Monthly Archives: July 2008

Hmm

I finally got around to reading a news story that came in on an RSS feed, and I am highly amused. It outlines a rejected pitch for a Wii game proposed by Luc Bernard, said to be a 2D proper Castlevania-like game. But the best part, in my opinion, is this:

– Attacks & Fighting –
The player will take the control of [the character] who will attack with her cello. She will be able to upgrade her weapon by gaining experience points every time she kills a enemy. You will be able to find armours in the castle which will make her less vulnerable to attacks. As the game progresses you will be able to cast magic spells as stronger attacks against bosses. But every time you use a spell, your magic meter will go down so you will have to find more magic in the castle to refill it.

– Skills & Upgrades –
You will start off with only have some basic moves, such as a normal cello attack and a attack when you’re jumping or in the air. […]

– Magic Powers –
There will be several powers that you will be able to find within the castle. Such as a shield spell, another one that allows you to summon pugs that will then attack the closest enemy. Others spells will allow you to play the cello and have flying notes then go all over the screen and give damage to all enemies, ones that can cast fire (to burn down things) and also water.

And another tidbit:

The [fight against the] orchestra conductor boss will basically be a rhythm mini game where you will have to move the wiimote and nunchuck at the right moments in rhythm (like indicated on screen) to attack him with flying musical notes coming out of the cello.

The complete article is here, but basically quotes the majority of Bernard’s original post sharing the rejected concept. It sounds like an entertaining concept and a good old-fashioned game. But then, I’m a cellist, and the idea of a character having the power to fight enemies by producing music that attacks them in different ways amuses me to no end. If I can’t have a Cello Hero game, then I’d settle quite happily for this. The Wii would be terrific for a cello game; the remote and the nunchuck combo is brilliant.

Damn

So what does one do when one had a headache?

One plays the cello,of course! After all, this 7/8 goes back on Saturday and I’m not going to have much more opportunity to play it. I haven’t touched it since the second-to-last rehearsal with orchestra. So I hauled it out to play through some stuff.

Wow, the Breval sonata in C never sounded so good. Seriously.

Also? While playing ‘Ana Ng’ and ‘Experimental Film’ I discovered this instrument’s overtones. Helloooo, lovely overtones. You make TMBG basslines sound like high art.

Again, I don’t know how much of this has to do with the shiny-new! effect, or the newer strings, or what. But it certainly sounded pretty. And I’m starting to feel how much easier it is to play around the slightly smaller body of the 7/8.

It’s still going back on Saturday; I can’t buy it right now, and I’d still be very on the fence about it if I could. But these are things to make note of.

Catch-Up

Friday morning: government refund cheque on overpaid student loan insurance. Small, but enough to put gas in the tank and food in the cooler. Thank you, money fairies! We can go to the godforsaken howling wilderness on Saturday after all!

And so we enjoyed a lovely afternoon, evening, and morning chez Fearsclave and his lovely wife, along with t! and Jan, new local house-owners (though not local dwellers till the end of summer), and Mousme. Those twenty hours away did us a world of good. The boy stayed home with his local grandparents and didn’t miss us at all. There were shandies (or straight beer if you were pretty much everyone other than myself), burgers and sausage dogs, a bonfire and roasted marshmallows, blessedly deep sleep, then a lovely clear morning. We have now partaken of t!’s justifiably famous french toast (made with bread specially developed for this purpose by Jan), served with lashings of thick bacon and beer-boiled sausages. We consider ourselves extremely fortunate.

Yes, that was the weekend: food, relaxing, sun, friends, nothing much else. Cats, yes. Also Jack the dog. And several uninvited mosquitoes.

I slept horribly last night here at home.

This morning the boy and I cruised the local pet store for fun, then visited the Melange Magique for incense and to poke around at nifty other stuff. The boy went Tequila-hunting (smart cat hid from him a lot), played in the ‘tents’ (AKA the reader’s corners), and practised going down the stairs headfirst in a controlled fashion. Nightdemons even gave him a little coloured onyx egg of his very own. He would have chosen a blue one if he hadn’t discovered that one of the six year old girls he idolises would choose purple. Naturally, he instantly chose a purple one himself. I came home with light floral incenses to cheer me up in general and put a research book aside for later purchase. Lo and behold, upon our arrival back home, there in the mailbox was my first cheque from the freelance gig I began at the end of May, so huzzah! All the work I’ve been doing to get the damn money moving seems to be paying off (literally). Also not a huge cheque, but it’s the principle of the thing.

