Monday, March 28, 2011

Composers day music party

Late last year a friend had asked me to reserve March 26 in my diary, which I duly did. March 26 finally arrived, and what happened? Well read on and find out.
Every year, a composer's day music party is held, during which the complete chamber music of a particular composer is played. But my skills on the fiddle are non existent, and my piano playing remains far inferior to the requirements of even the easiest chamber music. In addition to this, a group of friends is called upon to gather around a piano and do a complete on book performance of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Such are the demands of this undertaking, that this is the first party I've ever been involved in that had a dress rehearsal the day before!
On the day the weather held, and arriving at about lunch time, I snuck between hordes of string players, set up in every room, valiantly attempting to play all of Haydn's chamber music in a single day. One room was stacked with music cases, there could have easily been a hundred people in a modest sized family home.

At the appointed signal, all unassigned musicians disappeared into the back yard, where stands appeared and were arranged, and the complete overture was played through of "The Gondoliers", twice. Just to make sure. After that our trusty pianist and keyboard, braving arctic gusts of wind and the threat of imminent rain, began the show. The Gondoliers is slightly peculiar in that there are two almost entirely separate casts that do not meet on stage until the finale, so in between singing (I was singing the role of Giuseppe, an eligible bachelor gondolier whose charisma 'shamed the summer skies'), we huddled at the back and shivered resolutely as a couple of children singing the roles of the Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro stole the whole show. Each of the main characters has a song, and mine appeared early in the second act, a typical G&S patter song making fun of the concept of a republican monarchy (where republican retains its literal meaning). After that, there is a tradition of singing an updated version. The Gondoliers had last been performed in 2001, and at the dress rehearsal, my predecessors in the role of Giuseppe sang an outrageously funny version about Bush II, who I believe was still a suitable target for humour at that stage of his presidency. Thus my time between the dress and the performance was spent in feverish rhyming, the semi-successful results of which are at the end of this post.

At length we reached the final chord, obtained divorces from our on-stage spouses, ate enough food to immobilise us, then headed back home to sunny Pasadena. Coincidentally it was also on this trip that I learned that the Arroyo Seco Parkway was the first expressway ever built, in 1940, which explains its hair-raisingly dangerous corners and 10mph off ramps.

In all it's not every day that one has a party that one has completed a dress rehearsal for, but I certainly wouldn't object to more in the future!

To the tune of "Rising Early in the Morning" from The Gondoliers (, updated politically.

Rising early in the morning,
We supress needs nicotine,
Then, rememb'ring Michelle's warning,
breakfast burger - extra lean!
I stroll to the oval room,
In the face of impending doom.

First we double check that Clinton
Is still spying on the UN;
It's best to keep an eye on all those slimes
Then if we want to see some foreign
Former classified addendum
We simply have to read the New York Times.

Then we probably take aim at wikileaks
Anonymous and Assange are total freaks.
Now Manning is exposed at Quantico,
The arabs can know cablegate's fair go.

As for Bush and all his phoneys,
Thugs thieves criminals and croneys
I think it's most appropriate to keep them all immune.
Such privilege executive
Rendition, torture, right to live,
Wire tapping sans a warrant - they are too good to impune.

Contemplating reelection
Watching democrat rejection
No need to fear a threat by a rethuglican candidate.
Bachmann, Newt, illegitimate
Conservative illiterate
Or Palin just for LOLs, such would be perfect fate.

Oh, Colbert, Maddow may whine,
That the problems are all mine,
Yet the legacy is frightful and the obligations great.
But the privilege and pleasure
That we treasure beyond measure
Is to blame it all on Hillary, the Secretary of State.


Casey Glick (who sang Luiz) contributed a second verse on similar themes, just to show us how it's done.

In the evening reuniting
Cop and teacher who’ve been fighting
Racist fears suppressed by glass of beer or three.
I’ll take my birth certificate
(I’ve reproduced in triplicate)
Conveying it to pundits on TV.

