Weather (App) Envy

In Subterranean Homesick Blues, Bob Dylan wrote:  “You don’t need a weatherman to tell you which way the wind blows.”

65a72fb0c878e2aa7a8bf93b385b6a9aIf The Voice of His Generation were writing that song in today’s smartphone era, he would have said you don’t need a weather app, either.  You can always stick your hand out the window to see if its raining, or open the door and receive an arctic blast to assess just how freaking cold it is.  And if you live in Columbus, Ohio in the winter months, you don’t really need to check the weather at all — you can just presume that it’s in the 30s, totally overcast, and drizzling a “wintry mix,” and you’ll be right more than 90 percent of the time.

I’m convinced that the real use of weather apps isn’t checking the weather or getting the forecast for your present location.  If that were the case, the apps would just trigger a GPS function, determine where you are, and then tell you the weather . . . but that’s not how they work.  Instead, you can input lots of different locations.  And therein lies the true purpose of weather apps.  They’re not an electronic Wally Kinnan the Weather Man, they’re designed to allow you to provoke your sense of weather envy and then adjust your reaction to the weather in your area by comparing it to other locations.

Check your phone’s weather app, and see how many locations are currently shown on it.  My app has about eight, so if I go to the app home page I immediately get a smorgasbord of different weather realities.  I can see that it’s a lot warmer in Florida, Texas and Arizona, and if I really want to torture myself I can click on one of the locations and get appalling details about just how bright and sunny and warm it is in comparison to damp, cold, gray Columbus.  And then I’ll inevitably go in the opposite direction and see just how cold it is up in Stonington, with maybe a brisk wind blowing in off the bay and some leaden, snow-laden fog to chill the bones even more, which helps to get me back to a state of reluctant Columbus weather acceptance.  And once I’ve achieved an acceptable weather equilibrium, I’m ready to bundle up and face the music.

It works in the opposite direction in the summer, of course.  If it’s hot and sticky and miserable here, it’s always going to be hotter and even more miserable in Florida or Texas — while in Stonington the weather is a delightful 76 degrees with lots of sunshine.

The real purpose of weather apps is to tell you that the weather is always better somewhere else.

The College Of Musical Knowledge: Giovanni Battista Viotti

The Idagio cellphone app offers a “radio play” feature that allows you to listen to the music of favorite composers — and a little else, besides.  From time to time, the folks at Idagio will include a piece by a different composer, just to mix things up a little.

892px-giovanni_battista_viotti_aftertrofsarelliThat’s how I discovered the music of Giovanni Battista Viotti.  I was listening to “Mozart radio” and a piece that didn’t sound quite like Mozart began playing.  I checked the app and saw that the radio was playing a piece by Viotti — a composer that I had never heard of or, to my knowledge, listened to.  I liked the piece that was playing, so I decided to see if there was a Viotti radio option.  Sure enough, there was, and after listening to it I found that I liked Viotti’s work quite a bit.

Born in 1750, Viotti was a violin virtuoso who was a prolific composer of violin-centric concertos and other pieces.  It’s not surprising, therefore, that the violin features prominently in his pieces.  He lived a colorful life that saw him working at the court of Marie Antoinette, became embroiled in the French Revolution, and was later expelled from England for a time due to concerns about his potential revolutionary sympathies.  Along the way Viotti and his Stradivarius helped to establish the French school of violin playing, and his compositions influenced Beethoven and Brahms.

Viotti doesn’t exactly get a warm reception from the critics — and I suspect that the fact that some music historians view him as a kind of suck-up to the nobility of the day doesn’t help the reviews of his music.  One article about him, for example, says that the quality of his playing was vastly superior to his compositions, variously describing them as “sweet but anaemic” and “tedious.”  Another article acknowledges that Viotti’s music was admired by his contemporaries and that his violin concertos show true compositional prowess, but his other pieces are “relatively uninspired.”

Not being a musical scholar or analyst, I can’t comment on Viotti’s composition — but I can say that I like his music quite a bit.  It’s very melodic and often uplifting, and is great walking music.  I particularly like his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 15 in B flat major and its jaunty third movement.  It and other pieces have been added to my Idagio list of favorites.

One lesson in the College of Musical Knowledge is that you shouldn’t let what critics say define your personal playlist.  I enjoy Viotti’s music, and I really don’t care whether he’s acclaimed by modern critics or not.

