Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Am I Just Student, Dreaming I Have Graduated?

"Dreaming is perception unconstrained by sensory input. Perception is dreaming constrained by sensory input."
-Stephen LaBerge

I went to my first Lucid Dreaming class tonight. About 20 of us were there in the classroom waiting, until the instructor arrived ten minutes late, claiming he had just woken up. Since he's a dream researcher, for all we know that could have been true. He did look rather like he had just woken up, but he also looked like that was normal for him. Somewhat haggard but quite animated, he appeared to be just this side of the fine line marking the territory of sanity. His eyes, periodically over-widening with excitement, seemed to tease us by shifting him from one side of the line to the other. An interesting character.

Most of tonight's class was introductory material, and a lot of things that I recognized from his guest lecture in Sleep and Dreams a couple years ago. So it was sort of interesting, but nothing very unfamiliar. That's too bad, since we aren't having class next week (he'll be out of town) so things won't really get going until mid-April. But after that it should get better. The idea is to spend the first hour each week with a lecture sort of class about dream research. Then the second hour will be for actually learning to have lucid dreams, talking about our dreams, and things like that. So I think it will be good.

It was also fun to go be a student again. I even rode my bike over to campus, just like old times. And I'll get to do it again tomorrow, for West Coast Swing. Fun fun.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Shape Note Leading

At shape note this afternoon I tried leading a song for the first time. All that actually involves is beating time with your hand while everyone sings -- you don't even have to do dynamics.* But that's still pretty intimidating when all my brain cells are tied up just trying to read notes and words (not to mention sing them) all at once. The last thing I wanted on top of all that was to have everyone watching me for the beat. But I kind of felt like I should start learning to do this, rather than always making other people lead my choices for me, so I actually practiced for a while this weekend beforehand. I chose number 430, Arbacoochee (great name, huh?) because it only has one verse, it's in 2, the bass part isn't too hard, and I have it on a CD. Plus I just like it. I practiced the bass part on the piano until I knew it pretty well, then practiced waving my arm with the CD and singing. (This is a when-housemates-are-out type of activity, like practicing guitar.) When it came time to do it for real this afternoon, I managed successfully to screw it up completely right from the start. Major nervous train wreck in my brain. Blah. But several kind souls jumped in and got us back on track and then I handled the rest of it pretty well. So that was good. I am probably proud of it rather out of proportion to its actual importance. Oh well. I'm learning, and that's good.

- - - - -
* Most shape note songs are written without dynamics, and people just belt them out all the way through. At least one song though has a few markings. There are some staccatos and accents, and then a double forte. Peter's joke on this one is to always remind us to quiet down for that double forte.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Fun with Tritones and a Grieg Nocturne

One of my favorite piano pieces that I learned when I was still taking lessons at Stanford was one of Grieg's Lyric Pieces, Op. 54 No. 4, Notturno. It's a beautiful little piece, full of nice, juicy chords, and with lots of opportunities to practice the 2-against-3 that I was just learning at the time. I also liked it a lot for its uniqueness: it wasn't something typical that everyone always did, like Für Elise. I didn't know anyone else who played it, and to this day I feel a little more like it's "mine" than I do about most other pieces I play.

There was one thing about it that always slightly perplexed me, though. One particular chord: the Ab in measure 10 (for those of you following along in your scores at home). It always just seemed to come out of the blue, sandwiched in there between two identical measures of D7 stuff. (Just for context, the piece as a whole is in C.) I couldn't understand why it was there at all, and when I asked my teacher about it he just shrugged the question off, saying something about how "it was the Romantic Era -- they could just do things like that." He was generally a good teacher, and I liked him, but with four or five students to get through in an hour, we didn't get to have much in the way of in-depth discussions.

So I pretty much just wrote that off as one of the mysteries of music and concentrated on just learning to play the darn thing. That was about three years ago now. Then yesterday I was playing it again, for the first time in a few months, and it suddenly struck me that it makes complete sense for that chord to be there. The Ab is a tritone away from its neighboring D's, and an Ab7 is what you would get if you did a tritone substitution on the D7. This particular Ab chord was missing the 7th, but that really just makes it stand out more in a piece where pretty much everything has added 7ths, if not 9ths or beyond.

So why is this tritone thing interesting? Because of how it ties in with the descending chromatic bass lines that are so prevalent throughout the whole piece. But how is that related? Well, if you take a circle of fifths progression and do a tritone substitution on every other chord, then you get a beautifully chromatic descending bass line (a fun trick I learned when I took a Jazz Theory class). And why would you want to do that? Because that's precisely what happens on the last page of this Nocturne for about six measures. Grieg even draws extra attention to it by dropping the threes out of the 2-against-3, and rolling several of the chords. It's wonderful. All of a sudden I was just looking at this piece and seeing connections all over it.

