Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Relaxing Classical Music for Those of us with Annual Hypochondria Stress

Dear Media, Internet, and Well Meaning Friends.
SHUT UP ABOUT NOROVIRUS!! I am aware it's a thing, and I do NOT need to be reminded of its existence every time I leave the safety of under my bed.
Anyway, this time of year is a stressful one for us paranoid wrecks, so I figured why not help out my fellow hypochondriacs with (sorry it's not a miracle vaccine that protects against everything) a playlist of extremely relaxing classical music to take your mind off of your imminent doom. :D

Claude Debussy: Arabesque no.1, La Fille Aux Cheveux de Lin, Reveries, Clair de Lune, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faune, La Mer: From Morning to Noon on the Sea
With his talent for heavenly texture and dreamlike moods, Debussy is your best friend, be it for relaxation or just something nice to play over your hot date.
I think that Arabesque no.1 is the most relaxing song ever, with it's flowing, water-like first section and more solid and elegant middle bit. Clair de Lune is one of my very favorite songs, and while it is brimming with enchanting emotion it is also very calming. The feel of Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faune is very warm, like the summer day it describes.

Chopin: Nocturne in Eb no.2 opus 9, Etude no.3 in E 'Tristesse'
Chopin is terrific, and two of his songs in particular really resonate with me. Nocturne in Eb is a gentle and blissful piece that is almost a waltz, save for the 12/8 time signature. Etude no.3 is commonly known as 'Tristesse', French for 'Sadness'. The melody is very beautiful and lyrical, though the middle section gets a little crazy before settling back into the melody, this time very quiet and resigned.

Maurice Ravel: The Mother Goose Suite, Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte
A good story makes for a good distraction from problems in real life. Sheherazade is a masterpiece, but it's very colorful and not exactly what you need when you want to wind down and lower your blood pressure. Seriously, I've listened to Sheherazade and my heart starts beating faster, haha!
Ravel's Mother Goose suite however, is quite a bit more laid back, so you can let your imagination run wild on a story without getting extremely fired up. It features Sleeping Beauty, Little Tom Thumb, Beauty and the Beast, and Laideronette the Empress of the Pagodas! And Faeries. Each movement has its own unique texture and flavor, it's a treat.
Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte is absolutely divine and makes for an instant stress reliever, at least for me.

Erik Satie: Trois Gymnopedies, Je Te Veux
Erik Satie is pretty much the master of minimalism in music. So much is conveyed through so little, especially in Trois Gymnopedies. The three songs are very close to each other, but each carries a slightly different emotion- Painfully, Sadly, and Gravely. Je te Veux is different in character from the melancholy, atmospheric Gymnopedies. It is a flowing, dreamy waltz with a very romantic mood. Listening to it is like stepping into a teleporter and coming out in a 19th Century French Ballroom!

In The Steppes of Central Asia by Alexandre Borodin
With it's beautiful melody development and thematic elements of cultural harmony, Borodin's In the Steppes of Central Asia is a relatively unknown gem. The music reaches a brilliant emotion climax in the middle, and the rest of the piece winds down in a dusky, peaceful manner. We finish with a shining flute solo that sounds like a desert mirage.

Intermezzo (Entr'acte from Carmen) by Georges Bizet
The Entr'acte from Carmen features one of the most gorgeous melodies composed for flute. Accompanied by harp, the flute creates a tranquil and romantic scene, while other instruments like the Clarinet and English Horn weave in and out like a dialogue.

Tchaikovsky's 1st Piano Concerto, Movement 2
Tchaikovsky's music tends to be too emotionally intense to really wind down to, but this second movement of his 1st Piano concerto is a very sweet and playful piece that is deep without making you drain your tearducts. From the winsome flute solo that begins the movement, to the virtuosic scales of the middle section, all the way to the end where the main theme is reprised, this song is a wonderful rest from stress.

Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto, Movement 2
We've got a thing for 2nd movements of concertos, haha. This one is more solemn then the aforementioned Tchaikovsky. Rachmaninoff dedicated this concerto to his therapist, who helped him work through some really crippling depression. With that in mind, the music takes on a different light. The opening chords are that transition from a minor key to a major key are like an ascent from darkness of mind to peace.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Feast of the Holy Innocents

The Holy Family flees to Egypt while
Angels carry the souls of the innocent
up to heaven.
Today we celebrate the sainthood of the church's youngest martyrs. Hearing of the newborn king Jesus, King Herod was afraid that this infant would be a threat to his sovereignty. Not wanting to risk that, he had all baby boys under the age of 2 murdered. Because these innocent children died for Christ, they are considered to have received a baptism of blood.
In the Catholic church, there are three 'kinds' of baptism.
1. Regular baptism by water. Performed by a priest or a layman, this baptism is the familiar ritual of pouring water (just water. Not milk, or tears, or juice) over the head of the person and saying "I baptize thee in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost."
2. Baptism by desire. This is if somebody wants baptism, but for whatever reason cannot get it before they die. Maybe it's a deathbed conversion and a priest can't make it on time, or you were on your way to your baptism ceremony and were killed.
3. Baptism by blood is where an unbaptized person is killed as a martyr for Jesus Christ. This is the kind of baptism that the Holy Innocents received.
On the day of this tragedy, we not only remember the babies murdered by King Herod, we also remember all young children who never got a chance at life.
Keep in your prayers today young children killed in accidents or through disease, babies killed through abortion, miscarriages, and for all children.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

More Ranting about Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet

Because YES!!! Ahem. Today I'm sick. Not as bad as yesterday, when I slept through most of the afternoon and staggered zombie like through the evening... but still, not great. My throat is too sore to play flute and piccolo (ever try taking breaths on a sand-paper throat?), and I'm too tired to do anything but bum around and listen to music. And check my facebook status frequently. FREQUENTLY.
So I've been listening to a lot of 20th Century righteousness, especially Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet! Yeah. Sergei, welcome to my list of favorite composers! As you could guess from my glowing review posted a while back, I really liked this adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy. I almost liked watching this ballet more than I liked watching the actual play, but in all fairness, the DVD we got from the library was a REALLY dry production.

So anyway, I'm going to rant about some of my favorite songs from the ballet. Haha!

The Young Juliet (Act I, Scene 10)
In this number, Juliet and Nurse are preparing for the ball. The way we start out is energetic and youthfully dreamy. You can feel the excitement of Juliet as she prepares for the ball. But there is a second theme in this piece, one that is solemn and hints forward to the tragedy that this night of joy will ultimately bring.

Masks (Act I, Scene 12)
Things take a cooky turn as we swap to Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio sneaking into the Capulet's party! Wearing the titular masks, the three buddies dance to a characteristically 'Prokofiev' theme. The tone in this scene is sardonic and quirky as a fractured faerie tale, but is still essentially lighthearted and about some friends having fun. But that doesn't last long, because the next song is...

Dance of the Knights (Act I, Scene 13)
The high energy satire that dominated the last few numbers gives way to the violence of the feud. Though we're at a friggin' party, the music is heavy and agressive. This is probably to bring home the harsh reality that even when they're dressing up in party clothes and arranging marriages for their daughters, the families of Verona are living in an atmosphere of hatred that dominates even their festivities. And Holy Shnikes! The brass players get to flaunt their parts for all it's worth in this one! It's you're time to... wait for it... shine. Cuz brass is shiny, gettit? Sorry.
Ahem. A later part of this song is extremely delicate in contrast to the peasante main theme. This is when Juliet dances a graceful- but passionless- Pas de Deux with Paris, her fiancee chosen by her parents. This section features ghostly flutes, haunting clarinet trills, glissandi from the violas, and a steady rhythm reminiscent of lute strumming.

