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One of my hobbies is volunteering for  (Its mission is to produce free audio recordings of all literature in the public domain in the USA.)  At the moment, I'm recording a little-known children's book by Lewis Carroll called Sylvie and Bruno Concluded.  Sylvie and Bruno are a pair of children from Fairyland, whom the mortal narrator occasionally comes across in the course of his day-to-day life.  In one chapter, little Bruno is sleepy and wants a lullaby:

"[Bruno] turned a loving look on the on the gentle old man who was sitting on the other side of his leaf-bed, and who instantly began to sing, accompanying himself on his Outlandish guitar; while the snail, on which he sat, waved its horns in time to the music."

Anyway.  I heard the tune in my head, and (worse) heard the guitar as well, and the resulting song became my summer project.  Carroll provided the words and illustrations in the video below (which is a rough draft - there's some issues, and I'd like to include all the words in a later version), I sang, and my computer played the guitar.  Enjoy!

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I've been wanting to get these up for a while, but the DVD of this past year's recital only just became available.  So... here's me, singing Adele's Laughing Song (Strauss, Die Fledermaus) in May of 2010:

And here's me, singing Adele's Audition Song in May of 2011:

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Last weekend, we went to our local Honda dealership to ask about a new stereo for my 1998 Accord.  (As I'd described previously, it has recently been prone to losing sound during hot weather, and I was getting very tired of it.)  Honda, it turns out, wanted to charge me something insane like $800 for a tape deck model basically identical to the cheapo stock unit that was busy breaking.  The nice Honda guy suggested going to, you know, a car audio place where I might do rather better. 

So today, we went to Monney Car Audio.  I'd been leery of going, figuring I'd be faced with slimy salespeople attempting to sell me much more stereo than I wanted or needed.  What I found instead was a nice guy, probably in his mid-fifties, who showed me what was probably their cheapest CD/radio/audio jack model, and the model 1 level higher than that (about $60 more), and that's it!  He installed the least expensive model pretty much on the spot, and I spent less than $200 on the item+installation.  As that's about as much as I wanted to pay for it, without having done any research aforehand, I was perfectly happy.  I would definitely recommend the local Monney on the basis of non-obnoxiousness and - I expect - knowledge about higher-end models if that's what you want.  Happy birthday, me!

We also went to Kohl's so that Huz could take another look for a black sweater for *his* skating outfit.  Kohl's bought out a whole bunch of Mervyn's locations when Mervyn's went under, and it looks, at least during opening weekend, like it'll be a pretty reasonable substitute.  Huz found an acceptable sweater and some good flannel shirts.  I didn't find much, but I wasn't looking all that hard either.

Oh yah.  And I bought plane tickets for Christmas earlier today.

I think we might be done with serious stimulatin' of the economy for a while.  Whew!

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I've recently been informed that the Halloween party traditional at the annual department retreat may be replaced by "something that might resemble Oktoberfest and a short-sketch show possibly with group singing."  Being the sort of person I am, this immediately provoked a web search for science-based songs that I could sing. 

I was already familiar with a few, namely Tom Lehrer's Elements, Monty Python's Galaxy Song, and The Amphioxus Song (the latter stumbled upon when I was working at the genome center and doing amphioxus finishing).  And I knew a bunch of programmer/sci-fi filk songs (HAL's Song - it's in the comments, search for "I sent Frank to fix the antenna" and sing it to "My bonnie lies over the ocean", You Can Build a Mainframe From the Things You Find at Home), but those seemed inappropriate for the group.  Surely, surely there were more out there. 

Surprise!  There are!

The journal Nature runs a blog called The Great Beyond that has collected a whole lotta science songs, many with videos.  There's possibilities there.  They also link in one of those posts to rips of Singing Science records, a six-LP set for kids produced in the "late 1950s / early 1960s by Hy Zaret and Lou Singer. (Zaret's main claim to fame is writing the lyrics to the classic "Unchained >Melody" for the 1955 movie "Unchained", later recorded by the Righteous Brothers and more recently used in 'Ghost'.)"  I listened to much of "What is an Animal?" before I broke under the wave of saccharine cuteness-for-5-year-olds and turned it off.

