posts tagged with 'music'

they might be stuck in my head

Back in October we accidentally introduced the boys to "Particle Man", by the band They Might Be Giants. Then Leah accidentally revealed to them that we own Flood, the album on which it originally appeared back in 1990. Then we allowed them to listen to said album in the car. Again and again. At first I just hated it—I complained to other people old enough to have experienced it originally that it must have been recorded and mixed by people who hated music and other people. I take that back now. It may be the stockholm syndrome from listening to it 149 times talking, but it's actually kind of good. And I certainly know those songs well now!

I'm especially enjoying trying to play them on the guitar. I'm not a very good guitarist—I can only learn things I have to play, so I haven't progressed beyond the level of strumming preschool songs and worship music for Elementary Kids Church. You know, the ones with two-to-five chords per song (some of the preschool songs are even mono-chordal!). I've tried to play some more sophisticated jazz tunes, but then I run into chords that I don't know how to play at all, and when I do manage to figure them out I can't manage stringing them together. That sort of complexity maybe demands a teacher.

The songs on Flood are a lovely middle ground. The chord progressions are wonderfully varied, but the chords themselves are all simple major or minor. That means I get to practice bar chords all over the neck and strange transitions from one chord to another. The first song from the album to catch my guitar-playing attention was "We Want a Rock", which after a straightforward verse of G, C, and D dives into the chorus with the rare A-B-C-D progression. Also all the chords fly by one after another, one per beat—there's no lingering on a chord like in those worship songs (clearly the band composed more on auto-chording synth than guitar). Next I moved on to "Make a Little Birdhouse In Your Soul", which forced me to learn the bar-chorded progression of Eb-Ab-Eb-Cm-G-C.

The band's lyrics are also clever, at least in the sense of how they fit in to the songs. I still haven't figured out how the timing of the chorus of "Letterbox", for example. In that case I got so frustrated I've given up for now, but now I've set myself a new goal: "Meet The Elements", from the band's science-themed album for kids (which we were exposed to via youtube; there is still some screen time in our house). It's pretty tame, chord-wise, but the way the lyrics lay over the beat is very fun to try and get right. My family and everyone who has been in my house has been very indulgent of my repeated attempts to figure out. Check it out here, and join me in thinking of nothing else for 36 straight hours! Or maybe you have more discrimination. I don't, clearly!

more

musical weekend

Last weekend—I mean, the one before last—was the Honk Festival in Somerville. As promised after last year, I didn't try and take the boys to the Saturday part of the affair, and that was a great decision. Operating alone, I was able to bike the whole way there after lunch and fully enjoy several hours of wonderful loud music and anarchist culture.

a trumpet player amidst the crowd

festival atmostphere

I managed to take in two whole hour-long sets: the Party Band, who were the best, and What Cheer Marching Band, who were the unremittingly loudest. Also 45 minutes of New Creations Brass Band, 15 of Emperor Norton's, and assorted fleeting moments of other groups. And when the music was good I was dancing the whole time—except when I needed to take breaks due to exhaustion or to give my bleeding ears a break.

right behind the New Creation drummers

ever so loud

Then I made the long ride home in the dark. All that anarchism and band music put me in a great mood to begin with, and it was only improved by a perfect ride: from just beyond Davis Square all the way to our front walk without so much as a toe touching the ground. I was so delighted I removed all restrictions on the boys' screen time at the neighbors' house; the kids can make their own good decisions, man!

sunset over the trolley wires

a moment on the way home

Then on Sunday torrential rain beginning at 9:30 made the noon parade look a little doubtful, but things cleared up wonderfully at about twenty of, so all five of us made the short drive from church towards Harvard Square, where we set up camp at the Kemp Playground to wait for the music. And it was well worth the wait!

