Monday, August 4, 2014

Thursday, May 1, 2014

How to Write a Commencement Speech

In the spirit of the graduation season, I'd like to share what I've learned about commencement speeches and how they're done as I see them.

1. Cater to the audience's raison d'être for easy applause.
2. Reach down into the pants of the person who called you to make sure you get asked back for next year.
3. Profusely pat on the back the people you are here to speak for to help them try to forget how long they've all been sitting here, and how much of their time you're about to waste.
4. Preach about how much further we all have to go to humble your charges, and build credibility.
5. Cite Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for your inspiration to further build credibility.
6. Charge the graduates with upholding the sanctity of whatever it is they went to school for.
7. Quote an important historical document (Declaration of Independence, Magna Carta, etc.) and speak louder for some more easy applause.
8. Repeat as needed.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving/Black Friday!

It seems appropriate that on this Black Friday, on this day after the day of thanks and such, I should spell out my things for which I am thankful–in other words, the Christmas Wish List of things I hope I never lose.

In no particular order, here's what I'm thankful for:


  1. The ability to walk
  2. The ability to talk
  3. To think for myself
  4. Enough physical strength to manage my activities of daily living
  5. Not being submerged in suffocating debt
  6. Having a job that enables me to do work I enjoy and gives me the flexibility to pursue new things to amuse and improve myself
  7. An identity that isn't under constant threat of tearing itself apart 
  8. My wonderful girlfriend
  9. Having varied interests
  10. My freedom


Please comment on what you're thankful for.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Proposed Revision to the Online Dating Platform

A long while ago, an acquaintance and I, when we were both single and using a popular free online dating site, often discussed ways to improve the efficacy of the platform. (Disclaimer: This post has most to do with straight, male-female couplings, so forgive me if the language seems one sided.)

One of the topics we came across was a terrifically fun article simply titled, "Why You Should Never Pay For Online Dating." Well, as far as it concerned us, as single men, it accurately reflected our experiences and we didn't find any surprises.

As we saw it, the main issue of the article had to do with what they called a feedback loop. My understanding of the loop based on my experience with the site is thus:

1. Men are usually expected to make the first move when initiating contact with a woman, and we do.
2. The women get a lot of messages, more attractive women getting more messages, the more attractive they are. This is coupled with the fact that most women don't initiate messages. (We were pleasant, attractive guys, but we only got maybe–lifetime total–a handful of messages from women who contacted us first.)
3. Because the most attractive women are usually both busy and in high demand, and because there are only a finite number of available hours per day, many women can't or won't respond to every message they receive, even the pleasant, well thought out ones.
4. Men get discouraged after their pleasant, well thought out messages go ignored, and no one writes them first.
5. Seeing that they have to do all the work, and that hard work isn't paying off, men send messages that are less well thought out and start to look more like form letters.
6. Women see worse messages and respond even less often.
7. The cycle continues.

Well, I have a few ideas to help minimize these issues in the form of rules that sites might consider instituting to ensure a more pleasant experience to all users (not just men).

To both men and women but mostly men:
  • All initial messages have to be at least 150 words and spell checked
  • 10 message per day limit
  • Users get to flag messages that look like form letters, and if a user is accused too many times of sending form letters (on first contact or not), they get suspended.
To men and women, but mostly women:
  • The first time you communicate with someone, your message has to be at least 150 words and spell checked.
  • Respond to at least 50% of your unread initial messages first, every time you sign in with at least a 150 word response (as above), or you can't search, look at new profiles, or receive messages and your profile is made invisible.
  • For each qualified message you initiate (>150 words, non form letter) to a new person, for that sign in session, you're excused for one inbox message you have to respond to. And if you have no unreplied-to messages, it gets saved for when you do. 
This way, the super attractive women who get too many messages a day, but who only have time to respond to a few, are rendered invisible, and can't continue to receive messages until they've put a dent in their inboxes. This will free up the site to give more "air time" to the women who don't receive AS many messages, so they'll be more likely to respond (because they have fewer messages to respond to). This also encourages men because they'll know that the women who are being shown to them in searches are AVAILABLE and not so inundated with mail that they can't or won't respond. I like this platform because men who send messages will know that there is a stronger incentive to reply than just politeness since if a woman ignores too many messages, she'll lose privileges. It shows she's actively interested in finding someone. (By the way, this paragraph is 156 words.)

