Category Archives: Performance

Is it show or is it for real?

Piano paralysis

Piano:  n. a musical instrument having steel wire strings that sound when struck by felt-covered hammers operated from a keyboard

Paralysis: n. loss of the ability to move a state of powerlessness or incapacity to act

Our piano

Our piano

[Cross-posted from Getting to Less…]

The piano is a dying fixture in the American home.  So claims a recent story in the Los Angeles Times.

105,000 acoustic pianos (upright and grand) were sold in the US in 2000. By 2007 sales had plunged to 54,000.  Given today’s economy, we could be chopping them for firewood in a few years.

People are buying electronic keyboards instead – keyboards that are light, portable, and include attachments that control the furnace, shampoo the carpet,  and flip pancakes.

This is very bad news for me.

I am the keeper of a 1936 Steinway baby grand – a gift from my mother to my son, who is a talented pianist. Maybe I should say was a talented pianist. We refurbished it at great expense and he played the heck out of it from age 11 till he left for college in 2001.

A few months later I bought a too-big home  because it had a living room spacious enough to accommodate his precious piano which he would return to claim any minute.

Right.

First issue: he’s scarcely touched it in eight years, even when he was living at home the last few months.

Second issue: he’s globe-trotting for the forseeable future. A baby grand will not fit in his backpack. And when he returns it will probably not fit in some shoebox bachelor apartment either.

Third issue: my own future cottage/condo/shoebox won’t have space for a piano unless I put a mattress on top of  it and call it my bed.

There’s so much history with this piano. My grandparents bought it for my mom as a college graduation present  ($990 for the piano, $10 for the bench = $1,000 total).  She taught singing for 70 years with it,  playing it so much the brass sustain pedal was worn to a nub.  My two sisters and I  shed tears of frustration on its (real) ivory keys at our daily practice sessions.

After being refurbished and refinished the piano was appraised at $40k.

Needless to say it’s one of the biggest and most emotionally loaded THINGS that must be dealt with in this downsizing process. Not to mention  the deep pain in my heart that my son’s connection to the piano seems to be over.

He and I need to have a little talk about the piano’s future…

Meanwhile here’s more from the LA Times story…

The piano has been the center of many American homes for generations, not only a proclamation of a love of music but also often a statement about striving for success.

“In a very traditional sense, the piano did stand for something. It was a symbol of mobility, moving up,” especially among immigrant families, said Joe Lamond, president of the International Music Products Assn., based in Carlsbad and known as NAMM. Some real estate agents still will move a piano into a house that’s for sale to class it up, he said.

In many homes these days, a piano isn’t so much a musical instrument as it is just another piece of furniture.  ….

In the 21st century, the acoustic piano seems to be a relic of another era. Jeffrey Lavner, a piano teacher at the Colburn School in downtown L.A., puts it this way: “I think piano playing is a little like black-and-white movies.”   [ouch!]

…   Many forces have contributed to the acoustic piano’s troubles. Start with electronic keyboards and digital instruments, with their improving quality and alluring gadgets such as metronomes, USB ports, headphones and recording devices. Not to mention their generally lower price.

“We live in a digital age,” said Brian Majeski, editor of Music Trades magazine. “You have to redefine the instrument.”

And in a time of foreclosures and downsizing, the expense of a traditional piano — which can run from a few thousand dollars to $100,000 or more — may seem untenable, especially for a child who may be eager to play but has no track record in the rigors of daily practice. What’s more, for students, there is ferocious competition for the hours between school and sleep: Homework or video games? Soccer or ballet? Facebook or TV?

In a survey of piano teachers conducted in 2005 for the Piano Manufacturers Assn. International, 89% said that the primary reason a child drops lessons is “too many other activities.” …

A Pounding Performance: Portland Taiko!

Pounding: adj. a beating, as in with fists or sticks

Performance: n. a public presentation

Portland: n. the wonderful city across the Columbia River from where I live

Went to see Portland Taiko Saturday night. Taiko is both a particular kind of large two-ended traditional Japanese drum, and the drumming performance style.

