Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Viola Dreaming

Inspired by a variety of factors--my recent return to the stage, a general desire for something meaningful in life--I played my viola yesterday for the first time in two years. The last time I took it out of its case was at the end of my first quarter here in Los Angeles, when for a seminar we put together a small amateur performance of a few scenes from an eighteenth-century opera-comique.

The poor old guy is in good shape, luckily enough. I couldn't find any rosin, and the A string I have on there is a cheap brand that I must have put on as a last-minute replacement, but everything else was just as I had left it. The same stickers and cartoons were taped up on the inside ("Stop the Violins!"), my trusty folding chinrest, the same mechanical grey pencil I used to make notes for much of my time at Wesleyan. There was even a program in the pocket of the case from the last "real" concert I played in, a premiere of a string quartet by Justin Yang, then a grad student at Wesleyan. It was an extraordinarily difficult concert, physically. One of the movements was almost forty-five minutes of holding one note in a long sustain. It was also an emotionally difficult work. The piece was about violence, specifically school shootings. Overlaid on top of our live playing was taped excerpts of interviews with survivors of the shootings. Some of them were very hard to listen to. Justin was quite religious, I recall, and I believe the last movement with the enormous prolonged sustain was supposed to enact catharsis of a sort. To be honest, it kind of worked. Rehearsals were difficult, but during that one performance I was entranced enough with the sound of the chord that I didn't mind the passing of time.

So anyways, back to my viola. I played for a little bit, although I made the rather stupid choice to launch into a difficult piece and was rewarded with instant muscle cramps, pains that were immediately familiar even if I hadn't felt them for a long time. My fingers still knew what to do, however. Some of the pieces I used to play, especially the older ones, are permanently burned into my muscles, and I don't think I'll ever be able to shake them. Other pieces, like the more difficult ones I worked on during the year I took lessons at Wesleyan, were a bit harder to pick right up again.

I don't know how I feel about being a musician and a musicologist. One of the things we musicologists always gripe about when we are together is the standard question asked whenever we tell people what our occupation is: "oh, so what instrument do you play?" In those situations, I often refuse to admit to playing anything, since describing myself as a non-musician is closer to the truth than calling myself a musician. Certainly I wouldn't now be a musicologist if I hadn't once been a musician. But part of being a musicologist is being intensely critical of music-making, especially your own. When my closest friend has two degrees from Juilliard, it is hard to say that I do anything similar! I'm more extreme than most about this, and certainly my own department tries to encourage us to continue performing, but the reality of the field is that few of us still consider ourselves musicians. We know too much to say that without irony.

It's a schizophrenic position. We owe our careers to our own history of performing, and our careers (for many of us) keep us from performing with any seriousness ever again. Our--I should say "my," I suppose--playing music becomes intensely private, as if ashamed of itself. An English professor draws upon a lifetime of enjoying reading to be able! But musicologists draw upon a lifetime of performing music

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Farewell to a Wesbian

Horrors! Kim Stolz, the Thespian Lesbian from Wesleyan, was knocked out of the competition to be America's Next Top Model tonight. This after a rough episode, where she tried to be a peacemaker between anorexics feuding over their energy drinks. Kim came out of the fracas looking good, but her photo shoot just wasn't that great. It's kind of unfair though--this week's challenge involved the models posing in scenes taken from famous paintings. Poor Kim, with all her odd angles and nervous butch energy, somehow got chosen to recreate Botticelli's Venus. A good match it was not. I think the producer's had it in for her.

Incidentally, I just discovered the beauty of Wesleyan's alumni directory. Suffice to say, if I wanted to give Kim a call at her parent's house to cheer her up, I have her number.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Thanksgiving Rundown

The scores from Thanksgiving break:

Attempts to install fourth satellite dish for grandparents: 2
Successful installations of said satellite dish: 0
Hours driving, total: 16
Meat consumed: much
Diet Cokes: 6
After dinner nightcaps: 1
Family members: 4
Dogs: 2
Dead rats: 1
Headlights fixed: 1
Midterms graded: 2
Dungeness crab bisque at nice restaurant: priceless

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Ah, craziness. My usual practice on this blog when I have not updated for way too long is to simply give a quick list of the interesting things I have been up to in the meanwhile. So without further adieu:

Recently, I have:

1. Flown to the UK for a surprise visit to my significant other. The tickets were cheap, it was a long weekend, and the timing was right. It was a masterpiece of planning, if I do say so myself, requiring the assistance of both of Mary's roommates and several friends out here, who provided rides to and from airports, distractions, alibis, and general support. Mary was suitably surprised, and we had a lovely weekend.

2. Done my best imitation of a rock star, performing two gigs with a friend. He plays banjo and sings, I play guitar. The repertoire included some bluegrass numbers, an obscure but rockin' Elvis ballad ("Trying to Get to You"), and a George Michael cover ("Father Figure"). The occasion was Transgiving, a regular event in West Hollywood that is a showcase for the transgendered community. I was just backup, for the most part, but my friend Steph wowed the crowd with his swiveling hips. We plan to keep on playing together--I'm going to pick some additional songs that are more my style (I'm thinking a combination of Patti Smith, a few showtunes, maybe some Motown numbers), we've got a bassist in the department who wants to join in, and so all we really need to do real shows is a drummer. Well, and I need to break down and buy an actual guitar amp one of these days. I've got my eye on the Fender FM 212R. It feels really good to be performing again. I like to think that my teaching experience has given me slightly better stage presence, which is nice.

3. Worked. A lot. It is already the eighth week of the quarter, which means stacks of midterms to grade, and the looming specter of seminar papers to write. While giving a makeup midterm today I spent some quality research time on this quarter's project, which is an essay on Stravinsky's 1952 neoclassical classic The Rake's Progress. Lots of stuff out there, although the better scholarly work is in French. I can read it, but not very quickly. Somehow this absurdly ambitious project is also requiring me to become familiar with the entire field of aesthetics, from Kant to Bourdieu. Yikes. Very useful, very interesting, but yikes.

Wednesday I drive north for some much-needed relaxation in Napa Valley. Thank goodness.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Best Political Ad of All Time

Today I have received nine pre-recorded phone calls urging me to vote one way or the other next Tuesday. They ranged from Barbara Boxer telling me no on Props. 73 and 77 (unclear why those two only), the mayor of West Hollywood telling me to vote no on everything, to a really sketchy call that had a man sobbing while telling the story of how his daughter died because Planned Parenthood prescribed her RU 486. Yikes.

This all makes me wish I lived in New York City, which has the greatest political ad of all time, no matter what your politics.

Via Alex Ross.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Kill Me Now

I'm having trouble dealing with the supernatural cuteness of Butterstick, the baby panda bear at the National Zoo.

This is the little guy shortly after getting his first shots. Vets can be so nasty sometimes, can't they, Butterstick.

In other pop culture news, America's Next Top Lesbian, Kim, rocked this week's episode. Unfortunately, her most recent conquest, Kyle, was kicked off before they could consumate their newfound love. To celebrate, I googled this old Wesleyan Argus article that quotes her thoughts about transgender politics.