Thursday, December 31, 2015

Holiday Pictures!

Here are some cute pictures we took over the Holidays this year!
Scribbles loved our Christmas Tree!
We enjoyed seeing the Christmas Village in Richardson.
Baking cookies with my little girl!
Cooking with daddy.
Unwrapping presents!
Playing with her new Kitchen set--she's wearing a tiara and a superhero cape:)
Riding her new tricycle.
Showing how she can ride to Auntie, Mommy, and Grandma.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Seven New Year's Resolutions for Writers

1. Write One Short Story a Month

I've been writing lots of short stories lately--partly because I've been a bit too distracted to focus on a new novel, and partly because I've had tons of ideas for them. I've written so many that I'm close to having enough for an anthology, especially if I keep going at this pace. I've written before about why writers should write short stories--they're great for experimenting with genres or exploring a character's backstory, and make fantastic writing exercises. By writing one short story a month, I hope to keep my skills sharp and have my anthology complete by the end of the year.

2. Write a Chapter of a Novel Every Month

I know this doesn't sound like much to many writers, but it's a realistic goal for me. I think one of the reasons I get more stuck on my novels than my short stories is that I get overwhelmed. Between working and parenting, I only have a very limited amount of writing time. Large word count goals don't work for me--they just keep me from writing at all. But one chapter at a time feels like a comfortable target I can make. Slow and steady:)

3. Submit Short Stories Regularly

While writing is necessary, I think it's also important for writers to regularly submit their work. In my case, I intend to submit my short stories to different magazines as often as I can. Regular submissions help me get my work out there--I might get plenty of rejection, but at least I've tried. Besides, lately editors have been sending me helpful feedback with their rejection notices, which helps me with revisions and future submissions.

4. Write a Hundred Blog Posts

I had this goal last year, and while I didn't make it, I did write considerably more posts this past year than I had the year before. So this year, I'll try again! 

5. Write and Submit 10 Queries for Non-Fiction Articles

I had good experiences writing non-fiction articles this year--I've had two articles accepted into Renaissance Magazine! Writing non-fiction gives me a chance to learn new things, which helps my fiction writing as well. What's more, it pays:) It's definitely different from fiction, but I enjoy writing it, and I think it also introduces me to a new audience. I made my goal writing non-fiction queries since most magazines prefer you query first before submitting an article.

6. Read Widely

I love to read, and I do think that you need to read regularly to be a good writer. This year I'd like to read widely, including authors I've never read before and less familiar genres. 

7. Attend a Critique Group Twice a Month

I have a great critique group that's been really helpful to me, but with a busy schedule over the holidays I haven't had a chance to go as often as I'd like. I'm going to try and make a commitment to going at least twice a month. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

New Year's Resolutions for Musicians

new-years-resolutions.jpg
The New Year is coming up, and like many people, I've got a whole list of resolutions, from exercising more and eating more veggies to being more patient and kind to everyone I meet. As a musician, I also think about what I can do this next year to improve my artistry and boost my career. So here are some of my musical resolutions: 

1. Practice

This almost goes without saying, but practice is an essential part to developing as a musician. In my practice this year, I want to focus on improving my mindset and experimenting with different kinds of music, including both Medieval/Renaissance pieces and newly composed works. I'd also like to learn a new violin concerto. 

2. Listen

I've written about discovering new classical music, as well as exploring early Baroque repertoire, and this year I want to continue listening to new and exciting recordings. Music is an aural art after all, so I think it's important and necessary for musicians to develop their listening skills by, well, listening. But listening involves more than just recordings--I also hope to attend many lives performances this year. To often, I get so busy playing in concerts I don't get a chance to attend other musicians' recitals and performances, but this year I want to take in as much classical music as my schedule allows. This is a great way to support my fellow artists as well as practice listening,

3. Read

I think that a thorough understanding of music history and music theory can help to deepen our understanding and interpretation of classical music. There are many excellent books out there that give us valuable insights into composers' lives and compositions, or even specific musical techniques. What's more, books on the science of learning (or teaching) can help musicians discover more efficient practice techniques. Therefore, this year I intend to devote some time to reading about music (and learning), as well as other forms of practicing.

