Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What Happened and What's Going On

Hey-o! I have been gone a very long time, ahaha. School is happening people, it's happening for reals. I have had a TON of stuff going on, and I still really love writing on my blog, and wish I could keep at it, but the time simply doesn't allow it. During my breaks though, that's a different story! So around Christmas, I'll probably show up again, and maybe I'll be able to make time before then even.
Here's all the stuff that's happened since I dropped off...

-Took up the Alto Saxophone, and had to play lead alto sax for our Jazz Band's first concert because the normal first alto was going to have a doctor's appointment. That was scary, playing lead alto after having played for a grand total of six weeks. But I did it, and no disasters happened. I hit all the notes and managed to keep the section together. Huzzah!

-Won a cool scholarship at my school, and am currently taking flute lessons from the lead flutist of the local symphony orchestra. Great Scott!!

-Read The Little Prince for English 1B. Totally amazing and devastating book. Go read it now, it's just such beautiful a story.

-Found an amazing Piccolo concerto!! Augh, I love it! I think there will be a post on it very soon that is super rambly!

-I'm playing the 2nd movement of Mozart's concerto in D major for flute with a pianist friend of mine! It's so much fun to play music with another person one on one!

So that's about it. See you sometime in the future, stay frosty.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Review: Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

I said most of what I wanted in the last post, but I need a break from writing my thesis (yeah... summer classes :P), so I'm doing this.
Long story short, I liked it. I know, against all odds. Usually I can't stand books in verse, but this time around I found I liked the story enough to get around the whole 'book in verse' thing. The problem I have with books in verse is that usually I have a super hard time figuring out what the deuce is going on, but in Eugene Onegin, the plot is easy to follow without being extremely simple. I'd love to read this in Russian someday, but I don't know if I could learn it well enough. We'll see.
The characters were interesting. The cast was small and easy to keep track of, unlike a lot of Russian novels. Not like having a huge cast is a bad thing, because I love Russian novels.
I feel like I can't judge the writing because I read a translation. With regular prose, you can directly translate what the author was saying. When translating poetry and having rhymes to preserve... let's just say that maybe what the author wanted to say hasn't completely gotten across.
The thematic elements were beautiful, and I learned a lot about Russian culture (at least in the 1800s) from the useful footnotes, so this was a lovely experience.
Pushkin inspired a lot of my favorite composers to write music about his stories, so I'm very excited to try and read some more! I'd like to read The Blizzard next, because one of my favorite concert suites is based on that story.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Mid-Book Impressions: The Three Musketeers and Eugene Onegin

If you look at the sidebar on my blog, you'll notice that I'm reading The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. If you read Cyrillic, you'll also have figured out that I'm reading Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin. Sorry I didn't get an actual book cover for it, but I liked the drawing. Pushkin was good at drawing too, who knew?
Ahem. I've noticed several similarities between these books, and I'm less than halfway through Musketeers and nearly done with Eugene Onegin.

First off, they both feature dueling. Musketeers treats dueling as casually as you treat brushing your teeth, and Onegin treats dueling as something tragic that ruins lives. Huh. I wonder if those people you just skewered had families and lovers, d'Artagnan.
Pushkin goes out of his way to show how horrible the early death of the man killed in the duel was, whereas in Musketeers, the bodies pile up with hardly a batted eye. But again, I'm less then halfway through it. I'm either in for three hundred more pages of this, or an epic Dantes-esque redemption arc. Why do I doubt the latter.

Second, the leading men are both deeply flawed. Eugene is jaded and ends up making many mistakes that ruin his happiness. d'Artagnan is impulsive and a little too quick on the draw, also he is actively trying to get a married woman to be his mistress. Eugene's flaws are what drives the story to tragedy, d'Artagnan's are portrayed in kind of a 'boys will be boys' way. Needless to say, I don't like it.

Third, the author's names are both Alexander. Nothing deep to say here, I just thought it was really funny how I just so happened to pick these two at the same time. Coincidence, won't you?

The thing that surprised me about Onegin is that it's written in verse, and I usually hate books in verse. I couldn't even finish The Ballad of White Horse by Chesterton, because I was so lost and irritated with the style. However, I'm plowing through Onegin, and enjoying it very much. I'm also considering learning Russian so I can read this and my other favorite Russian novels in their original language. I already speak French, so I should probably brush up on that so I can reach fluency. But still, reading this in the original language would be a treat, because due to the format- poetry, it's really hard to convey the author's feelings. So Someday. Someday I'd like to read Pushkin's actual words.

As for Musketeers.... eurgh. I'll finish it, and give a final consensus, but it's not looking good.
Tell me, am I going way too hard on what is essentially supposed to be a fun adventure story? Maybe I shouldn't take it so seriously. I dunno. I think my expectations were unfairly high due to the sheer epicness that was The Count of Monte Cristo. Maybe I should reread that in the original French, that'd be fun.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Righteous Classical Music: Daphnis et Chloe Suite no.2 by Maurice Ravel

A ballet that premiered in 1912, Daphnis et Chloe is more remembered for its exquisite score than for its plot, characters, or choreography. The ballet is set in ancient Greece, and follows the shenanigans of the lovers Daphnis and Chloe, as various obstacles get in the way of their happy ending.
Many regard this as Ravel's greatest work. I am a huge fan of this music, and it's pretty much tied with a bunch of other stuff as my favorite Ravel. It's perhaps not the most approachable music, but once you're used to the impressionistic music style, you can start to really appreciate it!

