Prelude to a sandwich

I’ve been threatening for some time to compare the band YES to a sandwich.

It turns out to be harder than I first thought, not because the comparison isn’t apt but because I seem to have rather a lot to say about YES (not as much about sandwiches, but that might change if I really get going).

This has made it tricky to get started. I’m not quite convinced that my yammerings about YES are anything the world has been waiting desperately to hear. However, I seem desperate to yammer, and I’m thinking I should finally get it out of my system so I can move on to other things. This is going to be too long; didn’t read for most of you, and that’s ok. You could go take a nap instead. I think you’ve earned it.

The rest of you intrepid villains may follow me under the fold.

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Today’s reading

Do you ever have one of those days where you read two articles in a row that inadvertently seem to play off each other? Today I read “Why Do Americans Love to Blame Teachers?” and then “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture,” and I’ve enjoyed the feel of them bouncing around together in my brain.

Teachers are – or are supposed to be – the quintessential grown-ups. They’re second only to our parents in training us, disciplining us, and being figures of awe. I have long wondered whether the vilification of teachers (something I think of as a recent phenomenon, but that first article demonstrates is not) isn’t a knee-jerk “you’re not my boss any more” kind of reaction. People remember chafing against restrictions more than they appreciate the patience that was shown them.

The “Death of Adulthood” article is a bit of a slog if you’re not a dude, but he does eventually get around to the female side of things. What interested me most is that while he argues (effectively, I think) that American adult literature is pretty puerile, he doesn’t bother to analyse actual YA literature – the books that are so popular – at all. He as much as says he doesn’t read it, which is why he probably doesn’t realize that while adult literature may be pining for a return to lost youth, YA literature (in my opinion) is a road-map toward growing up.

Maybe people do feel unmoored without the old order and the patriarchs to enforce it, but I think YA literature addresses that. It’s hopeful literature, to my mind. Here are the things that really matter; here is the way we overcome our limitations, work together, and build a future worth having. The world is full of possibility and potential. I don’t think you’re ever too old to need a reminder of these things.


If it ain’t Baroque…

My son has just started guitar lessons again after taking the summer off. His old teacher left to pursue a PhD, but we’ve found a new teacher who can teach both electric (heavy metal) and classical. If it were up to B, of course, he’d be all Metallica all the time, but we mean parents like him to have some variety of technique.

This is the long way around to what I really want to talk about, which is Baroque music. B’s new classical piece is “Agitato” by Mauro Giuliani. Here’s a very serious dude playing the song in outer space:

(I love how he maintains that absolute deadpan face while galaxies swirl out of control behind him. Also: well played, serious dude!)

Anyway, this song is simultaneously easy and challenging for B. Easy because the rhythm is very regular and there aren’t a lot of position changes, challenging because there are a lot of accidentals. The thing is, the accidentals are absolutely predictable if you’re familiar with Baroque music. Every time B gets stuck, or plays a wrong note, I’m able to sing the correct note for him — and not because I’m already familiar with the piece. I’ve now listened to Mr. Deadpan’s performance about six times, but before that I really wasn’t familiar with this.

But this is either the beauty or the tedium of Baroque music (depending whom you ask) — composers had essentially just invented the circle of fifths, and they liked to ride that thing like a merry-go-round. I enjoy it. I find it soothing. Back when I played cello, I used to rank Baroque composers by how predictable they were. Bach is one of the all-time greats because he’ll surprise you; Vivaldi, on the other hand, really only ever wrote one song, in my opinion. Kind of like Boston. You can turn “More Than a Feeling” into “Foreplay/Long Time” without breaking a sweat.

Which is not to say I don’t enjoy Vivaldi. I totally do, and – who am I kidding? – Boston, too.

Handel was always my favourite Baroque composer. He seems predictable until you actually have to learn the parts, and then you realize he’s way weirder than you ever imagined.

Here’s another of my favourites, though, and it’s about as predictable as they come: Corelli’s Christmas Concerto. It got a lot of play at home when I was a kid, and I’ve performed in it as well.

YE GODS, IS THAT AN ARCHLUTE?? Actually, it’s probably a Baroque tenor lute, but still! We didn’t have no stinkin’ lute in my university orchestra, more’s the pity. Anyway, I think I should make B listen to this. It’s got all the best Baroque tropes, used to good effect.


A September of the mind

Hello, friends! It’s been a while. Life is keeping me busy these days. I don’t know whether news from my province reaches you, wherever you are, but here in British Columbia our teachers are on strike. School was supposed to have started September 2nd, but the children are still home.

I lay the lion’s share of blame on our provincial government: they have been under-funding the school system the entire time we’ve lived here; they have deliberately provoked strikes; they’ve broken contracts and ignored the court rulings saying this was against the law. In the 6 years my son has been in school we’ve seen a steady erosion of services. First they stopped serving lunch, and then they cut back on teacher aides and support staff. B needed speech therapy, and we couldn’t get enough from the school; we had to go private. Luckily, we could afford it, but what about all the families who can’t? B needs support in two areas, but we’re told we have to choose one.  It’s a travesty.

It’s rumoured that the province wants to destroy public education so they can introduce a school voucher system. Like in Sweden? That doesn’t inspire confidence.

