Sunday, June 26, 2005

Write Safely and Carry a Big Schtick

Greg calls from Oregon as often as he can. Sometimes he's euphoric after having a wonderful meeting or conversation with his fellow composers. Sometimes he's frustrated and miserable after having heard the same old arguments from the academics. Each call brings a different mood, but all in all, he really is having a good time at the Bach Festival.

He talked a little bit about his music at a focus-group session yesterday, in advance of his big presentation on Tuesday. The people who were there generally liked the pieces he played, but after they were finished, the academic composers started up with the same old refrain: "The rhythm is so regular." That translates to "It isn't weird enough." Folks generally really liked Greg's sense of instrumental color (after all, Ravel is one of his compositional heroes, and no one complains about "Bolero" being too regular, either) and his ideas about applying complex harmonies to traditional counterpoint. Bach's music doesn't contain any freaky-deaky look-at-me-I'm-a-novelty content, rhythmic or otherwise, and it has transcended the centuries. I thought these people were at a Bach festival, but stop me if I'm wrong.

Modern classical music, at least in the academic realm, is still suffering from the John Cage-Milton Babbitt syndrome: If it's not weird, it's not imaginative. The problem is, listeners don't want to listen to weird music. They do want to hear music that appeals to their minds, but they tend to avoid 20th- and 21st-century music because they just don't want to get trapped in the same room with noise masquerading as music -- especially if they paid to be there. This is why they keep buying tickets to all-Mozart programs, and why that's all the orchestras ever program any more. (I can't say as I blame them, even if concert programming has taken a major turn for the bland as a result. If I never hear another piece with people moaning into microphones against a taped soundtrack, it'll be too frickin' soon.)

The folks who complain that Greg's rhythms are so regular are the proponents of the weird, the people who drive listeners away from contemporary classical music. These are the self-styled "bad boys" of the music world, who were such rebels in the '60s, and who are now teaching composition. Although they're older than we are (and we're middle-aged), they still think they've reached the ultimate point in musical evolution. Hel-looooo, the '60s were 40 years ago! Their students feel forced to either write the weird stuff so they'll get good grades from their professors, or they write "safe music" so that their music will appeal to the listeners who have retreated to Mozart. Trust me, I've been to enough student concerts this past year to have heard plenty of both.

There seems to be no middle ground left to those who have something new to say without being weird, and without retreating so far into "safe music" as to be anonymous. Small wonder Greg is frustrated. His music isn't weird enough to appeal to the academics, and it's not "safe" enough to share space on the program with Mozart and Haydn, or with the quasi-New Age "composers" they feature on PBS. He also doesn't rely on schtick to establish his identity, so people who look only for schtick would tend to pass him by, too.

The path Greg is taking is not an easy one. We've both always known that, but I still can't help feeling sad and frustrated for him. His music is beautiful without being syrupy, intelligent without being academic, accessible without being "safe." It doesn't bear an obvious, schticky, hey-look-at-me label that easily allows him to be classified. He is unique, but you won't catch anyone saying, "Oh yeah, he's that still-living, blond, male, Scandinavian-American composer from the Northeast." Have we grown so hungry for obvious "specialness" that we can't figure out what we're listening to without it?

Ironically, the people in charge of the composers' symposium are themselves academic composers. Greg would like to meet the performers and reach out to them -- particularly Helmuth Rilling, one of the premier interpreters of Bach today -- but he's worried that the folks who complained in the focus group about his music will deny him a chance to meet people who would perform and interpret his music rather than dismiss it. Greg worries that they feel they have to "insulate" the performers from anything non-academic or non-schticky coming out of the composers' side of the festival.

I like to think that Greg's work will receive the recognition it deserves while he's still around to hear that it's appreciated, rather than waiting for musical history to catch up. Something tells me that Bach himself would sympathize.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Music Widow (for a week)

Greg is probably 30,000 feet over Omaha by now. He's on his way to the Oregon Bach Festival, to Eugene by way of his home town of San Francisco. I hope he has a wonderful, inspirational, productive ten days of it, and that he meets the composers he's been searching for: composers who share his love of complex harmonies and rigorous counterpoint. I don't think he's had the chance to be around so many fellow classical composers since his undergraduate days.