Mercutio (Act I, Scene 15)
The jokester of the trio gets his own energetic dance. I like the Col Lengo in this movement, and the darkly cheerful, blythe melody that is brimming with spirit and attitude. There is some goofy action from the woodwinds (especially the bassoon!) in the middle part, before we return to the fast main theme.

Balcony Scene/Romeo's Variation/Love Dance (Act I, Finale)
We start out very sweet and tender, but also kind of sneaky and quiet! Romeo has snuck back onto the Capulet's grounds in an attempt to see Juliet again. Kind of weird, but we'll give him a pass because she would probably do the same thing if she was able to get out and about. There is some 'awkward' sounding bits in the Balcony Scene, as Romeo meets Juliet again and makes an adorkable doofus of himself. This is all very sweet, but my favorite part is the Love Dance, when the whole orchestra is pulsing with the passion of the moment! There is even some (gasp!) subtle piccolo action! Yeah!! On a sadder note, we hear the first hints of a gorgeous theme that will show up later in a very different context. But for now, we can end the act blissfully.

Folk Dance (Act II, Scene 22)
Not much happens plot-wise in this scene, but the music is fun and energetic! Contrast between woodwinds and strings is played nicely.

Juliet at Friar Laurence's (Act II, Scene 29)
Juliet has arrived at the Monastery for her and Romeo's secret wedding. A radiant flute solo accompanied by soft strings opens this song, and later as the wedding takes place, a dignified and lovely brass theme dominates.

Tybalt and Mercutio Fight/Death of Mercutio/Romeo Decides to Avenge Mercutio's Death/Finale to Act II (Act II, Scenes 33-Finale)
So you're not a fan of all the lovey dovey stuff. That's okay because boy have we got some stuff for you here! First off, the melody that plays when Tybalt and Mercutio fight is a more heated reprise of the the number 'Mercutio' from Act I. Mercutio's death music is heartbreaking. A reprise of his motif from 'Masks' plays as he staggers across the stage, cracking jokes and making it difficult to tell if he's really hurt or not. But then he finally expires, and Romeo is blinded by rage and fights Tybalt to the death. The music for this fight is the same as the music from the fight in the first few minutes of the ballet- only it's heartpoundingly frantic. The running strings deliver so much tension, ending in a wicked dissonant chord and 15 (yes, 15!!) relentless orchestra hits as Tybalt meets his end.

Introduction/Romeo and Juliet/The Last Farewell (Act III, Scenes 37, 38, 39)
After the dissonant harshness of the Introduction, the soft delicacy of 'Romeo and Juliet' is almost jarring. The flute motif from 'Juliet at Friar Laurence's' is back, unchanged except for key signature, but in this context it's taken on a new tragic air. I love the effect of the rainy sounding strings. It's like you're in your house listening to the storm outside. The Last Farewell is a gorgeous Pas de Deux featuring a sweet viola solo that gets passed along to other instruments and builds in intensity. Each time it gets passed along it changes in character. When the viola has it, it's lithe and graceful. When the tenor sax and clarinets take it, it becomes glowing and romantic.

Juliet Alone/Interlude (Act III, Scenes 42 and 43)
Juliet Alone directly leads into the Interlude, and let me tell you, the transition is amazing and is one of those musical moments that sends shivers down my spine. The Interlude is a reprise of one of the themes in The Last Farewell, transfigured. The first time we hear the theme, it's melancholy. But now it's strong and absolutely soaring with determination, as Juliet decides she can't live without Romeo and decides to do something about the situation.

Dance of the Young Girls with Lilies (Act III, Scene 49)
After Juliet poisons herself to fake her own death, she lies unconscious on her bed and some of her girlfriends sneak in to decorate her room with flowers. I guess it's a wedding thing. This dance is light of step, like you'd move when you're trying to sneak around. The mood is eerie and kind of sad. I really like high-pitched violin solo in this part, and the percussion.

Juliet's Funeral/Death of Juliet (Epilogue, Scenes 51/52)
Urgh, so sad! Juliet's funeral begins with hauntingly quiet and high pitched strings setting the mood. The music is predominantly dark and almost horrifying as Romeo succumbs to despair and a now demented reprise of The Last Farewell plays. It's almost like the music itself is begging Juliet to open her eyes. In the version me and my sister watched, at that part, Romeo actually danced a brief Pas de Deux with Juliet's limp form. It was a really impressive piece of choreography, and very chilling.
Death of Juliet features a mature and somber rendition of Juliet's little motif that was introduced way back in Act I and has finally reached its most developed point.
In stark contrast to other ballet endings, like the overwhelmingly emotional and fortissimo climax of Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet ends almost silently.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

When The Ads on Your Kindle Just Get Weird

So my Mom's Kindle has been getting a lot of book ads on the lockout screen lately... mostly vampire romance and cliché mysteries. But then there was this.
 
O.o
 

Huh. Maybe I'm just easily mystified, but Santa's Last Secret?
This simple image raises a myriad of questions! First of all, Last Secret? This implies there have been MANY secrets! Like his poker shack out in the swamp, or that drug smuggling operation that he was working out of the toyshop, or the many, many elf-rights violations!
Maybe the fact that there is another Santa on the cover has something to do with it. Did Santa have an identical twin who was somehow hidden, lost, or perhaps locked away somewhere?
So many questions!!!

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Nutcracker Suite Chibis :D

Because as cheesy and relatively plotless as it is, the Nutcracker is just a bundle of fun! And the music is really amazing, even if they do overuse it shamelessly on Hallmark channel. So here, enjoy these illustrations based on The Nutcracker Suite!

 
So the Miniature Overture plays while the curtain is down, so it's not associated with any scene. I thought to myself, well hey! The beginning of the story is at a Christmas party, so why not have the Miniature Overture be Clara decorating the house for the party?
 
So this here is the Marche, where the kids dance around and enjoy their presents. The little fellow there is Fritz, and I hope you enjoy the owl-topped Grandfather Clock in the background!
 
The Dance of the Sugar-Plum Faerie. In a lot of productions, Clara takes on the role of the Sugar Plum Faerie and dances all her dances, so I drew Clara in a pimped out little tutu. I tried to draw her doing a step I remember from the ballet, where she taps one ankle with her other foot.
 
Here in one shot (because I'm lazy) we have the Trepak, Coffee, and Tea all together. I like the Trepak costumes the best (not so proud of the Coffee ones :P), but I like the Tea girl the best out of all the characters in this shot. She's got energy!
 
And the cutsey Dance of the Mirlitons, or Reed Pipes! I like this one because it was my first solo at orchestra, haha! Anyhoo, they're supposed to be shepherds. I don't know of the colors come through very well, but I made the main color for them be sunny yellow.
 
Waltz of the Flowers! From top left going onwards, we have a Rose, a Daisy, a Tulip, and a Morning Glory! Waltz of the Flowers is my favorite movement of the suite (though if 'Sugar Plum Faerie and her Cavalier' was in the suite, THAT would be my favorite movement), it's so pretty and bouncy!
 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Happy Feast of St. Nicholas!

St. Nicholas, wonder-worker and patron saint of pretty much everything, Ora Pro Nobis!

