November 23, 2010

Bird Brain

Check out this cute little guy!

I saw him (or her I guess) pecking away like mad (check out the size of that hole!!) while I was on my way to take what ended up being some very frustrating memory and cognitive-ability diagnostic tests. Well, I shouldn't make them out to be all that bad...I guess I was just hoping that I'd perform better on them than I think I did. Truthfully, I don't have any idea how I scored. and I guess I shouldn't care too much anyway because these tests were just part of a research study on memory and cognitive function, thus my scores will forever remain safely confidential and won't affect my future--academic or otherwise--in any way.

In the first test I was shown 4 symbols that were said to represent 4 words: "cowboy", "dog", "horse" and "the". I was then presented with a page containing a sequence of these symbols and was asked to "read" them. Ok...easy enough. I was then shown 4 additional symbol/words and asked to "read" another sentence that incorporated all 8 symbols. I did fine here as well. It started to get a bit tougher when the required symbol "vocabulary" grew to incorporate 16...and finally I think 28 new words. Maybe it doesn't sound that bad, but remember: I was given only one chance to see each new set and was not given pointers if I stumbled or instruction if one of the new words didn't stick as well as I would have hoped. I actually felt like I did ok with this task, but in typical Kelly fashion I had been hoping for perfection...and probably fell a bit short.

The second test required me to listen to a sequence of words and numbers and then repeat back as much of the sequence I could remember stating the objects first (in order) and numbers second (again, in order). For example, the first thing I heard might have been something like: "six...turtle." I'd then respond with "turtle...six." Not so bad right? Well, when you start getting faced with strings of utterances like, "horse, dress, nine, cup, six, four, house, truck, one" and then have to regurgitate all those things in the new correct order (which, by the way, would have been "horse, dress, cup, house, truck, nine, six, four, one")...well, you can see why I may have struggled.

Finally, I was faced with a set of logic problems where in each case I was provided with a "key" (say...1 red plus 1 blue = black), and then asked to solve for a bunch of problems based on the information provided by the key or keys. It was like algebra...with colored squares. For the first several pages I was cruising! I found a great visual system by which to quickly identify and apply the information I needed. The test administrator even commented about how quickly I was able to move and that most people take much longer to solve each problem. It was thrilling! Each puzzle increased in difficulty though and while at one moment I was going forward with little or no trouble, I suddenly encountered a problem I absolutely didn't understand. "Take your time," said the administrator, "there's no hurry." But try as I might I simply couldn't make any solution work. "There is a correct answer." reassured the administrator, but at a certain point I simply had to pass. From that point forward I passed on all but one problem and ended the test feeling deflated and embarrassed. "Don't worry," the researcher told me, "everyone has trouble. They all come in wanting to be geniuses, but these questions are meant to be tricky."

Later this afternoon I participated in another study in which I was asked to look at a series of images depicting armed "criminals" and "police officers." I had to quickly identify with a joystick which was which. The key was that all the "police officers" were wearing badges somewhere on their person. I got the idea right off the bat that this test was meant to diagnose whether or not I had any any latent racial biases that would make me more likely to identify any black people shown as criminals. I don't think I had much trouble with this one (though I was not shown the results so I guess I don't really know for sure).

My conclusions for the day: I feel glad to have contributed to science, it felt great to make a whopping $18, and although I might be a bird brain, at least I'm not a racist!


So we've got the sun back today, but during the transaction somehow lost all the warmth. Still it was glorious to walk to school this morning and catch its golden rays playing among the leaves of one of the giant willows on campus.