Happy Friday!

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Nora the Piano Cat has been playing piano for some time on youtube, apparently. Mindaugas Piecaitis saw some of her videos, and wrote a quite lovely piece around them. 

It's under 5 minutes long, and all lovers of cats and/or music deserve to take a look.  Worksafe.
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• One of the hymns we sang yesterday is "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." I am less than fond of the words; suffice it to say that they are very Baptist, and I am quite definitely not a Baptist. I was therefore slightly put off to have it running through my head for chunks of yesterday afternoon and large parts of today. (It's a very chirpy, catchy tune. I suppose I could try using "Oh My Darling Clementine" words instead; I realized that these fit the tune equally well.)

• HHMI informed me today that they're really not s'posed to pay for lunches on day trips, and that after this most recent trip to Berkeley, they will cease to do so. Hmph.

• Much of the sequencing data I stared at today was useless: crap data (lots of overlapping squiggly lines for my traces), or inserts going in the wrong bloody way, or annoying errors all over the place.

• Life is made somewhat better by [ profile] digitalemur 's post of the following animation to Jonathan Coulter's song "Mandelbrot Set," of which I'd never heard before. Enjoy! (NSFW; uses the F-word to describe the coolness of a fractal)

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I satisfied a minor itch Sunday night by purchasing the soundtrack to Coraline.  I did the minimal homework and found that, yay, the full album was cheaper as a download on Amazon than it was on iTunes by a buck (and came with no DRM on Amazon; I couldn't tell just by looking whether it was DRM-free on iTunes as well).  (Edit: as of actual posting time, the Amazon price had come down to $5.00!)  Hey, a buck is a buck and might buy me a soda later this week.  So I downloaded Amazon's digital download manager, paid for the album, and started downloading.

Amazon's downloader could stand some work. )

I like the soundtrack though! )
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The Stanford Symphonic Chorus and the Peninsula Symphony are joining forces next weekend to present a concert of American music. The program includes Copland's Quiet City, Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, and (most exciting) the world premiere of local composer Brian Holmes' Amherst Requiem, a setting of the traditional Latin text mixed with several of Emily Dickinson's poems medidating on various aspects of death. (I haven't heard the whole thing yet, as the chorus is present in only three of the movements, but I really like what I've heard so far!)

Performances are this Friday Nov 21 at 8 PM, and Sunday Nov 23 at 2 PM. Both performances are at Memorial Church on Stanford Campus. Tickets are $10 student, $20 adult. You may purchase tickets in advance from Peninsula Symphony's website, or purchase them at the door.
Hope to see you there!
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Normally, I can't stand "Teh 12 Days of Christmas". But a college men's a capella singing group has actually put together an arrangment that I rather like, and thought I'd share with you:


Nov. 18th, 2007 09:48 pm
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If it were earlier, I might post at some decent length about the two theater bits we've seen this week. 

Thursday night we saw the final dress rehearsal of Opera San Jose's production of Werther.  The very short version: Charlotte, a mezzo-soprano, is a Slave of Duty (tm).  Werther, a tenor,  is a depressive twit.  They sort of get together, but things end badly.  The music was good, though, and the voices were really quite good - especially the woman singing Charlotte the night we saw it.  I'm quite certain she could outsing any two of the other primary cast members.

Then today, we saw the Lamplighters' Annual Gala, in which they write their own show and put new lyrics to Gilbert and Sullivan tunes.  This year's show was entitled "Harry Patter and the Willing Suspension of Disbelief (or, A Series of Unfortunate Musical Numbers)".  It was... cute.  It should not have been interrupted with 15-20 minutes of live auction at the end of the first act which was then followed by a hideously long intermission (this is the Lamplighters' big fundraising event, and the intermission was for a silent auction).  And it really didn't need 2 different songs about Harry's scar.  Plusses: Equating Gilderoy Lockheart with Bunthorne from Patience was inspired.  Voldemort was rewritten as Wal*de*Mart (it's a long story; if people want, I can write up a summary later), and sang a version of "When the Night Wind Howls" from Ruddigore that involved the chorus of Death Greeters replacing the ghosts' "Haha"s in the original version with "Chu-ching!" (cash register noise).

