Music and Words

October 22, 2011

The Story of a Music Degree

Filed under: Words — melomania @ 1:15 pm

I am a musician.

I’ve been playing piano since I was 8, singing in choir since I was 12, and I studied music in college. I have a BA in music, with a theory emphasis and a business minor. It took me a long time to choose that major.

I went in to college undeclared, but thought I would want to study something science-related. I loved chemistry in high school and I liked working with computers, so I enrolled in Chem and Computer Science classes in my first year of college.

I hated both of those classes. Now, a lot of other things went wrong my second semester of college as well, but I had this identity crisis come up, and decided that I would fit into the music department better. I’ve been surrounded by musicians for a long time, most notably the four years of high school. Musicians are my people.

I already knew my instrument would be voice – it had just been so long since I’d really been involved in piano lessons, and besides, do you have any idea how much work goes into studying an instrument like that in college? At least, I figured, singing would be easy.

Totally not true.

I spent one semester as a general music major, intending to go into music education. You have to have a focus instrument to do that, though, and I spent a semester taking weekly voice lessons with a grad student. I hated them. First of all, I spent most of that semester sick with one virus or another. Secondly, have I mentioned I hate performing solos?

When I say that, I mean I actually experience performance anxiety. I worry about it for days, I get that sick feeling in my stomach, I even start to shake uncontrollably while I’m performing. As a pianist, I could fake it. You can’t see my hands shaking when I play. As a singer, though, you can hear it in my voice. I had no support to begin with because I was so nervous, and I’m pretty sure you could hear my voice shaking. I even have a great story to go along with this performance anxiety, so hold on tight – rabbit trail coming.

When I first applied to get into the Music Education program, I had to audition in front of key faculty members from the School of Music. They asked me a couple of questions, then I had to sing. I performed one song for them, the song I had performed for my All-State choral audition my senior year of high school. This was the song that got me into the All-State choir. (That and my excellent sight-reading abilities.) I knew my performance wasn’t all that great – I could hear it in my voice. I wasn’t as strong as I wanted to be, and even hit a wrong note or two (right at the very end, how frustrating is that?!).

I just used all three major punctuation points in one sentence.

As I was saying, I knew I wasn’t great. What I was not expecting was this comment from the head of the voice department: “Well, it’s pretty clear that you’ve never had any private voice training.”

WHAT?! Who says something like that?

They let me into the school of music anyway, and after one semester, I was done with voice lessons. Couldn’t handle it.

The next semester, I figured I would get my degree in music business. My school actually had a course of study for that. Pretty cool. I took a couple of business-type classes, but got bored with that pretty quickly. (I also had my tonsils removed that semester, which solved the I’m-always-sick problem. Wish I could tell my voice instructor that I wasn’t lying about being sick all the time, and I really did have something wrong with me. Now I only get sick once in a while.)

While I was going through all this, I found that I absolutely loved my music theory class. My professor was excellent and the material we studied was fascinating to me. I learned about how all the different notes work together to make chords (some of which I already knew through piano lessons, of course) and how the chords work together to create the structure of the song. I finally had something that I was interested in studying, and around that same time, I discovered I could do a degree in music theory. It would involve taking lots of theory classes (great) and composition classes (hmmm). It would also require that I complete a minor as well, which the music education major did not. I guess they figured that studying both music and education was good enough.

I took those composition classes, and promptly discovered that I’m not much of a composer. A few weeks into my first composition class, I went to a workshop full of composition majors. The other students in this workshop kept raising their hands and talking about how they had these melodies floating through their minds and had to write them down, or how they were so inspired by something they just had to write a song…and I was totally intimidated. The only melody floating through my head is the song I heard on the radio before I got out of the car, and I’ve never been inspired to write a song. My mind just doesn’t work that way. I can analyze other people’s music no problem, but I don’t come up with stuff like that on my own.

Here’s the funny part, though – I can compose. I can follow the rules in composition (whichever set I’m supposed to be following, early counterpoint vs. classical forms vs. 20th century) and it’ll sound good. I just won’t have any idea how it sounds until I get it down on paper and play it to myself. Following the rules works for me, being “inspired” doesn’t.

