November 03, 08
Finally!! Pictures from Prague!
After struggling with guilt over enjoying all of our Prague photos floating across our Vista screensaver (gorgeously done, by the way - not EVERYTHING about Vista is bad;) i finally broke down and started to look into online photo sharing sites to make the sharing of happiness easier.
I've used Flickr for a few pictures, but frankly it looks pretty plain jane as a presentation tool. One other concern with "freebie" photo sites comes from the possibility that pictures could be deleted at a moment's notice (extreme circumstances, granted, but it's possible). Another concern is the limiting factor of upload quotas and size restrictions.
I've decided to go with SmugMug
, a photo site that seems to have the approval of Walt Mossberg from the Wall Street Journal
. The only freebie option is an initial 14-day trial; basic service costs around $40 for unlimited photo uploads and ad-free presentations. I'm going with the power user account for about $60, which allows for more editing options as well as the ability to upload DVD-quality video files - again, with an unlimited amount of storage space!
I've uploaded 2 galleries so far - here's a link to the "Day 2 - Day 3" gallery slideshow.
You'll need to have Flash capability on your computer to view this. You can also click on the picture below to jump right to the slideshow:
Here's a link to the "Day 1" gallery
Coming soon: Day 3 and 4, containing the visit to the Prague Conservatory and a whirlwind sightseeing tour of Prague!
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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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December 04, 07
After over a year of waiting, the new PATCO Freedom Train Pass smartcard
is finally available for general purchase!
The steep rise in gas prices last year turned me into an avid PATCO rider. The trains themselves are older models that run just fine, but the fare collection system hasn't aged nearly as well - old-fashioned magnetic swipe cards that frequently get rendered useless by accidental proximity to electronic gadgets (like my Curtis optical ID/entrance card) and antiquated ticket dispensing machines that require you to feed the coins with the care and precision of a skee ball match. Having ridden the uber-efficient train systems in Korea several years ago and envying the way most riders just tapped an open turnstile with smart cards tucked in outer wallet pockets made me wonder time and again why we didn't have a similar system here in the ol' US of A. Well, now that wait finally seems to be over.
Cards can be purchased at the Broadway Transportation Center in Camden. The folks there were very helpful and even gave a personal demonstration on how to use the new ticket dispensing machines which can either give you 3-day paper magnet passes, or can be used to 'recharge' your Freedom smart card. I opted for the automatic withdrawal from my debit card, which will recharge the card in $30 increments (or more, if you decide) once the card's balance reaches $5.
No more penny arcade ticket machines, no more change dispensers that spit my old dollar bills back out, no more waiting in long queues for 10-ride tickets at the human ticket window (only open at certain hours of the day) - my Freedom card has me actually excited to ride the train now!
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October 26, 07
Folding Keyboards - yes, the ones for Flying Pianists
Just got wind of this from Gizmodo
These are pictures of the VAX-77 from Texas-based Infinite Response
. Unfortunately, as Gizmodo pointed out, these babies only have 77 keys, and i seriously doubt that they sport weighted action (well, they mention "measured keyweight" on the IR website, but that sounds dubiously light...) Nevertheless, at only 25 pounds, it may be something for consideration for keyboardists who have to struggle with airline checked luggage restrictions
Now all they need are shoulder straps!
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August 31, 07
August 07, 07
Lost Luggage Lessons
Bad experiences can have a good bit of their sting removed if lessons can be learned from them. Fresh from the miraculous recovery of my Casio Privia digital piano from the clutches of British Airways' cargo caverns, here are some thoughts to prepare intrepid traveling musicians:
Typically, airlines will reimburse up to only $300 per lost bag. Insurance will upgrade that amount to only $1000, so ALWAYS purchase travel insurance if you will be bringing valuables through checked bags.
Keeping in mind the limits of travel insurance, try not to pack anything valued over $1000 in checked bags.
Irreplaceable items should NEVER be placed in checked bags; they should be stowed in your carry-on bag.
