posts tagged with 'music'

it begins

We're well into rehearsing for the opera now, Harvey, Zion, and me. We have roles now: Zion and I are part of the Dutch crew (I'm Captain Gouda) and Harvey was just promoted to the part of Cecily, with several solo lines. It was slow work getting into the show: with so many songs and dances to learn it started out as just an overwhelming swirl of information. But at this past Sunday's rehearsal we ran through a whole scene for the first time, which gave us enough context to really start practicing at home. Plus I was able to access the practice tracks for us to listen to. What that means, of course, it that all of us—including Elijah, and probably Leah too—now have the music to Scene 1 of The Cutlass Crew firmly established in our brains. Like, so much it's preventing me from sleeping. Or maybe I'm having trouble sleeping for other reasons and while I lie awake the music is all I can think of? Either way, if you hear me singing about Moll Cutpurse, that old thief from the market you'll know why. Until next week. Then we'll have different songs to obsess over.

future opera stars

Yesterday evening we went to the first rehearsal for the North Cambridge Family Opera production we find ourselves taking part in. Despite his relative enthusiasm at the audition Elijah decided he didn't want to do the show so he stayed home; Zion also decided—very decidedly—that he didn't want to either, but I made him go. We make these children do very few things, so when one of them loves singing and acting and has a beautiful voice and great stage presence but resists trying new things sometimes he doesn't get to refuse. Don't worry, he had a fine time! They haven't assigned roles yet, but we have our voice parts so we could start working on the choruses: Harvey is singing alto, I've become a bass in my old age, and Zion—along with all the other preteens—is singing "melody", which means he can sing along with whatever sounds like the melody to him at any point. Which he's quite good at. Besides the singing we also started learning some dances, which was harder, but still fun. This morning Zion was showing us how he remembered the moves better than the rest of us. I think he'll do ok.

no business like

Lately Harvey's been feeling that he'd like to have a chance to try out musical theater. We listen to lots of musicals and sing them too, so it makes sense! Not being in school, though, he doesn't have as much access to the stage as many kids, and I figured he'd have to wait until the summer. But then via the Homeschooling Together email list I learned about the North Cambridge Family Opera Company, holding open auditions for a show about pirates. Everyone who tried out would get in! Sure, opera isn't precisely what Harvey was going for, but it's modern opera, so he didn't take much persuading to give auditioning a try. Plus the auditions were being held Sunday afternoon, just a few minutes walk from church. It's like it was made for him!

It was slightly stressful transitioning from a busy morning at church to getting ready to walk into someone's house and sing for them, but aside from the boys trying to walk briskly holding full cups of hot chocolate ("don't spill on your shirt", I told Harvey; "I did!" he answered) we managed it. And Harvey did great with all aspects of the audition: answering questions about himself, smiling for a photo, and doing his best singing on command. He hadn't had time to prepare anything, but that was fine; they just tested him on pitch-matching, then explored his range by having him sing the first half of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" in many many keys (he wondered afterwards why it was that his voice was so shaky; I told him that's what happens in auditions).

As he finished, the show's music director asked what experience Harvey had with singing. When I told him we just do a lot of music at home, he wondered if I sang too. I had to admit that I did, so he suggested that I should audition myself. I tried to demur, saying that this was Harvey's thing, and plus I had the littler boys to think of, but he wasn't having it. "It's a family opera," he told me. "And they can join too!"

So we all three auditioned. Each of us had to do less than the last: I sang plenty, but much faster than Harvey. Elijah volunteered to go before Zion and did fine; just a couple minutes was enough to show off all his strengths and limitations. Zion stood behind a chair and did his best not to take part at all, but he loves singing so much he couldn't resist singing along when it was supposed to be Elijah's turn, and then he was persuaded to give just enough to give a sense of his considerable range. Then of course we all had to get photographed and measured (Harvey told us how it was done).

Zion and Elijah still aren't convinced that they want to be in an opera. In fact, right now they might be convinced that they don't. But we were all so proud and happy Sunday afternoon as we left the auditions, that I hope they change their mind. They're both fantastic singers, and getting to be part of a big production seems like a great opportunity. I told them we'd all go to the organizational meeting and see what it's like; that'll be towards the end of November. Stay tuned!


more music in our lives

It's been so long since our last Honk parade that we almost forgot Honk was a thing! Well it is, and this weekend it was back after two pandemic years off. Thankfully Leah's dad alerted us that it was going on and we were able to make it to Cambridge Common Sunday after church to take in the scene.

cloth HONK signs being carried at the head of the parade

back again in our regular spot!

Even better, we brought some friends along! Despite some nervousness on my part we got there with plenty of time to spare, so the kids had some time to play at the best playground. They're the biggest now, but never mind that, it was still lots of fun. For a little while at least; then we headed over to Mass Ave to stake out a spot and wait for the parade. We were super early, but since nobody had bothered to restrict parking along the street there wasn't actually that much room to sit. Which means that after we found a good spot lots of other people came and stood blocking our view up the street. Boo.

But never mind that, we could see things right in front of us, and there was plenty to see. Bands, of course (though not as many as usual); also dancers, kids on stilts, hula-hoop experts, and activists. A lot of people concerned about rents. Only one group passed out candy, but that was enough for us all to get a piece, and there was also a group passing out hot dogs. Seems good!