I've finished my morning practice and am now back in the lounge doing some listening. There's a great electronic database of recorded music called the Naxos Music Library to which I now have access as a student at Northwestern. It provides streaming audio of about 50,000 cd-length recordings that I can listen to free of charge (as long as I'm still in school--after I leave I'd have to pay a subscription fee) and the repertoire available is stunningly varied. Right now I'm listening to a trumpet/organ recital by a guy named Reinhold Frederich. It caught my eye because it includes an unaccompanied trumpet solo I played for my senior recital at Juilliard: Michi (paths) by Toru Takemitsu. It is a dramatically meditative piece and requires some clever acrobatics in the use of a harmon mute. The soloist must quickly switch between muted and open trumpet constantly throughout the performance. In order to facilitate smooth and quiet transitions and maintain the mood and pacing of the work when I played it, I rigged up a rickety old wire music stand to hold my harmon at just the right height so I could place the bell of my trumpet on the mute when I needed to and then just as quickly back away. This took some getting used to, but ultimately proved a bit more effective than trying to play the entire six-minute piece one handed (my left hand would have been occupied always holding the mute at the ready)...especially 'cause there are some pretty high notes towards the end, and those are really hard to play one-handed!

I've got no classes today, but in just a little while will be participating in two research studies, my proceeds from which should total about $18...WOOHOO! Yay for science:)

November 22, 2010

Rainy Day

So...I got to school in time to catch the sunrise this morning, but unfortunately, this is all I was able to see of it. Needless to say, it's been something of a blustery day. By the time I'd walked across campus to my Art Song class my shoes were shedding water with every squishy step and my pants looked like I'd gone wading in the lake. I'd remembered to grab my umbrella so my head was dry, but that's about it. Despite the occasionally oppressive downpours it's been an uncharacteristically warm day here. We had highs around 68 degrees and while walking home for lunch I heard more than one person exclaim to their neighbor, "Why is it so warm?!"

I'm a little worried the hot snap could be foreshadowing a winter storm strong enough to interfere with my plans to drive to Ithaca Wednesday. I haven't seen Rob since the beginning of July and we've both been eagerly counting down the days till Thanksgiving when we'll finally be able to enjoy each other's presence again after being apart for what has felt like an eternity. The forecast for Wed. predicts rain and colder temps, but so far NO SNOW! Let's hope it stays that way...

Prof. Davies (my Art Song teacher) handed our listening quizzes back today and I blushed when saw I'd gotten a perfect 38/38. He even put a smiley face by my score...I felt like I was back in 4th grade. Up to this point in the class I've received straight As on all the assignments, and seeing that bright red letter at the top of every paper has consistently made my spirits glow. I know there are some who strongly dislike...even hate..."overachievers", and who roll their eyes at those in a class who are reliably able to answer all the questions and score well on assignments and quizzes, but I've always been proud when I've been recognized for doing well. I would much rather be lauded for issues related to my work and applied creativity than for my appearance or social personality. If this makes me nerdy and utterly unpopular so be it.

We've got tornado watches out tonight and the rain is still coming down in sheets. I'm waiting around in the music lounge for my teaching tech class to begin watching flashes of lightning through the windows, feeling grateful I don't yet have to try to get back home, and hoping that by the time I do, the storm will have dissipated.

November 19, 2010

One BIG Bird

On my way back to school this afternoon, I was walking near the library and noticed that all the squirrels were making a horrible racket; not their usual pleasant and only slightly neurotic chittering, but rather a chorus of wretching caws coming from all directions above me.

Then I noticed why...

At first, the bird's face was pointed away from me and I thought from its broad shoulders and apparently wide head that it must have been an owl, but when I scuffed my foot on the sidewalk it abruptly turned and looked down and I saw instead that it was instead some kind of hawk or young eagle. I think it's head had appeared so wide because it was dang cold outside in the wind and it was snuggling down into its feathers trying to keep out the chill. I took this photo and did some searching online and my current best guess is it was a red-tailed hawk. Its tail wasn't showing any red, but I guess it could have been concealed behind other feathers. The only other local species it resembled was the broad-winged hawk and those are only about the size of a crow...this bird was definitely BIG!

I sat there for a few minutes just watching it. After a while it got used to my presence and turned away from me again. The squirrels however kept right on with their panicked squawking. Not that I blame them...if I were going about my business and suddenly noticed a grizzly bear hanging around the neighborhood I think I'd sound the alarm too!


I came across an ad for this production in a magazine the other day:

Tickets are $32--which would be a stretch for me--but can I really allow myself to miss out on something so wonderfully quirky?

