Thursday, May 17, 2012

Appreciations #2: Ludwig van Beethoven, Or Ode to Ode to Joy

Give it a listen, and maybe you'll see what I mean. Start at 41:00:

I think it's safe to say that, at any given time, three or more of my students are working on one or another version of the song, "Ode to Joy." There is the simple, one-hand-at-a-time, two-line melody that kids learn before they've even seen a staff of music. There's the slightly more complicated two-handed one, which involves the right hand moving up high on the piano for the second run through the main theme, then back down for the victorious ending. And there's the most complicated version, the one that imitates the basses and cellos in original orchestral composition, playing the familiar melody in the bass range of the piano, then developing into a more complicated accompaniment with the theme on top. Ode to Joy is probably one of the most recognized classical works ever; kids and parents know it, non-musicians recognize it, most people can hum along with little-to-no help.

So it may be a surprise that Ode to Joy is one of my absolute favorite-ever pieces of classical music. What a common, ordinary song to choose as a favorite. And this, after years of my parents having my siblings and I listen to the diverse selections on NPR Morning Classics, spending four years as a music major in my undergrad and two more in my Masters program, again in music. After seventeen years of piano lessons, as well as two years of clarinet, some harpsichord, voice, guitar and drum lessons, and countless years of choir. After learning to analyze, identify, and pick apart any and every kind of classical music from Bach to Stravinsky to Philip Glass, I still go back to Ode to Joy. Every time, I find myself back there.

Every time...well, that's somewhat of an exaggeration. Every Moody time? Every Emotional time? Every Sad, Thrilled, Confused, Restless, Blissful, Crabby, Exhausted, Calm time, is more what I mean. There is no bad mood that Ode to Joy will not help, there is no height of emotion that Ode to Joy will not exacerbate; it is the perfect soundtrack to any moment or feeling in my life. It grasps at every corner of my brain and soul, catching little bits of conflicting feelings and shoving them all together, so that I all of a sudden catch myself driving through the country at 7:45 on a Thursday morning, singing in German at the top of my lungs, windows wide open, arms and face freezing, big stupid smile on my face as tears roll down my cheeks. Ode to Joy is all of it. Ode to Joy is everything all at once. Hopelessness and hope, resistance and unity, faith and freedom, all rolled into one. All at the same time.

I've been lucky enough to get to dedicate my life to music. As a child and teenager, I was a reluctant performer. As a college student, a slightly-less reluctant performer, as well as a budding and curious music theory nerd. Post-college, I finally embraced my love for teaching and was privileged enough to combine teaching with music and form my current career. The musical opportunities in my life have been numerous, rewarding, hilarious and humbling. I've opened for Dar Williams's opener, I've played for a large crowd at a feminist bookstore's open mic, performed at a fundraiser for my sister's law firm, played in a ridiculously fun punk band with my best college lady friends, followed a piano-cello version of "November Rain" with an encore of "Time After Time" with my BFF, played a hymn at my grandfather's funeral, and shared the stage with my insanely talented and lovely piano students, among many other experiences. But no performance compares to getting to sing in a choir to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in the "Ode to Joy" movement.

My friend Katie and I spent a year in choir together, giggling and laughing and making up nicknames for our fellow singers. There was Ursula, who looked like Ursula from The Little Mermaid and had the most perfect German pronunciation. There was Wally, who, well...he looked like a Walrus. And he was the loudest tenor in the group, always overcompensating for the small group by over-singing and making a show of himself. And there was The Lumberjack, who, as Katie reminded me this morning, always came to choir in a flannel shirt and suspenders. It was not much different from the rest of my college years, all the laughing through class and nicknames (shout out to 819!), but when we all came together to sing with the orchestra, everything sort of settled. We calmed down and stood up straight and proud, followed Ursula's tips for proper pronunciation, and sang our hearts out. We must have sang through the entire movement at least fifty times, and I loved it every single time.

I always wonder if I am able to appreciate certain pieces of music more if I've had the chance to play or sing them, or really look at the music. Maybe I can hear the intricacies and details more when I get a chance to see them in the sheet music, to feel them with my fingers as I sight-read for the first time, to discover what is actually happening in the music. To feel why I will later get a chill when that measure is played, and why I will later smile when I hear that particular ascending chord progression. I feel so fortunate to have this. Musically, Ode to Joy is pretty difficult to sing. For an alto who, when harmonizing with her brother, always chooses the lower part (to be fair, he has a truly magnificent falsetto), the higher notes in the Ode to Joy were a giant stretch.

