Fourth of July 2014

Canada Day Fireworks

OK, It’s not Fourth of July, but Canada Day Fireworks photo by Ben_Senior

At some point I’m going to stop beginning my posts with “It’s been a crazy week.” It starts sounding like Garrison Keillor’s standard “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon.” But…it has been a crazy week, topped off by a holiday weekend.

Chorale Concert

This week marks the tenth anniversary of the collaboration between the Furman Lakeside Concert Band and the Greenville Chorale. It’s of our most popular concerts, certainly the best attended. We had rehearsals Monday night, then Tuesday with the band. The concert was Thursday. (more…)

Standard “Too Busy to Post” Post


How many things can be crammed into one weekend? On the agenda for this one upcoming there’s Mother’s Day, a kayaking trip with Lowcountry Unfiltered, a photo walk with the Upstate Photographers, Artisphere is happening in downtown Greenville, it’s Furman Commencement…

…and, oh yeah, we have a concert at the Peace Center Saturday night and Sunday after noon with the Greenville Chorale and Greenville Symphony Orchestra, with rehearsals Thursday, Friday, and Saturday morning.

I think I have an excuse not to post anything elaborate, although I’ve got a few things on various back burners.

As for the concert, we’re doing “Music from the Heavens” which includes the Poulenc Gloria, Verdi’s Stabat Mater and a piece from Aida, and Mascagni’s Easter Hymn. Edvard Tchivzhel is conducting, and he is taking maddeningly fast tempi as he usually does. That way the bad notes don’t last as long, as I used to tell my choirs. The music is challenging, but it should be a good concert. I have a very brief semi-solo bit with the men of the Chamber Ensemble in the second half of the show, but only for a couple of measures. There are two of us on a part, so I guess in a group this size, that qualifies as a “solo” ;-)

Rehearsals are exhausting. Monday we started working with Tchivzhel. Either his English is getting better, or we’re learning how to interpret his thick Russian accent. We seemed to understand him a bit better. Now I’ll have to see if I can get through these next few crazy days without losing my voice.

Altered RPMs


This conversation started on Facebook, and the results were entertaining enough that I thought I would summarize it here. If you’ve already read it and commented there, then just skip this post.

It all started when a friend directed me to a site that had a slowed down version of Dolly Parton’s hit “Jolene.” It was as if someone had taken the 45 single and played it at 33 1/3 RPMs on a turntable. The result was a slow, haunting version that sounds amazing.

I reposted this on my Facebook timeline and got lots of comments. One commenter doubted the veracity of the record, and thought that it had been faked. I suggested taking the original audio file and importing it into Audacity, then slowing it down by 27% digitally. Rather than wait, I decided to do it myself. (more…)

Radium and Radiant Music

These Shining Lives

“These Shining Lives”
Furman Theater

It was an arts-filled weekend for us. This weekend was concert weekend for us, and was also the weekend of a Furman Theater production of “These Shining Lives” by Melanie Marnich.

Saturday morning was dress rehearsal. We started we what has gotten to be our traditional pre-rehearsal breakfast. This time ten of us gathered at Northgate Soda Shop for breakfast. It was a great gathering, and we enjoyed the company before getting to work.

image (more…)

Cat Trio – A PicoBoard Theremin with Scratch


Cat Trio

OK, I’m sure that’s the most confusing post title of all time. I’m sure it will make sense by the end of this post.

This is a Theremin…

Moog Theremin

Moog Etherwave Theremin

…and I want one. Unfortunately, Santa (aka, Laura) didn’t agree. Something about it being too expensive and weird-sounding. :-) Oh well. So, I decided to look into options for building one. I had been playing with the PicoBoard and MaKey MaKey, and thought those would provide excellent options.

It seems that everyone wants to make banana pianos with the MaKey Makey. Since a MaKey Makey imitates a keyboard, it’s great for discreet keys and tones. However, a Theremin operates on a continuum, sort of like a violin or trombone. Therefore something else was needed. That’s where the PicoBoard comes in, with its ability to return values along a continuum based on its sensors. (more…)

Singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (sort of)

Mack Wilberg

Mack Wilberg
Director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir


Once upon a time I was a choir director. Before getting caught up in all of this technology stuff I taught chorus to middle schoolers during the week, and directed music at a fairly large church on the weekends. It was what I trained to do as an undergrad, and I was having a blast doing it. As my career evolved, I needed weekends back, so I gave up choir directing. I continued singing with the Greenville Chorale, and that kept me musically active, but one of my retirement goals was to get back into choir directing.