4. Collaborate/Network

Since graduating from University, what I've missed most is playing chamber music. Sure, I'll play in quartets or trios for a wedding, but I rarely get the chance to actually rehearse a high-level piece and play it with other musicians. So this year, I'd like to collaborate and network with other musicians, in hopes that we can play/work together. I know this is likely an unrealistic goal, since musicians (including myself) often have frantic schedules that leave little opportunity for just playing chamber music together for fun, but hey, how many people manage to keep up with all their New Year's resolutions? It's still a worthy goal.

5. Teach

Right now I have a good number of students, so I teach regularly. But I think that teaching is a skill that requires quite a bit of thought, devotion, and work to improve. This year, I'd like to improve my communication skills, and help my students improve theirs. I think better communication will help my students understand me, as well as helping me to understand them, and what they need/want from lessons. 
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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Reasons I Love Parenting a Toddler

My Funny Little Girl

1. Snuggles

I can't speak for every parent, since I know all kids are different, but my little girl is snugly and affectionate. She gives great hugs and sloppy baby kisses. To me, baby kisses are one of the best things in the world, and I'm pretty sure her hugs are a potent cure for sadness, depression, and anxiety. Everything feels better after a baby hug. Everything.

2. Conversations

Hearing her talk is incredible on so many levels. When she first started talking, each new word was exciting. Now that she's talking more, each new idea she understands is amazing. There's something wonderful about talking to your child and hearing about the things she likes (dragons, ponies, play-doh), and realizing she's a little person. A unique, amazing, special little person.

3. Bubble Baths

Bubbles, warm water, bath toys. Cuteness overload. I wish I could take bubble baths every day too.

4. Everything is Amazing

As an adult, lots of things have become routine, typical, ordinary. We never stop to think, "OMG, we have airplanes that FLY through the SKY. Look, it's a flying machine that people made and we can use it FLY to places!" But my toddler looks at airplanes like they're pure magic. Toddlers are a constant reminder that the world we live in is incredible. We have birds, and dogs, and Christmas trees. We use lasers to entertain our cats. Toddlers have a wonderfully fresh, joyful point of view I think we need.

5. Holidays are Magical

Adult movies about the Holidays are almost always about reconciling somehow with your quirky, annoying family or learning to how to stop being a massive jerk. Children's movies are about joy, playing, and having fun. And is Christmas ever the same once you find out Santa isn't real? Well, toddlers bring back the magic of Christmas. It's just much more fun when at least one person believes in Santa and is crazy excited for Christmas morning.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Classical Music for Christmas 2015

In the past, I've written about Classical Music for Christmas, listing some beautiful classical pieces that are a great antidote to repetitive Christmas classics. This year, I've discovered more excellent pieces that are worth checking out, for anyone who wants some different music for Christmas this year. 

1. Christmas Mass by Thomas Tallis

Thomas Tallis is a fascinating English composer who lived during the tumultuous reigns of the Tudors, including Henry VIII, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. His Christmas mass was likely composed during the reign of Mary I for a grand occasion, though historians don't know what the exact occasion was. It's a beautiful example of Renaissance music--pure gorgeous singing and elaborate polyphony. As someone who loves Renaissance music and Christmas, this is a great piece to celebrate the season.

2. J. S. Bach's Christmas Cantatas

I've written before about Bach's lovely Christmas Oratorio, but he also wrote several Christmas Cantatas, which are arranged for different days of the Lutheran Christmas celebration. I love this music--it's joyful and haunting by turns, with a wide variety of soloists and orchestrations. In the cantata "Christen, atzet diesen Tag," Bach makes beautiful use of the oboe, which weaves among the vocalists and a solo violin during the third movement duet, creating a lovely four-part polyphony. Truthfully, I enjoyed these cantatas even more than the Christmas Oratorio, perhaps because the music seemed lighter and more joyful, but with all the grace and beauty of Bach at his best. I'd recommend them to anyone who loves classical music.

