Archive for November, 2007


Melisma: Find the Pitch, Stay There

November 28, 2007

’tis the season…. fill in the blank with whatever season you like.  It could be baseball, football, opera, Spring, Duck Season (or Wabbit season, for you Daffy Duck fans) and if you’re in southwestern Pennsylvania right now, it’s hunting season!  For this installment of “this terrestrial ball”  I’d like to talk about the holiday season, Christmas in particular.  ‘Tis the season when radio stations play the worst renditions of Christmas songs recorded by shallow pop stars.

 Let’s look at two categories:  Good Songs/Bad Versions, and Bad Songs/No Cover could ever be good. 

 Good Songs/Bad Versions first:  The classic, and semi-classical song, O Holy Night.  This is a dead giveaway to anyone who has studied voice.  A singer breathes with the phrases, and the phrases in music tend to fall naturally with the way we speak.  When we speak, we do not take a breath between syllables.  When we sing, it is improper, and the sign of a poor singer, to breathe mid-word.  Destiny’s Child, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, take note:  Don’t breathe in the middle of a word.  If you need a breath at that point in the song, you need to do some more work.   The melody:  there are definite pitches in this song.  There were written down by Adolphe Adam in 1847.  Trained musicians expect to hear something relatively close to those pitches that Adolphe put on paper.  Singers who need to take a look at the music:  Christina Aguilera, Michael Bolton, David Hasselhoff, LeAnn Rimes, Jessica Simpson, and others too numerous to mention.  One final piece of advice:  the word divine is sung with a short i sound in the first syllable in order to produce a pure vowel sound’  please do not sing “dee-vine.”

Anything said about “O Holy Night” can be said about the following list of songs and carols:

  • Silent Night
  • Joy to the World
  • Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
  • O Come All Ye Faithful
  • O Little Town of Bethlehem

I guess I should mention that I really do enjoy a good gospel song, and that I know that the gospel genre employs a liberal use of melodic ornamentation.  These songs do not need that kind of enhancement; the melodies are beautiful on their own.  If G.F. Handel had wanted more pitches on each syllable of Joy to the World he would have written it that way.  He was, afterall, a master of melisma ( a group of notes or tones sung on one syllable) but he didn’t write them into the melody of Joy to the World.  Find the pitches, stay there.  If you’ve got a decent voice, the song will be lovely. 

That is just a brief cover of the traditional/sacred holiday music.  Some secular songs suffer just as severely as the sacred ones.  The Christmas Song, and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas come to mind.  White Christmas is reported to be the most recorded Christmas song, so we can imagine how many of them are just plain bad. Other versions are mediocre, and there are very few that are good. 

 On to the songs that are just bad and could never be good, no matter who attempts the cover.  Let’s start with Christmas Shoes.  What a blatant attempt to pull at the heart strings!   Here are a few more that just don’t do it for me:

  • Last Christmas
  • Celebrate Me Home  (this is a Christmas song???)
  • Same Old Lang Syne (again, it mentions Christmas Eve, so that makes it a Christmas song?  NO!)
  • All I Want for Christmas is You (put your sex drive aside for one night)
  • Snoopy’s Christmas (are we talking about the dog, or some WWI pilot?)
  • Wonderful Christmastime (we get it, you’re having a good time)
  • Where are You, Christmas?(pre-adolescent girls who think they are Faith Hill have murdered this song in countless middle school concerts.)

One last thing:  some pop stars just don’t seem to be able to pull off the Christmas album.  Sorry Carly Simon, I love you, but that holiday album is weak.  Neil Diamond, something just isn’t right about your cover of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.  Stevie Wonder, Twisted Sister, Britney Spears, I’m just not feeling the holiday spirit from your tunes.  Ella Fitzgerald, you’re a great crooner, but who arranged your charts for Jingle Bells and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.  You’re worthy of better.  Babs, I love your Ave Maria, and have even been thrilled by your Jingle Bells? up to the point where you remind me that you don’t really care to celebrate Christmas the same way I do. It’s where the music pauses and you let out a nasally “upsought?”  Then I just feel patronized, which is the point of this rant;  it seems that most of these Christmas albums are more of an attempt to capitalize on a sacred holiday without considering the cost to the beautiful songs that are being sacrificed. 



