Fantasia on classical downloads

Recently I had been looking for a recording of the Fantasia for Gutar and Piano by Mario Casteluovo-Tedesco. I was able to find numerous references to the work, but every site I tried listed these CDs as being out of print, or at least out of stock. Not a popular item, I’ll admit. It was not listed on the iTunes Music Store either. But it was listed as available for download at a site that I had never heard before: eClassical.com.

I was impressed. They have an extensive collection of rarities that go far beyond what I’ve been finding at the iTMS. The download came to me as an MP3 compressed at the higher quality 160kbps rate, and I had my two movements of the work downloaded instantly for about a dollar and a half.

The Fantasia is a gorgeous work that seems to be not terribly popular — probably due to the somewhat odd paring of guitar and piano — but it’s one of these gems that shouldn’t be overlooked. Obviously the pianist is going to have to love playing pianissimo; that is the predominant dynamic in the work and definitley anything above a mezzo-forte is going to render the guitarist nothing more than a harmonic suppliment. But for a masterful guitar and piano duo, it has got to be the star chamber work for the very limited repertoire that this combination has available.

Happy New Year

I can’t believe it is just hours away from 2006 already. Looking back, 2005 was one of the best. I spent my first year at my dream job, moved into my dream home, practiced a respectable amount of music, completed some study on CSS and PHP, and watched my kids grow up. Dylan began walking and talking, and is hitting his terrible twos a tad early, while Max has been progressing very well and enjoying his preschool activities. Yingwen is fully booked for piano teaching for 2006, and she has a waiting list. Not bad.

One of my long-term goals, and I’m talking decades at this point, was to get the notes for the G minor Violin Sonata by Bach under my fingers on the guitar (transcribed for the instrument in A minor). I found a Bach folio of lute works while browsing bins of old sheet music at Lark in the Morning in Mendocino, California (or were they in Fort Bragg then?) way back sometime in the mid-1980s. I never really got serious about playing classical guitar though until exactly one year ago when I finally went and purchased an instrument. After one year of having the guitar and practicing regularly, I have that piece memorized, as well as most of the Lute Suite No.1 in E minor learned.

I didn’t practice the double bass with as much consistency as I would have liked, although I did practice way more guitar than I expected, and to be fair I did practice the bass a lot in spurts. It is a less resistant path to pick up a guitar and start working on something while the baby sleeps, as opposed to picking up the bass and getting everything set with the music, bow, rosin, metronome, etc. So one goal for 2006 is to spend a little more practice time on the bass – If I can get in a consistent bass practice session in each night then I’ll be very happy. On top of that, I need to find some venues for performance. I have been playing a lot of music “in the lab”, relearning my instruments after a long break, and it’s time to take some of the theory to the real world. Public solo performance is a skill in itself.

Another 2006 goal is to continue the exercise thing that I started back in November, but again with more consistency. I have a treadmill now in my office, and it’s really easy to prop up my PowerBook on a music stand and start watching DVDs during the workout.

One goal that is a bit newer this year is to start with some serious composition and arranging. I’m about halfway done with the first movement of the Bottessini Concerto No.2 arrangement for guitar accompaniment, and have sketches going for a prelude for piano and a string quintet. My aim is to complete the above three items for 2006, and re-orchestrate the variations on a theme by Grieg that I did back in 1986 that won me the Dave Brubeck scholarship award.

Book-wise, I have on my stand three PHP books and one inspirational book written by an old friend (more on that one later.) I’m just about to finish one of the PHP books on security, and the other two are on more advanced concepts. Let’s call this goal “always have a book open”. I also want to try to read more non-geek material for a change. In ten years, I think I read only one book that wasn’t about code or computers, but I used to read tons of novels back in the day. That’s the thing with being an obsessive personality in a technology career: You always feel like you have to stay on top of the trends, and any new book on something interesting winds up in the queue on my nightstand. My thinking the past several years has been: “If it’s not going to help me with my career, then I don’t have time right now.” But now I think it’s time to introduce a little balance in my reading curriculum.

I think that should do it. A bit of playing music, some exercise, and four compositions. Let’s see how we do…

Finale PrintMusic: Can’t RTFM?

