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.

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!!!
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.