Righteous Classical Music: Pavane pour une Infante Defunte by Maurice Ravel

Maurice Ravel's composing style is typically not the most accessible to the casual listener. He uses unusual, but inventive composing techniques to create a unique musical texture. His amazing work Bolero is probably his most popular composition, but the dreamy and delicate Pavane pour une Infante Defunte is definitely a close second.
Pavane was my introduction to Ravel when we played it for orchestra. I hadn't listened to it before rehearsal, and I was stunned by how gorgeous it was. It sounded like we were playing our way up into the clouds of heaven!
Ravel first wrote Pavane for the piano, but he also arranged it for orchestra. It's title is French for Pavane for a Dead Princess. There isn't any super deep meaning for the odd title, he just thought it sounded good with the piece. Ravel said he wanted to write something that a little Spanish princess would dance to. Ravel had a definite soft spot for Spain, as evidenced in this as well as Bolero and Rhapsodie Espagnole.
Pavane is very atypical for Ravel. Usually his music contains unusual harmonies and rhythms, whereas here it is almost traditional sounding. The melody is very calming and beautiful, and this is a song your imagination can have fun with!
This song is to be played slowly, but not dragging. Ravel said once after a very draggy performance of it: "I wrote Pavane for a Dead Princess, not Dead Pavane for a Princess!"



Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Still Life: Timmy vs Jawbreakers

Yeah, this is kind of a Halloween themed comic, but we can still enjoy it even though it's the first day of December. [gasp]

 
As per usual, click to enlarge. :)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Righteous Classical Music: Francesca da Rimini by Tchaikovsky

This is a lesser-known work of Tchaikovsky's, written while he was on vacation in Beyreuth. He was coming off of a very long time of depression, and was inspired to write this when he read the story of Francesca and her lover Paolo in Dante's Inferno. Despite the distressing subject matter of this tone poem, this piece marks the return of Tchaikovsky's creative spirit after a time of lethargy.
The story goes like this. Dante and his guide, Virgil, have entered the circle of Hell reserved for people guilty of the sin of lust. They are punished by being thrown about in a whirlwind, similar to the 'whirlwind' of their passions, for all eternity. Dante sees two figures in the whirlwind that he feels very sorry for, and asks them to tell their story. It is Francesca, who was married to a cruel man she didn't love, and had an affair with his handsome brother, Paolo. Her husband found out, and murdered them.
It's a sad and somewhat disturbing story, which might explain why it's not a very popular piece of Tchaikovsky's. Oh yes, the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture ended tragically for the two lovers, but at least the ending chorale promises peace between the Montagues and Capulets. Francesca da Rimini's story and in turn, Tchaikovsky's tone poem, offers no such light. Except for maybe the light of Dante's compassion and pity for the couple. This might have been what appealed to Tchaikovsky about the story (aside from the themes of tragic love, which he seemed to like).
Musically, too, this isn't quite as engaging of say, Capriccio Italien or R+J, but it is still very good and interesting. The opening goes on a little too long, but it is very evocative of a chaotic, unrelenting whirlwind. It makes you feel kind of helpless, and like good writing, you feel very immersed into the setting and mood.
Then, after this chaotic and infernal opening, things quiet down suddenly as a bass clarinet plays a plaintive solo, representing Dante asking the lovers for their tale. We are suddenly whisked away to a totally different scene in Italy, as Francesca relates the story. The bass clarinet's plaintive song is developed and carried by different instruments, swelling with passion until the discovery of their affair and their subsequent murder. The music ends dismally- with the return of the whirlwind.
The subject of tragic lovers appealed to Tchaikovsky, as we've seen in Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet before. This may not be his best work, but it's a poignant and haunting comeback for a composer with many brilliant works still ahead of him.


Friday, November 27, 2015

Final Fantasy VII [1997]


I play video games to retain my sanity after stressful practice sessions, and a really good game is quite a treat after you've been hitting your head against a concerto for an hour.
FF VII is considered the BEST RPG ever made, and while there are a few other games I like a little better than this one (Okay, just the first Kingdom Hearts lol), I still agree that it is very good. I think that this game is actually a little too good for its format, so it's neat that they're making a remake. There are a few extremely emotionally charged scenes that are maybe a little nullified due to the weird, blocky looking character models. XD
The story is a little confusing in places, though overall, I would say that it is very well put together. There are little bits of foreshadowing that you wouldn't notice the first time around, and I love foreshadowing that is so subtle that when you get to the twist, you look back and think "Holy Shnikes! How did I not notice that?!"
The characters are actually pretty well done! Even the weird cat thing (Cait Sith) gets some development! The only one I didn't really care about was Red XIII, but that's just because I'm not nutzo on endless droning on and on about 'the planet' and how 'the planet is blah blah', but you know, he's not unbearable. My favorite characters were Tifa, Cid, Yuffie, and Aerith. Aerith is also a really neat character! A lot of the other entries in the series make her look like some kind of dainty, mystical sweetheart, but she's actually a very vivacious, streetwise lady, who can actually be kind of a shrew at times. XD
I like the gameplay. The Materia system is really cool when you figure out how to combine them to give the characters different abilities. There are also a TON of extras you can get if you're patient enough to work for them. Like the Chocobo racing, Materia Caves, and the Battle Arena.
I really liked the music. Sure, it's kind of cheesy sounding due to the MIDI program used, but it really is amazing music! You can find a lot of it remastered online, and they've arranged a few of the tracks for orchestra that you can also listen to on YouTube. Aerith's theme is always a favorite for good reason, it's a really beautiful, emotional track. I also really liked Tifa's theme. That song features a pretty flute solo, and the repeat of the melody makes good use of what I think is the bassoon (hard to tell with the MIDI instruments and all)! How cool! The World Map song is so pretty that it almost sounds like classical music to me! It goes through a lot of different emotions, and I think that the composer really knocked it out of the park with this one. I'll embed a video of the orchestral version at the bottom of the post. :)

The Verdict: A
Definitely one of my favorite games! While not flawless, this is a deeply engaging game that has a LOT to do besides the main storyline! I like the game mechanics, it's really fun to develop your own unique playing style.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sheherezade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Allright, so who's up for 50 minutes of colorful orchestration, amazing tunes, and righteous solos for nearly every instrument in the orchestra?
I'm talking about Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's masterpiece, Sheherezade; based on the Arabian Nights. In the story that this piece is based on, a piggish sultan has decided that all women are faithless, and decides to marry one woman each night and execute her the next morning. Not really family friendly, but there it is. So one woman, the titular Sheherezade, decides to save her life by telling the sultan a story each night, and timing it well enough that it ends on a cliffhanger and he has to let her live another night to hear the end. After 1001 nights, he finally decides that she can live.
Sheherezade is split into four movements, each one is kind of like a different story. But just four. I think composing 997 more movements was a bit much. ;)
So all the movements feature a delicate, winding violin solo that is meant to represent the storyteller herself. I love how the violin solos kind of 'lead' into the parts of the song meant to be the stories, like she's beginning to tell the story, and it takes flight from there. I really love this piece (a 'Symphonic Suite', as I think it's technically called?) because it combines my two artistic passions- writing and music! Aaaaahhhh!

1. Sinbad and the Storm at Sea
Rimsky's Korsakov's evocation of the sea through music is masterful here. You can almost feel the spray against your face, listening to this! And the brass absolutely punching that low, dark, theme sounds like something monstrous rising from the depths of the sea! I love how the violin (Sheherazade, if you will!) interludes weave in and out of the big orchestral (the story, if you will also!) parts. It really feels like she's telling the story.

2. The Legend of the Kalendar Prince
The first movement was awe-inspiring, and sends shivers down my spine. This movement is rich, exciting, and 'angers up the blood' as we say. The first movement was amazing, this second movement is double that. A Kalendar is a fakir who was gifted in story-telling. He is represented by the lengthy bassoon solos in this movement, so it's almost like Sheherazade is telling a story, and there's another storyteller in THAT story! So cool! This movement is really righteous because it is filled with action, tension, and wildly colorful orchestration!
This also showcases another one of Rimsky-Korsakov's strengths! Taking a melody, and changing the chords and context of it without changing the melody itself. The Kalendar prince theme is taken first by the bassoon, and it's moody and contemplative. Then by the friendlier oboe, then by the strings, who sound determined and like they mean business!

