Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ukelele player

If you're like me, you probably have some stereotypes connected with ukeleles. You probably don't think of them as particularly impressive instruments, or something that you'd go out of your way to see. That is, if you're like me and don't know anything about ukeleles. If you do know something about them, you may not be particularly astonished at the following link.

But whether you know something about ukeleles and the depth of musicianship of the people who play them or not, I suggest you watch this video. I've certainly never seen anything like it before.

A little poking around the comments on the video reveals that the guy's name is Jake Shimabukuro, and his website is here.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


Post-Spoleto, my life consists of applying for jobs, procrastinating from applying for jobs by surfing the web, reading, and watching TV (although I'm getting fed up with TV because there is increasingly little on of interest), trying to exercise every day and sometimes succeeding, and trying to be alone as much as possible to make up for the past year. The job hunt is frustrating - I'm discovering that there are far fewer private school choral teacher jobs out there than I thought, and public schools require certification, which I'm utterly willing to work towards but don't currently have. And all college jobs require a doctorate, or at least an ABD, which apparently means someone who has completed all the doctoral work except the dissertation. (I'll bet you didn't know that. See, you learned something today! What a good teacher I am! Hire me!)

So, time to turn to the internet for help! Here are my resumes - here's the education-oriented one, and here's the conducting-oriented one. If you know of any openings, please let me know, and if you feel like flinging my resume out into the world, please feel more than free to do so. (I wonder if anyone has ever had idea of putting resumes in bottles and flinging them into the surf as part of a job hunt. Couldn't hurt, right?)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

I went to see An Inconvenient Truth tonight, which, if you are unaware, is the new movie out by Al Gore about the current environmental crisis of global warming. Before I went, I read this quote by Roger Ebert about the movie: "You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to." (His full review is here, and it's quite good.)

"Well," I thought to myself, "that's probably too extreme. I mean, I'll see it, because I feel like I should, and maybe I'll learn a few new facts, but hey, I'm a liberal, and I took science in college, and I pretty much know what's going on, right?"

Well, I saw the movie tonight, and I have to completely agree with Roger Ebert. Everyone I know should see this film, and if I don't know you, then it's even more important that you go see it, because I'm less likely to talk to you about it. Some of the pictures are shocking, especially with regards to disappearing glaciers and projected rising water levels, and there are many interesting interconnections that I had no idea about. Berkshire folks, did you know that your caterpillar invasion this past May can be linked to global warning? Gore specifically mentions soaring caterpillar populations in the movie, albeit briefly.

Although it does resemble a PowerPoint presentation, it is never boring - the pace is clear and thorough but swift. Best of all, it doesn't just predict gloom and doom - Gore gives concrete suggestions about what we can do at the end of the movie, which can also be found at the movie's website. So what are you waiting for? Find out where it's playing, and go see it - now!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Charleston, Post 10 - Wrapping it up

I am home! I am tremendously happy to be here. The weather is beautiful, and it is so nice to be in my own home in my own bed again. It's also nice to have an actual kitchen, and be able to cook myself real meals like arctic char with citrus and fennel. I don't think I'll feel like eating out again for quite a while - Charleston was wonderful in that regard, especially the last week when my parents were visiting, but I think my digestive system is ready for some boring normal food now.

The last week is somewhat blurry, consisting mostly of Last Performances of things, most notably Dr. Flummerfelt's second Last Westminster Choir Concert. (See my remarks on the first one here.) This was an occasion of much weepiness among most of the choir, but perhaps heartlessly, my feelings were triumph and relief that I had finally graduated and was actually done, since it was our last performance at the festival. It was a pretty hard year, after all, on a number of fronts - it's sad to leave, but it's nice to be done!

Two performances during the last week deserve special mention. The first was the orchestral concert of Beethoven's 5th. This was really super - the Spoleto Festival Orchestra possessed an incredibly deep, rich, and powerful sound. No matter how big and thunderous the crescendos got (and Emmanuel Villaume conducts a very romantic Beethoven!) I still had the feeling that the orchestra could have kept going. And despite this powerful sound, the orchestra also had great ensemble and was very deft and maneuverable. I was all kinds of impressed and delighted at the performance. Special kudos to the winds, especially the first oboe, who were practically flawless, and the horns, for getting a wonderfully aggressive, brassy sound in the exposed section in the first movement.

The second performance was the Sara Baras Ballet Flamenco, which was beautiful and exciting and rhythmic and stunning. If she comes to your town, go see her. I want to take flamenco lessons now. And those dresses have got to be the most beautiful garments I have ever seen.