Here, have a listen or watch to another version (incomplete):
Watch the orchestral section beginning at 13:16, and wait for the part at 14:32. Look at the anticipation. Listen to everybody - the orchestra, the choir, the audience - waiting, almost wincing, ready for what is to come. Watch the conductor's face as the music nearly disappears, and then swells into this incredible moment of relief and bliss. I just cried again while watching this video. Chills. Every single time.

There is a section of the song, a fugue (almost like a round), found at 59:25 in the first video posted above, in which all four voice parts are singing repeated lyrics, but different notes, all at the same time, growing and developing into a beautifully monstrous rolling pile of voices. I might never have paid much attention to this part of the movement had I not sung it. And, had our conductor not insisted that we do this section ridiculously fast and precise. Never before this moment had I experienced something "hard to do" in singing. I always just sang, man. But with this fugue, this tiny minute-and-a-half piece of music, I had to focus intently, concentrate on every note, on breathing at the exact right moment, at pronouncing those umlauts like Ursula taught us, at increasing the volume of my voice just right, and then, at the crazy high note, singing as soft as possible while still projecting. I don't think I'd ever really worked that hard to make music before.

And then, in a tiny and beautiful moment, all the hard work turned into pure joy. When I could truly lose myself in the music, be a little less focused and a little more floaty, losing myself a bit among the notes, I realized I was surrounded by about 80 other people singing the same song, the same words and notes, and we were all singing together to create the most beautiful piece of music to exist, at least in that moment.

I have found myself, as of late, saying that I've "just been more emotional" in the last year. I'd love to blame it on, first, the tumultuous political atmosphere of the city in which I live, the personal attacks on teachers - especially my friends and the man I love - the vitriol and hate and polarization to which people in Wisconsin have been driven. Or, I can easily say I've been far more emotional since the sudden death of one of my best friends, followed closely by the loss of my dear grandfather. It could be true, and it most likely is. But really, I've always been an extremely emotional person. And I know that music goes hand-in-hand with all of this emotion. But which came first? Does the music just enhance all the emotion that's already sitting in my body, waiting to arise at just the right moment? Or does my emotional self make me hear the music a little harder, feeling physical reactions to just the right combination of sounds? What exactly is it that causes me to find myself on a Thursday morning on that country drive, crying and smiling and singing as if absolutely nothing else in the world matters or even exists?

Maybe it's just Beethoven. His music has and always will bring out the truth in me, tells me my own emotions when I have no clue how to identify them, and explains what I've been feeling all this time, simply through music. What an amazing individual, to be able to affect complete strangers living in different centuries who'd never even heard of him until years after he died. What a full and beautiful and insightful person. Much gratitude, Beethoven. Thank you.

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere an stimmen,
und freudenvollere.
Freude! (men's chorus: Freude! )
Freude! (chorus again: Freude! )
Oh friends, not these tones!
Rather, let us raise our voices in more pleasing
And more joyful sounds!
Joy! (Joy!)
Joy! (Joy!)
Freude, schöner Götterfunken*
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods*
Daughter of Elysium,
We enter, drunk with fire,
Heavenly one, your sanctuary!
Your magic reunites
What custom strictly divided.
All men become brothers,
Where your gentle wing rests.
Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein;
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
Mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer's nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!
Whoever has had the great fortune
To be a friend's friend,
Whoever has won a devoted wife,
Join in our jubilation!
Indeed, whoever can call even one soul
His own on this earth!
And whoever was never able to, must creep
Tearfully away from this band!
Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.
Vor Gott!
Joy all creatures drink
At the breasts of nature;
All good, all bad
Follow her trail of roses.
Kisses she gave us, and wine,
A friend, proved to the end;
Pleasure was given to the worm,
And the cherub stands before God.
Before God!
Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt'gen Plan,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.
Glad, as His suns fly
Through the Heaven's glorious design,
Run, brothers, your path,
Joyful, as a hero to victory.
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über'm Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such' ihn über'm Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muss er wohnen.
Be embraced, millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Do you bow down, millions?
Do you sense the Creator, world?
Seek Him beyond the starry canopy!
Beyond the stars must He dwell.
Finale repeats the words:
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über'm Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Seid umschlungen,
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Finale repeats the words:
Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the star-canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Be embraced,
This kiss for the whole world!
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods
Spark of the gods!

-from Wikipedia

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Jamba Juice - It's Fer Real, Brah

I'm a big fan of gift cards and gift certificates. Around the holidays, I receive a lot of them from my students and their families. They've caught on over the years; I've gone from receiving Starbucks gift cards (that I sold to a friend, by the by) to ones for Victor Allen's, a local coffee chain. This year I got three from Subway (because the kids listen when I talk about how much I love sandwiches, see?), one or two for different bars, and two gas cards. Yep, they've got me figured out.