Last night I finished reading Ink & Steel, the first part of The Stratford Man duology by Elizabeth Bear. I’ve already geeked out on her journal about how excellent it was. I direct you to her website to read the available excerpted material and get yourself hooked. No, you don’t have to read Blood & Iron and Whiskey & Water to read Ink & Steel and Hell & Earth; they’re all part of the same universe but not in a serial fashion (beyond the loose duology of the first pair, and the definite duology of the second pair). Very, very worth reading. Bear continually astonishes me with her versatility and her ability to handle any genre at which she tries her hand. The heart of her success is most likely related to the fact that she writes a good story, about real characters with flaws and irrationalities as well as strengths, and makes it happen in a setting that has enough detail to create an entire atmosphere without going overboard. Also Elizabethan England, vile playwrights, and Faerie pretty much covers all the stuff I squee about, so when tied together, huzzah!

I have no idea what I’ll read next. The beginning of July was pretty much centred on Ink & Steel. Kind of like how my life in general can’t be planned beyond the Canada Day concert because I’m so focused on it during the months leading up to it, I hadn’t thought about what I’d read once I’d consumed Ink & Steel. Non-reading-schedule-wise, there’s a wedding to perform on Thursday, and I have a birthday coming up for which I’d like to do something but I’m so exhausted right now I can’t think of what I’d actually enjoy. Maybe just a Hurley’s thing, despite how crowded and loud it can get; if it’s my birthday I can leave whenever I like, after all. Except that necessitates babysitting, which I can’t afford. And I don’t want to have people over because that’s also exhausting on several levels, and although we all tend to forget it (including myself until I do something stupid) I do live with a chronic fatigue and pain syndrome. I just got off the phone with my mother, and she suggested a picnic in one of the local parks, an idea which has mountains of merit. I think I’ll talk that through with HRH tonight.

The Ongoing 7/8 Report

For reference purposes I’m labeling this Eastman VC-100 7/8 I’m currently play-testing as Number 3, the Scarlatti 7/8 I tried at Wilder & Davis as Number 2, and the original Eastman VC-100 that was sold Number 1.

I did a bit of recording in my office, and it’s not the same as the recording I did at the second luthierie. It’s completely the environment; when I recorded the second 7/8 it was in a practice room lined with cellos, and so the sound was super resonant, because all of them were vibrating when I played. I have no way of checking the actual sound unless I sign out the Number 2 on home trial and record it here. Which I may do at some point this summer, I suppose. One must entertain oneself somehow.

This third one just doesn’t grab me. I don’t feel the same smoothness. The action’s pretty high, probably because those extra millimetres of string length have to come from somewhere. It doesn’t bother my fingers, though.

I haven’t touched the bow. I tried it a bit and it needs a lot more rosin; it skipped around a lot. The balance seems all right, as does the weight. Nothing outstanding.

The finish is a polished satin, but I liked the colour of Number 1 better. I am very, very shallow. But it’s part of the aesthetic.

I took it to rehearsal last week, and it performed adequately in the ensemble. The sound was slightly warmer than my 4/4, which tends to a more brittle sound. I don’t know how much of this is due to the newer strings. Mine are a year old, after all. I did have to fine-tune frequently throughout rehearsal. (Yikes — I just double-checked, and mine are not one but two years old. Oy! I remembered getting them just before a spring gig, and evidently it wasn’t the Victoria Day 2007 concert but the April 2006 concert just before t! and Jan got married.)

Part of my problem is the cello I buy now won’t be the same in a couple of years; they need to be played in before the sound matures. Mine’s had forty years of settling in. This one was made last year and would need a lot of work to break it in properly. (Hell, my strings are older than this 7/8.) Of course, this is true of any new cello I buy. Still.

I do adore the case with much adoration, however. Not that this will be a deciding factor. It’s good to know if I can’t afford a hard case, however, I can buy this kind of soft case for the next cello and it will be better protected than the thinner gig case I use now. (Which is, I have discovered to my absolute horror, scratching the sides of the cello. Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad! Did I mention it’s bad? And bad?)

Part of me is still thinking I should look at a step or two higher. Sure, the quality of the VC-100 is equivalent to mine, which is a high-end student model itself, but I really do want to upgrade in quality as well as the size. The size and playability might make a long-term difference, but I can’t evaluate that until I’ve had the damn thing long-term. I want to visit a shop in Toronto when we’re up there later this month and see what they have, too. I thought about asking Olivier to order in an other one, but I don’t think I will at this point.

