Saturday, October 19, 2013

An unremarkable story about yoga

Back in June I began to feel a great deal of concern for my lower back. I can’t remember exactly what the issue was, but some amount of pain had taken root and wasn’t going away. After a few weeks I started to think that maybe I should try to do something about it, so I looked on Groupon to see what my options were. (Because, why have a doctor look at a hurt back when Groupon has all the answers?) The stars aligned for me and my back because I found reduced price yoga classes at a location right down the street from me. Over the years I’ve done a little yoga here and there, and always enjoyed it, but it seems to have turned into a hipster activity rather than mellow exercise. Being on the receiving end of far too many stories that began with “Last week, in my yoga class [something unremarkable happened]”, I was well aware that no one cares what happens in your yoga class other than you. Would I turn into one of those people? I decided it wasn’t worth dwelling on because yoga seemed like it could potentially be the answer to my lower backaches.

It’s always a little hard to insert yourself into a new situation, especially when it seems like everyone else is an old pro. But what I learned during my first week of unlimited yoga classes is that there are far more varieties of yoga than I could have imagined. It took a few near-misses before I settled on Yin style as my go to. It’s basically an hour of really nice, deep, and slow stretches. Sometimes the instructor will read from a meditation book, or pontificate on the zen lifestyle, but I’m very rarely paying attention. Yoga, for me, is an incredible place to let my mind wander (they really emphasize that you should not do that—focus on the breath, work through the stretch, etc.). It’s so relaxing that I’m able to just let go and think about things that would normally stress me out, but in that atmosphere I’m not stressed at all. It’s actually quite productive. And physically, it’s the perfect counter to a long 8 hours sitting at a desk.

But then last week, in my yoga class we had a new teacher because the regular teacher decided to stay home and give birth (true story). Things were going along just fine with this new teacher, but then at the end of class, as the lights were dimmed and we were all laying down feeling calm with eyes closed… she came behind me and started TO MASSAGE MY SHOULDERS. Can you imagine?! Call me crazy, but a massage that I didn’t have to pay for (or beg Joe for) is better than all the holidays wrapped into one and dipped in chocolate. Seriously, there is almost nothing better in the world. It was a perfect end to the day, I’m still feeling good about that situation.

So there are definite perks to going to yoga. But I will also say this. My lower back problems have completely gone away, and I believe most of that is directly related to routine stretches (in my class twice a week). And occasionally I’ll strike up a conversation with a fellow student, so extra points for yoga as a semi-social activity!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Wilson Phillips

Tonight I touched Wendy Wilson's hand as she bent down from the stage. I also touched Carnie Wilson's hand, which was incredible, but the real rush came from Wendy. This all happened about half-way through the concert when they invited the audience to come up to the front and dance. Never in my life has anyone had to ask me twice if I wanted to dance, the answer is always YES! So up to the front me and my concert buddy, Katie, went where we sang and danced our hearts out. These three women were amazing. They look like slightly more mature versions of their album cover from 1990. And they sound fantastic, their harmonies are incredible. As a kid I remember listening to their songs and trying to guess who was singing the melody. It turns out that Chynna is generally taking the lead, with Carnie and Wendy on harmony. She's also the most energetic on stage. But Carnie really stole the spotlight between songs when they were talking to the audience, she's a character. At one point she kind of mooned us, but just half the butt. Shocking, but somehow very delightful in that it just added to the experience.
Chynna, Carnie, Wendy during the encore

What is my favorite Wilson Phillips song? Well, to be honest, the only time I listen to Wilson Phillips these days is when one of their songs comes on the radio. And of course their Christmas album. But thinking back to the days when I idolized them beyond compare and wanted to grow up to be a singer so I could be just like them, back then my favorite song was Eyes Like Twins.