The chamber music also deserves a special shout-out, of course, as does its host, Charles Wadsworth. I believe I ended up seeing three of the chamber music concerts this year. Although all the chamber musicians were fabulous, I think my favorite performer was Jeremy Denk - he had such an expressive touch on the piano, and was so connected to the other performers, and phrased things so conversationally, it was a real delight to hear him perform.

It was a good month, and the performances were, I think, the best part of it, but I'm so glad to be home. I had reached the saturation point by the time it was over, and it's nice to finally have some time to process the past year...and figure out what I'm going to be doing for the next one!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Charleston, Post 9 - More music, what else?

Monday evening was the Mozart Mass in C Minor concert, with Jennifer Larmore. It went fabulously - the Mass was a hit (the Westminster Choir performed with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Chorus and the Festival Orchestra.) Larmore has lost a shocking amount of weight since we performed with her last year, but in the interests of kindness towards public figures I will try to refrain from extensive fretting about how this worried me. Her voice is still rich and her charisma is as incredibly magnetic as ever.

Monday before the Mass I went to the Intermezzo V concert in the afternoon. In addition to great singing, all three performers were incredibly attractive. (Two were stars in Don Giovanni, and one was the tenor from Romeo et Juliette.) I kept wondering all through the performance about why there were not legions of screaming adolescent girls at the front of the stage. What's wrong with this culture? Meltingly beautiful voices, stunningly attractive singers, intense delivery, charismatic presentation...what more do you need, really?

Tuesday was rehearsing all day and then the last Don Giovanni in the evening (to which my parents came.) It was fun, but exhausting - there were a lot of performances, and I'm not too sorry it's over.

Today was more rehearsing, lunch with my parents, and then the first Westminster Choir concert, which I think went very well. It was so wonderful, after the past year (which was very hard for the choir) to finally feel like we had arrived - I think everyone on stage felt like they were part of, and deserved to be part of, the tradition of excellence that has always been associated with the Westminster Choir. My one regret, watching the standing ovation, was that two people who had been in the choir all year weren't there - one bass couldn't come to the festival because he had a prior engagement, and another had to go home sick about a week ago. I wished they had been there.

And then there was a long and excellent dinner with my parents and my cousin Dee, full of the kinds of wide-ranging conversation that is sometimes lacking in a group of predominantly undergraduate singers. And now I'll go put my last loads of Spoleto laundry in the dryer, and watch some Angel with my suitemates!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Charleston, Post 8 - Money, Food, Clothing

One of the most difficult things about being at Spoleto is the way money flows like water. It is extraordinarily difficult to not spend above your means here. The main reason for this is that most of the choir eats most of their meals out. (The dorms we are staying in have refrigerators and microwaves, but nothing else.) So being social with other members of the choir pretty much requires going out for meals with them, and eating out is expensive. There's also the fact that most of the choir is undergraduates, most of whom are not yet worried about paying their own rent or bills, and who suddenly have a paycheck every week. As a result, the choir culture is very much one of enjoying being in a charming city at a wonderful festival, going out to eat all the time, going out to shop all the time, and in general not worrying about conserving a lot of their paychecks. (I have a feeling that most of them would deny this, but hey, that's how it looks to me.)

At any rate, it's very hard to continually turn people down when they ask if you want to go out to dinner. It feels rude. After all, when your suite says, "Hey, we're all going out for dinner! Please come!" it's hard to say no. It's also hard to turn down the prospect of Charleston cuisine, which is not to be sneezed at, and much more appealing than Easy Mac in the microwave at the dorm. And I have to admit, I'm a foodie! With places like Meritäge, Blossom, and the Hominy Grill right around the corner, it's hard to be fiscally responsible.

Then there's the fact that being in a city for a working vacation means you're tempted to visit all the little stores you might not see again, like The Brass Pirate...and there's the festival arts and crafts fair...and then there's just establishments you grow fond of, and want to support, like the Kudu Cafe.

So far I've managed better than last year, although I did visit the library book sale yesterday (library book sales are THE best thing ever) and also bought a skirt and a couple of shirts at the cheap clothing shop down the street. Speaking of clothing, Don Giovanni was interesting last night because my corset split a seam up the back right after I bounced on-stage. Since our outfits are entirely silk, people are getting used to having their pants rip, but I think this was the first time someone ripped a corset. It was probably because I waited too long to put it on (well, wouldn't you?) and it had to be laced up too quickly. Luckily it stayed on, and I kept my over-shirt on over it, but it makes it hard to concentrate on your job when you're wondering whether or not your clothes are going to fall off. Carrie the costumer said that clothes can tell when the end of a run is coming up and start to fall apart - since there's only one more performance of Don Giovanni, I guess that fits the trend.