The first movement of this suite, Lever du Jour, is a glorious musical portrait of the rising of the sun. Rippling woodwinds and harp sound like the sunlight painting the Grecian landscape, while three solo violins and a piccolo sing the morning songs of birds. It crescendos into a transcendent chord, and in your mind's eye you can see the sun break over the hills!
I love the theme that is carried by the strings. It just kind of floats above the texture of the accompaniment, like hazy morning fog. There are two solos for piccolo and Eb clarinet respectively. These solos are meant to be the songs played on the pipes of a shepherd!

Pantomime, the second movement, is where Daphnis and Chloe re-enact the story of Pan and Syrinx, and features one of the most beautiful flute solos in the orchestral repertoire. It's basically supposed to be the invention of the flute, as Pan takes a reed and blows a sorrowful melody through it. As the 'first thing' played on a flute, it must sound like it's being improvised, which is just too cool!

Danse Generale is probably the most popular section of the suite. When performed with a choir, the work takes on a primal, almost hypnotic vibe. It's a triumphant ending with the two lovers reunited, and this dance is a wild celebration. It's pretty crazy!


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky (orch. Ravel)

This is currently one of my sister's very favorite pieces. She wants to be a conductor, so I got her the score for her birthday, haha!
Mussorgsky was inspired to write this oddball 'suite' when his artist friend passed away. There was a memorial exhibition of his best works, and Modest wrote pieces after them to honor his friend. Very sweet!

Promenade
Lovely brass work! Also, the opening theme is also a fragment of the last movement, The Great Gate of Kiev!

Gnomus
This one is kind of creepy! It is based off a picture of a spooky little gnome with legs so short he uses his arms to walk. There's some cool celesta riffs. Celesta usually sounds sweet and heavenly, but here it's creepy! Though this movement is macabre, it seems so in a light hearted way.

Promenade
Here's the Kiev theme again, but this time it's not as bright and joyful as the first time. Rather, it sounds thoughtful, like a person browsing the art gallery, or Modest remembering his deceased friend as he looks at the exhibition.

The Old Castle
This picture was of a man standing below a window (of a castle, duh) and serenading his lover. The mood is brooding and almost morose, with a romantic solo for alto saxophone. Makes me think of a moonlit night. Maybe their love is forbidden and they can only see each other at night. That's part of what I love about Pictures at an Exhibition, the titles give you enough to place a scene or character, but other then that they're vague. Imagination fuel!

Promenade
My sister would like to point out the constantly changing time signatures in this promenade (once again pompus and happy). Crazy!

Tuileries
This painting depicts happy children playing in a garden in Paris. The mood is playful, but a little cheeky, as the children quarrel a little amongst themselves!

Bydlo
A peasant rides is oxen-drawn wagon, whilst singing a typically Russian folk tune. In this movement, you can totally feel the movement of the wagon wheels! Very good musical painting! Tuba seems to get the melody towards the end too, haha.

Promenade
Aw, a sweet variation on the Kiev theme, with tranquil flutes and the other woodwinds. And what the deuce, 7/4 time.

Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks
Okay, so there was a ballet featuring little chicks, and it's very fun, haha! The music sounds a little disoriented, like they can't see where they're going because they haven't all the way hatched! Very playful!

Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle
Here we have two guys, one is rich, one is poor, and the music contrasts their personalities. There is kind of a weird Trumpet part, that sounds like a high, nasaly voice. A good example of character writing!

Limoges, The Market Place
Haha, this picture was of a bunch of women gossiping and having a good time at a marketplace. You can almost see the busting around.

Catacombs (Roman Sepulchre/Con Mortuis in Lingua Mortua)
We segue RIGHT into Catacombs from the last one. These two movements are joined together and are basically the same one. There are a lot of massive, harsh chords, contrasted with a mysterious trumpet solo. It sounds like you just discovered, well, catacombs. It's like you're on an adventure, and maybe you meet a ghost or something. The second part of the Catacombs is a little more tender, like what scared you a lot before turns out to not be so threatening.

Baba Yaga: The Hut on Chicken Legs
Yesss! This is a great movement, with stabby strings, crazy woodwind riffs, and terrific, threatening brass. This is based off of a Russian fairy tale character called Baba Yaga. She's a witch that lives in a house on, well, Chicken Legs, it jumps over the forest looking for human bones to devour! Yikes. I love the opening. It sounds like, Oh crud we've gotta run!

The Great Gate of Kiev
A maddening scale segues directly into the triumphant finale- celebrating the Gate of Kiev! The brass section is amazing here, hat tip to them! The jubilant parts contrast with more thoughtful woodwind interludes. I really like how the piece develops and it is really exciting by the end! A stirring end!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Righteous Sorta-Classical Music: Nirvana by Do Bao and Van Anh Vo & Vietnamese Folk Medley

So last November, me and my orchestra did a bit of collaboration with a Vietnamese artist named Van Anh Vo, who plays a LOT of cool Vietnamese instruments!
I really enjoyed working with her, she was very nice, and the music was just amazing! I'm going to feature two of the songs we did, one is called Nirvana and is an arrangement of a work by Do Bao, the other is a Folk Medley!
Nirvana has a special place in my heart because it features a solo piccolo part, which is lyrical and beautiful, showcasing the tender side of the instrument that most people don't know exists! There are two main themes, the second serving as a gorgeous counterpoint to the first. I almost didn't come in when we first played this, I was so surprised by how lovely it was! Really like heaven ;) I like how it also combines traditional Asian music sounds (it's in the pentatonic scale) with contemporary music sounds (like that righteous drum set, LOL!).