As I mentioned, I had to choose a minor. My minor is in business administration. I picked this mostly just because I had already done a few of the classes needed for this minor when I thought I was going to study music business.

Business classes are boring, though. I had one good professor, and he taught a business math sort of course. Most of the other classes were at best, boring, and at worst, awful. Seriously, I had one professor who yelled at us for not raising our hands when he asked what the current exchange rate was from the euro to the dollar. We didn’t raise our hands because he always yelled at us when we got the answers wrong, and we knew better than to answer questions at all by this point. When someone finally did raise their hand to answer the question, they were off by a dime or so, and got yelled at for being wrong. The professor went on a tirade about how European kids would know the answer to that question, and American kids are stupid because they don’t. Personally, I thought that’s what Google was for. Unless we plan to spend money overseas, why does it matter what the exchange rate is at this exact moment? When I was in Germany, I did know what the exchange rate was.

Now that I’ve finished college, though, I’m actually putting the business classes to use. (Not the exchange rate, although I did need to know what the US-Canadian exchange rate was last year.) I’m involved in marketing and management, which were both horrible classes I had to take. Both marketing and management are much more interesting now that I see how to do them in real life.

I loved my major, even though I’m not doing anything related to it now. I love my current job, even though it had nothing to do with my major. I’m well aware that most people who graduated within the last few years (actually, plenty of people in this country, regardless of when they graduated) don’t have jobs at all right now, or don’t have jobs they enjoy. I’m thankful that I do. Most of all, I’m thankful that I didn’t have to spend 4 years in college studying something I dislike in order to have a good job when I graduated.

Plenty of people who studied “useful” things in college don’t have jobs right now anyway.

October 21, 2011

A Normal Person’s iPhone 4S Review

Filed under: Words — melomania @ 3:49 pm
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I bought an iPhone 4S when it came out. Actually, I’ve been so looking forward to getting a new iPhone that I pre-ordered it the night pre-orders began. I didn’t care that tech bloggers were disappointed that Apple didn’t annonce an iPhone 5, or that the outside of the phone looks no different than the iPhone 4.

I was excited about lots of the new features offered in iOS 5, which we’ve known about for months. Most of all, though, I was excited because my current phone at the time was a 3GS. I never upgraded to the 4. I had a variety of reasons for this, but the point here is that by the time Apple announced the iPhone 4S, my current phone was over 2 years old (which in the current tech world is absolutely ancient) and I was replacing it no matter what.

Also, I had recently dropped it for the 2,376th time and the screen had cracked.

My 3GS has been running slowly ever since iOS 4 came out. That phone was just not built to handle the software it was running, and it was clear in the loading time on different things. If I tried to do too many things in a row, I had to wait for the phone to finish thinking before it would go back to the home screen, for example. Sometimes, “too many things in a row” simply meant “typing too quickly”.

My point in giving this background is to be clear that I’m not the kind of person who goes out and upgrades her cell phone every year because there’s a new one. I’ve only waited in line for an Apple product once, and that was the original iPad. Which I still have. (Never got a 2.) I’m ok with that.

I am a normal user. Normal people don’t go out and buy the latest and greatest phone every year. Normal people wait until their contract is up and then see what’s available. I certainly don’t have more than one kind of phone on more than one network because I want to compare them. (Who wants that many ways to be bothered?) To be fair, I’m a little more tech-savvy than a normal user. I pay attention to Apple announcements, and I watched the live-blog of the iPhone 4S event. I got excited. Although, like I said, I really wanted to replace my current phone. If Apply had announced a banana with buttons I would have been excited. (As long as the banana’s software fixed those stupid notifications. I was starting to go a little crazy with the blue boxes. You see, I only like little blue boxes that are bigger on the inside.)

So I’m closer to being a normal person. I like technology and gadgets, but I’m not the type to make a big deal about upgrading every year.

Most of the changes to the iPhone 4S are software-related, obviously, but since I’ve upgraded from the 3GS, I do have some comments to make about hardware as well.

Hardware

Display

That Retina Display is incredible. I’ve never seen a screen so clear. I don’t even have to zoom in on webpages anymore to read them because the text is so clear. I can see incredible detail in pictures. As advertised, it doesn’t feel like I’m tapping glass with pixels under it anymore, it feels like I’m handling the pixels themselves. Very nice.