Then I’ll work to stop an ultimate relapse
Of the global economical collapse
Or intervene in Middle Eastern State
Which Newt derides as early and too late

Appeasing Dems, an order signing
A new Health Care law confining
‘bortion rights, insurance premiums, approval in one blow
Though I found quite ineffective
An executive directive
To fulfill my campaign promises to close Guantanamo

Then appointing Justice Kagan,
Signing treaties just like Reagan,
And desperately taking steps to mollify my base
All the while I’m interacting
With a GOP impacting
My chance to be the President who first transcended Race.

Oh conservatives complain
Of my socialistic reign
And the lib’rals think I’ve given in to “blackmail” sans a fight
But the culminating pleasure
That I treasure beyond measure
Is the comedy induced by all those idiots on the Right.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Walk to the beach!

Some time ago I had noted via Google Maps that it is not impossible to conceive walking to the beach from Caltech. The only problem is you'd need about a day of spare time, which only occurs about twice a year.
Still, yesterday was such a day, so I gave a friend J a call and we met at 6:30am (just before dawn) and set off. I took minimal weight; phone, keys, wallet, jacket, and a hat. J brought a bag with some water and a red cap that made him look like Mario. (In my opinion!).
The weather was perfect, and we walked at a steady pace, joining a series of very long LA roads.
From memory, we began on California Ave, then zigzagged up to W64 Ave, cut through on Meridian Ave, then York. Walked through an underpass under the railway festooned with pigeons (dead and alive), before joining Eagle Rock Ave, following it south to Fletcher, which took us over the LA river (which had some water, and trees in it). By this point we had covered about 12 miles, or 20km, which is a decent walk in itself, in about 4 hours. J put his NY honed 'diner finder' skills to good use and we stopped at 10:30 for Breakfast/Lunch. I consumed my own weight in steak, capsicum, and omelette, providing essential walking fuel. 
A quick dogleg put us on Silver Lake Avenue, and suddenly the affluence of our surroundings jumped about 10 points. The lake itself is a fairly unremarkable reservoir, but there was a nice park (infested, as usual, with Australian trees of varying kinds). We sat under a bottlebrush and dodged a rain of gumnuts for about 20 minutes. For varieties sake we swapped shoes, then continued on. Silver Lake Ave fed into W Sunset Boulevard, which had a lot of interesting looking shops, and soon we turned left onto Santa Monica Blvd, which marked the end of tricky navigation. Santa Monica Blvd is about 14 miles (25km) long, and only has one substantial bend in the whole thing. Although by this stage a degree of discomfort was apparent, it's only at this point that the idea of walking all day becomes worthwhile. That is, walking is easy, even when tired, but only when tired does putting one foot in front of the other become meaningful.
After a couple of hours we entered Hollywood, then Beverly Hills, which seemed to ooze money. The side of the road was a long, skinny garden. Walking on grass for a change, J said it felt like 'walking through cake'. We took a 25 minute break, then continued on. We walked past a large Mormon church, the turnoff to UCLA, and one last raised expressway before finally, we could see the last row of buildings before the beach, now 'only' 3 miles (5km) away. Our pace had slowed by this point, but inevitably, inexorably, we reeled in the miles, one numbered street at a time, 20th, 10th, 3rd, 2nd, and finally, we were there, at the park above Santa Monica beach and pier. 
Some otherwise trivial steps, doffing of shoes, and a quick jog across about another mile of sand and we dipped out toes in the great Pacific Sea. I attempted to skim some pebbles, took a few photos, and ran through all the streets we'd walked on through my mind - it was exhausting!
Back up into the town and found a Thai restaurant to supply essential, life giving nutrition. I had Pad See Ew, naturally, though I mixed it up by ordering chicken instead of beef. Google provided guidance on the swiftest way home, so we caught a 'metro express' 10 to Union Station (sleeping most of the way), then the gold line to Lake St Station, followed by a walk back into the university (about another 2 miles in total).
After a quick shower and glass of water I joined some friends who were watching the final half of 'The coronation of Poppaea', which was an extremely silly (and early) opera, then went home and slept the sleep of the righteous until 3pm the following day.
In total, we walked about 30 miles or 50km, which is further than a marathon. This is nearly the furthest I've walked in a 24 hour period, and certainly the furthest I've walked in an urban environment. LA is HUGE! In my opinion, beyond a level of physical discomfort, it wasn't all that difficult either. Just something, without a good reason, you wouldn't do every day.