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General Music Roundup, December 2017 Edition

Sparky and I had our cello recital this past Sunday, and that went very well. It was a terrific programme. Sparky played a Bach minuet (which he crushed, a triumph after some rocky patches this fall) and I played a Kreisler Rondino that presented some stupid challenges that shouldn’t have been challenges, except my brain and fingers decided they were brick walls. But we each pulled it off. Our group pieces were lovely, too, and our studio mates all had excellent performances as well.

After an amazing fall concert with the Lakeshore Chamber Orchestra, I’ve had to decide to take the next concert off because of low energy levels, high workload, and insanely circuitous traffic rerouting while the Turcot interchange is being rebuilt. I can’t face a commute over ninety minutes long each way at the end of the day, plus a two-hour rehearsal in between; not in deep winter. This will be the first concert I have planned to miss since I started playing with the orchestra in the fall of 2001. (Dear gods, I have been playing with them for sixteen years. I had no idea till I did the math.) (Planned to miss is critical, here; I didn’t plan to miss the concert three weeks after Sparky was born, I just… had to.) (Third parenthetical interjection: That’s forty-seven orchestral concerts I have played!!! Not including the three I did with the Cantabile orchestra.)

I bought a new bow this fall, a high-end octagonal Brazilwood Knoll through The Sound Post in Toronto, because I could finally afford it (thank you, ridiculously busy freelance life). This bow has been overdue for about seven years; my previous wood bow had a cracked frog due to a toddler-related incident and had started to warp, so I was playing with the heavy German fibreglass bow that came with my new 7/8 in 2009. The Knoll is glorious. I have no idea how I played with the fibreglass for so long. It’s bouncy but strong, flexible but sturdy. I love it. And for something purchased online, with just the help from one of the specialists at the Sound Post… I feel so incredibly fortunate. They were technically out of stock, but he pulled this in from the Ottawa store where they weren’t using it and had it rehaired for me at no extra cost. He offered me the next level of bow at a price midway between this one and that (a very generous offer), but I wanted this specific bow for the faux whalebone wrapping; my fingers have been reacting badly to wire wrapping. So he made it happen.

Owlet began piano this fall, and is zooming along. It’s her thing, and I’m glad we encouraged her to do this instead of violin; the piano avoids frustrating intonation problems as long as you’re hitting the correct key. She’ll do her first recital in the spring, and is looking forward to it. Right now she can play a four-page version of Jingle Bells with relatively decent rhythm, and her teacher is delighted (and somewhat dazed, I think?) at how well she absorbs information and how quickly she’s progressing. It’s not from excess of practice, that’s for sure; we think she just has good musical memory. She’s the first non-Suzuki musician in the house, and as much as I like the Suzuki philosophy I think this teacher and this programme suit Owlet just fine.

On Christmas Concerts and School Music Programmes

Let’s talk about school concerts for a moment.

We joke about how they’re painful (oh, recorders; everyone has to go through that phase) and roll our eyes at the cheesiness, but you know what? They’re important. And I love them.

I just came home from Owlet’s holiday concert. It was smooth and energetic and well-organized; all the kids were focused and committed. It was terrific. They had multiple classes from different levels cooperating on their pieces, and it only lasted an hour as a result.

Those two music teachers, one from each branch of the school, worked ridiculously hard. It’s easy to teach an individual class something during their music block and have the kids perform it. It’s not so easy to coordinate three different classes from two different streams to do that.

These concerts — no, music classes in general — are important because kids learn stuff. Music is math. Music is following instructions. Music is learning how to take separate blocks of something and put them together to make something bigger. Music is learning to function as a larger group and co-operate toward a common goal. Music is problem-solving on a group level: how does my part fit in, how do I blend, how do I match my intonation to that of those around me? Music is focusing in a way that’s not quite the way you concentrate in an English or civics class. Music is taking turns. Music is respecting the people around you, listening when it’s someone else’s turn to play. Music is sharing with an audience.

School music class is often the only chance kids get to sing or dance or play an instrument. Our family is ridiculously fortunate in that we prioritize music and each kid gets lessons, but not all families have that opportunity or have a different priority. Investing in this at the school level offers students so much, and I am so grateful to the schools my kids attend for making sure music is still a focus among their other disciplines. With the cooperation of a local high school and by collecting freewill donations at the school concerts, Owlet’s school has acquired 60 alto recorders and a set of boomwhackers to add to the existing ukuleles, xylophones, and wind instruments since last year. I am thrilled that they continue to invest in their musical programme.

