Ready for My Close-Up

January 10, 2011 Uncategorized Leave a comment

Honestly, this looks like something you'd find in a Jawa's Sandcrawler. Which is likely why I love it.

I got an HD camcorder for Christmas! Squee!

This is my first foray into the world of HD videography. I asked for it – yes, I still make a Christmas list, and will until I am a father and am shamed into ceasing – with the specific intent of making more YouTube videos.

I ended up with a Flip UltraHD – the kind that looks vaguely like a Soviet spy camera – which is kind of a funny choice for me considering I own a Panasonic DVX-100A that I bought back when I was doing professional videography.

See, Flip is kind of the polar opposite of the DVX-100A. The Panasonic has 30 buttons. Flip has… 3.

Alas, the world has gone HD, and I wanted something Flash-based that I could load up and work with without using MiniDV tapes. I also didn’t want to blow out Santa’s wallet, especially since I have my eye on this bad boy to replace the DVX.

Enter Flip. He takes great 720p video. He likes USB ports. He has a giant, comically oversized red button to start/stop recording, which as a Mac user I am inclined to respect. He has a good built-in mic, and I can either record right into Garageband or Logic Pro from my keyboard or I have a Zoom H2 Handy Recorder that records terrific stereo audio. Sounds good, right?

The only challenge is that Flip records *.mp4 files, which my editing software (Final Cut Pro) likes to edit just about as much as a fly likes to wade through molasses. And when you’re on an older Power Mac G5 like myself, it’s kind of a non-starter. So that means that for every clip I import from Flip (ha! that rhymed), I have to “transcode” the video (look out) from the *.mp4 format (still with me?) to Apple ProRes 422 (okay now I’m just showing off) so I can edit natively in FCP (and he seals it with an acronym! BAM!)

A 3-minute clip took two hours to transcode. In other words, it takes me literally five times as long to work with footage from my shiny new, flash-based, look-how-consumer-friendly-I-am-even-a-grandma-could-win-Oscars-with-me HD camcorder than it does to work with my five-year-old, professional-grade tape-based SD camcorder.

Thanks a lot, 2011.

Progress? Not really, no. But I have to say, it is nice to see my paws in HD!

Movin’ Right Along

January 6, 2011 Uncategorized 3 Comments

I’ve been meaning forever to post more videos to YouTube. I enjoy it. I get to connect with people all over the world.

Oh, and I secretly want to be Internet famous.

To wit, here’s a tune from The Muppet Movie that I absolutely love and noodled with last night!

My Resolutions

January 4, 2011 Uncategorized Leave a comment

For comparison, I spent part of my New Years' wearing a women's bathing suit.

  • Read at least 12 books, starting with the ones on your bookcase that so far have just given people the impression that you read a lot of books when in fact you’ve read less than 20% of the ones you own and you make up answers when people ask you what you thought about them.
  • Do things when you think of them instead of just thinking about how you should do them, forgetting to do them, remembering that you should have done them and then feeling bad for not doing them, forgetting again to do them, and then remembering to do them but now it’s too late and doing it would just be embarrassing and so you pretend that you never had to do them in the first place until your friend/brain/co-worker/wife/county judge makes you do it.
  • Lose five pounds. I mean seriously. You lost 75 pounds. You can’t lose five more?
  • Notate out your music. You never know who will want to play it or whose eyes and ears it might find.
  • Seek out opportunities to do orchestral scores. It amazes people. It’s hard but it doesn’t feel like work. It’s a vast unconquered territory. And it lets you exercise musical muscles you weren’t sure you had. Plus, there isn’t nearly enough timpani in ragtime.

So that’s my list. What’s yours?

Be A Man

November 30, 2010 Uncategorized 2 Comments

The stuff of eyebrow nightmares!

So I got my eyebrows waxed.

I used to think it was just for girls, but then a hunter mistook my eyebrows for small woodland creatures and used them to make a hat.

At that point, I decided it was time to tame the lids.

You might think this is a procedure for girlie men, but there is nothing girlie about this process. Don’t let the fancy word “depilatory” fool you: Someone poured hot wax on my face and then, over the course of ten merciless minutes, tore not just the hair follicles but the idea of hair follicles out of my skin.

If this sounds more like something you would do to enemies from the wall of a medieval castle than in the Hair Cuttery next to the Target, you would be correct.

That said, my eyebrows looked/look fantastic; they were shimmery just in time for my 10-year high school reunion, and got lots of compliments from my inner-self.

The best part? I have never felt more like a man than when I acted like a girl.

Ragtimers Can Be Emo, Too

October 18, 2010 Uncategorized 2 Comments

Emo glasses are required to read this post.

I looked in the mirror this morning, and Old Martin was looking back at me in disgust.

It was the Martin of three years ago, the conflicted, unreliable, unemployed, but wildly optimistic version of myself. His eyes scanned my body. Thin. That’s good. Less hair. Not so good.

But what really offended him was the vague aura of disillusionment, punctuated by the tie and suit pants and the downcast look, like the passive eyes of a gazelle in its last moments of life being carried in the jaw of a lion.