Back here in the East, the fur-kids and I will carry on. I am still desperately busy at work, trying to meet my deadlines, so I need not worry what to do with myself while Greg's in Eugene -- at least, not for this first half-week. One of my college classmates is dropping by at the end of the week to visit for a couple of days. I'll be glad to see her, but I'm not sure I'm chuffed at the prospect of a Bataan Death March through every outlet store on the Eastern Seaboard. (I shop on the Internet. You never have to jostle for a parking space.) I can't really spare the time away from work, but I promised.

One teeny-tiny bit of music news of my own: My chorus is singing the national anthem at a minor-league baseball game next week. I love baseball, and it's been ages since I've been able to go to a game. Since we're nominally the entertainment, I hope we get good seats, preferably over the dugout on the first-base line.

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Fear and Loathing in High Technology

Riddle me this: So why do I get such a kick out of reading the blogs of folks whose jobs plainly suck worse than mine does? Is it a sort of schadenfreude that they're doing things for a living that I don't have to do, or am I just repressing dread at the thought of my own employment prospects when it comes time for me to be visited by the Layoff Fairy?

Whereas a lot of bloggers prefer personal anonymity, I prefer to keep the details of my job as obscure as possible. Someday I'll create a blog wherein I can rant about what I truly think of my company and my profession, but not under this identity. A lot of people I know personally come here to read my blog, and they all know where I work. Some even work there.

I do have to blog about work today only because I'm so bothered by today's news and an appalling corporate tradition that we thought had passed. Please bear with me.

For as long as I've been a very small cog in their very large machine, my company, as big as it is, has managed to reinvent itself several times over in order to keep pace with developments in the marketplace. This was a Wicked Neat thing back in the dear, sweet old days of the dot-com boom; we were all collectively riding the trend-waves and dreaming of what we would do with our paper millions. We checked the stock price more often than we did the weather report.

Now, post-dot-com-bust, the climate isn't quite as buoyant. The summertime "let's reorganize and reinvent ourselves" tradition has now given way to an annual summertime reduction in force (read: layoff). Last summer's major makeover was so pervasive that I was absolutely sure I'd see 2005 in as a greeter at the local Wal-Mart. No one was more surprised than I was when I found out I'd been spared. The effect on us "survivors" was so devastating that it took a full 3-4 months after the layoff before we had the strength to pick ourselves up and get back to work. Oh, and don't ask me about the paper millions.

Management was smarter this time around. Not only have they outsourced the entire HR department (so no one "on the inside" knows anyone to leak the news to), but they struck quietly, not announcing anything until after the affected people had already been hustled from the buildings.

One of my friends emailed me to tell me that a mutual friend of ours -- one of my dearest work-buddies -- had been spirited from our building today. The whole process was so quick and quiet that I never had a chance to say goodbye, never exchanged emails or home phone numbers. In a way, it feels as though she had suddenly died -- she was just yanked out of our little work-world, and I won't see her again. At least the last time around, we had a chance to mumble some quick words of commiseration with our less-fortunate fellows and promise to stay in touch.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Sunday Morning Slug

Ahh, I love Sunday mornings. Sunday is the one day in the week when I can sleep just a teeny bit later (not counting a couple of sleepwalking trips to the door to let the pups out), and then take my own sweet time to get back into the world.

Greg's off at church, playing for the two Sunday services. Seamus is snoozing under my chair. I'm not exactly sure where Charlie is, but he's probably hanging out in one of his two favorite spots: on the bed or at the top of the stairs. I'm just sipping my coffee and enjoying the quiet.

Snippets of Knitting Progress

Last night I finished the body of my Fletcher sweater and started one of the sleeves. Since this is my first sweater ever, I'm still amazed that I could have knitted all that fabric already and still not be done. Of course, Murphy's Law dictates that I will finish that sweater on the absolute hottest day of the year -- a day so hot that I'll risk heat stroke simply by trying the thing on. No matter; the Iro is a pleasure to knit, and I'll miss it so much when I've finished the sweater that I might have to turn around and find myself another Noro project right away.