3. The Prince and the Young Princess
Allright, time to settle down. After the crazy-awesomeness of the previous movement, you'd think that this one would be a little overshadowed. Well, it kind of is, but this is still a very nice piece of music! It tells the story of a romantic prince who is in love with this pretty and fun-loving princess. Unfortunately for him, it takes a while for his words of love (represented by the first theme) to be taken seriously by the goofy and light-hearted princess (who is represented by the second theme). Eventually the feeling of love is mutual though, and you'll definitely be able to tell, musically, when that happens! ;)

4. The Festival at Bagdhad
This piece takes us to the end of Sheherazade's story. We open up with the angry and impatient Sultan. The Sheherazade violin solo takes on a totally new color, with tense double stops as she implores him for one more night of stories. This movement calls back melodies from ALL the previous movements, almost as if she's trying to calm down the sultan's temper by recalling previous stories and characters. Sure enough, the sultan theme interrupts a few times, but the story keeps on going. Finally, her story ends and the music takes a quiet and uncertain sound as she prepares to be sentenced to death. But the sultan has had a change of heart, and decides to let her go free. The music ends on a peaceful, major chord as Sheherazade gets to settle in for her first full night of sleep in a LONG time.
So! That was the subtext, now the music. XD
There is some absolutely NUTTY brass section action in this movement. I mean, all of the movements are challenging for the brass, but this one calls for so much skill. The violin solos in this movement are probably the most challenging of all the movements, with close double stops that require perfect placement of the fingers to get in tune.
While themes from all of the previous movements are recalled, this theme still has room to add in it's own themes and flavor. I love the whirling conclusion that ends her story- a crashing, massive return of the Storm at Sea theme.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Swan Lake (Ballet) [1877]

Oh yeah, Tchaikovsky! We've been on kind of a ballet jones for mysterious reasons. ;)
Mostly because we watched Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev, and saw the link to a production of Swan Lake. I liked the music, but I couldn't remember if I'd ever watched it all the way through!
So we watched it. By the way, this mysterious 'we' refers to me and my sister.

One of the things I liked about Romeo and Juliet was that not too much time was spent on dances that did nothing for the plot. There were a few, like at the ball, or in the town square, but most of the time, the plot was very well paced. While I really enjoyed Swan Lake, I have to say that dang. About three quarters of it was just people dancing around and not doing much for the plot.
But hey! This is ballet, and when you go to see a ballet, you want... well, ballet. I'm not a huge dance person myself, so maybe that explains why I got a bit bored during the loooooooooooong stretches that were random dances.

My other issue with this otherwise totally awesome and heartbreaking ballet is pretty minor, but still. So we all know the famous Waltz, right? Well, I was expecting it to play during the ball where Odile is magically disguised as Odette! The Waltz is an amazing piece of music. It's romantic and elegant, but there are moments of great tension and even distress too. So fitting for a scene in which the prince thinks he's confessing his love to his princess, but is actually being tricked! So that's where I thought it was used.
Turns out, it's actually used in Act 1, at Prince Siegfried's birthday party. A scene that isn't really that tense or romantic or any of that juicy stuff. But like I said, that's probably just me. :)

So anyway, the plot is simple. On the night of his birthday, Prince Siegfried is out hunting in the forest and comes across a beautiful swan, who turns into a mournful young woman. This woman is Princess Odette, who was turned into a swan, along with all her friends, by a wicked sorcerer named Rothbart. The only way for the curse to be broken is for her true love to confess their love to her. Of course, she and Siegfried fall in love, and he invites her to a grand ball to celebrate their love. At his ball, he'll ask her to marry him. Rothbart gets wind of this (because he has the lake bugged?) and uses magic to disguise his daughter Odile as Odette. At the ball, Siegfried confesses his love to Odile, and realizes his mistake when it's too late. He rushes to the lake, where he and Odette dance for the last time. Things end with Odette drowning herself in the lake, and Siegfried joining her in death- since I guess sacrificing their lives together is the only way to free the rest of the swans from the curse. Or just because everything must end in suicide with ballet.

So I guess I can see why they had to pad it out with a LOT of dances, but I like it. It's a simple, but heart-wrendingly tragic story.

And the music. Holy Shnikes the music! I mentioned the awesome Waltz, but there's also the lively Coda (to which Odile does her famous spin-ny thing!), the Dance of the Little Swans, and my personal favorite- the music that plays over the finale!

The Verdict: A
Romeo and Juliet is still my favorite ballet, but this one is a very close second! The plot may be simple and stretched out with additional dances, but it packs a hefty emotional punch. The music is amazing, and takes a pretty good story and makes it a magnificent story.

Here are some of my favorite dances and songs. :)


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Romeo and Juliet Chibis!

In honor of our concert (in which we performed the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture!), here is the cast of R+J rendered in Chibi form!
I know towards the end some of the color schemes get hideous, I was running out of ideas for how to color the outfits because I wanted them all to look different. But I was running out of them by the time I reached Paris, so that poor guy's got an ugly outfit.
But I'm really happy with how all the others look, so huzzah!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Classial Music Chibis!

I drew up the cast of Romeo and Juliet, but I figured that everyone was tired of the constant R+J stuff that I've been posting, so I thought I'd do this first!

So here are the three pieces that I illustrated, Sheherazade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Paul Dukas, and Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens. These three pieces are Tone Poems, meaning they tell a story through the music. Hence, they are the easiest to draw!

Sheherazade
Sheherazade is about a sultan who is convinced all women are faithless, and marries one woman each night and has her executed the next morning. Then one night, his bride is the clever and imaginative Sheherazade, who saves her life by telling him one enthralling story every night, and timing it just right so that it ends on a cliffhanger so that he needs her one more night to hear the rest! This goes on for 1,001 nights, until he finally lets her live. The piece ends tranquilly, with Sheherazade finally getting a good night's sleep!

The Sorcerer's Apprentice
[snort] We all know the story of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, right? A mischievous young apprentice gets ahold of his master's book of spells and wreaks havoc. I had a LOT of fun drawing this one, from his overblown look of awe to the random color swirls that are supposed to represent the magic he's performing. :D

Danse Macabre
Danse Macabre is a song made of awesome. It tells the story of Death, who goes to the graveyard at midnight on Halloween (the stroke of Twelve is represented by a Harp playing twelve D's in a row). He plays his violin (there is a solo violin part, and get this! The soloist actually uses a special tuning to sound really devilish!!) and forces the bones of the dead to dance a mad waltz. It becomes more frenzied and insane until the sun rises (represented by an oboe playing a chipper little riff). It's really cool, and we're playing it in concert this very Sunday! AAAAHHH!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Romeo and Juliet (Ballet) by Sergei Prokofiev [1938]