Hearing them tonight brought back a ton of memories. I remember most vividly listening to them on the stereo with my mom while we were cleaning the house on Chicago. That was over 20 years ago. There were countless sleepovers where Lindsay and I would dance to their songs. She was always Chynna and I was Wendy, and we took our roles very seriously. When the songs ended, we stayed in character as long as possible, pretending to live the glamorous life of singers. These are little memories that I had forgotten about until the concert tonight, when they all hit me. It was incredible. I felt like my 7-year-old self would have been so happy! Going to this concert is one of the best decisions I've ever made in my entire life. It has been a wonderful night!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Confessions of a Renegade Harpist

Lately I’ve become an inadvertent “on-call” harpist for a particular conductor. His method of organization baffles me. Often times I will receive a surprisingly calm email from him asking me to play with an ensemble later that week. The harp part is written in the score for all to see, it doesn’t have to be excavated or viewed with special glasses. So, at the beginning of the season when he selects the music for the year, that might be a good time to arrange for a harpist. But no.  A few examples:
  • Earlier this week I played two pieces with one of his orchestras. He gave me enough notice to attend the dress rehearsal, though there were other issues with getting the music. After the concert, which went fine, I let him know that I had left the music on the stand to be collected by the librarian. Typically, this is not something I would announce but it seemed like there might be some value in telling him, so I did. He looked startled and told me that “No, I need you again in October—same music”. He tried his hardest to remember the dates for the next concert but could not. Did he need me in October when he initially contacted me to play in this concert? Yes. Did he mention anything about October then? No.
  •  Next weekend there is a concert with his other orchestra that calls for harp in every piece. I played one of the pieces a few years back with the Las Cruces Symphony and it will be easy to put together with little notice. The other three pieces are all new to me, and the score is written for six harps which is five more than will be playing and will take a bit of creativity to make it work. He gave me three weeks’ notice for this concert, but I have yet to receive the music. I have asked for the music many, many times with no success. Is his intention to drive me crazy? Probably not, most likely it’s a simple absent-mindedness that many composers are equipped with. But still.

In years past he has tried similar methods of contacting me at the last minute, but 100% of the time I turned him down thinking that eventually he would learn. Send me your requests at the beginning of the season! What’s so hard about that? Lots, evidently. This year, though, he picked some of the best harp parts out there. How could I say no? Earlier this month I was finally able to play Vysehrad by Smetana, as part of the Ma Vlast suite. It was a dream come true, I love that piece so much and have ached to get to play it over the years. A massive Wagner concert is coming up which will be a fantastic exercise in counting and correctly making all my entrances (assuming I get the music). Stravinsky’s Petruska will be performed later in the year, yum! And, in the concert to end all concerts, Brahms’ Requiem. He could give me the music to any of those terrific, harp infused compositions minutes before the concert and I would still be happy just to be a part of the production. But that would be a terrible idea because the best way to make an orchestra cohesive is 1) a great conductor, and 2) making sure everyone has enough time to learn their parts!!

I should clarify, even though this rant would never show it, the conductor amuses me more than irritates me. He will never do things different than he currently does, and even though it is a massive inconvenience, he’s a very good conductor and doesn’t seem to be expecting the impossible. So when I come to rehearsal and do the best I can, given the limited notice I’ve had, he seems happy and we all have a good time.

But still.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tuesday. February 26, 2013

I’m always curious about the way other people spend their time. Maybe I’m looking for ideas, who knows? But it’s interesting to get a glimpse of what functional people do, and why they do it. After reading about a day in Lindsay’s life last week it made me think that 1. She has an exhausting (but love-filled) schedule, and 2. I wondered what a day in my own life would look like on paper. Since I’m usually the one living my life, it would be a nice exercise to step back and look at it somewhat objectively by keeping track of my course of action throughout the day. So why not start immediately.

Before you step into my glamorous life, there's one thing I should point out. Joe has taken up temporary residence in the state of California. When he is gone (which he was for this post) my days are quite a bit different than when he’s here. Alone, I try to fill my time up as much as possible with events or household upgrades. I also listen to a ton of Chicago. When he’s home we talk a lot more throughout the day, and spend the after work hours doing things together (i.e., watching a show, listening to music, discussing the salient details of life). The basics stay the same: work, practice, eat, but the in between stuff is a lot different.

Enough of the preamble, let’s party.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013
6:40am--Wake up because Joe is calling me. He just arrived in Ventura, CA after his 1:00am departure from Las Vegas. I was worried he would fall asleep and crash (he wasn't worried, he’s a pro at sleep deprivation) so getting this call is a very good way to wake up.