I kept poking around in the score for a little while longer, just because it was neat to take a fresh look at a piece I stopped actively thinking about a couple years ago. I noticed that the Bb9 chord leading into the più mosso is actually really closely related to the E9 that follows it (two shared notes and semitone neighbors on everything else). The Ab-D bit also appears again, on top of an E-Eb-D bass line. All sorts of interesting things. Music theory is fun.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Famous, in a Very Tiny Way

If you have a copy of the current Newsweek, check out the article about Google. On page 50 of the magazine (but not online) there's a small picture showing an overhead view of the Google Cafe. At the tiny, foreground table there are six miniscule people. One of them is me. This is very exciting in a completely meaningless way.

[Update: Kimmy posted a picture. The arrow points to her; I'm directly across the table.]

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

This is why I have an RSS feed for my comments...

John Arpin, a pianist whose Joplin recordings I blogged about back in November, seems to have found my site and left me a very interesting comment. That's pretty cool. Here's what he had to say:
Hi Graham! Just found your site. Interesting reading. Glad you got my 4-disc set of the Joplin. Sorry I played Bethena too slow for your taste. I feel that the melody is so lovely that I want to linger with it. My feeling is that he really didn't have dancers in mind, as is evidenced by his subtitle "A Concert Waltz". But, in the end, that's what making music is all about. It certainly would be boring for every artist to take every composition and play them all the same way. Further, I believe that authentic performances of all the rags of that era need not be renderings using only the notes written on sheet music scores. Many ragtime players in that era could not read music and therefore it would be foolish to be critical of their approach. A lot of these players would hear someone play a particular piece, hear the melody and play in their very individual way. A lot of the sheet music in that era was also arranged so that the average parlor pianist could achieve an acceptable performance. Many times John Stark would admonish Joseph Lamb for writing his pieces in keys Stark considered difficult in which to play. Lamb stuck to his guns and refused to change them, as he full well knew that they wouldn't sound quite the same. Musicians will know what I mean by the foregoing. As long as the pianist doesn't use devices (contemporary chords and licks) that don't belong to the era, then my feeling is that it is fine to extemporize. My approach has always been to state the section as written and on the repeat add some notes always within the style of the era. Rifkin's approach is purely classical, and that is his philosophy of how the rags should be played. Zimmerman plays differently. Hyman displays his usual class with just a hint of jazz. And in an album called "The Joy Of Joplin" played by Marcus Roberts - there is an approach which is totally invalid for the era. I could go on and on and I have, but I think that musicians who study the style closely will find that there is indeed room for judicious use of improvisation in playing rags. Those who disagree are generally those who won't accept that ragtime was and is a forerunner of jazz or unfortunately don't have the creative tools to improvise, so end up reading what is written. There are thousands who can read and play rags in this manner, and I salute and encourage them. For those who can bring something personal, staying faithful to the era, to arrangements geared to the "average parlor pianist", it is time to salute them as well. Thanks for your patience and keep the banner waving. Good luck with your Swipesy Cakewalk!!!
John Arpin
Now that I come to think of it, I was actually playing piano this evening, at about the same time he was writing this. I haven't played very much at all for the last couple months, and tonight was the first time in a while that my playing felt reasonably fun and musical. This is not the same as sounding good, of course, or being in practice, but it was definitely a nice place to be in for a while. I must have been picking up on some vibes or something. :-)

Monday, March 22, 2004

Audible Time

Today, on my rides to and from work, I started listening to my first selection from Audible: 21 Dog Years: Doing Time @, written and read by Mike Daisey. He had me laughing before I even got out of the parking garage this evening, and kept it up most of the way home. Hearing his description of working for a temp agency was especially fun, since that's how I spent a lot of last year and I know exactly what he's talking about. And now he's about to start a customer support job at This is going to be amusing.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Loving Translations

I recently finished reading The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman (thanks to Kimmy for the recommendation). It's targeted at married couples, but the concepts in it are interesting and useful for any close relationships -- boy/girlfriends, family, friends -- as well as for just understanding a little better how people in general tend to interact.

An early section of the book makes the point that the "being in love" experience (or "limerance" -- did you know there was a word for it?) should not properly be called "real" love at all. Sounds a bit depressing, but that's not to say that it isn't a wonderful thing all on its own, and the author frames this point in such a way as to make it very clear how to develop this stage into real love. And of course, the rest of the book is about the tools for doing just that.

