Saturday, June 23, 2012

Random Conversations with Strangers & My Adventures with the Violin

I realized it's been a while since I've posted on my progress with the violin. For those just joining us (or joining us in the roughly year since the last time I posted on the subject: I've been attempting to play the violin for about two and a half years now.

Inspired by the artistic mastery of the members of the Cleveland Orchestra and feeling the need for a hobby to take me away from what occasionally feels like an all-encompassing career: My criteria was "something that doesn't require electricity" and long calling the violin my favorite instrument [actually, I'm a fan of all of the string instruments...and a cello in the right hands can be amazingly therapeutic] I figured that was the place to start.

I wound up buying a violin kit off of eBay for $0.99 (plus $40 in shipping an handling) and it is not the best instrument -- I'm embarrassed to admit that I own it,  much less actually show it to my violinist friends -- but through several modifications, a new bow, a few sets of strings it has served me well enough, and it seems like each time I consider purchasing a real instrument some unexpected large-ticket purchase suddenly becomes necessary. C'est la vie. Or maybe it's a sign from the universe. Anyway.

Once I had the instrument came the task of learning how to play (Professional musicians make it look so effortless. Be not fooled: It is not easy.). And how to read music. And how to stay in tune. And how to maintain something resembling a steady tempo.

Oh, did I mention I haven't played anything before. I was starting from scratch. And as a fretless instrument, the violin family doesn't worry easily. It also makes it difficult to find the correct note consistently until you develop both the ear and muscle memory.

I've been fortunate to have an awesome teacher -- who in an interesting twist of fate, despite neither of us originally being from Cleveland, is a friend of the family and was pen pals with my mother as a child -- to keep me on the right track over the past few years. With her help my ear has slowly gained accuracy and we've attacked music and technique (currently working on Suzuki Book 3, third position and a few other things as time allows) -- I just wish I had more time to commit to practicing. But I am making progress (and recently I've noticed that my ear will really tell me when certain notes just aren't quite right.

But why am I posting about this today (aside from the fact that I'm taking a brief early-summer vacation from scheduled commitments)? I was walking back from my violin lesson and a quick lunch with Rachel with my violin on my back and my bag with music by my side.

Just past Coventry there was a gentleman walking his dog. I prepared, with the customary "pardon me"... and as I walked past, with my iPod ear buds firmly in place I hear "Is that a violin?". That caught me off guard. I pulled the ear buds out and said "yes" -- while the dog pulled. Turns out the gentleman is a drummer, and we discussed the technical side of music and the challenges of learning for a couple blocks, until he and his dog, Blu, had made it back home and I was continuing on to mine.

It's awfully easy today to be paranoid and antisocial -- but most people on the street aren't out to get you (just like you aren't out to get them) -- and it you can have some really interesting encounters and conversations if you're just open to it.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A (Literal) Night at the Ritz-Carlton

I wasn't even thinking about it but last night marked the 8th anniversary of my arrival in Cleveland (and tomorrow marks the 8th anniversary of starting the job that brought me to Cleveland)

The Terminal Tower spire from the Ritz-Carlton valet
Instead, Rachel and I met a friend to see Men In Black III on  bargain night at Tower City Cinemas.

The evening, didn't however, end when the credits rolled. It seems the friend had, through details which are unimportant, wound up with a room at the Ritz-Carlton which would otherwise go to waste. And she offered it to Rachel and I.

"Eeeeeee!" basically sums up my reaction to the offer, and Rachel followed closely. I love spontaneous adventure, but my schedule lately hasn't had much room for spontaneity. I've often flirted with the idea of checking  into one of Cleveland's hotels for a night for no particular reason -- but I've not been able to justify it to myself*

As a Hilton HHonors loyalist I've long assumed that when I finally got around to it, my first local hotel stay would be in one of the Hilton family properties in Cleveland -- I've particularly had my eye on the recently converted/renovated/opened DoubleTree Tudor Arms hotel on the edge of University Circle.

But we found ourselves at the spectacular Cleveland Ritz-Carlton, attached to Tower City Center. I've often wondered about the hotel, but never thought I'd have a reason to step foot inside, let alone spend the night. I've become somewhat jaded as far as hotels go, and I was particularly curious about how the stay would compare with my stay at New York's Waldorf-Astoria.