It’s exuberant, energetic, exciting and athletically balletic. The drummers whack away with grand gestures that look like a lot of fun to execute – and like any feelings of distress or aggression they might have harbored before they picked up their long sticks would disperse quickly.

If you’ve never seen a taiko group, here’s an example:

Priorities… I’m moving on, getting to less

Priority: n. something meriting attention before competing alternatives

365 Words Beginning with P is winding down. Not because of a paucity of peachy P-words – indeed the peerless pantheon of P words is scarcely pricked.

My purpose – nay, my priority – was to prod my procrastinating pea-brain into a practice of producing pontifications on a daily basis until I had proffered at least 365 of them, thus proving to myself that I could write regularly.  This is #377. Who knew vocabulary could be so much fun!

(To those whose interest in 365pwords was more literary than political, I apologize for all the Palin posts last fall. It’s not my fault her name began with P.  I thank god she’s not our vice-president — pity those poor people in Alaska.)

What I’m saying is my priorities have shifted and I must move on. Literally. To a much smaller home, with much less stuff.

But I’ve caught blogging fever, and my new blog, Getting to Less, is shaping up nicely.  If you’re at all interested in getting to less in your own life, or you just want to keep me company on the journey, please please c’mon over.  And bring your own downsizing tips and (mis) adventures.

Pitching your possessions has got to be more fun than pulling your own teeth, right?

I’ll be back here occasionally when a P-word just screams to be written about. Meanwhile, join me over at Getting to Less.

Premier of President Obama’s primo first 100 days

Premiere: n. First in occurrence; first showing; highest importance

Primo: adj. of exceptional quality, first class, kickass

enters-4

Al Rodgers has assembled a fantastic collection of photographs and accomplishments from President Obama’s first 100 days in office.  It’s not to miss.  Some of the pictures move me to tears.

And what his administration has accomplished so far is mind-boggling, given the radioactive garbage dump Bush and Cheney left us with.

YES WE CAN!

Performance

Performance: n. the execution of an action; a public presentation

Gotta love this seemingly  impromptu song and dance number at the train station in Antwerp.  And Julie Andrews’  voice still gives me chills.

At least this made a big enough splash to get passersby attention. When Joshua Bell played in a Washington Metro station last year, very few even turned their heads! Unbelievable – he’s one of the world’s finest vioinists.

From pedantry to palatable power: Yay Toastmasters!

Pedantry: n. a stodgy, unimaginative, and often ostentatiously learned presentation

Palatable: adj. easy to swallow

Power: n. the ability to act or produce an effect

Last night I came in second in our Toastmasters Club speech contest. I was actually happier than if I’d won first because it was such a triumph for the woman who won.

We started our club right after Bush won re-election in 2004 with the goal of training progressives (mainly Democrats) like ourselves to become more effective at talking publicly about our progressive values.  We were fed up with Rovian framing and wanted to put George Lakoff’s communication principles into action.

Our messages were often serious, and we practiced pontificating for our causes. You can’t participate regularly in a Toastmasters Club and not become significantly more skillful at expressing yourself, and we’ve all done that.

We’ve also become more skillful at delivering a serious message in a light-hearted manner, which is often more effective because it’s palatable.

Last night’s winner – a master composter and environmental activist – reworked a speech she’d given at least a year earlier. It was about vacationing in Hawaii and finding it hard to relax because she couldn’t compost or recycle the waste her group was generating.

The original speech had funny moments but she couldn’t break herself away from trying to educate and convert us.

Last night she cut out all the preachy stuff and turned it into a battle between her “on-it” environmentalist self and her vacationing ‘”what-the-hell” self.  She had an appropriate hat and posture for each self.

By exaggerating both her goody-two-shoes side and her hedonistic irresponsible side she not only made the speech very funny, but her message became much more powerful. We could all identify with that eternal struggle–wanting to do the right thing, but finding the comfort of doing nothing so much easier.