Chapman describes how people express love to each other in terms of five different languages: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Gifts, Acts of Service and Physical Touch. We each tend to be most fluent in one of these languages, and if there is a significant difference between partners then it's really easy to get into hot water. Each person could be trying to communicate their love to the other but just not be getting through at all. Luckily, the solution to that is also easy: just read this book, figure out your respective primary languages, and start learning to speak them to each other. None of it is inherently difficult, it's just a matter of awareness and choice. For instance, I tend not to do much vacuuming, just because it isn't important enough to me to put out the effort. But it doesn't really take that much effort. If I knew that my spouse's primary love language was Acts of Service, I could easily offer to vacuum the house periodically, as a choice to express love to her. The idea seems so simple, but judging by things like the divorce rate in this country, it may be too simple for a lot of people to notice.

Incidentally, one of the reasons that the limerance stage is so wonderful is that we tend to express love in more, if not all, of these languages, rather than sticking to our primary one. I was also interested to read that this stage tends to last an average of two years, which is plenty of time for a lot of people to run off and get married before they actually figure out how to relate to each other in the long term.

Reading through the book, I was having trouble for a while figuring out what my primary language might be. A lot of them just seemed equally important. There were some interesting tips at the end though, for figuring this out. I'd say I'm primarily a Quality Time person, with Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch following close behind. Gifts and Acts of Service are a bit farther back, since I tend to be content if everyone (including myself) can just take care of themselves in these departments. These latter two are also things that I'm more comfortable giving than receiving. So if we were going to get all Quizilla-like about this, you could call me a QWPGA. But we won't. I'll just stick with recommending this book to anyone in a relationship of any significance at all.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Heard Any Good Books Lately?

I'm midway through book 1 of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy right now, on the audio version, read by Douglas Adams. It's always interesting to hear how an author reads his or her own work, and compare it with what you have in your own head. He reads it well, but I find that the inflection is often quite different from what I would have used. Of course, this is a book I know very well, so I have a very particular way I like to hear it in my head. (Rather more Monty-Pythonesque. It's a pity those guys never did a H2G2 movie.) Similarly, I don't think I could ever listen to an audio version of any of the Mapp & Lucia books without constantly comparing it to Mom's reading of them, which is rather ingrained as the definitive version in my memory. But it's still fun to hear different approaches to familiar books.

The original BBC radio series of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was a lot of fun, too. It covered a lot of what was later to go into the first book, but with some changes and some completely new bits, and with some parts of the second book in it as well. I thought Peter Jones did a great job reading the part of the Guide, and then of course you get all the different character voices and sound effects and whatnot. Definitely recommended listening for Douglas Adams fans.

So anyway, all this (plus my new iPod) has inspired me to start trying out some other audio books. I'm not convinced yet that I'll take to them as much as regular books, but I'm starting to think they're worth a shot. And I definitely like the idea of being able to download them instantly off the web, without having to kill any trees to get them. Eric got me an invitation to which means I have a free month's subscription (=2 books). So that will be good for trying it out and seeing how I like listening to my reading. It looks like something I could easily get hooked into. We'll see.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Long day today, but fun. After heading straight to Project Read for a couple hours after work, I almost didn't feel like going to the party at Patrick's house. But I decided to go at the last minute, stopping by home just long enough to get an instrument. Unfortunately it was my banjo, since when I got there I found that a string had snapped sometime since the last long time ago that I played it. Luckily though, it was my banjo, so I was able to do the knot-at-the-end-of-the-string trick and pull extra string down from the top. So it all worked out. There was a nice session, with some people who don't often come to the regular ones, and I'm really glad I went even though I tired out and came home early.

Monday, March 15, 2004

The Singing Crab

I was listening to a song today that I hadn't heard for a while: Kiss the Girl, from The Little Mermaid. As much as I like the whole song, I'd have to say that my favorite part about it is the introduction. For those of you who don't remember, the Prince and Ariel are in a boat floating around a romantic little lagoon, and Sebastian the crab realizes that he has to get the Prince to kiss her before time runs out. So obviously this is an occasion for an encouraging song. But rather than having the song just happen, as songs in movies often do, we get to see Sebastian drawing it into existence. One by one, he summons the orchestral parts out of the sea to accompany him. "Percussion..." he whispers, and we hear the drums. "Strings..." and we have violins. "Winds..." and finally, "Words." And then he just sings.

That gives me a shiver every time I hear it; I love the sheer magic of it all. It's fascinating to see someone -- even a cartoon crab -- who can so effortlessly reach into some mysterious part of their soul and create something wonderful that didn't exist a moment before. It's as if he exists completely within an enormous flow of music, and all he has to do is tap into it. This is what I think of when I see people who sketch fascinating doodles when they're on the phone, or compose waltzes while they're riding the bus, just because their art is such a natural part of them.

