Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Jumping on the bandwagon!

I thought I'd dust off the old blog, just to keep up with all the kids (meaning Chanell and Ben) and their newfound passion for blogging. Nothing too interesting to say as of now, so I'd recommend that you all enjoy this video featuring an adorable kitty cat:

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ninth Day

As I embark upon my twenty-second year in this life, I've found it necessary to reflect and record, in public forum, what I've learned these past two decades and change.

A psychic told me recently that these past few years for me have been disappointing, to say the least, and she was right. A psychic seems ridiculous to most, including me, but sometimes validity rings in the strangest and most unexpected of places. Her words held a lot of weight; it seemed as though since I went to college, every year, particularly every summer, I thought I had bottomed out. Then miraculously, the next summer, I'd top myself with a new low. The problems wavered between lack of maturity and unfortunate circumstance, until they blossomed this summer into a jumblefuck of problems I ruminate upon to a severely unhealthy extent.

It's amazing how people treat you on the street. They assume they know everything about you from your expression, or what you're wearing that day, when nobody has any idea about anybody at all. I often fare a lost blank gaze and twirl a strand of my hair nervously while I'm doing anything in public, and a good percent of the time my iPod earbuds are properly stuffed into my ears. The isolated feeling this can produce, whether sitting on the subway or drifting through a sidewalk crowd, such a strange rush: how is it that I can transcend all of these people, who were born just like me and will die just like me, who experience the entire gamut of emotion as I do? How can we all be so separate?

The problem is, as I said, most people assume they know everything about you. They slowly tear away at the cocoon you've so diligently woven and make comments, or perhaps look at you a certain way, and it feels violating. The comments I get most, and they occur every day, have to do with my looks. This may smack of hubris right now, because the comments are all positive on a superficial level. The problem lies in the fact that being called "pretty" or, worst of all, "beautiful", invokes for me such internal conflict. To be beautiful is a quality that radiates from the inside out, and is not dictated by bone structure or hairstyle or make-up. It is something I notice usually in somebody's gaze, a kind of warm electricity that indicates a certain peace of mind. There are so many tragically pretty girls out there with vapid eyes.

For the general public to praise and encourage this empty beauty on a daily basis makes so much seem hopeless. It generalizes us, it limits us, it forces that which is indefinable into strict definitions. She is pretty, she is not, she is therefore virtuous, she is not. And once these terms have been set, she of the "pretty" persuasion violates a strong social doctrine if she feels or demonstrates any sort of negative emotion. It is a grand desecration of such strong social codes, perhaps even more profane than being considered "homely". How dare she be so proud and ungrateful? The fact that I have experienced more ups and downs than I can manage sanely is inconsequential; it is not a valid human condition because you are sexually appealing. And just as you are unique in your empty beauty you are also disposable, your existence more transient than most others, because I will always look for that which has a more defined bone structure, or prettier face, or better figure, or nicer hairstyle. There will always be somebody out there like that, and once I find them, they will negate you.

I find this mentality objectifying and I feel it all too often.

The problem is that general thought is based on assumption. For example, I was waiting on a table of two businessmen today. I am new to this job but adept and pleasant enough; so far I haven't screwed up anyone's orders, and right now that's all I can ask for. Anyway, as we built up a conversation one person asked where I was from. When I told him, he replied, "Oh! I thought you were from Kansas or something!" Why, because New Yorkers just can't be nice? It's funny, because I have some friends from a town called Manhattan, Kansas, and I found the parallel amusing.

Perhaps the overarching problem that has affected my life, particularly this summer, is generalizing. It's easy to do so when you see hundreds, if not thousands, of people everyday go about their lives. Each of their conditions seem invalid, and we label them: suits, bums, drug addicts, trophy wives, dumb blondes, pretty girls, etc. By labeling we automatically disqualify their authentic human condition, the large and small triumphs and tragedies they've each experienced.