What happens if a person receives messages from someone they KNOW before responding they don't want to hear from? (Say they know the person already, and aren't interested, or the message was simple hate mail.) A few options: They can ignore the person for a little while, but probably not indefinitely, or, respond to the first message with a polite refusal, and if the person continues to message them unpleasantly, they can be blocked. Or, they can flag it as hate mail.

Note: Improper flagging, i.e. using it as a cheap means of avoiding politely declining good messages written by people they're not into, will result in reduced privileges.

In action: Say a person gets 10 messages on Monday, A-J, they can't do anything until they've responded to at least half of them. Suppose A-E are messages from people they're not interested in, the next time they log in, they have to reply to 5 of them, F-J for example. Let's say they do, and continue to use the site. Tuesday, they sign in and there are 10 new messages again: Still, A-E, but this time, K-O. They have 10 messages again, but suppose K-O aren't all winners either. To continue to use the site, they'll have to reply to at least 5. Most likely, they'll reply to a couple from A-E and a couple from K-O. Suppose message "E" was just abysmal, and he/she wants nothing to do with that person. As time goes on, it will be more and more difficult to ignore Writer E and other unpleasant writers to continue using the site, because they'll always have to have their inbox at least half responded to. In this model, due to the second restriction in the girl's category above, the more messages she gets, the less likely she is to remain visible. And when a person maintains an exchange with another user (or several users), that person will have to write an ever increasing amount of mail to remain visible.

This really forces a person to choose who they write to and respond to carefully based on their initial impressions from their profile. This is win-win for everyone.

NOTE: These restrictions on initial messages (length, etc.) don't apply to messages to people you've already contacted who have written you back, but since you have to reply to new messages from "new" writers before you can reply to new messages from "familiar" writers, if you've got a good thing going with someone familiar, and you keep receiving "new" messages, it gets harder and harder to keep your options open while maintaining that contact. This should help take out a lot of the BS that permeates online dating.

This is a system that I believe would make life quite a bit easier for people who receive a lot of messages. It would give more exposure to those who don't already receive a lot of mail. It also is a system that requires all messages have some thought and personality put into them, and incentivizes people to write better messages. It also makes it difficult (for a person who doesn't get many messages) to nearly impossible (for a person who gets a lot of messages) to ignore a person's message indefinitely.

What do you think of my plan?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Wael Farouk Review

Wael Farouk
Roosevelt University, Ganz Hall
October 26, 2013, 7:30pm

All Rachmaninoff program
  • Variations on a theme of Corelli, Op. 42
  • 10 Preludes, Op. 23
Intermission
  • 13 Preludes, Op. 32
Two Encores:

  • Vivaldi-Bach-Volodos: "Siciliano"
  • Verdi-Liszt: Rigoletto Paraphrase


What's the most important instrument in classical music?

The room.

I have to preface this review with that because I think the room played a big part in the performance I heard last Saturday. Roosevelt University's Ganz Hall is a small recital hall with very resonant acoustics and a 9 foot Steinway. Those elements combine to give a listening experience of nearly seismic power. If you ever want rich, dark, romantic music to sound rich and dark and romantic, this is the room and piano combination you want to play it on. That is, if you are interested in playing delicate, or highly ornamented music, and you want everyone in the hall to hear you, though you could do it, this is probably not your first choice. (You'd probably want something a little less resonant, like the hall at Sherwood Conservatory, the old PianoForte Chicago recital hall, or if you can manage it, Pick-Staiger.)

That said, I first heard Wael Farouk during a doctorate recital (?) a few years ago where he played the Bach-Busoni Chaconne. His playing was rich and powerful and he had great speed. Wow. When I had a chance to hear him again, I went, and this time, three (?) years later, I can say that he didn't lose anything.

His program (the first of five recitals including the complete piano works of Rachmaninoff good man!) was exclusively the kind of dark romantic music for which this hall is perfect, and all evening (the concert started at 7:30 and blasted almost until 10) he let pour a torrent of highly colored passagework, lightning crisp octaves, thunderous chord playing and bravura–oh, the bravura.