I find it pretty amazing that, in a world where (according to National Geographic) one real language goes extinct every 14 days, there is an ever-growing number of people obsessed with communicating in a fake alien language who's first utterances took place only 30 years ago in the first Star Trek movie. Now there is an official Klingon Language Institute that publishes its own scholarly journal and, in addition to the play mentioned above, I've heard of at least one serious Klingon opera that is being produced in the Netherlands...(you should really read the article in the Dutch Daily I've linked to here...pretty wild stuff...including an interplanetary broadcast between Earth and the Klingon home world...seriously!)

Not that I have a problem with anyone being trek-obsessed enough to want to become a Klingon, but it's a bit sad to think that more attention is being paid to Klingons than to those last speakers of dying indigenous languages that hold such a wealth of cultural, historical, and perhaps even scientifically-relevant knowledge about the natural world. Unfortunately it's often the case that these languages are only spoken and leave no written record behind. Once the children stop learning their ancestral languages in favor of more widely used global giants, those languages disappear with the death of the older generation. Maybe someone should produce an opera or two in Cayuga or Dalabon...

November 17, 2010


Grandma Anderson, this one's for you.

As part of my teaching techniques class I've sat in on two lessons by tuba/euphonium teacher Rex Martin. They have been fascinating lessons--he has a real knack for diagnosing playing issues in students and coming up with a whole host of means by which to fix them. He uses tools that range from breathing machines, to embouchure imagers, to software that detects and displays decibel levels, overtone makeup, and note shape. Though many things are quite different between how a tubist and a trumpeter have to play, (perhaps most notably: the common misconception that trumpeters need a lot of air to play--Tubists certainly need the air quantity, while for trumpeters, the key is compression. Maybe I'll talk more about this in a later post...I'm sure some of you might already be disagreeing with me) I've learned a lot about how to conduct a lesson and how to use creative problem-solving techniques to help a student improve.

ANYWAY...for the first few weeks of school, whenever I'd run into professor Martin or even just pass him at a distance, he'd always wave or say "hello!" I was puzzled at first because we'd never been introduced. I started to think, "Huh...well I guess it's nice that everyone is so welcoming to new students." When I came in for the first observation I introduced myself and he said, "I am so sorry, I think I've been mistaking you for someone else." He then told me about his acquaintance with a female Norwegian tuba player who supposedly looks exactly like me. "She doesn't just look like your sister," he said, "she looks like YOU! Same glasses...puts her hair up the same...everything." I told him I had some Norwegian ancestors and he replied, "Well, I think I must know some of your ancestors!"

When I came in for the second observation a couple weeks later, he seemed so disturbed by my appearance that he paused the lesson to go see if he could find a picture of her on his facebook. "I keep looking over and seeing you and think that you'll respond to me with in a Norwegian accent!" Even our names are similar--I think he said hers is (pronounced...I don't know the spelling) "Keeree." "You don't speak Norwegian do you?" he asked. "Nope," I said, "just one word in Danish, [referring to: ruuuul-gruuuul-mel fluuul-PO!] which I think is similar to Norwegian." Unfortunately he was not able to find a picture of her for me. For the next few minutes he kept glancing over at me and giving me weird looks till finally he just turned his chair around and faced away from me and towards his student--where his attention should have been going in the first place. I apologized to the student later for being such a disruption.

November 15, 2010

Practice Breaks

I know I promised to keep up with posting more consistently now that my big video project is done, but if it's not one thing it's another, and except for a nice quiet Sunday afternoon of watching PBS's Frontline (The Confessions...unbelievable should ALL check it out), I've been just as busy as I was before--it's just that now, my tasks are less exciting and creative, and more just a lot of hard work (a lot of it taking place at a little table in the music library--the outside of it is pictured at left--ain't it pretty?). My goal tonight is to somehow write a passably interesting blog during the series of 5 minute practice breaks I'll take during the next two hours I have to practice. On your mark...get set...GO!