Zion eating a hot dog

his favorite

After the parade the majority view held that going into Harvard Square for Octoberfest would be too much, so we headed back to the car. Plus there was some strong interest in making some music ourselves! So after I put some lunch together for the gang—muffins and cake at church plus candy and hot dogs at the parade were all just snacks—we grabbed some five-gallon buckets and trash cans and did some serious drumming. Some neighborhood friends joined in too, and then when we were done with drumming one of them went home and got his trumpet so we could do some more melodic music too. It was pretty awesome! Honk is definitely inspiring. I'm glad it's back!


our school is music and outdoor education

Years ago, as I looked forward towards a time when I had older children—children who could read and divide and make responsible choices for themselves at least some of the time—I imagined that managing this project of home education would get easier. Wasn't that stupid! As it turns out, even though Harvey and Zion can do all those things, it's actually kind of a challenge to manage learning plans for boys who, were they in school, would be in 7th and 5th grade. It takes up a fair amount of my time. Not that I mean to complain: it's all pretty good fun. I like coming up with word problems and art projects and trying to get the boys to care about writing (well, that last one is a little stressful). But when it comes down to it, what has seemed the most important this winter has been music and spending time outside.

You've heard plenty about the outside part, so here's a music update. Zion has started trumpet; he's in the early stages of his study, so he's making noises that only a brass player trained in early education could enjoy (hey, that's me!). I wrote out a few exercises for him, then remembered I hated writing music and bought an elementary method book. Since the fall he's been doing great at learning to read music on recorder, so he was able to jump right into learning fingerings and building up his face muscles and breath control. He's having fun with it, too; long may it last.

Harvey, for his part, is a multi-instrumentalist. He hasn't picked up reading music as quickly as Zion (or maybe he's working on it at a higher level), but he's great at playing by ear and remembering the songs he's figured out. He's using the recorder as his melody instrument, and has advanced to being able to play in both octaves in several keys. He plays banjo with my guitar for fun, and is reading chord sheets and expanding the range of chords he can play. And on bass he's moving beyond memorizing songs to reading chords and tabs. Up next, learning to read bass clef! (well, maybe in a couple months). All that and he also composes tunes electronically on Garage Band! While he still gets frustrated sometimes when things are hard—because that's his personality—he's starting to reach the point where, instead of just learning his instruments, he can actually play music. That's where the fun is! And it's super fun for me too, so I wholeheartedly approve.


bands back in Bedford!

There were no concerts in Bedford last summer because of the pandemic. Probably anywhere else either. Here, they started up again today and the folks scheduling them got things going right by kicking off the series with The Party Band. Of course you know we had to be there!

There was a moment of panic just before the show when it started raining. It's been raining pretty much nonstop this month but the forecast was clear, so it felt particularly unfair. I was determined to not move from our spot in protest, but for a moment the rain got significant enough that we all scurried for cover under a tree. But the band wasn't deterred, and took the stage (well, the grass) under steady light rain to start the show. As they finished their first song the rain ended, and a rainbow appeared in the sky directly behind them. Really!

the Party Band with a rainbow behind them

an omen of good music!

The Party Band plays great danceable brass band music, so I really don't know how anyone would want to just sit and listen to it. But then, I don't know how folks in Bedford do a lot of the things they do, and overall it wasn't a crowd who wanted to move. So I felt kind of silly as I moved and grooved up in the front row. But not that silly: that's what you do at a brass band show! The band certainly wanted to get people up and dancing, so I imagined that they appreciated that at least one adult was actually into the music (lots of kids were dancing all over the place, of course). And that was confirmed at the end of the show, when the band applauded for me! Good times. We'll go to the other concerts this summer I expect, but there's no way they're going to be as good.



I was going to write something this evening after everyone else went to bed, but instead I just watched all the other videos from the Marsh Family. My mom clued me in about them a couple months ago, but aside from watching one on her phone I didn't get into them... my loss, because they're all really delightful! We spent some today working on our own rendition of "Have the New Jab"... we've got a way to go to reach their level of talent, but Zion can belt it out like Tess and Ella and in Harvey we've got a banjo-bass double threat. Is viral video stardom in our future? Well, probably not, because none of the boys actually want to be on camera. But we're looking forward to lots more fun listening to, and playing, these songs!

our Christmas performance

While I've seen a bunch of Christmas trees out on the curb already (trash pickup was today in Bedford) it really still is Christmas, so it's not too late to show off a Christmas delight we participated in. Way back in late October I volunteered to be part of our Church's prerecorded Christmas choir—I was excited for the opportunity, because I'm usually too busy with Kids Church to participate. But when it has to all be recorded well before Thanksgiving? That I can do! In theory, at least: I did wait until the day it was due, as usual. But I got it done! If it was just me, I wouldn't bother to tell the world, but for one of the two songs the whole family got in there—and they liked us so much we're the last people to disappear at the final fade out. Check us out!

(I have to say, though, the sound of the choir is so good that it makes me think Matt, our music director, used ringers for the audio. Like maybe a prerecorded track by another choir? But never mind, we look good and that's definitely for real.)

musical togetherness

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.

Honk for kids

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!

a young female trombone player rockin out in the parade

Honk spirit!

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.

a young girl amidst the Party Band saxophonists

enthralled by the music

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 gang on the side of the road waiting for the parade

ready for the action

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.