It’s a music typewriter

Saw this on my twitter feed this morning, via @kickassical.

Source

I want to know if it actually works. And who built it. It does look pretty cool… judging from what’s going on the music behind it, I’m guessing it’s more for the novelty than for anyone wanting software that can format their musical composition into some nice format. You can’t bar eighth or sixteenth notes, and I think placement of sharps or flats could get tricky.

Still doesn’t compare to Sibelius. Or Finale.

It’s still kind of cool, though.

In other news, Google’s homepage today is featuring a special playable guitar logo in honor of the 96th birthday of musician Les Paul, someone I’ve personally never heard of but was apparently a prominent guitar builder and musician notable for his use of “overdubbing,” or layering guitar sounds over each other. He earned two Grammys before his death. More information here in PC mag.

The cool thing about this special guitar logo (and I think Google’s engineers have really outdone themselves) is that not only can you play music, but you could also record a little ditty of your own composition and send it to your friends.

It seems as though all the musicians (and even non-musicians) in my facebook newsfeed are enjoying it.

I’m pretty happy about it.

Love is a rebellious bird

The Habanera is a famous aria from the opera Carmen, often sung by female vocalists at the height of their profession.

Wikipedia notes,

It is based on a descending chromatic scale followed by variants of the same phrase in first the minor and then the major key, corresponding with the vicissitudes of love expressed in the lyrics.

It has also been arranged for various instruments, and one of my favorites is the arrangement for two pianos done by piano duo Anderson and Roe (jump to about 3:35 for the Habanera theme) and filmed in both the concert hall, with concert grands, and an intimate garden setting on upright pianos:

And then there’s this version, filmed in an old warehouse:

The latter is a clearly nuanced interpretation, with Beaker’s clear soprano declaiming the lines “MEEP MEEP MEEP” and the Swedish Chef’s steady underlying rhythmic background. Animal provides what would be originally the chorus’s interlude, and he provides it with character.

rah rah rah RAHHH!

Beaker’s rose is also a nice touch.

All in all, a truly thrilling performance.

Illusions: Review of Lindsay Aline’s Debut Album

I heard of singer/songwriter Lindsay Aline from a Facebook ad. I just happened to glance over when I was playing Cafe World (don’t judge me) and see her name. I’m all about finding gems of albums and artists that few people have heard about, and which I think more people should know about, and I found her background intriguing. However, I did not get her CD until very recently, when she and her managers sent out a call for bloggers interested in reviewing her debut album, Illusion. I received the album in the mail about two months ago, and since then, I’ve listened to it quite a bit.

Lindsay Aline does not seem to be a person who shies away from heartbreaking honesty. Her biography mentions a fall into disillusionment and discouragement and eventual burnout, a painful situation for any artist to go through. She makes no secret of her struggle to find her voice and regain her love of music. Such experience and maturity makes its way into empowering themes such as those in the title track, “Illusion.”

As for first impressions, I was struck by the beauty of her voice. There is this lovely soaring, ethereal quality to it which reminds me somewhat of Enya. She has cultivated a very pure sound, and I think here is where her classical influence is most obvious. Her voice stands out from a lot of the other artists I know partly because of this very “refined” sound, with a certain calm elegance, for lack of a better way to describe it. I think most prominent artists (Sara Bareilles, Brooke Fraser, Taylor Swift) in the music industry nowadays tend to be self-taught, and Lindsay’s extensive background of arts songs and arias is fairly unique in this regard.

She’s also pretty cute.

Further evidence of her musical training shows. Her diction is very clear and precise. I never have a problem making out the lyrics, and this is a plus because I often feel as if I’m struggling to hear lyrics in otherwise sound albums (Brooke Fraser’s voice is hard for me to make out sometimes). Her range is incredibly versatile: in the title track “Illusion,” her voice soars nearly effortlessly (perhaps there is some tension the higher it goes, but still) into melismas that I can’t even attempt to reach. In the next track, “What Would It Be Like,” her voice dips beautifully into a lower range with more somber thematic material. Though I favor her lower range and wish she would use it more, she does showcase her higher range more.