November 22, 2007

Here’s an update on the dining room remodel on which we procrastinated.  But first, since it is Thanksgiving Day, we need the requisite holiday greetings:



May you find that your blessings have been many

in the past year. 

You may recall in a recent blog entry, that we began the installation of the drywall.  We’ve also been patching the joints and sanding.  This week, we were able to put the new ceiling up.


The ceiling is a glossy white beadboard panelling that is similar to the green beadboard that was originally on it.  The color was horribly ugly, and the condition of the wood after being covered with two other ceiling treatments left it unsalvageable.  This panelling lets us keep the spirit of the house intact.  We’ve also noticed that the room is much brighter.  Installation of the ceiling was tricky.  The panelling is flexible.  It took a few of us to hold it in place, although smearing the rafters with liquid nails adhesive helped.  I got to handle the air powered nailer.  I think I could become addicted to that.  Way too much fun to use, and thoughts of torturing a few PITA’s with it went running through my mind.

We need to finish the sanding and then prime the walls.  We will install beadboard, similar to the ceiling, on the bottom of the walls as a wainscoting.  There will be a chair rail trim, a baseboard, and crown-molding, but those are details that can wait.  The laminate flooring I bought back in May is still sitting in the basement.  I’m saving that for last so that we don’t mess it up while we install the panelling and do the painting. 

Now that this entry is done, it’s time to become Pilgrims ourselves today.  We will pick up my kids and take them to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving Dinner.  Later, we’ll pick up Scott’s kids and head to his parents’ house for the evening where we will eat, drink, and be grateful for all we have. 


a poem for us

November 13, 2007

men sleeping

This is natural

At last, to feel comfortable in my own skin

I lie down beside you

a kiss good night

our legs intertwine

you hold my hand

‘I love you’s are exchanged

we fall asleep


Five Hundred Words

November 8, 2007

That’s the limit for this post.  That first sentence sucked up six of them.  Damn!  There went another eight! 

Procrastination.  I’m so good at it.  Back in July I started the remodel on our dining room.  Here’s what it looked like as the demolition progressed:

flocked wallpaper

paper and plaster

It wasn’t long before I had removed all of the old panelling, drywall, the decades old beadboard, the original plaster, the lath, and the wooden ceiling, which could not be saved despite my great desire to preserve it.  I removed the cheap vinyl floor tiles too.  I did some rewiring, added a few more outlets and installed the dimmer switch for the new chandelier.  My partner installed the insulation on the outside wall.  There was no insulation originally.  By the end of July, or early August, the room was a blank slate.  We turned out the lights and walked away. 

Last week, we decided it was time to  get back to work on this space.  We purchased drywall, panelling, a chair rail moulding, and drywall screws.  We cleaned up the room and got to work last night.  We got off to a slow start, placing only two sheets of drywall before calling it quits.  Tonight was much better, and soon the room will be ready for the taping and mudding.  I’m thinking I’ll be able to paint on my day off next week. 

This is rewarding.  Just seeing the new walls go into place is brightening the room.  Why did we put this off for so long?  California Polytechnic State University  offers some reasons for procrastination, as well as some tips to help their students overcome this habit.  I think I’ve found two reasons for delaying the remodelling of our dining room since I gutted it last summer:  fear and perfectionism.  There is the fear that I don’t know what I’m doing, fear that I will screw it up and everyone who visits us will see that I didn’t have the skills to do a decent job on this remodel.  Perfectionism is the other reason because I do like things to be done perfectly.  That’s why the room was gutted; I didn’t want to leave any evidence of the “improvements” made by previous owners.  I even considered removing the sub-flooring.  I needed to feel that I had stripped the room to its bare bones and created our new room from scratch.  Fear and Perfectionism held me paralyzed in their grip until my partner suddenly announced that we were going to purchase the necessary materials to complete the room.  Scott’s little push has done wonders for my morale as well as the condition of the dining room.  Soon we will be enjoying dinners in the renovated space.  I can’t wait to invite friends over for dinner.  If I work really hard, we’ll be able to use the room for our Thanksgiving celebration.  By Christmas, I should have the details of the room completed.

And this sentence brings the total word count to exactly four-hundred-ninety-nine, and not one more.


