Friday, May 25, 2007

A little something for the long weekend

I give you Gay Robot.

They're all hopped up on goofballs!

After this admission by 1996 Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis, I think the Tour should move to an all-drugs format -- EPO, HGH, fake testosterone -- whatever you like. Go ahead and give yourself a pair of legs that would be more appropriate for an NFL offensive lineman than a championship cyclist. While they're at it, they can attach rockets to the bikes too. Now that's a bike race I'd watch!

Seriously, I'm not sure how the Tour can continue to operate with any shred of credibility. No matter who wins it this year, the overwhelming presumption will be that the cyclist was on something. Unless it's a Frenchman; I bet the labs will trip over themselves to cover up any positive test results by French cyclists.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Rude awakenings

I've lived in my apartment on 1st Avenue for four years now. Since my bedroom is behind the living room and away from the street noise, I have always been able to sleep through the various nocturnal sounds of New York. Until today, that is. I was blissfully asleep early this morning when a car alarm outside my apartment jarred me awake at 4:15 AM. This alarm, which belonged to a while Nissan sports car parked right in front of my living room, kept going off every few minutes for about an hour. It was a steady, pulsing alarm, like a clock has, not one of those alarms that plays five different sirens repeatedly. After 10 minutes I called 311 and must have mentioned the word "emergency" somewhere, because the operator got a 911 operator on the phone with us. So I had to explain that it wasn't an emergency per se, but that I would appreciate it if there was anything they could do to take care of the problem. I didn't stay in my living room to see if anything happened; instead, I went back to bed and tried to sleep. I don't think my phone call made any difference. Because my cat likes to come and go at night, I couldn't close the bedroom door the whole way. I turned on my bedroom air conditioner and tried putting a pillow over my head, but I could still hear the alarm. It must have stopped eventually, because I fell asleep again around 5:30 or 6 AM.

So thanks to some yutz who obviously wasn't nearby this morning to attend to his car, I'm operating on about 4 hours of sleep. This is on top of losing some sleep this weekend with my mother in town and the two of us staying up late and getting up early. If I'm less than pleasant to deal with today, that's why.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

a great end to a magnificent concert season

Saturday night's NYRO concert was the final performance for the 2006-2007 season, and we went out with a bang. The concert came off without any major hitches -- we had to restart the slow movement of the Nielsen symphony after two measures, but that was it -- and the audience was enthusiastic. The Barber violin concerto was fantastic, and even the last movement which had given us fits in rehearsal sounded spectacular. My mom came to New York to visit me and hear the concert, and she enjoyed it (along with the rest of her weekend here). For my part, I missed a few notes here and there, but nothing noticeable. I was most worried about playing out of place at the end of the concerto, but I counted carefully and hit all the right notes at the right times.

I've said this to everyone I know at one point or another, and probably in this forum as well, but it bears repeating one more time: joining NYRO last fall was the best decision I've made in years. I wish I'd done it sooner. I've played music I never would have dreamed of performing, in the process challenging myself to learn the parts, experienced highs I'd not felt in a long time, and met some great musicians and friends. Next season promises to be even more exciting than this one, and I'm already looking forward to returning in September. I'm planning to go home for the 4th of July to play with the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra, my old hometown orchestra with which I haven't performed in 15 years. That will help keep me in playing shape over the summer. I'm not sure Guitar Hero will have the same effect, so I'll have to remember to take breaks from the game and practice the viola now and then.

Thanks to everyone who came to one of my concerts this year. I really appreciated your coming out to hear the orchestra. If you haven't had the chance to hear us yet, there's always next season.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Playing in the rain for a worthy cause

It rained for most of Wednesday evening, but that didn't stop a group of friends from the orchestra from playing on a Manhattan street for a marriage proposal. Michael, one of my friends in the 2nd violin section, enlisted some of us to play Pachelbel's canon outside their apartment as a surprise for his girlfriend Fiona on their anniversary. He gave us the music last week and we planned a quick rehearsal on Monday night and organized flowers and candles. He didn't have a viola part for me, so I played the bass line instead, and the violinists played their parts as the canon. We worked out the musical details at Monday's rehearsal, so the only questions were where we'd stand and how we'd handle the threat of rain.

When we got to 82nd St. last night at 8:45, the rain had stopped. We considered setting up right in front of their building, but there was no shelter there. Instead, we went with the original plan, which was to set up across the street from their apartment building under some scaffolding. We laid out flowers and set up clusters of votive candles. About five minutes before we expected them to walk by, the skies opened up with a downpour. It only lasted a few minutes, but we were glad we'd chosen the shelter of the scaffolding. Then a police car went by, so we all tried to look casual. At 9:15, our lookout flashed a light at us from down the street to let us know Michael and Fiona were coming. We started playing as they came up the street. At first, they crossed the street to get away from us (she thought we were there for someone else) but Michael pulled her back to our side. They came up to us, we stopped playing, he got down on one knee and proposed, and she said yes. It was a successful performance.