Fall Concert Announcement

Hey, it’s going to snow and be miserable. Distract yourself with lovely music!

The Lakeshore Chamber Orchestra’s 2017 fall concert will be presented at 7:30 PM Saturday 25 November, at our home base of Valois United Church (70 Belmont Ave. Pointe-Claire, between King and Queen). The theme of this concert is the 3Bs: Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.

Beethoven: ‘Prometheus’ overture
Beethoven: ‘Coriolan’ overture
JS Bach: Piano Concerto in D major, with soloist
Brahms: Serenade no. 1

Our young keyboard soloist is the winner of a local competition, as usual. He’s brilliant. And I’m not going to tell you what kind of keyboard he’ll be playing, because the surprise will be fun.

Admission is $10, free for children 18 and under. The concerts usually last around two hours, including the refreshment break. The address and map are on the church website. Children of all ages are very welcome.

I hope we’ll see you there!

Owlet Update

It’s been a while since the kids got posts of their own!

Owlet has discovered showers. For years she has been petrified of them, refusing to hear us when we explain it’s like warm rain. She has stubbornly stuck with her cold baths. (Yes, cold. We call her our little polar bear.) Well, she came home on Monday and told us that a grade six boy explained how much fun showers were. They were like rain! (There was some internal eyerolling on the part of the parental units.) She said she felt comfortable enough to try it. So I set it up, nice and cool, and angled the spray straight down so she had plenty of room to move toward and away from the water, so she could control her interaction with it. She started by putting a toe in and pulling it out, then the other foot, then hands, and twenty minutes later she was dancing in and out, sitting down and tilting her head back under the cascade, giggling. Tuesday she asked to have another one, then Wednesday, and again on Thursday. She sings away in them, and even asked for warmer water. So we have another shower convert.

Owlet has also started piano lessons, and is adoring them. There has been resistance and not listening and refusal to follow instructions at school lately, so it’s quite a relief to have her piano teacher come out with her after a lesson and say how very well it had gone. I think part of it comes from Owlet having done her Intro to Music class last fall and being somewhat familiar with the scale, which was reinforced by her very rudimentary piano intro at junior camp this summer. She raced through four pages of review at her first lesson, and started off with one piece to work on the first week, and was assigned two more the next. That first week she raced up the stairs to practice after school while I prepped her snack. It’s nice.

As I mentioned, there is resistance happening at school, which is frustrating both for her teacher and on a parental level. Her transition from kindergarten in one school to grade one in another school has not gone well, and I frequently hear her complain that she wants to go back to kindergarten, or even daycare. It’s hard to grow up, but everyone has to do it. In the meantime, she has been adopted by a group of sixth graders who think she’s the most adorable thing and let her direct their play at recess and lunch. They call out her name and greet her with happy hugs at the gate in the morning and meet her at her classroom door at the end of the day to take her out to the schoolyard. They make her flower chains and generally spoil the heck out of her. So basically, Owlet has minions almost twice her age. And one of Sparky’s best friends who is a year behind himis her substitute big brother at school who has told her that if she needs anything to come to him, so all told, her school life is fine except for that whole focusing and working part. She is reading French sentences with sight words and vocabulary words in them, and doing all right; I just wish she had more confidence in herself in class and less of a tendency to try to push aside anything that requires focus.

And the last bit of big news: Owlet is no longer afraid of pools! She usually cried whenever she was at a pool because she wanted to get in and swim, but was terrified and froze up on the steps. Labour Day weekend at a party she finally stepped onto the floor of the pool, bounced around a bit, then grabbed a pool noodle and started kicking on her own. She was in for a solid ninety minutes. Hurray! I sat and watched her, but didn’t go in. I let her control it all herself. What would I do if she went under, I was asked? Kick off my nice grey suede shoes and jump in fully clothed, I said. But I didn’t have to.

And that is the Owlet update. There’s a Sparky one overdue as well, which I’ll get to asap. Spoiler: He is loving high school and the transition has gone incredibly well.

