80s Basement Lecture Series

In November 2016 we bought a house. We moved in the next month. The idea of having the space to host events or parties crossed my mind. Our basement looked like hasn’t been updated since the 1980s, and this is where we set up the TV for movies and games. In February 2017 we started a quarterly lecture series, and we would hold each lecture in our 80s basement living room. We’d invite people over, we’d eat treats, and speakers would be our friends.

2017

18 February – Satire, by Reilly Ryan

Reilly started of our series with a fun discussion about satire. He provided a few written and video examples; he talked about his thesis, which discussed whether a show like Family Guy (compared to the Simpsons) was satire. (I actually blogged about this lecture here.)

20 May – Poison Control Center, by Amber Johnson

Amber is Reilly’s older sister. She talked about the Utah Poison Control Center, where she works. She provided pointers on keeping our homes safe and what to do in the event of a poisoning. Since this lecture she has been promoted to Director of the UPCC, which now also doubles at the Utah Coronavirus Hotline.

19 August – Horror, by Jonathan Smith

Jon knows a lot about horror movies. He spoke to us about horror films and the commentary they provide about family. We watched a few excerpts from classic scary movies and analyzed them.

11 November – Introduction to Fan Studies, by Melissa Beattie (Skype)

Melissa, a professor, talked to us about the ins and outs of being a fan. We talked about fanfic. She mentioned a lot of pop references and talked about fan events and culture such as Comic Con, as well as the history and basics of fan theory.

2018

17 February – Bali and Gamelan, by Gavin Ryan

Gavin is one of Reilly’s brothers. He presented a lecture about Bali music and culture, and he brought some Gamelan instruments for a performance.

26 May – Immunohistochemistry and Libraries, by May Ryan

I talked about the app that I maintain for work. I also talked about the importance of libraries.

25 August – Semiotics and Tarot, by Bridgette Tuckfield (Skype)

We learned about tarot cards! The history and meanings behind signs. A very cool discussion.

10 November – Nigerian Literature, by Kylie McQuarrie

Kylie presented the work of several African authors, and how important they are in context of war and oppression.

2019

23 February – COLD Podcast, by Dave Cawley

Our biggest crowd. Dave had released his true crime podcast just a couple of months before. We were lucky to have booked him before all the other speaking engagements came along. For us, he told the Susan Powell story and gave background on all the footage and other artifacts that enrich this story.

4 May – Fur Foxen concert and Q&A

My hairstylist happens to play cello and sing in a band. We invited them to give a really nice, chill concert and answer some questions about their process.

24 August – Highway Typefaces, by Marjorie Smith

Very fun lecture about the history of highway typefaces, which includes some surprising drama. Everyone probably now notices the details of freeway signs now.

23 November – Visual Effects, by Ryan Sonderegger

Ryan talked about some of the technical aspects of his work. We discussed some of his more well-known projects. Very fascinating.

2020

22 February – Cheese, by Joseph Peterson

We sampled so many cheeses! Some were awesome; some required an acquired taste. We paired cheeses with crackers and breads and fruits. It’s always fun to discuss food.

We didn’t miss a quarter for three years. All of these lectures were amazing. We learned about so many really interesting things. We gained a deeper understanding of social issues and other cultures. This was also a chance/excuse to get like-minded friends to gather in a safe space, a tiny blue dot in the middle of our obnoxiously red county. We aired our grievances and frustrations with the political climate. (We closed on our house just before the 2016 election.) We loved being able to hang out with such wonderful people.

Lectures went right up to the cusp of pre-pandemic and pandemic times. We haven’t even held a lecture since then. Not even online, though I’ve toyed with the idea. But we’ve all been dealing with isolation and anxiety and everything else that came with the pandemic. We’ve been depressed and cabin-fevered; wanting to break out into society and wanting to keep the blankets over our heads at the same time. These have been difficult times. But with vaccines becoming more accessible and as more people get vaccinated, we’ll be able to gather safely soon. Hopefully.

I miss those guys.

Karim Dabbèche Animation to Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 19, II. Scherzo: Vivacissimo, Performed by Hilary Hahn

I have included watching this video into my daughter’s morning routine:

We listen to the whole thing. Z may wander during this piece, but she makes sure she watches the part where the main character falls out of the subway train. It seems she also likes to watch them stand up after falling down. Which is pretty dang cool.

The other day I scrolled through comments to this video and came across this opinion.

To be honest, I knee-jerked when I first read this. Like, I was sort of offended? But I didn’t need to be. I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to understand this person’s perspective. I get it: Hilary Hahn is mesmerizing to watch. But without really knowing this commenter, maybe I’ll try unpacking what they said here.

Disclaimer: This is not a defense of Hilary Hahn, as she does not need defending. This is a rebuttal of an opinion of a YouTube commenter. That is all.