3. Dance of the Tumblers, from Rimsky-Korsakov's The Snow Maiden

I played this energetic, exciting piece for the first time at the Cirque Musica Holiday Spectacular. It was definitely a challenge to play all the notes--it's quite fast! But once I learned the notes, it was fun to play, and it had a great manic energy that seems well suited to Christmas (Christmas shopping, in particular). So if you want stimulating, exciting music that makes you want to move, this is the classical Christmas piece for you.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Discovering New Music

As a musician, I love discovering new music that I haven't heard before. One of my favorite ways to do that is to explore the CD section of my local library (of course, music libraries at Universities often have wonderful collections of recordings). I also take note of pieces I play in orchestra that I've never heard or played before. So here's some music that I've listened to for the first time the last couple of weeks.

1. Ralph Vaughn William's Tuba Concerto

I'm a violin and viola player, so I often end up listening to repertoire that features string soloists. But one of the orchestras I play in was doing a performance of Vaughn William's Tuba Concerto, so I decided to find a recording to hear what it sounded like before I started practicing. I was amazed at how expressive and powerful a tuba could sound. The more I heard the piece during rehearsal and at our final concert, the more I ended up really liking it. It's so easy to limit yourself in music to listening to works for your instrument, or at least your instrument's family. Listening to this concerto has inspired me to look at more music for other instruments, especially winds and bass. It's like there's this whole world of repertoire I'm only now finding out about!

2. Amy Marcy Beach's Piano Music

This is music that I found at my local library. I'd heard of Amy Marcy Beach, but had never actually listened to much of her music. I checked out the CD, which contained "Les Reves de Columbine," op. 65 as well as her "Variations on Balkan Themes," op. 60. I loved both pieces--they reminded me a bit of Schumann's piano miniatures in their Romantic expressiveness, yet they often had the tonal color of Impressionist composers like Debussy. The music was so beautiful I plan to seek out more of her works, including her symphony. 

After listening to her works, I read more about Beach, and she's a fascinating figure in music history. She was one of the first American composers who wanted to create an original "American" sound inspired by our native folk songs. Well-respected and prominent in her own time, Beach is now being recognized for her musical achievements and innovations.

3. Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach's Keyboard Sonatas and Rondos 

When exploring new music, every once in a while you come across something that doesn't quite work for you. I wanted to like C.P.E. Bach's piano sonatas--after all, he's the son of J.S. Bach, and often considered the most talented of the Great Bach's offspring. Alas, I didn't find his music particularly engaging. Indeed, C.P.E.'s music sounded flashy and superficial to me, as though he had written this music to show off his (no doubt impressive) keyboard skills, not to express any particularly thought or emotion. Perhaps the pieces I listened to were not representative of his best work, or perhaps he simply suffers from the comparison to his famous father (and to Amy Marcy Beach, who'd I listened to right before hand). Nonetheless, I found his music disappointing. 

Still, my overall experience in discovering music has been wonderful. So don't get bogged down in the same musical standards you've listened to a million times--take a risk and find something new.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Lost Cat, Found Cat

He loved hiding in the laundry basket.
This past September, our beloved family cat, Mead, got out. We spent the last few months searching for him. We put up flyers, and I walked the neighborhood in the evenings looking for him. We had lots of hope at first--our neighbors rose to the challenge of looking for him (we put up flyers), and my husband and I frequently dashed out of the house when someone would call saying they'd seen him. Unfortunately, there's another cat in the neighborhood who looked a lot like Mead (this unfortunate cat was caught by well-intentioned neighborhood kids several times), so we were disappointed again and again. Mead is still missing. I have some hope that he'll come home someday. We'd always kept him indoors, but he'd been a street cat before we adopted him, so I think he's still alive somewhere. He's also a particularly beautiful and friendly cat, so it's possible another family took him in thinking he was a stray.
So this one time I put my daughter's baby socks on the cat.
After a few months without a cat, your home feels empty. I missed having a kitty to cuddle, and I wanted my daughter to have a cat to play with. My husband was reluctant at first to get another cat, but I think the emptiness weighed on him too. So we started looking for a cat. We wanted a sweet-tempered kitty who would be comfortable around a two-year-old, and wouldn't scratch or bite. My husband found the website for Lost Paws Rescue, and we started looking through their website. They have adoption days on Saturdays. Shortly before Thanksgiving, I was feeling a little down, so my husband decided to cheer me up by taking us to look at kitties. That's the first time I saw Scribbles

