Monday, May 30, 2016

"Happy" Memorial Day

I have a friend for whom wishes of a "Happy Memorial Day" or a "Happy Veterans' Day" really grate on her nerves.  These are not bubbly greeting card holidays.  They are meant to be secular versions of true "holy days" used to contemplate sacrifices made on our behalf.  For many they are simply a chance to enjoy a little time off, but my son finds it amusing that people could overlook their intended meaning and usually takes a moment to try and suppress laughter while saying, "Hey, Mom!  'Happy' Memorial Day!"

I don't usually write posts on Memorial Day.  I felt obligated to do so when I was a blogger for Babble and their only resident military family voice, and this post on the subject still expresses how I feel most accurately.  But I decided I will take a moment today to acknowledge what things have changed, for better or worse, since I wrote that Memorial Day post back in 2010.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Latin Review

Come June, Quinn and I will have been taking Latin for one year.  It's one hour a week after school up at the university, with usually one week off a month for a scheduling conflict.  The teacher is wonderful, and Quinn and I meet him in a study room at the library.

Quinn by our parking meter
It's fun having that bit of time with just Quinn.  We have a routine that involves laughing over whether the parking meter will give us a receipt or not (it rarely does, so Quinn collects the ones we do get), pretending to trip over a mysterious bit of useless curb on the way to the library, and critiquing the selections in the vending machine if we have to wait for our lesson.  (Observation about candy choices:  Most of them are variations anymore.  There are usually a couple of kinds of Starburst, a few different M&Ms, consistently three types of Skittles, a variety of Cheetos, several shapes of pretzels...  The Snickers even come in different versions now.  The only unique selections seem to be the Reese's Cups and the odd Take 5 or Zero bar.  You're welcome.)

Quinn on the tiny curb
We also got a good laugh one day out of a whole bunch of caution signs in the entryway which looked like they presented more of a hazard than they were attempting to prevent.  Quinn and I find amusement everywhere, so even without the actual Latin lessons we enjoy our weekly outing.

I hadn't planned on taking Latin myself, and it's humbling to watch Quinn do so much better with it than I do.  I can't tell if it's because I'm just old, or if he's that much smarter than I am.  (Probably both.)  Regardless, Latin has turned out to be really enjoyable.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

"That's good, right?"

I'm reluctant to hit "publish" on this post because it's one of those things where I know someone out there will think I am whining, and I'm not.  I just feel like putting into words part of my experience that I think is misunderstood.

Let me start by saying I love my work.  I am very lucky to get to do what I enjoy, and to run a business with my husband.  That's all good.  I don't take any of those good things for granted.


I am swamped lately.  Swamped isn't fun.  And when people ask anymore how business is going and I say it's really busy they nearly all look pleased for me and say the same thing:  "That's good, right?"

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Clef Pride

I love playing the viola.

I don't love having to constantly explain what a viola is, but I figure with each person I take the time to tell, that's one more potential viola fan, so it's worth the effort.

One of the things that makes playing viola somewhat special is that we use an unusual clef.  Violists use alto clef.  "What's that?" the non-violists out there may be asking?  Well, let's start by just explaining what clefs in general are:
Alto, Treble, Bass, and Tenor Clefs
Most people are familiar with a "treble" or "G" clef.  It gets used often as a symbol for all music, even though it only applies to music in the upper register.  A good many people also recognize the "bass" or "F" clef, which applies to music in the lower register.  (Pianists use both of these at once, with the right hand usually playing in treble clef, and the left usually in bass.)

The job of a clef is to tell you what the lines and spaces on the staff mean.  (The staff is that set of five lines and four spaces that the notes are arranged on.)  Now, clefs are technically moveable, which is why they have more than one name.  A "treble clef" is really only called that when it is set on the staff in the position where we are most accustomed to seeing it.  The important part of that symbol is the tail bit on the inside of the spiral, because it overlaps the second line up from the bottom of the staff which is the note G above middle C.  This is why just on its own away from a staff it's really a "G clef" because its job is to show you where G is, but it rarely if ever moves, so calling it a treble clef is fine.  If you moved that symbol higher or lower on the staff you'd be shifting the designated location of that G, and therefore all of the other notes as well.  (The "bass" or "F" clef shows you where the note F below middle C is--it's the line between the two dots.  It also rarely moves.)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Varnishing in Chicago

In April I was lucky enough to attend a week-long violin varnishing workshop.  I really enjoyed the one I attended three years ago in Boston, and decided the time was right to repeat the experience.  Only after I committed to it did I find out that this year they were holding it in Chicago!

On the one hand, that was great because it was incredibly convenient.  For nearly all of it I commuted home at night, which meant I was able to still attend an evening orchestra rehearsal, I could check in with the kids in person, and sleep in my own bed.  On the other hand, driving back and forth to Chicago every day was exhausting, and there is something to packing up and leaving town and not being distracted by your normal everyday life while trying to immerse yourself in another experience.  Overall, though, it was great to have the workshop so comparatively close.

The workshop was held at the Chicago School of Violin Making.  I have several friends who got their training there, and my own teacher taught at CSVM for years before moving to Wisconsin which is where he took me on as a student.   I enjoyed having a chance to work in that space for a week and get a feel for what that environment is like.

The workshop was led again by Joe Robson, who is a varnish maker, and luthiers Marilyn Wallin and Todd Goldenburg.  The dozen or so of us in attendance spanned the range from people oil varnishing for the first time to accomplished builders.  It was a really pleasant and interesting group.