Nirvana was for a chamber orchestra. It only has the string section, french horns, harp, piccolo (!), percussion, and of course, Dan Tranh. The Folk Medley on the other hand, is for full orchestra!
It's split into three sections.
The first is Rice Drums, a colorful and lively song that sounds like a parade! It hearkens the beautiful landscapes of Vietnam, and opens with a thrilling percussive rhythm!
The second is the Royal King Parade, a slower and dignified folk tune. Have I mentioned that all this time the 2nd violins have been striking their strings with chop sticks instead of their bows? Sometimes 21st Century music is pretty dang cool!
The third section is amazing, and titled The Black Horse. The title is extremely fitting, for this breathless and rhythmically interesting finale! I can almost feel the wind in my hair!



Listen and enjoy! :)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Flute Solo Spotlights!: Concertino in D Major op.107 by Cecile Chaminade

Cecile Chaminade was a late 1800's-early 1900's composer, that's right, she was a lady! You don't hear much about female composers, but I'm happy to hear her music, and VERY happy that she wrote this beautiful piece for the flute.
This is definitely one of my favorite pieces for the flute. The style is largely romantic, with a tender and serenely joyful main theme.The writing is virtuosic, with a difficult cadenza in the middle, crazy runs everywhere, lightning fast triplets, basically everything that's hard to do on a flute, haha! The ending is a break-neck presto, that ends the piece on a magnificent note!
As a flutist and fan of French composers, I hope you enjoy this amazing piece.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Great Flute Solo Pieces

Hi tout le monde! How are you? My computer died, and my story I was writing died with it. :(
Saaaaad. So I'm tapping this out very slowly on an iPad. Well, I was using the iPad, but then I got fed up with it and now I'm borrowing a parents teeny little computer. This little keyboard will take a tad getting used to, XD!
Anyhoo, I don't want to come off as prideful, but I'm getting good at flute and Piccolo. I even have a certificate to prove it!
VICTORY DANCE!!!!!
Ahem! So anyway When you start getting to the advanced levels, you need to find repertoire that will keep you on your toes (aka, hard pieces that deflate your sense of over-achievement ;D)!
So I'm going to do a mini blog series about flute pieces that will definitely keep you busy.
This isn't just for flutists too, this is for anybody who wants to get acquainted with some new music! There is a lot of great flute repertoire out there, I hope you enjoy it!

A list of the pieces I will rant about...

Mozart Flute Concertos in G maj, D maj, and Flute and Harp Concerto in C Major

Flute Concertino in D Major by Cecile Chaminade

Carmen Fantaisie by Georges Bizet and Francois Bourne

Nielsen Flute Concerto

Sonata for Flute and Piano by Sergei Prokofiev

... And Much More!!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Righteous Classical Music: Overture to Tannhauser by Richard Wagner

Been a while, my chums! How're y'all doing? I'm okay. My flute AND piccolo both need repairs done, I have two critical auditions coming up, and I hit my head really hard today so we're paying close attention to whether or not I get dizzy or nauseous, haha. So if I start to get incoherent, that's why.

Ahem. Today we're going to talk about one of my favorite works by German composer Richard Wagner. The opera Tannhauser is about a knight/minstrel dude who falls in love with the Greek goddess Aphrodite (or Venus, but I don't like the cut-rate Roman names as much, LOL) and mayhem ensues. I read the synopsis, and I don't really feel like the plot warrants this emotionally charged and rich music, but hey! I'll make a final judgment when I actually see the opera.
When you listen to this music, it might sound very familiar to you! That's because they used it in the hysterical 'Where's Opera, Doc?' Looney Tunes episode! Am I annoyed that they used this music in their silly cartoon? Not at all. Thanks to that cartoon, this beautiful music has been researched and listened to by many!

Allright, so the music.
The famous 'Return my love!' theme is actually the tune of the 'Pilgrim's Chorus' from Act I. That piece is amazing too. We begin with a somber, yet uplifting low-winds chorale. From there the music grows in tension and determination until the brass burst forth with an inspiring and heroic rendition of the Pilgrim's Chorus. Listen to it! ;D
This music sends shivers down my spine! Love it. Very dramatic and powerful.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

What am I doing here omigosh

I just realized my blog is super boring... Don't get me wrong, I'm laughing about all this, so no matter how dry this post seems, I'm not having an existential crisis, or upset because I get low views (I get views from my friends and that's pretty much what I wanted to achieve when I started!).
Blogging is fun, and I'm not upset that I seem to be the most boring person in the world.
Well, okay, I'm a little upset, but not too much!
er...
okay yeah, pretty bummed out.
It seems like everything is a lot different from when I came on, I had some buddies and we all talked about Les Mis together. Now all those buddies have moved on to Avengers, or stopped posting all together because life happens, and I'm all alone here waving my red flag...
But hey, looks like you're having fun over there fangirling over that guy who plays Loki! My only question is, why Loki? Help me understand, ladies!! I understand that he cheers up sick kids in hospitals, is that it? Because that's very sweet, haha!