7:00-7:50—Wrap up the conversation with Joe, then go out to the living room to practice, still in my PJs. I’m preparing a piece for a brand new ballet, and the music is surprisingly tricky. I say surprisingly because at first glance it appears pretty straight-forward, but weeks later it’s still eluding me. I have to stop playing because my finger starts to hurt, and anyway it’s time to get ready for work.

8:00-9:00—I spent a few minutes getting dressed and brushing my teeth, then turned on my work computer. We have a two bedroom place, so the spare room is my office. After checking my work email I spend the next hour merging lots of information into a Word doc. It doesn't require much concentration so I've got NPR streaming from my computer while I work. Also during this time I make and drink some vanilla tea.  Overall, the day is feeling pretty good. From the looks of it I’ll have plenty of work to keep me busy but nothing stressful or especially unpleasant to deal with.

9:00-11:00—Once the files had been merged I move on to a formatting project. This type of thing is incredibly slow paced but doesn’t need any type of mental contribution other than “this goes here, that goes there”, so I pull up a show on Hulu. Early on in this project I realize that it will take up most of my week, which is fine, just uneventful.

11:00-11:30-- My very favorite co-worker calls me. Since we all work in a virtual environment there's no opportunities for "break room" conversations. Usually we’re on group calls or talking with clients, so it’s always a really nice treat when someone calls me for a one-on-one conversation. In this case she just had a few work questions for me, then we chatted until she had to pick up her kids.

11:30-12:30—Back to work formatting these documents. At 12:00 I opened up a can of chickpeas and threw them in the oven to roast with some spices. I had a meeting coming up so I wouldn't be able to eat them for another hour, but at least by then they would be ready.

12:30-1:00—Standing internal meeting to go over what will be discussed during the next day’s meeting with a client. I took minutes. Right after the meeting I looked up the details of a concert  at UNLV and emailed them to Joe’s aunt and uncle who were visiting from out of town.
Chickpeas before entering the oven
1:00-1:30—More formatting. Also, at 1:00 I pulled out the chickpeas and ate them all. I’ve never eaten the whole can before because in the past when I’ve made these Joe has been here to share them. Not such a bad thing, eating an entire can of chickpeas, from now on I vow to do it more often.

1:30-2:00—Haven’t left the house all day and could use a break from formatting, so I walk down to Fresh & Easy. We get some of our produce delivered on Wednesdays from a local farm, so this trip is just to grab a few extras-- first and foremost, berries.

2:00-4:30—Finish up the workday with (wait for it…) more formatting. Around 4:00 I pulled out some farm fresh carrots and ate them with hummus for a little snack. So good. Also, throughout the day I had been making little notes in a spreadsheet to help me remember the details of what I did, specifically for this post.

4:30—I’ve decided to be done working for the day. Normally I’ll work until 5:00, but the sun isn’t going to stay up forever and there’s a brand new bike in our hallway calling my name. Before the bike ride I need to drain a blister, which I do by dipping a safety pin in alcohol and pricking the blister. This is a delicate process because if I prick on the wrong side it will peel off next time that finger plucks a string, exposing the raw skin beneath. Ouch. The blister drains with aplomb. Bicycle time!

What we've got here is a triple blister. I drained the very
base layer.
4:45-5:20—Ride along my normal route up into Anthem and back. A couple hills, lots of elevation gain, and a little dirt path for good measure, all in a crisp 9 miles.

5:20-6:30—While on my bike ride I missed a call from Joe’s uncle, so I call him back and we solidify plans for the concert. After that I make a quick pasta dinner with mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and goat cheese. After I eat and do the dishes I remember some CDs I had checked out of the UNLV library that still need to get loaded into my computer. I work on that until it is time to leave. Then I quickly change clothes and head out.

Dinner in motion

6:30-7:00—Drive to UNLV and talk to little brother Kevin during the drive. He updates me on his band.

7:00-7:30—Meet up with Joe’s aunt and uncle in the parking lot, then go together into the concert hall. While we wait for the show to start we talk about fascinating things.