Here's a photo of the ensemble, plus some friends and the happy couple.

Congratulations, Michael and Fiona!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

From the "Embarrass Yourself" Department: My Top 5 Guilty Pleasure songs

Some of my fellow Deadspin commenters have been posting their top five guilty pleasure songs all week on Janie's blog. Some of their choices have been hideously awful but strangely catchy. I'd never listened to Insane Clown Posse before, and after hearing "Hokus Pokus" I don't think I ever will again. On the other hand, Hank's selection of Kid Rock's "Bawitdaba" has been stuck in my head for a few days now.

Inspired by their willingness to open their hearts to the Internet, I now present the five songs I'd really never wanted the rest of the world to know I love:

5. "Obsession" -- Animotion (1985)

I had no idea what this song was about when I first heard it, but the bass line and keyboards are irresistible. I taped the song off the radio and I'd play air keyboards in my bedroom while listening to it. And no, that's not a euphemism: I was 12.

4. "Bird of Prey" -- Uriah Heep (1971)

For about 5 years I listened via the Internet to an afternoon radio show on ROCK103 in Memphis, TN hosted by two guys named Drake and Zeke. They used to play "Bird of Prey" as a joke, and usually just the opening minute. Just when you think it's going to be a power metal number, the vocals come in. I dare you not to laugh. Also, throw up the horns and bang your head. You've earned it.

3. "High Enough" -- Damn Yankees (1990)

The late 1980s and early 1990s were the heyday of "hair" metal bands. The longer the hair, the better the band. And nothing exemplifies the best and worst thing about metal bands than the power ballad. Everyone had at least one, and a supergroup like Damn Yankees is no exception. It's hard to believe that "Motor City Madman" Ted Nugent is in the band that produced this song. They've got a string quartet in there! How the Nuge didn't kill Tommy Shaw with a compound bow is a mystery musical scholars will ponder for decades.

2. "Informer" -- Snow (1993)

Even Snow isn't sure what he was trying to accomplish when he mixed Jamaican patois with rap in 1993, resulting in this grotesque masterpiece. I don't know what the hell he's saying (neither did MTV when they tried a "follow-the-bouncing-ball" version of the video) but the bass line gets my ass moving whenever I hear this song.

1. "After The Loving" -- Englebert Humperdinck (1976)

My man Arnold George Dorsey once said of himself "I can hit notes a bank could not cash" (according to Wikipedia, anyway). In this song, he hits some valuable notes indeed. It's '70s Vegas showiness at its most opulent: full orchestra, a chorus of backup singers, and
the heartfelt words of a man who's just gotten freaky with his lady and has to tell her how he really feels. Does it get any more beautiful than this?:
Thanks for taking me/
On a one-way trip to the sun/
And thanks for turning me/
into someone.

I will neither confirm nor deny rumors that this is a song on my standard karaoke set list.

That's it, folks. You've seen one of the dark places in my soul. Next time you see me with my iPod, you'll wonder "Is he listening to one of THOSE songs again?"

NYRO's final concert of the 2006-2007 season: The music of Borodin, Barber, and Nielsen

I nearly forgot to post this. The concert is next Saturday evening, so I'm just getting it in under the wire.

Dear Friends of the New York Repertory Orchestra,

You are cordially invited to our final concert of the 2006-2007 season!

Our season ends as it began and has continued – great music, fantastic soloists, and the exciting music-making of New York's leading all-volunteer, community-based orchestra, the New York Repertory Orchestra. We look forward to seeing you as we close the year. Here are the details:

Saturday, May 19, 2007 - 8:00 p.m.
Where: Good Shepherd-Faith Church @ 152 West 66th St. (between B'way & Amsterdam)
Admission: FREE

  • Borodin: Oveture from "Prince Igor"
  • Barber: Violin Concerto - Michi Wiancko, violin
  • Nielsen: Symphony No. 2 "The Four Temperaments"

Here's some info about the program:

  • Returning to the NYRO stage, violinist Michi Wiancko joins us for Samuel Barber's hauntingly exquisite Violin Concerto. Opening with some of the composer's most achingly beautiful music, the concerto finishes with one of the most virtuosic finales in the literature. It's a bravura finish that will be sure to dazzle you. (See below for more information about our wonderful soloist.)

  • The major work on the program will be the Symphony No. 2 by Carl Nielsen. Subtitled "The Four Temperaments," each movement characterizes one of the ancient bodily humors that were once thought to predict our personalities as well as control our physical and emotional health. It's a joyful work of immense energy, fun, and good humor. You're sure to enjoy it!

  • The concert begins with an audience favorite - Russian composer Alexander Borodin's overture to his opera "Prince Igor." The overture is warm and enthusiastic and full of Russian flavor - lovely melodies, rich harmony, and sparkling orchestration. A delightful opening to our final concert of the year.

  • Violinist Michi Wiancko was featured as an "Artist to Watch" on the cover of the January 2007 issue of SYMPHONY Magazine, and has distinguished herself as a soloist with orchestras including the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics and in recital and chamber appearances. An artist with a unique vision and deemed "Pure Gold" by The Des Moines Register, Ms. Wiancko has confirmed this reputation in venues such as Carnegie Hall, Library of Congress, Banff Center, Sydney Opera House, Frick Center, National Gallery, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Philadelphia's Kimmell Center. An expansive musical personality, we look forward to welcoming her back to the NYRO stage.

We eagerly look forward to seeing you on May 19.

Best regards,
David Leibowitz, Music Director
New York Repertory Orchestra

REMINDER: The opening of our 2007-2008 season is just around the corner - join us here again on October 13th for the start of another great NYRO season!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more Guitar Hero

Since Friday night, when I brought it home, I've played too much Guitar Hero on my Xbox 360. I played it for two straight hours on Friday night. I played it for another two hours on Saturday night, and stayed up late watching a movie instead of going to bed early for my bike ride the next day. I played it for half an hour on Sunday afternoon when I should have been getting ready to go out. And I've played it the past few evenings instead of cleaning up around the apartment or even feeding the cat. (OK, I have been feeding the cat, but he has to remind me by biting my ankles while I'm in the middle of the solo on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking?") The point is that I need to force myself to stop playing the game in order to take care of my normal household business. I've had this problem with computer games in the past, but they've never involved a toy guitar that sits propped up in the corner, practically begging me to play it. I've only got a few more songs to play and then I'll have the entire catalog unlocked. "Freebird" is in there somewhere. All I need now is for Microsoft to put "Crossroads" from the original PS2 game on the XBox Live Marketplace and my life will be complete.

Monday, May 07, 2007

If it's the first weekend in May, it's the Five Boro Bike Tour

I rode in the Five Boro Bike Tour for the seventh time on Sunday. I'd been feeling sick all week, so I hadn't been on my bike or even to the gym in over a week, so I was apprehensive about taking my usual approach to the ride. But I had plans that evening, and I couldn't afford to take my time on the ride and get home late. Since I was feeling better on Friday and Saturday, I decided to just ride hard as usual and see what happened.

I was worried for nothing. My legs were sore more quickly than usual for a 55-mile ride, but I was able to keep up my regular pace and enjoy the BQE as I always do. The weather might have had something to do with the way my body felt during the ride. It was about 48 degrees when I left my apartment at 7:30, but with a wind chill of 42 degrees. The wind gusts cut right through the fleece sweater I wore over my cycling jersey. The worst wind was on the Queensboro Bridge. It was blowing north-south across the bridge and pushing me to my right. I'm surprised there weren't more accidents. I got to the festival on Staten Island right on schedule a few minutes after noon and stayed just long enough to pick up some freebies before I headed for the ferry and home. I even had three hours to relax at home before going out later that night.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Annoyed in Brooklyn on a Saturday night

I went to Brooklyn for a friend's birthday on Saturday. We started at Biscuit BBQ, where they seated the 15 of us in their back room, which was also their performance space. The manager told us that we couldn't turn the chairs around from their set-up in neat rows for the band that was due to play at 9 PM. We ignored him and turned the chairs around anyway so we could all talk to each other. At 9 we were asked to move the chairs back, but by then we'd gotten our food and it was impossible to move. The band turned out to be better than I expected, an Argentinian three-man ensemble with clarinet, guitar, and drum box. After the first set, the hostess passed around a kettle and asked for contributions for the band. She said that the cover charge didn't apply to us, but I think everyone chipped in anyway, though I felt like we were being guilted into it. We paid our bill and got out of there before the band came back for the second set -- I got the distinct feeling that both our group and the management wanted us out of the way. We were there for a party, and we brought in a few hundred dollars' worth of business on a Saturday night, but the restaurant made us feel like we were a problem for them.

We took the party a few blocks away to Union Hall, a trendy-looking bar with bookcases visible in the main room and an outdoor patio next door. As we waited outside the bar for a few more people to arrive, the bouncer told us to move to the left, but didn't give us a reason. I moved, and made a comment to my friends about the bouncer, but they hadn't heard him. A few minutes later, he said "Didn't you hear me? Move to the left!" So we moved... to another bar. We went to a small dive bar nearby with its own outdoor patio where we weren't hassled about seats or what we were drinking or anything else.

Aside from the restaurant management and the bouncer, I had a fine time. But I don't think I'll be going back to Biscuit BBQ anytime soon. The food wasn't good enough to outweigh the hassle from the manager.