Ahem. I got really into classical music sometime in late 2014.
It just happened suddenly. I quit orchestra because I was going to school out of town with one of my two best friends in ze universe. I was on a pretty different trajectory. I was starting to think that I would give up on flute, just leave it up there on the shelf where I hadn't played it all summer.
Then I was in the library listening to something we had played the year before I quit, and I got all wistful and BOOM! Rejoined (even though with the out of town school thing it was quite exhausting, LOL!), and now I'm a weirdo who does music almost in all my free time.
I still draw chibis with a passion, but most of my comics are about... orchestra. Cuz' you know, you write what you know.
I can't churn out book reviews like I used to because I feel like my insights are totally useless and lame, and aside from that, I'm reading doorstoppers now and those take a while.
And something else that takes up a lot of time that I've started doing?
I... COMPOSE!!
I'm not a great composer, but I've started and have even composed some little pieces for what I call a Hodgepodge Chamber Orchestra. A Hodgepodge Chamber Orchestra consists of
1 Harp
1 Piano
Sometimes Guitar
2 Violins
1 Cello
1 Flute (doubling Piccolo), Clarinet, Oboe
Small Percussion

I know that to get your music performed you need to (especially if you're an amateur who doesn't have any ground yet) write for traditional orchestra, or string quartet, or any other traditional group, but hey! I'm very happy that I'm able to write and I hope to be really good someday. For now I just write what comes to me (in this case, weird pieces for Hodgepodge).

So um... I guess I'm just wondering what I am even doing on my silly blog right now. I guess I'll keep on truckin' and just post what I like.
Hope you're all having a MAGNIFICENT week, all! :D

Monday, March 28, 2016

HAPPY EASTER!

Christ is Risen!
Here is one of my favorite icons, I think I've talked about it before, but a basic rundown is that icons aren't so much a snapshot or a portrait, the way western religious art is. They're more like symbolic depictions of many things at once. Here we have Christ's Resurrection, and he is also pulling Adam and Eve out of graves, or limbo. The doors of hell are broken down and under them is an old man, Death. Reminds me of the hymn we sing at Divine Liturgy during Paschal time.
 
Christ is risen from the dead,
By death He conquered death,
and to those in the tomb He granted life
 
I hope you all had a wonderful and joyous Easter! :D
And also enjoy this marvelous piece by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov!


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray [1847]

A lot of people dislike this book because pretty much ALL the characters are deeply flawed. I would like to direct these people to the book's subtitle- A Novel Without a Hero.
The story is very meandering and basically follows the lives to two women, Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley. Becky is clever and pragmatic, almost to the point of deviousness. Born from a poor family, she uses any means to better her situation. She is attractive, but not extremely so, and uses her wits to climb the social ladder. Amelia is on the other end of the spectrum. She is quiet, demure, and pretty much the model of a perfect 1815 wife. She was despised by readers even in her time for being apparently perfect, but when you really take a closer look at her character, she isn't really all that much better then anybody else.

My favorite character is Major William Dobbin, a rather ugly, but (mostly) steadfast and chivalrous man. He unfortunately spends pretty much all his adult life providing for Amelia and her child after she's widowed, but she doesn't seem to be the most attentive person, and doesn't notice the extent of his devotion.

My favorite thing about this book was the narrator. I think that if the narration had been your standard omniscient and anonymous narrator, I might not have loved reading it so much. Because this book was released in monthy serials, the narrator even says what people are saying to him about his story! And a lot of his observations are quite hilarious.

The Verdict: A-
A fun read, but quite a commitment, being over 600 pages long. Some people might find it tedious, I really like it though.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Good Dinosaur [2015]

Okay. So let me start by saying that this is not a cutsey little fun romp movie. I know that the stylized animation of the dinosaurs makes them look kind of land-before-timey, but this is kind of a mature movie! Not saying that it's not fine for kids, because it's a great family movie, but smaller children might be a little freaked out.
The Good Dinosaur gets a lot of flak, and I think that this is because it was unfortunate enough to come right after a masterpiece like Inside Out. Inside Out was, in my opinion, a better film, but that doesn't mean that The Good Dinosaur isn't still an above-average movie!
First off, the animation is beautiful. Nothing short of amazing. Inside Out looked amazing, but it was mostly set in a metaphysical realm that is pretty alien to us viewers. Here, the setting is much more familiar- nature! It looked really amazing, almost photo-realistic. To offset the photorealism though, the characters are classic Pixar stylized. A lot of people thought that the cartoony characters looked silly in the midst of all the intricately animated backgrounds, but I wouldn't sacrifice the gorgeous backgrounds.
Most computer animated films have 'that one scene' that shows off the movie's aesthetic in a showstopping way. Let it Go from Frozen, I See the Light from Tanged, Wall-E and EVE dancing, etc. Here, there is a gloriously beautiful, but also very, very simple scene of a father and son playing with fireflies.
The characters were nice. The supporting characters were a little one note, but they were likeable one note. And besides, this really is Arlo's story. Arlo is the titular 'Good Dinosaur', and he's about preteen aged, and has some serious problems with fear. The story is all about how he is forced by circumstance not only to grow up, but also to face his fears and break free from anxiety and grief. It was very moving, and it's treatment of sadness and anxiety reminded me of Inside Out.
I love to see a movie that treats these kinds of things thoughtfully and seriously, not just some flaw that gets fixed in the last ten minutes of the movie without any real resolution.
The music gave the film a very Appalachian or Frontier flavor (there are even cow-herding Dinos at some point!), and I really liked it!