Consider equipment rentals as an alternative to the risk of traveling with valuable items. I read somewhere about double bass players maintaining a network for loaning instruments to traveling bassists for concerts and auditions - my experience with Robb's Music in Boulder, Colorado was a good example of being able to rent a decent Roland RD-700 (not the SX model) complete with keyboard stand, speakers, and cabling for a reasonable price and the absence of luggage hassles.
There once was a group of brass players that had the frustrating experience of losing one of their bags at a Florida airport - what made it so frightening was the fact that a trombonist's mouthpiece was among the lost articles! To reinforce the "invaluables" ideas for traveling musicians, here's a partial list of items NOT to pack in checked bags:
Music (this is where having scores in digital format can be a tremendous advantage for travelers, especially pianists!)
Reed equipment (oops, just realized that this includes knives for shaping reeds - a real "no no" for carry-on luggage, unfortunately...looks like this kit stays in the checked bags)
End pin stoppers (or at least, be sure to wear a belt with a buckle, just in case!)
Passports (seems obvious, but you'd be surprised...)
Pen (especially if you're traveling overseas, with all those customs forms to fill out)
I'd love to hear from you if there are other "DO NOT PACK IN CHECKED BAGS" items to be added to this list!
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August 06, 07
A Piano Comes Home
After 45 days, British Airways policy declares lost luggage "officially lost". This past Friday was the 45th day, passing by grimly without any word from BA. i was waiting for the insurance forms to be mailed out to me to start the dismal reimbursement procedures, bracing myself for the financial hit i was going to take for the loss of my Casio Privia PX-100 digital piano, my M-Audio Fast Track Pro USB digital audio interface, and the irreplaceable Justice Visions Camera Document Scanner, along with the slim ATA keyboard case and other sundry items within.
Imagine my surprise when, on the evening of the 46th day, my phone buzzed in my pocket during a screening of "The Bourne Supremacy" (Kyungmi has been dying to see this movie!) with word from a British Airways driver informing me that my long lost bag was being delivered directly to my house! No explanation was available for how it was found or why it took so long, but those things didn't really matter anymore, overshadowed by the thrill of having my piano resurrected from luggage-Hades!
Aside from a busted plastic name tag cover and evidence that the bag was jostled around violently enough to dislodge one of the tough velcro pads securing the piano within the case, everything seems to be relatively intact. The PX-100 powered up just fine - i'll have to test the JV Camera Document Scanner and the M-Audio device as soon as i get a chance.
Funny how hard it is now to maintain my fury at British Airways - but don't get me wrong, i'm going to be thinking long and hard before i commit to putting another piano through check-in baggage...
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July 05, 07
Losing your piano and other travel hazards
In all my jet-setting years, I've never had a piece of luggage lost from airline travel - until now. My return trip from South Africa has seen an unprecedented level of frustration with British Airways
for SOMEHOW managing to lose my digital piano. Not only the ATA slimline travel case and the Casio Privia PX-110, but also my beloved Justice Visions Portable Camera Scanner
(looks like this isn't being made anymore - a newer JV-300
digital camera with gooseneck lens might be the replacement for this type of portable document scanner, but i'll have to look into it further...) as well as one of my page turning pedals...i'm estimating the total loss at around $2000.
For crying out loud, it's not like i lost a backpack or a suitcase - this is a freaking huge PIANO!! It's like saying an elephant is suddenly missing from the zoo - how in the world do you "lose" something that big?? Then again, we are
talking about airlines
Thankfully, Gary had the foresight to purchase travel insurance for everyone through AIG Travel Guard - it seems that they can cover up to $3000 of baggage loss, but i'll need to confirm that. Compensation doesn't kick in until British Airways 'fesses up to losing my piano - that can take up to 45 days according to BA - and then we'd have to see how much BA is willing to fork over.
