Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Not Done with Pittsburgh

I visited Pittsburgh this month and it was a blast. My visit confirmed to both me and Boyfriend that our time there isn't quite over yet- the city has a strange attraction to us both (though Boyfriend would love to uproot us to Seattle first, if he had the chance).

I love so many things about Pittsburgh, including its many neighborhoods with individual character, like this wall on the North Side that has both ghostly remnants of attached buildings, and shadows of other buildings around it. Boyfriend and I agreed that the city has one of the better-integrated racial mixes of many cities- not that it's all hunky-dory, but perhaps people from many races and cultures just happen to have to interact more here than in sprawling Denver.

Pittsburgh's mass-transportation, however, is a hot mess. The Port Authority bus system was bad when I lived there from '06 to '10, and it's gotten worse since I left (with the one exception of a new light rail over to the North Side from downtown so all the football fans can take a shuttle home drunk rather than driving). I waited for a bus that should have theoretically come every 15 minutes; 45 minutes later, I missed my meeting as the bus never showed.  Thankfully I was able to reschedule; I walked the whole way and arrived on time. Nowadays in Denver and Boulder, CO, I rarely have to wait more than 15 minutes for a bus to show up. Buses here are scarily efficient, but it does help to have a flat, gridded, and arid topography to work with, compared to Pittsburgh's vine-winding and hilly landscape. But that's something I love about Pittsburgh, so it's a blessing and a curse. What would a view of the Golden Triangle be without Mount Washington and its inclines.

I went to Pittsburgh for a premiere of a new work by Trillium Ensemble, which went spectacularly, and a friend's wedding, which also went spectacularly. Boyfriend saw some old friends from his days in Pittsburgh, and I saw some of mine. I conducted some Biznass about music and hoped to plan a trip back in the fall to guest lecture. We both got to visit Mattress Factory, where coincidentally we both have worked in the past and is one of the best art museums, hands down, in the world.
(On view: Nina Marie Barbuto's 'Glory Holes', part of the 'Gestures: Intimate Friction' exhibit featuring local artists' works.)

Pittsburgh is constantly popping up on the 'hot cities to watch out for'-type blogs and newspapers, and I can see why (aside from transit systems). The Andy Warhol Museum, cheap rents, big spaces, friendly hip places, and new stores appearing regularly. Phipps Conservatory (Botanical Gardens) is one of the most "green" and energy efficient greenhouse buildings in the world. They're adding a new building to the back which should be beautiful, behind this cascading pond and waterfall.

I even got to visit a place I had never been, but had always wanted to visit: Allegheny Cemetery. Known for its old mausoleums, winding paths, and lush greenery, it didn't disappoint. It was a post-rainy day, common to the city, and the skies were grey: perfect gravestone-viewing weather.  This tomb's the King of them all. Or at least houses the King family.

Perhaps one day I will have a reason to settle down here, maybe buy a house and work as an artist full-time. I would eat burgers all the time at the new Burgatory restaurant, and fancy cuisine at 'Salt of the Earth' (cuisine of the duck/sweetbreads/endive/polenta/cardamon/tartar varieties, but not all together in one dish, that would be so gross). Until then, I do love to visit, and thank all my friends, colleagues, and relatives for making it such a memorable trip.

Friday, May 11, 2012

One Year of Teaching Music

I'm just wrapping up my first year as a Teaching Assistant for a class called 'Aural Skills'. I'd rather have the class be called 'Musicianship' but I have no decision in the matter. I did however, have a lot of decisions to make this year about what to teach and how to teach it. The saying that goes something like 'the thing you learn about something when you have to teach it' is totally true as well. Here are some things I've learned this year, in no particular order.

-Get people up and moving. I wish it was a Dalcroze Eurythmics class! Unlike most teachers, I have everyone stand at the beginning to warm up, and then during dictations, I have people come up to the blackboards to write examples. It's a new perspective, having to be 'on call' and work on a giant board rather than paper, but there's less pressure if you're not the only one in front of the class, and the whole class can also use the examples on the board to sing from or critique.

-I make a lot of mistakes, and sometimes the timing of the lessons isn't what I envisioned. But then I teach the class a second time to another section, and I can refine things a lot.

-I try to call on every single person at least once in class. Even for tiny questions or observations, it keeps people on-target. Even though they're put on the spot, it's also okay to be wrong or just take a guess.

-Perfect pitch people need extra challenges. How do you make it worthwhile for a student who can recognize every note played on the piano and write it out by rote? Bring in a different instrument to play the examples, or have students write out dictations in alternate clefs and keys.

-It's amazing how much you can learn about a student's learning habits and work ethic by hearing them sing individually for five minutes.

-Attendance is to be taken seriously. I'm super-forgiving about someone letting me know they might be gone for this week's classes because of a trip, or that they're not feeling well and they might not be in class tomorrow. But I'm not forgiving about just not coming to class and not letting me know. Take a tiny bit of responsibility, kidz.

-Some musical topics are just hard to explain, mostly because they're hard to hear. If you can't break down music into small chunks first, or play examples that show the relevance of what you're talking about, it's really hard to make people 'get it', and then hope that they do well on a quiz. Also, if you don't get the material, seeking out extra help=super bonus points with me.

-It's important to teach the material in conjunction with other classes, so connections can be made between what's conceptual and what's practical. The theory class just learned about augmented 6th chords, and now we're practicing how to sing them! We just learned about church modes and now we're dictating in Lydian! I wish I had more of those inter-curriculum connections in my studies.

-Nobody actually wants to be there, and it's not your fault. The class I teach is required; it's mostly practical applications of what they learn in another class. Though you can't do much with making diminished sevenths fun, you can make class as amusing as you possibly can by playing ridiculous music examples, warming up with tongue twisters, and very seldomly but surprisingly, bring a snack for everyone. Nobody turns down cookies!

Saturday, May 05, 2012

One-Word Sleeptalker

My boyfriend talks in his sleep, but unlike general nonsensical sleep-babblers or perhaps even Sleep Talkin' Man, who swears like a sailor and makes hilarious British sentences, my boyfriend is a one-word sleep-talker. Rarely does he ever say more than one word or phrase, but it's very clearly spoken, and then he's silent for the rest of the night. He'll startle me awake, but he's sound asleep the whole time.

I've been keeping a list to tell him in the morning so we can have a good laugh about it. Here's a few so far.

"Oofda!" (Boyfriend said this is a foreign slang word meaning "oomph".
"Penumbra." (Said in a very sexy voice)

The best one so far came last night, when he said quite loudly and confidently: