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March 27, 08
A Hunt for the Perfect Microphones
If you had up to $4000 or $5000, what microphones would you invest in for a classical musician? This is an open call to all my readers for their thoughts and recommendations - i've been getting by with relatively cheap microphones for many years, but now want to position myself for some high end equipment (after saving up and getting ready to pay cash, of course!!) I've had some wonderful experiences with several engineers over the years and have a bit of an idea regarding the different qualities between various microphones, but short of being a multi-millionaire and being able to buy 20 mikes to compare side-by-side, i'm hoping to focus on my first super-duper pair based on the collective wisdom of the internet.
Here's my rundown of microphone experiences:
|Schoeps UMS-20 ||We used these at Curtis for many years - they're decent mikes, but i personally find them a bit flat and unexciting. |
|B&K (DPA) 4022 ||I think they were 4022's - well, in any case, i've run across several B&K's over the years and they seem to be standard for a lot of classical music engineers. These mikes can be scary sensitive! On one of my first recording sessions many many years ago, the B&K mikes were actually able to detect the acoustic shadow of the conductor's arms, as well as the growl of my empty stomach from almost 20 feet away! |
|Neumann U87 ||These seem to be ubiquitous for recording studios everywhere - Neumann's seem to have a nice warm sound overall, flexible for a variety of acoustic uses. I believe the engineer for my French album with Jeff Khaner used these mikes primarily. |
|AKG Perception 200 ||These are relatively cheapo condenser mikes with large diaphragms (under $200), but a composition student used them to great effect - seemed to get a nice, warm sound, but with some sacrifice in clarity and dynamic range if i recall correctly |
|AKG C414 ||i can't remember exactly which session i saw these from, but these also seem to be pretty common with classical engineers. Good, clean sound, but nothing terribly exciting (i guess that's why i can't remember their 'sound'...) |
|Neumann KM130/KM140 ||The KM130's are omni-directional, the KM140's are cardiod patterns - i think i've seen the 140's being used as spot mikes for the piano in my sessions at Peabody, but i can't recall for sure. |
|Neumann M 149 or M 150 Tube ||If i'm recalling this correctly, this appears to be the type of microphone used as primary center spots for my sessions with Victor Danchenko at Peabody - nice, warm, rich sound (i think they were the M 150's...) |
|RCA Type PB-140 Ribbon Microphone ||i'm not sure if this is the exact model that Adam Abeshouse used in my session with Jan Vinci, but the ribbon microphone was a vintage make and produced the most unbelievable, lush sound that evoked something from the 40's or 50's - quite incredible, and i'm sure quite expensive! |
Da-Hong Seetoo makes his own microphones...hm, i wonder if he'd be willing to sell me a customized pair...
Hope to learn more about your favorite microphones in the comments section!
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Pain and Poker
Kyungmi thinks i'm absolutely nuts, what with the damage i've been inflicting on my hands lately from Taekwondo classes...
Monday's pain-fest at the class left the punching bag pretty bloodied up - as one of my friends put it, it looked like the punching bag won...
Finger and knuckle bandaids have been pretty ineffectual, so i've turned to using a product called "New Skin", a topical antiseptic that you paint over your wounds. It then dries to a flexible covering, mimicking the breathing properties of skin. Note the word "antiseptic": this stuff STINGS!
On a less-grisly note, i bring to you some behind-the-scenes look at backstage life with a major orchestra - behold, the post concert poker table:
Check out this heavy-duty poker chip layout!
i can't remember the color codes, but i think the blue chips were $5, Reds were $1, and the whites were 25 cents each. Apparently, they green and black are supposed to represent $10 and $20, but no one's won enough to get to that level...
Here's a mug shot of the poker supplier, violist Marvin Moon:
Other forms of Philadelphia Orchestra Lounge entertainment include a real dartboard - note my perfect score, shot right after an impromptu set - oh, yes, it's true!
Of course, no lounge would be complete without the caffeinated watering machine - in this case, a yummy Flavia automatic coffee machine (my flavor of choice being Hazelnut):
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A simple Ink Blog app for Windows Live Writer
Now this is pretty nifty - a
simple Ink Blog plugin for
Windows live Writer, the free
bogging tool from Microsoft!
I had the Ink Blog bug about a
year or so ago, but found it
more and more difficult to
find time for the tedious
image and text conversion process.