Ragtime Kicks Tail #1

October 6, 2010 Uncategorized Leave a comment

Music post today!

Most people don’t know that there’s a ton of awesome ragtime being written in 2010; I’m just one of many under-200-year-olds who are writing in this genre.

In fact, there are a number of super talented performer/composers under 30 who are writing some of the best rags ever conceived. In no particular order, here are some awesome new rags by people under 30.

Max Keenlyside, “Northern Lights Rag”

A stunning classic rag – one of the best you’ll ever hear – full of color and passion.

Andrew Barrett, “Humanitaur Rag”

Terrific, weird, difficult, and catchy. What’s not to love?

Bryan Wright, “Ticklish Tom”

This piece is the “Maple Leaf Rag” of the 21st century. Seriously.

Sleepless Night

October 2, 2010 Uncategorized 2 Comments

Don't you just want to lie under them and wonder?

Fall is here. I’m excited. Kind of comforted, honestly. It’s sitting right outside my window, breathing through the screen on this, another sleepless night.

Life has been good. Lots of good things. My calendar is filling up for next year already with engagements in Kansas City, St. Louis, Boise (Idaho) – maybe even a chance to perform in Japan – and of course the Artist in Residence thing in Sedalia. I finished an updated biography for their promotional materials today, which was actually really difficult. Despite all my wordcraft I had a rough go of it. It’s a real art to sound impressive, exciting, and also not like an ass.

I ended up relying on adjectives. We’ll see how it goes. You can read it for yourself here.

In 2002 I gave a concert at Trombino Piano Gallerie in Pittsburgh, and one of the tunes I played was a melody George Gershwin wrote (Melody #17) that Ira Gershwin later identified as “Sleepless Night.” The notes are long lost from my fingers, but it’s a beautiful tune and I was pretty brave to perform it because it was slow and revealing. Weird to listen to myself from eight years ago, but it’s the perfect tune for a night like tonight, the dawning winter a whisper on the autumn wind.

The After-Concert Cigarette

September 20, 2010 Uncategorized Leave a comment

Hot.

We’re lying in bed, just me and the piano. My cigarette spins tendrils of thin smoke into the air. I look around. The room is a mess.

But man. Man.

I’m twisting her keys softly between my fingers. She’s sidled up to me, her three legs spun into my own, and we’re just laying there, silent. Not talking. Just comfortable. Was it good for her? Was it good for me? No need to overthink it. The easy silence is our answer.

I gave my first solo concert in almost 10 months today (which you knew about because you checked my performance schedule). Solo concerts are a Big Deal. I only do a couple a year. They are exhausting. You can’t just come out, play four pieces, and let everyone assume you know what you are doing. At the one today I played 17 songs in a row (with a 10 minute break for some delicious cookies). That’s an entire CD’s worth of music performed live in front of living people, no second takes, no edits, no mulligans. Imagine writing a novel in front of an audience, or painting a portrait under the gaze of a hundred eyes. I came home afterward and flopped into the LoveSac like it was my job.

For the most part, I did pretty good. I could tear my performance to pieces, but I won’t. I do this because I love this, and you shouldn’t be mean to the things that you love. Once I stopped fiddling with the bra straps, rambling nervously in silence trying to win the audience over, I found my groove.

It’s amazing to me that people give back what you put out. If you put energy into your performance – I don’t mean tempo or volume here, I mean you put your energy into it – people respond. It’s like music is this language older than words that we all understand and speak, and the audience can tell when you’re not being truthful with them.

It scared me into learning some new tunes and practicing hard in preparation for a new CD. One lady starred on her program all the pieces I played that she liked, and she pointed out to me after that none of them were available on my current CD. Whoops.

But this, really, was all about me and the piano. And I have got to say, lying here next to her, taking in the mountain spring smell of her Sitka spruce soundboard that, as lovers go, I am the luckiest freaking man in the world.

The Threshold Guardian

September 15, 2010 Uncategorized 1 Comment

I'm telling you, Barry, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" is going to change American cinema.

Alright, I’m not promising that this post has a point. I’ve started this thing, like, eight times already and each time I get about a paragraph in and then quit. But here goes.

I’ve been the beneficiary of some epic mentoring in my life. If I’m anything, it’s because I had people to emulate who were master teachers and sharers, people who took a vested interest in me, saw in me something worth cultivating, and helped me to grow.

Which makes it that much more annoying that I can’t seem, for the life of me, to be able to say what I want to do with my life.

On top of that, in these early days of my 28th year, I’m finding myself more and more often in the role of mentor. I have a piano student. I have people younger than me at work who come to me for advice. These are all people looking to me for some semblance of wisdom and knowledge, and I can’t help but wonder: Do these people have any idea just how much I don’t have figured out yet? Can you be a mentor while still needing your own?

In the book The Writer’s Journey, author Christopher Vogler breaks down the elements of myth Joseph Campbell identified and talks about how to apply them to your own stories. In one chapter, he identifies the different mythic roles your character can play, things like Hero and Trickster and Mentor. More important, he talks about how your characters can play more than one role in the story.

