Archive for Mad Scribblings

On Being in Tune

OnBeinginTune

Last night on YouTube, I interspersed viewings of hurricane Irma raging across the Caribbean with research into what other clarinettists consider to be playing in tune. My conclusions: This is a poor time to book a Caribbean holiday and, two, most people have not the slightest notion why they are proponents of long-tone exercises.

Playing long tones is like a religion that’s degenerated into empty gestures of devotion. Lacking any concept as to the intent of long tones, one tuning guru said, “The purpose of long tones is to, well, here’s how to do them…”, and he proceeded to play. Later, he added “Long tones are necessary so you can check your pitch”, but as he played, my tuner registered huge pitch swings (I don’t know what criteria he was using to check his pitch—he had no tuner in sight). For him, playing long tones is an act of faith.

Another proponent of long tones kicked off her presentation with the statement, “The reason for playing in tune is so you can play with a piano or other instruments.” While this isn’t entirely incorrect, it entirely misses the point of playing long tones. The primary purpose of playing long tones is to play in tune—with yourself. Each pitch is in tune relative to pitches around it, so once you’ve played a note, the note to follow must correspond in tuning with the first. Also, there are laws of overtones to consider, which is where Mr. Pythagoras enters with his observations about sound waves. A pitch an octave above its predecessor will vibrate at double the rate—if it vibrates at any other rate, you’re out of tune (or you’re not even playing an octave).

Out in the weird world of YouTube, there’s a tuning troll who wants to take issue about tuners and how people use them. He’s learned about Natural tuning and Tempered tuning and wants to use his knowledge to bludgeon the long-tone gurus for their well-intentioned but inaccurate videos. Tuning Troll has a good point, but I think it’s an erudite sideshow designed to distract from the simpler task of playing relative pitches in tune. And here’s why.

Tuning systems don’t even come into play when considering unisons and octaves, which is why they’re a good place to start. Parenthetically, they come in later when looking more deeply at relative pitches and harmonic structures. For example, the note B is tuned differently within a G major triad (it’s the third, which means in Natural tuning it needs to be lower than Tempered tuning would assign it) compared with an E major triad (it’s the fifth, which is relatively higher). For now, stick to unisons and octaves and the good old Pythagorian way.

I’ve left the identities of the above-misguided tuning gurus anonymous, but I’d like to call out this one excellent video on tuning. It’s by master clarinettist Jose Franch-Ballester. I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with him and learn first hand what his approach is, and in my sessions (and most importantly for you, in the following video), he explains the purpose of long tones. It’s almost all you need (well, that, and a couple of iPads) to get started playing in tune.

The Boatman

I

It was an early morning yesterday;
I was up before the dawn.

I’d made a farewell to my father in the night,
and our farewell had the feel
that we’d not meet again.
I could have embarked with him,
but I chose to remain and let him go.
I was done
with hoping,
and waiting,
and instead I’d just come down to the ferry
to see him off.

I gave him a hug,
(but even that landed as a little perfunctory).
He seemed younger (he was a young man again),
but maybe it was I who was older.
The boatman was dressed as an Edwardian-era quartermaster.
The era was wrong. The error was mine.

II

And there was also a woman, my mother.
She had learned to fly
and was therefore suspected of witchcraft.
I knew the real story however.
After all those years chained to a wheelchair,
witchcraft was the last thing on her mind—
she just wanted to get away and be free.

Three men were tracking her as she made
her first attempts to fly.
I don’t know what they thought they’d accomplish following her—
perhaps they’d turn her into the authorities.
They waited too long though,
because all at once she gained full mastery of her powers
and flew up high into the night sky
and out over the sea illuminated
by the light of the moon,
the moon,
the moon,
she danced by the light of the moon…

Somewhere a muffled orchestra tuned up,
but my ear was preoccupied with a different earworm.

Like a ship without an anchor;
like a slave without a chain…

III

It’s funny how a thing can loop back on itself,
because I saw
far below
an outcropping of rocks in the sea
and as I descended,
a dock on which
my father boarded the last boat going somewhere.
Again I hugged him
for the last time;
Again it felt awkward.
For the last time.