Donna emailed to say that she too is working on the sleeves of her Fletcher. She's a much faster knitter than I am, so she's managed to turn out a couple of pairs of socks in the meantime. It still gets cool enough in Calgary at night that she's looking forward to wearing her Fletcher over her T-shirts when it's done.

The yarn diet continues. I've been good about not acquiring more yarn until I reach another 5-pound milestone. The problem is that since it's Deadline Month, I haven't had a chance to do too much to hasten my progress to the next milestone. Work does tend to keep me riveted to the computer for long hours, so I haven't had much time to rummage around in the fridge. On the other hand, I haven't worked out in weeks. I'm counting the moments until my deadlines have all passed, and then I can get back to something resembling a normal routine (including workouts). Having deadlines means that I haven't exactly been storming through my yarn stash and knitting everything in sight, either, so I haven't needed new yarn for new projects. There's only so much you can get done with five minutes of "me time" per day.

Some of my compadres from the DKYD have worked out sophisticated systems of effort and reward: a dollar to spend on yarn for each workout, another dollar for staying on the diet, and so on. That's nifty and I hope it works for 'em, but I'm a writer, not an accountant. Any system that works for me needs to be simple enough so I don't have to keep multiple tallies, or I'll get bored with keeping count and just go to Dairy Queen. I've settled on this strategy: When I make my next five pound loss, I can buy yarn for another project. Until then, no yarn shopping. I can cheat, sure, but that only delays the reward (and forces me to reduce my stash).

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Saturday, June 18, 2005

Just Catching Up

Wow -- so much has been going on that I just haven't had the chance to sit down and catch up on the blog. Work is a total madhouse, as usual -- worse now that it's deadline time -- and by the time the end of the work day arrives, the last thing I want to do is sit at the computer and type some more.

Anyway, the best news is that Greg's Water song cycle was so well received in New York that he's had a request to record it in 2006. One of the Board members of the ACA asked Greg whether he would score the piece for full orchestra and record it, so he's in the process of talking about it. In the meantime, he's busy getting things (pieces and a presentation) ready for the Oregon Bach Festival. He leaves on Tuesday and returns a couple of weeks later. This will be the longest time we've ever been apart, I think. I designed him some pretty neat-looking business cards, using the same typeface and one of the photographs from his Web site.

Wow... this is like living with a rock star! Do you think it's too soon for me to get myself a pink or black T-shirt with "I'm With the Band" screened across the front?

Greg has also been working away furiously on the Sax Quartet. He might want to have that played at BU sometime during the next school year. He means to make some more headway on Niagara as well, but the sax piece has been calling him most strongly of all his pieces-in-progress these days.

You have to love Google. I'm not sure what I was looking for at the time -- maybe I was checking where Greg's Web site was ranked in a Google search -- but I discovered a Google link to my blog in the same search and the description of my blog, "...frequently intertwined with the life of Maine composer Gregory Hall." We both liked that very much; it certainly wasn't the work of a Web crawler. ("Frequently intertwined..." I like that phrase, but it doesn't quite describe the reality of the situation. That is, unless by "frequently," one means "every waking moment and the sleeping ones too, in the shower and in the car, day and night, you are the one, only you beneath the moon and under the sun..." You get the idea -- and the Cole Porter reference.)

The organist business sure seems to be picking up, too. Greg has already been booked for two weddings and has played a memorial service. In addition, the organist for one of the local Catholic churches asked whether he could fill in for her for two Saturday Masses a week during the summer. (Apparently she's having surgery and will be recuperating for an unspecified period of time. She plays two Masses on Saturdays, one in the "regular church" in the city, and one in the "summer church" nearer the beach.) Anyway, this should keep him busy on the weekends for a while. The choir at his regular church breaks for the summer, so his Sunday work won't be quite as demanding until the school year starts.