So we watched this ballet to kind of help us get a good mental image for the pieces we're playing in orchestra, and we ended up getting really attached to it. I mean really, this is a totally awesome ballet.
First off, the music is pretty good. Not all of it is masterpiece-level, but a good much of it is! Stand outs are...
The Dance of Knights; which we just covered in a post! This song is very oppressive, and mainly used as music during a ball at the Capulets, but it also reappears during some very tense fight scenes!
Masks! This song is kinda goofy sounding, and it plays during a fun scene when Romeo, Benvolio, and Mercutio are sneaking into the Capulet's party! On a darker note, when Mercutio is fatally stabbed fighting Tybalt, a riff from Masks plays, but this time in a somber key.
Before Parting. Omigosh, this piece!! This one has got to be my favorite song in the whole ballet, and plays during Romeo and Juliet's last pas de deux before he has to leave (this is after he kills Tybalt in a duel, and is subsequently banished). The strings sound like a rainfall, and it starts off with a very pretty little flute solo that repeats a few times, each with something slightly different. There is a really pretty viola solo, too! The pas de deux is closely followed by an amazing musical interlude that plays as Juliet makes up her mind to go to Friar Laurence and concoct a plan for her and her husband to stay together. This part is gorgeous, and has some really good brass action. In the suite, Before Parting and this Interlude are in the same track (as well as a later snippet that plays as Juliet contemplates and uses the potion), and it's amazing.
Aaaaanyway, I didn't think that I was a huge ballet fan, but I recently watched this one (obviously) and Swan Lake too, and I've come to really like some things about it. Like how much can be conveyed just through the combination of movement and music. There are is also at least one instance where the staging echoes the Shakespeare dialogue. At least in the staging we saw, I know there are two major choreographies for this ballet, and the one I'm talking about is the newer, more used one. Anyway, the way Mercutio's death was staged was so cool. Romeo and Tybalt end up on separate ends of the stage, with Mercutio in the middle. About to die from his wound, he struggles to keep his balance. He gestures violently towards Romeo, then towards Tybalt- as if to say "A plague 'o both your houses!", and then he collapses, dead. Chills, man. I got chills.
The following fight scene between Romeo and Tybalt was so incredibly tense. Romeo's actor was moving so fast, and swinging his sword with such raw fury and devastation- it was really good.

The Verdict: A
My only complaint with this magnificent adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy is that it ends with the suicide of Juliet, omitting the making of peace between the families. But as my sister pointed out, it would be super hard to do a talky scene like that in ballet pantomime style. So that's not even a huge issue. Prokofiev's score is wonderfully emotional and colorful. Listening to his other music, it seems that his dominant style is kind of wacky, but his quirky, modern style works well with the story and it comes to life. True, not all of the music is the same level of quality (sometimes it gets a bit random and weird), but the score, combined with the amazing choreography make this a really enjoyable ballet.






Friday, October 23, 2015

Ma Vlast: Vltava (Moldau) by Bedrich Smetana

The composition describes the course of the Vltava, starting from the two small springs, the Cold and Warm Vltava, to the unification of both streams into a single current, the course of the Vltava through woods and meadows, through landscapes where a farmer's wedding is celebrated, the round dance of the mermaids in the night's moonshine: on the nearby rocks loom proud castles, palaces and ruins aloft. The Vltava swirls into the St John's Rapids; then it widens and flows toward Prague, past the Vyšehrad, and then majestically vanishes into the distance, ending at the Labe.
-Bedrich Smetana

Ma Vlast means My Land in Czech. 'Vltava', also known by its German name 'Moldau', is a river in the Czech Republic, very big, and it stretches through lots of different scenery.
Ma Vlast is actually a set of compositions that Smetana wrote in homage to his homeland, sort of like Finlandia. We'll be covering the second movement, which is about the aforementioned river Vltava.
The piece opens with a beautiful flute duet (which I think must be 'starting from the two small springs' that he talks of in the above quote). They are joined by other woodwinds, and it grows until the strings pick it up and it evolves into a rich and solelmn, but also gorgeous and bright melody. There is a lot of flute action in Vltava. In the middle of the song, there is another flute duet accompanied by quiet strings. This second duet sort of follows the pattern of the first one, but it is much quieter and is near transcendent at times; painting a musical picture of a stream running through the forest, with sunlight reflecting off it... [contented sigh] This one too grows and eventually becomes like a waterfall, all crazy and swirling around and such.
Smetana does an absolutely stellar job evoking the sounds of a river with his music. It goes from swelling and loud to quiet and peaceful, and everything in between. There are many different moods in the music, and it's another lovely example of music used to express love for one's homeland.


Next Up: Sheherazade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov OR Romance in F Major for Violin and Orchestra by Beethoven

Monday, October 12, 2015

Still Life: Ride the Samovar and Drink from the Troika

This one is pretty self-explanatory. My terrific chummie was reading The Brothers Karamazov [nods head in approval], and got the Russian words Samovar (teapot) and Troika (carriage) mixed up. Hilarity ensued!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Montagues and Capulets by Sergei Prokofiev

This is a selection of music from Sergei Prokofiev's ballet adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, which we're playing in orchestra this semester!
This particular piece of music plays during a ball at the Capulet's mansion. In the ballet, it's called Dance of the Knights, but in the suite of music taken from the ballet it's renamed Montagues and Capulets.
The opening is rather clashy and dissonant, but I think it makes for an interesting prologue to the main thing.
The music starts with a vicious, heavy theme that uses many dotted rhythms and feels very dark and oppressive. This obviously shows the strife and darkness caused by the pointless feud of the two families. Then, as Juliet enters the ball, a softer theme played by solo flutes and accompanied by a viola glissando. Later, a celesta joins in, and the violins play pianissimo broken chords. I always thought this theme was rather slinky sounding.
Later the heavy theme returns, but with different instrumentation, leading to the piece's close.
I really like all of the cool stuff for brass to do here! They sound so menacing and foreboding, very cool!


Next Up: The Moldau by Bedrich Smetana

Friday, September 25, 2015

Righteous Classical Music: La Mer by Claude Debussy

YEAH, more Debussy! Debussy and Tchaikovsky are my two favorite composers, along with Beethoven, Rimsky-Korsakov, Sviridov and about a million other guys!
Ahem, so La Mer is a tone poem about (you guessed it!) the sea, and it is an absolute masterwork of suggestion through musical texture. Debussy portrays the many different 'moods' of the ocean, from tranquility to the crashing waves and mysterious depths.
There are three movements to this piece.
1. De L'aube a Midi sur la Mer (From Dawn to Midday on the Sea)
2. Jeux de Vagues (Games of the Waves)
3. Dialogue du Vent et de la Mer (Dialogue of the Wind and Sea)
The first movement is my favorite, but the others are super cool too. I love the first movement because it reminds me of the Monterey Bay, one of my favorite places in California. The waters are so peaceful at times, but also very powerful and awe-inspiring. That's a feeling I really get from this movement. There is a really pretty Flute solo, too!! Really, I just love how Debussy uses the woodwind section. He utilizes the strengths of each instrument and they are used to their fullest potential. Makes me wish I didn't have a cold so I could play flute/piccolo! :(
The second movement really does sound like playful waves. From the downward scales from the wind section at the start of the piece, to the somewhat spazzy part for strings, this movement is very suggestive of a rather squally day out at the harbor, the winds picking up and the waves becoming rougher. This movement isn't really melodic at all. You can't find a single defining melody. Rather, it's about the sounds and what they suggest, which isn't something you want all music to be, but it's pretty darn cool when done right. At the end of this movement, there is a lovely little bit for Piccolo and Harp, by the way. ;)
The last movement, Dialogue of the Wind and Sea, is foreboding, but also rather excited at the beginning. I really like the use of percussion, especially the timpani drum! The oboe and flute too, get to do some fun solo-ish parts. Towards the end, Piccolo does some cool whistle-y things which I like. The woodwinds do some very interesting runs that sound really difficult! Debussy is so hard to play because sometimes it sounds like it doesn't fit together when it actually does, so when you try and make it 'fit' the way you're used to, you mess it up. This movement makes for a nice, strong finale to what is a terrific musical image of the sea in all it's power and beauty, from tranquility to majesty.