In preparation for my Colorado trip tomorrow, i went ahead and purchased additional travel insurance through Access America, which services many of the online trip reservation websites (like Hotwire
). Unfortunately, they can only cover baggage loss up to $1000 - but that's certainly better than the standard $300 loss coverage, i suppose. The additional policy was only $15 and can be purchased up to the day before you fly.
I should look into what travel insurance (if any) is offered by credit card companies when you purchase tickets on your Visa or Mastercard. If anyone knows of any other third party insurance companies that can specifically cover baggage loss i'd love to hear about them.
Lesson for the flying digital musician: get travel insurance. You never know when an elephant gets lost in Terminal E...
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June 23, 07
June 22, 07
MMT #33 - South Africa Tour: In The Wild
After getting settled into our hotel and sorting out our bag issues, the CFS Choir and i finally hit the road and start our road trip eastward from Cape Town towards Port Elizabeth. First stop is - to our surprise - a shopping mega mall! Surprising because so many of us in the States have limited, pre-conceived ideas about what life in South Africa is like - seeing something this modern and so similar to something found at home took all of us completely by surprise!
After a delicious lunch at the mall, we then head out to explore Cango Caves, a beautiful rock formation rediscovered by Van Zyl in 1780.
Next, we visit an Ostrich Farm and have the opportunity not only to meet these fascinating birds up close, but also to try our hand at riding them! Yee-haw!!
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June 21, 07
MMT #32 - South Africa Tour, Part 2: Arrival
The CFS Boys' Choir
and i arrive in Cape Town and immediately start a downtown tour of the Two Oceans Aquarium, a little rock shop, and a bayside shopping mall. Bag problems continue, and i describe how the South African voltage fries my digital piano plug! Our first concert at a school for the sight impaired couldn't be recorded due to our late arrival, but instead i feature a short clip of the school's own choir performance (that begins with a bang! Luckily, no injuries!)
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June 20, 07
Music Meets Tech #31: South Africa Tour, Part 1
I just returned from my tour of South Africa with the Church Farm School Boys' Choir!
From Cape Town to Port Elizabeth and back, we performed under the direction of Gary Gress at schools and churches, taking in the amazing sights, wildlife, and warm hospitality along the way. Part 1 of this special series introduces Gary, the CFS school and choral program, and chronicles our departure from Philadelphia and layover in London en route to Cape Town.
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June 05, 07
The 68.4 pound question...
Getting ready to head out to South Africa today - i managed to locate and purchase a slim keyboard ATA case for my Casio PX-110 digital piano, putting my mind more at ease regarding the safety of my new digital piano in transit.
Given all the hassles of weight and linear restrictions for checked baggage, i used my digital scale to measure the weight of the Casio in its new case (first by stepping on the scale myself, then stepping on with me holding the case and subtracting the difference). Looks like i'll be coming just under the 70 pound limit, with my new keyboard+case coming in at 68.4 pounds. Linear dimensions come out to 61" wide, 21" deep, and 7.5" high - total of 89.5 (i'm hoping British Airways will have the same 100" limit that USAirways has...)
Gotta finish packing and taking the last shower for the next 30 hours of travel...here's hoping our BA ticket counter agent is friendly!
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June 04, 07
The Case against Digital Pianos and the (Un)Friendly Skies
The most aggravating aspect of airline customer service to me is the inability to get straight facts the first time through. Initial calls to both British Airways and US Airways left me the impression that i would be just fine to check in my Roland RD-700SX snugly protected within it's brand new Road Runner 88-key ATA transport case, provided i heft over approximately $160+ in oversize and overweight fees while taking advantage of "musical instrument" provisions allowing me to transport the instrument -
Due to a problem with pulling up my ticket info online for British Airways, i had to go through the travel agent in England - she subsequently found out that contrary to the information i had received State-side, i would NOT be able to transport my digital piano as checked baggage. The "musical instrument" provision is hogwash - there is an upper weight limit of 70 pounds for checked baggage, PERIOD. Since the Roland is 54 pounds and the ATA case is about 52 pounds, that would disqualify transport due to weight restrictions. The only flight options for my digital piano as-is would be via cargo transport. Problem is, it wouldn't arrive until the 11th of June, 5 days after the concert tour begins - for the jaw-dropping cost of $576. Sounds like a one-way trip to me...