As an arranger, Lindsay Aline is particularly skilled at bringing together voices and instruments and sounds to forge an unique effect. What stands out to me is the layering of voices in songs such as “Reach” and “Eye Contact.” Linking all these different styles and instruments and sounds is Lindsay Aline’s expressive voice, which remains pure, ethereal, yet strong throughout each track.

However, with all that said, I come to the weakest part of the album: her lyrics. Even before I became a literature major, I’ve loved words. When listening to a pop album, words are what pull me in, even more so sometimes than the beat or the melody. If a song has a good melody but poor lyrics, I might be disinclined to listen to it again. If a song has good lyrics but a blah melody, I might listen to it a couple of times more before putting it aside. If a song has good melodies and good lyrics, that will probably be my new favorite song, and I will listen it to death.

Lindsay Aline’s lyrics are not horrible, but they could use a lot of tightening up. Certain passages seem clunky and awkward, placed at odds with Lindsay’s smooth voice and her flowing melody.

From “Eye Contact”:

Eyes wander a crowd, search for a match
Heart recognize the heat, another pair trying to catch

This is probably one of my favorites of the album, in terms of melody. However, these lyrics gave me pause. While I can identify with the theme of meeting someone one enchanted evening, I’m not sure the lyrics truly capture this magic. To me, it seems as if a lot of the words were used just to fit the melody, or to make the syllables match, rather than melody into words and vice versa.

In “Please”:

Please, please, please shine again, please
They say that dark is void of light

I want to help, I want to be support

Again, “dark is void of light” was perhaps not the smoothest word choice. Perhaps another word to describe these lyrics is “obvious,” and especially in that last line I used in the example. The expressions and metaphors Lindsay uses can be kind of cliche at times.

Lindsay Aline at her release concert

But I am not here to give a critique her lyrics. In spite of this weakness, I truly enjoyed the first song, “Reach,” with its ultimately upbeat message. And of course there’s “Illusion” as well as the aforementioned contemplative “What Would It Be Like,” which drew me in with its wandering melody and Lindsay’s gorgeous lower register. The more I listened to that song, the more I fell in love with it.

And then there’s “What a Day,” impossibly catchy and with lyrics I can honestly say are truly magical. Set against a backdrop of simple piano and guitar, with Lindsay’s expressive voice, this song truly evoked the feeling of sun, oceans of miracles, and “ends we can’t see.”

I loved it.

In terms of songwriting, Lindsay Aline, though promising, has some ways to go. Even though I am not a fan of her lyrics, I am confident that she will tighten up her records with a little more time, experience and experimentation. I wish her luck in her music career, and look forward to seeing what else she comes up with. I really believe she has a big future ahead of her, and I am sure that she will embrace that future with fearlessness.

*Apologies about the lateness in reviewing! Finals caught up to me somewhat, and though I had notes, I did not have the time to sit down and put them together. To Lindsay Aline’s management team, thank you for your patience!

Samples of Illusion are available to listen on Lindsay Aline’s website here.

To purchase, go here.

Pictures are from website and facebook page, and are used only with Lindsay Aline’s permission.

Aftermath

I know I haven’t posted in a while, but I just wanted to offer up a prayer in the wake of the recent tragedy in Japan. I was staying up late to finish a music theory paper and ended up seeing it on Facebook.

Here are some aerial pictures of the aftermath.

There are more pictures, and I can’t bear to look at much more because it’s just horrifying. This is just colossal. I read somewhere, can’t remember right now where exactly, that Japan hasn’t experienced any horror comparable to this since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagaski.

Which, incidentally, I learned about in my history segment in Development of Western Civilization today.

It’s very sobering.

Not to mention that this is also affecting the West Coast of the States, Philippines, Hong Kong, Indonesia, New Zealand, and more.