I can’t see the point in buying something that’s equivalent to mine but with a slightly different shape. Number 1 had enough of a difference in sound and feel that I considered buying it. I simply don’t like this one enough. I’ll play it again early next week, but I’m fairly certain it’s going back. (Well, it’s going back either way; I don’t have the money for it at the moment.) If I loved it I’d have negotiated putting a deposit on it, but I don’t, so that’s that.

Canada Day Concert Recap

Can I get away with saying “Best Canada Day concert ever?”

Not really, I suppose. And it wouldn’t do posterity any good, either. The main reason I journal is so that I can go back and refer to it, after all, so a bit more detail is necessary.

First of all, hearty thanks go out to the following in the order I saw them before the concert: my mum and dad, MLG, ADZO, t!, Jan, Lu, Ceri, Scott, Marc, Miseri, Mousme, tcaptain and J. One of the reasons I love this concert is because I see friends I don’t see often. Your presence was deeply appreciated, and I hope you all enjoyed yourselves. And thanks go out to everyone who wanted to be there but couldn’t as well.

And of course, deepest thanks go to HRH and the boy, for making it an extra-special concert. This was the first concert the boy was old enough to attend properly and be aware of what was going on. He’s known for weeks that it was coming up, and as the date approached I reminded him, shared some of the music with him, and looked through his book about instruments to explore the different kinds of things he’d see. He stayed for the warm up and by all reports enjoyed himself thoroughly, sometimes tapping along with the rhythm on the back of the pew in front of him, sometimes conducting like Douglas. After the warm up he pulled me outside to a jungle gym-type thing next to the school across from the church where he proceeded to throw himself up ladders, across hanging bridges, and down slides in all possible ways, encouraging me to do the same. Then MLG and ADZO showed up and he exhorted them to join him in his play too. Then he called some random teenagers over: “Hey, hi! Come play with me! Come slide!” and he did it with such openness and enthusiasm that they did so with decent humour. We met up with a few other people (Lu brought me swag from the BEC! I have an TSFT lace hairband among ARCs and books for the boy and other things!) and then I headed back to join the others preparing for play. (The music kind, not the jungle gym kind.)

We were fortunate in the weather. There have been awful, awful days when the night has been dreadfully humid and sticky, and there have been nights where the wind has been so bad we lost music and stands. But this night was just about perfect. It was hot (it’s July, after all) but fingers weren’t slipping on keys or strings and shirts weren’t sopping wet. It was pretty much perfect.

There’s something remarkably special about playing the national anthem. First of all, the cello line is so unlike the melody we sing that it’s really unique to hear how it all fits together. Second, there’s something very powerful about how the drum roll steadies and then initialises the orchestra. Third, it’s incredible to sense the audience suddenly recognising what’s happening and surging to its feet, joining in with the vocal line around the third note. Finally, it’s just so damn cool to play it and to hear a few hundred people singing the anthem to orchestral accompaniment. And there’s always an extra bonus when people applaud. Traditionally the anthem isn’t applauded, and while I’m sure there’s some sort of philosophical reason for it, I can’t think of a time when I’m more prompted to applaud than after a stirring rendition of the anthem, partially for the anthem itself and the nation (yay us!) and partly for the performers. Besides, it was Canada Day.

While I never hit the cello zone, I was very comfortable throughout this performance and please with my work. I enjoyed myself a lot, which on its own is huge. I had no major technical issues during the concert. The finger I use for pizzicato froze up during “Younger Than the Springtime” as it always does, but apart from that and some minor intonation issues (I can’t hear a thing in that church, it melds all the sound together), and a bit where both the principal and I stopped in frustration because the cellist behind her was playing very loudly and racing ahead in a certain passage in the first piece and we couldn’t hear things well enough to keep the proper pace going, it was a very good concert from the performance side of things. It was lovely from the artistic side, too. I like to begin with a piece I find pretty because it gives me confidence for the rest of the night, and the Symphony no. 3 (by not-really-Mozart) has a beautiful and expressive second movement that I love to play. I greatly appreciated not beginning with the Figaro overture, as it has some finicky technical stuff that would have frustrated me had I played it cold. As it was we did a very good job of it, nice and quick. The church may muddle sound but it also makes it sound very large and well-blended, so the overture had a very nice overall presentation that allowed some of the less precise stuff to slip through without calling much attention to itself. The 32nd symphony went well too.

