Saturday, March 20, 2010

Compin' it up

I have no witty line to open up this blog post, and I have no apologies for taking three months to write it. Time is moving in weird ways for me, simultaneously compressed and expanded. Once again, rather than try to be poetic ('cause I'm not sure that's ever successful), I'll just give you a run-down.

1. This isn't a specific event, but I do feel that I need to start with the backdrop. Which is this: little town out on the prairie. You know that, right, since you've read previous posts. But if you haven't been here, you don't know it. You don't know that 20 or so miles east of here there is some sort of climatological-geographical boundary that REALLY makes this the prairie, and that is never more obvious than when you are driving the two-lane Hwy 28 between the months of November and March, and the wind blows a little bit, and suddenly the half-inch of snow that just fell looks like that scene in The Empire Strikes Back (except there generally aren't space monsters to capture you, and the closest mountains are about a thousand miles away).

Yeah, so, Little Town.

On the Prairie.

Either element could act as an isolating factor in and of itself, but here, you have both. This hasn't been a particularly easy winter for me, and I've felt, you guessed it, isolated. On many levels -- isolated with only minimal colleagues, all of whom are overworked, isolated with few friends, fewer musicians. Don't get me wrong, there are some great people here. And they're all married, and can only hang out once every two months.

Also, I think this week is the first time the sun shone since September. I might not be exaggerating. I was beginning to feel like the girl in that story who lives on the planet where it rains all the time. Luckily it is spring (at least according to the equinox) and I can already feel my spirits lifting.

2. The upside of having a sucky social life in a town where there's one above-average Italian restaurant and pretty much nothing else is that I was getting a lot of practice in, for a while.* We won't speak of the last two weeks, though (more on that in #4).

*After adjusting to my job, that is. I think I give too much of myself when I teach here -- I always come home exhausted, and it will be, like, only 7 or 8 p.m. Hard to practice then when you feel wiped out. The two months before my recital I made myself practice then because it just had to happen. Usually I was able to somehow find a second wind.

3. Speaking of recitaling, I did just that. I played 8 recitals in 3 states in 3 weeks. That was fun, exhausting in a different way. (Ok, but surprisingly, not as exhausting as my teaching job.) The thing that was most difficult was having not so much practice time for the last leg of the 'tour,' when I was in Utah. I need about 5-6 hours a day, consistently, to give a solid performance. When I was there, it was only about 1-2 hours a day. So some things were not as clean as they could have been. But that's live performance, I suppose. One thing that pleased me a lot on this tour is that the Paganini vignette in Carnaval came together 4 days before my UI recital. I'd figured out how to practice it. I mean, I'd been practicing it all along, but one specific technique I'd forgotten about. And then I remembered it, and then I could play it (which is good, since Paganini is a bitch).

4. Now it is the season of Studying for Comprehensive Examinations. That's what I've been doing this week, and oh yeah, it's spring break. So I'm not in New Mexico at the MTNA conference (with many of my friends) because I have a crap-load of books and articles to read so that I'm prepared. I was feeling good about my research until Wednesday, but in the last three days I feel I've fallen behind. Two more weeks until they start. Here's what I'm researching:

A. The History of the Nocturne. I feel like I've conquered this question pretty well. What pleases me so about it is that it will be the rough draft of the first chapter of the DISSERTATION. I like this, two birds-one stone deal.

B. Winterreise, the amazing song-cycle by Schubert. Also amazingly depressing. Also, I didn't have insomnia this week until I started intensely studying this work in depth, although I'm sure the two events are unrelated.

C. Analyzing the Mozart C minor Fantasy (K 475) using CPE Bach's treatise on the true art of playing keyboard instruments, and specifically the chapter on improvisation. I have been given other articles and books to assist me, and speaking of SMALL and ISOLATED, the library at my school has none of them. I invoke the Gods and Goddesses of InterLibraryLoan to come rapidly to my assistance, so mote it be.

D. A practical question on piano teaching, which I like (since I've been doing it for 12+ years and since it will continue to help me): a student comes in with a piece by a composer you don't know much about/haven't played much of. How do you prepare?

E. Choose a composer, any composer, and write about his/her contribution to the piano repertoire. What makes it significant? How does it stand in relationship to the other literature? Use lots of examples. I, of course, am going to choose, wait for it ... Brahms! Bet you didn't see that coming.

