Wednesday, September 26, 2007

there's a place for us

Today is the 50th anniversary of the Broadway premier of West Side Story. Congratulations!

I've always loved the musical, I think in part because my Dad loved it. I've also known that it was groundbreaking for lots of reasons, including its focus on race and gang violence. But in the last month, I've heard two stories on NPR, one on the Houston local station, and one on All Things Considered, that have taught me more about the actual music of West Side Story.

On the local show, a visiting pianist played his arrangement of the overture. He then talked about how recognizable the songs of WSS are. He said, "You know within the first few notes that it's a tune from the musical." I had never thought about it before, but I realized after he said it that it was true. The whole musical has a unifying theme to it that makes it so memorable and classic that other, lesser musicals lack. The pianist said it was because Bernstein based the entire score on one interval, known as the "tritone." Hum the three notes of "Ma-ri-a..." That's a tritone. It's called the devil's interval and was banned from use until recently in the Roman Catholic Church (according to the pianist...).

Bernstein took the tritone and inverted, reversed, mirrored, and tinkered with it in other ways to form the base of each song. Even the gang members' whistle to each other is a twist on the basic tritone. The pianist played all the variations of it on the show, and if you listen to the program I linked to above from All Things Considered, you'll hear something similar.

Needless to say, I was impressed. What genius! The musical was reportedly met with good, though not raving reviews, partly because of its complexity, more akin to opera than to the popular musical of the day, like the Best Musical Tony Award winner the same year, The Music Man.

I decided I needed to blog about this because it's so exciting to me. I wish I could convey how cool I think this is! I once had a discussion with a friend about the merit of knowing about an author's personal life-- whether that knowledge added to what you gained from the content, whether it added depth or limited the possibilities for interpretation. I'm still ambivalent about that particular argument, but I have decided that learning interesting tidbits like this one make life much more interesting and inspire me to learn, create, and enjoy.

Monday, September 24, 2007

recap's been a while. I'm here to recap the last 3 weeks events.

September 8th was my brithday. We slept in and then went to Steven F. Austin state park for a bbq. It was very beautiful, shady, and quiet there. We cooked some chicken sandwiches and then threw around the football for a while. Soon afterward, some little kids who were playing on nearby swings asked if they could borrow the ball. We said OK, expecting them to throw it amongst themselves, but the boy who asked just backed up and lobbed one at Sam while he wasn't looking. So, we all started throwing the ball together. The smallest little boy always watched Sam's throw in awe. He'd say great things like, "Wow! What a bullet!" or "It's scary for a little boy like me to have a fast ball like that coming at me!" My favorite comment was, "Do you watch TV? 'Cuz you throw just like Vince Young!"

Eventually we left and came back home to change. When I got the mail, there was a package waiting for me in the office, from Sam. Inside was the Dark is Rising series in a boxed set and the DVD of "Newsies." I was so happy. Sam wouldn't tell me where we were going next. We went to a great Thai restaurant for dinner called Red Basil. It was very chic and yummy. It's owned by the NY Group and apparently got a great review from a very important reviewer. We definitely want to go back.

Once we got in the car, Sam couldn't hold his surprise any more. He told me we were going to the opening night of the Houston Symphony! They play at Jones Hall, which is very beautiful. It was neat to see all of Houston's high society out in the lobby in their evening gowns and jewels. But of course, the best part was the music. They played Tchaikovsky's piano concerto first. It was AMAZING. The pianist was incredible and the sound in the hall was so warm and lively. It was easily the best symphony performance I've ever seen. I also loved watching Sam enjoy the piano concerto so much. He would have loved to have played a concerto while he was at his piano prime and said, afterward, "I've only ever heard one other pianist play a concerto without a mistake..." Their second piece was Pictures at an Exhibition by Musorgsky which I'd never heard all the way through. I enjoyed it.

The next week we worked a lot, though I got to go to a fun evening with some of the other new sisters in Relief Society. Sam got sick early in the week, and then I caught it from him and by Friday night I was feeling pretty awful, so that week was fairly uneventful. Saturday night was fun though. Our friends and neighbors, the Bonds, invited us over for dinner and once they put their son to bed, we played Cranium-- boys vs. girls. We girls were just stomping our competition but since the game was about to end and we all wanted to play more, we changed the rules and the boys made a great comeback and eventually won with one card. We had great fun making fools of ourselves trying to hum and guess and draw and sculpt. The great triumph of the night was when Leighanna and I had to write down 3 comfort foods each. To win, 2 of them had to be the same. I wrote down "ice cream, chocolate, and pot roast." Leighanna wrote, "milkshakes, chocolate, and mashed potatoes." The boys were stunned.

The next week of work was tough, still being sick, but I had some easy and fun days with the kids. MV (those are his initials), my favorite, wanted lots of tickles and and at the end of the day when I was tired and my head and body ached, he said, before getting in the car, "Gimme a hug, Heather." He's so squishy and big and cuddly.

