Careless Love

I went to music school a few years ago, and earned a second BA degree. Anybody who has been through any music school knows that it’s hard. Especially if you’re not particularly talented going in. So I learned a lot, but still came out the other end relatively incapable.

But, as all good education does, it put the ability to learn in me. Some of the tools and disciplines I learned for studying music and practicing, I try to apply from time to time in order to keep my musical mind growing, and to keep my facility with these tools in some order.

My ear training instructor, David Xiques, taught us a form of movable-do solfa, the syllables most people are familiar with because of their famous use in the musical “The Sound Of Music.” Using these syllables allows me to look at any (simple) piece of music, identify the key, and sing out the melody with relative ease. As my ability progresses, I should be able to read more complicated pieces, and eventually have a good shot and hearing the melodies without applying solfa mnemonics to them.

Let’s take a look at a simple folk song I found in a library book. “Careless Love” is apparently a well-known song to some people, but it is new to me.


My first step is to identify the key of the piece. In this case it’s E Major. So the E (the bottom line of the staff) is the “Do” in this key. I will often start by singing a scale in the key, just to get my brain “in the key.”


Now, I can take a look at the song and try to make a slow reading of the melody with my solfa technique. Notice that I stumble and feel out the pitches sometimes, especially where you see accidentals (the ♯ and ♮ symbols alter the pitch slightly). Solfa has names for all these accidental notes, but I only know a few of them, and don’t use them correctly. Still, it helps me to utter something while squeaking past those spots.
Careless Love: Sung With Solfa

Once I’ve practiced singing through a few times with solfa, I try to read the actual words. Sometimes I have to switch back to solfa momentarily to get the “scale” back in my head. The song is still very sterile and unemotive. I’m pretty much just trying to get the right notes out.
Careless Love: Simple With Lyrics

Having the basic pitches down frees me up to start concentrating on the style I want to present the song in. Instead of the rote “on the beat” guitar strumming, I decide to give it a little strumming rhythm. I am also able to start loosening up my singing style because I’m not painstakingly seeking the correct pitch for every note.
Careless Love: An Acceptable Performance

At this point I’ve got a pretty decent understanding of the song, and I can play and sing it a nearly entertaining fashion. So I decide to start fooling around with it. Once I know the actual notes, I can take liberties and substitute other notes which are not technically in the original song, but which still work harmonically.
Careless Love: Personalized With My Style

I hope this serves as an interesting example of how a simple song can be dissected and, with the help of movable-do solfa, understood and performed with increasing artistry.

The Comforts Of Home

We’ve been casually browsing open houses for a few weeks. We’re not sure if or when we’ll be buying a place, but the process of visiting and evaluating the pluses and minuses of places is giving us a better understanding of what we value in a home.

One of the things that is so engaging about open houses is you never know what you’ll find on the inside. The outsides of homes, especially here in the northeast of the United States, vary little compared to what you find within.

The goal for sellers is to spruce up their home so that you feel at home the second you walk in the door. To achieve this, some agents even bake cookies before the open house in order to give the home that “deliciously comfortable” aroma.

But nothing screams “buy this house” quite like a latex rubber glove dangling off the bathtub faucet.


Iran Is On Facebook

Today we receive news of Barack Obama’s dramatic shift in policy towards the nation of Iran, recording and sending a video appeal to the people and government, hoping for a more diplomatic relationship in the future.

Few people realize the extent to which modern technology has played a role in this softening of stances. Punk It Up recently uncovered evidence that Iran has been using the popular Facebook web application to learn more about both its allies and opponents.


Rumors are circulating that Iran has also gotten back in touch with several grade school friends with whom it had considered a long-term friendship impossible. Here’s to technology!

Employees Must Wash Hands

Am I the only one neurotic enough to be turned off when I see those signs in restaurant bathrooms stating that employees must wash their hands before returning to work? The last thing I want to be reminded of as I fumble for the door knob with my hand wrapped in thick paper towels, is that the short-order cook makes his way in and out of this filthy place several times per day between shifts of handling the raw tomatoes and onions.

As a germ-phobic customer who’s about to eat here, what I really want to see is:

“Employees must sanitize hands using the sterile sink that is not separated from the kitchen by several feces-laden doorknobs.”

What’s worse is when these signs are up, but soap and paper towels are absent. Nice move, restaurant. This means:

“Employees must take a shit, lightly rinse their hands with water, dry their hands by wiping on their washed-weekly work pants, and touch the feces-laden door knob before returning to work.”

Who’s hungry for take-out?

The Spice Of life

I’ve always been a food spicer. Always salt (if you can call it a spice), and sometimes its counterpart black pepper, but especially any of the various red peppers, hot sauces and salsas. I’m especially inclined to cover my pizza with the flaky red pepper seeds and skins that are so common to many Italian and pizza restaurants.

But since I tried the pizza at Emma’s in Cambridge’s Kendall Square, I’ve been a little bit obsessed with black pepper. Their pizza is excellent, and among the usual condiments on every table is a shaker dispenser of black pepper. This isn’t your typical diner pepper shaker: this is a large container such as you might use for sprinkling parmesan. For some reason I thought I’d branch out and sprinkle some onto a piece of the plain cheese pie.

The results were amazing. Their pepper was ground into large, extremely aromatic chunks. My eyes (nostrils really, I guess) were opened to this spice as they never had been before. Ground black pepper, and lots of it, is excellent on cheese pizza.