Anyway, sorry to get all political on you. The upshot of this is that I am home-schooling the lad for the foreseeable future. I’ve heard some folks are eschewing academic work right now in solidarity with teachers. I get that, but think that in fact it would be more helpful to teachers if the kids come in already used to work and ready to go. So far, it’s going okay — where “okay” is what you get when you average out The Best of Times and The Worst of Times.

We’re having a Dickens novel of a time, apparently. That’s probably appropriate.

It’s not very conducive to writing, however, or at least not yet. If we kept at it long enough, our day would surely fall into a routine (ye gods, I hope he’s not out of school THAT long), but so far it’s all pretty labour-intensive. That’s one reason I’m here blogging — I’m trying to reclaim some space in the day (and in my own brain). When he was a baby, blogging was the way I kept up the discipline of writing every day.

I’ve also been getting up early to write, and have completed a book proposal! My agent is sending it to the usual suspects today, and I hope they find it promising. It’s another novel set in Goredd, dealing mostly with new characters, although there’s a bit of Phina in it as well. I don’t want to say too much, because things could still change, but fingers crossed that they give me the go-ahead. I really want to write this book.

If home-schooling is teaching anyone in this household anything, it’s teaching me that I really want to get writing again.

 


I fathom the bucket

I thought I would escape the ice bucket challenge unscathed, since everyone who knows me personally lives in fear of my basilisk’s glare. However, fellow writer and alert reader Amanda Fowler has called me out, so here I am getting silly in support of ALS research. I sing. You’re all doomed.

You’ll notice I didn’t explicitly tag anyone in the video. My camera operator (who came down with the giggles there at the end) BEGGED me to challenge him and has just run to the gas station for ice, so he’s my main challengee (and yes, we’re both donating).

As for the rest of you scurvy knaves, if you watched this video and had a good laugh, consider yourselves challenged, and even if you don’t dump ice on your heads, please throw a few bucks at the ALS Association. If we all do a little good, it adds up to a lot of good. The important thing is to get out there, engage with the world, and use your powers for awesome.


Shostakovich’s Fifth

An astute reader recently asked me whether I’d had a particular song in mind for the “Invocation” Seraphina plays at Prince Rufus’s funeral. I did, in fact: there’s a moment late in the first movement of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 where a flute plays a plaintive melody, echoed by French horn.

If you’re not familiar with Shostakovich’s Fifth, here’s a decent interpretation by our old friend Lenny Bernstein:

If you’re the impatient sort, the flute/French horn duet is at about 14:00. That said, I really think you should listen to everything that comes before it, rather than skipping ahead. It’s so much more beautiful if you’ve suffered through endured fully experienced the music that came before. It’s actually quite an easy listen for a 20th century composer. I almost wonder, as I’m listening again (for the billionth time in the last two weeks) whether someone like John Williams didn’t find influences and inspirations here for the Star Wars soundtrack. It’s that level of listenable, is all I’m saying, full of grandeur and drama, always in motion. Also, Lenny is fun to watch. He’s got kind of a Peter Falk thing going on sometimes, which amuses me.

This symphony, along with Brahms’s 4th, was my go-to music for writing when I was a teenager. I would sit on the couch with headphones on and scrawl terrible, terrible fantasy novels in spiral notebooks. I hardly dare describe how terrible they were, but the music that fuelled them was not. One thing I love about this piece is that it has a bit of everything: anguish, hope, terror, beauty. There’s a diabolical march at 10:54 that gives me chills. I had better stop enumerating all my chills right there; there’s really no point counting. I’ve got chills enough for an influenza epidemic.

Also worth knowing is the history of this piece. It gets its own Wikipedia entry. The short version: Shostakovich fell from political grace – a dangerous thing to do in Stalin’s USSR – and this symphony is his attempt to give the Party the kind of inspirational, uplifting,”classical heroism” they demanded.

Or is it? Did Shostakovich comply, or not? How do we know what a piece of orchestral music really “means”? Is meaning something the listener brings to music, or something the composer puts in it? What about Lenny, what’s his role? How much does the artist create for himself, and how much for others? It’s fascinating to me how many layers there are.


Shadow Scale cover!

It’s on Amazon already, so I’m overdue posting it here:

Oooh! Pretty! And I'm told it will have a sheen to it, like the purple Seraphina cover.

Oooh! Pretty! And I’m told it will have a sheen to it, like the purple Seraphina cover.

Yes, the wood-block print is by the same artist who did Seraphina‘s cover, Andrew Davidson.

The Amazon listing describes it as “a companion to Seraphina,” which is already causing a little confusion over on Twitter. Let there be no doubt: Shadow Scale is a sequel, plan and simple, told from Seraphina’s point of view. It begins about three months after the events of the first book. It is also the conclusion of Seraphina’s narrative, so it’s not the middle volume of a trilogy. I refuse to call it a “duology,” however, because I strongly dislike “duology” as a word. I have strong opinions about words, it seems. This should surprise no one.

The date is listed as March 10th, 2015. As with all things publishing, there is a non-zero chance that this might change.

This is so wonderful to me. This book and I have been through so much together, and I can’t even tell you how it feels to know it’s really done, it’s really happening, it’s nearly here. I know March seems far away, but it’s eight months. Babies gestate longer than that. You’ll blink, and it will be here. I’m sure of it.


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