Ok--just finished 10 minutes of warming up/going over one of my assigned Boehme etudes (#18 in A on B flat). So far so good. I've got a lesson tomorrow morning and feel mostly prepared. My lesson last week went really well. He's been having me do these scale exercises to improve my flexibility and range and they seem to be working wonders...slowly but surely. The basic idea is that you play slurred octave scales starting at a healthy dynamic level at the bottom and decrescendoing as you climb. The decrescendo insures that you're using only your embouchure to reach the higher notes so it's sort of like lifting weights. Each day I'm supposed to push the boundaries a bit further. Lately I've been doing some 2 octave scales, some arpeggios, and some articulated scales. Ok--5 minutes is up...

Whew! Back again. Now I have only 4 minutes for this one 'cause I had to switch from B flat (on which I just finished playing Longinotti #7) to C (on which I'll next play through at least 2 more Boehme etudes...3 if I'm lucky) and I had to make sure my valves were oiled and everything. I'm trying to get through all my lesson material tonight--mostly just straight run throughs. After these next 3 etudes, I've got a bunch of excerpts to cover--including the ones for our next pool audition on Dec. 6th (where our ensemble placement and part assignments are decided), and Mahler 5 (on which I'm playing 1st for rep class on Thursday). If things go amazingly well, I'll also be able to touch on my part in Daphnes and Chloe--I'll be playing the 4th part for rep class tomorrow. Got all that? Good. Unfortunately, I've run out of break time once again. See ya in 10...

Well, I only made it through 2 etudes...sigh. Guess I'll just tackle the last one in my next 10 minute section and hope I get through the excerpts quickly. On Wednesday our Geyer-studio solo class is entitled "lesson roulette." The procedure is this: Charlie will draw lesson assignment lists out of a hat and randomly select something off that list for each of us to play. The idea is to make sure everyone is practicing all their assigned material and not just coasting by from week to week counting on their ability to ask a leading question of Charlie and get him to tell a bunch of stories for half the lesson...thus reducing the risk he'll have them play something they haven't practiced. I haven't played particularly well in solo class yet this quarter, so I'm hoping this one will be my chance to shine...if I can get to all my stuff now! Back in 10...

Ok, I lied. I got thirsty after I finished my last etude and used my 5 minute break to head out to the drinking fountain to fill my water bottle. Afterwards, I got started on my weekly list of excerpts touching on Swan Lake, Meistersinger, Capriccio Italien, and a bit of Firebird. I still have to get to Bolero, Shostakovich 11, Rach. Symph. #2, Rosenkavalier, Symphony Domestica, and hopefully that dang Mahler 5. I've only got 40 minutes left in this practice room so I'd better get busy...

Well that just about wasted me. I used to be able to play Firebird...promise! It was one of the pieces that got me into Tanglewood way back when. I had such a great audition that fact, every audition that entire week pretty much rocked. I had gone to NYC for a week with 3 auditions lined up: Juilliard, Tanglewood, and the Verbier Festival. I got into all three, but had to pick between Switzerland and Western Massachusetts. When I got to Tanglewood, the trumpet faculty had a meeting with the 5 of us trumpeters who'd made it in that summer and believe it or not--I had the top scores. It all goes back to that freakish week in day I played random tunes out in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and made $60. A guy walked up to me and said, "You have a beautiful tone", then threw a $20 into my case...

Back again for the last time. At this point my 2 hours has nearly expired. I have just enough time left for a warm down and then I'll head back to my apartment and start readying myself for bed. I didn't get as much done as I'd hoped tonight, but I have to acknowledge to myself that I did hit a good portion of the rep I needed to. I think my lesson should go alright tomorrow as long as I get in a good warm up and make sure my chops are balanced for the day.

Wish me luck:)

November 12, 2010

Yay Mom!

Somehow I ended up having only one class today, so after that and 2 hours of practicing, I decided to treat myself to a movie. These days, going to a movie is an extra-special indulgence for me as I'm trying to live within a pretty tight budget and I don't usually have much spare time, but this was the opening weekend of 127 hours, (the new Danny Boyle--Slumdog Millionaire director--film based on the true story of a climber who gets caught beneath a boulder and cuts his arm off in order to survive) and because my mom WORKED HER BUTT OFF for a good bit of the summer keeping the cast and crew of this film alive in the desert (she, along with my cousin Alice were the craft service people) I could not resist checking out the finished product.