One notable feature missing form
this plugin seems to be the
ability to create hotspot hyperlinks.
what a shame, since everything
else seems to be in place for
a truly useful tool for those
of us who love to keep a
handwritten touch to our online
kudos to plugin author
EdH1972 -ill try to see if
she/he can consider adding a
hyperlink feature to a
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March 24, 08
The body is shoddy and the brain is drained, but what other word can describe the amazing experiences over the past several weeks than "serendipitous"? Shooting video with my new semi-pro Canon GL2 camcorder featuring clarinetist Jose Franch-Ballester at the Cunningham Piano Factory, sitting on stage at Carnegie Hall with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Maestro Charles Dutoit, discovering Japanese culinary delights in Manhattan with my violin friend Paul Roby, getting invited to write an article for "Piano Magazine" in the U.K., flying out to Cleveland and recording an amazing CD with Gary Schocker in only 2 days, and to top it all off - running into an old friend after almost 15 years, purely by chance at the Philadelphia airport! There hasn't been any time to really catch my breath, but the ride is exhilarating and the roses are smelling sweet, even if they do tend to fly by at 90 miles an hour!
Life is rich and full - i just wish i was better at finding time to actually blog about it!
(A quick note: i'm using the new Windows Live Writer to put this blog article together. Like the nifty "polaroid picture" plugin?)
Jeff Khaner had a good laugh as he mimicked the changes in my seating posture on stage at Verizon Hall with the Philadelphia Orchestra - from edge-of-my-seat rigid with terror, to semi-alert middle position, to a final full-back recline complete with "been-there-done-that" yawn...yeah, yeah, so i'm finally getting the "hang" of orchestra life, har har har! It's still great fun, and the terror never completely goes away...not yet, at least. Carnegie Hall was definitely a thrill, and hey - i even got my taxes done on the bus ride there!
Paul Roby, Associate Principal violinist with the Orchestra and a Curtis school buddy of mine, took me out to the most amazing Donkatsu shop for dinner a few blocks away from Carnegie, called "Katsu-hama". I'm not a big donkatsu fan, since 99% of the time they're pretty poorly prepared in restaurants, but this was a revelation: melt-in-your-mouth pork tenderloin in the most amazing breaded coating fried to perfection, coupled with a sauce that never overpowered the base flavors. Heavenly!
Afterwards, we walked through Rockerfeller square and ducked into a specialty Japanese confectionary shop, where Paul picked out a box of sweet bean cakes for me and my family. Again, not a big fan of bean desserts, but this was simply unbelievable!! The kids inhaled the entire box within microseconds, and i had to dive in to snatch a single cake for myself. i simply MUST find a way to get back to that shop!!
Here's a quick little souvenir video showing me gawking and fawning over Carnegie Hall - then complaining about how small the hall actually is when trying to fit an entire orchestra on stage!
After finishing the "Masochistic Mandarin" and "Planets" set with the Orchestra, i flew out to Cleveland to record an album with composer/flutist Gary Schocker. Normally, classical CD's take a full 3 days to record, but things went so well that we actually flew through this project in only 2 days! Many thanks to the superb production team of Azica records - Alan Bise, producer and Bruce the engineer par excellence -
Alan and Bruce use the same audio software that Da-Hong uses: Sequoia. Check out the nifty hard-case setup they have! Gateway monitor and USB keyboard here...
...linked to a dedicated hard drive/CPU custom-built to interface directly with the Sequoia software. Sweet!
Repertoire for the album included the Morceau by Faure, sonatas by Poulence and HIndemith, the Reverie and Valse by Caplet, and 2 works by Gary himself - "For Dad", and "Two Flutes on the Loose in Fujian". Katherine Vogel joined us for the 2 flute piece - she hails as the principal flutist from the South Dakota symphony, and did a superb job!
We stayed at a funky hotel called the Alcazar, built in the 1920's heavily influenced by Spanish architecture and made famous by Cole Porter having written a famous song there.
Well folks, it's getting mighty late and the thinker is already heading to la-la land...but let me finish today's recap post with a picture from my serendipitous rendezvous with my old friend Anton Miller, a violinist who i hadn't seen in almost 15 years - we worked together at the old Point Counterpoint summer music camp, then subsequently at the now defunct New Arts Festival in Ft. Myers, Florida for several summers. It's unbelievable how some people just never age!! And, wow...what are the odds of running into an old friend like this when traveling on standby flights?
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March 12, 08
Temping with the Philadelphia Orchestra
Best temp job i've had in years - i'm a regular pianist for the Philadelphia Orchestra's auditions and conductor rehearsals, but this is the first time i've actually worked on stage as part of the subscription concert series. This is definitely being chalked up to "learning experience" - Monday's rehearsals saw me flubbing and floundering most of my entrances in the Bartok and particularly in the "Mercury" movement from the Holst, making me a prime target to become the conductor's pinata. Carmina didn't require nearly so much careful coordination with its simplistic, repetitious melodies.
"The Miraculous Mandarin", my foot...that work should be called "The Masochistic Mandarin" instead. Bartok, simply put, is a meanie.