It’s now been ten years since I’ve had a church choir. I did a brief interim at Fourth Presbyterian in 2005-06, but that’s hardly long enough to count. When I was a choir director I would regularly attend the Furman Church Music Conference, held on campus each January. I decided that a step toward my goal would be to attend the conference this year.

This year the clinician would be none other than Mack Wilberg, director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Wilberg had spoken at the conference before, twelve years ago in 2002 when he was the associate director. Oddly enough, that was the last conference I attended. The session titles for this year were the same as that 2002 conference, and I almost hesitated – but now I’m glad I attended. (more…)

Do You Hear What I Hear?


Original Illustration by Phillip Light
Click image for website and more in this series

I clearly remember the first time I heard this song. I was about six years old, and we had just gotten the Goodyear album “The Great Songs of Christmas” volume 6. The album had recordings of Christmas music from many popular artists, but the one that impressed me most was Andy William’s rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” I’d never heard it before, and fell in love with the song. I vaguely remember singing it all the time.

According to that most trusted of online resources, Wikipedia, the song was written in 1962 by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne as a plea for peace right after the Cuban Missle Crisis. The Harry Simeone Chorale first recorded the song, but it really took off with a Bing Crosby recording in 1963. (more…)

Hark! How the …

Christmas Bells

Photo by nix0rs on DeviantArt

Yeah, it’s that time of year. The turkey has barely been cleared away, and the malls will be filled with Black Friday shoppers. The song EVERYONE will hear at some point is “Carol of the Bells.” In fact, most shoppers and just about any media consumer will have already heard it, since Christmas music is shoved down our throats starting at Halloween.

The song is on our repertoire for the upcoming Christmas Concert with the Greenville Chorale. So, obviously, we’ve been working on it since starting rehearsals in mid-November. Most of us have sung this so many times that we have it memorized.

Carol of the Bells is one of those earworms that people either love or hate. I tend to come down on the former side, but it can get old. The song was based on an ancient Ukrainian folk chant that was supposed to have mystical powers. It was typically sung for as a new year carol, which in the Ukraine was considered to be April. The chant consists of four notes repeated over and over with varying text.

In 1916 Mykola Leontovych took the four-note motif and arranged it into the song with which we are now familiar. Leontovych’s Ukrainian text kept the new year theme, and was entitled “Shchedryk,” which means “bountiful evening.” In 1936 Peter Wilhousky wrote the English “Carol of the Bells” text, and a hypnotic marketing tool was born. (more…)

Simple Laser Oscilloscope


Many, many years ago I was teaching gifted and talented seventh graders. One of the units of study was “Sight and Sound.” We did cool physics-related experiments, including setting up a darkroom in the basement of the gym, building pinhole cameras, and developing our own photos (back before the days of MDS sheets and fears of lawsuits over anything chemical-related)…

Pinhole Automobile

…turning an old piano into a hand bell-like instrument using popsicle sticks, fishing line and violin bow resin, building a walk-in camera obscura, and programming a Bach chorale into four old Tandy 1000 computers. In short, it explored two of my favorite things – photography and music.

One of the things we created was a simple laser oscilloscope. I had seen this at Discovery Place in Charlotte, and wanted to replicated it in my classroom. In the days before cheap laser pointers, I had bought a helium-neon laser for some of our class projects. Using that laser, an old speaker, and a music synthesizer, we were able to construct something that would work.

Fast forward 25 years or so…

Earlier this summer I was playing with our cats, using a toy laser pointer. The cats go crazy chasing the little red dot. It occurred to me that I could recreate my project from long ago with this simple pointer.

Laser Oscilloscope-002 (more…)

Playing Catch Up

Four leaf clover

“One leaf is sunshine, the other is rain…”

We had a great reunion/escape weekend in Charleston, but several things have kept me from updating my blog. Internet at our hotel was horrible. It was taking forever to upload the boatload of photos I took over the weekend. Add to that the fact that the blog got hit by a spam attack, and I kind of got behind on my writing.

Be that as it may, supposedly I now have lots of time on my hands to take care of such things. I managed to get all of the photos uploaded, and I think I got the website cleaned up, after much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Now I’ve got about four posts I need to write.

Today was my first day at home, and I admit that it was a bit weird. I didn’t do any of the writing I wanted, but I did nap and get some things put away. At least I did find a four-leaf clover (pictured above.) I used to be able to just look down and spot them all the time, but I hadn’t found one in years. Today Laura and I were walking around the block when I looked down and found one. I take it as a good sign that I’ve done the right thing.

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