Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Jams for Lissy" CD Mix cover collection

(the weird bottom right corner is actually shiny silver, the scanner makes it look funny)

I love making mix CDs. And I love making the collaged covers that come with them. It's so fun collecting all this stuff and then seeing how it will be used in projects. I've noticed that my mixes are like the collages that dawn their covers: patchworks of sound, texture, color, pattern and language. Everyone has a style for making mixes, I guess that's mine.

I made a stack of CDs as thank-you's for the volunteers that came out to "Swab for Elissa" yesterday (which was a lot of fun). There is nothing purposely symbolic to/of/for Lissy in the tracklisting or in the images themselves; they are just what I felt like using at the time specifically for this event keeping in mind the folks I was making them for.

Feel free to download the CD here and grab the cover you like the best for uploading into itunes or printing out for an actual physical CD (imagine that)!

Here is the tracklisting insert:

(this weird multi-colored stripe is actually shiny silver, the scanner makes it look funny)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Why Mendelssohn is making me angry (and a plug for the San Francisco Lyric Chorus concert)

Bach's polyphony has always pissed me off, and now I'm starting to hate Mendelssohn's too.

(Watch out, this post is going to be a little more personally aggressive than usual.)

I just got home from a San Francisco Lyric Chorus rehearsal and I am so agitated I don't know what to do with myself other than rant. The chorus is performing Duruflé's Requiem and Mendelssohn's Te Deum at Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco on August 21 and 22. (I will not be singing in this concert because I am in a friend's wedding.)

This is the movement "Sanctus" from Duruflé's Requiem. It's super purdy. I sang this movement in junior high and it just sparkles! (If that makes any sense..)

The Requiem is a commonly performed and beloved piece because of its absolute gorgeousness. Te Deum is not performed very often, and I think I have an idea why: IT'S HARD. Not only is it composed for double chorus (meaning there are eight parts: SATB times two) there are also soloists for each choir. On some pages there are 16 lines of music, so it's like reading a orchestral score. And the publisher of this particular score that we're using is very inconsistent and likes to change the organization of the score every two pages, so your part shows up in a different place every time you move to a different line.

But that's not even the worst part: the worst part is the chaos I feel while I'm singing the faster movements of Te Deum. The never ending lines of quarter and eighth notes make me crazy. Granted, we're still learning our parts, but today I just couldn't handle it. And I think I know why: this music is mirroring how I feel lately, CHAOS.

After this event for my friend Lissy is over (if you don't know, she has cancer and we're trying to find her a stem cell match) on Wednesday, I will hopefully feel better. But with all the other balls I have up in the air right now, the mental energy that I'm using trying to keep them all up there is making me a little nutty.

This is the last few movements of Te Deum. These people make it sound easy.

Back in 2000 when I was studying abroad in Sydney, I was lucky enough to get hooked into this performance of Bach's Mass in B Minor at the Sydney Opera House with a bunch of junior high kids and teachers. There must have been something like 400 people stumbling through Bach's polyphony. No one around me was singing the same thing, so I just sort of made my way through the notes trying to sight-sing and follow the conductor as best I could. I can't even imagine what that must have sounded like out there in the audience.

The experience made me insane and I've had a bad taste for that sort of composition since; and this Mendelssohn is hitting me a little too hard right now. Hopefully as we get more confident in our parts, it'll start to sound divine like those folks up in the video there.

Does anybody else feel this way about this kind of polyphony? I'm okay with Renaissance polyphony like Palestrina, in fact that is one of my favorite genres of choral music. Why do I feel this way about this specific kind of composition?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

With musicians like this, classical music will never die (unless it's from syphilis)

This poster is so super awesome, I've printed it out and posted it at my desk with the idea that it'll make me laugh every time I look at it.

There has been much discussion on how to keep classical music alive in the 21st century. Opera companies and symphonies are doing all they can to make performances more affordable and appealing to younger people. The movement has been called "Alt Classical."

There are many ways to keep the music alive; and I think humor, awesome dark humor is one of the ways. What about a show poking fun at death and a horrible sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis that took the lives of so many great composers?

Classical Revolution is a national organization that's been popping up all over the country bringing live performance out of the symphony hall and into non-traditional spaces like clubs and restaurants. I wrote about one of these events in San Francisco last December.

This is the manifesto of Classical Revolution PDX:
We love classical music.

We love playing classical music.

We love listening to classical music.

We are tired of the elitist and inaccessible nature of the classical world.

