Q: What is the most effective use of time during a practicing and grading all-nighter?
A: A blog post, of course.
I only wrote one post during 2010 and I figured it would be an easy goal to write twice as many in 2011. Here's the first step toward achieving that goal.
Because I'm playing with the Utah Symphony nearly full-time this year I often can't participate in the university orchestra. I shed no tears over this, but since playing in school orchestra is part of my assistantship I had to be assigned other duties to take its place. I ended up being assigned as a TA to a world music class. In theory this sounds like an interesting job, but it's proved to be tedious as best.
This past week I've had the joy and privilege of grading papers. They are short (3-4 pages) essays about a song or piece of music written during and/or about a time of conflict. Here are a few things I've learned from reading these literary masterpieces:
There's no point in writing things in one's own words when one can easily copy and paste someone else's.
Quoting Rocky Balboa can be useful when creating a supporting argument.
Something is terribly wrong with the American education system. These people should not have been allowed to graduate from high school with such poor writing skills.
Biphony is, apparently, a very important and useful music term that can be used to describe any number of musical characteristics.
Using the phrase "seems to be" will absolve you of all wrong-doing if the statement in which it appears is incorrect or downright ridiculous.
It is possible for a person to promote both pacifism and retaliation at the same time.
Toby Keith is one of the greatest artists alive today.
I really wish I didn't have to grade all these papers.
I'm up all night grading these papers and practicing for a lesson tomorrow. I should get back to work--thanks for indulging me in a quick distraction
On Father's Day last year I had a nice little experience. On Sundays, KBYU-FM airs recordings of Leslie Norris reading his prose or poetry. Mr. Norris was a poet and teacher from Wales who taught at BYU from the 1980s until 2004 or so. He was also the Poet-in-Residence at BYU for several years. I'm not especially familiar with his work, but it's always a pleasure to catch a snippet of one of his readings on the radio. This particular Sunday I turned on the radio as I was driving home from church. One of Mr. Norris's readings was on and it quickly caught my attention because I recognized the work being read.
In 10th grade English class we read a short story called "Shaving." Some of you probably read it in school as well--I think it's often used in high school English books. The story really struck me at the time, though, and I never forgot it. The plot, in brief, involves a teenage boy who, after coming home victorious from a rugby match, takes a moment to shave his ailing, bedridden father. The prose was simple and beautiful, and the tender yet melancholy nature of the tale made a lasting impression on my young mind. It was only months after this experience that my own father was diagnosed with cancer, and I often reflected on this story throughout his illness and for years after his death. I could never remember who the author was, and although I probably could have found out easily enough, I never thought to look it up.
As you've probably deduced by now, the story being read on the radio was the one I remembered from high school. I was so glad to hear this story again and to finally find out the author. As I listened to the story on that Father's Day, when my mind was already turned to my dad, I felt again my gratitude for such a wonderful father, my sorrow at his death, and my joy in knowing I will see him again. It was the best kind of experience I could have wished for on that day and I've been meaning to share it ever since. With the 9th anniversary of my dad's death on January 19th, I figured it was as good a time as any. To my dad, because I'm sure you have access to this blog wherever you are, I miss you and I love you.
This week I'm playing with the Utah Symphony. It's their season-opener this weekend and to draw a crowd they programmed a sure-fire hit: Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. There are few pieces of classical music that are instantly recognizable to the general public, and those that fall in that category are often written off by the musicians who play them as trite or cliche "audience pleasers" (Pachelbel's Canon comes to mind--ask any cellist how he/she feels about that piece). Some pieces don't deserve the amount of recognition they've gained over the years (again, Pachelbel comes to mind) but some are so well-known for a reason: they're really fantastic pieces of music. Beethoven 5 definitely fits in the latter category.
As best as I can remember, I'm pretty sure this is my fifth time playing this piece. It may actually be my sixth or seventh, but I'm not exactly sure and saying it's my fifth time seems more symbolic or something. I won't detail the other four times (seeing as I can't even remember if it actually is four, and also because it probably wouldn't be that interesting) but as I've been rehearsing and performing the piece this week I've been reflecting on the first time I played this symphony.
I'm pretty sure I was in fourth grade at the time and I performed it with the Uintah Basin Community Orchestra, or whatever name it was going by that year. The director, Mr. Priest, must have been pretty ambitious to decide to perform such a monumental piece with such a non-monumental orchestra. I don't remember many (or any) specifics about how our performance sounded or what it was like (I had nothing to compare it to anyway--I was only 10) and I often wonder what I would think if I heard a recording of it now, but even with our extremely amateur skill level there was no covering up the beauty and genius of the piece. We bumbled through it somehow and ever since then that symphony has had a special place in my violist heart. I remember feeling profoundly moved (as much as a 10 year-old can, anyway) at several moments in the work, and I still have odd flashbacks to the Uintah High School band room whenever I perform the piece.
I'm getting a little touchy-feely here, and you know I usually try to avoid that quality in general, but I'm on a little high right now after getting back from a performance and wanted try to pass that along as best I could. There is something transcendental about playing a Beethoven symphony. Yes, that does sound a little melodramatic and I hate to sound too grandiose about it all, but sitting in the middle of a tight orchestra and rocking some of the greatest music ever written is an experience to appreciate. There is nothing like it. My life is pretty great sometimes.
I have to prepare an hour-long presentation for a class on Monday, so of course I'm coming up with a blog post instead.