At The College Of Musical Knowledge

When it comes to rock music, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good grip on its history and principal performers.  I lived through most of the history of that particular musical genre, was immersed in it when I was in high school and college, and read about my favorite artists and the early days of rock ‘n roll, the British invasion, and psychedelia.  I can pretty easily identify songs that fell into subgenres like doo-wop, bubblegum, acid rock, and disco and can identify obscure songs and artists.  And even though I don’t listen to current rock music much these days, I still carry around that history.

2014-ryan-stees-featureWith classical music, that’s not true.  I didn’t pick it up because it was the prevailing musical form in my formative years; instead, the apogee of the classical period happened decades or even centuries before I was born.  I’ve listened to it over the years, but my knowledge really is narrow and about an inch deep.  I’ve watched Amadeus, listened to a kid’s tape we had when the boys were little called Mr. Beethoven Lives Upstairs, and am generally familiar with at least some of the creations of some of classical music’s biggest names, like Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven.  I know that I really like baroque music.  But . . . that’s about it.  I still confuse Schubert and Schumann.

For a fan of the music, my knowledge is pretty dismal.  It’s embarrassing.

Recently I’ve decided that I’m not just going to accept my state of blissful classical music ignorance, and am going to try to broaden my horizons by discovering some new composers, learning about distinguishing between the different classical musical periods, and trying to understand the whole composing process and how orchestration works.  I’m not going to try to learn how to read music — we’re talking baby steps here — but I’m hoping to end up with a better appreciation for the music that I listen to most frequently these days.

Thanks to the great Idagio app that I’ve written about before, I’ve already discovered a few previously unknown composers whose music I really like, and learned some interesting things about process.  This year I’ll be reporting from time to time on what I’m getting out of my enrollment in the College of Musical Knowledge.  Fortunately, there’s no curriculum, and there won’t be any midterms.  I’ll just be auditing the classes.

A Day In The Life

We had a great time at the Sgt. Peppercorn’s all-day Beatles Marathon at the Bluestone. I was there from 11:45 to 11:45, hanging in from the great introduction to the show from Sir Paul McCartney though all of the early songs and Sgt. Pepper, to the second disc of the White Album. At that point, with my feet aching from standing for 12 hours straight, Revolution No. 9 dead ahead, and looking at about 2 a.m. as likely target for the end of Abbey Road, I decided to call it a day. We left hoarse but happy.

But what a day! If you like Beatles music (and singing aloud with a group of friendly, lubricated, singalong strangers), it’s a must-attend event. It’s impossible to go, listen to that music, and not be happy — and impressed at both the musicianship and stamina of the great band. It will definitely put you in a holiday mood!

Next year we’re going to get there even earlier in hopes of getting actual seats.

Involuntary Singing

I’m in the midst of a two-day singing binge.  Yesterday I sang in the “Vorys Choir” at the firm — an ad hoc group that sings a few Christmas carols and parody songs at the Columbus office every year.  I’ve been doing it for years, and fortunately there is no requirement of any talent or singing ability.  The main criterion is that you are willing to don a Santa cap and sing out loud, as Buddy the Elf instructed — and that’s something that I can do.  It’s fun.

hqdefaultToday, we’ll be going to the all-day Beatles marathon at the Bluestone.  Starting at 12:30, the performers will run through every song in the considerable Beatles repertoire — with a few others thrown in.  The Sgt. Peppercorn performers are a lot more talented and professional than the “Vorys Choir,” but there’s no doubt that, at many points during the show, I’ll be joining in.

When I hear Christmas songs I just find myself singing along, and when I hear Beatles songs I do the same.  I can’t help myself, really.  I know all of those Christmas and Beatles songs by heart, and I’ve sung along to them since I was a kid.  When I hear them now, I just naturally join in.

For the record, I think it’s easier to sing along with the Beatles, because all you need to do is follow the lead singer in the Beatles’ recordings, in whatever key and tempo and vocal stylings they chose.  When I sing Ticket to Ride, I think I sound like John.  When I sing Hey Jude, I think I sound like Paul.  Christmas songs sung by the “Vorys Choir” are harder because of the key chosen by our musical accompanists — so you might start out in a comfortable vocal range on Silent Night, for example, and mid-song find yourself beyond the top end of your capabilities and needing to downshift into a lower register.  In any professional choir, that would be verboten.  Fortunately, with the racket created by the “Vorys Choir,” nobody notices and nobody cares.

I hope that every Webner House reader gets to sing a favorite song of their choosing, aloud, during this holiday season, and enjoy the chance to make a little noise.