Sunday, March 28, 2010

Gershwin: Rhapsody In Blue

This week we are leaping out of the Baroque period and back into the twentieth century.  Rhapsody in Blue, by George Gershwin, is a musical composition for solo piano and jazz band.  Written in 1924, it combines elements of classical music with jazz-influenced effects.

George Gershwin
1898- 1937

Rhapsody in Blue was commissioned by jazz band leader Paul Whiteman who would premiere the piece in a concert entitled An Experiment in Modern Music.  Although hestitant, Gershwin was eventually persuaded to write the piece, and with only five weeks left until the concert, he began composing the piece on his train journey to Boston.  He told his biographer Isaac Goldberg in 1931:
“It was on the train, with its steely rhythms, its rattle-ty bang, that is often so stimulating to a composer – I frequently hear music in the very heart of the noise…And there I suddenly heard, and even saw on paper – the complete construction of the Rhapsody, from beginning to end.  No new themes came to me, but I worked on the thematic material already in my mind and tried to conceive the composition as a whole.  I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our blues, our metropolitan madness.  By the time I reached Boston, I had a definite plot of the piece, as distinguished from its actual substance.”  (Wikipedia)
The original title of Gershwin’s piece was “American Rhapsody”.  The title Rhapsody in Blue was suggested by his brother, Ira Gershwin, after his visit to a gallery exhibition of James McNeill Whistler paintings, which bear titles such as Nocturne in Black and Gold:  The Falling Rocket and Arrangement in Gray and Black (better known as Whistler’s Mother).

Arrangement in Gray and Black
by James McNeill Whistler

After the piece premiered on February 12, 1924, it came under mixed reviews.  A comment from the New York Tribune on February 13, 1924 called the harmonic treatment “sentimental and vapid under its disguise of fussy and futile counterpoint!”  (Ouch!) Other critics didn’t like the way he glued his melodic segments together into one piece.

In 1955, Leonard Bernstein, who admitted that he loved the piece wrote:
“The Rhapsody is not a composition at all.  It’s a string of separate paragraphs stuck together.  The themes are terrific – inspired, God-given.  I don’t think there has been such an inspired melodist on this earth since Tchaikovsky…”

I, myself, loved the vapid sentimental parts (found around minute 10) and especially its famous opening:  the seductive wail of the clarinet.

Kid Critique:

Samuel:  Sounds like something you would hear in a black and white movie.  This is the best one yet!
Anna:  Sounds like a New Orleans Celebration!
Arielle:  It sounds like an old-fashioned band.
Ella:  I love it!  It feels like I’ve been to the circus!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

More Signs of Spring...

Being a southern transplant from the north, I am always smitten with the early signs of spring.  The vast array of blooming shrubs and trees paint a water color path on our way to school, to church, to piano and ballet.  The early spring air invites us to open the windows and play outside.  We seize these days because they last but a brief moment.  Soon the petals will fall and the scorching sun will remind us that the long, hot days of summer have arrived.

Here's a look at some of the beautiful blooms in our neighborhood this week:

Pink Magnolia Trees

Cherry Trees

An unusually shaped Bradford Pear Tree

Fiery Forsythia

Friday, March 26, 2010

Bulloch Hall and Krispy Kreme

One of the things I like about being an SAHM (stay-at-home-mom) is the ability to go on all the school field trips.  (No, really, I’m serious about this!)  It’s like being given permission to be a spy in your child’s life.  You see how she relates to her friends, how she respects her teacher, if she’s able to pay attention to the tour guide, what she does or doesn’t eat in her lunch and if she generally seems to be enjoying her life.  It also gets me to places that I would be unlikely to venture on my own.

Bulloch Hall

Today we visited Bulloch Hall, an antebellum Greek Revival mansion built in Roswell, Georgia in1839.  Bulloch Hall was built by Major James Stephens Bulloch, a prominent planter from the coast who was invited to the new settlement by his friend, Roswell King.  Major Bulloch had six children, one of whose name was Martha “Mittie” Bulloch.  On December 22, 1853, Mittie Bulloch married a man named Theodore Roosevelt in the dining room at Bulloch Hall.  The marriage was a gala affair with people coming for many miles and staying for a week.  After their wedding, Mittie and Theodore Roosevelt moved north to New York City and then, Philadelphia.  Later, Mittie Bulloch Roosevelt became the mother of Teddy Roosevelt, Jr., the 26th President of the United States.  