Puppy Business

Gill emailed from Wales that Menna had "missed," and that there won't be any puppies from her this year. Gill has tried quite a few times with this same sire and has never had any luck (though other folks have), so she intends to try again next year with a different (but related) dog. In the meantime, one of her young males (less than a year old) managed to escape his crate and have a bit of a dalliance with one of the girls who was in season, so there might be puppies later on in the year. The puppies would certainly have lovely pedigrees, even if they were a bit of a "whoops" litter. Gill is now waiting to see whether there will even be a litter. If there is, I have the option of taking one of those pups. Only then will I know whether I'm headed to Wales this year. Truth be told, I'd be just as happy hanging out with our current two for a while before raising a little one, but we'll see what happens when it happens.

As for the current pack of puppies around here, Seamus is settling in nicely. He and Charlie get along famously, and he's turning out to be about the best little buddy one could ask for. He's still no picnic in the car, but things will get better with practice. We start obedience class this week, and that should help. Seamus is already obedient, but having to ride in the car so often will help get him more inured to the motion. He doesn't complain on highways, just on the bumpy, potholed secondary roads.

Next Saturday, the boys and I are off to Massachusetts to a Beardie Bounce at a friend's house. I've been an on-and-off member of the Minuteman Bearded Collie Club for many years -- I have quite a few friends in the club, but it's hard to drive all the way down there for meetings and functions. This will be Seamus's "social debut" in the regional "Beardie society." I'm sorry Greg won't be around to see it because he'll still be in Oregon at the time. He's been to a Sheepdog event and seen how laid-back those can be, but he hasn't yet experienced the ever-moving, ever-bouncing spectacle of a group of Beardies playing together. There will be a kiddie pool, and Charlie will definitely spend much of the day in it. The club has also constructed a rally obedience course out there, so Seamus and I get to try it out and see if rally-o might be a sport we'd enjoy together.

Fare Thee Well

I've noticed lately that some people have decided to give up on blogging entirely. Some have talked about removing one more demand from already crammed-to-the-rafters lives, and some have simply decided to stop. No notice, nothing. You just click on a link one day and they're gone. It's as though they moved and left no forwarding address. They just decided to move out of the community.

My own blog has suffered from neglect of late, but I have no plans to pack up and move out of Blogtown just yet. At first, I felt guily if I didn't post something every day, or every other day in a pinch. Nowadays, I feel fortunate if I have the time to stick to a more-or-less weekly schedule. Don't the rest of you go anywhere just yet, okay?

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Sunday, June 05, 2005

Penny (my friend Ann's Old English) and me at last year's NEOESR picnic. That hippie in the background is Greg. Posted by Hello

Seamus and one of his favorite toys Posted by Hello

Instant Summer (Water Already Added)

You have to love New England. Last week it was still getting into the 30s and night, and this week it made it up to almost 90 during the day. I wonder why I even own "transitional clothing," clothing intended for warm and cool weather (as opposed to hot or cold).

Greg and I packed up the two puppers and took them to the annual New England Old English Sheepdog (NEOESR) picnic in CT yesterday. A lot of people have both Sheepies and Beardies, plus there were several "honorary sheepdogs" of other breeds present.

I've belonged to NEOESR for quite a few years now, and the picnic is the one event I try never to miss. It's quite an amazing thing to look around you at dozens of happy, sweet, well-cared-for Sheepies and Sheepie-mostlies and realize that almost all of them were once rescue dogs. During the Rescue Parade, each Sheepie's owner is allotted a few minutes to tell the Sheepie's story. Some were abused or neglected. Some were beloved family pets whose owners died. Some were literally five minutes away from death at the animal shelter when people intervened to save them. One at last year's picnic saved his adoptive family from dying in a house fire not long after having been adopted. After listening to each story and seeing how each lucky dog has blossomed in a new and loving home, it's hard not to tear up, at least a little.

NEOESR itself is a wonderful success story -- 41 years old, large, well-funded, with generous and heroic members all over the world. They have never turned away a needy sheepdog or sheepdog mix, regardless of age, medical condition, or whether or not it has a tail, and many of the members have adopted multiple sheepdogs from the organization. I have been involved with some of the rescues that have taken place, but only a few.

They even maintain the Sheepiestuff Web site, where they sell many different Sheepdog-related items, and the profit goes to rescue needy Sheepies. We stopped at the Sheepiestuff table and brought home one of the handsome new mugs with the NEOESR logo. Not that we really need more coffee cups, but we needed THAT coffee cup.