Given the frustrating discovery of British Airways' transport policies, i gave US Airways a call to see if i had been similarly misinformed. Turns out i had - if memory serves correctly, the USAir agent stated that their upper weight limit is 80 pounds, with a total linear dimension limit (=Width + Depth + Height) of 100 inches. The ATA case was too large, and the entire package was too heavy. Another strikeout.
The ATA case had to be returned to Guitar Center for a refund. Given the uncertain piano situation in South Africa, i had to come up with another keyboard solution to ensure that i could practice during the two-week trip in preparation for all the upcoming activities in July. At first, a friend suggested that i use my old Roland A-30 keyboard controller, but given that it only has 66 keys, i wanted to see if there were any other compact 88-key solutions.
Turn out Sam Ash carries several compact 88-key controllers - the main difference between these and "regular" digital pianos is the lack of internal sound banks, their primary function being to connect to computers and/or separate external sound modules. The M-Audio 88es USB MIDI controller
, for example, sports "semi-weighted keys" in a very svelte package - problem is, the keys feel way too flimsy, hardly different from a synthesizer touch.
I then saw a set of Casio Privia digital pianos, the slimmest 88-key models i've ever seen sporting a "fully weighted" keyboard action that actually felt pretty good - not as heavy as my Roland RD-700SX, but certainly WAY better than any MIDI controller action. Since i didn't need any of the fancy features of the higher end models, i went with the entry level PX-110 -
The absense of extra pitch bend or controller wheels helps to keep the dimensions of this design to a bare minimum. I didn't bother to listen to the sound of this instrument, as i would be using it primarily as a controller for my Muse Receptor running Pianoteq, but at least there was a set of speakers built into the unit if i really need to listen to something on the fly.
Did i mention this keyboard is small? Given it's lack of depth from extra sound doo-dads and width from extra controller thingies, this 88-key piano can actually fit into a 76 key bag!
This puppy is nice and light, too, coming it at around 24 pounds.
The PX-110 supports both Damper and Soft pedal functions (the soft pedal can be alternated with the sostenuto pedal via the direct hookup), but the damper pedal is a real drawback. The included pedal is a pretty flimsy looking on-off footswitch:
Problem is, if you try to use a standard damper pedal, the polarities are somehow reversed - leaving the pedal up keeps the notes sustained, pushing the pedal down stops the sustained effect - very, very aggravating. Apparently, if you want to use the "advanced half-pedal effect", you need to shell out more bucks for a very un-portable SP-30 3-pedal rack
that's more suited for a fixed setup. If anyone knows how to hack a damper pedal quarter inch plug to reverse its polarity, i'd love to hear your solution...
Looks like the Casio Privia PX-110 fits the bill in weight, size, and functionality as a full-size keyboard controller in conjuction with a high-quality sound module. Now the trick will be to either find a way to pad the soft keyboard case adequately for check-in baggage transport, or to find a smaller ATA flight case that will fit airline regulations...
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May 31, 07
My attempt to be a roadie by air...
Once upon a time, a classical pianist had the luxury of snickering at his fellow musicians lugging around violins, cellos, or worse - double basses - and dealing with the hassles of airline carry-on restrictions, rough security inspectors, hostile stewardesses, and occasionally the nightmare of baggage claim (poor double bassists...) He would prance lightly onto the plane with nary a bag to weigh him down, save for perhaps his music bag. His only downside of being an unencumbered musician was the hassle of dealing with sub-par pianos at the concert hall. If he were an easy-going fellow, he'd just shrug his shoulders and not let the disappointment of piano quality from venue to venue ruffle his feathers too much. If he weren't
so easy-going, he'd either go through the trouble of learning to tune and adjust his own pianos, or have a nervous breakdown fighting with venue piano technicians (if they were even to be found)...or, plunge into the insanity of bringing his own instrument.