It wasn't until 1905 that President Teddy Roosevelt traveled back to Bulloch Hall, the childhood home of his mother.  He was the first sitting President of the United States to visit the South since the end of the Civil War.  On October 20, 1905, President Roosevelt said, “It has been my very good fortune to have the right to claim my blood is half Southern and half Northern, and I would deny the right of any man here to feel a greater pride in the deeds of every Southerner than I feel….”

As I toured the house, I was impressed with much of their ingenuity.  The mansion was built entirely of hardwoods found on the property.  The bricks were made from stain-loving Georgia red clay.  It was built at an upward slant so as to appear even larger!  Osage orange trees were planted near the house to discourage insects.  This was apparently quite effective and Bulloch Hall claims to be "mosquito free" in the summer months!  (Why don’t I have these in my yard?)  The basement kitchen had a brick floor and housed an open hearth oven and a beehive oven (think brick oven pizzas!).   Off the kitchen was a cellar that stayed cool enough during the summer to keep ice blocks frozen, ensuring refreshing, cool summer drinks.  Mittie Bulloch even had homemade ice cream served at her wedding!

While the Bullochs lived well for their time, I was also reminded how thankful I am for living in the 21st century.  I am thankful that my husband puts on a clean shirt everyday.  I am thankful for my extra-large capacity washing machine, and I am thankful that the top causes of female death are no longer childbirth and the extra wide hoop skirt catching fire!

Of course, the 3rd grade field trip would not have been complete without a trip to Roswell’s other landmark:  the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop!

Here, Anna enjoys her first known Krispy Kreme doughnut.

Who doesn't love a field trip?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Playing Hooky

Having four kids, I sometimes find it challenging to squeeze in good quality alone time with each of them.   Except for Ella, the youngest, who covets her one-on-one afternoons before the post-carpool pandemonium begins, all the shuffling and activities seem to be done in mass groups.  Three girls strapped in the back seat, elbow to elbow (with a button pushing brother in the front seat) does not always bring out one's best behavior.  So when do I find the sweet, precious children that I love?  I find them most often when it’s just the two of us.  Arielle and I found a treasured moment last week when we played hooky.  The best part about playing hooky is knowing that you are doing something that nobody else gets to do.  While everyone else was trapped in school, we were experiencing ultimate freedom!  

Here's a look at our day in pictures.  

A legitimate appointment with Dr. Levitt.
(Congratulations to him on completing his first 1/2 marathon!)

Lunch at the American Girl Bistro.
Arielle ordered her favorite Shrimp Pasta!

The Fashionista went shopping... 

and shopping...

and still more shopping!
This dress from Gap Kids came home with us
along with summer sandals with 1" heels!

All in all, the day lived up to its expectations and I got to savor the sweetness within my growing up girl.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bach: Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1, 2, &3

 Johann Sebastian Bach
1685 - 1750

“To His Royal Highness Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg, etc., etc., etc.  Sire:  Since I had the happiness of playing at the command of Your Royal Highness a few years ago, and I saw that you took some pleasure in the small talents for music that heaven has give me, and that, in taking leave of Your Royal Highness, you did me the honor of asking that I send you several of my compositions:  therefore, following your gracious command, I take the liberty of offering my most humble respects to Your Royal Highness with the present concertos, which I have arranged for several instruments…”

Beginning with these words, Bach offered some of the most sublime music ever written to the Margrave of Brandenburg.  The dedication date was March 24, 1721 and the volume was originally entitled “Six concertos with several instruments.”    The popular title “Brandenburg Concertos” was not given until more than 150 years later.

What the Margrave of Brandenburg actually thought of Bach’s work or whether or not he even had any of them performed is uncertain.   The original manuscripts appeared untouched although, of course, copies could have been made.

Fortunately for us, it seems that Bach did not compose the music specially for the Margrave, but gathered together six of the concertos he had composed for his own use over a period of years.

Of interest in the first and second concertos is Bach’s use of horns.  Bach was one of the earliest composers to use horns as a regular part of the orchestra.  Originally used as an instrument for hunting calls, Bach’s writing called for these early valveless horns to perform a full range of virtuoso technique.

My favorite of the three concertos is number three in which we can hear Bach’s inspiration from the Italian composer, Vivaldi.  Having loved our week with Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons,”  I could only appreciate more fully the complexity of this Baroque classic.

Kid Critique:

Ella:  I loved it!  It sounds beautiful and interesting.
Arielle:  I liked the steady beat.  It’s not too slow and it’s not too wild.
Anna:  It sounds exciting.
Samuel:  Mom, this song is as old as you are!  (I guess I look pretty good for my age!)