Sam picked me up from work early on Friday and we headed straight to Dallas. He had brought with it a package from Amazon that had all the things I had bought with my birthday gift certificate from Sam's parents. I bought my own copy of Anna Karenina, Anne of Green Gables, and The Prince of Egypt. Sam's never read either of the books, so I started reading Anne of Green Gables to him, though I didn't get very far because my throat hurt so much from being sick. I think we'll enjoy working our way slowly through it.

We got to Flower Mound around 6 PM where a delicious dinner of steak enchiladas and chips was hot and ready for us. Then we all changed and went to Dallas to see The Lion King!! The costuming and dancing was as incredible as I remember and I loved seeing it again. The next day we helped Sam's brothers with their homework (though mostly distracted them from it by joking and telling stories), played the new game Joseph got for the Wii, and watched some Cosby home videos. It was very relaxing and lots of fun to see the Cosbys.

Sam and I independently were asked to play the organ and conduct the music, respectively, in Sacrament Mtg. We got lots of comments afterwards on how cute we were doing the music together, and on how talented Sam was. He also accompanied the special musical number, so his piano skills were also displayed. The ward was very, and rightly, impressed. I have such a great husband.

And now we're back to Monday! I got off work at lunch time today since the power had gone out and only two rooms had light from windows, and the building was getting hotter and hotter, so we sent all the kids home. I don't mind since I needed to clean up the house for a dinner we're having tonight with my VT companion and teach-ee and their husbands. They're both couples without children, so it'll be nice to get to know them better.

Sorry to just spit all this out without any breaks or pictures. We'll try to come up with something a little more interesting and timely in the next post...

Thursday, September 06, 2007

"it's all happening at the zoo"

Sam and I decided to go to zoo on Labor Day. It was free so we went early to try to beat the crowds. That plan didn't really work, but we had a GREAT time anyway. We started out in the aquarium and I was amazed to see something of everything-- which proved to be true throughout the whole zoo. We really liked the flourescently-lit jellyfish tank. It was purple in the zoo but looks blue in the picture.

We then moved on to the birds, and then went to the Children's Zoo. They had a great fountain play area where shoots of water from the ground would turn on and off unexpectedly. Many mothers had to keep their kids from sticking their mouths over the water, but it was clear that the kids LOVED it, and it was great fun to watch them get so excited.

While there, we watched a group of fruit and nectar bats being fed. They hung the fruit on big chains, and the bats would fly up, grab on, and start munching away. It was surprisingly interesting to watch as they grappled for territory and used the claws on the tips of their wings to dig out fruit.

I liked seeing all the babies. We saw a baby antelope, giraffe, orangutan, and elephant.

Who doesn't think of Henry Mancini when they see a little guy like this?

Sam and I also really enjoyed the monkeys. These were at the entrance to the primate section:

Even from outside the primate exhibit, we could hear some really loud whooping from two monkeys calling back and forth to each other, so I'm sad to say that less exciting primates got glossed over as we wove our way through the exhibit along with everyone else in search of the loud and hilarious noise. We took a couple videos, and though this one doesn't show the monkey that well, you can hear them calling back and forth to each other. One would whoop and the other would whoop back and then the first would come back quicker and the exchange would go faster and faster until they couldn't keep up their screaming pace and then it'd cool down again. It's like at sporting events when you start chanting and it just gets faster and faster until breaks down. So here is Susie (the instigator as the nearby volunteer informed us) and her friend.

Here is one that better shows the monkey. Notice the big bulbous throat area. That inflates as they make the low whoop before the high shriek.

We finished our day at the zoo in the air conditioned reptile and amphibian house where we saw this leucistic croc...

...and then we went to the car to get lunch. We had just finished our sandwiches at a nearby picnic table when it started raining huge heavy Texas raindrops. We gathered up our food lickety-split and ran to the car, only getting mildly soaked, and it rained for the rest of the day. Perfect timing!

Now you know, that when you come to visit us here in our really nice apartment in Houston, you will have a FABULOUS zoo to go visit as well!


I had this great idea.

I'm terrible about sending out birthday cards to my family and friends. When I got married, Sam informed me that he never got a birthday greeting from his brothers until they got married, implying that it was now my wifely duty to send birthday cards to all Sam's siblings and their spouses, along with my own siblings and their spouses, as well as to our parents and grandparents. I wasn't too surprised and even expected that I'd do so, no matter who I married. So, the point is, now that I'm married, I really feel a responsibility for birthday cards.

So here's my plan: in free moments of time, I'll write birthday cards with generic well-wishes like, "Hope you had a super day!" "See you at the holidays!" "We miss you!" which could apply to everyone (kind of like horoscopes). Then I'll pop them into envelopes, address one to each person I'm responsible for, slap a forever stamp on there, and then file them away to be sent monthly.

What do you think? Brilliant? or Un-feeling and Insensitive?