song were easier for me to grasp and remember, and the instrumentation was so much lusher that it was easy to be entranced by the interplay between instruments. The thirty-second clip was stretched out to maybe thirty-five or forty minutes and I was absolutely not bored or removed from the experience, which is saying something. I'm somebody who gets lost in her head during slow movements of classical pieces, but last night I was unusually attentive. It was fun, like the classical-ish version of a jam band. The musicians actually had very little to go on (a sheet with some chords, a few words, instructions on when to start and stop (example: 2-4 minutes after the vibes start) and in at least some cases little-to-no prior knowledge of the piece), but I could see significant glances and sounds travelling around the room. The sax stuttered, the violin stuttered, the flute made a breath sound, and I smiled.
The concert ended with an awesome solo vibraphone piece by Philippe Hurel. It was so different from what came before, so rhythmically driven and precise, that it was the perfect contrast. Plus, I just really liked the piece itself, and Eric is a great musician and really gave the piece a good sense of structure and drive, which can be hard to do with unaccompanied things. It was a nicely rounded program, and a good way to spend a Friday night.