[profile] nezumiko - that's where we were rather than being home to accept your invitation to an organ concert.  We ended up not getting home till 8:30.  (The show started at 4:00.)

Home.  Bed now.  G'night!
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I'm taking my birthday holiday tomorrow (Friday)!  I hope to have the dress for my costume completely assembled by the end of the day - wish me luck!

Meanwhile, two bits of amusement:

IGN has an amusing article as part of its Halloween celebration on RPG Cliches That Need To Die.  The hero who starts off as a simple farmer... monsters that have no business carrying any items at all... they're all there, and roasted till very well done.

The theatrical trailer for Tim Burton's film version of Sweeney Todd is available for viewing!  Why they've moved the release date back to just before Christmas, I dunno... it's not exactly a nice, family-friendly happy holiday story.  Maybe they're hoping for an Oscar nod.  And the trailer is trying very hard not to indicate that there's lots of singing in it.  It's clear from the little that's shown that Johnny Depp is no George Hearn, but hopefully he will suit nonetheless.
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Every once in a while I have a dream that's got lots of music stuff in it.  Most often, it's got some music in it that sounds wonderful and amazing while I'm listening to it, and then I can't remember it in the morning.

The dream I had a couple of nights ago was kinda different.  The first part of it involved someone playing a neat ebony-looking Celtic lap harp.  I'm assuming that was inspired by seeing [personal profile] woodwindy's post about her new psaltery earlier in the evening, and being a little sad that I haven't made time for harping in ages and ages.  Later, I was doing some singing exercises (typical 5 or 8 note run, I can't really remember now), in a smallish choral group.  I'm assuming that was inspired by, well, the fact that I've been doing voice lessons and that we're starting to work on things like vowels, and keeping them the same through a 5- or 8-note run.  Anyway, I was singing.

Then the alarm went off.

Our clock radio is tuned to the local classical station.

I have no idea what key the piece the radio was playing was in, but it was really far away from whatever key I was singing in in my dream!  I think it was the clash of the keys that woke me up, as much as anything else.

Avenue Q

Aug. 13th, 2007 07:40 pm
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We went to see Avenue Q this weekend!  We'd been looking forward to it ever since I first got the announcement that it was coming to our neck of the woods, and it did not disappoint.  There's a good summary of the plot here for anyone who's interested.

Avenue Q is perhaps best termed as 'Sesame Street for grownups.'  If it were a movie, it would be rated R for profanity and simulated sex.  Between puppets, mind you, but simulated sex nonetheless.  The show includes some of the funniest, raunchiest songs I've ever heard. 'The Internet is for Porn' and 'My Girlfriend, Who Lives in Canada' are in no way, shape, or form worksafe, but boy are they a scream. 

There are also moments of comedic bliss that don't involve explicit acts or lyrics.  'Schadenfreude', a song that teaches one of the characters (and probably most of the audience) a new vocabulary word a la Sesame Street or The Electric Company is quite possibly my favorite funny song in the show.  The wedding nightmare (featuring a super-giant puppet of the main character's girlfriend in a bridal veil rising Godzilla-like over the apartment complex) is one of the most hilarious things I've ever seen. 

There were a few things that surprised me about the show.  First, it's sweet: it's got an on-off-on love story between the two main characters at its core, and I hadn't expected any terribly deep emotional stuff.  Second, it defines a racial divide at the beginning of the show - not between puppet and human characters as one might expect, but between humans (including some puppet humans) and monsters.  Not terribly deep, admittedly, but an interesting touch.  Finally, it ends up being a quietly wise show.  In 'I wish I could go back to college,' a bunch of characters talk about how they'd like to go back to what they know, in a place where their needs are taken care of... then acknowledge that it simply wouldn't work, because they wouldn't fit there anymore.  And in 'For Now,' they state that nothing, good or bad, lasts forever.

