November 29, 2013

Street Pastors, continued


I’m out on the street again tonight—Street Pastors.  The weather has warmed up a little—which is why we could handbell at the cottage yesterday evening, because the sitting room was not full of plants—and it’s GOING TO RAIN.  Either that or turn cold again.  Depends on who/what you read/listen to.*  I have my new battery-pack-operated heated waistcoat charged up and ready to go, and ordinary batteries for the socks and gloves poised for action . . . so it will probably rain.  I haven’t ordered my waterproof trousers yet.**

And . . . I think it’s going to become official that I don’t write a proper blog on SP nights.***  Maybe I’ll use it as an excuse to post the links I never get around to posting, because they’re too wonderful and I want to celebrate them properly, like this one, which most of you author-blog-following readers will have already seen, but for anyone who hasn’t†:

. . . or because they’re too infuriatingly CONFIRMATORY of what you’ve known forever:

ARRRRRRRGH.  LOTR fails?  Am I surprised?  I am not surprised.††  But I’m not sure you can rate SHAWSHANK REBELLION down:  It’s laid in a men’s prison, for pity’s sake.  On the other hand, I’m appalled that all but one of the HARRY POTTERs fails.†††  What was Hermione doing all that time?  Not talking to girls, evidently.

Right.  Okay.  I have to go put a pair of dry jeans in a bag to take with me in case I need a change during the break.‡  Night-night.  Those of you so inclined, please pray for me.  We’re supposed to go out there radiating the Armour of God or what-have-you.  Also I can use all the help I can get chatting to strangers, even if I’m wearing the Armour of God.

* * *

* One of my favourite things about the BBC weather site, which I have bookmarked, is the way the graphic at the top often says something different than the text at the bottom.  This feels like the real experience of English weather.

** Chiefly due to a failure to find enough info on line to be sure of trousers that are long enough in the inseam AND don’t make horrible slushing noises with every step.  You know they don’t give you any help with these crucial outfitting questions during the lengthy and arduous Street Pastors training.

*** Of which I have another one only next Friday, due to the inevitable stupidities of clashing schedules and the occasional inconvenient fifth Friday in a month.

† Thank you, b_twin

†† Yo, Jackson, you gonna mess with the story, how about you messed with that?

††† I know, I know.  I didn’t see them past the first one which nearly bored me to death.  But you know I’m hopeless.  I didn’t see RETURN OF THE KING either.


^ Also, I assume if I didn’t, some of you would hunt me down and kill me.  You don’t want to do that, you know, I’m not quite finished at the far end where things are still Very Bad.

McKinley FAIL [again]


Yarrrrrggggh.  I promised Blogmom a doodle update today.  And I’ve had my head down over stuff today* SECURE in the knowledge that I had a dozen doodle photos to choose from as illustration for the unwelcome news that . . . yes, I’m still turning the poor neglected things out.  I mean, no I’m not done, no, I didn’t put the final load in the post today.   At the moment Third House is getting in the way of [ever snail-like] doodle production:  the sad truth is that doodles are the first thing to be shoved back in a corner when life starts whapping me up longside the head again.**

I know.  It’s been two years.  Two years.  In fact OVER two years.

I’m sorry.  Which with £3 or so will buy you a Starbucks Gooey-o-rama with chocolate sprinkles and a paper parasol.

As I have said on more than one occasion on these virtual pages I WILL NEVER, EVER, EVER DO ANYTHING LIKE THIS AGAIN.  But I will still ask Blogmom to set up a Doodle Shop when—and only WHEN—I get this ancient hoary backlog cleared.  It’s not the doodles that are the problem:  doodling, when I’m actually sitting there doing it, is fun.  The problem is the doodler’s lack of a sense of time.  Or lack of sense full stop.

So . . . I had twelve*** photos from which I would choose eight or ten to DEMONSTRATE that to the extent there was ever any touch to this silly business I haven’t lost it.†  And when I stuck my memory card into my computer I discovered that I had had one of my UNUSUALLY CLUELESS MOMENTS, although I admit I have them rather a lot with this camera, and all but two of said doodle photos are dark grey and blurry.  AAAAAAAAAUGH.

