Thursday, July 31, 2008

Old Time Music at the Library

On Tuesday, there was more live music at our local San Francisco public library. The Knuckle Knockers, from San Francisco's Bernal Heights, played old time music to a packed room full of tots, kids, and adults. The 2 talented ladies sang tunes hearkening back to a simpler time in Appalachian country or on the farm. They talked to the kids about life 100 years ago, when families would entertain themselves with homemade music in the evenings, rather than plugging in to TV, iPods and cell phones.

Knuckle Knockers, July 2008

They talked a bit about the instruments, including the distinction between violin and fiddle (it depends on how it's played), the origin of the banjo (Africa) and guitar (Spain). Most fascinating of all were the questions from the preschoolers in the audience. One girl asked, "How could the rabbit be gone?," which led to a whole discussion about vegetarianism vs. rabbit eating on the farm for survival back in the day. Someone else asked, "What's inside the guitar?" to which another kid responded, "air." Who knew that the youngins' could be so insightful!

The music was amazing and Miss B seemed to enjoy herself, although the room was way to crowded for dancing. She did manage to bounce and sway in her seat, with the occasional hand clap when appropriate. When I asked her what the music sounded like, she said, "dirty nails." Hmmm. Sometimes I think she's just messing with me.

Punk Rock and Science a Winning Combo for DJ B

DJ B's music review pile is growing and growing, especially with the addition of 3 freebie CDs (her first!) that we got in the mail courtesy of musician/producer Chris Bihuniak. When we opened the package, Miss B was super excited and said, "Oooooo....CDs!" She then observed, "Oh, CDs have tape on them." This was a special treat since DJ B typically doesn't see new, wrapped CDs.

The first of the 3 CDs that caught Miss B's eye was the Teacher and the Rockbots "Science" album, full of educational songs about topics like the scientific method, human organs, and digestion. The lyrics are sassy and the music nods at the drama of punk rock and new wave.

After the music started, Miss B smiled at the robot voices and seemed mesmerized by what she heard. She said, "That CD has a mat." When I asked her what she thought of it, she said, "It has mats on it" and pointed at the case. Huh?

Later on she requested this album, saying, "I want rock." She then raced over to a promotional mouse pad that was on the carpet and danced in place, kind of like a pogo-ing New Waver on a crowded dance floor. She then got on her knees, patted her legs to the beat and screamed "yay!"

I agree, yipee for some fun music aimed at kids that makes me nostalgic for whimsical '90s rock bands like Man...or Astro-man? and Lookout! Records pop punk stalwarts Groovie Ghoulies and Mr. T Experience.

Even better, DJ's B's scientist grandpa will be pleased that she's listening to music that features a Thomas Edison shout out.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Crosspulse Rhythm Duo Delights with Toilet Plunger, Garden Shears and a Ukulele

In addition to housing a glorious selection of CDs, our local branch of the San Francisco Public Library has been hosting quite a few music events this summer. On Thursday, DJ B and I popped in to see a performance by Oakland's Crosspulse Rhythm Duo. Trained percussionist Keith Terry and dancer/musician/Stairwell Sisters' member Evie Ladin delighted the kids by playing music on their bodies (lots of clapping, slapping, and stomping) and on unusual instruments like boxes, metal lids, large gardening shears, and a toilet plunger.

Crosspulse also played more recognizable instruments like bells, banjo, and ukulele (played by kid guest-star Rocco). Miss B clapped along with the music, hissed like a snake when asked to, and crawled on the floor to get a closer view of the musicians/dancers. During a Q&A with the audience there were many random comments, including one kid's pronouncement that, "When I grow up I'm going to be a movie star." Miss B didn't share with the band, but when I asked her what the music was like, she said, "Tinkerbell."

Crosspulse Rhythm Duo and Special Guest Rocco

Their lesson about embracing the sounds of ordinary objects rubbed off on Miss B, who immediately following the performance sang at the top of her lungs in the echo-filled library bathroom while banging her hands on the handicapped stall's metal grab bars. She definitely understood the joy of percussion.

