Sunday, January 29, 2006

great question

I just got an email that asks: "Is your skills about to expired?"

Friday, January 13, 2006

thoughts on being recognized

Several times recently, I've been treated like a celebrity. The Protags are a well-known group around town, but hardly what you'd call celebrities. Still, I had the experience of talking with a guy who's maybe just out of college, who, as soon as he found out I was Barry Brake of the Jazz Protagonists, got a little flustered and said it was an honor to meet me, and thereafter called me "Sir."

I welcomed the gradual process of getting called "Sir" by waiters and clerks — it's as good to be a "sir" in the world as it is to wear a slamming suit — but this was different. He didn't call me that until he knew who I was.

I came across a couple of jazz fans, maybe boyfriend and girlfriend, who reacted the same way. They got a little starry-eyed and deferential. How strange, to command that reaction! What mystery is music, this nothing-but-tones, that it has such an effect?

Yesterday the jazz station played something that sounded just enough like Erroll Garner to give me a little doubt. Very cooking, but maybe not quite his style. I called in and asked. Sure enough, it was late Garner, a little past his prime but, man oh man, what a player. The announcer recognized my voice and thanked me for calling in. When the song was over, the guy back-announced it, and then added that no less than Barry Brake, of the Jazz Protagonists, had called in to "endorse" the number.

When I was in high school and college, I assumed, as we all do, that I would be a household name in a few short years. That hasn't quite turned out as I'd expected. But something far more interesting has happened: I'm known to people who care.

After all, household names belong to households. Whenever I express enthusiasm for, say, Jessica Simpson, experts and regular folks both raise their eyebrows, a bit surprised — as if caring about her music is missing the point. I know she's involved with someone named Nick, but I have no idea who Nick is. A dancer? A singer? Who knows? That's just my own bias showing through: apparently the whole matter is enormously entertaining to millions of people. More entertaining to them, in fact, than Simpson's performances, which can be spine-chilling. She has the best vocal cords of that entire remarkable set of young pop singers (though unfortunately she doesn't choose material that would really set her apart), but you'd never know it just from her media coverage.

On the other hand, being moderately known to locals is a joy, unalloyed by getting hounded on daily errands or while sunbathing naked on the Riviera. I've been asked if I were the Barry Brake, who recorded the Passion CD, something never released by a label but which I blanketed local stores with a few years ago. I've been greeted with an "Oh! It's a pleasure to meet you!" by the conductor of the San Antonio Symphony, who brightened on hearing my name. I've had people waiting at the bottom of the stairs after a performance so they could ask me, "How did we get you to play here?!" (Answer: by hiring me.) I've had drinks bought for me.

And it's not about my weight or my changing hairstyle or my love life or anything else but the music. Ahhhh.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

questions on faith and science

Different classrooms are for different purposes. To answer the question, "Of what significance is the twelfth root of two?," go to Audio and Acoustics 1301. If you ask that question in American Lit Since Twain, you'll either get a blank stare or an answer that doesn't answer.

So. Are we all the product of chance, or of a great Spirit that is the Creator and sustainer of all things? Great question. Ask it in a metaphysics class, or Intro to Philosophy, and you open a fascinating and possibly enlightening debate. Ask it in biology, and you've asked the wrong question.

So. Did the world come about through this process or that process? Great question. Ask it in Astronomy or Life Sciences, and you'll get an answer that reflects our current thinking (which will be viewed as simplistic, or plain wrong, in 500 years). Ask it in your Religion class, and you're asking for bread to come out of a faucet.

Is it really that difficult to get? People who think that science and faith must be opposed and science wins, and people who think that science and faith must be opposed and faith wins, have a lot in common. They need each other desperately. And, unfortunately for all of us, they're dominating the conversation. Science and faith are no more necessarily opposed than vision and hearing.

"Did God create it in precisely the way that I say he did, or is it all a big pile of meaningless chance?" That's a question that needs to be, as they say, ungrouped.

Right now, the battle seems to be between those who want the question "Did God do it? (yes)" in science classrooms and those who want the question "Did God do it? (no)" in science classrooms. Neither question has any more place in a science classroom than "Do you love me?"

One more question: Why is it that every time the folks with the telescopes and microscopes find out that this creation is even more amazing than we thought it was, the very ones who should rejoice the most would rather burn the house down than say "Wow?"