All right.  That leaves two.




Several people asked for cats and books.  This one's the most recent.

Several people asked for cats and books. This one’s the most recent.

Oh.  And Happy Thanksgiving.


I don't think the muffins have fangs.

I don’t think the muffins have fangs.

 * * *

* Well, and handbells.  One of the many dumb things I feel guilty about is handbells, change ringing on handbells being one of the difficult frelling skills I have no frelling gift for that I’ve somehow managed to let myself get tangled up with.^  Having no (frelling) gift for it means I should spend more time studying and I, um, don’t.  I don’t have time or I don’t have brain energy or I have too many dogs or [other explanations insert HERE].  But I like ringing handbells, except that it makes me feel even stupider than usual.   So when Niall rings up and is insinuating my brain starts to explode.  No!  Yes!  No!  Yes!  Noyesnoyesnoyesnoyes!!!!  Niall, being Niall, only hears the yes part.

Niall rang up and was insinuating and heard ‘yes’.  So we were going to ring handbells tonight.  And then Colin’s builder discovered that the dumbleg trumwale^^ had morveldinky, and had to be FORKLED.  RIGHT NOW.  Which meant Colin wasn’t going to be able to get away early enough for handbells.  OH THAT’S REALLY TOO BAD [I had no sleep last night and feel like death not at all well warmed over] I said, trying not to hiccup with delight.

And then I took Pav out for a supernumerary hurtle.  She’s so self motivated that it’s rather too easy, when circumstances oppress, to decide that she expends enough energy in a relatively short space of time that merely getting underfoot counts to some extent.^^^

Pooka started barking at me as we were making our zigzag way home from Old Eden.  Curses.  Who invented mobile phones anyway.

It was Colin.  The forkling had gone with unwonted dispatch.  He was free for handbells after all.



^ Niall, you ratbag.

^^ It’s a particularly large and valuable dumbleg trumwale I believe.

^^^ No you may not eat my slippers.  You may nest in the dirty laundry, you may not shred it.  No you may not chew the corners of the furniture.  No you may not chew any of the corners of any of the furniture.  No you may not excavate the Ancient Magazine Pile under the kitchen table.+  No you may not wedge yourself under the tallboy++ to retrieve+++ the dustpan, the assortment of brushes, and Peter’s spare slippers.#  No you may not torture hellhounds.  No you may not torture me.

. . . At this point I frequently find myself thinking that it would be a lot simpler just to take her for an official hurtle and then feel justified in making her long down for a while.

+ This is a scary one.

++ I was HOPING she would get too big to do this.

+++ Retrieve, cough cough.  Retrieve.  Well, it starts with the retrieve.

# This list pertains to mayhem at the cottage.

** I know.  It should be handbells.  Although one of the reasons I don’t do my handbell homework is that if I have a few brain cells left at an unexpected time of day I don’t whip out a handbell method line, I whip out a pencil for a doodle.

*** No.  Actually I had sixteen.

† Another way of saying this is that you can’t lose what you didn’t have.

On the intricacies and atrocities of playing the French Horn – guest post by Midget


My very favorite joke* about the french horn is “How do you know the horn is a divine instrument?……Man plays it, but only God knows what comes out.**”

I love this because it is the Gospel Truth. Even after playing the horn for more than half of my life (at this point, a good deal more than half), there are some days in which the sounds that come out of my bell are as mysterious as the dark side of the moon. Or a hellhound’s inclination towards food.

“But why?” you may ask. “The thing only has three buttons, surely it can’t be that hard.” Ah, if only it were that simple. All instruments operate on one basic principle: they use vibration to produce sound. For a piano, a hammer strikes a string when you press a key. For a violin, the friction between the bow and the string causes that string to vibrate. For a wind instrument, you rely on a vibrating column of air. For brass instruments in particular, you make the air vibrate with your face. Basically you blow a controlled raspberry into your horn. Classy, right?