I also like it because it's something I want to create more of in myself. Writing music and drawing and creativity and such are hugely important things to me, but a lot of the time I find that I have trouble even just doodling little nothings if I don't have some clear, definite inspiration or concept to work on. And that's why I haven't written any music for almost two years, which is sort of sad. I need to learn to spend more time letting myself just write. Even if it means creating a lot of stuff to be immediately thrown away, it would keep me more in tune with the general flow of music through my life. And that would be a good thing.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Weekend Miscellany

Focused blogging is at a bit of a low just now. Here are weekend highlights, though:
  • Jammix was fun, and as crowded as usual, in spite of Richard's ever-increasing attempts to prevent people from coming.

  • Contradancing was fun, with the very pleasant surprise of having several members of the Cardinal Whirlwinds show up.

  • I found and enjoyed a CD by a group called Paris Combo. Gypsy jazzy swingy kind of stuff, all in French. Neat.

  • I FINALLY found myself a copy of Scott Joplin's Collected Piano Works. Not just the rags (you can get those anywhere) but the waltzes and marches, too.

  • I saw Finding Nemo for the first time (another "FINALLY"). I think my favorite bits were "speaking whale" and the fish commenting on the tooth extractions.

  • Taxes done. Refund coming. Yay!

Friday, March 12, 2004

Which Coast Are We On, Anyway?

So, as if signing up for the continuing studies class wasn't enough, I got the email about next quarter's Thursday night dance classes the other day. Richard is actually going to be teaching West Coast Swing for the first time ever, and I decided I had to take a shot at that. Richard probably isn't as definitive a source of West Coast as he is of other things, but that's okay. I'm so used to his teaching that I know it will be well within my comfort zone, which is probably good for getting me started.

That class will only go for a month, which is probably good, because it's going to make for a pretty busy April. Library nights on Tuesdays, Dreaming class on Wednesdays, and Dance class on Thursdays. Add that to the usual sort of Friday/Saturday things, not to mention working all week, and it might be kind of a lot, especially given that I tend to need a lot of down-time. But it should all be fun.

Jammix tonight!

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Deified Tunes and the Chicago Police Department

We played Calliope House at the Irish session tonight. In D. I always think it's such a pity to take a good E tune and play it in D. There are so many D tunes out there already, and E is such a cool key. People do that to the MacArthur Road Reel also, and no one plays the other E tunes I know. Very sad.

Other than that of course, it was a very fun session, as usual, and included much amusing speculation on tune titles. Oceanlight started it off by casually remarking that Boil the Breakfast Early was actually missing a comma. Rather than referring to preparing breakfast early in the morning she said, it was supposed to be directed at the Early of Sgt. Early's Dream. None of us knew quite what to make of this until Dave pointed out that this couldn't possibly be true, since Boil the Breakfast Early wasn't in O'Neill's, as it would have been had it been referring to Sgt. Early, who worked with O'Neill in the Chicago Police Department in the early 1900's. Dave was only partly right, since this tune turned out to be in the larger O'Neill's collection only, and hiding in the index under the name Boil the Beefsteak Early. Very suspicious. No comma either way, though. Then, of course, all the other tunes names going by started being called into question. Was the doctor of Dr. MacIness's Fancy the doctor analyzing the dreams of Sgt. Early? Was the apostrophe-s actually a contraction, rather than a possessive? The mysteries are endless. Patrick promised to write a book to sort it all out, called The O'Neill Code.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

My Precious...

iVan the iPod arrived today. Now all I need is this t-shirt to go with it.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004


I finally decided on registering for the Lucid Dreaming class, taught by Stephen LaBerge. It ended up being a fairly close run between that and Mancall's Old Testament class, but I figured that I'll probably have more chances in the future of finding other interesting history/religious studies classes than lucid dreaming classes.

I got a slight discount for being an Alumni Association member, and also a card that I could print out for temporary library privileges. That'll get me into Green Library at least (and probably others that require student ID) but I'm not sure if it would let me check things out or not. That would be neat. I wanted to apply for a card at the Music library after I graduated, but decided against it when I found out you had to pay something like $300. Of course, this way I'm still spending the money, but I'm getting a class out of it, too.

Classes are going to be on Wednesdays, starting March 31st. So I'll need to switch around my Project Read schedule a little bit. Shouldn't be a problem though, especially since I'm not really doing anything terribly vital there these days anyway. Certainly nothing I couldn't do just as well on Tuesdays.