Monday, January 9, 2006

music and pronunciation

The Christmas season is now over, even if you, like most Americans, pay no attention to the actual twelve days of Christmas, which ended January 6th. So, with the wall-to-wall soundtrack of Christmas music still dancing in our heads, what may we observe?

One thing is that your choir teacher was wrong. For some reason, vocal music professionals — singers, coaches, teachers, directors, ministers — keep passing on a powerful meme about the English language and singing: namely, that English is an ugly language not suited to singing, and that Italian, with its limited palate of vowel sounds, invariably called "pure," is far better.

And then they actually try to get you to sing English with an Italian accent. Really.

Remember? Yeesh. The only people that fare a little better, and only a little, are the directors of those showchoirs, whose scarf-necked version of pop and jazz is as close to the glory of the English language as any institution is likely to get. (A personal note to Duane Cottrell: Save us!)

Meanwhile, pop music itself is hardly any place to go. Who could hate the English language more than Alanis Morissette, who in every song uncorks all the bottled-up diphthongs of an entire school district?

Here's the deal. English is beautiful. It's a great language for singing. In the classical world, Renee Fleming proves this. In the pop and jazz worlds, Ella Fitzgerald proves it. You can pronounce clear, lovely English, with smoothly arching diphthongs, rowry American Rs, throaty Ls, and the whole bit, and sound like a million bucks doing it.

A friend responded that if English were such a good language for singing, then why are all the great operas Italian? Well, one reason might be that during the two golden ages of opera it was banned in England. (People often overlook the roles of politics and social history in things like this. Why do you think that such an overwhelming load of pop singers borrow their pronunciations from the American South?) But even then, let's remember that opera isn't the only music. One of the great works of art, of any kind, of all time, is Handel's Messiah. Granted, we often now hear it sung in what's supposed to sound like the Authenticke Queene's Englishe, but even then you can't get rid of the language entirely.

What a contrast, then, to hear the stilted, flat, false Italianate pronunciations of all those choirs at Cha-rrrrristmastime, and then, in every mall and boutique, to hear the grand American pop Winter canon. The jazz and pop of the twentieth century are America's great contribution to world art. Johnny Hartman, Karen Carpenter, Jeri Southern, Doris Day, Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Ann Miller, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, Jessica Simpson (who, you may recall, is a spine-chilling singer), Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Tony Bennett, K. D. Lang, Sarah Vaughn, Ella — all crystal-clear singers of American English. And that's just off the top of my head. The list of role models goes on and on.

English! It's your language. Pronounce it proudly.

(And, Alanis, responsibly.)

Saturday, January 7, 2006

a css zen garden

The last couple of weeks, I've been teaching myself cascading style sheets. If you don't know what they are, you're not alone. I sent some friends a link to an amazing site that shows off what can be done with CSS if you have some artistry in you. The site shows a single Web page like this one, coded, as this one is, in html. And it's linked, as many Web pages are, to a CSS file. It's quite a lovely design, but the interesing thing is that you can click on a link and get the same page with a different CSS file, and the page turns out radically differently. My wife said, "Well, all they did was just change the fonts and pictures. You can do that, right?" Jason said something like, "I've heard of that site, and know it got a bunch of awards, but I have no knowledge of cascading style sheets, so." Paul S, finally, said, "Holy schmoly, that's amazing!" Or something like that.

Whenever you change a background color or font size or table size or anything formatty about your Web site, you have to change it on every page, naturally. Or, you had to until several years ago when they invented style sheets. This isn't too bad if you have batch editing, where you can change, say, the phrase "Barry sucks" into the phrase "I love Barry" in every single document in a folder with one stroke — something you still can't do in Word, Notepad, or any Windows program I know of. (How do you Windows people stand it?)

Well, anyway, the easier thing to do is to have a style sheet, which specifies all that stuff for your entire site. This way, you go into one file, and change all your link colors from blue to red, or all your fonts from Times Roman to Arial. Say it once, and your whole site's changed. And furthermore, you can control your placement of things so that the site looks the way you want it to without cheating, which a lot of us still do. On this site, for instance, my code for the home page, though I'm proud to say is pretty elegant, is still not as elegant as it could be if I could figure out how to do it in CSS.

Font sizes? Colors? Placement? Who cares, you ask. Just for fun, check out the page I sent: csszengarden.com.