band members striking a pose on the parade route

parade pose

Besides the bands, the kids loved the stilts, the puppets, and the bicycles... and there was even one group handing out candy! (And really handing it out, not tossing it to the ravening crowds like at Bedford Day; it was a lovely experience of personal connection.) Even better than candy, one group of marchers was even distributing free hot dogs to the parade audience, complete with ketchup and mustard to order! Let's hear it for music and anarchy.

the leaders of the parade carrying a

good times

more

unbelievable

Last Wednesday the boys watched Shreck with Grandpa David (ever their source for all varieties of cinematic experiences). They came home singing "I'm a Believer", and were surprised that I knew it given my firm denial of anything Shreck related. So I told them it was originally by The Monkees, which led us into a discussion of that curious group's origins. We ended up on Youtube to compare the Monkees and Smash Mouth versions of "I'm a Believer", and then went on a tour of late-60s rock and pop taking tunes from The Monkees, The Archies, The Beach Boys, and Little Richard. This was all over a couple days. The point, though, is that we've been thinking about "I'm a Believer" a lot.

At first I didn't mind it. It's a fine song, after all—a good one even. But a couple days ago I started to resent its constant presence in my mind, especially over the sleepless portions of the last couple nights. I don't think I've had a song so stuck in my head since Frozen. Yesterday I put on some other music and told the kids they weren't allowed to sing it any more. Of course that doesn't entirely work—Zion in particular will sing it on purpose when I say things like that—but it helps. So the mania is already fading.

I don't know how much of the problem is due to the song's inherent catchiness—the songwriting chops of Neil Diamond and production expertise of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart—and how much is just the fact that we focused deliberately and intensively on it for a couple days. Probably a combination of both. But either way I'm not liking it. At least with Frozen there's four or five songs, stylistically pretty different, that took turns in my brain; there's not so much to "I'm a Believer". Oh well, I suppose it could be worse. It could be "Last Train to Clarkesville". Or "Sugar Sugar"...

more

things we can make work

To continue on my positive tip: we had a lovely day of homeschooling today. Harvey wrote a page of a story I told him to write (a ridiculous battle I should describe in another post), Zion was super excited to work on math, and Lijah got to do a week's worth of awesome preschool arts and crafts with Grandma (who also did the dishes from breakfast... thanks Mom!). And we had some great recess/PE time, and Harvey and Zion played appropriately with Lijah for a long time outside, even as light rain started to fall. But best of all were two musical moments.

Number one: I got all the boys together for a song-and-movement session. All three of them stayed engaged the whole time—not distracted by their own instruments or toys or each other—and did some great singing and direction-following. Some of it was kindergarten-appropriate, some of it aimed more at the two-year-old demographic, and Harvey was a great helper and demonstrator through it all. It may seem like a small thing—it may be a small thing—but our boys aren't easily led, so it felt like a great blessing to be able to do something like that with all three of them at once. And they had fun; maybe we can do it again some day.

Number two: immediately afterward I called rest time, sent Harvey and Zion to their beds with their books, put on some loud music, and told Lijah it was time to take a nap. He protested, but by the time "Brooklyn" was three-quarters done he was asleep. Just like old times! And when I told the big boys they could get up they asked if they could keep reading (it helped that the alternative I offered was helping me clean up).

So not everything is horrible. I'll note the good things here, and in our homeschooling log. In a month or so we'll maybe have enough to send in a progress report!

more

lights, food, music, and friends

the illuminated tree and the buffet table

party night

We threw our party last night—never mind the rain and thunderstorms promised by the forecast and the morning's red sky. And it was great!

In a departure from our usual practice, we were just about ready as the last half-hour before the 5:00 start ticked by. Parents and friends who came early to help set up were able to relax and chat as the other guests arrived; the kids hanging around were able to join in the piano sound-check and warmup. The flowers on the table were picked and arranged by Harvey at 4:35.

the party lawn

dining area and dance floor

It was an all-grandpa musical performance this year. After last year's bravura effort Ira and Leah have their act down pat, and barely needed any rehearsal this time. They put on an early set for one friend who could only stop by for a minute at the beginning of the affair.

