Tuesday, November 29, 2011

word choice: it matters!

One of the great things about reading The New Yorker is that you get used to lucid, beautiful writing, completely free of errors in grammar, syntax, spelling, and punctuation. Naturally, when an error does appear, it's far more jolting than when one shows up in, say, Salon, which has yet to publish a single edition without a gaggle of horribly embarrassing goofs.

Here's a fun one:
The Dutch-speaking Flemings, he said, had no trouble accommodating the small, mostly wealthy Francophones in their midst.

Since he's speaking about the minority of Francophones in the town of Vilvoorde, I tend to think he means "the few." Nonetheless, I have fun picturing the situation as he describes it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

baby carriages and baggage

Greta has 3 carriages: one is a full-sized perambulator, one is a bright pink-and-orange umbrella stroller, and one is a very tiny stroller not for her to ride in but for her to push her dolls around in. She loves doing that, but, as you may imagine, she also loves actually cramming into the doll one and being pushed around.

Today she got in and I pushed her back and forth like a vacuum cleaner. She leaned over at one point and strained and strained to reach a toy on the ground, a plastic five-by-eight barn that plays synth banjo folk tunes. She carried it with her as she went back and forth.

Then she saw her Lady-bear on the ground. Technically, it's not a bear: it's Lady from Lady and the Tramp, charmingly rendered in surprisingly huggable doll form, a gift from Loretta Cormier and one of Greta's sentimental favorites. She hugged it close with the other hand while still holding the barn and being pushed back and forth in the toy stroller like a vacuum cleaner.

Then she leaned over and picked up a small shampoo bottle from the ground. She likes toting it around the house, probably because it's just the right size, kind of stubby and small, and thus (as anyone familiar with Shampoo Economics knows) much more expensive than the larger shampoo bottles at the store.

Anyway, when she picked it up she dropped the barn; in picking up the barn she dropped her Lady-bear; finally, she had all three in her hand. It was like the "I'm leaving" scene from The Jerk.

I suddenly realized that this portrait of Greta is a portrait of all of us. Can't we just be content to be rocked back and forth pleasantly in life? Certainly it's fun and satisfying, but if only we just had this thing over here. And that thing over there, and that other thing over there. But having some of those things causes us to lose track of others; having too many causes us to ill-treat all. And yet we don't let go.

Finally she got up and went over and played with a tupperware lid. May we all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

chesterton on dogma

I was just reading Chesterton's The Thing. It sounds like a horror title, and, in fact is a horror title of a kind. It's full of his sharp thinking, uncommonsense wit, and slightly clunky sentences. One stuck out for me.
When the journalist says for the thousandth time, "Living religion is not in dull and dusty dogmas, etc." we must stop him with a sort of shout and say, "There — you go wrong at the very start." If he would condescend to ask what the dogmas are, he would find out that it is precisely the dogmas that are living, that are inspiring, that are intellectually interesting. Zeal and charity and unction are admirable as flowers and fruit.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

passion, live

I conceived the album Passion as a studio project. It was never intended to be done live, and the reason I chose the musical style I did with it was in part because of the features of the studio equipment I was working with.

order the CD!

So, it was a surprise to me that I found myself wanting to do the material in a live setting recently. Over the years, I've thought about all those extra CDs in storage, and thought it might be nice to trot them out and sell them somehow. But nothing happened till just tonight. This summer I talked with the owner of a well-known jazz club about the possibility of putting a group together to do the material. She sounded interested. I made some calls to some top-flight players, sent out a press release, and Boom: it's a live gig.

The San Antonio Express-News had a nice big article on it — the music writer Jim Beal gave it a huge plug in the entertainment section of the paper. And I spent a few hours writing out charts for three hours' worth of songs I'd never charted before.

Part of the challenge was to make the music sound right, to have the same heft and rich spectrum that the CD had. I actually brought the old JV-1080 unit to the gig that I'd used in the recording, using many of the same sounds and samples, tweaked here and there to suit the venue (and the year 2011).