Sunday, March 07, 2004


It's been nearly two years now since I graduated, and so far I've been managing okay without classes, thanks to several local libraries and my voracious appetite for books. I'm starting to seriously consider finding some "continuing studies" type classes to take, though.

I was looking at the Palo Alto Adult School courses, and there are some pretty affordable classes to take there. The piano lessons caught my eye, but after emailing the instructor and checking out the book they use, I decided that the format and level probably wouldn't be quite appropriate for what I'm looking for. Too bad. There are some Spanish conversation classes that I might consider taking sometime, though. That would certainly be useful.

Then of course, there's Stanford Continuing Studies. Classes there look much more interesting in general, but also much more expensive. Some that I'm interested in are The Old Testament (taught by Mark Mancall, who I recall hearing some pretty good things about, though I never took a class from him), Consciousness, Dreaming and Waking: Exploring Lucid Dreaming, Communicating with Creativity: Strategies for Effective Writing and Speaking, and Values-Based Financial and Life Planning. It would also be fun to take some creative writing or drawing classes.

If I want to take a class, though, I should probably decide soon. The next quarter starts at the end of March, and I don't know how full registration usually gets. I'll have to think about this. It would be fun to be a student of sorts again.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Ghosts of Time Sheets Past

At the library last night, Alice mentioned that my W2 form was still in my mailbox (I had worked there at Project Read, April through June). So I picked up the W2, and then realized there was a stack of other papers there as well. So I started looking through them. There was a time sheet from July with my name on it, and another, then one from August... six months of old, blank time sheets. If I had been filling these out, even for only my 2 hours a week volunteering, I probably could have gotten over $1,000.

But wait! There's more! Midway through the stack I found an envelope with my name on it. Opening it up revealed a carbon-copy of a form, signed by the Department Head herself. Apparently in November, four months after I ended my three month job, I was given a raise of nearly $1/hour. I can only assume someone really liked the way I worked when I wasn't there.

Alice nixed the idea of filling out all the time sheets retroactively. Phooey. But it is supposed to be volunteer work after all. And the laughs we got out of it more than made up for it.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Viennese Videonese

Tina invited me over to campus tonight to join Opening in watching a video of their performance last Friday. So I got to see it after all, which was nice. It was just some raw footage from one of several cameras, before getting edited and all that, but it was still a lot of fun to see. I recognized a lot of the polka from the summer, though most of the waltz was new to me. The view from this camera didn't show the group shots very well, but we could usually see a few couples at a time and it was good for getting the details. I think Tina, Kari and Jeremy came up with some great choreographies and Opening as a whole did a very good job. Well done, everyone!

Someone also gave me a copy of the program from VB, and Tina pointed out my name in the "Special Thanks" section at the end, right next to Richard Powers himself, where they thanked me for helping out with the choreography over the summer. That was very sweet. There are only nine people or groups listed there, so I feel very special indeed. Especially considering I didn't even attend the ball.

[Side note: Our first attempt at finding a place to watch the video was in the History Corner, traditionally open 24 hours a day. However, the janitors have recently started kicking people out in the evenings and locking the doors. This is not cool. It was really nice to have that building available whenever people needed it for something. The whole taking-away-space thing seems to be a theme with the University this year.]

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

I was recently remarking on how it would be fun to get a copy of the original Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio broadcasts. I've even been meaning to order it from for a little while. Then guess what shows up on BoingBoing today? The Douglas Adams Media Archive: The complete Hithhiker's series, read by Douglas Adams himself, plus the Dirk Gently Books, plus Starship Titanic, plus the radio program. All on mp3, ready to be downloaded. Wow.

Now I really want an iPod.

Update: One iPod, 20 GB, on its way.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Collective Nouns

"Crows. Family Corvidae. Collective noun," intoned Mr. Croup, relishing the sound of the word, "a murder."
- Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere

Collective nouns can be kind of cool. I'd heard of a murder of crows before (along with an unkindness of ravens) but I liked the way it appeared in this book. There are plenty of other interesting ones to be found out there, too. This page has a nice, categorized list, while this one actually included references for all the ones she could verify as "authentic" (that is, existing somewhere other than in the mind of the person who suggested it). Here are some of my favorites:

a blessing of unicorns
a book of Mormons
a buffoonery of orangutans
a charlotte of webpages
a mass of priests
a parliament of owls
a siege of herons

And here are some of the more amusing, made-up examples. (Though really, the only way they're more "made-up" than the others is that fewer people so far have made them up. Funny how that works.)

a balance of accountants
a brace of dentists
a babble of linguists
a virtue of patients
a fraid of ghosts

Anybody else have any good ones? How about... a google of bloggers?