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.

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. :)