In short: I'd go back to the Cleveland Ritz; I wouldn't go back to the Waldorf. The room was spacious and quite nicely appointed with a view sideways to the Cuyahoga and down through Tower City's glass roof. Since we were only there for one night -- and a late one at that -- we didn't really partake in the hotel's facilities or food and beverage but the thing that made the stay awesome was the unobtrusive attentiveness of the staff -- it seemed there was always someone around every corner ready and willing to help, answer questions, what have you quite professionally -- and anticipatory.

For example, this morning to check out I found myself in the lobby slightly disoriented -- "Excuse me, check out?" I grogilly asked a staffer who happened to be walking by. After politely telling me that it was right around the corner and my "thanks, not quite here yet" response she also pointed me in the direction of coffee. Similar anticipatory offers happened at the registration desk, in the fitness center -- wherever we looked

That's a very stark contrast to my stay at the Waldorf where not only were staff difficult to find and slow they always put off the air that my presence in their hotel was an inconvenience that was to be tolerated, if just barely. Quite the opposite was true here in Cleveland, I don't think I've ever felt more welcomed by a property.

Anyway, after settling in to the room and helping ourselves to a glass of wine, Rachel and I walked outside where I saw the stunning spire of the Terminal Tower, pictured above as taken with my belated birthday present from Rachel -- my first Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera (I'm still learning my way around it, but I love the control it gives over the outcome) and then we meandered through Cleveland's new casino.

I was in the casino briefly for work while it was under construction, but I hadn't been back since it opened, and this was Rachel's first time. I lost $5 on penny slots after starting up $0.40 (big spender, right?) -- enough to remind me why I only gamble once every three or four years.

After that we enjoyed a night of luxary in the plush comfort of the room before drifting to sleep and returning to the daily grind this morning: I dropped Rachel off at work and I headed in to work.

And now that I think of it, it was an awesome way to spend my 8th Cleveland Anniversary.

*- Particularly since I just got at $2k property tax bill (yeah, I've been expecting that one) and a $300 bill to fix my air conditioning (wasn't quite expecting that one)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Goodbye, Temecula

Later this month -- June 18th, to be specific -- marks the beginning of my eighth year of calling Northeast Ohio home.

While I was born in Madera, California, in the center of California's agrarian Central Valley, just before my fifth birthday my family moved to Temecula--where I grew up, explored, learned and lived until I jumped ship, moved out, and moved to Ohio to start my adult life.

[Incidentally, until I moved to Ohio, I had quite a hard time telling the difference between Ohio and Idaho. When you live in Southern California essentially everything, sans Hawaii, is North or East, if not both. Thus, both Ohio and Idaho were Northeast and for my daily life that's all I needed to know]

But while I love urban Northeast Ohio -- Manhattan is perhaps the only other place I could imagine myself living at this point in my life, and I couldn't afford to live in Manhattan -- I still consider Temecula to be my hometown.

[When people ask where I'm from, I'm conflicted and usually barf something along the lines of "Originally, Southern California; currently Cleveland"]

Temecula's population has exploded from about 25,000 when we arrived in 1989 to over 100,000 in 2010. My parents, long divorced, sold the home I grew up in not long after I moved to Cleveland (and seemingly days before the housing market imploded). The one concrete thread tying me back "Home" has been my mother.

I've always assumed that I'd make it back to Temecula from time to time, if for no other reason to visit her and in the process running my wheels through the same main drags (now with twice as many lanes) and back roads (now with six times as many traffic signals) that I learned through my youth -- passing memories on the sidewalks, sitting in the same In-N-Out Drive where I learned the wonder of a great burger.

[The same drive through, on Jefferson Avenue, that used to know my dad and his car well enough that he'd get Christmas Cards from the staff]

Occasionally, even seeing a movie in the theaters where I spent several years with technical reign for a week at a time during the local film festival. It was great fun trying to piece a top-notch event together with a box of random bits and no budget, developing a voting system for the audience choice categories that I still think is pretty darn cool (though I'd probably do it differently). I learned how platter-based 35 millimeter projection works, and how to deal with difficult people.