The fundamental problem of the air-vibrating method of sound production is that a specific length of air column will only vibrate at one set of specific pitches, called a harmonic series. These pitches are the products of the intersections of sound waves in the air column (my understanding of acoustic physics starts to break down at this point, so I can’t tell you exactly how to visualize this). So for one specific length of vibrating air you get around 16 pitches unevenly spaced over a span of 4 octaves, although only about 8 are usable and most of the pitches are crowded together in the highest octave (see visual here). This is why hunting horns and bugle calls have such an iconic sound: they only have a few notes to work with, so they make the most of ’em.

The french horn originated as a hunting horn. Baroque and Classical composers took it out of the fields and into the symphony, mostly for the purpose of having horn calls in their programmatic music. You can hear some of them in Mozart*** and Beethoven. For a long time the horn was just a length of tube with a mouthpiece and a bell, and if a composer wanted a song with horns in a specific key, the hornist just swapped out one length of horn for another to get the eight notes the composer wanted in the right key. Eventually, they realized that if you could add length to your basic horn with extra bits of tubing you wouldn’t have to have ten or a dozen horns, and thus the idea of slides (or crooks, as they were called) was born. So when a piece came up in, say, G major, the hornist would just pop the correct crooks into his horn and be ready to go.

By and by some smart person developed valves, which let the crooks become a permanent part of the horn. By depressing a valve you open up the corresponding slides (crooks) and thus lengthen the available tubing, which changes the series of pitches you can play. So basically, you use your valves (singly or in combination) to pick your series of available pitches, and then choose the specific pitch you want to play by blowing a highly controlled raspberry into the horn. The smaller the raspberry, the higher the pitch, and visa versa.

This whole arrangement of valves and crooks lets you play chromatically, which is a great improvement on the eight-pitch scheme, but there’s a catch. The french horn’s “normal” range is set quite high in the harmonic series, where all the notes are smushed together. This means that for any one note there are at least two valve combinations (furthermore to be known as fingerings) that will let that note play^. The higher you go, the more fingerings there are for any given note. So it’s not uncommon that you come in on what you think is the right note and can play merrily along for several measures before you hit a note that will not work with the fingerings you are trying to use–and then discover that you’ve been a third lower than you should the entire time.^^ As I said, only God knows what comes out!

(Other adventures include: High Notes {and shattering them like clay pigeons in skeet shooting}, Transposing, Hand Stopping, and the Invidious Gurgle. And playing Wagner {and Holst/Mahler/Reed} really, really, REALLY loud.)

* * *

*and I know loads of terrible instrument jokes

**Incidentally, my horn is named Amadeus, which means “Gift of God”. He’s a beauty. Well, actually, he looks like he’s one step short of scrap metal–old, big, and unlacquered, which means nothing I can do will keep him from tarnishing–but dang, that boy can SING.

***Mozart wrote four horn concertos and all of them have at least one movement (usually the third) that’s based on a hunting horn call. This is the third movement of the third concerto:

^This whole harmonic series/extra fingering thing is further complicated by the fact that the modern standard horn is a double horn. It has TWO sets of slides/crooks (in the keys of F and B flat) attached to the valves, and comes equipped with a trigger to swap between the sets of slides. The reason for this is that some parts of the horn’s range are easier to play and/or better in tune on each set of slides. But it quadruples the amount of fingerings you can use, which can be extremely confusing.

^^This phenomenon makes sight reading a (bigger than usual) ratbag on days when my sense of pitch is off. Come in on the right pitch? Ha, forget it. And when the whole horn section is having an off day, we all just kind of glance shiftily at each other as our entrance approaches, hoping someone will A) have counted their rests correctly so we know when to come in, and B) get somewhere within a fifth of the correct pitch. In Classical or Romantic pieces you can often use the harmony to make an educated guess about the correct pitch, but if it’s a contemporary piece, you just wing it and hope it fits into some chord some where.

Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men. –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Other people’s off lead terriers and Milan Kundera



All right, this is not jolly upbeat blog tonight.  Anyone of a delicate sensibility, leave now.

While the following is not my malfeasance, it is malfeasance of a mind-boggling variety and I’m still brooding about what I should have done or what I could do if it happens again.  Hellhounds and I turned into the churchyard this morning behind an elderly gentleman and a terrier.  An off-lead terrier.  Hellhounds and I lingered to let this unwelcome pair get ahead of us.  Only a little smoke was coming out of my ears at this point.