Nevertheless, i'm having a blast, and my tablet pc is still turning out to be a life-saver. I found that scanning miniature scores is much better than full sized scores, since the smaller book format lends itself to closer spacing of the staves and a larger note font in general.
As i mentioned in my previous post, i have an aversion to orchestral tacet counting. The Bartok in particular requires exceptional coordination with the clarinet solos and several other poly-rhythmic tricksy entrances. I absolutely love being able to use my tablet pc's highlighting capabilities within PDF Annotator to quickly see my part buried amidst all the others, as well as creative fingering and beat markings to help me keep on track.
Despite Monday's shaky start, i think yesterday's rehearsal went much better overall. I found myself in a bit of a Goldilocks moment: Monday's pinata beating said that i was too soft. Tuesday's pinata beating said i was too loud. As Luis Biava put it, after cooking the steak too well-done and then too rare, it's now time to aim for "medium". LOL - he's so great!
Sorry for the brevity of this post and its scattered composition - i have to hurry and snarf the rest of my breakfast and take a shower before driving the kids to school and heading out to the orchestra's morning rehearsal. Here are some pictures from my temporary life with the Orchestra:
My partner in crime, David Booth:
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March 07, 08
Out of the pan, into the fire...
A thousand proverbs are reverberating in my mind: "too much of a good thing", "be careful what you ask for", "in for a penny, in for a pound", "fools rush in where angels fear to tread", "The world is full of willing people: some willing to work and some willing to let them ", etc. etc. etc...
Playing "Carmina Burana" with the Philadelphia Orchestra is turning out to be lots of fun, but i may be biting off more than i can chew: the Orchestra just invited me to play next week's subscription concerts as well, which includes the dreaded "Miraculous Mandarin" by Bartok - "fearsome piano part" doesn't even begin to describe the spiny thorns sticking out of this nasty part!! Throw in the celeste part for Holst's "The Planets" and you can be sure i'm not going to be having any free time this weekend...sigh...
If there's one thing about orchestral playing that i absolutely loathe, it's the counting. I've been marveling at the seasoned orchestra players that can sit through 54 measures of rest and come in perfectly and with nary a bead of miscounted sweat! I'm sorry, i run out of fingers after "10", and am too busy with pedals to start counting toes!
My solution? Don't count.
Thanks to my tablet pc, i simply combined my solo part for "Carmina Burana" with the vocal score, allowing me to follow along without the headache of keeping track of long tacets (silent passages in music-speak).
Bartok's Mandarin is going to require something more extreme, as there is absolutely no way in my newbie mind that i'm going to be able to keep track of all that counting on top of getting through the tricksy passages! Thanks to handless page turns with my page turning foot pedal, i'm planning to use a miniature score to follow all the action.
Hope it works...we're heading to Carnegie Hall next Friday with this! Gulp!
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March 02, 08
A Musician's Writer's Block
Sorry for the crass metaphor, but i think i'm suffering from mental constipation...too many ideas of articles to write about have succeeded in completely blocking all means of expression and output. Shame on me for neglecting to exercise my writing muscles during the month of February!
Well, you can't blame me solely for an excess of ideas for the lack of output...the cruel scheduling taskmaster on my pocket pc phone has been far more miserly with free time than usual, so i simply haven't had time to actually get these thoughts vented properly!
So where to begin the mental...um...er...'flush'? Might as well start recounting all the external excuses for my creative backup...
Where to start? Backwards, i suppose...
The Philadelphia Orchestra has just engaged me to perform Orff's "Carmina Burana" this coming week. Well, as least this time they're giving me a few days' advance notice, as opposed to just an hour (LOL), but it's still nerve-wracking...i'm much more accustomed to being in front of the orchestra, as opposed to playing from within. Double rehearsals on Wednesday, concerts on Thursday night, Friday afternoon, and Saturday evening, so i'll be putting my tux tails on extra duty! Wish me luck!
More Philly Orchestra work: on top of being the musical equivalent of a "temp" worker within the orchestra, i'll be playing another set of maestro rehearsals on both the Carmina Burana and a trumpet concerto for principal David Bilger.
I propose a new musical proverb:
Q. How can you get to Verizon Hall?
A. Sight-read, sight-read, sight-read.
Who has time to practice anymore with all this work? sigh...
Still more Philly Orchestra work, but this time in the past tense - i finished playing for the 4th horn temporary position auditions mid-February, and i have to say that it was the easiest, smoothest audition session i've played to date, despite the fact that i didn't really know the repertoire.
I've just been invited to contribute an article for "Piano" magazine, based in the UK! The topic will be digital pianos for the classical musician - hope to have a draft punched out as quickly as possible.
