Monday, February 25, 2008

I have it on good authority--it really was live music!

The big spring concert for the Tehachapi Community Orchestra was yesterday. It has been some time since I've attended one of their concerts, but was looking forward to this one, not only because they were to have a guest performer, Christopher Parkening, a classical guitarist of some note, but one of their selections was written by Elmer Bernstein whose movie scores I find particularly enjoyable. As things turned out, the orchestra had a healthy dose of support; as "curtain" approached (except that there wasn't a curtain), the ushers had to start turning people away. There wasn't a seat to be had in the main hall. Luckily there was still a side hall. The sound here was creditably good, though the view (above, for your edification) might be said to be a bit restricted. The orchestra began with a piece by Chadwick (though I rattle the name off debonairely, I had never heard of him before yesterday, and even now I am getting all of my information off the program), then Mr. Parkening came out and played Bernstein's "Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra". To sneak furtively into the desk of a critic, it was a very exciting piece. Though it wasn't notable for its themes (it always seemed to be going somewhere, but never quite got there), it was pleasant listening, nicely executed by all concerned; I don't think I would have minded had it gone on twice as long. I had never noticed the interesting use Bernstein makes of percussion, a rattle of snare here, a single clack of wooden blocks there--to say nothing of the gong! (I am told) the three percussionists were dashing madly about to supply all the required musical punctuation on the required beat.
When the Bernstein piece was ended, the orchestra took a well-earned rest, and Mr. Parkening played a solo, unexpectedly, "My Country Tis of Thee", with all the art and ornamentation appropriate to the guitar. He followed this with something (though the music was audible the announcements were not, and his solos were not in the program) either Turkish or composed by somebody traveling through Turkey. . .anyway, it was insane, breathtaking, and delightful. I wish I knew the correct terminology for the droning that is so effective on a guitar, anyway, in practice, the player hits one of the low strings over and over again while he somehow manages to play a tune on the higher strings. This was a whirlwind of a tune, and Mr. Parkening never missed a note of the drones while still managing to hit every one of the capricious sharps and flats Middle Eastern music demands. It was over entirely too soon.
The second half of the concert was Edward MacDowell's "Suite No. 1 in D Minor" (yes, I'm looking at the program again). It was a definite disadvantage to be unable to see the performers as the piece demanded such an interplay between the sections, sometimes anchoring on the brass, other times weaving the strings and woodwinds inextricably together. Again, we couldn't hear the announcements, and , at the close of the suite, all of us in the side hall assumed that that was the end, since nothing was left on the program. Everyone had just enough time to begin sidling for an exit when the orchestra pulled a rabbit out of their hat in the form of the theme from "The Magnificent Seven". A bit of an electric shock ran through the entire building at that; to say it is a stirring piece is The Magnificent Understatement. My sister said later that she's been thinking for years that that was the piece the orchestra needed to play. . .I'm glad she appreciated it, though I had at least one advantage over her in the matter. Various responsibilities had kept her home from the concert--at least I heard it!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Here we go again!

I was driving a friend home from rehersal earlier this week and was jerked from my late-night ennui by the sight of something delightfully entomological up near her porch light. Of course, I had to get out for a closer look. Despite the violent extremes of the weather lately, there are evidently a few hardy moths wandering around. This is a Pacific green sphinx (Arctonotus lucidus), about as winterish a moth as we're likely to see here. There is a little more information on it here:

If you scroll about halfway down this page,
you can see some examples of Clarkia, which are supposed to be the host plant for Arctonotus. The leaves must come out much earlier than the flowers--as my Dad pointed out, the most noticeable Clarkia around here ("Farewell-to-Spring") doesn't bloom until May or so.


My breaks at work usually consists of a busman's holiday--looking things up on the computer as opposed to. . .looking things up on the computer. When the links are interesting enough, I save them for later. It occured to me yesterday that some of them might be interesting enough to pass around to other folks, so here are a few; hopefully something for everyone in here!

James Graham’s new CD
My favorite Scots Gaelic singer; I happened to catch him singing on Traveling Folk, a BBC radio program* a few years ago in a great live recording of the Young Scottish Traditional Musician of the Year competition. I've been meaning to write up a review of his CD's one of these days, but I think the reviews on Footstompin' Records pretty well cover anything I could say--he's good! And for the language fans out there, his CD jackets include both the Gaelic words and an English translation. James Graham also appears in the beautiful recording on the very bottom of this page, though it's group singing:
(This page is a nice introduction to Gaelic singing in general, too.)

Freddie Green
Quite a different sort of music! Freddie Green was the long-time rhythm guitarist for Count Basie's band. I have some aspirations of learning to play this style of guitar (it would help if I would practice) and admire his views on the role of a rhythm guitarist, not to mention his playing.

Gaeilge quiz
This is Irish Gaelic, and I haven't tried it yet, but it looks useful.

Vaquero expert
Again, one of those sites which I saved since it was full of information, but haven't had a good look at yet. The vaqueros are, to my way of thinking, among the most interesting figures of California history.

*Which reminds me--BBC Radio Scotland is great fun with its "Listen Again" feature; you can stream the week's archived shows. Traveling Folk has a lot of variety, if you are in a folksy mood, but my favorite is Pipeline, the bagpiping hour. It has a *lot* of good music, as well as interviews with the great pipers.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

SO last week

I went out to go to work the other morning and found my car covered in frost. I wish I hadn't been in such a hurry--it was a regular gallery of designs--but I was able to stop and snap a picture or two.

Today, by contrast, the weather must have been up in the 70's. I found a beautifully easy reed lurking in the depths of my pipe case and spent a very happy hour in the shade of an oak tree (yes, it was the sort of weather where you actually wanted to stand in the shade!) paying attention to some long-neglected tunes.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Cold Comfort

When we were growing up we had a picture-book version of James Herriot’s story Moses the Kitten. Though it was a delightful story, the thing that made the biggest impression on my young mind was the rather grim line:

I had driven about ten miles from home, thinking all the time that the Dales always looked their coldest, not when they were covered with snow, but as now, when the first sprinkling streaked the bare flanks of the fells in bars of black and white like the ribs of a crouching beast.

For some reason I have never since been able to look at the hills north of town without recalling that comparison. Above you can see them as they looked last week—ribs and all.

We are currently in a “winter storm warning." We woke up to the heaviest and most delightful rain that has blessed these parts in quite some time. I attempted a bit of a jog early in the afternoon and got an eyeful of the black of trees, the grey of rocks and the white of the hills. (At one point, I also got an earful of sleet--very unpoetic, not to mention uncomfortable.) I must have been in a literary mood this week because when I passed a great flock of sparrows huddled together on the telephone wires singing away like mad, I felt a reminder of something tugging at my brain. After a hot shower at home, I found this in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:

“. . .with many birds bleakly on the bare twigs sitting
that piteously piped there for pain of the cold.”

(translation by J.R.R. Tolkien)

Nothing about telephone wires, but it does capture the feeling of that rather forced cacaphony in the sleet.