Adjusting

Sparky’s beginner watercraft course is from 10 to 12 every weekday in Lachine. This means I don’t have time to come home again after dropping him
off. Well, I could, I suppose, but then I’d have to turn around and drive back. (Why Lachine when we live on the South Shore? Because they were the cheapest and have a terrific reputation.)

Yesterday I tried to set up in a cafe with my laptop to work. I had great hopes for this. People seem to have excellent success with this sort of thing, and it was my fervent hope that I could get work done while I had to be out there.

Reader, it did not go well.

I’d forgotten that standard chairs are all wrong for me. They’re terrible for my back, and cafe tables are all the wrong heights for typing. My energy was taken up feeling that my feet weren’t flat on the ground like they’re supposed to be for stability, my lower back was tipped backward and stressed the exact way every osteopath has told me *not* to do, the table was too high, my wrists were super awkwardly angled over the uncomfortably high keyboard. More energy was used trying to ignore the music being piped in despite having earphones and my own music, the unfamiliar food smells, the *people* all around… it was kind of nightmarish. I was very glad Sparky had an amazing morning. But if I kept doing this, I would accomplish nada this week because I would be coming home exhausted. I got next to nothing done in the cafe, and was so drained when I got home that I couldn’t work then either, let alone after picking Owlet up from camp. It was, in short, a disaster, and not sustainable.

I decided that today would be different. Last night I pulled out and prepped some SweetGeorgia BFL (Songbird! I’m planning a two-ply: one ply spun end to end, the other ply a four-repeat fractal!) and packed my spinning box. I would bring my small spinning wheel and sit by the water, spinning and listening to an audiobook.

My view across to the canoe club.

Finn! One of my comfort fibres to spin.

And that is exactly what I did. Apart from a tiny bit of social anxiety about spinning in public and possibly having to field people, it was lovely. I sat on a park bench that was the perfect height, right by the water next to an oak tree that gave me dappled shade. There was a perfect breeze. I listened to Pride & Prejudice. I finished the Finn I was spinning to make up the missing yardage for a cardigan (it’s only two or three years after I spun all the rest of the yarn; maybe I’ll even knit the sweater someday) then started the Songbird after sampling to see what whorl and drive and braking methods I wanted to use. I have come home relaxed, and psyched to attack the project I’m working on that’s due by the end of the week.

It’s such a major shift from yesterday that I’m really excited about this plan, and I intend to do this every day that it’s nice enough to be outside. Adjusting my expectations of when to sink energy into working for the maximum output has made an enormous difference.

I had forgotten how much I love the sound of water against jetties, buoys, and the sides of boats, and the smell of the lake, too. Part of me is already hoping Sparky will do this again next year.

Lammas Report

We are halfway through summer!

1. The Tour de Fleece happened. I co-captained the Clan Kromski team again, and while I feel I was not as engaged as in previous years thanks to work and kids, I got some nice spinning done.

TdF 2017 yarns!

2. HRH came home from basic training, and everyone was very happy. He did excellently, of course. Now he’s full-time at the unit for three weeks to finish up the last block of training, and if that goes well, he’ll graduate to being an official qualified naval reservist. Next up will be his ship training, which will probably be next summer, although there’s plenty of theory and study to be done along the way.

Dad’s home!

3. The kids have completed two two-week sessions of day camp. Sparky did guitar for the first session, including a lovely improv with the teacher at the open house, and violin for the second session, with a lovely solo performance with that teacher as well. Owlet is loving it, hugging every counsellor she passes there while protesting at home that she hates camp. Uh-huh.

4. Owlet is back at day camp for one extra week, while Sparky has started a two-week session of mornings doing an Intro to Canoe & Kayak course at the Lachine Canoe Club. He kayaked for the first time at the grade six sleepaway camp long weekend he did in mid-June, and raved about it, asking if there was some way he could do it again. He is wildly loving it. He’s never expressed interest in any sport before; he may have found his thing.

5. I was asked back for Part 2/the expansion of the scriptwriting project I handled this past spring. That was terribly nice. Although the can-you-do-this-by-the-end-of-the-week deadline wasn’t as enjoyable. I hit it, though, because I am awesome. And then had to rush to handle the stuff that had to be displaced on the schedule because of it. Sigh. My other ongoing contract carries on apace as well.

6. I now have green hair. Part of it is green, anyway. I did it for my birthday, and I love it.

Green!

La!