This movie is not for the faint of heart. The climactic scene where Aaron Ralston (played by James Franco) intentionally breaks the bone in his arm and cuts his way to freedom through the rest of his nerves and muscle is extremely graphic. There are rumors floating around that audience members have occasionally fainted while watching, and I'll personally admit to a substantial amount of sympathetic wincing--the sound in this scene is particularly jarring and, together with the horrific visuals, affected me like hearing nails on a chalkboard while being sliced by a cold blunt piece of dirty metal. Everyone knows that this scene is coming from the moment the action begins, and as we're swept along into Ralston's reckless and exuberant adventure, we can't help but wish we could somehow warn him to turn back. All grimacing aside, this was a thoroughly satisfying film and I HIGHLY recommend you check it out. While you watch, just remember that my mom was out there in that utterly remote and overwhelmingly dusty location working 16+ hour days and sleeping precious little in a freezing wind-buffetted tent making sure everyone on set was well fed and watered. Without such excellent service, Mr. Franco would never have been able to so convincingly play a character who is starving and almost entirely dehydrated.

During the last little bit of shooting that was done in SLC, I had the pleasure of visiting my mom on set during some down time I had between a matinee and evening show of Pioneer Theater's "42nd Street". There had been a completely lifelike full-scale model of Bluejohn Canyon constructed in an old Granite Furniture warehouse in Sugarhouse, and the day I was there they were filming the flash flood scene. My mom took me around and introduced me to Mr. Boyle (who asked as he shook my hand, "We seem to be missing an arm somewhere...have you seen it?) and the crew, (who ALL said some version of "your mom rocks!") and I puttered around in her food truck for a bit stirring what she told me to stir and chopping veggies when needed. I even cut up some tomatoes to fill a sandwich specifically requested by Mr. Boyle (don't I feel special!). While the filming was paused I was allowed to walk up inside the "canyon" and imagine what it would have been like to be stuck there. The boulder looked so small...and the canyon was so narrow...what a nightmare! I took this shot with my cell phone on my way out relieved I didn't have to be confronted with the remains of a severed arm hanging grotesquely from the canyon it had been in the movie.

When the movie ended today I hung around to see if my mom got a credit, and indeed, there she is: Craft Service: Jennifer "Iffer" Mitchell (I nearly let out a cheer in the middle of the theater!). And Alice is listed right after as "Assistant Craft Service."

During the filming, one of Danny Boyle's drivers mentioned to my mom that Mr. Boyle had seen her working one day while being driven away from the set and had commented to the driver, "That woman is extraordinary!"

I couldn't agree more. WAY TO GO MOM!!!!!!

November 11, 2010

This Morning

I just had a nice morning and thought I'd tell ya 'bout it.

By the way, the building you see to the left is Regenstein...our lovely music building...and for me swiftly becoming a home away from home.

My Thursday mornings begin early with an 8:15 trumpet excerpt class. The four other guys in the class complain like crazy about having to play at such an ungodly hour, but it's ideal for an early bird like me. Every week we're assigned a piece to learn and the 5 of us switch parts from week to week in order to get exposure to a lot of rep we otherwise may not get a chance to play before starting a "real" gig.

This week we were tackling Strauss' Alpine Symphony. I had been assigned a week off of playing so I could better prepare to play principal on Mahler 5 next week (yikes!!!), but decided to go to class anyway just so I could hear how the parts work and pick up any helpful tidbits Charlie might have to offer. As it happened though, Kris (one of the other grad students) didn't show so Mr. Geyer promptly called me down to play his part (thankfully he'd been on 4th trumpet so it wasn't too difficult). The Alpine Symphony has some incredible trumpet parts and Ansel Norris (a freshman and already an amazing player--mark my WILL hear about this guy someday!) was playing principal. Though I was sight reading and hadn't even listened to the piece in ages, I was in my ideal position at the bottom of the section and was having a blast!

I love the feeling of beefing up a section's sound when I play in tune, in time, and with a big fat tone. I'd much rather play this roll than that of section leader--not because I don't like playing solos, I really do, but rather because I find the skills and sound I posses make me ideal as a section player. I don't mean to sound cocky, but I'm really good at it--and that is fun!