I keep all the gift cards in a little glittery green wallet my friend Tara gave me a few years ago. There are cards in there that are at least five years old. One of them, in particular, always caught my attention because of its obscurity and randomness. It was a card for Jamba Juice.

JAMBA JUICE. What the hell?

My mother handed me this Jamba Juice gift card once, years ago, saying that a patient at work had given it to her and she'd never use it. I shrugged and accepted it, figuring I could, one day, probably stomach a frozen juice or smoothie or whatever they serve there. I kept it in my green wallet and thought nothing of it until, one day, I decided to check the balances of each of the cards. Seven bucks and some change on the Subway card, twenty dollars even to Panera, and a whopping $30 to Victor Allen's (a gift from some siblings - I totally scored on that one). When I came to the Jamba Juice card, I almost ignored it, figuring I'd probably never get to Jamba Juice anyhow. But, just for fun, I decided to check the balance. Guess how much was on there...

No, for real guess. You'll never guess.

$50. That's five-zero. FIFTY DOLLARS. To Jamba Juice. Again, I ask you: What. The. Hell?! Who even buys a Jamba Juice gift card for fifty dollars?!

After enjoying the initial shock and hilarity, I sort of ignored the card for awhile. I always knew I was sitting on a goldmine of blended fruit, ice, and "boosts" (more on that later), but never had the interest or motivation to actually act upon it. UNTIL NOW. Whoops, caps lock. Until now...

A few weeks ago, Andy and I went and saw a play at the Overture Center. We don't often find ourselves on State St., so we decided to take a little walk. As we strolled down the street, a bright yellow vision appeared before us...Jamba Juice. The one and only. We looked at each other. "Should we do it?" I asked urgently. "I mean, fifty dollars." We were both intimidated, and decided to walk past and try again on our walk back up State St. When we arrived back, however, we were both too freaked out/nervous/scared to go in. Yes, seriously. Jamba Juice is intimidating.

But finally, the actual, real time came this past Sunday. The time to nip it in the bud, get on with it, just do it, and other such slogans. We found ourselves on State St. again after a lovely breakfast with my parents and a long walk, and so, as the bright yellow sign once again appeared in the distance, we squared our shoulders, narrowed our eyes, and determinedly headed inside.

The air inside a Jamba Juice is different. It feels recycled and recirculated, sort of like in a mall, but with the addition of a heavy citrus scent, which made my eyes water. The long line of people waiting for frozen juice wore colorful clothing and bored, indifferent faces. These colors and faces reminded me of the air: sort of false and sour. Many of the people there had fake-tanned legs. The clothes they wore were all different, yet seemed chillingly similar. I couldn't put my finger on what it was, but it seemed almost like some sort of unofficial uniform. One that nobody had told Andy and I about.

We read the menu sort of desperately and hysterically, feeling very much under pressure. "I'm deciding between the...uh...Mango-a-go-go and the...Orange-A-Peel," Andy said, looking intently at the list of confusing and stupidly-named beverages. I started to laugh and took a breath, ready to totally make fun of him, when I realized that I was probably going to order the Orange-A-Peel myself. Dammit. Lesson #1: If you're at a Jamba Juice, you're going to sound like a damn fool no matter what you order.

Once we'd decided on our orders (the two listed above - please don't make me write them out again), we then had to decide on what "boosts" to add. Yes, boosts (read about them here). We'd joked earlier about trying to create a drink with one of every boost in order to try and spend the $50, or at least a good chunk of it, but once we were inside the actual Jamba Juice, we knew it would be an impossibility. Or cause major loose stools, know what I mean? Those boosts are just too intense. Anyhow, I went with a 3G Charger Boost and Andy picked the Flax and Fiber Boost, though I was tempted by the Weight Burner Boost so then I could lose weight WHILST drinking Jamba Juice. Effective diets, amiright gals?

We both ordered the medium size, which, incidentally, was called "Original." The smallest size is called "Sixteen" and the largest is called "Power." Yep, Sixteen, Original, and Power. Whaa? We both got a boost, and a somewhat pricey drink. And our total was only $11.39. We did our best, and that's all we could spend. My damn Jamba Juice card still has $38.61 on it. Ugh.

They do have some products for sale there, like water bottles and t-shirts, and even this pretty nice citrus juicer that my dad might like. Maybe I'll go back and get that. I don't think I can take another Jamba Juice experience, even if I just order the Sixteen.