The Verdict: A-
Though the parent-dies-tragically-and-child-must-grow-up thing is getting a little old on kids movies, this was still a very moving film. There was a brilliantly bittersweet scene that resolved a storyline without even having any dialogue! True Pixar magic, that.
Content Advisory: Some bloodless violence and intense scenes. Fine for kids who don't freak out easily.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Lent, Feelings, and Hating Stuff

So it's Lent, and you're supposed to improving yourself and getting closer with God during this special time of preparation.
Which of course, is why I have been struggling with bad feelings for two solid weeks. Part of it is rough times at orchestra and the new school I started at (and my piccolo which arrived in the mail pre-broken for me). The other part is that I'm terrible at dealing with bad feelings.
At orchestra I'm jealous and mopey. At school I'm highly defensive about everything.

Though seriously, next person to make a Monica Lewinsky joke about my name gets my piccolo up their nasal pathways. *

But that's aside the point, and jamming stuff up noses never solved anything.
The point I'm trying to make is that your feelings don't matter, it's how you behave from them. I think that C.S. Lewis puts it better then anybody else.

"Don't bother too much about your feelings. When they are humble, loving, brave, give thanks for them; when they are conceited, selfish, cowardly, ask to have them altered. In neither case are they you, but only a thing that happens to you. What matters is your intentions and your behaviour."

I have a lot of trouble not acting on negative feelings. But it's half that battle just knowing that your feelings are not your fault. I think during Lent it's especially important to avoid acting impulsively on your bad feelings.
Maybe God was thinking "Monica (by the by Monica is an AWESOME NAME) needs to work on her attitude. I think this Lent we'll work on that by sending some trials that test how you act on bad feelings."
With that C.S. Lewis quote in mind, feelings don't seem so threatening or controlling anymore. It's easier said then done, but I think this time of year is the best time for working on how you react to trials.

*But seriously, is that uncalled for or WHAT!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!? All I did was introduce myself and that's the first thing you say! Oh well. I still like you, dude, you just seem kind of clueless about what's tastefully funny. Stay Frosty.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Still Life: Lent

Lent seems far away, then suddenly it's coming right up.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Modern Faerie Tales (Part One: The Ones that Stink)

Nowadays when faerie tales are told, either as movies, books, shows, whatever- they are quickly deconstructed and presented as quaint and inherently flawed (don't forget sexist!).

I'm thinking about Frozen, with it's smug rebuttal of the traditional Disney Love at First Sight (it's almost like they looked at their previous films and thought “Screw Uncle Walt! We're Progressive!”). I'm thinking about Once Upon A Time, with it's poor, overdone attempts to make Snow White and Prince Charming interesting and conflicted characters. There's also Shrek (I remember liking the first one, but I admit it fits into the dysfunctional Faerie Tale category), Into the Woods, How to Train Your Dragon, Maleficent (another 'F--- You' from modern Disney to poor Walt) the list goes on and on.

In our cynical society, people are kind of put off by a straight up traditional faerie tale. But I think that that is a side effect of forgetting what the traditional faerie tales actually were.

Way back when, Faerie Tales were mostly a way to scare kids into being good. They were filled with dismemberment, deaths, horrible and graphic jinxes, and not always a happy ending. Or at least, they didn't have the modern definition of a happy ending. Most old western Faerie Tales were influenced by Christianity, which meant that the ultimate happy ending wasn't getting married and ruling a beautiful kingdom full of happy subjects- but dying a good, Christian death and attainting eternal sainthood with God in Heaven.
 
Most of these postmodern Faerie Tales don't have that kind of ending, of course. Even though their packaging and themes are cynical and deconstructive, you'll be hard pressed to find one with a less than jubilant ending! There's never ever a compromise for the hero, no victory that costs the hero something dear. That's because in a more secular world, death for the hero is the worst thing that can possibly happen.

Postmodern Faerie Tales are usually made up of the following elements.
- A misunderstood hero. They are snubbed by others because they are 'different'- but of course in the end, everyone who hated them is either (rightfully) dead, or worshipping the ground they walk on. BECAUSE EVERYONE IS SPECIAL, ESPECIALLY ME!!!
-The hero who is a total rebel. This is a variation on the above. Here is the hero who is always breaking the rules (because the rules were made by stupid, patriarchal MEN of course!), but once again, in the end said hero is revered precisely because of this rule breaking. Because part of this happy ending is everyone becoming enlightened enough to see the error of their ways. And if they don't, they can get killed off. And that's another thing! How come in modern faerie tales (scratch that, most fiction), people who don't agree with the hero about everything always are demonized? I mean, come on!
-Ahem. Let's not forget the faux-love interest. Here is your typical prince charming- except that he's NOT, and will eventually be revealed to be a total scumbag or worse- a homicidal maniac. DON'T TRUST ANYONE, GIRLS!!!
-Kung Fu Princess! Because women are USELESS when they aren't trying to emulate men! Forget exploring what is special about your femininity, and just be a man in a dress! I'm not against fighting princesses (Merida! Princess Leia!), but when that is all you have to your character- being feisty and good at punching things- you're a boring character. Male or Female.
-If this postmodern faerie tale happens to be a remake or reimagining, characters who were good in the original will either be at best, blundering idiots, or at worst, evil and nutty. I'm not saying this can't be cleverly or interestingly done. I don't like Once Upon a Time, but even (the stone hearted) I couldn't help but be really into the 3rd season with it's maniacal Peter Pan and his Lost Boy cult. You just have to be careful when employing this trope.
 