Leah and Grandpa Ira performing on stage, with Lijah alongside

seasoned performers

Then it was the turn of Grandpa David and the Disney Movie Singalong. He did a great job fending off the eager hands that wanted to touch the piano, and the kids sang along with spirit to tunes from our three most recent animated favorites: Frozen, Aladdin, and Lion King. What a kind grandfather our boys have, willing to subject himself to that sort of experience, and on his birthday too! I have all the songs pretty well memorized to I did my bit to keep the vocalists roughly together.

Grandpa Dave playing piano, accompanying a crowd of kids on some Disney movie songs

cast of thousands

Harvey and Zion actually practiced their parts quite a bit this year. Zion was too shy to stand up at the mic, but Harvey had no such resistance and sang up loud and proud. Megan is always happy to see a microphone.

Harvey and Megan singing with the mics

star turn

Of course, it wasn't all music. We didn't manage a bounce-house this year, but the boys and I set up the badminton net and the kids had great fun with our seven rackets and three birdies (at least until a darkness-related accident made it seem more prudent to take down the net). The hammock was also very popular, as was the ride-on tractor. And of course there was lots to eat.

lots of food on the table, lit in the darkness thanks to lamps above

enough to go around

The lights are always a key ingredient of this party, and this year I was very proud of myself for including two clip-on desk lamps in the setup: one to light the food, and the other behind the stage so the musicians could see their papers. Because of course the music went on long into the night.

Ira and guitar, from behind on the lighted stage

the evening's headliner

Despite some initial demurrals, Ira put on a great show. Besides several songs with Leah (and Lijah), he also treated us to some Beatles numbers (and other hits of the 60s and 70s), and even played backup for Jack's spirited rendition of the alphabet song.

Just before 9:00 the rain finally came on, just in time to encourage the guests to help clean up and then hit the road.. perfect timing! It was great seeing so many friends and neighbors; I feel grateful for each person who came to spend time with us. And none more so than my parents, especially my dad on his birthday.

my mom and dad sharing a cuddle listening to the music

happy birthday Grandpa David!

Maybe we'll do it again next year.

more

partying like it's 1992

Leah and I don't really do movies. But thanks to their culture loving grandpa, the boys get to experience all the greatest animated hits of the last half-century or more; two weeks ago it was the turn of Aladdin. For the most part, Grandpa provides a complete service: he shows them the films, and talks about them, and plays through the imaginative reenactments, all so we don't have to. But Aladdin's music is a cut above the rest—several cuts above—and it's leaked through to daily life here in our house. After two weeks of requests to sing the songs, including on almost every car trip (our car stereo is out of action, so singing is all we got), yesterday morning I finally broke down and procured the soundtrack. We were treated to three and a half playthroughs before I called a halt and told the boys they had to go outside.

Not that I minded the music: Leah and I wouldn't remember it if it weren't so catchy, and while they were listening (and dancing and acting) the boys left me alone to do work. As Leah remarked, it's funny how they constructed the score as by layering a few stereotypical Arabic instrumental sounds (not entirely racist in effect) over some 20s-style jazz. It sounds good, and would have sounded even better if Robin Williams had sung his lines rather than acted them. Good, that is, except for the Magic Carpet song. Guess which one I had stuck in my head as I was getting ready for bed last night?

And the funny thing is, as I heard the saccharine tones playing in my mind I didn't think of the movie at all; no, what came to mind was listening to KISS 108 radio back in 1993 or whatever. Up next "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" by the Proclaimers, or "All For Love" by Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, and Sting. Good heavens the early 90s were a tough time for music. I had to resort to Wikipedia to recollect the details of the latter gem; but clearly the concept still haunts me. Thank goodness I discovered Sonic Youth a couple years later, and free jazz shortly thereafter, and was able to leave commercial music behind forever.

