Thursday, November 27, 2014

Texas Renaissance Festival 2014

This is our third year in a row attending the Texas Renaissance Festival. Once again, we had a fantastic time! We didn't end up wearing our costumes, since it was pretty cold, but we were excited to see so many other people in great costumes! 
We watched Circa Paleo perform. We'd seen them before at Sherwood, and as always they gave a great performance. This year, I decided to buy one of their CDs, Rosewood.
Though we didn't attend the Masquerade (no babysitter :), we saw plenty of people in beautiful masks. 
My sweet daughter sitting in the nest of the Owlchemist Queen.
She loved going to the petting zoo, where she got to pet a miniature donkey and mini-goats. So cute! She wants to hug all the animals.
My husband and I walked around the beautiful chapels and gardens while our baby napped in her stroller. The grounds at TRF are really lovely.
 I got my hair braided, and it looked so beautiful. I was glad I could have Renaissance hair, since I didn't wear my costume.
 We ate plenty of treats while we were there. I enjoyed the Russian tea, and we also tried Lembas bread, scotch eggs, and delicious empanadas.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Review : Wishes and Sorrows

Wishes and Sorrows is a collection of fantasy short stories by Cindy Lynn Speer. Like Black Swan, White Raven, many of the stories are retellings of fairy tales, although some are original. Many of the stories in Wishes are dark and complicated, revealing the downside of magical gifts.

On the whole, I enjoyed most of these stories, though I felt it would have been nice to mix up the tone of the stories a bit--most are quite dark, and a few light-hearted stories would have been a welcome change of pace. Still, many of the stories were delightfully creepy. I particularly enjoyed "The Train," which is a haunting and creepy retelling of Frankenstein. The "doctor" of that story is one of the creepiest villains I've read in quite a while, especially considering the suggestion that the main character had escaped him before. Likewise, "Every Word I Speak" perfectly captured the downside of a fairy's ill-planned gift. Its harrowing premise is that the "gift" makes it impossible to tell who really cares for the main character, and who just wants riches.

Another excellent story, "But Can You Let Him Go?" travels through multiple versions of the Cinderella story, told from the point of view of Cinderella's fairy godmother. The fairy is trying to atone for her part in keeping Cinderella and her prince apart, but each story ends in tragedy until she can figure out how to set all of them free.

Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy short stories or fairy tale retellings. Some of the stories, like "The Train," are excellent science fiction as well.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Great Art from Flawed Artists: A Case Study

Pop music has long been plagued by controversial performers who do bad things, from Chris Brown and R. Kelly to Ted Nugent. Yet despite its more pristine reputation, classical music also has a history of musicians and composers who behave in terrible ways. Case in point: Richard Wagner, a terrible human being who wrote incredible music.

Wagner is notorious first and foremost for his vicious anti-semitism, which is all the worse considering how many Jewish musicians supported his career. In 1850, he wrote his infamous article "Das Judenthum in der Musik," in which he attacked the beloved German-Jewish composer Felix Mendelssohn and the popular grand opera composer Giacomo Meyerbeer. The timing of the article was especially cowardly, since Wagner apparently hid his noxious views until after Mendelssohn's death. The notorious article may have been motivated as much by jealousy as racism. Wagner deeply resents Meyerbeer for his popularity, despite the fact that the older composer had helped Wagner at a pivotal point in his career by ensuring a performance of Rienzi. In fact, earlier in his life, Wagner had greatly admired Meyerbeer, but his bitterness and racism alienated him from his one-time friend and mentor. 