I’m a fan of Hilary Hahn. Oh, me too! She’s so talented. She has great energy as a performer. A beautiful personality, and very gracious to her fans. I mean, here Commenter is setting up for the but of their comment. I can feel it.

I appreciate her sincerety [sic] and commitment to her music. I agree! She’s very sincere! She’s very committed to her music. Both are not always simultaneously present in famous musicians or public figures in general. The way she presents her 100 Days of Practice demonstrates both of these qualities in spades: she offers valuable music and life wisdom, and in the 100 days themselves she shows her dedication to her craft. Plus she provides videos of her practicing, so we get to see her every day during this time. This would be an easy thing to feel entitled to. Even as her adoring fans we are not entitled to see Hilary Hahn every day.

That said… “but…”

I would rather… Commenter is stating a preference, which they are absolutely entitled to. People like what they like. Just like I’m stating my preferences right here. Which happen to mostly disagree with Commenter.

I would rather watch her play the music than watch animations. Commenter seems to be dismissing the work of the animator here (as a preference, but still). Hilary Hahn has made an effort to work with Karim Dabbèche in his interpretation of this Prokofiev work. This is a collaboration of interpretations. A different expression of Hilary’s “sincerity and commitment to her music.” And why not promote other artists? Dabbèche is clearly talented, and this video is legitimately cool, and Hilary testifies that it captures the spirit and weirdness and charm of Paris. This work also overflows with real representation of diverse backgrounds and cultures, which is really what we need. It’s refreshing, frankly. That she has played an active part in bringing this video to reality says a lot about her generosity and breadth of creativity as a human being. And she wanted to share it with us. I’m so grateful she did.

I mean, right?

Done ranting now.

Supergroups I’m Currently Into

I’m With Her – bluegrass, Americana: Sarah Jarosz, Sara Watkins, Aoife O’Donovan. Because I’m a long time Nickel Creek fan, I happened to come across their individual projects. I’ve seen both Punch Brothers and I’m With Her live, and they are fantastic. The solo pursuits of these ladies here are remarkable, too.

The Highwomen – country, bluegrass, Americana: Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires

I saw Brandi Carlile in concert a month before the pandemic shut everything down. It was a transcendent experience. My mother-in-law was listening to a lot of her music in her last months, and listening to all of Brandi’s stories and songs during her concert sort of took me out of my body and reunited me with Carla. I don’t care how cheesy that sounds.

Our Native Daughters – Black Folk, Americana, bluegrass, sort of unclassifiable? these ladies kick ass at writing about the Black experience: Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell

I’ve been a fan of Rhiannon Giddens for a while, as well as Allison Russell in her other band, Birds of Chicago.

I need more of this.

If you haven’t already, check all these groups out.

Making the Metal Clarinet Playable Again

Bought an old metal clarinet a few weeks ago. 1930s-’40s. When I received it, it was semi-playable. Notes above a certain point would only squeak. After the trial/error process of pressing on certain pads and blowing into the mouthpiece, I discovered that air leaks in the left-hand region of the instrument kept those higher notes from playing. The pads are in decent shape, but I removed what I thought were the problem keys and inspected the springs. Increased their tension. Better, but could be better still. Applied key oil to the joints so the springs wouldn’t have to work so hard. Even better! Then I ordered a cork replacement kit. Replaced my first ever cork today in my burgeoning hobbyist’s career. Now with the clarinet having proper seals, its performance: *chef’s kiss*

A few lessons emerge from this experience. Find the leaks. Address them. Make the seals tight. Take your time, get it right. The overall playability improves significantly. I mean, it’s still a second/third tier metal clarinet from the World War II era, but it’s been fun working on. And it’s fun to play.

I said a few lessons can come from this. I’m sure the analogies will become clearer at a time that isn’t now. I’m tired today.

I’ll still take my wood clarinets to the shop for tune-ups and repairs.

More Disability Access to Concerts?

We have taken our daughter to a variety of concerts. Outdoor: Boyz II Men (lol [but YES]), Sting w/the Utah Symphony, the Utah Symphony accompanying a screening of E.T. Indoors, she attended the Utah Symphony screening of Coco. All situations where concert silence wasn’t enforced or other noises weren’t sneered at. Our daughter can sit still relatively well, and she can keep quiet, but occasional utterances or jabbers are very common for her. She’s experiencing the world in her own way, and this is one way it manifests.

I’ve hesitated taking her to concerts where the sounds coming from her would be considered disruptive and we’d be asked to leave. What would be AWESOME is if this aspect of concert culture moved more toward accessibility and understanding. If, while the house lights flicker and the voice on the loudspeaker tells us to silence our cell phones and take note of the our nearest exit, they could also say, “We have a beautifully diverse audience this evening, and if you notice someone enjoying the concert differently or not as quietly as you’re used to, IT’S OKAY!”