Meanwhile, here are some links to anyone interested in helping out.

Help out here: Red Cross
CNN: How you can help

The death toll is rising. Do what you can. Thank you for reading.

Making Art

My writer friend April lately wrote a blog post about hobbies.

She stated that many of her friends have hobbies and other things they love to do outside of their day jobs. For example, her husband (congratulations to her on her recent nuptials, by the way!) is a woodworker who makes boxes, articles of furniture, wine stoppers, even candlesticks. He takes the wood and finds the beauty in the wood, the “colors and shades and swirls and designs” that is present in the bark of the tree, and coaxes it out, making it into something that is both beautiful and serviceable.

Then she wrote about something that struck her as someone who wants to become published:

Everyone acknowledges the work it takes to grow a successful garden or knit a winter scarf or restore an old rocking chair. But people who aren’t writers assume it’s easy. They assume it’s a non-issue. We just pound out words in the form of a story. Anyone could do that.

I agreed. I feel as if people don’t realize just how hard it is. Just sit down and pound out some words — how easy is that?

But then I realized…

The hard part is not getting the words down, but making it art.

It’s never going to be an issue for me to write down words. Most people can string words together to make sentences, and string sentences together to make paragraphs. Whether those sentences or paragraphs make sense together or even alone is a different matter. It’s easy to understand the concept of writing down an idea or statement.

I could always write down words on a piece of paper. But to make those words something people can feel, identify with, and enjoy — to make those words simply understandable — is something that takes a great deal of skill. A great deal of skill that may take years and years to learn. A skill which even now I am learning, and will continue to learn for the rest of my life.

It’s similar with music. People think it’s so easy to just sit down and play a tune at a piano. Anyone can look at notes and plink them out on the keys — how hard is that? I have friends who believe that being a classical musician, or learning to be one, is easy because all you have to do is read music and play the notes right. To them, it doesn’t seem to be a hard area of study because all one has to do is look at the sheet music and simply follow the composer’s instructions.

Not hard, is it?

You’d be surprised.

But it’s not at all about that. There’s expression, articulation, the way a cadence has to be ended just right, the push and lift of the pedal in between chords, so many things. So many things that go into making a piece of a music more than mere sounds, but something that can touch the soul and lift the spirit and to put it in the words of an old cliche, make the world into a better place.

It’s not just reading forte or piano and thinking to yourself that you have to play it loud there, and soft elsewhere, though dynamics are important. It’s not just looking at the tempo and playing it at that tempo, though that is good as well. It’s going deeper than what is written and feeling what the music is really about: gratitude and humility and emotion and a reply.

Things which can be so easily forgotten.

The hard part is not getting the words down or the notes right, but making it art.

Pictures taken by me. Not to be used without permission.

Memories

I’m making lists again. This time it’s one of memories of the Atlantic Music Festival, my first music festival ever, and one of the best things that ever happened to me. It was hectic at times, practicing and getting ready for lessons and concerts (I actually only had one of the latter), but I think I want to go back next year if I can rob enough banks and mooch enough money off my parents and grandparents.

And of course, if I can improve my musicianship.

But the best things that strike me about this music festival is the memories. The little things that happened. The funny things people said that became inside jokes.

In the end, it was a truly inspiring experience.

So here are some of those little memories, in no particular order.

1. Going to McDonalds and waiting at least a half hour for a taxi.

2. Midnight games of Jenga aka Jumbling Towers, accompanied by cookies, chips, and alcohol (which I didn’t drink much of).

3. Stealing cookies from the dining hall for said midnight games.

4. Playing (or in my case listening to) string quartets played just because. And then getting four emails afterwards from administration because of complaints about the noise.

5. Waiting until 10 PM for the practice room sign-up sheets.

6. Amazing concerts.

7. Running around campus taking pictures with a borrowed camera, set to macro lens.

8. Fighting the field hockey camp for food and ice cream every meal.

9. The ice cream party after the last student piano recital. Blueberry ice cream with gummy bears, and taking goofy pictures of each other.