This is such a simple thing, and I call this a major oversight on the part of the software vendor: I kept getting errors when trying to access the user manual or tutorials from within Finale PrintMusic 2006, getting errors that read something like “Could not open PMTOC.pdf”. I found the file after a quick search via Spotlight on my machine and it launched into Preview as this is the default Mac OS X handler for PDF. I got a table of contents, but it was only that. None of the links worked and it was essentially useless. I then noticed that the entire documentation was broken out into separate files. Linking to other local files apparently isn’t supported in Preview, or it doesn’t use the same protocol as Adobe Reader. Would have been better to make one PDF document, where anchors are supported in both Reader and Preview.

I hate Adobe Reader (and when the hell did they start calling it “Reader” instead of “Acrobat Reader”), but I suspected that this wasn’t going to work otherwise. There was no readme file to suggest that Acrobat was a requirement, so I’m guessing at this point. I grudgingly went and downloaded the Acrobat Reader from the Adobe site and installed it, and I’d like to take a moment to lament on Acrobat Reader’s strange installer: You download a download utility and it downloads another installer. Geeks will say “WTF? OK, whatever…” Non-geeks will just wonder what happened and why they still can’t open PDFs. Just make one installer, or one binary app that can be dragged to one’s hard drive.

And now everything works fine, except I have an extra PDF-reading program that I hoped I would never need.

Documentation has always been a tough subject. We have seen the demise of printed manuals. Electronic equivalents have been formatted to PDF, HTML, Flash, and so on, and sent to browsers, PDF readers, operating system help programs, or displayed within the programs own constructs. Vendors often will switch the tools they use, and wildly, between software version releases. It’s nutty how many ways it can exist, and I don’t know of any solution to this madness or even if there is one. My favorite method is the style that is used by PHP, complete and updated frequently as it lives online, with printer-friendly formatting and downloadable archives, and a number of freely-available tools that make it easy to use including Dashboard and Konfabulator Widgets.

Overdue post on December

So lazy on the blogging front this month. But it’s been busy and there’s been little time to think about der blög.

First of all – my birthday fell once again on December 11. Strange how that always happens on the same day. Anyway, I made it to 3.8 decades so I suppose I should feel lucky that I made it this far, and that I haven’t surpassed that big round 4.0 yet. We had a small but wonderful party at my house with just a few of my closest friends that go way back, and everyone bought food. Michael and Rochelle’s salsa and queso dip was my favorite. I can’t describe how yummy it was, but it went in the oven and got all mixed together as people hit on it, and I gotta get a copy of that recipe one day…

Presentation at InterlabThe following week was spent at the InterLab 2005 conference, where I had a short bit on XHTML/CSS layouts. It went well, but I’ve had a lot of practice doing this show over the past year. this time I only had 45 minutes as opposed to the usual hour and a half that I give to the lecture, so for the first time I actually practiced the bit and tried to combine talking and writing code at the same time. I think I only went a minute or two over. Washington that week was a very cold place – we were hitting lows of about 20ºF all week, and most of the smaller creeks and ponds were frozen solid. Very pretty though.

Somewhere last month I began the process of redesigning the presentation of this weblog. It is coming along but again there’s little time to work on such frivolities. The goals are to produce as lightweight and flexible standards-based layout that makes room for things like book and music recommendations as well as the usual categories, blogroll, links, and other goodies. The current layout is based on the default Kubrick hypertext from WordPress and my own stylesheet, but I intend to completely redo both in the next cycle. Given the current rate of progress, look for it sometime in 2007.

Xmas was fun – the kids seemed to have a blast with everything. Max sang in the children’s choir at Yingwen’s church and I gave a horrific rendition of a Bach prelude on guitar – succumbed to a profound lack of sleep and a long stretch without any public solo performance, and my brain just floated away in the middle of the piece somewhere…. 😉 I’m off this whole week. In-between family trips and dinners, I’ll be reading some PHP books and doing some serious music practicing. And that pretty much wraps up the month! Cheers!

Bribery

Capitalism is inherent in some children. I found this morning that if I give Max a nickel for each bite, he’ll eat things that he normally refuses to touch. Fine he can start saving for college this way.

As I speak, Dylan is multitasking between sticking things in the toilet and pulling silverware out of the washing machine. Gotta go…