So: Great show, better and more interesting than I expected.  There are certainly good reasons why it won all those Tony awards back in 2003, and I'm delighted that it's finally gone on tour.  Do catch it if it comes to your area - it's well worth the price of admission!
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My apologies to one and all for filling their Friends pages with mostly Zelda-related drivel over the past couple of months.  I didn't intend that to be the bulk of my LJ entries, I truly didn't!

I therefore present:   A serious post!  With real content!  Let there be rejoicing!

A while ago, [personal profile] stolen_tea posted about the music of Karl Jenkins.  Jenkins is probably most widely known for his compositions for his group Adiemus.  He's also written somewhat more traditional choral works, including a requiem and a mass.  The huz and I were lucky enough to sing his The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace back in August of 2005. 

This happened to be, amusingly enough, the first FULL performance of the piece in the U.S., even though it was written some years ago and has been wildly popular in Europe.  Jenkins really really wanted the U.S. premiere of the piece to be in Carnegie Hall, and the powers that be at Carnegie Hall finally agreed - at which point, the person in charge of directing the local community summer chorus said, "Yahoo!  We'll perform it here a month after that!"

Well, there was a performance at Carnegie Hall. But for reasons unknown, they decided to do only the 'pretty' movements out of the mass, leaving out the darker (but highly effective) movements.  So we did the first full performance.  :)

It was quite possibly one of the most emotional choral singing experiences I've ever had, and I feel very fortunate to have been introduced to the piece. 
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What didn't get done:

- vaccuuming
- yard work, including:
     - hedge trimming
     - (new to list!) rosebush pruning

What did get done:

- singing concert Friday night
- singing memorial mass Saturday afternoon
- seeing my brother at the local airport (long layover for business travel)
- going shopping!

A big thank you to everyone who's given us Barnes & Noble and Borders gift cards over about the last three years ([personal profile] hoshikage and [profile] haamel especially); we finally used them! 
Looking forward to many evenings of media entertainment now.  :)
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1. On Monday, I had my first voice lesson in a couple of weeks.  My teacher was able to lead me into keeping my throat open and relaxed while singing, even the high stuff.  It felt like a new door had been opened.  Then on Tuesday, when I was practicing, I found a Really Useful image to think of when I breathe in: Not only am I thinking down (with my diaphragm), but I'm thinking back (to stretch and relax the larynx - this part has the lovely side effect of elevating the ribs in my back too!) and also up through the back of my head (to help generate the lift and space I need to get the resonance that I want).  When it works, it feels like it really works!  Everything's open, free, relaxed, not forced... Hopefully I'm doing things right, and not screwing things up.

2. Last night I got to have my first rehearsal with our new choir director Matthew.  Working with him really is wonderful!  He's challenging us: last night consisted largely of: read through a piece with piano accompaniment once, or twice in one case, and then he'd have us try it a capella.  Great fun, as far as I'm concerned.  :)  And of course he's a marvelous musician, and huge fun to work with.  It was a lovely evening, ending with drinks and dessert after rehearsal.  (And we're doing a piece this Sunday that I actually felt the need to take home and learn (at least for one transition spot).  Novel, what?

In other news: I am now the proud holder of the first Gold Medal in the household for a Wii Sports training exercise!  (in the Golf: Hitting to the Green exercise, if anyone cares)  Yeah, boring life I know.  ;)
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It's looking a little unlikely that I'll be able to do an 'attempt at good writing' post this week, due primarily to a lack of time.  Work is being busy: I'm doing the usual round of wet-lab work, and now that I've figured out how to call SNPs without developing a migraine, I'm trying to do more of that too. 

This week is also concert week for the community/university chorus that the huz and I are in.  The schedule for the week runs like this: regular rehearsal Monday night, dress rehearsals Tuesday and Thursday nights, concert on Friday and Saturday nights.  We're performing Michael Tippett's A Child of Our Time, which I made a very brief reference to awhile back.  At some point - hopefully sooner rather than later - I intend to write a 'good writing' post about it.  But for now, suffice it to say that it's relatively modern, that Tippett really liked writing angular, non-melodic stuff (about Kristallnacht, in this particular instance), and that the piece was pretty difficult to learn.  In last night's dress rehearsal, it was clear that parts of the chorus still don't know chunks of it terribly well.  Sigh.