When you are recognized as an individual in this crazy city, however, it's probably the most beautiful feeling you can experience. This summer I've especially had my share of troubles: twice I've loved and lost, failed at my goals, disappointed myself several times, and shocked myself by acting in ways I never thought I could. Large tragedies in my mind among six and a half billion. Seemingly insignificant and typical to most. One particular incident tonight, however, expunged all those issues. You see, the bus driver on the crosstown bus tonight recognized me. He had only seen me once before, but as I was returning from the east side, he looked at me and smiled, saying, "Back again?" I stammered a bit and laughed. The bus is always crowded, and the shifts are always changing for bus drivers, so how could he have recognized me? I strode quickly to an empty seat and sat down, a mix of so many things buzzing through my head. The entire ride I was choked up and fought back tears with everything I had. It was just all so incredibly, indescribably bittersweet.

But there you have it. Among hundreds of thousands, you are still an individual whose experiences are just as valid as the next. And what I've learned through my twenty-two years on this earth is that nobody has the right to make you feel typical in any way. We are so beautifully individual, and if we could admire that in one another more often, the world would be much more pleasant. To know that somewhere out there you are recognized, or thought of, or loved, is more than we can ask for; and to recognize, think of, or love, not something we can do enough.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

UBS has made some good investments.

I was sitting on a bench outside of Lincoln Center the evening of Wednesday, November 14th 2007. I had just purchased an egg sandwich from Starbucks along with one of their seasonal beverages, the Peppermint Mocha. (I highly recommend it.) As I was consuming my victuals, I couldn't help but notice Martha Argerich stroll slowly by with a male companion, admiring the sight of Lincoln Center at night. After a while the pair was joined by Charles Dutoit, and the three perambulated through the unseasonably warm November evening, speaking in French about who knows what.

Argerich and Dutoit had been in town with the Verbier Festival Orchestra, which was performing its last two concerts of an entire tour around the world in Avery Fisher Hall. I had planned to go not only to see my favorite pianist perform the Prokofiev Concerto No.3, but also to see some of my peers play in a great orchestra. Every year my school hosts the New York Verbier auditions, where many flock from around the country to try their luck at this orchestra of young professionals. My school is well-represented in the orchestra itself, perhaps because there is an emphasis on orchestral playing at my college, and also perhaps because the familiarity of the surroundings makes it a less stressful audition than traveling from across the country to play for ten or so minutes.

So Thursday November 15th comes, the day I'd been waiting for; the performance of Argerich with Verbier at Avery Fisher. The program was to the point: no formal overtures or orchestral rhapsodies to open the program or give it the traditional three-piece structure, but simply a piano concerto and a symphony.

The concert began with Argerich performing the Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto. Her entrance on the stage was much more graceful than that of the orchestra's, which still hadn't found a comfortable rhythm in which to walk on stage, bow, and tune. Being that about a quarter of the orchestra is American, it was no surprise that walking on as an orchestra at once, as opposed to sitting on stage and waiting for the concert to begin, was not very natural to a lot of the players. It gave them a very endearing and youthful character though, perhaps the only point in the concert where one might mistake this ensemble for being made up entirely of (mostly) awkward college students.

The orchestra accompanied brilliantly with Argerich at the fore, playing the most difficult passages in piano literature just as easily as I saw her taking an evening stroll. As always, she was rhythmically sure and produced a sonorous, mystical color from the keyboard. The audience roared enthusiastically at the end and applauded for an encore, which she so graciously gave, before retreating into her dressing room after about ten calls to bow.
After intermission, the audience was treated to a seminal work in the symphonic repertoire, Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. Not enough praise can be given to this orchestra's handling of the piece, which was superb. Dutoit's conducting was interesting to watch; I'll have to ask my friends in the orchestra how they felt about playing under his baton.

The first movement began with a sparkling ascending line in the harp, which was probably the loudest and clearest harp playing I've heard in any orchestra. The strings played as one great unit; they were perfectly matched in articulations and sound, although their personality was hard to pinpoint. They didn't have an overwhelmingly warm tone nor a bright quality to their playing. Perhaps this was a result of their being from so many different countries and schools of musical thought, or this could even be the new wave of sound from the up-and-coming generation of orchestral professionals. The woodwinds were particularly impressive. The English horn solo in the Pastoral movement was as chilling as it was beautiful, played with a rich vibrato and great musical ideas. The Witch's Sabbath dance, featuring the E-flat clarinet and bassoons, was out of this world. I mean, that girl really played that clarinet. The percussion sounded loud, rich, and full, and played right on cue with absolutely everything. And the brass! Wow. Although the players unfortunately just sat for most of the concert, when their cues came, they were right on. I can't express how brilliantly they played the French anthem in the middle of the symphony; even the musical idea of irony came across as their sound soared literally over the entire orchestra, something that even certain professional orchestras cannot achieve. The Dies Irae theme in the last movement was especially exciting as well. Their tone was dark, ominous, and their musical intentions were unmistakable. The entire performance of the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique was the best I'd heard in a long time.