The whole thing turned out great. The other musicians liked it. The audience liked it, and it was a packed house, with people having to be seated outside. I liked hearing this stuff that had been a solo project fleshed out by superb musicians: the bassist Jim Kalson, the pianist Anthony Bazzani, and the drummer Johnathan Alexander, all three heavy hitters. They seemed to like the style we were doing, which was enough of a departure for all of us that it felt very fresh; it was, as Jim put it, "smoothy enough" to fit into the style but still interesting and flexible and with plenty of room for group improvisation and musical conversation.

Overall, a nice commercial and artistic success. We may just do it again.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


For some reason, when I was growing up, just about everyone spelled the composer Arnold Schönberg's name Schoenberg. There's really no reason to do that in a book or magazine. They've got all those extra letters and diacriticals. The only reason you would write Schoenberg is if you're on a typewriter, which doesn't have umlauts. But, anyway, for one reason or another, that's how it was done.

Ah! Just googled it. He changed it when he moved to America. Tryin' to fit in better. Though, if you were trying to fit in better, you might try changing the spelling of your chords.

I remember sitting in a class and hearing a professor, a Baylor professor with a strong Texas accent, referring to someone named "Shernberg." It took me until at least the next class to realize that this prof was talking about Schönberg. I became used to this in college. (In high school, no one referred to Schönberg.) Tons of people pronounced his name "Shernberg." I think the umlaut threw them off: if you were going to get a Texas person to try to pronounce the man's name correctly, albeit with a Texas accent, it would be far better to have them say something between "Shunberg" and "Shinberg."

I note in passing that no one said "Gerterdairmmerung." Only "Shernberg." (Of course, serious music majors at Baylor in the 80s didn't mention Götterdämmerung without embarrassment. Not about shameful German/Jewish stuff, though; more about greasepaint and tonality.)

Anyway. I just saw a CD that I burned with some Schönberg on it, and I'd written it the Austrian way. It suddenly occurred to me that the name meant something. And, fresh from a weekend in the Hill Country, I realized that if you wanted an English proper name equivalent, you could do a lot worse than ... Pleasanton.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

holidays and consistency

Just saw a commercial for HEB. Something about a "holiday meal." I wonder how many evangelicals will get up in arms about this company, owned by a prominent evangelical, and its supposed refusal to speak the name "Christmas."

(Of course, "holiday" might very well refer to Thanksgiving as well, because this is the beginning of November. Yeeeesh.)

Nonetheless, you always hear from the war-on-Christmas crowd how horrible it is when people seemingly refuse to even speak the name of a Christian holiday, and instead just say "holidays," or — even more egregiously — "Winter Festival."

Replacing a time-honored historical name with some insipid seasonal blandness does seem like the sort of politically-correct nonsense you'd expect from the left, ripe for lambasting.

But I'm just now thinking of another Christian holiday, called by its Christian name and celebrated by Christians for centuries. All Hallow's Eve. Halloween. It's not an occult holiday; it's a Christian one. Except there's one group of people, mainly evangelicals, who flatly refuse to participate in it, as if dressing up as a pirate and getting candy from the next-door neighbor is some sort of pagan practice (as opposed to, say, putting a decorated tree in your living room or painting eggs). And the name they use instead of its Christian name?

Fall Festival.

You can't make this stuff up.

Friday, November 4, 2011

2 things in 2 days

Day One: Greta is eating some French fries. She [a] decides to dip one in salad dressing; [b] decides to then drink the remainder of the dressing. She is definitely her mother's daughter.

Day Two: Greta has her foot in a jar. Catherine helps her take it out, and then Greta immediately puts her other foot in. Gotta make it even. Definitely her father's daughter.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


In the rush to celebrate 11-11-11 (which has to leave out two digits to be meaningful), let's not forget that today is November 2nd, 2011. That's 11-02-2011. Perfect symmetry.

Unless you live in Europe.