As you can see, good questions. I am learning a lot. I like my questions. I need 5 more weeks of spring break and no students so I can fully exhaust all possible resources in my research. Well, that ain't happening, as comps start in two weeks and one day. Plus students return on Monday. I think if they aren't prepared for their lessons I'm kicking them out.

Happily for my tastebuds, comps begin the Monday after Easter Sunday. You can see where this is headed. BRUNCH! You might recall that I was somewhat disappointed in last year's brunch, having built up expectations from the previous two years of Devotay's delightful buffet. Making your way through this current post to here, you will have surely realized that in this town, there is no brunch. (OH THE HORRORS.) I eagerly anticipate whatever is on Devotay's menu, especially if it is related to one or more of the following: mimosas, bacon, chocolate.

Alright, my eyelids are drooping. This is a good sign.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Scythian Empires

My crush on Andrew Bird has recently been renewed, precipitated by the Gezelligheid concert that I caught last week in Minneapolis. I was expecting more singing and less instrumental music, but in fact the mostly instrumental show was nothing short of fantastic. Goodness, despite listening to Armchair Apocrypha on just about every road trip from Minnesota to Iowa and back again, I had no idea this man has such beautiful violin tone. Also, he's got some mad whistling skillz, and you probably know that, but recordings just can't quite convey the extent of it. Once again, live music FTW.

A picture of his monkey on the altar/stage (the concert was at an Episcopal cathedral):

The ticket said 7 p.m., so I showed up early (5:30) so I wouldn't have to wander around downtown Minneapolis in the cold to find a parking spot. Little did I know that the doors opened at 7 and the concert started at 8. So I got a fantastic parking spot and an even better seat inside the church (4th row!), having paid the price of waiting outside for an hour and a half. Yes, during this time, my toes became very, very cold, despite wearing Smart Wool socks; I don't know what's so smart about them if your toes get cold. Some wandering around occurred. For instance, this bridge with the cool poem. I wandered over there. I have always loved this bridge with the cool poem that spans 94 from Loring Park to the Sculpture Garden:

Unrelated to Andrew Bird, but equally if not more wonderful, here is the beautiful Freya, and her adoring aunt:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Let's hear it for Norse Paganism!

I have a new niece! Her name is Freya Elizabeth, and she was born at 12:49 p.m., November 12. Welcome Freya! She joins her older brother Thor (yes, my brother-in-law likes names from Scandinavian mythology) and Katie. Katie's the middle child, incidentally. Hope she won't feel left out!

Speaking of Katie, here is a my new favorite picture: Halloween '09 with Bat-a-rina.

Pictures of Freya to be posted when they 1) arrive via email from my brother-in-law, and/or 2) when I visit the baby myself.

Yay, a baby!

* * * * * * * * * *

Dessert of the week: the apple crisp I just made (spent almost an hour peeling apples), hot from the oven, with vanilla Haagen Daaz. Perhaps the best part is that when I went to the store to buy the ice cream at 9:37 p.m., I didn't need a jacket!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Piano Bench on the Prairie

Well, hello there. Remember me? Whether you do or you don't is irrelevant, because now I have a brand new life. At least that's what it's felt like, although I'm adjusting pretty well. Allow me to back up a moment, remember this job I applied for? To make a not-that-long story shorter, that all turned out successfully,* and now I live on the prairie. There are still cornfields around here, but the sky seems so much vaster. Most notably when the wind blows the low, gray, rain-filled clouds across it like a time-lapse movie scene, or when one gazes at stars in full-blown constellation mode from the backyard in the city limits proper while drinking late-summer microbrews.

*Jobs = successful, right? It's strange, I'd been very, very much looking forward to another year of grad school in Iowa City, a year of reduced course load, and a year of no-TA duties, allowing me to practice my desired goal of 6-8 hours a day, while still enjoying the rest of life (i.e., having time to visit Prairie Lights and go to the Bijou occasionally). That remains all a lovely dream, as now I have returned to being a real-live grown-up, much like before the reentry to graduate school. Which is only a little sad, and mostly super cool, because 1.) I reached my goal [college-level teaching] before I ever thought I'd get there, 2.) these jobs are almost impossible to get, 3.) I love my new job, except that I'm always wiped out at the end of the day when I get home, to which this is taking some adjusting, 4.) I have a new (new for me) house, which will be very cute and wonderful, when I get all the things in their proper places [note: this should be happening today, but this post is providing a respite from reorganizing the linen closet in the front hallway].