I tried it out myself the next time we brought home a $5 Large Cheese from Dial-A-Pizza. Their value pies actually range from quite excellent to depressingly bland, depending on the day or possibly the mood of the cooks. In any case, it made a good test bed on which to unleash my oft-neglected grinder.

I covered a piece with a much finer grain of specks than I’d have liked. But my grinder didn’t seem capable of producing the kind of chunks I was hoping for. Even though it sported some kind of brute adjustment, the largest specks were still far too small. The result tasted “OK,” but lacked the magic. It could be I needed to get better pepper corns, too.

At some point last week, I noticed that the pepper grains were coming out a little bigger. Also, the grinder was harder to turn. Maybe I had stumbled across a patch of more rigid corns, although I did observe the machine getting nearly empty. I labored away and noticed larger black chunks appearing on my food. I shrugged; it did seemed better than before.

This morning while eating an excellent breakfast of blueberry pancakes and scrambled eggs, I treated myself to some more of these beautiful black grindings. This time it was impossibly hard, however. I looked down at my food with a tad bit more focus and observed that the pepper chunks looked more like thin shards than the chaotic, craggy chunks you’d expect from demolishing a hard, dry berry.

I intuited something appalling, and opened my grinder to confirm the worry. A large piece of plastic, whose purpose was unclear, must have broken off inside the machine and had been resting on top of the pile of pepper corns. When the plastic reached the bottom, it succumbed to the grinder’s teeth just as the berries did, mixing in the appearance of larger chunks of pepper while giving a decent elevation to my daily intake of hardened black plastic.

I have been feeling a little bit sick the past few days, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s related to my diet. Still, the eggs looked good under all that plastic, and I figured it wasn’t anything I hadn’t eaten before. But hopefully that’s the last plastic pepper I have for a long time.

Drug Party México

Mexico has apparently stolen all of the innovative liberal thought that used to reside within the boundaries of the United States. Vicente Fox, the conservative President of Mexico, is apparently planning to sign the bill that would legalize personal use of most of the evil narcotics that in this country will earn you a long-term prison sentence, and possibly seizure of your personal property.

“The list of illegal drugs approved for personal consumption by Mexico’s Congress last week is enough to make one dizzy — or worse.”

Cocaine. Heroin. LSD. Marijuana. PCP. Opium. Synthetic opiates. Mescaline. Peyote. Psilocybin mushrooms. Amphetamines. Methamphetamines.

It’s high time somebody taught the United States a lesson about “drug wars.” You don’t win by fighting the victims.

Update: Fox wussed out.

Rock My Funky Tax Holiday

You know those stupid yet sometimes illuminating web memes that people contagiously follow, answering questions like “ten things you don’t know about me” and putting them on their blog before tagging the next person? I’ve never participated in one of those but here’s one thing you may not know about me:

I always file taxes on the last possible day.

I know this comes as a surprise to some of you, because you view me as this eccentric yet organized individual. Bzzt! Organization to me means putting everything made of paper into a giant pile in my office which will be periodically rummaged through when an important document is needed, but otherwise untouched until “Sorting Day,” an unofficial holiday in my life which usually falls on April 14th, but sometimes gets stretched out to the 15th or even 16th.

This year, Sorting Day would fall on either today or tomorrow. The “bonus weekend days” before tax deadline. I file on the last day, but usually have enough wisdom to know that shit is going to hit the fan big time if I attempt to also do the sorting on the deadline date. So in a typical year I would be digging through that paper pile right now.

But normally I didn’t live in Massachusetts! Welcome to freaky eff-the-rest-of-the-country pilgrimsville. Thanks to our state’s fine Patriot’s Day holiday (in honor of the Battle of Lexington and Concord), we’re being given an extra day to file taxes this year. Shit like this never happened in California. It’s the distinct scent of government palm greasing in the air. Massachusetts just gets its way more than California, even though we are a pinko liberal commie state just like ya’ll.

To make things even sweeter, all the states around us who don’t even celebrate Patriot’s Day (Maine also does) get a free ride on our wacky holiday. Because Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and the District of Columbia are all send their tax returns to our Andover, MA IRS processing center, they’re not obliged to file until Tuesday, either.

Thus setting a new record: Sorting Day 2006 falls on April 17th! Booyeah!

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Have you seen the “Eye/HandFlickr feed? This is my favorite, and by that I mean my first and only favorite Flickr feed. I just haven’t been that in to Flickr. Blah blah blah. Pictures of people you met at parties who didn’t know your geeky ass was gonna spray them all over the internet. Hang up the phone!

But Eye/Hand is special. This feed has a simple barrier of entry. You take a picture of yourself, and you draw it. Judging by the entries so far, it doesn’t matter if you draw it on paper and scan it, or draw it in a computer program, it just has to be a hand-done thing.

Most of these are really awesome. I am accumulating all kinds of social speculation about society based on these drawings. For instance, women tend to draw themselves fatter than they really are. Men tend to draw themselves more angular, and perhaps even as distorted caricatures, than they really are.

What I really don’t dig are the ones that come up and it’s so clear that somebody traced it, I’m like “fuck that! you traced it!” Sure, art is art. Blah blah blah. But if you traced it, it looks so much like the original that it’s no fun. It’s like when you see Belle and Sebastian perform, and it sounds just like the record. No fun! So I really grimace when I see the loser “perfection” drawings show up. But I really grin when I see the wacky disproportionate “true players” images show up. If this is what Flickr is all about, then Flickr is all right.