This was actually a revelation for me. I always thought about the Mentor character in movies, for example, as just, you know, “the mentor,” but think about it: Obi-Wan Kenobi is developing Luke’s skills in A New Hope like a traditional mentor character, but just one movie later he’s acting more like the Herald, delivering the call to adventure (“You will go to the Dagobah system…”) and getting the story rolling. Same character, different function in the story.

Similarly, I am now playing more than one role in the story. Whereas I was once just the Hero of the Martinverse – walking around, developing my Martinhood, being awesome, etc. – now I’m occasionally playing the role of mentor, too.  And, truth, I kind of like it. It feels meaningful. It feels worthwhile. It feels… right.

I was out for a drink with a co-worker the other night. We were talking about work and challenges and the meaning of life and she told me how much she appreciated my “wisdom” on things. She’s younger than me, but not that much. Taken aback, I proceeded to explain that I did not possess any wisdom, that I was still seeking myself and had way too many things to figure out, and that following any of my advice could only lead to rambling blog entries.

She paused, looked at me appreciatively, and said, “But that’s what makes you good at it. The best professors I ever had were the ones who were still searching, still passionately seeking answers. They are the ones that inspire you to cross the bridge and then meet you on the other side. I see a professor like that in you. I really do.”

Wow, right? I sort of sat there, silent. Because here I was, expounding on what I believed to her, and then all of a sudden she turned around and taught me something about myself. That was pretty cool.

I like this game. I want to play it more. Maybe there’s a clue in here somewhere about what I should do with my life. Good God, what if, when it comes to this question, I am my own Mentor? Is that even possible? Should that even be allowed? SOMEBODY GET ME JOSEPH CAMPBELL.

Hobbit Love

September 14, 2010 Uncategorized 3 Comments

Rock-a-bye Frodo, on the Ent top...

So if you weren’t already jealous of my perfect life, you will be once you find out that I spent Saturday night at an epic showing of “Return of the King” at Wolf Trap in Vienna, VA. Over 200 instrumentalists performed the score while the movie played on a giant screen. I am still smiling. It was the first time I’d seen RotK in years, and to hear it scored live! Oh man.

I forgot how good it was, how much fighting there is, and how many endings it has. But mostly I forgot how good it was.

One of my favorite parts of the Lord of the Rings universe is the relationship Tolkien crafted between Sam and Frodo. Sean Astin, who played Sam, once said, “To me, The Lord of the Rings depicts a powerful bond of love between two male hobbits, with the complete absence of sexuality. In that sense, it’s remarkably innocent and pure.  … I remain convinced that the power of their friendship derives primarily from the purity and innocence of their love for one another.”

The depiction in the movies is remarkably faithful, earnest and unquestioned, although I know the actors must have had some fun with it, especially with slow-motion lines like “share the load.” I mean come on. The jokes write themselves.

But I think Frodo and Sam reveal a unique and profound weakness in our American idea of manhood. Yes, they are God’s gift to slash fiction. I get it. But when it comes to Frodo and Sam, American men, at least the ones I’ve heard talk about it, seem caught between our oppressively simplistic American ideas of male relationships and a lack of language to talk about asexual love between two guys.

Most of them respond with gay jokes. This is natural, if you think about it; the only male love we’re conditioned to accept in America is that between a father and a son (the strained, can’t-put-it-into-words-but-you-know-I-love-you-because-I-fixed-your-sink kind) and that between two gay men, and so we pick the one it’s closest to and talk about it like that. Everybody else is going to have to settle for not getting their Bud Light.

I mean let’s face it: If Frodo and Sam had sex, they would be easy to categorize. I think them getting it on would in some ways be a giant relief to American moviegoers, who could finally go, “A-ha! I know which mental box to put you in!” But they aren’t gay. Sam will go to the ends of the earth for Frodo, cradle him like a child, hold his gaze for minutes at a time, revel in his smile, keep after him like a puppy dog, but at the end of all things all he can think about is marrying Rosie Cotton. And Frodo understands. He loves him even more because of it. “I’m glad I’m with you, Samwise Gamgee. Here at the end of all things.”

But they’re not gay. That sizzling is the sound of American male brain circuits overloading. Love it.

So if they’re not gay, what are they? Brothers? Friends? Herein lies the problem. We literally lack the language to talk about them. And yet we understand them, don’t we? We get it. Sam loves Frodo and vice versa. It makes perfect sense. It just makes us feel all wobbly, like someone isn’t playing by the rules.

In reality, it would be nice if we men had more than two categories of affection for each other. Women seem to enjoy endless gradients in their relationships. When was the last time two women went to the bathroom together and you thought, “Oh wow, they’re lesbians.” Exactly. But men, it’s like this ancient Code of Distance or something. My friend Mat and I, who disappear to a remote cabin once a year to work on our novels, have made a fantastic game of playing with people’s reactions to the news. (The best is asking for one check at restaurants. The results? Priceless.) I haven’t done a dance this awkward since the prom.

Still, true affection perseveres, and lucky is the man indeed who can tell his friends just how much they mean to him and live to hear them say it back. You can keep your Bud Light. Here at the end of all things, I would rather spend what little time we have left speaking the truth to one another. Tolkien had it right.

iTunes

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