So anyway, I'm "back" to "blogging," for whatever that's worth. Evidently it's been about four months (FOUR MONTHS?!?) since my last post. That's a frickin' third of a year. That's kind of a long time. And often, changes within a period of four months aren't necessarily that noticeable on a day-to-day level, and even after that third of a year has passed, changes are small and perhaps negligible, at least in a big-picture sense. Not for me! In addition to a new job and new house, I also had the Summer of Epiphanies. Maybe this is what happens when you turn 35? Definitely much preferred to a Summer of Existential Crises.


There is no way I can properly articulate in a way that satisfies me (and quite probably, you) exactly *what* was so special and amazing about this summer, so perhaps just a brief factual listing of major events (essentially: piano boot-camp followed by meditation boot-camp) will suffice.

1. Went to PianoSummer at New Paltz. Got many different perspectives about my pieces, which inevitably led to my observations of many different perspectives about piano, and technique, and pedagogy, and music, and philosophy, and life. Met new, amazing, inspiring, passionate friends. Had many great piano lessons, and had a definitely life-changing piano lesson that illuminated many things for me, which is always an incredible and fascinating experience -- to be aware that this teacher is showing up to give you the information you need and are ready for at that time.

2. Went to Kripalu, a gorgeous, restorative retreat center in Western Massachusetts, to study mindfulness-based stress reduction. And all I can say about that (other than that I cannot wait to go back) is that one entire day of silent meditation can change your entire life. Also, yogadance, corny as it may sound, is really profound and powerful.

Yeah, ok, that description was as unsatisfying as the sixth Harry Potter movie. Oh well, you'll just have to believe me that the Summer of '09 was good for Ann.

Now, back to organizing. As tedious as it is (and it is! I know! Hence the procrastination!), I also know that I will be so much happier when it's all put away.

* * * * *

Listening to: whatever Pandora's serving up for me these days, today's top picks are Elvis Perkins ('While you were sleeping'), and Iron and Wine.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Inspiration in two parts


About a month ago one of my dear friends visited me. One of the many things I appreciate in this friend is his love of fine dining. He likes to eat -- and eat well -- as much as I do, if not perhaps even more. Since most of my friends in Iowa City are also graduate students, I rarely find other like-minded people on this subject. And if they are like-minded, some of the best options become cost-prohibitive for those of us who have to cough up tuition each semester. But enough about that. Ben visited, and many delicious meals were had by all. They were so good, I'm going to write about them here so that they live forever in my memory and on the world wide interwebs. 

Tuesday night, post-violin recital (also, end of semester celebration!): The Sanctuary. Him: short ribs, Templeton Manhattans (I think?). Me: cod, Peche Lambic. Mmmm, Peche Lambic. 

Wednesday: a delectable day of decadence: brunch at Hamburg Inn, an afternoon Simpsons-fest with my friend Sam, including beer (Beer! In the afternoon! While watching many favorite episodes of the Simpsons! And no homework!) and Hawk Wok*.  Dinner of tapas at Devotay included patatas bravas, chorizo, and chevre with pear chutney and crostini. (Sadly, too full to partake of dessert.) 

Thursday: Breakfast at the Bluebird Diner. Ben and I took a little road trip to the Maquoketa Caves State Park. What a cool place! The plan was to post 4 or 5 pictures from that afternoon here, but what with all the pictures of food (forthcoming), Blogger's cap of 8 MB has been reached. So they will be posted in a subsequent post. Here's a teaser: 

The plan was to take a more scenic way home; we drove through Anamosa and then went to Mount Vernon for the express purpose of eating at Lincoln Cafe. I've been wanting to eat there for three years. Finally!  

Before our meal began (Thursday dinner time, there was a bit of a wait and we didn't have reservations), we had some wine at the Lincoln Wine Bar, just down the block. When it was time for dinner, we ordered this amazing appetizer (no pictures, sadly) of fried oysters and something else (jicama?) and grapefruit slaw. Over the past few weeks I have craved this on a regular basis. Dinner was AMAZING. Oh wait, that's the second time in as many sentences that I've used the same adjective. Perhaps this will begin to convey to you the awesomeness that is Lincoln Cafe. I had sturgeon with shrimp, bacon, fava beans (close plate) and Ben had chicken, asparagus, can't remember what else (far plate). 

