Saturday, April 28, 2007

I'm Not Dead Yet

This month has been pretty embarassing, that's how the end of academic years go. Some shrapnel to keep you from de-subscribing. (Because you're subscribed, right?)

1) Rostropovich died today, joining the ranks of Menotti and Ligeti in the category of People I Thought Were Already Dead. I hear he was pretty good.

2) The AFM, which I still haven't joined, has lifted their boycott on Delta Airlines. I mentioned it in one of my first posts, so it's fun to see that this sort of technique works in the Moderne Age. However, Delta has yet to make a statement about being a piece of shit airline, so I will continue to avoid when possible.

3) Sockgate is gripping Boston, and may be the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Never before have I seen sports journalists actively trying to ruin baseball.

4) Bonus Round: Stephen Hawking in space! (sort of)

5) Have I already used this as the title of a post?

6) Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day is tomorrow, and I'm considering attending an event in the North End. However my jury is later than evening so I may be occupied with preparations for that. This will be the first year I'm throwing down a picture, but my dad (an Expert In The Field) has actually been organizing the shindig for the past couple years.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Confessions of a Pit Fighter

As a guitarist a block away from perhaps the largest concentration of guitarists I'm not exactly swimming in gigs. So my recent less-than-triumphant return to the role of pit musician for a student-directed production of Floyd Collins at the Conservatory, while clearly not the best choice considering the docket I'd already accumulated, was a welcome if exhausting change.

I'd been out of the game for awhile and the last time I'd taken a pit gig was certainly not a typical case. That time, three years ago, was a production of Grease at a Catholic school back in Wisconsin. (Pause for inherent hilarity) Quite a daring choice, but I was very proud of them for only cutting one toss-away line that may or may not be talking about smoking weed. There are a number of idiosyncratic things about coming in as a ringer for a high school gig, among them a cast in the hundreds and an epic rehearsal schedule. Two weeks of rehearsal before a week of performances, including three days of two-a-days, in this case. Having the deal with high school freshman circling like flies (pulling shit like confusing Marshall Amplification with Marshall Mathers, this was 2004) was awexome, but things came to a head when I was informed the evening before the show opened that I would be only compensated in hugs and kisses. Accordingly I told the director that it had been a wonderful time working with them and best of luck with the run.

That evening featured several phone calls, mostly from parents berating me for having the audacity to expect to be paid just for playing the guitar. However, one was from the director saying that we could work something out. Despite this snag the show went as smoothly as a high school musical can expect to. As to not sound like an asshat, I certainly wasn't expecting to be paid handsomely but was only hoping acknowledgement (a figure was never discussed, bad move). I was expecting a modest check, perhaps, but instead was presented to a Nintendo freaking Gamecube that had been diverted from a fundraising auction. I hadn't planned on buying one, despite owning its three predecessors, but now can't imagine how my life would have gone without the Wind Waker.

This gig was much different, considering that I knew it was for hugs and kisses from the start. Also, rather than getting the book two months in advance I got 20 hours before the show went into tech. Also, rather than 50 pages of chord changes it was 90 pages of metrically shifting brutality with banjo doubling. Banjo doubling! Adam Guettel writes some gnarly work, although I've later been told that his Rite-like primalism may come from actual music illiteracy. He works with some wicked orchestrators then, I had to deal with the previously mentioned banjo doubling, tuning changes, percussive effects, and mid-song capo shifts. All in all I've found that my classical guitar skillset leaves me woefully adrift for this sort of gig. Yikes. Not to mention I can't follow a conductor to save my life! Whispers around the department talk of a course dedicated to conducted playing and doublings, but surely I won't still be around the see it.

One thing I did wonder to myself, will real gigs be more like Grease, with a impenitrable division between student and faculty (that I bridged uncomfortably), or this like one, a vague hierarchy but a overwhelming sense of we're-all-in-this-together-and-we-might-die? Well, maybe not die. I'd rather the latter, even if it doesn't pay as well it's more fun.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

A Musicologist's Life For Me

(A note: The past two weeks certainly have happened. I'll probably be blogging things that happened during them in reverse order.)

A couple months ago I was reading Dial M for Musicology, a favored blog o' mine, when I noticed one of the links was a different color than the rest of them.

In a proper and rational manner I think to myself "Holy fuck! I must be projecting an extremely inaccurate onto the Interwebs!" Also I never thanked them properly for the link. A couple of days ago I made steps towards correcting this by giving a real life big kid lecture to the Music History 2 (survey class from Palestrina to Bach) that I normally TA, which weighing in at about 70 kids is the closest thing the Conservatory has to a pit class.

Anyone who has seen my normal state of dress knows that I wouldn't exactly pass Biz Cas Fri muster; indeed I can get away presenting to other graduate students while whatever attitude tee I've chosen states that Smith girls are often found in exciting positions or that January 31st must ne'er be forgot, but the freshmen are not as forgiving. Step 1 for lecturing was looking like I had knowledge, and luckily was able to reap selections from my other four outfits to invent a look I call Preppy McDegreeCollector. I wanted to kick my own ass.

None of this helped me actually give the lecture and with the other obligations I had earlier in the week (possibly to be blogged later, maybe) I gave myself a window of roughly 10 hours to prepare a 40-minute lecture on Couperin and Rameau, not precisely my strength. (Now de Visee and Corbetta on the other hand...) Furthermore I had to borrow most of the texts on the subject since my musicological library is weak to nonexistant, the 10 hours I spoke of before started at 11 PM. One thing working in my favor was that I hear that Rameau did some relatively important things with music theory, so it wasn't like I couldn't find anything to talk about. Convincing the masses that what they learned in their first semester of theory was approaching 300 years old, on the other hand....

I don't play Go nearly as often as I would like, but there is a saying within the community. "Lose your first fifty games as quickly as possible." I can only imagine how some of my former teachers would react upon seeing me say this, but I now have a bit of a notion of how earned the swagger of a well-loved professor is. Having taught a smaller listening section for three months now I've gotten a rhythm to it but it's a hell of a lot easier: I don't have to dress up, I can go on tangents, I can get away with the occasional curse word. Facing down a lecture class is a taxing exercise in a hateful duplicity. My section at least reacts to stupid jokes, but en masse (also in morning) it was explaining functional harmony, again, to a pyramid of skulls. Nevertheless, there was the constant knowledge that a single misstep could lead to cacophonous tragedy. Por ejample:

Me (paraphased): Hippolyte et Arcice was Rameau's first opera.
Student (no raised hand!): No, it wasn't.
Me (increasingly concerned): Yes, it was.
Student (defiant): No, it wasn't.
Dr. Seitz: Yes, it was.
And that was when I got something right. I made more grievous missteps, most notably stating things that I wasn't unsure of as "Wikipedia knowledge" and ending my lecture by admitting defeat to Frau Doktor. On the other hand, I did have a hell of an opener that worked exactly how I wanted to. ("So Lully shoves a stick through his foot and dies.") All in all afterwords I felt basically the same I did after my junior recital: I was exhausted by not necessarily adverse to trying it again sometime. Now that is dangerous.