Getting transport info for oversized musical instruments from airlines is an exercise in hair-pulling. I made the first mistake of grabbing the cheapest flight to Denver, Colorado via Cheaptickets.com
without realizing that the AirTran
plane was too small to accommodate oversized luggage over 100 pounds in weight. Fortunately, the customer service department for AirTran was fantastic (wish ALL airlines could be as friendly and helpful as them!) and helped me refund the ticket right away (actually, i had to do a bit of a runaround - AirTran had just signed a new contract with Cheaptickets.com, changing the way tickets are canceled, so i had to contact Cheaptickets.com directly and get that squared away. Despite horrible english pronunciation from both the cubicle call operator and his supervisor, they extended a one-time courtesy cancellation.)
With a little more careful study of the available flights from Philadelphia to Colorado, i was able to determine that USAir offered direct flights on what appeared to be a larger airplane (the Airbus A320, second most popular plane right behind the Boeing 747). Trying to call USAir to get confirmation that they could accommodate oversized musical instruments was another three-ring circus runaround - first operator said, go look at USAir.com
(i couldn't find any info on musical instruments there); then she gave me the number to their cargo department. The cargo department didn't have that info, then directed me to call USAir (grrrrr...). Finally got a supervisor who was able to determine that most USAir flights to Colorado used planes large enough to accommodate my instruments. More calls this morning to finally nail down their fee structure for oversized luggage:
If the item's outer dimensions exceed 62 inches (width+height+depth), it is considered oversized and will be assessed an $80 fee. Note, total outer dimensions cannot exceed 100 inches.
If the item is over 50 pounds, it is considered overweight and will be assessed a separate $80 fee.
Total transport fee for a digital piano looks to be $160 with USAir.
, interestingly, makes it quite clear on their website that they accommodate the transport of musical instruments, and make exceptions for them when it comes to weight limits. The fee for a trip to South Africa would be 120 GBP (pounds) if you pay at the airline counter, or 84 GBP (approximately $167 at the time of this writing) if you arrange to transport the instrument online ahead of time. Definitely want to plan ahead and grab that significant savings online.
Next dilemna: hard cases for my Roland RD-700SX and my QSC HPR122i loudspeakers.
I had no idea what to look for in terms of transport cases for my piano and loudspeakers, so i gave the folks at Sweetwater.com
a call. They recommended the Gator Roadready ATA keyboard case, running about $369. ATA
stands for cases that are specifically designed for airline transport. Unfortunately, they didn't have anything for the loudspeakers, so i had to search elsewhere for those cases.
Loudspeaker cases, it turns out, are custom-made affairs. Starcase.com
is one company that offered a ready-made ATA loudspeaker case for about $458. Unfortunately, overnight shipping would be in the order of around $200+...the Calzone Case
Company also seems to provide loudspeaker cases (they seem to do a lot of cases for big-name rock stars, which might explain why they didn't bother to call me back for info...).
, based in Massachusetts, can make a custom-made heavy duty ATA keyboard case with wheels, which would run about $379. Being custom made, it would take about 2 weeks to manufacture and 2 days to ship via ground (about $28 for shipping).
Well, after all that research and armed with new terminology, it turns out that my local Guitar Center store carries a small stock of ATA keyboard cases under the Road Runner label. $369 for the Road Runner case that would fit my Roland, with the advantage of no shipping fee of course!
As for the loudspeakers, it's getting hard to justify the enormous expense of transporting them, on top of the cost of the cases themselves...it might be better to just find local music stores to rent loudspeakers from if flying to the venue is involved.
Anyway, that's my brief foray into roadie research...more details to come as i actually go through the experience of lugging my instrument through the airports (my violin and cello colleagues will be snickering at me
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