I had worked with the speaker on the original speech, but at that time she was still too serious to allow the story to take off .  This time, with the benefit of time, distance and more experience, she was able to see the script freshly – axing the excess, adding theatrics and comical images.

She goes on to the Area Contest next Friday and we’ll all be there to root for her.

Plenty platters of polenta! A parade of pears.

Plenty: n. a full or more than adequate amount; the quality or state of being copious

Platters: n. flat serving plates

Polenta: n. see prior post

Parade: n. a lengthy array or succession; a procession

I should have brought my camera (how many times do I have to learn this lesson??) to take pictures of the beautiful food we prepared for the donor’s acknowledgment dinner last night. It was a totally vegetarian meal, and as local as we could make it, given that it’s March.

The group of 60 was to gather for wine and appetizers at 6:30 then proceed to dinner around 7.  Our cold appetizers were ready by 6 and the yummiest one,  garlic-roasted fingerling potatoes, would come out of the oven right at 6:30. Little did we know that the hungry hordes would begin to gather at 6:10, forks in hand, napkins tucked into their collars.

A little wine and a lively conversation soon worked its magic and they forgot that amateurs were in the kitchen. Fortunately we had a fine team to spread the work load.

And it IS a work load. It’s one thing to throw a big salmon or a bunch of steaks on the barbie to be served with french bread and salad. It’s quite another to prepare a wild mushroom ragout (about fifteen separate ingredients, most requiring chopping and sauteeing) to be served on squares of grilled polenta. We did EVERYTHING from scratch.

There were also technical/logistical problems to solve. Like gathering sufficient large saute pans, cookie sheets and stew pots. Like having enough big bowls to hold batches of chopped or sauteed veggies in process. Like how to keep a vat of stew from burning on the bottom before it’s cooked through on the top. Like how to toss great quantities of green salad (how much dressing?) And how do you calculate how much is ENOUGH of each dish?

We over-prepared. As it all turned out, the hors d’ouevres were both tasty and substantial enough that appetites were significantly reduced by the time people sat down for the main meal. We had PLENTY polenta, a PLETHORA of ragout, and a PARADE of pears.

So let me describe the pears, the easiest and most beautiful of all the dishes.  We stood 24 D’anjou pears upright in each of three baking pans, poured some red wine to a height of about 1/2″ around them, sprinkled them with some sugar and a little grated lemon peel and baked them, basting occasionally for about an hour. They came out of the oven like an army of mini snow-capped mountains. Killer tasty too.  If you were to make a pan of 6, it would be about a cup of wine and a 1/3 c. sugar. Serve room temperature w. some sauce and a scoop of ice cream.

pears

This web image will give you an idea of how our pears looked lined up in their pans: multiply by about 9 to envision the Pear Parade.

Prep for this dinner took me at least 40 hours, even with help for about half of those hours.   Others spent as much time or more on other aspects of the event. And to think I once thought it would be fun to be a caterer. HA!!!!

Polenta panic!

Polenta: n. a medium grind of dried corn, used in many cultures as a cereal grain and cooked into a kind of savory or sweet mush, served on its own or sauced.

Panic: n. feelings of intense anxiety when one realizes one is in over her head…

polenta

Because once upon a time I had a reputation as a good cook, and because I’m stupid, I said yes when asked to create an elegant meal for the top 60 donors and volunteers at my Unitarian church (warming them up for the annual pledge drive).

I had all sorts of brilliant menu ideas.  It would be vegetarian, so we could save a little money AND provide a meal that would be acceptable to all. It would be based on (mostly) local foods.  Aha!! What could be more local than wild mushrooms, which grow so beautifully in the damp Pacific Northwest.  And I have a killer recipe for a wild mushroom ragout from the Greens Cookbook.

The stew is served on a bed of polenta. Piece of cake, I said.  Make a few batches, pour them into loaf pans to set up, then slice and broil them before serving.

Ha.  Wrong on many counts. So wrong.

Making polenta for a family of five isn’t the same as making it for sixty. In fact making anything for sixty is a twelvefold increase in scale over what I used to cook in my maternal heyday.