Next Up: The 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Some Videos of my First Concert LOL

Me and my sister actually found our orchestra on YouTube. Righteous!
Some of them are total blasts from the past, I'm tellin' ya.
These first two are from my first concert way back in 2011!!
Back when we actually had a different conductor. O.o
Also way back when I didn't spaz like an squirrel on meth. Seriously, if only I could find a more recent video, you guys could see what I mean. XD

This next one is part of the Nutcracker medley we did, and out of seven flutes, I was one of the lucky three who got to be a soloist in the Dance of the Reed Pipes! I'm the greasy haired one in the middle. XD
I'm happy I found this video, because I didn't actually get to see the dancer during our performance. Our conductor told us that if he caught us looking at the dancer, we'd be kicked out. But she's really good!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Still Life: Count Your Lucky Stars

So, you know, I was just skimming through The Brothers Karamazov (as I am wont to do), and decided that this would be fun to draw. Keep in mind, I've been sick and hopped up on medicine, so this might not be that funny, I dunno. XD

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture by Tchaikovsky

Warning: Ranting Lies Herein! Ranting of the good sort, not angry ranting though. :)
Okay, so we're playing this, and I'm really excited, because I've been wanting to play it for a while! What a coincidence!
So this piece actually a telling of the Romeo and Juliet story in and of itself, telling the story with music, rather than words. Sometimes I actually prefer listening to this to reading the play, because the sheer emotional scale of the music is overpowering to me. If you close your eyes, you feel absolutely enveloped in the music, and it goes through so many different emotions! There is a sense of nervous tension almost ever present (even during the famous love theme), and explosive anger and conflict. And there is, I think, a very palpable feeling of helplessness present at certain spots too. Starting around the 15:30 minute mark in the video, the anxious tone grows and grows, until the previously quiet and peaceful, but now soaring and lush love theme returns. This should be a joyful moment, but something in the music sends the message that something is very wrong. The immense timpani rolls make it feel like you're helplessly afloat on a stormy sea.
Of course, I have a rep for being very melodramatic, but hey! This is some of the most emotional music in the world, so I'm in my element here!
Anyway, we've talked about the emotional aspects, so now howabout more on the technical side. This piece has very good parts for pretty much everyone in the orchestra. The brass are totally righteous and can show off really well, the bassoon part actually, is really neato too! The part for violin sounds like so much work, it's very virtuosic. I mean, just listen to the more strife-y parts of the music, and you'll find yourself wondering how they're doing that! The Flute/Piccolo parts are considerably easier, but definitely not easy. There's a lot of coming in on the right beat, and runs fer dayz. But really, it's so much fun to play. The Flute/Piccolo parts are so beautiful (yeah, even the Piccolo gets in on the lovey dovey action!) and I find myself getting totally lost in the music. And that, my friends, is my favorite thing about Orchestra! Well, getting lost in the music, and the occasional free cake when the conductor's birthday lands on a rehearsal night. ;)
Just kidding, stay frosty, my friends!

Music actually starts around 2:00. :)

Next Up: La Mer: From Dawn to Midday on the Sea by Claude Debussy

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Still Life: Piccolo Contract

I double Piccolo in my orchestra (as you all know, and no doubt beg me to stop bringing up XD), which means you're the lucky member of the Flute section who gets to float between two instruments at your leisure. The conductor was pretty cool with that the first semester, but the second semester, I had a few solos, so he started cinching up on the causal swapping to Flute whenever the Piccolo is on a 1,408,00 measure rest. I mean, I LOVE the Piccolo, but I'd like to be able to do Flute when I have those monster rests. He's not so strict about it this semester (WHOOO!), but I still drew this comic because.
 
:)
If you click on the picture, the text is way clearer.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Okay, so I'm not a super duper Ivory Tower snob, so I'm technically not allowed to have an opinion on any kind of Shakespeare, but here we go.
So far as Shakespeare goes, Henry V is still my favorite, but Romeo and Juliet is an extremely close second.
First, I'll explain my take on the two title characters romance. Okay, get your pitchforks and torches ready, because I don't think that they are the Paragon of True Love. I think they were impulsive and rushed things because of circumstance. I think that if their families hadn't been feuding, then they would have either gotten married eventually after getting to know each other, or they would've lost interest (similar to how Romeo quickly lost interest in Rosaline?) and started seeing other suitors.
That's the tragedy of it, if you ask me. It didn't have to be that way. This play made me really sad not because they were tragically star-crossed saints in love, but rather because they were impulsive kids who just wanted to be together and rushed into it without thinking of the consequences. [sniffle]
I liked the character development of the two. Romeo started out as an emo whiner but was sharpened into a determined young man; for better or worse. Well, worse.
Juliet is a typical ingénue, but also clever, and she actually keeps her head better than Romeo. And at the same time, she's totally your average girl.
How art thou out of breath, when thou hast breath to say to me that thou are out of breath?
XD
The supporting characters were pretty good, too. I feel bad for Paris, I know a lot of productions demonize him for not being Romeo, but he seems to have a solid character, and I was pretty tensed up during the fight between him and Romeo. My favorite character was Mercutio, because even at death's door he's a total snarker. At first, I thought he was just being a drama queen, actually! Then it turns out he's really hurt. Ouch. That's when the play goes from Rom Com to straight up Tragedy, I think.

The Verdict: A-
This here is a Tragedy with very interesting characters, sword fights to balance out the love scenes, and actually a very satisfying ending! I read this to prepare the this orchestra semester where we will play the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture by Tchaikovsky! It's very pretty, and I think that now I understand the story, I'll be able to put that much more into performance.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends

Orchestra season starts again tomorrow. TOMORROW! ONE DAY MORE!!!
Ahem. So all of this month, I eagerly anticipated the 26th like this, basically.
This is so wonderful! We're playing Romeo and
Juliet by Tchaikovsky, that totally makes up for
the Charles Ives!
Now that it's tomorrow... I feel more like this.
I really should've practiced the Charles Ives more studiously!!!
Oooohh. Savez-Moi!

So, here's what we're playing!
Junior Youth
La Folia
Romeo and Juliet: Masks, Capulets & Montagues
Danse Macabre (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
Honors
Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
Charles Ives 2nd Symphony Finale (which end with a hideous chord. Boo!)
Vietnamese Folk Medley with Guest Musician on the Dan Tranh!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Anton Chekhov

So when I was taking Drama back in the Spring semester I thought about doing a monologue from Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, so I read some of his work in preparation for the role. Well, I ended up doing Antigone instead because I found it more interesting and easier to pull off (so hard to be the unrequited love girl without sounding whiny!), but the Chekhov plays were still pretty interesting.
But I couldn't make heads or tails of them, so to me, dumb American teenager, this is what the plays kind of felt like to me.
Also, me and a friend read a scene, and I swear, the dialogue was exactly like this.

Yeah. No makey sense to me.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Righteous Classical Music: Finlandia by Jean Sibelius

We played this for orchestra a few years ago, and it was fun. Except for the mean sectionals coach who chewed me out whenever I pronounced in 'Fin-land-ee-ah', because it's correct pronunciation is 'Fin-LAHNDIA'. Pfft. Me and that sectionals coach aren't a good match. Good thing I recently learned how to adjust my attitude to avoid unnecessary conflict!
Where was I? Oh yeah! The music! Oops.
Finlandia is basically a love letter by Sibelius to his beloved homeland, Finland. (obviously). I think that's very sweet. Not only can you use music to profess your love of your home, but you can also show others through music the beauty of your homeland. I'd like to compose something like that someday about my home.
 The music is very turbulent in the first half, to reflect the struggle of the Finnish people throughout history. Interestingly, they had to change the name a few times to avoid Russian censorship!
I really enjoy all the brass and low strings at the beginning. They sound very intense, and it contrasts well with the tranquil middle half. :D

Next Up!: Pffft, probably something we're playing for the new orchestra semester!!!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

THE PIE OF JUPITER!!