A lot of musicians like their power. Pianists and organists in particular because they have some of the loudest instruments. (Brass players are also in this category, but they don't get to solo as much.) And I'll admit, playing big can be fun, so much so, that it can often be pretty hard for a musician to switch from extremely powerful playing to that which requires delicacy, and the poor or merely mediocre soloists just don't do it. They just don't play delicately. Now, some musicians play with delicacy, but when they do it's palpable that they're just biding their time until they can get back to playing loudly. Farouk was better than that fellow, but in my notes, here's how I put it:

"[The C minor prelude] had all the right colors and a huge amount of energy and momentum at the outset. Toward the end he demonstrates that he CAN do light, but that he wasn't really interested in showcasing that skill."

[A flat major prelude] "Following that thought, his volume 'swells' were very extreme and very often:  p<ff>p every five measures. (For example)"

[E flat minor prelude] "Good god, the speed! I can hardly tell what's happening! 90% speed and power, 10% delicacy. (At some point, someone will produce a ratio. It's probably 62/38.)"

[E minor prelude] "Great speed and power, but the clarity and articulation are lost on this room that only permits big strokes. Beautiful in the dark moments, but the climax might have benefited from a little less haste, more speed."

[G major prelude] "In his balance in the climax, I could hear his nurturing the multiple parts. Thank you."

[G sharp minor prelude] "A little rushy-thrusty, but the balance of tone makes up for it."

Interpretively, the preludes (in general) don't require a huge amount of intense analysis to bring them to life. If you've got a bright musical imagination like Mr. Farouk, all the better, but in general, besides strong technique and basic musicality, they don't take much to get off the ground. He sounded great here. That fire and oomph was well placed with the majority of the program. Unfortunately, during the first, biggest piece, the Corelli Variations, the overall architecture got a little lost. The inexorable drive toward the climaxes leading up to the climax, I didn't feel.

Shaky architecture in the first piece aside, he's an astonishing player with terrific power, imagination and occasional flights of delicacy. Are my musical values reflected in his playing? No. Would I see Mr. Farouk again? Absolutely. Sometimes you don't want to go to a concert and hear yourself. If I wanted to do that, I'd probably just stay at home. I have a piano. (But it ain't no 9 foot Steinway, though.)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Review of "The Pianist of Willesden Lane"

"The Pianist of Willesden Lane"
An adaptation of the story The Children of Willesden Lane co-written by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen
Royal George Theater, Chicago
August 31, 2013


The Pianist of Willesden Lane is a one-woman show where Mona Golabek tells her mother's story of being forced out of her homeland as a child at the hand of the Nazis (because they didn't want Jews taking piano lessons) and her personal struggle in fulfilling her dream of playing the Grieg piano concerto in her debut as a concert pianist.

A few things came to mind during this 90 minute piece.


  • No matter how much I learn, there's no limit to the depths of depression of the holocaust. It's like a bottomless chasm of miserable, depressing stories of wretched. We could probably go back in time and pick any person from any country in the world at that time and they could tell a sad and powerful story. The world in that time must have been full of sad stories, and this is one more.
  • I hope it doesn't make me a terrible person for saying that I don't know how many more holocaust stories made into dramatic art I can handle. 
  • Some people are better writers than actors, and some people are better musicians than performers. Mona Golabek is probably best as a pianist. 
  • A live performance of Debussy's Claire de Lune as musical accompaniment to film of Jews being marched through the streets of Nazi-occupied Austria is offensive to me. Ethereal french impressionism tends to make me think I'm supposed to be watching genocide through rose colored glasses. That kind of juxtaposition strikes me as sarcastic, implying there's something I shouldn't take seriously, Debussy, or the Holocaust. I rail at that choice. 
  • Also, the closing piece for a similar reason. I don't want to spoil it for you, but a loud, bombastic close cheapens the overall emotional effect of this piece.
Mrs. Golabek's acting was well rehearsed, and the story was soundly told, but she always gave the impression that she was telling us a story, rather than reliving a tale. Granted, her mediocre acting (stilted gestures, occasionally awkward body language, unnatural sounding vocal transitions and sophomoric use of focal points when differentiating characters) was very good for a classical pianist, but it was not good enough to stay out of the way of the subject matter, and I often found myself being pulled out of the action of the show because of it. 