Saturday, March 20, 2010


On Thursday we celebrated both a birthday and the Fine Arts Festival at school with one of our "traditional" trips to Bruster’s Ice Cream.  Because these events landed on a Thursday, the treat got even better.  Bruster's Thursday special is a half-price banana split when you bring your own banana!  When it’s half-price banana split night, even my ever frugal husband doesn’t complain that he could have bought three gallons of ice cream for the price of a few cones.  With impeccable timing, we arrived at Bruster's to find a rare, short line.  By the time we (the six of us) were done ordering, the line of people stretched to the curb.  The treats were enjoyed by all.

We love to celebrate the little things – another birthday, a first grade blue ribbon.  Blue ribbon or not, these are the masterpieces that I will proudly frame and hang on my walls.  This is the art that makes me smile.  To see the world through your child’s eyes and hands, nothing is more beautiful than that.

Blue Ribbon "Farmscape" by Arielle

"Self Portrait" by Arielle

"Toucan" by Anna

"Self Portrait" by Anna

"Self Portrait" by Ella

"Self Portrait" by Samuel

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Very Green Lunch

Forget April Fool’s.  My favorite day to prank the kids is March 17th!  I remember working undercover in the lunchroom last year so I could watch the kids open up their specially prepared lunch.  Every item was green!  First their eyes grew big and their mouths dropped open.  Then the neighboring kids leaned way over to view this strange novelty.  “Very funny, MOM!” were the words exclaimed as they secretly enjoyed the attention and actually ate the green, but tasty food.

Here’s a look at what is for lunch today:

  1. A spinach tortilla wrap (no, I don’t make them eat green meat or cheese)
  2. Green Jello with pineapple chunks
  3. Key Lime Yogurt
  4. A Granny Smith Apple
  5. One Green Juice Box
  6. And, of course, Green M&M’s

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Day the Daffodils Bloom

When the grass is still brown and the trees stand tall with their bare silhouette against a grey winter sky, the daffodils dare to push themselves through the cold dirt, bringing us a first glimpse of spring, a warm glow of sunshine against the cool earth.

My daughter, Arielle, was born on this day - the day the daffodils bloom.  That’s our story.  When we went to the hospital, seven years ago, daffodil greens were barely noticeable beneath the weeping river birch in our front yard.  When we came home a few days later, a sea of yellow greeted us, welcoming our little girl into the world.  Arielle, these flowers bloom for you.

Footnote:  This picture would have been posted earlier, but shortly before I got my camera ready, little sister proudly handed me a bouquet of every blooming flower!  

Note to Self:  This fall, plant more daffodils!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Copland: Appalachian Spring

Aaron Copland (1900 - 1990)

This week we listened to Copland’s Appalachian Spring.  I told the kids that I chose this song because it reminded me of their dad – Strong, Americana, a Pioneer.  Appalachian Spring was written in 1944 as Copland’s third ballet score.   It was later re-written as an orchestral suite, but we can still follow the storyline throughout its eight sections, which Copland describes as:
  1. Very slowly.  Introduction of the characters one by one, in a suffused light.
  2. Fast.  Sudden burst of unison strings in A major arpeggios starts the action.  A sentiment both elated and religious give gives the keynote to this scene.
  3. Moderate.  Duo for the Bride and her Intended – scene of tenderness and passion.
  4. Quite fast.  The Revivalist and his flock.  Folksy feeling – suggestions of square dances and country fiddlers.
  5. Still faster.  Solo dance of the Bride – presentiment of motherhood.  Extremes of joy and fear and wonder.
  6. Very slowly (at first).  Transition scene to music reminiscent of the introduction.
  7. Calm and Flowing.  Scenes of daily activity for the Bride and her Farmer husband.
  8. Moderate.  Coda.  The Bride takes her place among her neighbors.  At the end, the couple is left “quiet and strong in their new house.” (Condensed from Wikipedia) 

My favorite section is number seven in which, like finding the prize inside a cereal box, we discover the Shaker melody, “Simple Gifts”.  Much to my amazement, none of my four children (and even my educated mother!) had ever heard of this familiar folk tune! This piece launched Copeland’s popularity and in 1945, shortly after the end of World War II, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his achievement.

Kid Critique

Anna:  It sounds like a celebration!
Arielle:  I like the fast part because it’s exciting, but I like the beginning the best because it feels calm.
Ella:  It’s happy.
Samuel:  Can we listen to classic rock instead of classical?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Arielle's Cooking Party - The Details

I have to admit, I love birthday parties.  While the thought of hosting large groups of children can be daunting, I find myself embracing these moments as a chance to express my inner Martha.  It’s all in the simple details.