Scribbles, an adorable little Maine Coon mix.
She struck me right away as a sweet little kitty. She let her foster mother hold her, and seemed okay with letting my little girl pet her (even though my daughter was a bit cranky from having just woken up from her nap). But we were going to go out of town for Thanksgiving, and we didn't want to get a kitty just to leave her home alone for days. I was a little sad about letting Scribbles go, because she was so cute and sweet that I was sure someone else would adopt her before we got back. But when we came home from Thanksgiving, she was still listed on the Lost Paws website. I had to go out of town on Saturday (I was in the orchestra for Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet in another city), so I wouldn't be there for the Lost Paws adoption day. But since I'd already met Scribbles, I told my husband he could adopt her on our behalf without me there (if he decided he liked her as well). He hadn't met Scribbles at the last adoption day, but he agreed to go check out the adoption event.
Let me melt your heart by curling into a cuddle ball.
Scribbles completely won over my husband with how sweet and gentle she seemed, so he went ahead and took her home. She was shy for a few hours, and hid under the couch, but once she came out, she seemed to love her new home. My little girl loves playing with her, and we got her a "kitty fishing pole" toy that she uses to dangle a mouse for Scribbles. The little kitty cuddles up to us and sleeps in our bed at night. She tried to drape herself around my hubby's neck like a furry scarf. It's been lovely. I'm so glad to have a kitty again. And if Mead comes home someday, Scribbles will be a good friend for him.
He's learned to be pretty tolerant, after all.


  

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Review: Furiously Happy

While I was registering people to vote in Half Price Books, people kept asking me about a book signing for Furiously Happy. I'd never heard of the book or read Jenny Lawson's blog, but the crazy raccoon on the cover, and her legions of devotes fans, made me curious. I was even more intrigued when I discovered that my lovely and talented friend Sarah Mensinga did the inside cover drawings. So I decided to buy the book and check it out.

While it's not the kind of book I usually read (I prefer scifi/fantasy to memoir), I ended up really loving it. Lawson has an amazing sense of humor, which makes her writing hilariously funny even when she's writing about terrible, dark things. I could relate to her struggles with depression, and the shame of not fitting in. Yet Lawson's snappy intelligence and sharp observations makes this book about more than just depression or mental illness. In her offbeat way, Lawson pokes fun at our uptight society as well. I particularly loved the part about her getting attacked by swans (yes, swans can be aggressive. They're very territorial). It reminded me of another book I like, The Seventh Bride

Still, I could only bring myself to read this book in small doses. It's mix of pain and fierce joy made it a bit of an intense read, and Lawson's manic escapades felt very over the top (in a delightful, but in-your-face way). It felt a bit like a roller coaster read that never seemed to stop. Overall, I enjoyed this book, and I'd recommend it to anyone with a quirky sense of humor, or who's ever struggled with mental illness, or who knows anyone who's struggled with mental illness. Lawson clings to life and joy with the strength and ferocity of someone who know how hard won those things can be. I think I'm going to read her first book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, next. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Dallas Zoo Trip

My husband and I recently took our sweet little girl to the Dallas Zoo. It's a good zoo with lots of fun things for toddlers to do, and we got some great pictures.
They have an aviary, and this cockatiel decided to spend some time on my shoulder.
My little girl feeding the cockatiel.
One of the best things about the Dallas Zoo getting up close to the giraffes!
The giraffe sticks its tongue out.
My sweet girl gives the giraffe a carrot!
She thought the giraffe licking her fingers was hilarious.