We also had to order dessert, of course. I had lemon-basil-chocolate pie. Ben had a buttermilk scone, maple ice cream, and applewood-smoked bacon. That's right. Bacon as part of the dessert. I asked Ben if he wanted to try some of my chocolate pie, and the response was, "I'm sticking with my ice cream and bacon." 

Friday: brunch at the oft-mentioned Fair Grounds. Dinner at one of my Iowa City faves, Atlas. Crab and cream-cheese spring rolls with mango sauce started off the meal. Ben had the special, which was a half-chicken, potatoes, and I don't remember what else. I had some pork, which was delicious. Chocolate cake for dessert. And don't forget the mojitos! Atlas makes the best mojitos ever. 

Saturday: lunch at Motley Cow. Yes, another Iowa City fave! (Told you this was a week of gastronomic wonderfulness.) Ben: salmon salad; Me: salmon sandwich with avocado and fries. After a lovely, leisurely afternoon (leisure! who'd have thought there is such a thing! it feels so very foreign while in school) perusing the downtown comic book shop (that was all Ben) and Prairie Lights book store, we saw a movie (Monsters vs. Aliens, 3-D) and went to the Coralville Reservoir. (Incidentally, my first time being there since last year's historic flood.) Saturday night we went to the Mill to hear The Pines. Good times!

Sunday: I bid farewell to my friend, after brunch at Lou Henri's. They don't seem to have a website, but you can find out info on them here. Ben: some sort of ham-egg-hash brown concoction called a Jackson; me: omelette with tons of veggies (tomatoes, avocado, broccoli, carrots, celery) and sausage. Coffee and orange juice all-round, because what would brunch be without coffee and orange juice? Also:  that Sunday marked the start of a return to exercise for me. Before grad school, I exercised almost every day. For the year and a half before I moved to Iowa, I only missed 17 days out of over 500. Then I came back to school and gained twenty pounds of lusciousness. I have now exercised about 75% of the days since then: walking 40 minutes, doing sit-ups and modified push-ups. Trying to make this lusciousness a little more seemly. 

The following Sunday, during a practice break, Rebekah and I ate brunch at the Motley Cow. I like the salt shaker:

* Ok, Hawk Wok does not qualify as fine dining. They do have some pretty good doughnuts, though. 


Did you know that the Van Cliburn piano competition finished about a week ago? It did. A person can go to the website and watch the archived recitals.  In fact, I watched many of the recitals streaming live. So cool! Some of my piano friends and I had totally geeky and awesome piano-pizza parties involving this competition. Right now I have Lukas Vondracek's recital on, but goodness, with all the volume controls turned up as high as possible, it's still awfully quiet. And for as lovely as his Bach is, does he really need to hunch over so much when he plays? What, does he fancy himself Glenn Gould? He's going to need a personal chiropractor on call if he continues that. 


I began this post a long time ago, maybe three weeks ago. Something didn't quite feel right about it and then I ran out of steam to revise it. No, I don't usually revise my blog posts, only my research papers. Anywho, originally, the next part of this post was:
but I have decided to eliminate most of what this chapter contained, even though it took me about two hours to write it. But it might be something you hear of in the future. Then again, it might not be. 

I finished a book recently (coincidentally given to me by the aforementioned Ben) called The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. A. J. Jacobs, the author, undertook the excruciatingly arduous and admirable task of reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. Actually, this sounds like the sort of thing I'd have been interested in when I was a teenager, back in the days before I became really serious about music. Anyway, there was a really hilarious sentence early on in the book, he said a particular person he knew had a "very casual relationship with the truth." Ha! I know some people like that. Although I'd be more inclined to say that they have very casual relationships with sanity. 

So, speaking of sanity, casual or not, have you seen the movie Synecdoche, NY ? I watched it last night and though maybe not utterly confused, I did feel fairly confused. Can't decide if it's a brilliant post-modern meta-referential film or a self-indulgent piece of clap-trap. Need to watch it again. 

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Blogging as a cure for insomnia?