[Independent filmmakers can be very difficult people. I think those memories, combined with the number of times I had to threaten to have the police remove a belligerent filmmaker from the projection booth -- somewhere they knew they weren't supposed to be in the first place --  may be the main reason why I haven't brought myself to visit the Cleveland International Film Festival]

With the boom in population things may have changed but the Temecula I remember was far from perfect. A suburb without an urb, being at least hour (or up to three, depending on traffic) from San Diego, Los Angeles, and Orange County, it was a city of commuters but no permanent culture within easy reach. Sure there's the Film Festival  and the Balloon and  Wine Festival and my high school produced some amazing shows (including The Who's Tommy, a rock opera -- where my true love of technical theater blossomed, and Chess, from Tim Anderson and the male half of ABBA) it was nothing like Cleveland.

[Truthfully, though how many other places, can an average guy live within walking distance of a both a world class art museum and one of the world's great orchestra halls, inhabited by some of the finest musicians, while having dozens of other venues within a 20 minute drive]

But anyway, on Wednesday, that last tangible thread snaps. My mother is embarking on her own new adventure. She's moving to the Portland area. And I have to admit that that there's the small sense of loss, and part of me thinks it's highly unlikely I'll find my way to Temecula again; another part thinks Rachel and I will find ourselves visiting Wine Country, but if we do we'll be doing it as outsider tourists rather than insiders.

Sometimes pointless nostalgia feels good.

And I'll leave you with the rock band New Years Day's Temecula Sunrise.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Cleveland Orchestra: Verdi Requiem

Verdi: Messa da Requiem
The Cleveland Orchestra and The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus
Robert Porco, conductor
Liudmyla Monastyrska, soprano; Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano; Dimitri Pittas, tenor; Raymond Aceto, bass.

The end of a season at Severance Hall always feels like the end of a school year-- the last time you'll see people who have become familiar faces over the past season, at least until next season rolls around. With tonight's concert I've attended every Cleveland Orchestra concert program from the last three seasons with one exception -- when I was out of town for a family event.
In that sense it seems only fitting, if a bit moribund, that we end the season with a requiem, "a mass for the repose of the souls of the dead". Equally fitting was the choice of Giuseppe Verdi's Messa da Requiem which could be a best of Cleveland Orchestra highlights: Quiet soulful notes from the low strings, fast and furious but precise playing when called for, an air of reverent mystery, and close communion with the chorus presenting one cohesive organism.
On my way up to the Box Level this evening two ushers commented that they had heard the performance on Thursday and it was fantastic; another usher -- who I perhaps chat with more frequently than my own mother -- mentioned she had heard the same things from friends who were in the hall for Thursday. This information proved accurate.
Finding my seat in the back of Box 14 -- further House Right than I prefer* but the best available with how well-sold tonight's concert was, I was a little concerned that I'd not get the chorus. That worry proved without merit. (Speaking of boxes, surprisingly, the other occupants of my box didn't bother arriving until two thirds of the way through the concert)
The first movement (Requiem and Kyrie) starts slow and quiet and ends with a tortured (and torturous--it was my least favorite part of the performance) Kyrie elieson by the soloists. That was followed by Dies irae, the longest movement and the most varied in texture. It started powerful, loud, and fast. for a guy who likes all of the above this (and a few similar moments along the way) ranked among my favorites.
One thing my perch in Box 14 allowed a fantastic view of were the trumpets blowing from the juliet balconies that flank the stage -- ("Tuba mirum apranges sonum per speulchra regionum..."/"The trumpet, sending its wondrous sound throughout the tombs of every land...") -- a relatively rare treat for the Severance concertgoer. Fast, peaceful, and delicate were all emotions that appeared -- sometiems singularly, sometimes in pairs, throughout the remainder of the concert before culminating.
"Requiem aternam don eis, Domine, et lex perpetua luceat eis." ("Give them eternal rest. O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.")
The Blossom season starts in just a few weeks with the Fourth of July weekend.

*- My preference is Boxes 1-11 with Box 1 being center, Box 10 being house right, and box 10 being house left. Further out and the sound starts to change, with, for example, the violins sounding brighter on the high even boxes, and the high odd boxes just sound weird to my ear.