I think the story would have benefited from being told by someone trained as a pianist and actor. Granted, having written the book on which this was adapted, I am absolutely certain that the whole show was crafted specifically for her, but I think the it would have been tenfold more convincing in the hands of a skilled actor. Granted, this story is about her mother's life, and no actor could have the authenticity, that she has–after all, as I said, Mrs. Golabek literally wrote the book–but if it had been done by a better actor, as far as the storytelling goes, we wouldn't have known the difference. And isn't the reason this is being performed in the first place is to tell her mother's story? Not as a personal vehicle for Mona Golabek's performance career? If the positions were reversed, I hope I wouldn't be so much of an opportunist to use my mother's holocaust story just to sell tickets.

This work proved that a good story doesn't have to be well written.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Gabriela Montero at Ravinia

Gabriela Montero
Ravinia, Bennett-Gordon Hall
August 20, 2013. 6:00pm.

Brahms:
  • 3 Intermezzi, Op. 117
Schumann
  • Fantasy in C, Op. 17
Intermission

Improvisations on themes selected by the audience.

I first heard of Gabriela Montero in an interview on WFMT in 2007(?). I was on the road when I heard her improvise something absolutely astounding that I remember pulling off to the side of the road to pay closer attention. I don't remember what she was improvising off of, but it was glorious. After a magnificent dramatic pause, the interviewer (Kerry Frumkin?) resumed the questions and I remember her saying that she couldn't repeat what she just played, and had no idea what, exactly she just did. I was so stunned that I immediately went out and bought her most recent CD "Bach and Beyond" DESPITE: being, at that point in time, incredibly cheap, and having a working internet connection (...) and this was back in the day when the purchase of physical CDs was on its way out.

On Tuesday night, I saw her for the first time. (And paid full price)

This concert had two clearly divided halves. The first half felt a little long to me. Granted, I love the pieces, but I had this feeling that her whole heart wasn't in them. The Brahms was played admirably, but she didn't really plumb the depths with them. The Schumann is a masterful epistle of love, loss and life, but it's treatment wasn't rhetorical enough to really pull me into the story. That was all fine and forgiven however, because that's not what I came for.

I came for the second half.

She pulled out a microphone and, in a heartbreakingly earnest and sincere delivery, told us that she wanted to play several pieces based on melodies that everyone knew, and then one piece based on an abstract concept. The audience was to just shout out their ideas. A huge smile came to my face and stayed.

Here are my notes and clips for some of the unfamiliar pieces:

1. Bach's Passacaglia in C minor
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F51uHpH3yQk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_J_eC006QI

2. "I'll be Seeing You (In All the Old Familiar Places)" She used neighbor tones like Rachmaninoff and figuration like Chopin.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ld7pkvZPQk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2AgdxJYP74

3. "Do-Re-Mi" (Doe a Deer, a Fe-Male deer) from the Sound of Music
At some point, she had to admonish, in Spanish, a Spanish speaking fellow who wanted her to improvise on a theme that was highly popular in an hispanic nation, but not here. She has my respect for controlling the audience gracefully.

4. After she hears the theme from the audience, she repeats it on the piano fast and arhythmically. When she did this with "Mack the Knife" I was compelled to yell out "Don't forget the swing!"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUAk-CRNC44

She was kind enough to share that she is moving from Boston to L.A. very soon, and she's not regal, she just has a stiff neck from packing for 14 hours a day for 9 days. (Apparently she has a lot of stuff.)

5. On an abstract concept. "Moving from Boston to LA"
a. Boston
b. Boston winters (you can tell she finds Boston winters oppressive) b flat minor
c. L.A. (d flat major). Sunny.
6. "Over the Rainbow" Huge, huge close. A little vapid, but huge. The audience ate that up like chocolates. 

Gabriela Montero has a gift for improvisation, and is a splendid pianist, but that doesn't interest me. Since the first, what I've found most compelling was her sense of timing, and the freedom that she brings to her musical speech. In her improvisations especially, she is unequalled for emotional depth and expressiveness. She's a good pianist, but her improvisations belong to the class of Arthur Schnabel playing a Beethoven slow movement or Michelangeli playing Debussy. In the world of concert pianists alive today, for the sheer emotionality of her music making, she's peerless.