7:30-8:45—Enjoy a very unique new music concert, showcasing the minimalist composer Tom Johnson. This character wrote a piece of “music” wherein he stands as if at a podium in the middle of the stage and reads a “lecture”.  He repeats each line three times and invites the audience to shout out more! or enough! each time he finishes a sentence. This is a tremendous amount of fun for me, though despite constant arm nudges I can’t get Joe’s aunt and uncle to participate.

8:45-9:30—The concert finishes and we sit for a few minutes while people bustle out. Joe’s aunt liked the pieces that demonstrated math. Joe’s uncle doesn’t say much. We talk about their grandkids on our way to the parking lot then say our goodbyes. From there I drive home.

9:30-10:30—Once home I first unload the dishes and wipe down the counters. Joe calls but the connection is bad so we lose the call after a few minutes. While waiting for him to call back I pick up a little around the house. Eventually it occurs to me that he’s not going to call back so I check my email. Sure enough, no reception. I email him back about my day then try to practice a little more. My finger is still sore so I don’t push it. Instead I take a shower.

10:30-11:20—Get ready for bed, then go out to the living room and itemize all of our grocery purchases for the month of January. It’s always a little bit of a pain when I’m doing it, but well worth it to be able to see every single item of food we purchased.  Still, there’s really no reason to do this. I started it when I lived alone and was always looking for ways to cut my grocery bill, and it’s just a habit that has carried over.

11:20-12:00—Head to bed with my book, Europe Central. I read until a good stopping point, around mid-night. Then, asleep in no time.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A nice pick-me-up

Joe's brother sent me this video yesterday. I was laughing so hard that we had to pause it while I caught my breath so we didn't miss anything. Then, this morning we watched it again and it was just as funny, though I can't really figure out why. Maybe because it's just so ridiculous. Naturally, I have sent it to my grandparents.

It's just over 3 minutes, and highly entertaining. If you watch it, I'd love to know if you found it as funny as I did, and what your favorite part was. Without trying to spread my influence, I really liked the pencil section.


And while I'm on here spreading information, here is a video that will help clear up any confusion you may have experienced when thinking about the Netherlands. It's also very short, and pretty interesting, but it moves quick so get ready!

Happy Holidays everyone, I hope the next few days are just perfect!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A cup? A CUP?!

Last year for Christmas I sent my grandparents the most ridiculous movie I had seen all year.  To complement the theme, they also received notification that a dozen chicken eggs had been donated in their name. These "gifts" were not necessarily in the spirit of giving as much as they were for my own amusement. That movie is nuts and my grandparents seemed like the perfect pair to share the nuttiness with. As for the eggs, who knows, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Well, as grandparents usually do, mine had the last laugh. After Christmas my grandma told me that Heifer International, the company that I made the egg donation with, provides chicken eggs and animals to people down the street from her, rather than the exotic places that the company catalog indicates. Her exact words we something like, "I betcha didn't think you were helping the people of ol' Mississippi when you sent those eggs!" Then she laughed at me for a long time.

Fair enough. Today, like most days, Heifer International sent me some mail asking me to donate once again. But this time they didn't stop at the catalog, they went through the added trouble of sending me several return address stickers (with my no-longer-in-use last name) as well as a full page worth of labels for presents. These are not things I will ever use, obviously, but I can expect to receive them for the next ten years. This, I'm sure, brings a certain smugness to my sweet grandparents. But wait there's more! There were a series of quotes included with the useless stuff they sent, and Joe and I are having trouble coming to an agreement on what one of the quotes means.

"These children don't need a cup, they need a cow."

This was said, in who knows what context, by the guy who founded Heifer International (a company that sends chicken eggs and animals to people in other countries who need a hand). The trouble with that quote (aside from it being terrible) is that one of us believes the cup is meant to be thought of as a toy, while the other of us thinks that the cup is meant to be thought of as something to eat out of. It's not about being right or wrong here, I just want to know what the guy was trying to tell us! Any thoughts?

Quickly, last night Joe and I saw Arcardia, the Tom Stoppard play, at UNLV. It was really great and definitely worth seeing if you're in the mood for something totally awesome. It only plays through this weekend, 8pm on Sat, 2pm on Sun. Tickets are reasonably priced ($20-30) and proceeds go back to the theater program at the University. We stayed for the discussion afterwards and found out that most of the actors are students at UNLV, which is hugely impressive given the quality of the production. The acting is solid and the staging, costumes, and overall flow really take this to professional levels. It will be worth your while, I promise!