The audience was so appreciative that it clapped between every movement and forced the most likely tired orchestra musicians to perform two encores. To me, this is what orchestral playing is about. It is quite easy to become jaded as a musician in New York (or perhaps anywhere), particularly when you've landed a job that doesn't leave much room for creative growth. Even the greatest musicians can fall into the trap of orchestral playing, and so it seems a great idea to foster a sense of excitement in collaboration early on for young musicians. Verbier is quite a prestigious orchestra, but not just because they accept talented young players into the orchestra; they just eminate prestige. Everything they do they obviously care about, focusing intensely not only on expressing musical ideas, but learning how to play as a great ensemble. I think a few professional orchestra could take a cue from this fantastic symphony.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Strangers in the night.

The other day I ran into an old friend. You might remember her from my April 2007 entry.

I was outside of Avery Fisher Hall, walking through a huge crowd of ticket holders for the New York Philharmonic performance. As there were no student tickets, my companion and I opted to get a quick bite to eat at Ollie's. (He, visiting New York for the first time, later that evening understandably threw up from the shrimp lo mein.)

So we're foraging our way through the crowd, when suddenly I feel a small fist punch the side of my leg. At first I passed it off as an accidental brush, but when it started to sting, I realized it could only have been intentional. I turned, and standing against a large column at the edge of the crowd, was a small angry homeless woman. And she was glaring straight at me.

She and I became acquainted back in April on the 2 train. You see, I was talking the subway uptown at around 2am, when this troll-lady hobbled into the car with a few large bags and an unmistakable smell of cat piss. She looked at me, and mumbling some voodoo homeless mumbo jumbo, punched me IN MY BOOB. She just up and punched me! A nearby good Samaritan woman confronted the homeless woman, shouting, "If you punch her again, you're going to get one from me! You don't punch!"

What luck that two souls can reunite in such a crowded, lonely place as Manhattan. It's incidences like these that can make me truly understand the work of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David.

Friday, August 24, 2007

E-mails should be sent to

I always knew it was coming; I mean, after all, the internet is too good to be true. And by true, I mean free. It seems as though a few giant telecommunication corporations have been looking into regulating sites on the internet to attract different customers as well as charge their customers money to access different sites. Because, after all, the CEOs of most of these companies have been eyeing that second multi-million dollar yacht for quite some time now, and well, who are we to restrict them from having the freedom to follow their dreams?

I respect Google in so many ways, especially in the way their CEO Eric Schmidt stood up for general interests at a conference with major telecommunication corporations just days ago. Read the article here.

Corporations are of course a large part of capitalism, and well, restricting the internet from non-paying perusers seems quite the opposite. Oh no, how UN-AMERICAN!

Anyway, save the internet.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

God Save the Composer.

There are plenty of aspects of English culture that people admire: tea time, rugby, and David Beckham are just three things that come to mind. Mention in front of many classical musicians the name "William Walton", however, and you are bound to invoke cries of disgust and complaints about having to play one of his dreadful symphonies or having been within earshot of his Viola Concerto. My favoring of Walton is not on account of my being a violist or of my British ancestry (I'm not going to say it doesn't help, however), but due to my admiration of his creative genius as well as his ability to incorporate all the avant-garde and traditional tonal systems of the time into all of his works.

The year was 1922 and anything was possible. On the edge of an emerging modern world, Walton, an Oxford dropout, had joined forces with Siegfried Sassoon and siblings Sacheverall, Osbert, and Edith Sitwell, all revolutionary literary artists. Assocations with these folk led him to introductions to social circles including T.S. Eliot, compelled him to travel to Italy, and exposed him to such cultural phenomena of the day as American jazz and Diaghilev ballets.

