A brief discourse on digital tuners

Between the cornetto and the guitar, I decided I really, really needed a digital tuner. Back when I was a good musician (high school) a digital tuner cost over $100, so I lusted after one but had to borrow the one from high school or tuned to the piano/oboe. ($100 is still plenty of money, but it was even more back then!) These two instruments I’m attempting to learn are hard to tune properly, and I’m playing by myself, and my piano is more than a quarter tone off when it’s been recently tuned. So I decided I was practicing enough to justify spending a hundred bucks on a digital tuner, twenty years after I first wanted one.

That was when I discovered that a digital tuner now costs around $10. 

The future is an amazing place.

By the way, after several long and arduous months, I have finally graduated to my first song on guitar. It is ‘Scarborough Fair’. This is a milestone, my friends! I have hope that in a year or two, I might be able to make it through at tempo, as soon as I learn how to do an “F” chord. (Not in my homework for this week – next week!)

A New England maid up to London has strayed

Imagine a scene:

A woman in a London flat. The flat is near the center of the city – between Moorgate and the Barbican. The flat is a nice one – it has a private porch, two bedrooms, a vast number of switches (including some she can’t find), a very large tv with cable and a well-stocked kitchen. She arrived early in the morning. She was met by a colleague who showed her the key attributes of the apartment, took her grocery shopping for perishables, showed her where she should present herself Monday and after assuring himself she was well established – bid her have a great weekend.

Yeah, it seems pretty unreal to me too, but here I am on a very European leather settee watching Germany vs Portugal on the BBC. There are even tea lights people. Tea lights.

The number one reason my husband wishes he were with me
The number one reason my husband wishes he were with me

A few months ago, my vp announced that he wanted to strengthen the ties between the UK office and the Boston office and called for volunteers for an exchange program. I wasted little time putting my name into the ring. Then I blinked, and all of a sudden it was time for me to go. I hastily shoved some clothing into a bag, verified that my passport was up to date, worked a full day Friday and flew out. That seems like a million years ago now, but in truth I haven’t slept since then.

I figured that as long as I had a free room (corporate apartment), and the company was paying for my airfare, it made sense to go a little early and grab a weekend in London. By myself. Doing stuff I want to do. (The hard part being, of course, winnowing it down to the the handful of things I would like to do well instead of the million things I could be doing.) So today I landed in Heathrow at 6:30 am local time… 1:30 in the morning according to my body. I’d grabbed a catnap on the plane, so didn’t feel too awful. However, when I went to get some cash out, I got re-jected!!! So I used my credit card at one of those currency places to get cash instead (it took forever – the guy was a trainee and had his manager standing over his shoulder and talking him through ever button click) and proceeded into Paddington station. Fast forward through a very lost cabbie (I thought they were supposed to take a really hard test? But then again, I suppose London has changed a lot since the Blitz, which is clearly when this guy started driving.) Then there was the aforementioned being-shown-around. I had just said farewell to my guide (who has spent the previous night in our flat) and went to Starbucks to buy some caffeine to keep me going.

“Hmm.” I thought. “Where’s my Visa?” Oh dear. I had left it on the counter at the currency place. Now, I have three credit cards: a Visa I use for everything, my debit card, and an American Express I have mostly for shopping at Costco. Well, my Visa was back in Heathrow and my debit card was being blocked. And you know those adds about, “But they don’t take American Express”? They were talking about London. I got back to the flat and attempted to reach my bank, someone. It took me 20 minutes to figure out why Google talk and Skype weren’t working (see also: hadn’t slept). When I finally could call out, everything was closed. At home it was 6 am on a Saturday. (Because of course my cell phone doesn’t work at all in the UK.) I finally managed to figure out how to call the currency place and verify that they do have my credit card, and they have put it aside for me. But now I have this, uh, creative tension. In some places, I have money. If they take Amex, I’m golden. I have money on my Starbucks card, which works here. And if I actually got in any sort of bind, I could call one of my UK colleagues and they would rescue me. On Monday the bank should unfreeze my account. But for tomorrow, unless its Amex or Starbucks, I have 20 pounds to my name (and a nicely stocked kitchen). Creative tension.

So what did I do with my day in London? Well, to my everlasting delight Shakespeare’s Globe takes American Express (for ticketing only, not for the gift shop). It was 11:30 by the time I was ready to leave the apartment and there was a 2 pm matinee of King Henry V – my favorite of the histories. I walked about a mile and a half across the Millennium bridge to the theater, walked up to the box office and asked if they had any tickets left. Sadly, the only tickets they had were the best in the house! So I ended up getting a front row, top balcony seat. With an hour and a half to to spend until it was time to be seated and the Tate Museum next door, I decided to check it out. My neighbor, a graphic designer, had abjured me in the strongest language to go see it. So I did. I decided to focus on one gallery instead of walking quickly through all of them, and found myself in a surrealist exhibit of dreamscapes. I liked some, didn’t like others, thought some were fascinating and others more about the artist statement than the art. But it was fun. I rarely go to art museums, and I enjoyed the experience.