Ahem, let me explain. XD I'm totally into Battlestar Galactica (we're going to finish it today, sniff!), and in Season 3 there's this colorful, circular, symbol called 'The Eye of Jupiter' that they think can lead them to Earth. So, being the uber nerds that we are, we made...
The Pie of Jupiter.

 Here's the one from the show...


 And here's ours!


Adama would rather nuke the Temple of Five than give the Cylons a taste of THIS pie! ;)

Friday, August 7, 2015

Weather is Cool

Wow. Last night was an epic thunder and lightning and rain storm, with lightning flashes so intense it looked clear as day for a whole second, and thunder claps that just kept on going, and going, and going.
And now we have a clear, blue sky with warm temperatures and a moderate breeze. I love the mood swings of west coast weather. XD

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan [2012]

Haha, just the title to this book alone is enough to make me crack a grin!
After Crime and Punishment, this book was a really good way sort of come back from all the really dark themes and such.
Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore is about a man named Clay Jannon, who is a very techy fellow, but hasn't been able to hold onto a good job, despite the fact that he lives in the heart of tech country- San Francisco. So Clay grabs onto the first job he can get- the overnight shift at a very weird bookstore that's (you guessed it!) open 24 hours a day. Soon, weird people come and borrow books that are seemingly nothing but jumbles of letters taking up all the pages. It soon turns out though that Mr. Penumbra and these costumers are members of a secret organization seeking- well, I don't want to spoil it!
This book is narrated in the first person by Clay, and he's a really fun narrator! He's dorky, sarcastic, and actually very clever and intelligent when you get down to it! The pacing is good, the plot never drags, but it also doesn't feel rushed, either.
The Supporting Cast is also pretty good, though- I've noticed this with 1st person narration- they aren't as developed as the main character, and that's cool. Why? Because in a 1st person narration book, we only know as much as the narrator knows, and the narrator doesn't know all their inmost secrets. That being said, they are still very interesting and fun. I liked Kat, and of course, Mr. Penumbra himself! The plot goes in directions that you don't expect, and I really liked how all the loose ends (and more!) are neatly tied up at the end of the novel.
There are some interesting themes, too.  The most obvious one is the relationship between modern technology and regular, traditional books. I feel that by the end of the novel, the conclusion is agreeable and interesting.

The Verdict: A
So, this was a really delightful book! It's got everything a book nerd like me could want! A relatable protagonist who is relatable without feeling catered to a specific audience, a colorful ensemble of characters, snarky but not obnoxious writing, and a plot that grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go. Hooray!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Righteous Classical Music: Bolero by Maurice Ravel

I am so pumped out about this piece!
Bolero is a relatively modern piece, written around 1928, and originally commissioned as a ballet by Ida Rubinstein. The interesting thing about this piece is that it is the same two themes repeated over and over and over again (about 8 times each, I think), but it is always building and changing orchestration. The piece grows from very quiet, with various solo parts, to absolutely massive with the whole orchestra playing! There is also some brief bitonality! Bitonality is where two or more instruments are playing together- but in DIFFERENT key signatures! At the Piccolo's entrance two measures after Rehearsal 8, the Piccolo is playing in G major, second Flute (doubling Piccolo also) is playing in E Major, and the Horn is playing in C major! The result is a sound you don't usually hear in classical music; a very odd sounding harmony that doesn't sound quite right, but nonetheless just works, despite all your music theory knowledge is telling you.
All through Bolero, the snare drum (and other instruments) are playing a rhythm that never stops at any point in the whole piece. This gives Bolero a rather mechanical, or determined sound. Maurice Ravel envisioned an open air setting with a factory going calmly in the background while writing this, which I think really matches the tone of the music.
The instrumentation is for a large orchestra, including a couple of Saxophones! So cool!

Next Up: Finlandia by Sibelius

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky [1866]

Well, okay, where to start.
So, I've read three and a half (lol) Dostoevsky novels, and this one is about the second best. It's not a very fun book, though it is really good. Crime and Punishment is about a young man named Rodion Romanovitch Raskolikov who murders the old pawnbroker woman brutally with an axe. The real kicker here, is that the old lady's younger sister walks in at the wrong time, and ends up being murdered too. Raskolnikov's reasons for killing the pawnbroker are vague, and various reasons why are alluded to many times. It could be for money, it could be for the benefit of the poor people that she's swindling, or it could just be that Raskolnikov desperately wants to be one of those 'great men', who are above the law and morality. So it's interesting to puzzle that out in your head as you read the novel.
Something I really like in Dostoevsky's writing is his ability to make you feel exactly what the character is feeling at any given moment. In this particular novel, he really nails this neurotic, paranoid mindset. Especially in the aftermath of the two murders.
The characters are pretty well written in this book. Not all of them are as multi-layered and complicated as the ones in The Brothers Karamazov, but the main characters are very interesting. My favorite characters were Razumihin and Dounia. Razumihin is Raskolnikov's friend, though Raskolnikov ends up pushing him away and being horrid to him most of the novel. Razumihin is very much Raskolnikov's opposite. Razumihin thinks of others, and he's also very friendly and warm. Despite his slacker persona, he's very intelligent. Dounia is Raskolnikov's sister, and she's a really cool female character. She's hot headed and proud like her brother, but she's a much kinder person than him. I like Dounia because she's very blunt, and she doesn't take junk from anyone. She also is revealed at the end to have been packing a gun the whole time. O.O
As for Raskolnikov himself, he's a titanic a-hole and the novel knows it. We're not expected to like him, at least not in the beginning, but he's interesting enough to keep you hooked. Without giving too much away, I didn't hate him too much by the end of the book. ;)

The Verdict: A-
Pretty good stuff! There are lots of very good quotations in this book that make you stop and ponder, and I really like that in my books. This one isn't really that much of a doorstopper, at around 400 pages. So if you were looking to start Dostoevsky, this one is probably the best to start with.

Content Advisory: Towards the end of the book there's a character with a very creepy attraction to teenage girls. Also, there's a somewhat graphically written murder scene. This book is worth reading, but only for mature readers.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Inside Out [2015]

Inside Out was very, very, very, very good.
The End.

Okay, I'll elaborate.
So we all know the basic premise, right? There's a girl named Riley, and her family moves to San Francisco from Minnesota, and we get to know the five major emotions that live in her head (and supposedly also live in ALL our heads!).
So the animation was amazing, as per usual! And the difference between the 'Head' World and the Real World was quite sharp. In the real world the scenery is more realistic looking, while in Riley's Head, it's more cartoonish and soft looking. The music, by Michael Giacchino was just lovely! Especially the main theme that plays at the beginning and a few times later. It's very tranquil and sweet, and has a rather unique ring to it. Very nice. The acting too, was great. Joy was effervescent and optimistic, but never over the top or annoying. She was always very likeable, even when she was making her mistakes. Sadness' actress gave delightfully morose performance, and the other emotions were so spot on!
Pixar movies usually have good humor, and this was no exception. There were so many laugh out loud moments! And of course, the emotional poignant-cy.
I'm not really eloquent or anything like that (what do you expect from somebody who says 'righteous' in every other sentence?), but this movie got me in quite a personal spot the way only a few movies do. I'm talking about the whole Joy/Sadness dynamic. The movie shows that yes, we do need Joy very much, and being joyful is important. But sometimes we just need to be sad. Not sure how else to explain it. The Family dynamic was well played, and it's really cool to see a movie where the kid's relationship with her parents is important and portrayed as something beautiful.

The Verdict: A+
Aaah! I'm in my Post-Pixar movie emotional high right now! Inside Out has pretty much everything I like in a movie. Great acting, a pretty soundtrack, imaginative scenery, and plus! There's HOCKEY! Woo!
Oh, and the short! The movie was preceded by a little short called Lava, which was very cute, and featured a Ukulele song! My sister plays the Ukulele, and she thought it was really cool.