I'm now the proud owner of a semi-pro video camera, a Canon GL2! This was a sweet, sweet eBay deal, where i was able to snag this camera in pristine condition, together with 2 extra high capacity batteries, an extra lens, a hard travel case, tripod, special remote control hand thingy for the tripod, along with Adobe Premiere and Adobe Encore DVD 1.5. Encore DVD looks like the best DVD authoring program on the market - i've been looking for something that would give me the capability to make professional customized DVD menus and templates, and this looks like it will fit the bill nicely. The price for this bounty of electronic goodness? About $1400 - not bad, eh?
Speaking of expenditures: i'm trying to come up with a formula to keep my spendaholic tendencies at bay. Now that i've set up a separate checking account solely for business-related income and expenses, i've noticed a significant increase in income from accompaniment and concert activities. But, with lots of money comes the temptation to spend it all on shiny toys, my current wishlist being as follows:
- 2 more semi-pro/pro video cameras to replace my consumer level camcorders
- new rear projection screen, complete with collapsible frame and drapes/skirts
- new 10 ft. portable roll up screen to replace my current one (i snapped off the top frame when i tried to demonstrate how "easy" it was to take the unit down for a student in Greenport, NY...
- new projector, preferrably 5000+ lumens or brighter
This isn't counting the tablet pc's that i'm eyeing to eventually replace my current crop of Fujitsu Stylistic slates...total price tag for above wish list items is probably in the $10,000 range, depending on how well i can negotiate the prices on eBay. But if there's one - no, make that TWO important things - that i've learned from my 'getting out of debt' campaign, it's 1) not to buy something unless i have cash to pay for it, and 2) make sure that ALL major purchases have Kyungmi's blessing. No more buy and hide!
So, how to curb my voracious appetite for stuff? How to nullify the 'stuffitis' bug that is part of my genetic makeup? Well, i tried coming up with the following formula to break down my extra income:
- 10% goes to tithing our church
- 50% goes immediately into 'income', which at this point is automatically being allocated to building our emergency fund of 3-6 months' worth of expenses (we currently have over 1 month's worth saved, most likely will settle for a 3 month fund) - of this, 25% of the income amount goes for taxes
- 25% would be allocated for business-related expenses
- 15% remainder would be the business rainy-day emergency fund
I've set up a google spreadsheet to automatically punch out the above numbers so that i can get an instant view of how much i actually have available to spend. This has become incredibly helpful to keep me better disciplined in exercising the magic "NO" word, to wait until my formula says i can actually afford the item rather than just looking at how much i can get away with and still leave a few pennies in the checking account. No more ransacking the cookie jar (well, at least until there are enough cookies...)
(BTW, i'd love to hear from other business-savvy folk out there if they have any better suggestions to tweak my formula!)
I'll be teaching at two wonderful festivals this summer: The Rocky Ridge Music Center in Estes Park, Colorado (http://www.rockyridge.org/), and the Strings International Music Festival in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania (http://www.stringscamp.com/) where i'll be putting together its first piano program. Application deadlines are fast approaching, so i hope to have the opportunity to work with lots of folks over the summer!
Gary Schocker and i will be recording our first CD together in Cleveland, Ohio in about 2 weeks! This looks to be a terrific album, a mix of traditional flute and piano repertoire (sonatas by Poulenc and Hindemith along with other works), combined with some of Gary's delightful compositions ("For Dad", "Showtunes", and others).
Speaking of CD's, i just received the final edit version of my CD with violinist Maurice Sklar - wow, this album is going to sound terrific! Hauntingly beautiful Hebrew Melodies, gorgeously performed by Maury and expertly produced by Da-Hong Seetoo - it was a real challenge to come up with the right order for these works. Interestingly, what was first discussed as a potential liability of the repertoire selections - the majority of the works being very slow, somber, and reflective - is turning out to be its greatest strength, its defining character. This will definitely be the most poignant album i've ever recorded so far, and is sure to make a tremendous impact with its unique repertoire.
Well, this was a good exercise - the mental constipation seems to have abated a bit, now that i've gotten back into putting thoughts onto digital paper. For a few days, i was actually experimenting with blogging by voice - Jott, that fantastic voice transcriber for cell phones, tried to promote itself as a blogging tool, but maybe i don't have it set up right, as it only allows for about 1 or 2 minutes of audio before it automatically cuts off and resets itself for a new message. Hardly the tool to use if your train of thought keeps having to hit the brakes! WavetoText, a shareware program that's supposed to convert WAV audio files to text, seems to be woefully outdated - it's last version seems to have been written in 2005, and its lugubrious performance and spotty accuracy is another voice-to-text blogging dud. Dragon Dictate 9 has a nifty website that seems to show off amazing capabilities of its latest dictation software - i may be tempted to spring for a copy when i stop by Staples to buy my Turbo Tax program, but we'll see if the budget - and the Mrs. - approve first.
'Till next time!
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