You'd never know it from reading this blog, but I rarely suffer from insomnia. If you do read this blog, it may appear as though I have it all the time; this is not true. What is true is that when I can't sleep and don't have the mental capacity to do anything else, I blog. Lucky you. I am unsure why this is happening right now; I did have tea today, but it was before 1 p.m. No outrageously long naps (in fact, no naps at all). Hmm. Maybe it's post-choir concert adrenaline rush? I think I played pretty well, aside from one really LOUD clunker in the piano solo in 'Homeland'* (what can I say? It was a crescendo to ff, at least I played musically) and a little bit of rushing in Alma Caribe, which, oh yeah, was put together YESTERDAY for the first time. Lots of tricky rhythms in that one, like one downbeat followed by four measures of syncopations. But overall I was happy with how I played. After six semesters, this was my last Camerata concert (bye-bye TA, bye-bye funding, sniff). Anyway, I looked and looked for someone to go out with me after the concert, and no one would (seriously, I don't care if your boyfriend has 'pneumonia'), so instead of going out to eat pizza and drink beer, I came home and ate a handful of wasabi almonds and some dark chocolate. Maybe I should have had a beer. 

*Gustav Holst's 'Jupiter' from the Planets is one of the greatest melodies written. Ever. No one should be allowed to set patriotic clap-trap lyrics to it. Ever. And yet a certain Z. Randall Stroope did. His name says it all. Why oh why did Dr. Stalter allow this to be programmed? I hope that I forget these awful words immediately if not sooner. And if I don't, Z. Stroope, if I am cursed to forevermore associate you with 'Jupiter,' I wish only that there might be a special place reserved for you in the seventh layer of Dante's Inferno. 


Play a million and one voice recitals, check
Take listening exam* for post-1960 music**, check
Play choir concert for Camerata, check
Play portative organ for Kantorei, tomorrow (didn't have my camera handy tonight, but I hope to score a sweet picture to post here re: this organ)
Play penultimate voice recital, Sunday
Play ultimate voice recital (of the semester), sometime in June? [thanks be to incompletes]
Play C minor violin sonata by Grieg, Tuesday
Fail piano lesson because I've been doing too damn much accompanying, Tuesday
Go to Hawk Wok and have a Simpsons and beer marathon before collapsing, Wednesday 

*If I have calculated correctly, I think I got a 93 on this exam. Not as stellar as the 100 on the mid-term, but passable nonetheless. 

**What I loved on this exam:
Berio, Sinfonia, 3rd mvt. I think I could listen to it all day long.
Rochberg, String Quartet No. 3
Tan Dun, Death and Fire, Insert 2: Senicio (incidentally, Paul Klee's Senecio happens to be one of my favorite paintings)
Schnittke, Concerto Grosso No. 4, 1st mvt

What I liked on the exam:
Elliot Carter, String Quartet No. 3
Boulez, Notations, 2nd mvt
(both surprises, yes?)

What I never want to hear again:
Crumb, Night of the 4 Moons (bongos? seriously?)
Takemitsu, Piano Distance (Boulez already did all that, and I don't want to listen to that either)
Berio, Piano Sonata (Too. Damn. Long. There is no need for 23 minutes of this)

Finally, finally, my eyelids are drooping. I still sort of want that beer, but I want a complete REM cycle even more. Let's hope this attempt at sleeping is successful. 

Monday, May 4, 2009

Meet Me in St Louis


Actually, I was in St Louis yesterday, so it's too late for us to meet there. At least for this time around. This brief two-day trip was my first time ever in Missouri; I played a recital with my friend in Jackson, about 90 miles south of St Louis yesterday afternoon. Despite a few wrong notes, I felt that I played pretty musically and was able to stay in the moment -- so I consider it a success (especially at this crazy-busy time of year). On the way back to Iowa we detoured briefly through downtown to look at the arch and get some dinner. Here's the arch; it was a little rainy (sadly, the vignetting has crept back into my camera, since I STILL haven't had it fixed). 

Dinner was at an Irish Pub: 

We split a pretty good dessert, but I don't know if it's blog-worthy. My dinner was, though. It was decidedly not Irish, but it was delicious: spinach salad, chevre (melted in my mouth!), strawberries, candied pecans, red onions, blackened shrimp (mmm, spicy) in a honey-lime vinaigrette. YUM!  


Ok, this youtube video is really cute. It's not very long and you should take the two minutes to watch it. 


5 big things down; 6 things to go:

1. Listening exam.
2. Choir concert #1.
3. Choir concert #2 (the easy one).
4. Voice recital.
5. Violin sonata.
6. Other voice recital, but who knows when that is really going to happen. 

In a week it'll be almost over!  

AND, what's even better than that is this: going to Oyama on Wednesday night (friend's birthday) for the second time in a week. Oyama = Best. Sushi. Ever. Current favorite roll = Bellisumo Roll. Who'd have thought that macadamia nuts would be so good in sushi?