But yeah, "Friend Like Me" still sounds pretty good. At least for the first three plays in an hour.

more

peace at what cost?

A few months ago, Leah was despairing of ever being able to do anything around the house. Liljah needed constant intervention: he needed someone to read him books, he needed someone to occupy him in play, and most of all he needed someone to be holding him and carrying him around. It was a challenge, especially for the Mama, vastly preferred for all of those roles. Things are better now though. Especially when his brothers aren't messing with his stuff (or distracting him with a more creative game) our littlest boy now has moments where he entertains himself for significant stretches of time. The only catch is, for the most part he can only do it while listening to the soundtrack from Disney's Frozen.

Our last big Frozen binge was in the summer, when the soundtrack album was accidentally the only CD that made it into the car for our trip to Maine. We learned all the songs then—oh, did we learn them—but since then the vividness with which they're seared into my brain has faded some. But just like how, for an addict coming back to the drugs, one hit can revive all the old cravings (or so I'm told), it just took one hearing of the soundtrack this winter to ensure that one or another of the songs would never not be stuck in my head. And we've had lots more than one hearing. I try to keep it under three per day.

I'm also trying to introduce new music that he might enjoy—or re-introduce old favorites, since brass band tunes would be vastly preferable. The Nutcracker would be fine too. So far no luck, but I'll keep on it. Today he didn't entirely reject Paul Simon's Graceland as an alternative to a second consecutive playthrough of Frozen.

I boasted long ago of how we managed to avoid kids music with a young Harvey, but we still got stuck with repetition. I suppose that, just as with foods, kids like to play it safe with their music. They like what they like! (And as an aside, Harvey is still a huge fan of Soul Coughing and specifically "Rollin", so in some cases at least they keep liking it for years.)

It's not that Frozen is bad, per se, it's just that there isn't much to it, especially after the 48th listen. And it's catchy, oh so catchy. Both Lijah and I are completely caught at this point, and only one of us likes it. But I like seeing him play independently, so at least for a little while longer I'm going to keep on playing "fo da fut time inna evah" whenever he asks for it.

more

a wide range of Saturday outings

We were talking with friends of ours last week about what it would be like to move out to the western part of the state to have more land and freedom to farm, but our two outings today show that there are some pretty sweet advantages to living where we do. In the morning, we headed half-an-hour west, to show Mama the beauties of Old Frog Pond Farm that she missed out on last week.

Leah and the boys checking out the porcupine egg

fun for the whole family

It was even more beautiful in the sunshine, and after a picnic lunch the boys were delighted to be there (there was some absence of delight before the food was served).

the family checking out art on the banks of the Old Frog Pond

the beauty of art and nature

And no, Leah's not checking Facebook in that picture... she's looking at the photos she just took herself. While she loves having a new smartphone, she's still totally present for her family.

With the sunshine and drier weather we noticed some things we had missed out on the first time, like a seat carved from granite.

Zion sitting on a stone chair sculpture

this, he likes

We also enjoyed seeing old favorites from last week. The boys were excited to see if Mama could spot the white leaves (Zion was so excited he let the secret out early), and to share the Adam and Eve piece—particularly pointing out how Adam's penis is made from a spring.

Then after a bit of a rest at home the boys and I headed out again to the big city to catch some of the Honk Festival performances (Leah stayed home; she doesn't do cities). We can't do the parade this year—a birthday party takes priority—but we didn't want to miss the anarchistic brass band fun! Looking to avoid parking problems and too much walking, we left the car at church in Cambridge and biked over to the festival. There was music everywhere.

Lijah up close behind the stage watching the band

the Rude Mechanical Orchestra

We stayed for about two hours and listened to four bands up close. Lijah enjoyed dancing to the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, and he loved that the crowd was passing a couple beach balls around (despite Harvey's hopes and thoughtful maneuverings, we never got to bat them ourselves).

the Ten Man Brass Band, from behind

still pretty loud from behind

Next we got right up close behind the Ten Man Brass Band, and even though the horns were facing the other direction it was seriously loud. They played two Youngblood Brass Band songs while we were there, so Lijah was thrilled (he still digs the band); while he was a little too overwhelmed by the crowd to get down and dance, he totally got into the music from the safety of my arms.