I just want the same opportunities for her to experience the arts. While dedicated events solely for the disabled are appreciated, it would be great if everyone just knew that we’re all there to appreciate beauty. I don’t know. This might be a big ask, but I don’t think this kind of inclusivity is impossible.

Some Sunday Thoughts

The Little lost another tooth.

After a year of only bottom teeth–the four front ones–Z finally lost a top tooth.

Losing teeth always feels like a milestone. Part of the child goes away and a little bit of adult takes her place. Like sorting through outgrown clothes, this aspect of development saddens me a little.

I love that girl so much.

We watched part of the Grammys tonight in Payson. Talked about a few bands that Carla liked. A few songs that are hard to listen to. I walked into the living room to check on Z and my eyes landed on the photo used for Carla’s obituary. One of the tunes we’d discussed just moments before earwormed, and tears welled in my eyes.

“Golden Embers,” by Mandolin Orange.

I’ve always watched the music video of the band performing, and not the story form video. I’ll post the story here, still not having watched it. Not sure I can handle crying right now.

Lyrics here.

Mandolin Orange’s Tides of a Teardrop is a tribute to Andrew’s mother. It’s beautiful, poignant; very relatable.

It’s still hard. That’s really all I can feel right now.

PARIS Arrives

Snow this morning. A gentle drift.

I keep peeking through the front curtains.

Early still. Just a quick glance.

Not yet.

Spend time with the Little in the basement. Watch some television. She loves Mickey’s Christmas Carol in the morning. I fidget and read some news.

An hour passes. One more trip upstairs. One more glance out the window.

It’s there.

There.

I rush to get it out of the snow.

Then. I slow down.

Open it. Catalogue it. Selfies with it.

Now, I listen.

Stravinsky Piece 1 Progress

After a few weeks, I have finally gotten to where I can play the piece all the way through without any huge flubs. This is a big deal, because my fingers now understand what they’re supposed to do, and I can work on musicality. Still need to clean up some fingerings; tone needs more focus in some areas; still need more breath support for lower notes; phrasings and dynamics need polishing. But yeah, here we are. I recorded this two nights ago:

Progress is progress. I’ll take what I can get. Yay!

Exploring and Practicing Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo, Piece 1

Maybe a month into the pandemic (April-ish, 2020), I decided to pick up my clarinet again. The student level model I’ve had since 7th grade. After about 2 months of playing, I bit the bullet and bought an intermediate level clarinet from my local music store.

So I’ve been spending a lot of my inside time recording clarinet ensemble pieces with myself. I like the challenge of keeping time with the metronome and staying in tune with myself. Which is so weird, because different registers on the clarinet can be a little off-tune with the other registers.

But a few weeks ago I broke out some sheet music that I wasn’t very interested in a long time ago. Looked super hard. Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo. Like, it didn’t sound pretty. Melodies I didn’t really get. And the notes were high, and I was unfamiliar with those fingerings, and my all-around chops were not up to snuff.

To offset some of the intimidation, I’ve been listening to Annelien van Wauwe’s recording here:

Many other recordings from different artists exist, but I’ve taken to this one for now. I’ve been listening to it every day, psychologically working up to meet a standard I’ve established for myself.

Two weeks ago, I tried tackling the first half of Piece 1:

Got to clean up any transitions that involve that left C#Db pinky. Also need to create phrases to make the piece make sense.

Then this past week I looked at the second half of Piece 1:

A lot of the same criticisms. Overall this needs to be smoother. It would be nice to decide on a tempo, since Stravinsky’s instructions are to “strictly adhere to” metronome markings (quarter note=52), breath marks, and accents.

This is coming along. I’d like to spend another month on this to get it under my fingers. It’s fun.

Feelings Friday

You know when you’ve slept well and you awake refreshed and it’s gonna be a great day, no matter what? That’s today.

Like it’s mostly puppies and rainbows today, but layers of the other stuff, too. The add-perspective stuff. A cross section of all the strati is beautiful, and it’s important to see.

Reviewing posts from the past couple of years has revived my desire to write as an outlet. To journal feelings for my own mental health.

From June 2019 I began documenting some grief, which still isn’t complete. Which also isn’t a thing that doesn’t really arrive to completion. I’ll definitely revisit that.

Then: a long break to November 2020, when I got upset because it was the election, and emotions were running so hot, both from my cozy echo chamber and friends whose opinions differ, and I didn’t know how to navigate certain relationships. And the immediate reaction was to withdraw from facebook, and unfriend toxicity. I still think that was the right thing to do.

Then this month. With Hilary Hahn’s new album release, and me being a total fan. And today I’m being an unapologetic fan. This album is the bomb. Do they still say that? This album is the shit? That feels weird, though I have taken to swearing more. My official review: Paris is perfect.

AND, my little Zinger’s birthday is coming up next month. My brother’s, too. Gosh, my heart is so full.

See you soon.