As usual, this year's picnic was just plain fabulous, thanks to the hard work of the host and the other members. One of our favorite "small touches" was the addition of the drinking water buckets on one side of the open-air building. Each one had had a little toilet seat attached to it, so the dog would look as though it would... oh, never mind. You have to be a dog person to think that's funny, anyway. I can tell Greg's becoming a dog person; he thought it was hilarious.

Charlie and Seamus had a fine old time for themselves. They got to meet lots of sheepdogs and Sheepie people, and to bounce around the grounds together. Charlie particularly enjoyed the kiddie pool, and kept jumping into and out of it whenever we walked by it. Seamus hesitated for a little while -- maybe he didn't want to get his pretty show coat all mussed -- but he eventually joined Charlie in the pool, bouncing and splashing.

I mean to get started on knitting a felted bag or two for the NEOESR annual fundraising auction in October. I wish I were prolific enough to send a huge number of handmade Sheepie things; handcrafted items tend to get snapped up for goodly amounts of money, and the resulting funds all go back to help more needy Sheepies.

Small Knitting Progress

I have done a little knitting here and there of late, though I'm still measuring progress in baby steps. I finished the scarf I was knitting in Lion Brand Incredible (the space-dyed ribbon), and the results really are cute. I especially like the way the ribbon fringe flutters in a breeze; I wish I'd made the fringe a teeny bit longer. Yeah, I know it's cheap yarn, but I'd knit with it again. I like the results as well as the colorways.

Sometimes the thing that separates the cheapo yarn from the better yarn is the color sense of the people who produce it. I can't bring myself to like Lion Boucle no matter how much I touch it; every single one of those colorways is so garish that I'd be forced to knit the stuff in total darkness with sunglasses on. Whoever oversaw the shades for Incredible over at Lion Brand should take over for Boucle and stop producing those nightmare shades.

On to the indisputably good yarn: I've finished the left front of my Fletcher sweater in Noro Iro, and am maybe a quarter of the way up the right front. I matched all the cast-on edges so that they begin with the same color (emerald green), but the rest of the coloring is as random as ever. It's beginning to look like an actual sweater, even while still in pieces. I'm so pleased!

Sax Mountain Becomes Sax Mountain Range

Greg managed to get a fairly decent amount of composition work done on the drive to and from the picnic. Sax Mountain has transformed into a suite for sax quartet, and Mountain itself has become the third movement of four. Greg did quite a bit of work on the fourth movement, the Scherzo, yesterday.

He is off to New York City tomorrow to oversee the rehearsal for his Water song cycle, to be performed at the ACA concert on Saturday. On his way down there, he plans to drop by Guildford, CT to the factory that made his custom organ shoes, to see whether he can get them in a half-size larger. These days he plays the organ in his boat shoes, but he'd have better control of the pedals in his real organ shoes.

Greg will return home on Tuesday night, and the two of us will go to NYC Friday night for Saturday's concert. The puppies will go to the puppy hotel for a sleepover, and I'll retrieve them on Sunday morning while Greg is at church. Persephone used to feel very put out when we'd go away for an overnight and leave her here with the automatic feeder, but these days she seems happy enough to have the occasional dog-free run of the house. She'll watch over the place while we're gone, and then she'll lecture us when we return.

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Thursday, June 02, 2005

And Tonight on Wild Kingdom...

The frogs out in the pond are throwing the rowdiest froggy block party I think I've ever heard. They must be celebrating the fact that it's been so wet here that nothing is in danger of drying up just yet. I've heard from my neighbor who mows my pasture that a painted turtle has moved in to the pond as well, and is busy paddling around out there. I hope he likes frog sing-alongs. Those guys start cranking up the tunes about 2 in the afternoon and go all night!

(Peeper songs are my favorite sound of spring. These guys are welcome to party as long as they want to, and as loudly.)

Rumor has it we also have an albino skunk living in or under the barn. Well, the occasional whiff of skunk pong hasn't exactly been a rumor, but a neighbor who has seen the offending new tenant says that it is indeed an albino. Whatever it is, I hope it moves out soon.