July 29, 2009

Oberlin Percussion Institute 2009....

I went to the OPI summer camp in the hopes of learning a bit more about percussion in classical music. There is no doubt that I learned many important things about marimba, timpani, snare drum, triangle, etc. in a classical context. What I also learned quite quickly was exactly how much everybody else already knew about such things. It was overwhelming to encounter so much knowledge among my peers in so short a time. Partially this just made me angry. But fortunately it also encouraged me to work harder. At least it will at some point.
The campus is a beautifully empty place in the summertime, the few students that wander here and there in small groups don't exactly translate to the surprising amount of activities that are actually going on when school is not in session. Walking a couple long blocks down from our dorm, plus jaywalking diagonally across a four way intersection got us to the conservatory every day. This was a trip we made several times within a 24-hour period, having to return for lunch, dinner, etc. The main percussion studio was where we all spent most of our time, a cavernous rectangular space with a towering, messy set of cabinets at the far end that block the view of what is probably more space. The room is a percussion mecca withing a fortress of classical music at its finest. It houses at least two massive five octave marimbas, several xylophones, sets of bells, hanging chimes, bass drums, snare drums, several timpani sets, a vibraphone or two, and who knows what else. Every day, the folding chairs were arranged in some different configuration to accommodate whatever clinic or master class we would be attending that day. Everything from the style of four mallet marimba to the precise art of the triangle, that room was clearly where it all goes down. And I must admit that the majority of these classes were very interesting and much more in-depth than what I am used to. I rarely have the chance to study technique used specifically for orchestral snare, and the man who taught us, Tom Freer, was exceptionally skilled and undeniably engaging. I had a great deal to learn from him, and even more to practice afterward. But as all you drum set players should understand, I don't often practice or perform while standing up, which is the most common method among orchestral percussionists. Even his discussion on the precise art of the triangle (as I mentioned earlier) were very enlightening. The other teachers provided equally unusual and useful insight. The head of the percussion department lead a cymbal clinic and a demonstration of putting a calf head on a drum, among other things. There was also a timpani expert who assisted many of us with the technique used to get the best sound from these large, expressive instruments. All of this was infused with eccentric stories about the escapades of the teacher and/or their colleagues, which were always amusing and mostly related to what was being taught. And you cant end an experience like this without having your mind blown, it just wouldn't be right. There was an end-of-the-week performance given by Percussion group Cincinnati, of which one of our teachers is a member. The night's repertoire consisted of pieces that ranged from cheerful and melodic folk songs played on the marimba to their rock solid conclusion which John Cage's Third Construction, which was so intricate, complicated and precise that it absolutely must be heard to be believed. If brains could explode, my brain would have definitely exploded by the end of the week.

July 16, 2009

Down by the Bay Pt. 2

The house we stayed at with my dad's old friend was just a hop, skip, jump, and a few very sharp turns from the train station, in the Berkeley hills. I never though I'd see buildings on such steep inclines, nor with such twisted roads going around and about them. Right near Berkeley was Pixar Animation Studios, where one of our friends works and was kind enough to give us a tour. Their campus could be a college, with everything from a food court to lecture halls and art studios. The amount of work that goes into making one of these movies was readily apparent. Each movie starts as a series of black and white sketches, and progresses across various easels and whiteboards, onto clay models, through a multitude of computers, not to mention going in and out of the brains of everyone from painters to software engineers long before you even see the trailer on YouTube. I gained quite an appreciation for what Pixar does, and really how well it gets done.
The very next day (if I remember correctly) my dad and I took the subway-metro-train thingy to the amazingly amazing city of San Fransisco. What a day it was! As soon as we got out of the station, what did I get to see? Sutter street!! The greatest street in America!! I was so psyched that we just had to take a bunch of photos of me whenever we got to a Sutter Street sign. I took many pictures that day, Chinatown was such a scene, but really there was something happening anywhere where anything happened to be. And since wherever something happened to be there was something happening, I happened to be in many places where many pictures could be taken, which happened to make me very happy. But I was baffled by the dramatic changes in altitude that took place from one end of a street to the other. It was like one minute we were riding donkeys into death valley, and the next we were on an expedition with Sir Edmond Hillary! Northwest PA is a bit hilly, but San Francisco is mountainous. I pity the fool (or tourist) who unknowingly drives into that city without knowing what is waiting for them.
But lets talk about Berkeley for just one more second. Visiting the campus was quite exciting. There are many great old buildings, each with its own odd personality. I got a feeling that things were happening, even in the middle of summer, still many people milling about. We couldn't help but thoroughly enjoy a jaunt down Telegraph Avenue, still a mecca for counterculture and weirdness after all these years (though maybe not quite as much now). We investigated classic locations such as the Cafe Mediterraneum, claiming to be the birthplace of today's cafe latte. Personally I was a huge fan of Amoeba Records, with an out-of-this-world music collection ranging from shred metal to big band, and reasonable prices throughout. All these kinds of things served as more than enough to boggle the mind of an easterner such as myself, and I'll quickly admit to the unparalleled levels of awesome that can be found down by the Bay.

July 10, 2009

Down by the Bay Pt.1

Hopefully you have heard by now about the epic-ness of my days at Musician's Institute. I filled everybody in on the other various events during the first week of my stay. Well that wasn't it my friends. I had the good fortune to get an opportunity to fly from LA to Sacramento with my dad to go visit his sister in Davis. This was exciting because I hadn't seen my aunt in a while and hadn't been to the Bay Area since I was four. The first day we walked around the campus of UC Davis where my aunt works. And what a walk it was! Davis is a massive place, and we must have spent hours exploring the various lecture halls, classrooms, dorms, gyms, trails, pools, sidewalks, cafeterias, shops, grassy knolls, trees, students, passing cars, clubhouses, Starbucks, empty fields, libraries, bicycles, street signs, and bridges that cover the vast college area. The Starbucks helped a lot. That is basically the gist of Davis. It's getting late so I'll move on. The next day was Sacramento, just a short jaunt down the highway and we were in the capital of California!! (Everything seems much closer once dad and I jacked my aunt's car) Our first order of business was to walk around the old town for a bit and check out the old west style architecture that has maintained (sort of) since back in the day. The railroad museum was also an interesting experience. Getting to see how it is possible to have so many gigantic machines in a building was entertaining enough, but the stories that accompanied each vehicle were also enlightening. For some reason I could especially appreciate how the main room was set up in a certain way so that each train car could be rolled out through these big doors and spun around on a giant disk, then there is a whole system of tracks outside......Although I cant image that anybody tries to move those trains around particularly often. Since looking at trains takes so terribly much energy, we hadn't a choice but to eat a large lunch. It was of such an impressive size that I really could have just taken a nap for just a bit afterwards. But we decided to go on a bike ride instead. It was a place just around the corner, and the bikes were the nicest rentals either of us had ever seen. The bike path was converted from old train tracks, it crossed a couple grand old bridges and ran along the river for quite a distance. It was a beautiful day and a great deal of fun to take in some new scenery and get some exercise. I hadn't been on a bike in a while, an riding along the river in Sacramento was an outstanding way of getting back into it for sure. The Jamba Juice we had after was a nice addition as well. Our final stop had to be, of course, at Sutter's Fort, a very well-named structure in the middle of town. We took some great novelty pictures of me in front of the wall, contemplating the sign, and knocking on the large wooden doors of my historic building. All in all there was much fun to be had, though we unfortunately soon found ourselves boarding a train to Berkeley, saying goodbye to my aunt and the city of Davis, wishing them both well. Not that there is anything wrong with being on a train bound for Berkeley, I might add.