On the Wii front:
Rayman: I cheated the other day and got the huz to win my warthog race for me.  I'd spent more than sufficient time working on the Day 3 trials and wanted to save my game already.  (The one serious issue we have with Rayman is that the game WILL NOT SAVE until you have completed the last trial of the day.  We both feel that it ought to save after every successful sub-trial.  The huz, happily, passed the trial on his first go.)  But this morning, I was myself finally successful in breaking the time barrier!  Yay!  So now I don't feel like a cheat anymore.  I also finished the maze game in Day 3 in just barely the allotted time this morning.  So, double yay!

Sports: I now hold medals in all 3 tennis exercises and in all 3 golf trials, as well as one each in the baseball and bowling ones.  Neither of us has gotten a gold medal yet, but it's only a matter of time.  :)

Zelda: I've determined that if I spend too much time either playing Zelda: TP myself, or watching the huz play Ocarina of Time, I get dizzy, then motion-sick.  So at the moment I'm trying to figure out what my maximum 'safe' time is for watching or playing.  15 minutes of continuous watching from the couch (figuring that if the screen takes up a smaller portion of my visual field, it won't get me so sick so fast) is perfectly fine.  I'm looking forward to trying 20 minutes of play from the couch later today.  :)
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On Saturday night, we went to hear a concert at the local university. The concert was part of an Asian music festival, in which the emphasis was on drums and drumming.

Drumming is probably one of the most primal musical arts, side by side with vocalizing. Surely early man must have discovered that one could bang rocks, sticks, or one's own hands together and make a sharp percussive noise. One could do this multiple times and create a rhythmic pattern. One could strike the instrument as slowly as an ox's heartbeat or as rapidly as a bird's wings in flight. Everything in nature held a beat, and one could answer that call.

One of the three pieces on the program used the large Japanese barrel drum, a standard instrument in taiko. This drum never fails to impress me. It's a visually striking instrument, to begin with. The biggest ones are probably about a yard across at their widest point in the middle, and you can see that width because it's usually sitting on its side on a tall stand so that the drum heads are at approximately shoulder height. The wall is a natural honey-brown wood, varnished and polished till it reflects the stage lights. The drum head surfaces are held in place by double rows of closely-set large nails, individually distinguishable from the back row of an auditorium.

And all of these elements can be used in the playing of the drum! The drumheads can be struck, obviously. But the wood rims of the drum are frequently struck as well. The sticks used in playing can be run along the rows of nails to make a scritching sound. If there are metal rings along the wall of the drum for carrying, as the one in Saturday's concert did, those too can be struck. Most surprisingly, the drum heads can be played in more ways than simple striking. The distance between the strike point and the center of the drumhead affects the tone and volume of the sound produced. The material used for striking changes those too. You can place one stick lightly on the drum head and move it closer to or farther from the edge as you strike with the other stick, changing the available vibrating surface area of the drum head and hence the tone sounded by the strike. And you can .. well, scribble is the best term I've come up with so far for it: you lay the stick against the drumhead, apply mild pressure to get some friction going, and then you move the stick around, keeping in contact with the drum head the whole time. Scribbling produces an eerie, resonant screeching set of tones.

But it's the sheer power of the instrument that really gets me. The drum can be positively whaled on, sometimes by two people at once (one on each end). and The resulting volume is just incredible. There is no need to amplify this instrument; played at its loudest, the drum in its turn plays the listener. The listener's body wall vibrates in response to the volume of the sound. The inside of your whole torso shakes and rumbles, and you are physically part of the playing.

The playing is primal. The physical response is primal. And the drums will speak for us all.
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As some of you may know, the church that I attend lost its music director of 7 years back in late July 2006.  I ended up on the search committee for the new music director.  I'm delighted to announce that the committee made its recommendation to our minister last Sunday, and that person was offered and has accepted the position!  *happy dance*


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