Sunday, November 29, 2015

Teaching Music Students to Listen


As a music teacher, there's nothing more frustrating than repeating the same instructions over and over and over. It often seems as though students (especially younger students) have a hard time listening effectively. That's why I've often found that teaching my students active listening skills can improve their attention and performance in lessons.

It's easy for young students to get distracted during their lessons--they're often worried about their performance, or their minds wonder while the teacher is talking. Likewise, many students are used to passively listening to music, for example, having it in the background while they work instead of focusing their entire attention on listening. Active listening is listening with full attention and working to understand what you hear. It's a useful social skill in many contexts, but especially important in music.

There are many techniques I use with students to encourage them to actively listen. With young students, I might make it a bit of a game. I tell them that their fingers (or hands, muscles, etc.) don't hear me, but respond better when they (the student) gives them instructions. So instead of me repeating directions, I ask my students to say directions out loud to their fingers. This helps them in many different ways. First, if a student misunderstands what I said, I catch it immediately (there can be a striking difference between what I say and what they hear). Second, it encourages students to take responsibility for their own progress. Instead of relying on me to always catch mistakes and tell them about it, they have to repeat my instructions to themselves and try to recognize their own errors. 

Other skills in active listening might include encouraging students to make eye contact and ask clarifying questions when they don't understand what I've said. Many students aren't used to one on one instruction with a private teacher, so they might look away shyly or fiddle with their instruments while I'm talking instead of listening carefully. I teach them to look at me, especially when I'm demonstrating a new technique. Many students are likewise uncomfortable asking questions at first, but it can help if I encourage them to speak up if they don't understand. 

In addition to teaching active listening techniques, I also try to model them with my students. I give them my full attention when they are playing or talking, and try to ask thoughtful questions about their performances. In my own practice, I've been using active listening when I'm working on new music. I take out my part or a score, and listen to a recording of the piece I'm working on. I try to stay completely focused on listening and engaging with the music. It helps me to hear how my part interacts with the rest of the symphony, and sharpens my aural skills.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Review: Nebula Awards Showcase 2009

This is another book I checked out of the library. Since I've been writing a lot of short stories myself, I figured I should read short fiction by other writers. This book gave me a chance to read fiction by a wide variety of Nebula nominees and award winners, including several writers I'd never read before or even heard of. I found several new (to me) writers with unique and amazing voices. A few of the stories weren't all that appealing to me, I could see why they had been chosen for these awards, and I was glad to read them all the same.

My favorite stories included "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate," "Captive Girl," and "The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park after the Change." Ted Chiang's "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" is an amazing scifi/fantasy story inspired by the Arabian Nights. It had stories within stories, and kept me guessing about the ultimate fate of the protagonist until the very end. Chiang's depiction of time travel is actually based on how most physicists think it would actually work, which gave the story a fascinating basis in science. 

"Captive Girl," on the other hand, is one of the most disturbing stories I've ever read--it made me question my understanding of love and sacrifice, until I was completely unsure how I should feel about the main character's choices (and whether she truly had any choices). Yet, it's the story's moral complexity and ambiguity that make it so compelling, an uncanny, unflinching masterpiece. 
"The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among Dogs" has a story that's rich in folklore and stories, and I found the dog characters Johnson depicts fascinating. The plot was tense and compelling as well. While this story takes a particularly dim view of human nature (I'm not convinced most people would abandon their dogs once they learned to talk), it does capture the horrors of mass murder and the terrible justifications for genocide we hear all too often. 

I enjoyed several other stories as well, even if I felt they were a bit problematic. "Stars Seen Through Stone" has well-drawn characters, including the odious Joe Stanky, but somehow it's plot doesn't feel climatic enough, though I found the denouement satisfying."Always" is an interesting depiction of immortality, but the ending felt a bit too ambiguous for me to enjoy it. "Titanium Mike Saves the Day" was fun to read and had great moments, but felt a bit uneven (loved the ending, though). The book has poems and essays as well as stories, and I overall liked reading those.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who's interested in science fiction and fantasy short stories, particularly if you want discover new writers.