The second half of the concert was the musicals, and we nailed them. We absolutely nailed them. In the past we have done passable renditions of some medleys, but these are decent arrangements and we were really on. It helps to have a good brass section for these things, and ours handled things just fine, thanks. I heard people in the audience singing along at a couple of places, and there were people crying at the end of The Sound of Music medley (of course they were, the ‘Climb Every Mountain’ arrangement was specifically designed to rip shamelessly at heartstrings). It’s always good for the ego to see people surging to their feet almost as soon as the conductor has cut the orchestra off, and to hear the wave of applause crash into us.

Sitting right next to the conductor means I make a lot of eye contact with him throughout the concert, and I get to see his face as soon as we’re done each piece. He winks at us with a crooked grin, or beams, or clenches a fist in a “yes!” motion, or nods and places his baton on his stand, or gives us a wordless smile to tell us we aced it before turning around to accept the applause and bow. Seeing his immediate emotional reaction is worth a lot. He’s genuinely happy for us, or thrilled at what he pulled out of us; he acknowledges what we’ve done. I like to smile back at him and nod, to reinforce what he’s given us and to thank him wordlessly in return. I often get a chance to thank him in person after the concert as well, and he always seems so hesitant, so unlike the caught-up-in-the-moment triumph in the moments following the final chord. He told us at the dress rehearsal there would be no encore, that he’s not “an encore kind of guy”. “Leave them wanting more” is more his style, and I can see his point. It’s great to leave things on that much of a high, vibrating with that much energy. An encore is satisfying in a very different way. (Besides, where could we go after ‘Climb Every Mountain’? Nowhere, that’s where.)

My deepest hope for this concert was that the boy wouldn’t fall asleep or get so cranky that HRH would have to take him away from the concert. He was fine but squirmy, and HRH took him to sit on the steps to listen to the music. And when we began the Sound of Music he looked at HRH and said with excitement, “That’s from my movie!” “Do you remember what it was called?” HRH asked. “Sound,” the boy said after thinking about it for a moment. “The Sound of Music, that’s right,” said HRH. Another parent with a girl on the steps looked at him incredulously and said, “He’s how old?” “Three,” HRH told her, “but his mother is in the orchestra.” (We apologise for his precociousness, it’s subject-related, we assure you.) HRH brought him back in during the post-concert applause and they both applauded. HRH tells me the boy applauded enthusiastically after each piece during the whole concert, too. I was so pleased that he’d lasted the whole night, and that he’d had the opportunity to listen to the Sound of Music medley. I knew it would be exciting for him to hear us play something he knew.

As we’d expected, the boy was tired enough that we had to head directly home; no fireworks for us this year. He laid his head against the edge of his seat and stared out the window until he pulled his cap down over his face and drowsed. When we got him home at ten o’clock he went right to bed. I snuggled next to him, and he said sleepily, “Oh no, Mama, we forgot your cello at the concert!” I assured him it had been in the back of the car and it was safely home again, and he was asleep in seconds. We heard the faint sounds of fireworks in the neighbouring boroughs as we got ready for bed.

This was one of my favourite Canada Day concerts. It also marks the end of my seventh season with the orchestra. This time of year is always bittersweet for me, because I like to ride the high of a concert and use it to propel me into the next set of music. Without the structure of rehearsals every week I tend to lose momentum and stop playing. I have the ongoing search for the 7/8 to keep me going, but being on hold financially takes a lot of steam out of that project, and without rehearsal to test the various cellos in a group environment I lose out on that aspect of the home trial. (In fact there’s a post due on the current 7/8 trial; it will come soonish.) It’s hard to walk out of a concert on that kind of high and know you won’t see everyone again for two months. We all scatter with instruments and stands and sometimes you can’t even find section mates to bid them a good summer. I did get the chance to thank our substitute principal for stepping in to help keep us even and confident for this concert, and thank our conductor for a wonderful concert and an excellent season. The orchestra as a whole thanked our secretary/librarian/general manager with a lovely bouquet of roses; she really has done an incredible amount of work this season.

I’ve gained a lot of technique this year, and I owe a lot of that to our section leader. I absorb so much by simply sitting next to her. There’s also a certain amount of pressure that comes from sitting right in front of the conductor (oh gods, he hears every wrong note I play), and it’s done me a lot of good. I think my expression has firmed up a bit too, partly from the kind of music we’ve been playing, and partly from reading things like The Art of Practicing, Making Music for the Joy of It, and Rosindust, all of which talk about the emotion associated with playing and how to communicate it. It’s important to remember that we make music because we love it. I think one of the reasons I prefer to play in ensembles is because I can relax more and merge my sound with someone else’s. (I had a partial solo of two notes this concert! Yes! I played them with the principal, sharing the first note and playing a different note afterwards! If you were there you probably didn’t notice. That’s okay. I know it was marked ‘Solo’ in the music and that’s what counts. And yes, I played it very nicely.)