Several artistic movements were flourishing at this point in time, and through his immersion in contemporary art Walton was able to incorporate all he saw into his works. Dadaism, born in Switzerland during World War I, was at its peak just as Walton was exploring the cultural world around him. Arnold Schoenberg had been sharpening his tonal (or atonal, for that matter) language at the time, although it would be decades later that his work would formally be noted as "serialism". (Leave it up to a triskaidekaphobic man to devise a system of composition that leads only up to twelve tones, is what I always say.) Paul Hindemith (who filled in for Lionel Tertis at the last minute to premiere Walton's Viola Concerto) had always been an expressionistic composer, but by the 1920s was developing a complex contrapuntal system that, by the 1930s, had led him to publish a book on his theories, The Craft of Musical Composition. In his music theory he ranked intervals on a basis of consonance to dissonance, applied in his compositions by using untraditional key signatures and a musical language that sounded anything but tonal. The expressionist movement by this time had been waning, yet its extremity and morbidity still held a voice within high art. Impressionism had also left its mark, and this being England, there was a certain fantasia-like brand that had impressed itself upon the composers of the era, not discluding Walton himself.

The beauty of Walton was that he settled not on one schools of art and music, but sought to incorporate several of them into his works. He arranged jazz scores in the 1920s before composing the work that catapulted him into fame, the Viola Concerto of 1929. Already this work demonstrated Walton's ability to utilize so many artistic and musical ideas of the day. Written without a key signature, the work begins ambiguously using the interval of half-steps, sounding almost like resolutions. The viola enters with a melody that can be identified by A minor only by the first few notes, swiftly modulating into several other keys with the aid of one pivotal note. The orchestration is thick and beautiful, and there is a distinctive use of sixths, mostly minor, throughout the solo viola part. Leaps of minor sevenths and ninths are also favored in the orchestra part, with sudden bursts of a comforting tonal melodic passage. When performed skillfully, the piece is able to convey a sense of nostalgia, of irony, and of excitement that eludes many other compositions of the day.

Symphony No.2 is also a fascinating work to analyze. As well as having absorbed contemporary, avant-garde artistic movements, Walton has now expanded his tonal language to fit Elgar's lush melodic passages, a hallmark of English composition. We also hear a bit of Mahler in his go-for-broke, thick orchestrations. It is possible that this work can evoke any number of things, and like Mahler takes the listener on a stream-of-conscious emotional journey. Works like this are certainly reflective of contemporary literary colleagues in his part of the world as well; I'm sure James Joyce would readily approve the sparkling harp and string passages juxtaposed by calm winds and intense, pounding brass and percussion.

Walton was a very successful composer in his day and won the support of many notable artists. He did film work (such as in films featuring the famed Shakespearean actor Sir Lawrence Olivier in Henry V, Hamlet, and Richard III), composed a piece for the coronation of King George VI (the march Crown Imperial), and was able to expand the concerto repertoire. Jascha Heifetz premiered the violin concerto, and later toward the end of Walton's life, Gregor Piatigorsky premiered his cello concerto. He also composed opera, such as Troilus and Cressida, which was commissioned by the BBC in 1947. He was even supported by his old friend Sassoon's own patron, the famed Lord Berners.

He enjoyed a deserved amount of success during his lifetime, so why the apprehension in programming or studying his works now? Perhaps it is the difficulty and senselessness of the individual parts within the orchestra that repels young professionals. There is nothing rewarding in their parts; the notes are hard and the musical concepts are even harder. Stand back from the rest of the orchestra and listen, however, and you are likely to be blown away at how many intricacies in the score are able to benefit the whole of the orchestra.

What about conductors, then? To conquer Walton's scores would be a great accomplishment. Firstly the manner in which these pieces are composed can be difficult to read; the page is littered with changes of meter and, like in impressionistic music, every musical nuance is dictated to a scrutinizing level. It is not more difficult than any of the Second Viennese School compositions, which seem to be more readily favored in concert halls than English music in general, however; but perhaps in our culture there is so much favoring of German music that afterward there is only room for a little French or Russian music.