While his racist attacks on "Jewish music" were particularly loathsome, Wagner also proved to be a terrible human being in many other respects as well. Throughout his deeply troubled marriage to actress Wilhemine Planer, Wagner had multiple affairs (to be fair, she also left him at one point for another man, but they later reconciled). Famous for his love of luxury despite his poverty-stricken circumstances, Wagner and his wife also repeatedly fled from their creditors to avoid paying debts. 
He treated his friends and patrons appallingly--in fact, he often seduced his close friends' wives. First, he had an affair with Mathilde Wesendonck, even though her husband gave him several loans and allowed him live to live in a cottage on their estate. Most famously, he carried on an affair with Cosima Liszt, the wife of Hans von Bülow, a prominent conductor who had dedicated himself to promoting Wagner's music (at least until he found out about the affair). Bülow had been a close friend of Wagner's, and he refused to grant his wife a divorce until after she and Wagner had three illegitimate children. He also defected to Johannes Brahms. Wagner's next favorite conductor, Hermann Levi, was hand-picked by Wagner to conduct the first performance of Parsifal at Bayreuth. But as a Jew who refused to convert to Christianity (despite pressure from Wagner), Levi suffered racial taunts and humiliations from Wagner's acolytes, and at one point Wagner considered firing him on account of his religion.  

Of course, none of this makes the impact or artistry of Wagner's music any less powerful. As much as we might wish all great artists would be great people too, that isn't always the case. Wagner is a good example of how even terrible people sometimes have talent and artistic vision.
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Monday, November 10, 2014

Christmas Music for Suzuki Violin and Viola Students

It's the holiday season, and that means that it's time for my violin and viola students to start learning Christmas music! I find it's best for students to start learning it fairly early, so that they have a chance to master it before the holidays. Here's a list of some of the Holiday sheet music I use, in order of difficulty (approximately). I don't yet have a good collection of Chanukah songs for violin, so if anyone knows of one, please let me know in the comments!

1. Fiddle Time Christmas

This is a great book for beginning violin students. It has several pieces, including "Jingle Bells," in the key of A (and on only A and E strings), which is perfect for my beginning violin students. There are thirty two different carols, from well-known and popular songs to a few obscure, but still beautiful carols.
Christmas Kaleidoscope is a small ensemble book, mainly trios. It has versions for violin, viola, and cello, and the parts are interchangeable. I've had good success using this for families or small groups of students. It has all the traditional carols, in easy to play arrangements. Most of the pieces are in the keys of A, D, or G.
This book is a bit more challenging than the other two. It contains many beautiful traditional Christmas carols arranged for violin and piano. All the pieces are still in first position, but several of them are in more challenging keys, including C and F, and they have more accidentals than the pieces in the other two books. This is a great book for students who are towards the second half of Suzuki Book I, or in Book II.

4. My Very Best Christmas

This book is a bit more challenging than the Christmas Time book--although many of the songs overlap, the arrangements are more challenging here. It has editions for violin, viola, and cello, and it comes with a piano part, a duet part, and a play-along CD. I liked it because it had so many options. I love playing duets with my students, and the play along CD is great for kids who enjoy using CDs at home.
This book is pretty challenging. Many of the songs are in the key of C, which is difficult for beginning violin students, and at least one song goes into third position. Still, it has some fun music that is great for more advanced students, including "Frosty the Snowman," "Silver Bells," and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." I'd recommend this book for students in Suzuki Book II or later, or who can at least play one of the Bach Minuets in Book I. 

I'm certainly interested in learning about music for other holidays, such as Chanukah or New Year's Day, so if anyone has any recommendations, please let me know in the comments.



Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Review: Black Swan, White Raven

 

Black Swan, White Raven is a collection of fairy tales retold by modern fantasy writers. The stories are alternately dazzling, psychological, dark, and powerful. While a few fell flat, several stood out as brilliant re-imaginings of familiar stories.

In particular, I enjoyed Anne Bishop's retelling of Rapunzel, where the heroine learns true wisdom from her suffering. Don Webb's Three Dwarves and 2,000 Maniacs had an energetic and compelling voice, and captured the madcap insanity of magic run amok. Pat Murphy's The True Story turns the story of Snow White completely on its head, and raises some hard questions about why stepmothers are so reviled in stories, while fathers are excused. Likewise, Karen Fowler's The Black Fairy's Curse plays with our expectations about what makes a truly happy ending and a healthy relationship. Yet, perhaps the most eerie and unique story is Bruce Glassco's True Thomas, which seamlessly blends science fiction and fantasy into one of the most compelling versions of faeries I've ever read. This book is worth reading for that story alone.
A few of the stories were disappointing. I didn't care for The Flounder's Kiss--the main character seems likeable enough until the end of the story, when he becomes completely monstrous. It felt like an out of character transformation, and made the story feel uncomfortable and misogynistic. I also didn't care for the The Breadcrumb Trail, a poem included in the stories. It just didn't seem to work for me--it seemed to obvious.