One of the biggest complaints that Android users have about iPhones is the screen size. They insist that bigger screens are better, and that clearly Apple is making a mistake in only selling a phone with a 3.5″ screen and no other alternatives. Recently I ran across this article that points out the 3.5 inches is the largest size that most people can hold in one hand and still be able to reach the other side of the screen with their thumb. After noticing this, it’s impossible to un-notice it. Personally, I couldn’t go any bigger than 3.5 inches. I’m already stretching to reach the other side of the screen, and I use my phone one-handed all the time. I hardly ever hold the thing with two hands.

Apple’s not real big on giving users tons of variety. Even in their computers, if you want a laptop, you have 4 choices in screen size, and that’s including both MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. Desktops have 2 screen sizes. If you want  a netbook with a 9-inch screen, then you’ll have to go somewhere else. If you want a giant laptop with a 19-inch screen (if that’s even possible), then you’ll have to go somewhere else. Clearly, however, lots of people want a lightweight computer with an 11-inch or 13-inch screen, or a more powerful laptop with either a 13-inch, 15-inch, or 17-inch screen. This is working well for them. Since they sold over 4 million iPhone 4S’s in the first weekend, I’m going to have to say their iPhone strategy is working out well for them as well.

If you want a phone that has a bigger screen, you’ll have to go somewhere else. And Apple is ok with that.

Performance

I’m seriously impressed. This phone is fast. Everything I do happens instantly. The Retina Display allowing you to feel like you’re actually manipulating pixels? That’s partly because it moves fast enough to let you think that.

Camera

The camera is great. I’m not much of a photographer, but I can see the difference between these pictures and the ones my 3GS used to take. (It doesn’t take a whole lot of pictures anymore now that it spends all its time sitting on my desk powered down, waiting for me to figure out what to do with it.)

Software

Notifications

I could break into a full-on Hallelujah Chorus right here. No more stupid blue boxes (that are not bigger on the inside)! The Notification Center was the one feature that I was most excited about with the release of iOS 5. I spent some time setting up my notifications to alert me the way I wanted, depending on which app they were from, but since then, I absolutely love them. I can see everything that popped up overnight while I was asleep, or while I was in a meeting, all in one place. And the notifications don’t go away, never to be seen again, once you’ve glanced at them! No more forgetting that I never did respond to my brother’s fiancee’s text message, or what it was that I intended to do when I got home from work. I can glance through my notifications and then come back to them later when I’m ready to deal with them.

The banner that drops down to alert me about new notifications is a significant improvement as well. I love being able to tell if it’s something I want to interrupt my Plants vs. Zombies for (like a text message about dinner plans) or not (like an email to my work account on my day off), without the phone forcing me to interrupt my game. The new notifications are, by far, my favorite thing about iOS 5.

Reminders

I’ve been using reminders like crazy, because I forget things easily. I have actually been known to think of something I should remember to do, grab a pen and paper (or open an app on my iPhone) to write it down, and forget it by the time I’m ready to write it down. Actually, I don’t care to admit how often that happens to me. Reminders in conjunction with Siri, the voice-recognition personal assistant, have been a dream come true for me. Grabbing my phone and holding down the home button isn’t long enough for me to forget what I was doing, because I don’t see anything else before Siri activates. I don’t have a chance to get distracted.

Ok, if I’m being honest, I may have done it once. But I remembered again a minute later, so it doesn’t count.

Siri

Speaking of Siri (haha, get it?)… This was another area that most people were pretty excited about. I don’t talk to my phone all that much, generally, but now that I’m getting the hang of it, I use Siri all the time.

Minor rabbit trail: The day after I got my new phone, I went to the Walgreens clinic because I thought I had strep throat. I was right. During the appointment, I wanted to set a reminder on my phone to take ibuprofen when I got home. I thought it would look weird to tell my phone that in front of the clinic worker there, so I typed it in myself. It was a less satisfying experience.

It only took me about 18 hours to get used to Siri, and I was sleeping for 6 of them.