As we strolled along the terrier . . . stopped and had a crap.  Gentleman was well in front paying no attention.  He turned back in time to see terrier finishing its crap . . . and began to turn away again.  I had just enough presence of mind to say, I hope you’re going to pick that up.  Oh yes, said this piece of walking faecal matter, I usually do, I just have to go get a bag, thank you! —cheerily.  And walked away.

I stood there I think literally with my mouth open, hellhounds waiting patiently beside me.  Fortunately the terrier was not mayhem-minded because I would have been in no shape to fend off barrage and foray.  Okay, what should I have done?  I did have enough time to have offered him a frelling bag out of my lavish store . . . and I didn’t (remember I had to make my feeble, as-usual-short-of-sleep mind up quickly) because I didn’t yet know what kind of a caprice the off-lead terrier might manifest, and Darkness is in one of his touchy moods lately.  I could have said, yo, you miserable stinking lice-brained toe-rag, pick that up with your bare hands if you have to, before I loose the forces of Darkness and Chaos on you.  I could have said, I want your name and address so I can frelling report you to the frelling dog warden.**

I did none of these things.  I stood there.  With my mouth open.  Till Mr Disease Bacterium toddled away with his terrier behind him.  And his terrier’s pile of fresh crap left farther and farther behind him.***


People are amazing.  Not in a good way.

But speaking of dogs, as I so often am, a forum member recently put this in her tag line (if it’s tag line I mean):

“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace.” —Milan Kundera

Say what?  This was another mouth-open occasion.†  I copied and pasted this interesting remark several days ago to ponder upon.  Now I adore my assortment of furry catastropes and as a pleasant fantasy I can see this as a tag line but . . . has Kundera ever met a real dog?  They don’t know jealousy?  He can’t have lived with more than one dog and watched them knock each other out of the way for the petting hand or the bit of raw liver or the best place on the sofa.††  He’s never watched the established regime watch beady-eyed every scrap of attention and/or food the young interloper receives.†††  Dogs don’t know discontent?  Listen to the yelping and baying if you get home later than they were expecting you to take them for their next hurtle.  Darkness goes more for the enigmatic, but Chaos has a reproachful look that would melt case-hardened steel.‡  And evil?  Eh.  I belong to the love-wins camp of who God is.  Evil is evil, but it’s also ultimately transitory.‡‡  Although I agree that dogs don’t know evil.  They live in the moment—which is why they are such good company on a sunny hillside—but their focus is on themselves.  You are a means to an end.  Sure they love you.  You’re still a means to an end.  They cooperate with us and our weird ideas about leads and harnesses and coming when called and not eating garbage because we’ve made it worth their while.  We’ve spent forty thousand years breeding them to be dependent on us and to believe they like it that way.  They’re still mortal, and jealousy and discontent kind of go with the package as soon as your brain evolves beyond the medium-sized ganglion stage.

Maybe I’m not in a very good mood.

Maybe I should go sing.

* * *

* Sigh.  It would be the first footnote that I cut, and forgot that I cut.  I can’t face changing all the icons from the hysteria-prone WordPress window again.  Sorry about that.  THERE IS NO FIRST FOOTNOTE.

** Yes we do have one.  She’s overworked. She covers like half of Hampshire.  I went into this not long ago.

*** And if I see him again, what am I going to do?  Good question.  Since the terrier seems relatively harmless I can perhaps risk being somewhat . . . tenacious.  What I wonder, because the creep is clearly by his accent posh, and picking up dog crap is for the lower orders^, if I asked for his name would he give it to me?  How unplugged from reality is he?  Does he have any notion of social responsibility and/or guilt?  Or would he expect the dog warden to recognise his class superiority, pull her forelock, and go away?

I should call the cops.  Someone on the non-emergency line could at least tell me what my options are.

^ In which case he needs to bring his batman with him on terrier excursions.

† Although at least there’s no need to call the cops.  The asylum for people who are too sweet and hopeful and kind to live maybe.