So with all that having been said, are there any new, original modern faerie tales that are actually good, and won't make me spit venom like I have been the entire post?
Turns out- yes! Definitely!
But we'll be saving those for the next post, because this one is already long enough!
Stay frosty, my friends.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Still Life: Armando

The good ones always are... ;D
Stay frosty, my friends.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Still Life: January

Well, the weather around here has actually warmed up a GREAT deal. I feel so spoiled out here on the coast, enjoying nice moderate temperatures while the rest of the country frantically tries to clear away the Mount Everest sized piles of snow that've appeared over the night.
But anyhoo, here's a comic about how different winter is in December and January.
Stay frosty, my friends. And this time, it's actually kind of literal when I say that, ahaha!!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Martian by Andy Weir [2011]

Yes! Officially one of my many favorite books!!
Of course not without its little flaws. There is a lot of technical jargon in this book. That's not a bad thing, but for most of the population who are not scientists, it's a little hard to get through the paragraphs upon paragraphs of science talk. But as I said before, the witty narration and the sheer likability of the characters makes it totally worth skimming some paragraphs. And I found his problem solving process utterly fascinating!
There is a lot of crude language and occasional crude humor in this book though, so be warned.

Ahem, now with the ranting!!
Mark Watney is a terrifically fun and relatable hero. Despite the fact that he is a brilliant scientist, he feels just like a normal guy, like someone you could totally be buddies with! The story is mostly told through his 1st person mission logs, and he is funny! I'll put some of my favorite quotes down at the bottom of the review! I like his teammates too, and the other characters down at NASA. The Media-Relations lady, Annie, is hilarious. And I liked Rich, he called the covert briefing 'Elrond', ahahaha! Nerd!

This is a wonderful story of determination and endurance. It's incredibly positive without being insufferably so. The optimism is of a reasonable sort, one that prepares for the worst but keeps striving for the best.

Favorite quote time!!

Actually, I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be 'in command' of the mission if I were the only remaining person.
What do you know? I'm in command.


It was a ridiculous sequence of events that led to me almost dying, and an even more ridiculous sequence that led to me surviving.

LOG ENTRY: SOL 11
I wonder how the Cubs are doing.



H--- yeah, I'm a botanist! Fear my botany powers!!

I suppose I'll think of something. Or die.

Firstly, hydrazine is some serious death. If I make any mistakes, there'll be nothing left but the "Mark Watney Memorial Crater" where the Hab once stood.

Things are finally going my way. In fact, they're going great! I have a chance to live after all!
[the very next log entry]
I am f-----, and I'm going to die!

The time has come (ominous musical crescendo) for some missions!

I guess you could call it a failure, but I prefer the term 'learning experience'.

All around me there was nothing but dust, rocks, and endless empty desert in all directions. The planet's famous red color is from iron oxide coating everything. So it's not just a desert. It's a desert so old it's literally rusting.

By my reckoning, I'm about 100 kilometers from Pathfinder. Technically is the 'Carl Sagan Memorial Station'. But with all due respect to Carl, I can call it whatever I want. I'm the King of Mars.

I don't want to come off as arrogant here, but I'm the best botanist on the planet.

The Verdict: A+
This book is so much fun to read, and it's hard to put down because as soon as one problem gets ironed out, another one pops right up! So sit back and enjoy the rather stressful, but incredibly optimistic and can-do ride!

Content Advisory: Waaayyy too much language, and the occasional crude humor. Aside from that, nothing else.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Mah Reading List of 2016

If I'm not posting that much, it's because I have a truck ton of stuff going on in music. Two orchestra rehearsals a week, one 4 hours long and the other 3 hours long, a Woodwind ensemble, and a Jazz band that I entered by accident (long story). Oh, and composing. It might appear kinda silly, but this is what I love, and I'm willing to dedicate most of my free time to studying it. :)
ANYWAYS, here is my reading list for 2016!
The Martian was #1 on the list, but I uh... just finished that one a few nights ago.

 
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Ugh, I don't like this book, but I HAVE to finish it! I'm more than halfway thr
ough!! The writing is pretty good, but maybe it wasn't right to read this one and The Martian at the same time. Let's put the difference this way. The last line of The Martian is "This is the best day of my life!", and The Grapes of Wrath is dusty and wants you to be depressed. I'm not saying it doesn't have a very important social message, because it does, but I'm just not crazy about it.
 
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
This one is REALLY good. The Author's writing style is so much like my own (not to say that I'm really good at writing, because I'm not, but mine is very sardonic too!), and the characters are hard to predict and really interesting! Can't wait to read more of it, but I keep falling asleep before I can get to reading every night.
 
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
I love Russian literature. Even when it's hard to understand (*cough*theidiot*cough*) it's really good! I read a quarter of this book last year, but I lost it before I could finish. I like what I read, though.
 
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
I LOVED The Count of Monte Cristo, so I have pretty high expectations for this one! Not that I expect it to be deep or anything, I just want some awesome memorable characters and lots of swashbuckling action!
 
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Because French Literature, and I want to read a book where I don't know how it's going to end. Something where, like Vanity Fair for me, I don't really know much about it! So I can be surprised, haha! I hear that this one too is kind of Satirical, but not in a really funny way.
 