At any rate, Walton was an exceptional talent whose musical work today is highly misunderstood and underrated. In spite of all the complexities in his works, they are still reminiscent of a regal, maritime Great Britain; perhaps someday Walton will join the ranks of such great English cultural movements as scones or the Spice Girls.


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Out of senseless murders come lessons about the value of family and loved ones.

It is rare in my household to find magazines on the coffee table, so when I spotted this week's issue of People on the round glass table in my living room, I thought there must be a significant article in it that made somebody from my family in line at the grocery store pick it out amidst all the other magazines and impulse items. It turns out, there was. On the very front page is a photograph of a happy family, two daughters and their parents, dressed for what appears to be some sort of convention or special conference. Above the picture, large yellow letters have formed the words, "EVERY FAMILY'S NIGHTMARE."

All right, you have my attention, People magazine.

After consulting the table of contents, I quickly flipped to page 58. I observed the large photograph of a young fireman wandering through the shrubbery outside of a suburban home, the words "HORROR IN THE NIGHT" glowing from the page in white and yellow lettering. The presentation of the title was a bit tacky, I thought, but it nonetheless disspelled the truth of what happened in that Connecticut home only nights ago. One hapless summer afternoon in Connecticut, two white male convicts out on parole observed in a grocery store parking lot three women---a mother and two daughters---unloading groceries into a white Mercedes. The two men followed the Mercedes to its home, which the magazine describes as "a comfortable four bedroom house," a place that these men thought would be easy enough to burglarize. Later that night, after a pasta dinner and Harry Potter readings, with the family nestled asleep, the men entered through an open cellar door and, upon entering the house, proceeded to terrorize the family. They tied up the father and led him downstairs, away from his screaming wife and daughters, who were each either raped and/or sexually assaulted. At one point the wife was allowed to leave only to obtain $15,000 for the burglars at the bank to persuade them to leave. Apparently this was a 24-hour bank because she was able to speak to a teller, to whom she gave a note explaining the situation and asked that they notify the police.

Although their response was immediate, had the police arrived only minutes earlier, they would've been able to save the mother, who had been strangled to death, and her two daughers, who had died of smoke inhalation after the perpetrators had doused the home in gasoline and set it on fire to hide evidence. The father had managed to free his hands and escape from the cellar, hopping as his ankles were bound together, to meet the scene of police cars and fire trucks outside of the house he worked so hard to maintain. The two convincts had been apprehended as the police arrived just as they were fleeing the scene.

People examines the issue and raises the question, "How did this happen?" To me that's an incredibly asinine remark. Do they mean to ask, "How did this happen, these people were so rich and crimes don't happen to rich people?" Or perhaps, "How did this happen, this suburb is wealthy and only poor neighborhoods are susceptible to horrific crimes such as this?" OK, maybe those questions could've been phrased more poignantly, but I think the idea comes across. The fact is, anybody anywhere can fall victim to a number of atrocities, including cold-blooded murders. We live in a country that makes us believe our wealth and resources can shelter us, but that's simply not the case. That's why it's our duty to appreciate everything we have---family, friends, loved-ones---and, without living fearfully, realize there are injustices in the world and that nobody will live forever.

What's interesting about this family is that, fortunately, they seemed close anyway. The mother had been diagnosed with MS some years before; the children, particularly the youngest, had campaigned through walking marathons and different funds to raise awareness and money to combat her mother's disease. Being that her parents were both doctors, the eldest daughter had hoped to someday pursue medicine and lauded her father for his accomplishments.

Since the article mentioned the names of the family members and that the eldest daughter was to attend Dartmouth in the fall, I searched for her on Facebook. Her account hadn't been taken down, and it was eerie to see her photograph (she looked very beautiful) along with the words "Add ------ as a friend!" next to it. There are several groups made in her honor, including a group that represents a memorial scholarship that her high school, with the help of her father, initiated after the tragic event.

In war-torn countries I'm sure that many have learned the hard way to cherish those near and dear. In our own country, because of our comforts, I'm not sure we've entirely examined ours and each others' vulnerabilities, our mortality. Unfortunately the capture of these two sick convicts will not bring that Connecticut family back, but the events that transpired can teach us all to not take those we loved for granted, and to honor them and 
enjoy moments spent together.