We believe that there are many that would enjoy classical music if they could access it in a setting that is comfortable for them.

We believe classical musicians should be allowed to perform in a setting that is more casual - where the audience is allowed to have a drink, eat a scone, laugh a little, and clap a lot.

We believe everyone can enjoy the music that we love.
A co-worker of mine who lives in Portland is playing "Syphilis Night" tonight with Classical Revolution. It will showcase the music of composers who died of syphilis (including Schubert, Beethoven, Schumann, Wolf, Paganini and Joplin) and will be held at The Woods, a night club/bar that used to be a funeral parlor.

Volunteers will be handing out condoms, and in an email from organizer Mattie Kaiser announced that folks get "extra brownie points for dressing up like a sailor or a prostitute."

I'm sorry, but if this is not the coolest, most awesomely hysterical things you've ever heard, I don't know what is! Mozart would definitely approve. I wish I could get up to Portland for this.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Business Card!

Check out the new business card from PsPrint! Sorry it's a little blurry.

Thank you to Dina Maccabee for helping with the design the card and to Jemal Diamond (the new Papa!) for the awesome logo!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

My handmade birthday card to my brother

I make personal collaged cards for friends and family when I can and I'm super proud of this one for my brother's birthday: David Bowie, Stephen Colbert and Flight of the Conchords all rolled into one. My brother scanned the inside of it (it just said "HAPPY BIRTHDAY" on the front) and put it on facebook, so I figured I'd grab it and share.

Double click to see it larger.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Austin bound! Two of my favorite Austinite bands - Maneja Beto and The Asylum Street Spankers

This weekend I'm off to one of the best cities in the country: Austin, Texas. For two days and three nights I'm going to visit my favorite haunts from grad school and eat lots of breakfast tacos. When I lived I immersed myself in the healthy, historical and revved up music scene. I discovered two fabulous bands that the rest of the world should know about: Maneja Beto and the Asylum Street Spankers.

Maneja Beto, self described as "indie in Español," is the brain child of Anthropologist Alex Chavez. I met him in one of my seminars and his band quickly became one of the most unique and fun bands I've ever come across: think Joy Division and Elbow sung in Spanish with latin rhythms. Alex studies Mexican folk music and culture and is also in several other bands in Austin. Percussionist Bobby Garza is equally impressive on vocals and percussion. This is a super fun band to dance live as well.

The Asylum Street Spankers I met during my master's report research into Gospel Bunch in Austin. The research it self is a long story, but it turns out this irreverent, silly band who sings about beer and superheros, is also well versed in gospel favorites. They used to play the Gospel Brunch at La Zona Rosa in the 90s when they first got together. I interviewed Christina Marrs (WOW what a voice!) and percussionist/vocalist Wammo for my research and was lucky enough to catch them while they were doing a whole series of gospel shows at the Saxon Pub.

The musical vibe is traditional vaudeville from the early part of the 20th century with Betty Boop vocals (sometimes) banjos, mandolins and washboard percussion. But the lyrical themes of the tunes poke fun (SUV drivers in support of troops in the Middle East) at life both modern and past and just having a grand old sarcastic fun time. You will laugh your ass off: promise. They tour regularly, so check out their touring schedule.

Note: this band is not for the faint of heart. Language! language! language! (I just discovered a song called "Scrotum".)

Here's a gospel tune...

And a good old favorite...

Anyway, I'm off to eat breakfast tacos, sit in a river with a toob and a six-pack, hang at Barton Springs and sweat my butt off.

Children's choirs sing Pomplamoose and Gaga

I was poking around Pomplamoose videos the other day on youtube and found this one of the The Gifford Children's Choir in Racine, Wisconsin. They are performing the Pomplamoose version of Lady Gaga's "Telephone". So. Awesome. Nataly and Jack are totally loving it. Nat said it made her cry. I love the choreography, so cute.

And an old favorite, the PS22 chorus (on Staten Island) singing Gaga's "Just Dance". This little lady Tirzah has a gorgeous voice. I hope she's still singing!

Hip Hip Hooray for kick ass music teachers like these who use contemporary music that children can get excited about! (My choir sang "We Didn't Start the Fire" when I was 11, and look how excited about music I am!) With the help of Glee, there is hope for our music programs yet!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Paul McCartney: a concert review

Dead center seats. Photos by Yvette Wild

There’s nothing better than a performer who does a little jig with glee on stage because he is genuinely happy to be performing for you. Beatle or no, a Paul McCartney is certain to please, even if you’re not so familiar with some of his more recent material. The evening of Saturday July 10, 2010 was a cool one, but not so chilly as some Giants fans might have experienced right on The Bay during a San Franciscan summer.