Lijah with his hand in the air

waving like he just don't care

Not the best picture, since I was holding him and trying to selfie him with the phone, but let me assure you he was absolutely feeling the beat!

After that we headed over to check out the New Creation Brass Band set, which was even more crowded. The older boys were tiring a bit, and were happy to sit at the back of the throng and enjoy some dinner. You don't get Mama-style bento boxes on an outing with Dada, but at least there's plenty of food.

the boys on the sidewalk with their tupperware supper

music dinner

Ten Man and New Creation were the bands I most wanted to see, so when the latter wrapped up their set I figured it was time to show the boys some fun. Happily there was another band playing by a playground right around the corner. As soon as Harvey and Zion got through the gate they were off, and I only saw them from a distance for the next 20 minutes or so.

Harvey and Zion, seen from above, running on the playground

running wild

The structure was a little to tall for Lijah, so he and I watched the band play on in the gathering twilight.

the Leftist Marching Band playing in the gathering dark

Leftists at dusk

Our two outings were very different, but they did have one thing in common: they're both full of so much artistic vitality that it's hard to leave them to go back to regular life. It doesn't seem fair that Honk is just one weekend; we could use more of that wild anarchist joy (and good music!) spread over the other seasons too! And while Old Frog Pond Farm is open weekends all fall, it can be pretty easy to forget its spirit of quietly surprising creativity during the week—to say nothing of over the winter.

But we'll see what we can do to hold onto them: in between church and the party tomorrow we'll be playing music and adding to the world of adventure we're creating in the woods behind the house. Come over Monday and join in the fun!

more

this moment

Lijah wailing on the mini drum kit in front of the mini piano

he's a musician too

A moment from the week.

playing music

I'm interested in too many things to give any of them the time they deserve. Farming, baking, cycling, adventuring with my family... writing blog posts.... There are moment where I wish I could devote myself entirely to one of them, in order to do things properly; but of course I'd never be able to settle on which one. So I divide my time. Some of my interests, like reading, have fallen by the wayside as I devote every extra moment to hanging out with the kids; and none so completely as playing music.

It's not that I've ever been very good as a musician, but before Harvey was born I had plenty of opportunities to play: in the town band, the worship band at church (our previous church had a low bar for worship participation!), and around the house—Leah didn't complain too much about my noise. After I had a baby to worry about disturbing, though, I couldn't play as much at home. More importantly, all the diaper-changing and whatever meant that I didn't have time to spend two or three evenings a week out of the house, so I gave up playing with other people. And it's playing with other people that makes music interesting and makes me a better player.

So I was delighted this past weekend to attend an Oktoberfest party hosted by friends of ours, where, despite the presence of beer, brats, and pretzels, the main attraction was the communal live music!

Dan holding the cornet amongst other folks playing a living room concert

focusing on the music

The main attraction to those of us playing, at least; everyone else at least endured the noise. I was a little worried going into the evening, since it was so long since I've played at all, to say nothing of improvising with people I mostly didn't know, but in the event I acquitted myself pretty well. It helped that most of them weren't too accomplished, unlike the last time I played with other people: alongside two members of the very polished worship band at our current church I was too nervous to make very much noise. But this time I was able to keep up with the guitarists—mainly by holding my second valve down at all times—and harmonize reasonably with Sarah's trumpet. It was super fun, and it's a good thing Leah wasn't feeling well or I would have kept the kids out super late for not wanting to stop playing.

As it was we left at a very reasonable hour, but now I'm left wanting more. The electric bass is out in the playroom, and I took a few minutes off from painting the trim this afternoon to make some thumping sounds... who do I get to play with next?

more