Overall, I'd highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fairytales, fantasy, or even science fiction. The stories are so diverse that each one feels new and exciting, even when they're retelling familiar stories. It's fascinating to read so many entirely new perspectives on fairy tales.

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Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Art of Procrastination: A Writer's Guide (Guest Post by Rayne Hall)


1. Read this blog before you start today’s writing session.


2. Nobody can procrastinate all the time. Take a break now and then and write something. Then return to procrastination with renewed vigour.


3. Don’t waste your procrastination on unimportant matters.


4. Tidy your desk. You’ll write much better once the clutter has gone.


5. Prepare your writing session so you won’t be distracted once you start. Have everything ready: glass of water, cup of coffee, cupcakes, carrots, the right music playing, comfortable themed clothing, to-do list, dictionary, thesaurus, different coloured gel pens, how-to-write books, reference books, pictures for inspiration, incense, matches, good-luck charm, statue of writing deity or patron saint.


6. Let out the cat, feed the baby, groom the dog and do whatever else needs doing to guarantee that your writing session will not be disrupted.


7. Twitter is a useful procrastination tool. Have you checked your tweets yet today? It’ll only take a moment. Do it now, so you won’t need to interrupt your writing later.


8. Don’t underestimate the value of other social media networks. Even if you don’t plan to use them, they’re worth checking out. Just take a quick look at Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest,  Vimeo, Tumbler, StumbleUpon, FourSquare, Reddit, Wattpad, Flickr, DeviantArt, Delicious, Instagram, GoodReads and BookLikes. Create any accounts you don’t yet have.


9. Time spent on social media is never wasted. You’re networking, which practically counts as writing.


10. Your blog is overdue. Come on, it won’t take you long to dash off 300 words for your blog. Get it out of the way before you start working on your novel.


11.  Let sales statistics for your published books boost your writing motivation. Quickly check today’s sales on Amazon, Smashwords, Apple, Barnes&Noble and Draft2Digital, worry or rejoice as appropriate, and to get a true picture, ask other authors how their sales are doing.


12. While you’re at it, see if your published books have entered any bestseller lists today. If yes, spread the word.


13. Unless you check your email now, you won’t know if a publisher has accepted your novel.


14. You’ve been sitting at your desk too long. Do some light aerobics to loosen up.


15. Oh, rats. Your coffee has gone cold. Get a fresh cup.


16. Comment on this article before you start writing. It’s only common courtesy.


17. Read and reply to the comments other people have left. It’ll only take a second, honest, or maybe two if required to sign in or up.


18. Share this with at least three people before you start writing. The convenient share buttons at the bottom of the page save you time.


19. If you’ve read this far, you qualify for membership in the Procrastinating Writers Club. Tweet me @RayneHall and I’ll put you on the #shoutout list. Do it now, while you’re logged into Twitter.  


20. Make a firm resolution that tomorrow you will really write.

Rayne Hall has published more than fifty books in several languages under several pen names with several publishers in several genres, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction.  She is the author of the bestselling Writer's Craft series and editor of the Ten Tales anthologies.
She is a trained publishing manager, holds a masters degree in Creative Writing, and has worked in the publishing industry for over thirty years.
Having lived in Germany, China, Mongolia and Nepal, she has now settled in a small dilapidated town of former Victorian grandeur on the south coast of England where she enjoys reading, gardening and long walks along the seashore. She shares her home with a black cat adopted from the cat shelter. His name is Sulu and he likes to snuggle into Rayne's arms with his paws wrapped around her wrist when she's writing.
You can follow here on Twitter where she posts advice for writers, funny cartoons and cute pictures of her cat.