I should really think seriously about lessons again.

Okay, this is very long, and more than enough. It was good, it was great, I loved it, I’m very pleased with how I played and with the overall evening. The end.

No, wait, one more thing: I hate it when audience members rush the stage to talk to people or to get to the bathroom before anyone else. We have sensitive and freaking expensive instruments here, people, and there’s a mess of stands and chairs. The amount of times I had to step in front of people so they wouldn’t kick my cello or knock a stand over onto someone or another instrument was unreal. Sheesh. At one concert we made an announcement to the effect of “stay back you thoughtless mob until the musicians have left the stage, thank you”; I think we should do it every concert. Also, people who won’t step out of the way when one is attempting to carry an instrument past/around them annoys me greatly as well. I move to the side as much as I can, but they just stand there. I’m not sure what they expect me to do, other than to politely repeat “Excuse me, may I get past?” Gnarr.

All right, now I’m done.

ETA: No, I’m not. I added photos. Finally someone has taken a picture of me playing in the orchestra! HRH did a simple point and shoot while corralling the boy while we warmed up. I like it. I needed to lighten it a bit, but it’s decent regardless. The only problem? It demonstrates how a mid-calf length skirt is Just Too Short on a cellist. Damn chairs; damn cellos. A bit too much leg, there. (HRH: “I liked it.” ME: “Yes, and I’m sure the most of our friends did too, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s inappropriate.”)

Blue

I don’t know if it’s the weather, the new to-the-penny financial stress (one wonders what the point of trying is, really) or scheduling hassles that are getting me down, but I’m down today. Actually, I think it may have begun sometime yesterday afternoon in a pale lilac shade, has slowly deepened more towards a violet, and now is well and truly blue. Part of it is the post-concert blues, of course. These are always especially bad after a concert as excellent as this past one, because there’s more of a high from which to tumble down. There will be a concert recap later today. Part of it is also the ongoing stress of waiting for paycheques that don’t come. Every day I think, Hey, today could be the day when there might actually be a cheque in the mailbox! and every day I’m disappointed.

I had a good day with the boy yesterday. We didn’t do the caregiver thing as is customary on Wednesdays because we knew he’d be up late on Tuesday and that he’d be off on Wednesday as a result. We paid the car registration (while we waited, the boy entertained himself by bringing me leaflets and saying, “Let’s read this book, Mama!” Sure, kid. How about I skip the words in the one entitled ‘In the Event of a Hit and Run’ and we just play the ‘identify this road sign’ game?), chased butterflies on the way back to the car, then went to the big book store to pick up a book I’ve been waiting for for months and months. (I now have my very own copy of Elizabeth Bear’s Ink & Steel, having finally tracked down a staff member in order to ask her to check in the back, because despite the computer insisting that there were two in stock there were none on the shelf. She returned reading the back cover copy and said, “Wow, this looks really good!” so I cheerfully did a reverse hand-sell of all Bear’s work to her. Nothing like selling to a book store employee. Good times.) The boy actually agreed to only look at the trains and not play with them, and he was very nearly true to his word. He very transparently steered me down an aisle and affected surprise when it opened up into the play area, saying, “Oh, look, Mama, the train table!” I let him put his train on it and run it around a bend before reminding him about our deal to go to the pet store to see the animals instead of playing with the trains, and he came quite willingly. So to the pet store we went and saw many many animals, including a very sweet Senegal parrot who quietly leaned its head against the bars and gazed into my eyes until I reached a fingertip in and scratched its head gently for a few minutes. It never took its eyes from mine. It broke my heart to eventually walk away.

After a lunch the boy went down for a nap (three hours! well, he didn’t get to bed until ten after the concert, so it wasn’t unusual, just very welcome). I fully intended to read Ink & Steel all afternoon but I’d only read the first couple of chapters when I realised I wasn’t in the right mood to do Bear’s work justice, and as I’d been waiting for The Stratford Man duology for so damn long I didn’t want to ruin the reading of it. I picked up Frank Conroy’s Body & Soul instead and read it cover to cover by bedtime. I somehow also managed to read all of Charlie Bone and the Hidden King. Go me; three books read this month by July 3.

I wish I didn’t feel so melancholy. My throat is swollen and my eyes are stinging for no particular reason. I should go light a whole bunch of candles. They’ll help take some of the water out of the air, too.