  

Monday, November 23, 2015

Texas Renaissance Festival 2015

My husband and I love going to the Texas Renaissance Festival, and this year we had a great time with our friends and our sweet little girl! Here are some of the pictures and video we took.
My husband helps our daughter with a children's fishing game.

My little girl had fun riding a cow at the pony rides!
My husband and our friend Steve pommeling each other at King of the Log:)
My daughter was fascinated by a person in a gorgeous dragon costume!
It amazes me how much crafting goes into these costumes. So beautiful!
My little girl loves spinning rides, but since they make me and my husband way too dizzy, our good friend Kailyn went with her instead.
My daughter and I ride a camel! They are way more bumpy than I expected.
My costume! I love how corsets adjust to you over time. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Exploring Music: What I've Been Listening To Lately

Since I discovered I can check out CDs from the library, I've made an effort to discover new things to listen to as well as revisiting out favorites. It's been an enjoyable process, one I hope to continue! Here's some of the music I've been listening to lately.

1. The Tannahill Weavers

I wanted to explore more folk music, since I love Renaissance Faire music so much. I found this CD at the library, so I decided to check it out. I'd never heard of the Tannahill Weavers before, and it turns out they're a Scottish folk band. I love their music--it's fun, and the bagpipes give it a distinctly Scottish sound. They're a bit like an early version of Tartanic, in the best kind of way. The CD had a good mix of songs, from rousing fiddle tunes to sweet ballads, including a version of "Auld Lang Syne" sung to a different melody than I'm familiar with (but still beautiful). I'd recommend them to anyone who enjoys folk or Renaissance Faire music.

2. Beethoven's String Quartets, Op. 18

Beethoven wrote sixteen string quartets throughout his life. His first published collection of quartets were the six string quartets in his Op. 18. As a musician, I've played many Beethoven string quartets, including several of the Op. 18 pieces, but I'd never listened to a recording of all six. I found a CD collection of the complete Op. 18 quartets by the Julliard Quartet at the library. It's been years since I'd played or listened to this music, and it was great to hear them again (and discover a few I never listened to, like No. 3 and 5). Beautiful music, and considering the composer and instrumentation stays the same throughout the CD, they contain a surprising amount of variation. I'd recommend these to anyone who loves classical music.

3. Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream (Ein Sommernachtstraum)

Musicians reading this are likely surprised to see this on the list! Pieces from Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" appear so frequently on audition requirements that any professional violin or viola player has played parts of them (and listened to the music) hundreds of times. But that's the rub--I'd only ever played or listened to the audition music sections of the piece (Scherzo and Overture), never the whole thing. So when I saw the entire piece at the library, I decided it was high time I heard the rest of it. I think Mendelssohn might be one of the most underestimated classical composers (likely thanks to anit-Semitism and Wagner's vicious attacks on his music). His music can be light and sparkling, yet capture profound loss. Listening to the whole of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" gave me a greater understanding and appreciation for the audition sections, and made a piece that had because onerous enjoyable and fresh. 


Saturday, November 14, 2015

How Teaching Makes Me a Better Musician


Many teachers will tell you that they learn from their students. As a violin and viola teacher, I've found that teaching has helped me improve my practicing and develop my own musical skills. In fact, in some ways teaching has been more effective at improving skills like ear training than any of my classroom learning.

Listening and Aural Skills

A music teacher needs sharp ears. We have to identify when a student is out of tune or plays a wrong note and be able to immediately correct the problem. All this intensive listening has dramatically improved my aural skills. I remember getting so frustrated in my college classes; I didn't think music theory was my strong suit, especially the sight-singing! Now, I have plenty of practice singing notes on pitch, since I frequently encourage my own students to sing their pieces before they play them. Years of honing in on student's out of tune notes has also given me a better sense of melodic intervals and how particular notes fit into a chord. If my theory professors could see me now, they'd probably be shocked.