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Yes, again. Because awesomeness. It's been more than a year since I've read it, so I'm totally allowed to read it again! Mwahahahahaha!!!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Righteous Classical Music: Ma Mere L'Oye by Maurice Ravel

This little suite and Sheherazade kind of go together in my book because they both combine music with storytelling! Ravel wrote Ma Mere L'Oye (or Mother Goose, in English) originally as a piano duet for two of his young students- Mimi and Jean Godebski. Ravel was good with kids, and actually wanted them to play the premier of the piano suite, but Mimi was only 6 at the time and not confident in her skills, so another pair of kids premiered it.
I find it funny that the piano suite is subtitled as 'Five Children's Pieces', and we still play them more than a hundred years later! Anyway, Ravel orchestrated the suite, and even added some more music later to make it a little ballet! How cool, eh?
The pieces are based off of faerie tales, except for the last one, which isn't based off of any tale in particular, but is meant to evoke spelderous magic and grandeur.

1. Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty
This is a very short movement. The gentle melody carried by first the second flute and then developed by the first flute is very tranquil, but also carries a hint of melancholy. I really like the sweet clarinet work in this movement. The ending is very quiet- as the kingdom falls asleep for 100 years, waiting for the prince who will awaken their princess. This part of the suite reminds me of Pavane for a Dead Princess, another work by Ravel.

2. Little Tom Thumb
Here, Ravel's notes on the score tell us exactly what he was going for with his music.
He believed he'd easily find his way because of the bread that he'd strewn all along his path; but he was very surprised to find not a single crumb: the birds had come and eaten everything.
The melody wanders unsurely through many different time signatures, much like the way Little Tom is currently wandering aimlessly through the forest. I really like how Ravel represents the birds in his music! A solo violin does a weird glissando thing, and the piccolo and flute make fluttery, chirping noises.
There are neat solos for most of the woodwinds in the orchestra. The Oboe, English Horn, Clarinet, Flute, and the Piccolo gets the melody towards the end.

3. Laideronette, Empress of the Pagodas
This is my favorite movement! It has a lot of fun, unique sounds, and the musical texture is one of simmering excitement and playful wonder. There's also a little mystery, too! There are some cool solos in this movement. The piccolo solo at the beginning is called for at a lot of auditions, and I think it's awesome because it uses the low, whistley range of the instrument!
I really like it later in the movement, things quiet down and get a little mysterious, and the celesta takes the piccolo's melody, and the different timbre gives it a whole new feeling!
This movement is in a wicked hard key signature to play in- F# Major! That's six sharps you have to navigate. The quick, light passages that dominate don't make it any easier, either.
Also, the story behind this one is unbearably cute. So Laideronette is a princess cursed to be the ugliest woman in the world by a witch who has taken over her kingdom and banished her. On her travels (to what is implied to be China), she meets a green serpent who is a prince cursed by the same witch. As they are wandering through the forest, little bugs and animals who are charmed by Laideronette's goodness make little tiny instruments (piccolo, anyone?) and play music to guide the two to a magical pagoda. The pagoda has enchanted baths where if you use them, the spell will be broken!

4. Conversations of Beauty and the Beast
This movement is sort of a waltz, gently paced. The first part is very serene, but true to the dynamic of Beauty and the Beast, there comes a bit of strife in the later sections. A highlight of this movement is the use of the contrabassoon to represent the beast. The sound is fitting for his character- deep, growly, and with a rough edge. The melody it plays is gloomy and grouchy, showing the combined feelings of sadness and anger that dominate his moods. There is a lovely melody that represents Beauty, carried first by the Clarinet, then Flute, then Piccolo, and there's also a high-pitched and slender violin solo!

5. The Faerie Garden
The mood is quiet and awe-inspiring as this final movement begins. There is a beautiful violin solo accompanied by celesta and woodwinds, which serves to familiarize and brighten the solemn majestic tone. Also notable is a viola solo! It's very beautiful, and I like the viola, it's got a unique timbre! A magnificent crescendo takes its time, but when it finally arrives, the effect sends shivers down my spine, and makes for a magical way to end the suite!

Monday, January 11, 2016

What I'm Reading

I talk too much about orchestra and music. I talk about orchestra and music so much that I'm afraid of making people who read this blog hate orchestra and music because I talk about nothing but.
So here's me talking about books, because we all love books, right? Pretty much everyone reads, reading is universal.

The Martian by Andy Weir [2011]
So far I'm REALLY liking this one. It's so fun and interesting. I can see some people not really liking it because there is a LOT of science rambling which makes non-science-y people (like me) want to skim some paragraphs. For me though, the punchy dialogue, fun characters, and overall tone are all worth skimming through some jargon. Very fun, very interesting read. I'm only about 20% into it right now, so I can't wait to read more!

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck [1939]
[sigh] This book has taught me one thing. That you can utterly love and hate a book at the same time. John Steinbeck and I share a hometown, so I grew up with his giant, painted face staring at me from the various murals throughout town. The writing in this book is powerful and touches on issues that are still important today. The characters are somewhat interesting, and Steinbeck has got a great talent for description. But it's also bleak and hopeless and I'm find one of the characters who I'm supposed to like absolutely disgusting and horrible. Tom Joad is pretty interesting, though. Sorta like him.
But I'll finish it because I don't like being a quitter. C'mon, Monica... you're more than halfway there, si se puede!!!

