posts tagged with 'music'
On Sunday afternoon I was feeling wiped out from a stressful morning of virtual church, so I wanted to do something that would be a bit of a challenge while not in any way resembling work that I had to do. Playing guitar was fun, but not quite pointless enough... then I had the idea to dig out the fiddle from the back of Leah's closet. She got it years ago—before kids—and we mostly forgot we even owned it, but it was there and still in fine playing shape. I rosined up the bow and squawked out a couple scales and tunes—about 15 minutes' worth, before Leah had had enough and came to show me how it's done. She hasn't played in a long time, but she's still better than me, so I retired to the guitar. Our repertoire wasn't wide (we did rock a duo on "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"!) but still it was fun playing together.
Then today we took it up a notch—three notches!—by adding the boys to our ensemble. Harvey's been learning some chords on the banjo, and Zion and Lijah joined in on harmonicas. We played "I'll Fly Away", and it was fantastic. Although when I told Leah I was writing about it this evening she wanted to make sure there was no audio record of our playing. It'll be a couple weeks before we reach that point.
The best thing about the Honk Festival every October, besides the music, is how it lets everybody who wants let to just go out there with all their beautiful artistic energy. I don't like the phrase "let your freak flag fly," but it does kind of fit. I can't rock a tutu like some people, to say nothing of stilts, but I do love watching and being part of the action. And most of all I like watching the young people. Because some of them can really get into it!
The parade always has tons of young marchers, and yesterday was no exception: some playing instruments, some dancing, some in strollers... all getting to be right in the middle of things. The kids on the sidelines could get into it too, high-fiving politicians and clowns and petting dragons. And dancing.
Of course, for the real dancing action you needed to go to Davis Square on Saturday. I did, and I spent a blissful hour jumping around to the wonderful varied music of the Party Band and a slightly less blissful hour moving as much as I could in the middle of the crowd listening to the Young Fellaz Brass Band. I got there late for their set—they started right as the Party Band finished but a couple blocks away—and while I did my best to push my way to the front I was stymied about two rows back. If only I was a kid myself I could have just squirmed through, even among the musicians, like one girl did at the Party Band set.
Everybody loved it, of course. My own kids didn't make it on Saturday—they didn't want to leave playing with friends for the uncertain prospect of listening to lots of loud music and maybe being bored. I was sad to not have them there, especially as I watched all the other little hippy kids having such a great time, but then again I wouldn't have been able to do nearly as much dancing with them around. And they were there in force on Sunday for the parade!
The only sad thing about the day was that this year there were no bands playing Sunday in Harvard Square except on the main stage. The main stage is nonsense, completely packed up with people watching bands shuffle on and off for 15-minute sets; the hour-long side stages were what we've always enjoyed. Not this year. We did manage to catch 20 minutes of the charmingly-named "Bolschewistische Kurkapelle Schwarz-Rot," from Germany, and Lijah and I did a little dancing... but it wasn't quite enough. We're practicing music at home now, so we can start our own band. Seems good.
Leah sings to Zion at bedtime, and lately the songs he asks for aren't your typical lullabies (he also likes to sing along). Last week sometime she somehow got to singing "Superman's Song" by Crash Test Dummies, a band you may remember if you went to high school in the 90s. So then I got to enjoy a couple days of the boys singing it intermittently, which is how long it took me to actually realize what it was. When I finally did realize, yesterday evening after bedtime, I had to look up the chords so I could play it for myself on the guitar. And then of course I had to play it for the boys as soon as they woke up this morning, and then again a couple times throughout the day. The best part is I needed a capo to play it as originally recorded, but I don't have one... but I do have a pencil and a rubber band, which totally did the job. I still think I'll pick up a real capo the next time I go by the music store though.
This evening some friends were over for dinner, so naturally I had to give them a rendition as well. Since most of them are about my age we had ourselves a nice little 90s sing-along with tunes from The Cranberries, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Indigo Girls, and more! Also "These Boots Are Made for Walking", which isn't from the 90s but which is still fun. Note that everyone who answered when I asked about a song they remembered from high school was female.
After they left I had "Linger" stuck in my head for a couple minutes before "Superman's Song" made a comeback. I may be singing it to myself for the next week. Maybe by then I'll know the words!
Last Thursday was the first of four summer concerts here in town. When they published the schedule I was pretty underwhelmed, but when Thursday afternoon rolled around we headed up anyway... it's hard to pass up a party! And I'm glad we did, because it ended up being a fantastic time.
Besides the big slide and another bounce house (well, bounce obstacle course really) there were big Connect Four games and corn hole, and lots folks to hang out with: it seemed like almost everyone we know in town was there! And then of course there was the music too, which was surprisingly better than I had expected. I don't always trust the quality of "Caribbean music", but The Kolors Band had enough bass in the mix and plenty of energy to make things fun. I wanted to dance, of course, and the band wanted everyone up and dancing... sadly, in Bedford people don't, generally. But you can always count on kids, and once the band realized that nobody else but the kids was actually going to interact with the music they gave up on the rest of the crowd and had a little dance party for under-tens (and me). Here's Lijah getting down; you can also see us for a couple seconds in this video!
The show closed with a full 15 minutes of limbo madness, as pictured here. Amazing! There's no way tomorrow's show can possibly be as good. We'll probably still go anyways. Yay for summer music.
This evening the boys and I took in a band concert at the high school in town. Well, most of it; we ducked out a little early, 8:00 being pumpkin hour for some of us. The show featured all the wind band performers Bedford Public Schools have to offer, from 5th graders to high school. It's impressive how far the kids progress over that span! Unfortunately we missed the high school wind band, the organizers having decided to save the best for last (and/or reward folks for sitting through the performances of less-accomplished players). But we did get to hear the big kids playing in the marching band and the jazz band. Surprisingly, the marching band was much better. Not more technically proficient, maybe, but they sure sold their Buckjump a lot more convincingly than the jazz kids did with Blue Train. Learning to swing is hard.
If only the concert had started at 5:00 instead of 7:00, we would have loved the whole thing! It's hard being out of step with the wider scheduling of our culture...
Lately when Mama has been driving the boys in her car they've been listening to an album by the band Cake that was on heavy rotation in my life some time back in the '90s. I haven't heard any of the tracks myself this time around—when we all go somewhere together we take the van, and the CD isn't in it. And yet it feels like more than half the time now I have one of the songs stuck in my head, thanks to hearing the boys sing it. Their version aren't that good, but they're enough to trigger a pretty good recall of those tunes I last heard, oh, 20 years ago. So that's something I've been thinking about...
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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"...
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!