After excerpt class I took a leisurely walk along the lake on my way to participate in a language research study. It is a BEAUTIFUL day today! The temp must be up around 70 degrees and with only a slight breeze it's just about as ideal as you can imagine (and totally out of character for Chicago this time of year).

The study was interesting. I was given a 15 minute training session on a new imaginary language. I was shown various images of animals and objects and heard the words for them pronounced. Cat="teeg" Cow="geef" etc. Each time, I was shown a regular sized thing, then a small version of that thing. Small cat="keeteeg" Small cow="keegeef" etc. I was then shown multiple numbers of each thing. Many cats="teegeel" Many SMALL cats= "keeteegeel" etc.

After the training session, I was shown a whole batch of new objects and was asked to intuit what the correct words for these things may be. For example, I was shown a fish and told it was called a "bess". I was then shown a small fish--or many fish--or many small fish--and given 2 choices as to which word would correctly describe what I saw. For example, when shown 3 small fish I was given a choice between 1) "besseel" or 2) "keebesseel". I was given no feedback after I answered and have NO idea how I scored on this test, but I got paid $10 for 1/2 hour of work...not bad:)

On my way back to the music building I noticed this kite stuck up in a tree and thought it was tragically beautiful...

Don't we all feel like this little guy every once in a while?

November 10, 2010

The Heavenly Banquet

This week in my American Art Song class we've been looking at the "Hermit Songs" of Samuel Barber. It is a beautiful and compelling cycle based around texts written by monks and scholars in early Christian Ireland that Barber had translated into English by a few of his poet friends--including W.H. Auden. Within this cycle is a song text attributed to St. Brigid (10th century), one of the patron saints of Ireland, and portrays an incredible scene of heavenly revelry, the likes of which I have never encountered...especially in my sober LDS upbringing! This particular text was so "outstanding" to me, I felt I had to share it with y'all...

The Heavenly Banquet

I would like to have the men of heaven in my own house;
with vats of good cheer laid out for them.
I would like to have the three Marys, their fame is so great.
I would like people from every corner of heaven.
I would like them to be cheerful in their drinking.
I would like to have Jesus sitting here among them.
I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.
I would like to be watching Heaven's family
Drinking it through all eternity.

WOW! What an interesting way to worship. Talk about inviting the spirit(s) into your home.

November 7, 2010

Daylight Savings Time

It's felt great to be sleeping late (a happy illusion anyway) these last couple of days...especially after the late-night creative frenzies I've experienced for the past week or so! The only downside that comes with the ending of daylight savings (other than its inevitable return in the spring) is that I'll be missing seeing the sunrise for the next few weeks.

Before this weekend, I'd get to school every day just before the sun would rise above the surface of Lake Michigan. When I arrive at Regenstein, I usually take a couple minutes to go and watch the day begin from my favorite lakeshore viewing spot and bask in frequently spectacular morning panoramas.

It just doesn't get any better than this...

And it's always a thrill to catch the very first moment the sun peeks above the water...

Now I arrive at school when the sun has been up for a while and though I enjoy that too, I'm still partial to arising in the pre dawn. I know that sooner than I care to think about the sun will have migrated far enough to the south that I'll once again be able to catch the sunrise, but by then, the temperatures will likely be in the single digits...not the most desirable conditions for lakeside viewing! I'm hoping the bleak look of the lake frozen over will add enough magic to the scene to make up for miserable conditions.

November 6, 2010

The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs

Hello Strangers. The video you see below is one BIG reason I haven't been keeping up with my blog lately. For my American Art Song class, our final project is to make a music video using one of the art songs we've studied. The video is not really due till finals week, but when I found this song, I got immediately carried away and have been working every spare moment to finish it.

The piece is by John Cage (Lizzie...this one's for you:) and it is scored for voice (any register) and piano (though not the keys of the you will see). The performers are Hilde Torgersen and Bjorn Rabben. This is the first video I've ever attempted. I did the filming with my laptop camera (yes, all the characters you see are played by me), and put together the animation in my bathtub. I'll write more about it later.

Till then...enjoy...(and don't laugh at my lip syncing!!!! It was a required aspect of the video).