As my father’s boat departed for its unknown destination,
my mother slipped along the top of the sky.
The moon hung limp in the darkness a moment
and then it too vanished.
I walked away from the dock.
“Now what?” I thought,
“They’re gone and I’m here”.

There’s a orchestra nearby
and I know
if I go there
I’ll be immersed in people,
and conversations,
and music of course,
and all the things of life.

Good-bye stranger,
And they danced by the light of the moon,
the moon,
the moon,
Good-bye friend,
and they danced,
will we ever,
by the light of the moon,
meet again?

Hey Bird! You’re Beautiful

HeyBrid

As many animals cannot recognise themselves in a mirror, it’s extremely helpful to them if you tell them how great they look. Don’t just walk by and say nothing.

 

Say something reassuring like…

“Hey bird, you’re beautiful!”,

or…

“Way to go Mr. Rat. I like the look. Very edgy, very edgy.”

 

This is tremendously helpful to their self esteem and you’ll probably feel good just saying it too.

rats3.0

Laughter. How did all that get started?

LaughingHands-sm

There’s much talk about the theory of how fire was harnessed,
And of the wheel, of who got killed first, and of Caan and Abel.
But what about laughter? How did all that get started?

Did something rise up out of the depths of endless time,
Having within it, already formed,
The seed of humour?
Like it was tickled into existence.

From what pool of primordial mirth did laughter emerge?
The eye was a blob that evolved to see, of course,
But when did it first twinkle with inner merriment?

Was the first laugh a howl or just a little chuckle, like a spark.
Did the first spark emit a giggle or a chortle?
Then, over millennia, did the little smirks and titters grow and spread.
Until they blazed into guffaws and cackles?

In the time of stones, what foolery ridded men of their ancient hours?
Long before the first civilization arose and fell,
What little tribe of wanderers collapsed
Into gales of laughter?
Before there was slave and master,
What hilarity first captured the people?
Until tears streamed down their rough-hewed cheeks
(now chiseled also with laugh lines).

Who first slapped a knee?
Who was the first joker?
The first clown?
The first wise guy?
Who first discovered the punchline?
Who first laughed at a fart or a funeral?
Who’s belly first ached from laughing?

And when were we first given over entirely to this great mirth?
Like we were tickled into existence.

Sigh.

Grammar NAZIs! Meet your Nuremberg Trial

Or…When good grammar just isn’t good enough…

Vancouver’s suburban Lougheed Highway wends its way through Burnaby with predictable consistency. At each Skytrain station paralleling the route follows a rhythmic punctuation of corporate conformity — a London Drugs, a Starbucks, a Buy-Low Foods, a capping glass condo tower. Then repeat to the horizon line. Monotony enough to put envy into the heart of any Cold War-era urban planner. So much for Capitalist diversity.

How gratifying to know then that there are a few cells of non conformity hiding within the corporate state. Take for example, the copy editor. While much of the literate world has long since parsed out the difference between “its” and “it’s”, how refreshing to come upon a non-conformist writer who dares to shake up the rules of grammar a bit. Otherwise, explain these gems.

With its jazzy use of “it’s”, I find this subtitle scintillating. It jumps out like a tangy note of peppercorn in an otherwise grey merlot. “It’s top business sectors” or more accurately “It is top business sectors” connotes authority in a way the correct form just can’t.

Don’t be fooled — the clever writer of this next one knows how to get eyeballs on paper.

Amphibious

Compared with the worn-out tricks of social media gurus and their endless listicles (“OMG – The 7 Things you need to know about nose hairs that will completely change your life forever!”), I’ll choose the well-placed malapropism every time!

There are corporate disruptors; then there are the outright anarchists. The latter I believe to be behind this next masterpiece of subject/pronoun mixology.