So, what have I learned from all of this? Well, I guess Jamba Juice sells smoothies. That's basically what they are. Really mediocre smoothies. The taste was...fine. The consistency...alright. It was all really unremarkable. What a let down, right? Andy and I did our best to match the mediocrity of the smoothies in the pictures we took of each other:

Other things I got out of this: Well, I finally spent some of the gift card and worked up the nerve to go inside a Jamba Juice. Sure, let's count that as something. What else...? Oh, Andy and I made up a whole new way of speaking to each other. We are now only talking in Addicted Boost Talk. For example:

Andy: Hey, I could really use a Boost right about now. Wanna hit up the Double J, brah?
Me: Awww, duuuuude, TOTALLY. I've been hardcore jonesin' for a boost.

Or, the sexy date version:

Me: Oh maaaaaaan, I had a hard day at work. I could really use a Boost right about now, you know, man?
Andy: Fer sure, yo. Let's shoot over to the Jambs and grab a coupla Boosts, have a nice romantic night, ya know girl?

Or, in more dramatic terms:

Andy (arriving after the long drive up to Madison): Babe, I GOTTA get me a Boost. It's been a week - there are no JJs in Monroe. We gotta get to State St., like NOW!
Me: Oh...yeah, sure...let' in a little while.
Andy (long silence, followed by a hysterical): DID YOU BOOST WITHOUT ME?! DID YOU BOOST WITH SOMEBODY ELSE?????
Me: No! It's not like that! I just...I just really needed a Boost and I was just passing by...
Andy: I can smell it on you. You reek of citrus. And your hair is so lush and shiny...YOU DID THE ANTIOXIDANT POWER BOOST! We were going to try that one together. TOGETHER!!!
Me: Babe, I swear, I only had one. I needed it. I DIDN'T THINK I WAS GOING TO MAKE IT!!!
Andy: It's like I don't even know you anymore.

Yep. That's what I got out of my trip to Jamba Juice. Hilarious, make-believe conversations.

Well, that and a blog entry, finally. I'll take it.

UPDATE: How could I forget to check on my favorite local restaurant review website, Eating in Madison A to Z, who just finished an EIGHT YEAR PROJECT to try every restaurant in Madison. Wow, that's akin to eating, like $250 worth of Jamba Juice, dudes! Check their much more respectful and mature review here. Baby aspirin. You are spot on, Nichole.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Wisconsin Love Affair #2: Hook's 15-Year Cheddar

I hit a giant and stupid wall of writer's block just a little while ago, while at the same time being unable to figure out how to transfer some pictures from my Google+ affected Picasa account to my stupid desktop. So annoying. It was a really frustrating moment, so instead of throwing my computer on the ground and screaming, I decided to stop myself and close that blog window. Totally not worth it.

Disclaimer: Before I decided to chill the hell out, I angrily deleted my stupid Google+ profile and my Picasa albums were once again perfect and usable. Stupid Google+. What's the point? I actually like facebook. Yesterday an old co-worker found a stray dog near her house and posted a picture, then a few of us in the neighborhood reposted, and THEN the dog's owner saw it and went and got his dog back! Internet! FACEBOOK! Tomorrow, I probably won't care, but for now, giant sucks to Google+ and applause for facebook.

Anyhow. Instead of making myself crazy by trying to finish the other thing I was writing, I decided to take a posting a blog. Whaaaa?! Relax - it's another blog of food pictures. You should be used to this by now. For Christmas this year, my lovely boyfriend got me some beautiful, thoughtful, and amazing gifts. As we were exchanging a couple of days before Christmas, he confessed that he was nervous he'd gotten me too many food-related gifts. Immediately after, he handed me these:

That would be ice wine and Hook's 15-year cheddar cheese, made right here in Wisconsin. Holy crap, boyfriend. Holy crap.

You should definitely take the time to read about both the wine and the cheese, because they're both very unique and wonderful, and I've been talking about them for months, apparently (maybe I was subtly hinting at what I wanted as a gift, eh?). Honestly, I haven't tried the wine yet, but I have tried the cheese. Oh lord, have I tried the cheese. Andy and I rang in the popular holiday of December 31st at midnight by opening the cheese and sampling some. And it was amazing.

He cuts things very carefully.

We ate it plain, off the cutting board. Andy went through a lot of emotions, including disbelief...

"I need a rest..."

And, finally, peacefulness.
I think he nearly cried at one point. I just kept repeating "I'm so happy! I'm SO happy!" By the by, he's wearing his swimming trunks because it was really hot in my apartment.

What a bunch of nerds, eh?