Tonight is Mozart's Great Mass in C with Dr. Flummerfelt. We had the final dress rehearsal this morning, and it looks like it'll be an amazing concert. Here's hoping nobody rips anything.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Charleston, Post 7 - Bill T. Jones Dance Ensemble

This morning, after rehearsal, I finally got to one of the chamber music concerts. We heard Kodaly and Korngold, and it was amazing. I was especially impressed by the violinist Chee-Yun - she was an extraordinarily engaging performer, although everyone was great.

This evening was a difficult decision, since it was the only day I could see both Mahler's 5th and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane dance company. I decided to go for the Bill T. Jones Blind Date, since, as many people said, I will probably get the chance to hear some Mahler in the future. While I'm not sorry I did, this is mainly because I would have been eternally wondering what I had missed.

First of all, we saw Mike Daisey outside the performance. This is the monologist that I loved so much at last year's Spoleto, and unfortunately will not get to see this year, since I'm performing every night he's performing. Secondly, he was wearing my Schrödinger's Cat shirt! Everyone in the choir who saw him said, "Hey, he's wearing your shirt! Go talk to him!" I felt kind of star-struck, but after some of the other choir members went over and told him they knew someone with his shirt, I kind of had to go over and introduce myself. He was really nice, and we had a brief geek-bonding moment. I'm now even more disappointed I can't go to any of his performances.

Anyways, then came the dance performance. It was kind of interesting, but I have to say that on the whole, I wouldn't recommend it. The performance involved lots of multi-media - lots of screens with different things on them, and two live singers, and some of the dancers speaking or singing, and words scrolling down or pictures phasing in and out of each other. The movement itself was great - it had a distinctive style, and was beautiful to watch, and the dancers were enormously accomplished. There were some very effective moments, such as when individual dancers told stories on the video, while at the same time they were dancing in real time.

However, it was very political, and the politics was not very well done. I was continually wondering, "What is the point of this? What is your message?" And while I do tend to want lots of explanation and clear-cut communication in my performances, I really feel that my confusion and impatience were a failing of the performance rather than a manifestation of my preferences. I got that war is bad; there was also the message that people who join the military are "sitting ducks" who just do what they're told and don't know what they're getting into; there was also a very ill-defined message that religion can lead to war, and some other negative messages concerning religion, although I'm not sure what they were. There was a rather mocking section where statistics about terrorist attacks and natural disasters were recited, interspersed with "Praise the Lord!" and "Hallelujah!" and the whole effect was sarcastic, and sort of mean-spirited without any point. There was an interesting point at the beginning about the ways in which the pure love of country that is patriotism can be manipulated into a tool of war, but that idea wasn't developed later on. All in all, the whole point of the piece was political, but not specific, or complex, or well-thought-out. I agree that the war in Iraq is not a good thing, but I didn't agree with some of the other messages - I thought they were disrespectful, especially the religious stuff. And at the same time as not agreeing with all of the message, I also didn't agree with how it was presented. Also, after a while, not knowing exactly what the piece was trying to say got old. If I don't get your message, that doesn't necessarily mean it's really deep - it might just be badly assembled, or not make sense to begin with. However, it certainly led to a lot of dialogue within the choir - people had a variety of reactions, and did a good deal of talking about them.

The most dramatic bit happened at the end, after the bows, while the lights were coming up. As the applause was becoming scattered, and people were leaving, somebody in the balcony shouted out, "Boo!" Bill T. Jones immediately bounced out on stage, and yelled, "Who said that! Who said that!" I will now relay an approximate transcription of the interchange (which I believe was not planted, but in fact spontaneous, and with an actual audience member):

Bill T.: Who said that? Come down here, out of the dark!
Booer: I don't want to!
Bill T.: What's your problem? Use words! What are you booing?
Booer: I thought it was a cliche, badly disguised as third-rate art.
Bill T.: I think you're wrong! I think your gut disagrees with my message, and that's what you're responding to!
Booer: Well, you're right. That's it. I do disagree with your message!
Bill T.: Well, if you don't criticize my art, I won't criticize your politics!

(It was actually longer than that, with a bit more hot air, and more wordy, but I'm pretty sure the booer's criticism and Bill T.'s last line are accurate.)

I mean, what the hell? First of all, of course people can criticize your art! Secondly, you are criticizing the guy's politics, starting with the fact that you just put on a performance with a very strong (if vague) political point-of-view that was critical of some other political points of view. It just seemed hypocritical in the extreme, and put the whole performance in a different light. However, it sure was dramatic and exciting!

It was an interesting experience, so I'm glad I went - but I'm also glad it was free!