†† He’s also never been at the animal shelter when someone brings in the previously-beloved family pet because it keeps trying to eat the baby.  Yes, that’s bad socialisation, but it’s also jealousy.

††† One of the few reliable ways of getting hellhounds to express an interest in food is to feed the hellterror.  Unfortunately the interest doesn’t last long enough to do much to improve calorie intake—but hellhounds are both there looking alert every time I bribe the hellterror into her crate with a handful of kibble, waiting for their, as it were, door prize of a square of fish jerky each.^  Which they do at least eat.


‡ Pav, who is on her side incandescent with jealousy of the hellhounds most of the time, specialises in screaming a wide variety of imprecations and hurling herself repeatedly against the door of her crate.  Or running up my leg like a banana-harvester up a tree with a particularly succulent bunch at the very top.

‡‡ Not nearly transitory enough however.  As too many of us know.

Singing and other things



It was not going to be a good day.  I didn’t get enough sleep and have been behaving like it.  I managed to catch the edge of the loaded breakfast kong on the edge of Pav’s crate, thus spraying the cottage kitchen with soggy kibble and wet tinned rabbit mince.  And then, bolting into the mews for an urgent pee, having been out hurtling and watching hellcritters pee* I unhooked my belt buckle** and with a sudden, sleep-deprived jerk . . . threw it in the loo.  Inadvertently.  Of course.  At least it was Monday morning and right after Peter’s cleaning person had been here:  it was a shining clean loo.***


I’ve also had a bad couple of days with the ratblasted ME and the hellhounds are only eating on alternate Thursdays when the moon is full.  When the moon is full, the proper sacrifices have been made, their paths have not been crossed by any black cats, hedgehogs, rabid snails or mad gypsy fortunetellers prone to throwing the wrong babies into the fire†, and they have not been put off by the unseemly delight of a hellterror disembowelling a kong.

But Nadia makes everything better.††  I won’t say I had the most brilliant voice lesson I have ever had today—I’m still too post-ME floppy—but I’m having lots more fun, now I have something more nearly resembling a voice to play with.


This is like being a real [music] student

Good golly, miss molly!! And gorblimey *@#&$(%&^ (drat is about all I really fill that in with, but asterisks look more menacing), YOU ARE A REAL STUDENT and have been for a VERY LONG TIME!!!!!

Feh.  I forgot you music teachers would be all over me for that remark.  It is difficult to take yourself seriously when you have no visible talent at something that there are Joyce DiDonatos out there doing at stratospheric professional level.  You can tell yourself you’re doing it because you enjoy it till you’re blue-with-spots in the face and that joy is important and fabulousness is not the only measure . . . but it’s still difficult.

I’m so glad you’ve been having and noticing progress with your voice! And I’m so glad everytime I read something about Nadia’s wonderful talent and helpfulness in getting you to find and use your voice.

A friend recently sent me an article from the NEW YORKER about Joyce DiDonato and I was completely riveted by descriptions both of her teacher and herself giving master classes:  so much of what is quoted is exactly what Nadia says.  Speaking of a teacher taking her students seriously, whether they’re ever going to do more than torture their dogs with their singing or not.  But this is clearly why I am making progress.  I have a good teacher.  ::Beams::

But, goodness gracious, as Blondviolinist and I have said many times, you are a perfectly wonderful student. If you lived in the States (or I in England) maybe I would badger you into wanting viola lessons . . .

Snork.  As a result of this frelling blog I now have several friends who play stringed instruments, and it’s like Oisin and his organ:  if I were thirteen and talented I’d be taking organ lessons—and lessons on something with strings, probably either a violin or viola.  I like both the size and the tone.  The bigger stuff and the stuff you mostly strum or pluck doesn’t appeal to me as much††† although I have the standard romantic crush on harps.


go on You Tube and find a couple of PROFESSIONALS I like singing it and PAY ATTENTION.

And then tell us which ones so we can hear what you’re aiming for!

It came down to a choice between DiDonato and Cecilia Bartoli—and to my own surprise Bartoli wins by a seven-league-boot stride.