Subject/verb agreement magnum opus

Subject/verb agreement magnum opus

Putting aside the grey imagery of office furniture representing not a company and most certainly not people, it would be so simple to just change “company” to “companies” and put an end to this vertiginous dance between the pronoun (“them”) and its potential suitors (the two nouns in the sentence). But isn’t “company” a “them”, which has people in them? Yeah I s’pose, but it’s a collective noun so it should be singular…but wait, it’s people we’re talking about…them is people. Inside people? You see. That’s why I prefer the roller coaster whiplash Magna Search Group unleashed to the pedantic approach favoured by textbooks. It’s far more exciting.

And can you imagine yourself a fly on a wall at the Marketing think tank when they came up with such a slogan? Okay start again, “Only a company is good, if they have people in them.” No, “Inside of a company, they is people, good ‘uns.”, No wait, I’ve got it. “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read”, um…

This next one is just pure anarchy and needs no further comment.

It's raining cats and dogs, with a chance of lizzards this evening...

It’s raining cats and dogs, with a chance of lizzards this evening…

How it ends…not with a bang, nor a whimper…

Scientists speculate sometimes that an asteroid impact would be what it would take to throw us all back into the Stone Age. But no one ever imagines that the end of modernity could actually turn out to be something much less dire…

How it turned out was a coronal mass ejection.

With our power grids destroyed, modernity as we knew it came to an abrupt end. Lacking satellite communications, international travel, automated traffic systems, and mobile phones, we could do nothing but gather with our friends around the piano, singing by candlelight.

Instead of the Stone Age, we’d been thrown back into the Biedermeier.

“They all agreed that they could scarcely remember the time when ceaselessly checking their iPhones seemed so important.”

On the First Day: The Importance of Planning

God knew nothing

I’m taking an IT course at BCIT loftily entitled, “Business Analysis and Systems Design”. It’s about project management for large enterprise systems, and with data coming in that such projects have a terrible track record—about 75 per cent fail or go way over budget—there’s a need to refine the planning process and train people better.

Some have postulated that the universe is really just a vast software system, but that idea always infers that it’s a successful system. What if God knew nothing of project management? What if He just jumped in and started making the cosmos with no clear plan of where he was going?

Here’s one scenario:

God Goofs OffOn the first day, God rested. He figured He had a whole week to create the cosmos so “hey, like what’s the rush?”

On the second day, God got up, made a cup of coffee, and checked His email. He had over 7 million messages.

Most were spam.

On the third day, God logged into Facebook and updated His status—28,000 times.

Then He tweeted about it.

On the fourth day, God realized that He had better start to seriously do something about creating the cosmos, so after lunch He created the night and the day. But then He realized that it might be too dark at night (even with the moon, which he hadn’t created yet), and people would get lost or fall down in the dark and would probably curse His name, so He revised His decision about creating the day and the night deciding that it might be a bit rash without considering all the repercussions of this cosmos building stuff before jumping in.

He resolved to sleep on it and start fresh the next day.

On the fifth day, God got an idea. He decided that He’d create the waters and the firmament. “Oh my God”, said God, “That would be so cool”.

But then He thought, “What’s the point of water and firmament (does anybody even know what the heck “firmament” is anyway?) with nothing to swim in it or fly through it? Instead, He thought it would be super fantastic to create all the birds, bats, insects and other flying things as well as all the fishes that swim in the sea.

He stayed up really late creating all that cool stuff.

The sixth day wasn’t a good day for God. On the sixth day, God woke to find that, without the water and the firmament, all the birds of the air and fishes of the sea had died horrible deaths. It was pretty depressing (and it smelt bad too).

God wasted most of the sixth day cleaning up from the fifth.

On the seventh day, God woke up in a cold sweat well before His alarm clock rang. It was dark and cold and He realized He’d done nothing useful to create the cosmos. He told Himself that He’d certainly tried—”but life can be so unfair, you know”—and now He didn’t have a prayer of getting the cosmos ready in time. What He needed was a miracle.