AT&T Park was packed and the energy was buzzing as fans awaited Paul McCartney’s first performance in San Francisco since The Beatles' last concert tour appearance at Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966. McCartney said that things have changed since then, rather than just hearing the screaming girls, we have these “loud things” referencing the ginormous sound system.

I bought the $59 dollar seats, just to see what extra $10 would get me. Turned out to be totally worth it as we were in the View Box in second, row directly over home plate and right smack center.

McCartney and his band played a set list 35 songs long basically alternating between Beatles and non-Beatles tunes.


NOTE: Some people have been complaining (on about a comment I made addressing McCartney's age. It is true that Paul is 68, but what I unfortunately failed to mention is how in awe I am of his energy on stage. He truly is a wonderful performer and a joy to watch - jigs and mumblings and all (I sing and dance and mumble to myself and I'm 30!) The man is adorable and a living legend, wouldn't it be nice to be so totally on your game at that age? What else can I say?

AT&T Park gets decked out for a live show - that's Oakland and the Bay in the background

"Live and Let Die" fireworks

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Who is your favorite Beatle?: The results to an informal survey

The Beatles battle it out for your affections

For months I've been asking you all: "who is your favorite Beatle?" (Sorry if it's been annoying!)

In honor of Ringo Starr’s 70th birthday and Paul McCartney’s live performance return to San Francisco at AT&T Park this Saturday, July 10th, I’ve finally posted these articles on (one for every Beatle).

Thank you to all of you who responded. Your responses were fascinating and I had so much fun writing about this topic!

In my findings, the order of most popular to least popular went like this: John, George, Ringo, Paul. A scientific national poll of Americans had a very different opinion (Paul is "America's favorite Beatle").

So who is your favorite Beatle? Are you a fan of the rock’n’roller who got political? How about the quiet spiritual one? Maybe your favorite was the cute one who wrote silly love songs? Or perhaps you go for the underdog? Please feel free to disagree.

And just because: please read this fabulous essay on (if you haven't already) entitled "Scenes From An Alternate Universe Where The Beatles Accepted Lorne Michaels' Generous Offer." If you are a Beatles fan, you will be moved. Please read at least until the battle of the bands between The Beatles and the Electric Mayhem. It's brilliant.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Dance off your pants with the California Honeydrops at their biggest Bay Area show and CD release

When was the last time you heard a groove so good you wanted to boogie all night? Last week I checked out the new Chasing the Moon podcast and have been shakin' it ever since. The California Honeydrops will be dropping their third album Spreadin' Honey at the New Parish in Oakland next Friday. It promises to be quite a party with non-stop dancing, bbq and, my sources tell me, honey dripping from the walls.

"Our mission, says band leader Lech Wierzynski (who sings, plays trumpet and guitar), "is to get the whole crowd participating and singing along, and we want them partying. It's about feeling good - everybody together."

Honeydrops fans are not just a necessary piece of the puzzle in terms of music making, but in the success of the band from a business side. The band has just returned from a tour of Holland (read about it here) where their Dutch friends helped them book shows through word of mouth. Later this month the Honeydrops will tour Spain, the Pacific Northwest and Eastern Europe. The band is not signed, and therefore relies on fundraising to pay for albums. The new album Spreadin' Honey was funded by a benefit at the Cheeseboard Collective in Berkeley.


California Honeydrops @ Chasing The Moon 06.26.10 from Scott McDowell on Vimeo.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Art and thievery: a rant - Puccini and Webber

This evening I took my dad to see the last night of Puccini's opera The Girl of the Golden West . It is a love story that takes place in California gold mine country and it’s full of cheese, redemption and tragic love, you know, like most operas.

During the climactic aria "Quello che tacete" in the second act, I spotted what sounded like a short passage of “Music of the Night” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera (“Turn your face away from the garish light of day” for those who care). I noticed that other people in the audience acknowledged it too. The motive came back later as well, and more people got it that time. Sure enough, our evening’s program threw in a little tidbit about this very melody:

“Was Puccini Robbed?” it asks. The story goes on to inform the reader that following Phantom of the Opera’s success in 1986, the Puccini estate filed suit against Webber accusing him of plagiarism and the suit was settled out of court.

Alright, this is a little too much for me. There is a time and place for lawsuits, this is not one of them.


I've written about this before with Beyonce's choreography in the video for "Single Ladies."