Voi che sapete is such a cliché and every mezzo voice student in the known universe has to sing it—I assume because it’s not disastrously difficult technically and because the story line is fairly straightforward.  Even though it’s a trouser role, still, teenage [person] in love with every other teenage [person, possibly but not necessarily exclusively of the opposite gender] is a pretty obvious emotional arc that most of us can empathise with.  You don’t have to be a frelling philosopher to get into Cherubino.

But the very straightforwardness of it I think is maybe a slight trap for the unwary.  Or the ungifted or the clueless—but that shouldn’t include the professionals.  And it’s interesting, listening to rafts of professionals.  I didn’t hear a bad one, but I heard a lot that didn’t really have the fire in the belly that I would expect a teenage boy singing about love to have.  DiDonato is almost too lyrical for me:  too put together.  The passion is all planed and shiny smooth.  Bartoli, who in other repertoire sometimes eats too much scenery for my listening pleasure, gets Voi che sapete dead right for what I’m trying for—HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA—there’s fire in her/his belly and I’m not going to call it roughness, but as if the passion is going to break out occasionally, as she sings her beautiful accurate frelling professional line.

I suppose it’s also that I’m stuck with using what I’ve got:  and there are a lot of imperfect voices out there that can put stuff over.  I want to put it over.  I need role models that suggest a way to do this.  Bartoli gives me a little crack of light in the wall of my own . . . erm . . . limited competence.


(And I want to watch those viola lessons! ) . . . Maybe I could disguise myself as a really large stack of sheet music. Or a double bass.

:: falls down laughing ::  Listen, you two, you’ve been hectoring me, in your kindly, well meant ways, for a long time now.  Come to England, and we’ll meet on a blasted heath somewhere and do something . . .  blogworthy‡‡‡.


Indeed, isn’t the Facing Down of Personal Demons exhausting? Reading this post was funny for me, because in my case I sing just fine (not great, by any stretch, but fine), but am lately facing similar issues – of fear about being heard, revealed, about speaking out – but mine are in re: writing. Sigh. 

I so hear you.  Nadia says over and over and over and over that singing is very revealing, that you have to get used to this.  I am, I guess, getting used to it, which is why I’m finally beginning to make a, you know, noise.

Writing is also very, very revealing.  But it’s revealing north by northwest:  as I’ve said probably with even greater frequency than Nadia reminds her students that singing is revealing, my readers know a lot about me:  they just don’t know what they know, because there’s no A equals B about it.  Even the blog is consciously and emphatically shaped.  But this is a rant for another night. . . .

* * *

* . . . every five feet because that’s the way critters are.  I was hoping hellhounds were unusually bad because they’re entire boys, but Pav, an entire girl, is nearly as bad.  Siiiiiiigh.  I’m an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it person and I don’t whack my critters’ bits out without a reason but going for a walk/hurtle without stopping every five feet for a pee sounds pretty attractive—none of my spayed girls were ever this obsessive.

But watching some critter take yet ANOTHER pee I often think of Calvin having to get up in the night after Hobbes has been evilly whispering sweet nothings in his ear about running water. . . .

** It’s made to come apart in two pieces, and the open-and-close half to detach from the leather strap

*** I do not have a cleaning person, and the loo at the cottage is never what you would want to call shining clean.

† Il Trovatore, okay?  I’ve been eyeing her aria again in my mezzo book.

†† As the mother of two small children, she would find this remark amusing.

††† Which is pretty funny, since up to two or three years ago I never really engaged with strings.  And then I had a Transformative Experience listening to one of those solo violin Bach things driving somewhere in Wolfgang and was so ravished I actually had to pull over to the side of the road and listen.  In hindsight I think this was a kind of practise version for the real Road to Damascus doohickey a year ago September—the Bach conversion was also pretty overwhelming and changed me.  Although one of the less usefully wonderful side effects was that pretty much everything I had or have composed or had a stab at composing since then has looked like trash.^  Sigh.  I’m having another go at setting a couple of lines from a favourite psalm. . . . Stay, erm, tuned.

^ This is not wholly Bach’s fault.  But sitting by the side of the road consciously, attentively listening to genius seems to be where it started.

‡ And probably embarrassing.

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