10. FAIL.

11. Solomon dude.

12. Sheridan Seyfried’s Sextet. No. Words.

13. Church bells suddenly echoing while a piece dies away. Quite magical.

14. Friendships.

15. The opera people singing a rendition of the Magic Flute to thank the cafeteria people on my very last night…

And above all, a reply.

Lifesong

Jaime Laredo, violinist and conductor

A few nights ago, I attended an amazing concert at the Atlantic Music Festival. I’ve been staying here for close to four weeks, and there’s been no end to the amazing music that is continually being made, and the inspiration that’s been pouring out as a result.

This particular concert, out of all the concerts I’ve attended (and there have been at least three every week), touched me the most. Jaime Laredo, violinist, and Sharon Robinson, cellist, appeared as scheduled guests at the third out of four orchestra concerts, with Sarah Hicks of the Minnesota Orchestra as conductor. All three were a killer combination. Superb conducting, combined with excellent playing… well, one struggles to find words to describe it.

Sarah Hicks, conductor

Sarah Hicks was the first woman to hold a titled conductor post in the Minnesota Orchestra’s history. Over the years, she’s gained a lot of acclaim for her conducting at various orchestras as a guest conductor. We were truly fortunate to have her here at the festival.

Not only that, you can check out the blog she co-writes with Inside the Classics co-host Sam Bergman. I love that she has this half Japanese look, too. I also was impressed, watching during rehearsals, by the fact that she doesn’t have to scream at orchestra members to get what she wants out of them. (This was also confirmed by various orchestra members — remarks that she is one of the few nice conductors.) She is nice but very firm and decisive with her conducting, and gets what she wants because she knows what she wants and conveys that clearly to the orchestra members.

Anyone who can make an oboe sing with the crook of one finger is one pretty good conductor.

She’s also been trained as a pianist and viola player, even winning prizes for her piano playing. As a piano performance major, that’s just interesting to me.

And she loves blogging.

From her bio:

In her spare time, Ms. Hicks enjoys running, yoga, her two large dogs, cooking (and eating) with her husband, French hornist Paul LaFollette, blogging and songwriting.

How cool is that? Songwriting? I never would have guessed!

Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson. What to say? I was fascinated with the fact that they are actually married to each other, and have collaborated in many performances.They also teach in the same school, Indiana University. Jaime Laredo is famous enough that he has his own wikipedia page, and lots of pictures that appear in Google images. He’s in very high demand as both a conductor and a soloist, and is a Grammy award winner.

Sharon Robinson, cellist

Sharon Robinson has also won many awards for her playing, and was a Grammy-nominee. She has appeared as a guest in many orchestras, both in the States and in Europe, including the National Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the London Symphony, among others. She is quite renowned for her chamber music performances, and co-founded the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, which was named the 2002 Ensemble of the Year by Musical America.

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to marry someone who is a fellow writer or fellow musician (or both?). It could potentially be a recipe for insanity, but on the other hand, it could be a beautiful thing as well. Because that person you’re playing/writing/whatever with is someone you’ve come to know and love, you can be so attuned to their expressions and reactions, and make harmony together.

And plus it just seems more romantic — making beautiful music with the one you love.

That came out funny, for some reason.

They performed the spectacular Brahms Double Concerto for Violin and Cello in A minor. Talk about a piece that seemed as if it was written for their pairing… What I loved about their performance in the is that at times they seemed to be breathing totally in sync. They were so attuned to each other’s playing that they played so beautifully. Especially the slower second movement. It almost brought me to tears with the intensity and passion of their playing.

They seemed to be writing their own lifesong into the score, flowing from heart to fingers. A reminder that music has to come from a deeper place than the technical abilities or facilities of fingers.

Cello picture from Flickr creative commons and used with permission.

Pictures of artists are artistic photos from their respective niches in the web.