Monday, November 19, 2012

True American Heroes

Yesterday I went to the library to return a long-overdue book. While there, I went to the cookbook section to see if I could track down a reliable recipe for Thai curries, because, quite frankly, I just can’t get enough. There were a few Thai cookbooks that I flipped through, and one in particular seemed to have authentic looking curry recipes. In addition, there were several Indian food cookbooks, including 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. This behemoth contains absolutely zero pictures, but the recipes looked easy to follow and the ingredient list took into account North American availability, so it got added to my pile. Tonight I followed three recipes from the Indian cookbook and we had ourselves a feast.  It was a fair amount of work, but the outcome was well worth it because that food was good.

But Indian cooking isn’t all that life is about. Going back to yesterday, after leaving the library with two cookbooks under my arm, I came home and got ready to go to the symphony. This week there was a Groupon for two very reasonably priced tickets to see the Las Vegas Philharmonic at the Smith Center. For all its beauty and spectacular line up of concerts, the Smith Center is just too expensive to attend very often, so this Groupon was fully embraced. We didn’t know it when we purchased the tickets, but we were in for an incredible night of music.

Last year David Itkins, the conductor of the Las Vegas Philharmonic, gave his official resignation on account of conflicts with the philharmonic board. When this type of thing happens it’s common for orchestras to take a year and try out as many different conductors as possible, usually inviting each prospect to conduct a single concert. Those who resonate well with the orchestra come back for a second look, and the process continues from there. Our guest conductor last night was Case Scaglione, whose resume indicates that he is a very accomplished musician, having conducted many prestigious orchestras during his career. I’m not sure if he, as the conductor, was able to put together the music selections, or if the pieces were chosen in advance, but the best thing about last night’s concert was the absolutely awesome program. Second to that was Scaglione’s interaction with the audience.

But back to this program. The concert started out with Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man which we all know from TV and movie scores. It’s a short piece written for brass and percussion, with a good amount of pomp. Last night’s performance wasn’t especially strong, but it was a good enough way to set the theme of the evening, “An American Landscape”, featuring all American composers (of which there are few).  Copland came in for a second piece, Old American Songs, following the fanfare, this one written for full orchestra and two vocalists. The orchestra accompanies the singers--  soprano for the first five songs, then tenor for the last five. The final song is nothing short of delightful and Mark Thomsen (tenor) couldn’t have sang a better, more beautiful, or more animated performance. It was everything it should have been.  The last piece before the intermission was Bernstein’s medley of WestSide Story dances, in which the orchestra turned into a 76-piece jazz ensemble. They were really feeling the music, complete with finger snaps and the occasional shout of “Mambo!”. It was an unbeatable first half.

When we all found our seats again and the lights in the concert hall dimmed, the conductor grabbed a mic and addressed all of us audience members. He explained that the next piece might be, at times, a little “cacophonous”, and because of that it didn’t quite fit in with the other pieces on the program. Then, he did the most incredible thing. He explained why the piece we were about to hear sounded the way it did by explaining the history of the composer. He also told us what melodies to listen for, and then had the orchestra briefly play examples of those melodies. In all, he probably only spoke for five minutes, but it was an incredible gift to the audience and made the piece so approachable and enjoyable. So, with rapt attention, we listened to Ives’s Variations on America.   It was really great, and the orchestra played it like they meant it. Following that came Barber’s Adagio for Strings, a very soft and slow song that turns the orchestra into one big soft, slow moving cloud. As the title suggestions, it is written for strings, but the rest of the orchestra made their appearance in the finale of the evening with Copland’s Lincoln Portrait. It features several fragments from speeches Lincoln gave as president, while the heavy orchestra plays under the readings. Interesting piece, and well executed by our local symphony.

This concert just flew by; it was so enjoyable there was hardly any time to breath. I mentioned to Joe that this may have been my very favorite concert by the Las Vegas Philharmonic ever. He seemed a bit perplexed by that, these guys have given us some good concerts, but this one came together so well, and overall the orchestra performed the way a professional orchestra should. It sounded great and was exciting to watch. What a great way to spend an evening.