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray [1847-8]
Probably my favorite book that I'm reading at the moment. Thackeray's writing is so sardonic, so dryly witty, so... accessible! To put it bluntly, he writes the way people talk. Very bouncy, and even self-aware at times! Towards the beginning, he writes something along the lines of- "I can just see some critic right now scribbling into his notebook that this novel is awfully boring". There are so many writing gems in this book. It's 700+ pages long, but well worth it. And I'm not even halfway through, haha!!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Three Film Reviews in Tandem

Hellooooo! Today we're going to review three films from 2015 that I haven't already ranted about in some way. My favorite movie of 2015 was Inside Out, but these three are my other favorites of 2015. Allons!!

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
I don't care if the plot kinda made not a lot of sense, or was pretty much the same plot of every Mission Impossible movie, I liked it! Almost as much as MI Ghost Protocol, haha! The action scenes were really cool, and so fun to watch! I was constantly yelling, balancing on the edge of my seat- it was so awesome! And the Alto Flute gun made my day. I thought I saw a flute in the opening, but it went by so fast that I thought it was jut a gun and I was so orchestra obsessed that I saw it as a flute. But no, it was a flute. Huzzah. Oh, and can we talk about those credits? Because they are so delightfully cheesy. Love 'em.
Verdict: A for Mucho Fun

The Martian
God on Hiiiiiiiigh....
Heeeeeear my prayer!!!
I WILL SURVIIIIIIVE!!! Ahem.
So for a movie about a man trapped alone on Mars with next to no chance of success, this is a flippin' fun movie. Seriously. I love the optimism and can-do attitude of this movie. This movie does more to help my pessimistic attitude then a whole truckload of positivity memes (those do no good at all because they're stupid and they don't star Matt Damon). The actors were good, the dialogue was brilliant, and the special effects looked AWESOME!! The end.
Verdict: A+ for all the Above Reasons

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Wow, I'm suddenly into Star Wars! How'd that happen? Oh yeah, this movie was the best Star Wars to come out since the 80's. Even though it's basically a remake of A New Hope. But that's cool, because it had enough fresh characters and plot to make it really interesting and suspenseful! It's probably still a federal crime to mention spoilers, so I won't go into too much depth, but I thought that Kylo Ren was a really interesting bad guy, and I'm really looking forward to where his storyline is going. And Rey's. And Finn's. And Poe needs to be in the next movie more! Despite his dumb name! Oh, and BB-8! Yaaaayyy!! Han and Chewie were awesome.
Verdict: A because WOW, so good!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Musing About Charles Ives...

So we my orchestra recently did a collaboration with the local professional orchestra, and the piece we played with them was Charles Ives' 2nd Symphony.
I have to say, I was a little more than disappointed. I had been daydreaming about the upcoming collaboration, and when I found out we were playing something that didn't strike me as awesome the first time I listened to it... well, I was all gloomy. And while a part of me still wishes we had played something uber righteous and awesome (like say, Bolero!!), another part of me is happy I got a chance to play this!
To most people, the most notable thing about this symphony is that it ends on the most hideous, dissonant, and ear-pulling-out bad chord. Ever. Now why people think that makes for musical progress is anybody's guess, but I had some fun friendly-debating it with the conductor of the professional symphony, Mr. Max Bragado-Darman.
I asked him how something ugly like that could have merit? I mean, he himself admitted it was ugly! So how could it have merit?
He said that even though that last chord is the most ugly thing ever, it opens up the door to limitless possibilities and adventure. I appreciated the time he took to explain his thoughts on the matter, and in a very non-patronizing way, too! Even though I don't fully agree. Look at what Debussy, Ravel, and many other composers have done pushing the limits of what was accepted in music! And they did it without resorting to hollow noise.
But still! It gave me something to think about, and in a weird way, through that discussion, I actually started thinking more seriously about the symphony!
What I find notable about Ives' 2nd is that it uses many well known American folk tunes, making this a truly American symphony. A contribution to the classical repertoire that we can proudly call our own.
The sometimes clashy nature of how the tunes weave together comes from Ives' childhood. His father was a band director, and often took his son to the park where all the bands practiced. Young Charles Ives would sit and listen, mesmerized by the cacophony of all the bands playing different things at once.
My orchestra only joined the pros on the stage at the start of the 4th movement (that was to decrease the workload on us, so we'd only have to work on two movements), so we had to spend a lot of time backstage listening to the first three movements. For four nights in a row.
So during that time, I was able to notice and appreciate a lot about the music!
Many themes and motifs surface multiple times, and are developed to the fullest in the 5th movement. There is so much amazing brass action, it was dazzling to hear. Ives really knew how to bring out the best in the brass section. It gave me chills to hear!
Contrary to what I was thinking at the beginning of the season, I actually had a ton of fun playing the Ives. I flaunted the little Piccolo & Snare Drum march, double tongued that crazy bit at the end with zest, and (shocking, considering my sensibilities!) even played that last note as obnoxiously as I could. I actually accidently held it too long on the Saturday night concert, and for a second there, I was a soloist. Not the good kind. But it was okay, everyone was laughing. So no harm done!
The lesson here I guess is...
1. Things are almost never as bad as you think they are going to be!
2. Even if you don't approve of everything in a piece of music, it can still at least give you something to think about.
3. Give it a chance! If you stop thinking about the one chord at the end that bugs you for five seconds, you might even find things about the rest of it that you really like! Don't throw out 45 minutes of coolness for three seconds of ugly.