The Medium or the Message?

November 4, 2007

I arrived home this afternoon to find a political flier near my door.  It wasn’t in my door, nor in my mailbox, it was just near my door, on the floor of the porch, near some pumpkins and mums we have decorating our home for Fall.  Well, OK, it isn’t so much a flier as it is a letter.  No, I don’t think I would call it a letter, it’s more like an announcement.  Let’s not be so polite; it’s a cheaply produced rant printed on inexpensive copy paper.  It may have been printed at a local instant print shop, but somehow, I think they would have produced a higher quality product. 

The medium for this political advertisement is catching my attention but not in a positive way.  In addition to the miserly production values, aesthetics seem to suffer as well.  The font is rather mundane, there is an overuse of underlining, and it seems that once the Caps Lock button was hit, there was no need to touch it again.  There is one bit of interesting copy, and I do mean copy.  A paragraph was photocopied from the local school board minutes, then someone with poor handwriting titled it and underlined what I needs drawn to my attention.  I can see the line created by the cutting, indicating the physical “cut and paste”.  The alignment is skewed so that all of the words appear to be sliding off the page to the right.  I adjust it to keep the words from falling, or to save myself some neck-pain. 

We’re clear? The medium is poorly executed.  So now, let’s look at the content.  Surely something created and distributed so quickly and desperately, just days before the election, must contain a message of extreme importance.  I’m certain that it does, but I’m having trouble getting past the first sentence, a run-on, or in this case an “on-and-on” sentence.


Is someone in doubt about whether there is an election day in our near future?  It seems obvious to me, just by the sheer number of political signs along the roadsides.  The writer of this political ad seems confused about the pending election.  Does it not occur to this person that the reason they are writing this ad is indeed because there is an election in just two days?  What’s that you say?  Oh, it’s a rhetorical statement?  Hey, did you notice how I turned that rhetoric back onto the writer to make him or her look stupid?  Pretty good trick, huh?


Who is this mysterious “they” ?  What are these “papers” and the “complaint” ?  This sounds so interesting, but unfortunately, I am expected to know all about these particular lawsuits.  The writer presumes that I will agree that these actions, taken by the local board of school directors, amounts to an attempt to keep this one candidate off of the school board. 

I recall something about the court complaint.  I had to look it up on-line.  From what I read in the newspaper article, it certainly appears the school board has a valid case.  This is not an attempt to prevent an upstanding member of the community from being elected.  This isn’t the standard mudslinging we see in other elections. 

Hey!  Look over there!   The bit that was pasted from the school board minutes shows why “they” are out to get him.  The board voted to have the business manager prepare a budget in which there would be a property tax increase.  What’s that?  That statement has nothing to do with the papers filed in court? Yes, but the names of the directors who voted in favor of preparing a budget that includes a tax increase are underlinedTHAT SHOULD TELL YOU SOMETHINGIt doesn’t? You’re right.  It’s a non sequitur. No, I mean, the linking of the legal action to the directors who voted to explore a budget that includes a property tax increase, that’s the non sequitur.  Pointing to that information, which is public record, is more like a red herring.  Wow, this candidate is good. 

I’ve made it this far through the political ad, I wonder which candidate produced this fine piece of work.  Ah, there it is, and not only is he seeking election as a school director, he’s named in the court complaint because he is a sales associate of the company accused of overcharging and over-selling to the school district, in collusion with a person who is no longer working for the district.  The legal terms for all of that:  breach of fiduciary duty and aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty and conspiracy to breach fiduciary duty; violation of the Pennsylvania anti-bid-rigging act; and violation of civil RICO.

Is it the medium?  What a piece of crap political ad copy.  It’s poorly written and looks like a child taped it together then decorated it with all the skill it takes to draw straight lines.  It might have become garbage sooner than this, but I was curious as to who would distribute this trash.  It took a while to make that discovery.

Is it the message?  I get the message loud and clear.  Someone with questionable business ethics and very little of the skills we are teaching our students in this school district has decided that he’d like to be in charge of their education.  I’ll reserve judgment as to whether he is guilty or not guilty; there are more than enough reasons to deny this candidate’s goal of a seat on the board of directors.  In this case, it’s not a question of the medium OR the message, it’s both.