Some of you may know that I have a serious thing for men with beards. Not every man with a beard ever (apologies to ZZ Top and Lorenzo Snow) but I must say that a little facial hair can go a long way in making a guy look more attractive.
I'm not exactly sure where this came from. I've haven't known many men with beards in my life, and the ones I have known haven't exactly struck me as particularly tasty. I think I can attribute the realization of my follicle fixation to two guys I've met in college.
One was an oboe player in Michigan who grew the most fantastic beard. He would shave it off from time to time and it always surprised me how much less hot he was without it. Even when he shaved it off into a handlebar mustache he could still wear facial hair very well. Nothing happened there, of course. Like I would ever go for an oboe player anyway.
Example number two is a guy I met here at the U of U. What a beard! I first saw him when he conducted the music for sacrament meeting in my ward. Looking back, I can honestly say that I don't think I would have even given him a second look were it not for his lovely, tantalizing beard. It's truly a beauty to behold. Nothing has happened there, of course. Like I would ever go for a super hot guy anyway....
So there it is: I love beards. On men, that is. Thinking about this subject, I began considering famous men who definitely improve with some manly stubble. For example:
Exhibit A: Robert Downey Jr.
I never really thought of Mr. Downey as being all that attractive. There was something kind of baby-face-ish about him that didn't really do anything for me.
But with a beard....hottentot.
Exhibit B: George Clooney
Granted, Mr. Clooney is easy on the eyes in general.
But add a beard...much better.
Exhibit C: Harrison Ford back in the day
Good old Mr. Ford (emphasis on 'old') was fairly tasty back in his prime, beard or no beard.
But a beard, especially '70s-style, never hurts.
And last but not least,
Exhibit D: Hugh Laurie
Long before he became famous for portraying Dr. House, I knew Mr. Laurie from his British comedy shows, ie. Blackadder, Jeeves and Wooster, A Bit of Fry and Laurie etc. He's a great comedic actor and back then usually played the part of the goofy idiot. If you had asked me then if I thought he could ever be considered a sex symbol I would have given a hearty guffaw. Not that he's bad-looking, necessarily. He's pretty much just a non-descript British bloke.
But give him some stubble and a hit TV show...
So there you have it. Now that I've thoroughly presented myself as being completely superficial, I guess it's time to sign off. If you know any single, bearded, non-weird guys, send them my way.
As some of you may know, I have an unhealthy addiction to sandwiches. I attribute this almost entirely to my friend, Eileen, who introduced me to a whole new world of sandwiches when we became friends in Michigan. I'd eaten sandwiches before, of course, and liked them well enough. They can be a very handy and practical food item. Just ask my sister, Jody, who ate a ham sandwich every day (as far as I know) of her Jr. High and High School careers, and may still to this day.
In any case, I discovered another level of deliciousness when I began exploring my sandwich options around Ann Arbor. There were many to choose from: Potbelly's (hot sandwiches at their best), Roly Poly (the Texas Tuna Melt was divine), more gyro/schwarma places than I'd ever seen (a huge perk to living in an area with a large percentage of Middle Eastern folks), and last but not least, Jimmy John's (said with a sigh).
There were Jimmy John's stores everywhere in Michigan, including seven or more in the Ann Arbor area alone. There was one right by my bus stop downtown and right near the halls where both the school orchestra and the Ann Arbor Symphony held their concerts. There was another right by the freeway entrance near the School of Music which I frequented when traveling to and from gigs. I actually spent quite a bit of time traveling around Southern Michigan for gigs (thanks again to Eileen) and more often than not had to eat lunch/dinner on the road. If given the choice I would invariably choose Jimmy John's over almost anywhere else.
Not only would I almost always choose Jimmy John's, I always ordered the exact same thing. I experimented with different sandwiches when I was first getting to know the shop, but I eventually came up with the perfect sandwich and haven't ordered anything different since 2006, to my knowledge. I always get the #2, "The Big John," which is roast beef with lettuce and tomato. That sounds pretty tame, but then I have them add onions, oregano, and their special sauce (which is probably just oil and vinegar). The combination can only be described as celestial. Superhuman. Transcendental.
My reason for writing this post, which sounds like it has some heavy corporate backing, is because of a couple of recent experiences:
1.) They just opened a store a few blocks from where I live in Salt Lake. Before, the closest one was a 20-minute drive on the freeway so I couldn't go there without feeling extravagant unless there was already a reason for me to be going through that part of town. Now that there's one so close, though, I'm afraid that every day will turn into a Jimmy John's day and I'll become one of those customers that the employees will know by name and will know what I mean if I order "the usual." That actually might be kind of cool and make me feel like I'm in a movie or TV show, but that's not exactly what I'm going for in life.
2.) I left my viola in a Jimmy John's a couple of weeks ago. I stopped there on my way to Salt Lake (there's a shop conveniently located off the I-15 Highland/Alpine exit). I was feeling paranoid about leaving my viola in the car, so I took it inside while I got my sandwich. Since my case is brown it blended in perfectly with the bench and one thing led to another.... I got it back and everything was fine, but my level of distraction while inhaling a sublime sandwich could end up being a very bad thing someday.
So, do yourself a favor and look up your nearest Jimmy John's and try my favorite sandwich. You won't be disappointed and if you are, I'll know we're not supposed to be friends.
Here's a link to an advertisement that captures how I felt when I moved to Utah and discovered there were no Jimmy John's shops within a four-hour drive. It was a dark day.