And just as he was about to curse His fate for the third time, God noticed a handbill from Wal-Mart and it was offering a ready-made cosmos for sale. At these double discounted prices, God knew this would cover His Ass perfectly. Sure it was cheap and made mostly of plastic and particleboard (probably in some country with dubious labour practices and no environmental regulations), but with all the plug n’ play features, it would do just fine as a last-minute solution.

God thought, “Hell, why not?”

wal-mart-smileyOn the eighth day as God checked out of Wal-Mart, He then noticed that, where His original idea for the cosmos stressed cooperation, this pre-fab version was built on the Darwin model of competition­–survival of the fittest. “Oh well”, thought God, “It didn’t matter really.” He was out of time and short on good excuses.

“Besides”, God said to Himself as He left the parking lot,
“No one would even know the difference.”

Simplicity

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc du Berry

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc du Berry

I spent the month of July this year in Paris. In summer, Paris is very exciting with the Fête de la Bastille parade, the Bal des Pompiers, the Tour de France, and many other festivals all happening simultaneously. The city crackles with excitement. Yet with two thousand years of history, what is a little missing in the summer sun are Paris’s subtler sides.

I have a deep love for the quietude and timelessness of Medieval thought. I’ve always admired the multi-panel manuscript Les Très Riches Heures du Duc du Berry for its depiction of simple life…and that blue, blue sky that seems to bear witness to a timelessness now so rare. Part of the book depicts everyday life throughout the year (it’s a book of hours afterall). What I never knew was that in the October panel, the castle is a real one and that it still exists—in part. It is the original Louvre.

Over the centuries this old castle, with its many ardoise turrets, was gradually erased and replaced by successive regimes bent on modernizing it and putting their stamp on it. But in 1989 when excavations were made to build the Carrousel du Louvre (the pyramid), the original Louvre was rediscovered.

One bright and hot day, I followed the self-guided tour that takes you down to the foundations and origins of the Louvre. On the walking tour, you can now walk through the original moat and the substructure of the walls and donjon (keep). There’s nothing much else remaining, just simple stonework, yet my eyes set these stones high against that azure Medieval sky. And stared.

Upstairs, the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and a thousand other art treasures awaited, and yet I stood mesmerized by these unadorned stones. It’s not what you’re looking at so much as what it evokes.

The galley slave, the orchestra conductor, and the kitchen party

There’s a kitchen party going on in my head these days. It could be the air here in the south of France where I’m otherwise churning out corporate blogging content for Vancouver clients, or it could be that I’m discovering that the kitchen party in my head is pretty effective for getting certain things done, I don’t know.

Recently, I read a story, which utilized the popular metaphor of the orchestra conductor to describe enlightened leadership in a corporate setting. I liked the comparison, but I had to look elsewhere for a metaphor that was more enlightened still.

How do Slave Galleys Work?

Credit: funnytimes.com

In the old, OLD days, employees were seen merely as resources (sometimes costly ones). Like a slave galley, most everyone was chained to his post and the “employer” used negative motivation (usually whips and torture) to produce results (i.e., forward movement).

Why is an Orchestra Conductor more Enlightened?

The orchestra conductor metaphor is considered more enlightened, because everyone brings together his or her best talents under the conductor’s light touch, (who of course brings it all together into beautiful music). The emphasis is on bringing out each person’s unique talents.

Dumas – “The orchestra when tragedy is being played”

Having played in a symphony orchestra, I know firsthand that it is not always that enlightened. An orchestra is extremely hierarchical, music is programmed sometimes years in advance, and except for first-chair players, there’s very little freedom to interpret the music freely. Bluntly: Sometimes it’s much, much closer to a slave galley than what you might imagine.

So, Why a Kitchen Party?

In a kitchen party, everyone is draw there because he or she wants to be there. There is no obligation—it’s a party! Everyone participates and everybody shares equally in the creation. There may be a host, but no leader. If you don’t want to play, you can always sit out (or leave). Kitchen parties seldom have distinct rules and, being spontaneous, they tend to follow rules set out by those involved. It’s a viral happening.