Righteous Classical Music: Entr'acte/Waltz from Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky never ceases to amaze me with his ability to create gorgeous melodies of varying moods and texture. They all seem to have a unifying 'Tchaikovsky-ness' that I can't quite put my finger on.
This song is from an opera that he scored called Eugene Onegin. The opera is based on a story by the Russian poet, Alexandre Pushkin (who's work also inspired another work of classical music that I really love). Pushkin's story involves a man who spurs the romantic advances of a very kind and all around wonderful woman, and of course he later regrets it, tragic Russian-ness, and so forth. I don't know how good the opera is, but this Waltz from the beginning of Act II is a masterpiece in and of itself. The main theme is very sweeping and romantic, played at a moderate tempo with lots of bounce. But there is also a lot of strife present in the music, reflecting the turbulence in the story.


Next Up: Bolero by Maurice Ravel

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Katerina Ivanova's Taste in Men

Hee hee, I'm proud of my little added character, Darya. Mostly because I like her color scheme, it's quite summer-y if I dare say so myself! :)
I might replace the picture, because it's... really blurry!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Creepy Fireworks Safety Pamphlet!

Our town has issues with people bringing up fireworks from Mexico and setting them off in their backyards. So those of use who buy the legal fireworks that stay on the ground have to read these creepy pamphlets about not setting yourself on fire. :P

So without further ado, I'm going to make fun of it! XD!

Celebrate Safely! This Square-Jawed Champion of the Government's Caring Justice (never mind that he's extremely white and he's bossing around this minority-looking family!) shall be here to assist you ALL through your State Approved celebration! And when I say State Approved celebration, I mean that in the most literal of senses. Because, erm...

Looks kind of like a donut box, I hope that no drunk relatives try to
eat fireworks tonight!

Yeah. State Approved Fireworks. To go with your State Approved Beer, and your State Approved Hamburgers to be eaten and enjoyed by your State Approved Friends!
NOM NOM NOM!!!
 
 And you'd better behave this 4th of July! Because Aryan Authority Figure Man is always watching. And he is ready and prepared (even EAGER!) to use his big muscles to discipline any n'er do wells who dare to do something that isn't State Approved!
But throwing fireworks at your brother is all the fun!
Aryan Authority Figure Man will be there, watching.

Skater Dude: Radical man, State-Approved Explosives!
Always watching, ever present...
Check it out, kids! I'm setting this top hat
on fire!
Always watching, never quite gone...
Aryan Authority Figure Man is wondering if any of those
kids want to go on a 'ride' with him...
 
 Always watching...


[shudder] Creepy. Hope you all had a great 4th of July! Happy Independence Day!!
Here's my Dad and younger sibs being crazy!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy Independence Day!

God Bless America. I might not like where my country is headed now, but I can at least thank God that the ideals it was founded on were good and solid. Please help us return to them.
Oh, and HAPPY FIREWORKS AND HOT DOGS!! No, seriously. Enjoy the fireworks and hot dogs. There's nothing wrong with a lot of fun and delicious food if you take the time to remember why we're having them in the first place! :)


Friday, July 3, 2015

Righteous Classical Music: Turkish Fragments, Caravan & At Rest by Mikhail Ippolitov Ivanov

Woo! I love these pieces! It's a shame that hardly anybody performs these anymore, because they really are something awesome. Ippolitov Ivanov takes after Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (who he studied under for a time), in that his music is pre-occupied with the East, and is very colorful and rich.
Turkish Fragments is really in four parts. Caravan, At Rest, The Night, and Festivities. We played the first two in our most recent concert though, so I feel like these first two have a special place with me. XD I'll get around to listening to the others someday, for sure.
Caravan is a really cool piece, and it is tremendously successful in suggesting through music, the slow, lumbering journey of a caravan across the desert. It's also very tranquil sounding. It's like, we know where we're going, and we're having a good time getting there!
At Rest begins with a slow, beautiful melody that has great chord structure. Then it halts, making way for a very energetic middle section that involves some really cool percussion techniques. There is also a REALLY neato piccolo part! It's not really a solo, because the flutes are playing it too, but this excited tune has some crazy fingering acrobatics, and sparkles with electric energy! I was sitting piccolo for this one, and let me tell you, it's hard to make it sound so good. You have to practice it a LOT, and if you leave it for a few days then you're going to start losing it. The last part of this movement is a lot more mellowed out (like it ran out of energy! XD), and features a lovely Trumpet solo that showcases the instrument's higher range. At last, the movement settles down into a lovely little woodwind bit. The bassoon takes a motif and passes it to the clarinets, who pass it to the flutes, who pass it to the piccolo, and it sounds like the stars coming out... :)




Next Up!: Entr'acte/Waltz from Eugene Onegin by Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky

Monday, June 29, 2015

Righteous Classical Music: Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin

Oh yeah! Something else a little different for a change! Rhapsody in Blue is a good deal more modern than a lot of classical music we've ranted about before, and the whole aesthetic is a lot different. The whole feel is very urban and jazzy, and holy shnikes! Is that some righteous piano action, or not? But the piano isn't the only instrument that totally gets to showcase in this song. The opening clarinet solo is one of the most famous beginnings in all of music! In this righteous little solo, the clarinet player actually performs a glissando, which is a real stunt on a woodwind! And then there's the brass! There is plenty for the brass to do, and they totally go nuts! It must be fun to be a trumpet player in this song!
The moods of the piece vary, and it travels through several different emotions. The crazy piano parkour is contrasted with a gentle and swelling middle section.


Next Up: Turkish Fragments: 'Caravan' and 'During the Rest' by Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Storage Room: Office Volunteering

I've done a bit of volunteer work at my orchestra's offices, and it's fun! Yeah, got to lug some string instruments to storage, and did a TON of music filing (which was cool, actually). It's pretty righteous. Sometimes office work gets a little tedious, especially when you have like, 15 cellos you have to drag to storage, but all in all, I think it was good work experience! And I got a comic idea out of it. ;)

If you can't read the writing, here's the script.

Rene: Allright, I'm here! Marisol! I didn't know you volunteered at the orchestra office!
Marisol: Yah! It's a good way to rack up favoritism points! So we have to sort through all these papers.
Rene: Last concert's program...
Marisol: Page nine of the Rhapsody in Blue score... someone's apple tart recipe, I think I'll keep this!
Rene: Fyodor Kovalchuck's Enemies List?!
Mr. Kovalchuck: Ooh, I was looking for that!
Rene & Marisol: .......

:)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

La Cenerentola

We watched the opera version of Cinderella by Rossini last week, and it was such fun!
I don't really like opera that much (Though a few years ago we got tickets to see the Barber of Seville, and it was GREAT!), but this one was really fun! I think that I might actually like a few operas, but I've been turned off just because it's usually so hard to understand what the deuce is going on. Thankfully, somebody invented subtitles. XD
So anyway, the DVD we watched was of a live stage performance, and it was really good! The actors all gave very solid performances, especially the Stepfather and Cinderella herself (actually named Angelica in this version!). The lyrics and dialogue were very witty, and I laughed out loud frequently! The music was pretty good. My main issue with opera is that the music is just kind of all over the place. Like, all the songs are just extended cadenza for the diva to show off her soprano-ness. But I didn't mind it so much in this one. Angelica, the lead, is a Mezzo Soprano (Yay!!), so there isn't quite as much insanity music-wise. The music was very peppy and in some spots, absolutely charming. I have to say, I really liked this take on the Prince!
So all in all, this was fun to watch!