My illicit picture of a cornettist
My illicit picture of a cornettist

Then – bliss! There was a renaissance wind band playing in prep for the show! Haut instruments! Cornetto and sackbutt, as well as recorders and lute. Huzzah! I got one illicit picture before being notified “no photography”. Then the play. This was the opening performance, I believe. There were a few moments when that became clear – one or two lines less expertly delivered than others. But it was a find production. The limitations of the Elizabethan in daytime are interesting. Many of the tricks of modern theater were unavailable. They did use some of the tricks of ancient theater, with smoke bombs for cannons. The only other note I had was how unbelievably distracting the helicopters that hover over the Thames like locusts are. One nice thing about Ashland is the town quiets down for the theater. The same cannot be asked of London.

I took the long way back, although fatigue was catching up to me after two and a half hours of Shakespeare. (Crispin Crispian day! If only you didn’t fall in the middle of October I would celebrate it as one of my fake holidays!) I walked the Thames down to London Bridge and crossed over there, stopping at the lovely Liverpool Station for Cornish Pasties for dinner.

Snapped on my walk home using my phone, which is currently only a camera and Bejeweled device
Snapped on my walk home using my phone, which is currently only a camera and Bejeweled device

And now, to bring things full circle, I’m watching Portugal vs. Germany and telling you about what I’m doing! I’m pretty sure this would be a better blog post if I had slept more than 3 hours in the last 30 or so, but I figure bad is better than none at all.

Jubilate Musica

My first semester of freshman year in college, I took Music History 204 (having skipped the prerequisites due to 6 years of orchestra and a strong passion for music history). Professor Stoner walked us through about 600 years of music, from “Hey, we can write this down so we don’t forget”, through hocketing to the Baroque. I fell for early music, and I fell hard. I still haven’t recovered from that first passionate discovery.

My sophomore year, having quite quickly exhausted the early music resources of a school that definitely wasn’t strongest in music and definitely definitely wasn’t strongest in early music, I did an independent study on Wind Instrumental Ensembles in Italy from 1450 to 1620. That website is actually how (why) I learned HTML, which led to a 10 year career as a programmer. I digress. I love love love early music. Of all early music, I love best the wind ensemble music of 16th century Italy. Of that, I *heart* Giovanni Gabrieli’s wind ensemble compositions most of all, and daydream about hearing them with authentic instruments. I made my husband go with me to Venice, just to stand in St. Marks and imagine what it sounded with Gabrieli’s opposing choirs.

So when I got a note from one of my favorite local early music ensembles (Blue Heron) mentioning in a small postscript that their conductor was going to be leading a bunch of young musicians playing period instruments in a program of Gabrieli and Praetorius, well…. I had to be there.

It was with a light heart this morning, in summer sunlight, that I turned my steel chariot to transport me to Back Bay for the concert. I had planned on taking the T, but I was running a bit behind and figured that I’d probably be able to find street parking, and if I didn’t, I could park in one of the lots down there. That was ok with me. Heaven forbid I be late. There were cornetti and sackbuts! Tickets sold at the door! Late was not an option.

About halfway down 93 I noticed that there were a lot, and I mean a LOT of small planes and helicopters circling over the city. I passed a digital billboard with yellow, black and a “B” in the middle. It was 11:25 am on Saturday the 18th.


Reckoning that my original course was still my best option, I pressed on to the city, encountering surprisingly little traffic. But when I got to Back Bay, route after route was closed for the parade. And parking? Completely non-existent. I crawled through the streets looking desperately for pay parking, meter parking or permit parking where I would only get ticketed, not towed. How horrible and appalling it would be to drive past the church where this music was to take place (several times) and yet be denied! I started to panic. Then, just when my situation was getting dire, I found a great spot at a meter (no charge for weekends) which didn’t even require me to use my (non-existent) parallel parking skills. The day was saved! I rushed breathless to the church.

Taking advantage of my single status, I ante’d up my $10 and walked in. There was no assigned seating. I noticed, Presbyterian-like, that only a few people were sitting in the very front row. I made myself one of them. The church quickly filled behind me.

And oh glory! There were cornetti and sackbuts! There were recorders and theorbos. There were bass viols and violones. There was a harpsichord and organ. And there were glorious singers – clear crisp sopranos, warm confident mezzos, firm authoritative tenors and profound basses. They sang in Latin and German. There was counterpoint across the balconys. In fact, the only downside of this concert is that I was directly under the balcony that held the sackbuts, so I didn’t get to watch them except for one piece where they were in the center area of the stage. One of my favorite conductors (Scott Metcalfe who [how cool is this?] does a conducted sing-along once a year so interested amateurs like myself can remember how much fun it is to make music. He’s an EXCELLENT rehearser!) was center stage, animated, bringing the musicians along with him.

For an hour and a half, I glowed. My heart sang. At several Gabrieli chords, tears came to my eyes. It was superb.

The glow has come through the day with me. I feel nourished and restored. I feel extremely tempted to pull out my cornetto and see if I can get good enough to get called in. (Apparently, talking with one of the cornettists afterwards, they’re extremely hard to come by and perhaps the standard is lower than it might be for other musicians.) The day was clear and warm. The city was full of celebrations. And I had the sounds of Gabrieli in my ears.

These are the moments of our life to which we aspire, and which we must hold firmly in memory. It was glorious.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior.