Category Archives: Music

Cello Goodbye

The kid’s gotten interested in playing music and has been trying out various instruments over the last few months. (Yay for rentals!)

The latest is cello. As soon as he heard Bach’s cello suites, he was convinced.

We lined up lessons with the same teacher he’d had for violin earlier this year. Then we went to a music shop to measure what size he needed and rent a cello.

Only one problem: when we got it home he noticed the bridge was tilted instead of perpendicular to the body of the cello. He can replace a string just fine — he actually had to replace the E string on the rental violin when it snapped during tuning — but we all agreed to wait until his first lesson and let the teacher adjust it. It’s held in place entirely by the tension of the strings, and not something that they recommend beginners mess with.

He had his first lesson a few days later. The first order of business was to adjust the bridge. So she started carefully loosening the strings while holding the bridge until she could shift it into place. And as soon as it moved, we all heard a loud *THUNK* from inside the cello.

“Oh no!” the kid said. “SOUND POST!” And we all looked at each other in sudden horror.

Wait, what’s a sound post?

The sound post is inside the body of the violin or cello, connecting the top and bottom. (Or front and back, I suppose.) I wasn’t sure exactly what it did aside from maybe structural support, but I knew it shouldn’t be rattling around in there, and it was clearly not something that could be fixed on the spot.

And they were both certain that you couldn’t play the instrument without it.

I looked up its acoustic function: the sound post is aligned with one end of the bridge to provide a fulcrum for the bridge to vibrate around. This causes the bridge to transmit the sideways vibrations of the strings (constrained by the bow pressing on them) to vertical vibrations in the body, making it actually sound good. Plucked instruments like guitars don’t need that because the strings can vibrate in all directions.

So you definitely wouldn’t want that to be missing.

Or rattling around inside the cello.

Plan B

The teacher immediately had to retool the lesson. He couldn’t play the instrument we’d brought. And he couldn’t play her full-size cello. So she introduced him to reading bass clef and some of the basics of how violin and cello differ, and assigned some practice lessons, just in case.

Amazingly, we were able to make it to the music shop in time to swap it for another one that same day. It was half an hour to closing, and could easily take anywhere from 15-45 minutes to get there depending on traffic. And it was a weekday at 5:30. We made it there with 10 minutes to spare!

What I Miss About CDs

You know what I miss about CDs and other physical music media?

Liner notes.

Art, lyrics, sometimes stories…

…and credits. Who is that familiar-sounding background singer? Who wrote the song? Is it a cover? This one really reminds me of a certain composer, lyricist, or arranger’s style – can I confirm that?

The performer and title are easy to get, even if it’s not in your own library.

But the rest? If the song is notable enough for Wikipedia, great. Otherwise, who knows?

(This post brought to you by trying to figure out just how many songs on a Bonnie Tyler compilation were written by Jim Steinman.)

Originally posted On Wandering.Shop

Chess in Concert: Post-Cold War Edition

The cold-war musical Chess works surprisingly well set in the present day.

UCI Drama’s production is a concert staging of the show, with the orchestra and choir onstage, and the actors carrying handheld microphones with minimal props. It works well, especially for the more 80s-pop numbers like “Nobody’s Side” and the big ensemble songs like “Merano” and the chess games, though it gets a little awkward when the characters are singing to each other with microphones. (The show features two competing styles of music, achingly 80s and classical musical theater.)

The show’s structure is fluid, with vast differences between the original London and Broadway versions and later productions, and just about every version tweaking the story and moving songs around. This version largely follows the London stage version, with a few key changes:

  1. It’s set in the present day. This updates the USSR to Russia and drops the CIA vs KGB elements of the background game played between Walter and Molokov. Florence is the daughter of Hungarian refugees, rather than a former child refugee herself (Budapest 1956 is the only fixed date in the story.) The political stakes may be a bit lower, but the personal stakes work just as well.
  2. Several roles have been recast as women, including Molokova and the arbiter, which makes the show even more “alto-licious” (as Katie puts it).
  3. The second act drops a lot of the connections between songs (it is done as a concert, after all), which means you don’t see the breakdown of Anatoly’s and Florence’s relationship, or Anatoly cracking under the pressure, until he finds his “one true obligation.” You get the before and after but not the process.

The performances were all solid, with Molokova in particular as a standout.

An aside: I found it interesting to see an actual production of Chess at UCI, since the songs had been so popular with the musical theater crowd when I was there in the 1990s. “I Know Him So Well,” “Heaven Help My Heart,” and “Someone Else’s Story” were standards in the library, and I heard them a zillion times, while all the guys who were serious about musicals wanted to sing “Anthem.” And really, can you blame them?

I’m still not sure how well “Someone Else’s Story” works for Svetlana, but that ship has sailed. And “One Night In Bangkok,” despite being instantly recognizable to anyone who lived through the 80s, is cringe-worthy now. For this production they downplay the stereotyping by playing up the fact that it’s seen through the perspective of a total lout (Freddie). It’s still cringe-worthy, but at least it’s a character statement rather than a narrative one.

The production continues through this weekend.