Making polenta makes a god-awful mess.  It splurts volcanicly all over the stove – and the splurts are hell to scrape/wipe off. It also sticks to the bottom of the pot like glue.  After scrubbing my two non non-stick pans for about fifteen minutes each, I decided I needed to borrow a couple of teflon-coated pots.

Making polenta takes TIME. Like about 45 minutes per batch, with frequent stirring so the bottom doesn’t burn.

Making polenta hang together when you get to the broiling stage ain’t easy  either.  Grrr. I’m thinking folks will just have to enjoy the “made by loving hands at home” look, because it’s not going to look restaurant perfect.

So far I’ve made five batches, which will serve 5 or 6 people each. Seven more batches to go.

The dinner is Sunday night and I haven’t even started to assemble the vats of wild mushroom ragout, the appetizers, salads, dessert, etc.

The good news is that I’ll have volunteer help all day Saturday plus Sunday afternoon.  Now I just have to figure out how to scale up the rest of the recipes…  Let me confess right here: I’m in over my head.

Performance: Mom to the max!

Performance: n. a public presentation or exhibition.

So, we were talking about teenagers (pregnant), which reminds me of the travails of parenting an adolescent.  Which reminded me of this fantastic performance of an exasperated mother.

This video has been circulating for awhile, but it’s such a perfect performance (lyrics, delivery, humor, power, outrage) that it bears sharing.  I also have a soft spot in my heart for the hystrionics of the William Tell Overture which my son played in an 8-hands, 2-piano version to conclude a recital a few years back. [Evidently this gal is not the creator of the song, but she knocks it out of the park – fixed the link, I hope…]

PowerPoint prowess pays off

PowerPoint: n. a presentation program that is part of Microsoft Office, which can be used to put an audience to sleep — or can inform and inspire.

Prowess: n. extraordinary ability

Pay off: v. to reward for hard work

I recently taught a two-hour feng shui class for a group of feng shui novices, and if I say so myself, it was RAD!

I had used slides in PowerPoint once before to illustrate a feng shui talk, so I knew how effective pictures could be. However I was still struggling with an A/V inferiority complex that developed in high school watching geeky male classmates run the Rube Goldberg contraption known as a movie projector.

Furthermore, I hadn’t yet read Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen, which is an absolute MUST resource for any would-be presenters.

First, out went any slides with bullet points. Then out went slides with more than a few words, unless it was a succinct quotation. That left me with….

Almost nothing.

I started over. This was my process (h/t to Garr Reynolds):

  • Get a stack of Post-It sticky notes and a big white board.
  • List all the points you want to get across – one per sticky note, and then  figure out what visual images would convey them even more effectively than words.
  • Gather lots and lots and lots of pictures – from your own camera, scanned from magazines, found on Google Images and Flickr. Note each one on a sticky.
  • Look also for images that are extreme examples (what not to do, before & after, stumbling blocks, etc.) to emphasize your point or defuse fears.
  • Shuffle the notes on the white board till they make some sense.
  • Import the pictures into PowerPoint using the totally blank slide as your template, so the pictures are full-screen (means your pix must be in landscape format).
  • Shuffle them around in the Slide Sorter View until they tell the story in a way that flows most naturally.
  • Now you can add some text floating in front of some of the pictures or on transition slides.

Here are a few examples of images I found:

To illustrate what a feng shui consultant does when she/he comes to your house – conveying both the fresh eyes which can see your home more clearly AND addressing the fear many potential clients have that she’ll be some sort of critical witch:

eyeballs1

Or these three slides, which illustrate the dilemma of clutter. First the extreme possibility that you could be buried alive by it:

cluttercartoon

Then, the inertia we feel when viewing the clutter-clearing task ahead:

boulder1

My audience laughed hysterically at this boulder – recognizing themselves.

And then I encouraged them with the concept of momentum… what happens once you get started tossing crap:

domino-effect

I’d say it took a solid 40 hours to put together 150 slides for a two-hour talk, and a lot of creative thought while I was half-asleep. But it was totally worth it.