Since then, I’ve asked her all the ridiculous questions other people have. She’s getting a little sick of me asking her about HAL 9000 for the benefit of people around me. She told me she hopes I don’t tell other mobile phones that I love them too. She got mad at me the other night when I wasn’t speaking clearly and she wasn’t understanding what I was saying. Also, I’ve started referring to a piece of software as “she”. I’m living in the future – all I need is a flying car.

Sure, there are things Siri can’t do for me. And yes, I had network connection issues during the first few days. And sometimes I talk too fast and she doesn’t get what I was trying to say. But overall, I’m impressed. This is cool software.

A few other little things

I don’t actually use iMessage that much. A few of the friends that I text have iPhones, but lots of other people don’t, including my parents and my brother. It’s nice, but I’m not at a point where I can get rid of my messaging plan. And since AT&T offers either unlimited texting or no texting plan (pay for each) then I’ll keep the unlimited and not worry about it. That being said, iMessage is faster than texting.

I did use the new Cards app already, though. Family birthdays are coming up. I was impressed by the quality of the cards offered and ease-of-use of the app (although I do think it would make a lot more sense if it was an iPad app as well). And getting a custom-printed letterpress card sent for $2.99? That’s cheaper than going to the grocery store for a card. Not bad.

I have been enjoying OS-wide Twitter integration. I’ve been using Twitter considerably more than Facebook because of this. I take a picture and send it to Twitter, instead of opening up a separate app, finding the picture myself, and then waiting for it to upload. I’m liking this.

Finally,

I’ve said for a long time now that switching to an iPhone two years ago was the best cell phone purchase I’ve ever made. This upgrade may now take that place. I’m very happy with it.

October 20, 2011

NaNoWriMo

Filed under: Words — melomania @ 11:27 am
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I’ve decided to write a novel again this year for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

The idea is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. I tried last year and got bored with my story after about 10,000 words. I’ve picked a story I’m hoping will be more interesting this year. We’ll see if that works out for me.

This year, I’m also planning on going to events in Tucson with other people participating in NaNoWriMo. I didn’t do that last year and I think it contributed to my severe lack of motivation after the first few days. (In retrospect, I must have been writing for about a week before I gave up. It seems like it was only a few days, but apparently I did 10,000 words, which means it must have taken me a little over a week…)

So yes. Events in Tucson. This could mean I’ll have a very busy life during the month of November and my dog will never see me and she’ll get lonely. Fortunately, she gets to play with my parents’ dog again, so I think she’ll live.

The funny thing about writing 50,000 words is that honestly, if I sat down and focused, it wouldn’t take all that long. Actually, if I procrastinated until Thanksgiving (which is the longest stretch of time in the whole year that my center is closed so I don’t have to work) I could do it in those 5 days.

See, I’ve already written 240 words, and it only took a few minutes. My longer blog posts where I actually tell stories and have a point are over 1,000 words. I used to be able to research and write a 5-page paper in an hour when I finished high school.

Writing’s not hard for me. Having something to say is. I often want to write something, but then realize that either I do’t have anything to talk about, or no one will care about what I have to say.

But that’s the beauty of the internet (and especially free blogging platforms like WordPress) – no one has to care. If people do, great, and if they don’t, no harm done.

That’s also the beauty of NaNoWriMo – I’m not writing a novel with a deadline because I’m getting published. It doesn’t have to be good. I can write pages and pages full of plot holes and bad grammar* because no one will see it. It’s just a chance to feel like I’ve accomplished something. (Unless I decide I’ve written the next Great American Novel and want to get it published. Then I can have a chance to feel like I’m a horrible writer and will never accomplish anything once I start getting rejection letters.)

So that’s why I’m doing this. I like writing, and I have a plot in mind. I also have a highly annoying princess for my main character, and I have the freedom to kill her off after the first half of the book if I get sick of her!

*Note: My novel may be full of plot holes, but it will not have bad grammar. I’d actually make a better copy-editor than a writer.

See? 524 words already. This will be easy.

October 6, 2011

To-Do List

Filed under: Words — melomania @ 11:44 am

There’s just something so calming about creating an actual, physical to-do list, on actual, physical paper, with an actual, physical pen.

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