Fundamentals

When I went to my first teacher-training class for Suzuki Violin, I did not expect that it would be one of the best classes in violin technique I'd ever had. Yet the more I teach, the less that surprises me. Teaching has made me think deeply about the fundamentals, since I'm constantly analyzing my students' technique, from their posture to how they hold their instrument or their bow. As I work with a student to solve their technical issues, I gain insight into the underlying logic of the violin and viola. All this focus and understanding has strengthened my performance abilities, from tone production to intonation to musical expression.

Musical Analysis

Looking back, I think I was too passive as a student. I was always waiting for my teachers to tell me how to play, instead of looking at the music and discovering it for myself. Now that I'm the teacher, I have to be the one looking of the music, interpreting it to the best of my understanding, and then finding a way to communicate that to a student. In one way, that's very exciting! I don't have to rely on anyone else when I'm practicing, and I can play the music how I see fit, not according to another person's ideas. What's more, my experience inspired me to teach my students how to analyze music on its own. The more I think that way about music, the easier it becomes.     

Teaching and performing should not exist in separate spheres in a musician's mind. Instead, teaching can be an excellent opportunity for musicians to develop their fundamental techniques and listen carefully. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Puccini's Tosca at the Dallas Opera

My husband and I went to see Puccini's Tosca last night at the Dallas Opera, and we both loved it! The music was gorgeous. I particularly enjoyed Emily Magee's Floria Tosca, who was charming and lovable in the first act, but fiery and tragic as the opera progressed. Her rendition of "Vissi d'Arte" was as pure and beautiful as I could have hoped--she has a truly lovely tone. Raymond Aceto's Baron Scarpia also stood out. He had rich voice that somehow oozed slimy, villainous lust in his scenes with Tosca. Aceto's Scarpia laughed at the pain he caused, like a vicious school yard bully. It made him all the more hateful for being so familiar.

The sets and costumes were excellent as well. After some of the scaled back productions that the Dallas Opera did in previous seasons, it was really wonderful to see them go all out with big set pieces and fabulous period costumes. The scenes with the chorus were wonderful--the background mass had all the beauty and solemnity you'd like, while scenes with the children's choir had plenty of antics and lively fun.

Tosca is a great opera. Though it's a crucial part of the repertoire for opera fans, it's also very approachable for opera newbies. I'd recommend it for anyone!

There are a few more performances this season, and if you'd like tickets, you can buy them online at the Dallas Opera's website.    

Monday, November 9, 2015

Review: The Time of Contempt

The Time of Contempt (The Witcher) is the third book in Adrzej Sapkowski's series of books on the Witcher. I really enjoyed the first two books, and this one did not disappoint. The story focuses as much on Ciri as it does on Geralt, but both their stories are exciting and interesting. What's more, for a book with plenty of action, the story is surprisingly philosophical at times. Geralt tries to do what he thinks is best to protect Ciri and do the right thing. Yet, time and again Sapkowski shows how tricky it is to determine the "right" path in a complex, morally ambiguous world. The haunting tragedy of war, and the terrible choices that people make when confronted by devastating circumstances become a running theme.

I loved the characterizations of Geralt and Yennefer--their relationship has complexity and depth, and the reader ends up sympathetic to both characters even when they seem opposed to each other. Their touching love for Ciri shines through their actions, even when they disagree about what's best for her. Even Dandelion becomes a fascinating character, one with more complicated connections than you might think. What's more, Dandelion's "translations" of Geralt and Yennefer's discussions is both touching and hilarious.

For those of you who love the games, this book gives quite a bit of backstory on characters like Phillippa Eilhart and Dijkstra. It also reveals the origins of the political strife and warfare from the games.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy or the Witcher games. Though part of a series of novels, I think it could stand alone for anyone who's played the games (though really, why not read The Last Wish and Blood of Elves?).