For her 7th Birthday, Arielle chose a “Cooking Party” theme.  Since our house was still backlogged from a kitchen remodel, I decided to outsource this one.  While I had never seen a children’s birthday party there, I checked with the newly opened “Apron’s Cooking School” at our local Publix grocery store.  Sure enough, they would host a party for 15 girls!  Chef Michael was great.  He met with the two of us and planned an extensive menu.

Now, even if I’m hosting a party elsewhere, I like to hand out a theme-filled goody bag.  I think it pays to do a little research and come up with a few quality items rather than lots of throw-aways.  I found a website with high-quality children’s aprons. ( The white, chef-style aprons ($2.82 each) came with great reviews and I wasn’t disappointed.   I rolled each of the Aprons with a wooden spoon (3 for $1 at the Dollar Tree) and tied them with a pink satin ribbon (50 cents for 10 yards).  I added a handful of cookie cutters to each bag ($6 for 101 cutters after Michael’s 40% off coupon.  Finally I baked a batch of my best chocolate chip cookies (I’ll post that on another blog) and put three in each of 15 cellophane bags, again, tied with pink ribbon.

The birthday party was a success.  Chef Heidi did a great job of keeping the girls occupied while teaching them basic plastic knife skills, stove safety and reasons not to touch your hair, nose or friends after you’ve washed your hands!

Here’s a little shortcut trick for making thank you notes a snap.  When I send out the party invitations, I print the addresses on a sheet of labels (just use Microsoft Word – labels).  I make a second copy of the labels and Voila!, the thank you notes are already addressed. I make a third copy of the labels on plain paper and use it to mark off who’s coming and who’s not.

Depending on the child, I think fill-in the blank thank-you’s are just fine.  Buy them at a stationary store or make your own on the computer.  Better yet, have your child write out one copy of the thank you‘s with spaces for the name and the gift.  Have them draw a picture for the front and make color copies.  The point is to instill in children that we say thank you for gifts and to not make the process too difficult or overwhelming.  I think Emily Post would agree that a less than perfect thank you is better than no thank you at all.  As kids get older we can and should expect more.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Crazy Cake

When my grandparents were getting ready to sell their house in the country, an old converted schoolhouse situated on a one-acre parcel of land in Wisconsin, they invited the extended family to come and select a few items from their home that would remind us of them.  I chose an old Norwegian Bible, a small spiral notebook in which my Grandma meticulously recorded every garment she had sewn (including fabric yardage and number of button holes) and her recipe box.  The old, wooden recipe box was stored upside down because the bottom had fallen off.  It was filled so tightly that it was difficult to return a recipe once it had been removed.  Some of the recipes were clipped from newspapers and magazines (circa 1940’s) but most of the recipes were written in her old familiar writing – the same writing that signed my birthday cards and sent letters to me at camp.

One recipe in particular held a place of honor.  It was the only recipe to earn its own plastic sleeve.  That recipe was Crazy Cake.  Grandma said it was called Crazy Cake because it was so easy to make, you could mix it and bake it in the same pan. 

Thinking of all those times when Grandma would visit, bringing her own homemade pan of dessert, I decided to bake the crazy cake.  Grandma would have mixed and baked hers in a 9x13” cake pan and frosted it with a simple chocolate icing.  I baked mine in 48 mini cupcake tins piped with pale pink buttercream and pink sprinkles – perfect for my 7-year old daughter’s (her great-granddaughter’s) birthday.

Thanks, Grandma.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Snow on Magnolias

As I write this, fresh air and sunshine are flowing through the open windows in our kitchen.  Last week, however, was a different story.

A rare March snow provided the perfect excuse for hot chocolate, marshmallows and freedom!  School closings allowed us to dust off the sled, pull out the boots, and, just for a day, forget about practicing, homework, and the overcommitments of daily life.  

We run, we laugh, 
we breathe in the cold, wet air.  
A warm bath brings feeling 
back to our fingers and toes. 
 The melting snowman
reminds us that life must go on.
Come, back, Frosty!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Vivaldi: The Four Seasons

I recently read that it takes half a lifetime to develop a true appreciation for classical music.   This got me thinking.  I have yet to notice any one of my four children reaching for the public radio station in the car.  I decided it was up to me to give them the exposure that they deserved.  I decided that while I still have control over the car radio (i.e. I'm the driver, not them), I would try to use some of this time to enlighten them.  We are starting this journey with Vivaldi:  The Four Seasons in honor of my daughter, Arielle, who shares the same birthday (March 4th) as this great composer.


Ella:  Look, I'm playing my (imaginary) violin!
Anna:  I know this song!
Samuel:  Why does summer sound sad?  Maybe it's the end of summer.
Arielle:  Maybe it's a thunderstorm!