Newfoundland_Kitchen_Party_by_AlexisLynch

Credit: Alexis Lynch

I believe that if everyone who disliked his or her job were to quit, after the initial bumps and burps as the world reconfigured itself into one in which people only did what they were drawn to do, things would probably improve considerably. This is the kitchen-party metaphor: Love what you do or do something else.

Xwayxway (Not Stanley Park)

Solstice-sunset-on-Sunset-Beach,-Stanley-ParkSolstice-sunset-on-Sunset-Beach,-Stanley-ParkI wrote this article for the Vancouver Observer in response to the proposal to use the First Nations’ name, Xwayxway, in place of Stanley Park. My article is mostly a romp through history and the many cultural shifts and name changes these shifts have caused.

Anyway, here she goes…

Xwayxway (Not Stanley Park)

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for the old British Empire in Canada. Even the Queen’s visit seemed to be generating undue negative reaction, culminating with accusations that Michaelle Jean’s husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, had suggested the Queen find accommodation in a local hotel (rather than Rideau Hall) whilst visiting Ottawa. Would Motel 6 do? And famously here, there was the suggestion of doing away with Lord Stanley’s eponymously named park in favour of the traditional Xwayxway. What’s next? No more tea at the Empress?

A most interesting case for name changing is Istanbul. That ancient city founded as Byzantium by the Greeks during their heyday in the 600’s BC, it took the name Constantinople when Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire there in 330 AD. It remained the centre of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) until the Ottoman Turks sacked it in 1453, and among other renovations (such as adding minarets to the Hagia Sophia), the name Constantinople got the works and the city was renamed Istanbul. Its stunning Hagia Sophia was first a Christian Church, then an Islamic Mosque, now it’s a secular UNESCO world heritage site.

Journey of Man

Geneticist Spencer Wells has been analyzing human DNA from people in all regions of the world and has traced a journey of man that starts in Africa and in one unbroken lineage leads us around the world in less than 2,000 generations. All the human diversity we see today descends from a single man who lived in Africa around 60,000 years ago.

A very recent discovery, by Western Washington University linguistics professor Edward Vajdof, reveals a linguistic link between the Old World and the New. Vajdof has discovered an ancient language connection between the Ket people of Western Siberia and the language family of Na-Dene, (which includes Tlingit, Gwich’in, Dena’ina, Koyukon, Navajo, Carrier, Hupa, Apache and about 45 other languages). This discovery gives Wells’ DNA studies new meaning. We are not just connected genetically, but also culturally.

As I write this, a First Nations’ delegation is headed to Moscow to meet their 10,000 year old linguistic cousins. The journey continues.

Bradford

On 30 June, I was fortunate enough to be at the official opening ceremonies for Klahowya Village in Stanley Park. The village, located near Malkin Bowl, features an interpretation centre, a re-skinned Stanley Park choo-choo called the Spirit Catcher train, and a chance for local First Nations peoples to put their face forward in the city. We were treated to native singing, dancing, feasting, and long, long speeches of thanks and gratitude.

Strolling around the “village”, I chatted with some First Nations’ folks selling handmade crafts. We chatted affably for a while until a reference was made to the Union Jack as a “Butcher Apron” and some disparaging comments were made about the Queen. My thoughts, “that was uncalled for”. So, while it’s intellectual suicide to trash other cultures, the old predominant culture of Canada, the English, seems to be fair game.

I have only to go back two generations to find myself in the moors of Lancashire and Yorkshire, specifically in Bradford, England. I’ve never visited Bradford, but from what I’ve gathered, my forebears were wise to get out. It’s a dirty bleak industrial town, so I have great thanks that I live in Vancouver and not Bradford. Incidentally, since my grandfather’s childhood there, it now sports a surprisingly large number of mosques—evidence of other journeys. In any case, whatever can be done with Bradford, it will never have anything as wondrous as my Stanley Park. Whatever we call it, Stanley Park is our jewel to the world. It is a unique crossroad for many, many human journeys.