DJ B Makes it to Her 5th CD and Curls up for a Nap

At last, we've reached DJ B's 5th and final CD pick from that epic trip to the public library. Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "The Inflated Tear/Natural Black Inventions: Root Strata" is a 2004 release that puts together 2 albums from the late 1960s and early 1970s onto one massive 78 minute CD.

When DJ B put this jazz release into the CD player her first move was to put away the toy she was playing with. She placed a pillow on the floor, grabbed a blanket, removed her barrettes and snuggled on the floor with her hands clasped by her face and the blanket covering her, as if she was getting ready to go to sleep. She then took the CD case from me and stacked it on top of the others before opening it and removing the booklet to read. After perusing the liner notes she stuck them back into the case and retired to the floor for her faux nap. After hearing a few tracks she got up and played her toy piano for awhile, then danced.

When we reached track 11 ("Island Cry"), DJ B pointed at the CD and said "birds in music." And, indeed, according to the CD, "Rahsaan Roland Kirk plays tenor sax, stritch, manzello, B Flat & E Flat clarinets, flute, black puzzle flute, black mystery pipes, harmonium, piccolo bass drum, thundersheet, sock cymbal, bells, music box, palms, tyill pani, gong and applies the use of bird sounds." Wow.

For Miss B, this was another fine jazz release, just perfect for dancing and sleeping.

Friday, July 25, 2008

World Music Makes Miss B Dizzy

Miss B's 4th pick from last week's trip to the library was Habib Koite & Bamada's "Ma Ya." Judging from the grimy CD case, tattered booklet, numerous "date due" stamps on the cover, and the old "7 day loan limit" sticker, this must be a public library visitor favorite. Practically as soon as we'd checked it out, there was a "hold request" placed on our copy by an eager fan dying to get his or her hands on this well-loved release.

Yet, within seconds of placing this in the CD player DJ B said, "I don't like this one," giving this album the lowest score of the week based on first impressions.

However, when Miss B sampled this again a few days later it was an entirely different story. She immediately started to dance, pointed her toe and played with her Michelin Man key chain. She smiled and twisted her body, saying "you dance" to her papa. They danced together to this lively world music and Miss B asked to be spun around until she exclaimed with glee, "I'm dizzy, daddy!" She then twirled around in circles making herself even dizzier as she embraced the thrill of childhood mind-alteration.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Miss B Busts a Move to Armenian Ballet Music

We're still wading through the stack of 5 CDs from last week's library jaunt. Next up for DJ B was Aram Khachaturian's "Gayne" (Complete Ballet), conducted by Loris Tjeknavorian and featuring the National Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra.

The first time we put disc 1 of this double CD in the player, Miss B picked up her Hello Kitty umbrella and stretched up on one toe. She then put the umbrella upside down and touched the ground with it. Next she folded the umbrella and used it like a walking stick, tapping it on the floor as she walked across the room. Perhaps realizing that this is ballet music, DJ B then began to dance and smile, saying, "clap my hands" after she heard a tambourine-like sound coming from the speakers.

We listened again today before bedtime and I asked Miss B, "What does it sound like?" and she replied, "cauliflower music." Hmmm. She also said that her current favorite Verdi sounded like cauliflowers, so this Armenian ballet music must also be a winner. It did provide a nice soundtrack as exhausted DJ B drifted off to sleep in my arms.

7/28/08 UPDATE: This CD (aka "ballet music") is Miss B's new obsession. Last night she requested "ballet music" and after turning it on she donned her fairy princess skirt, danced, and played her tambourine.

DJ B's East Coast Counterpart's Experiments with Atonality, Bulgarian Clarinet and Steve Reich

Today on the WNYC radio show Soundcheck there's a discussion about "Your Baby's Brain on Music," featuring Jeremy Eichler, who wrote the great piece in the Boston Globe "Can't Get it Out of My Head: A Father's Yearlong Quest to Grasp the Infant Musical Mind," in which he exposed his young son to a variety of more experimental music in order to see how the child reacted to music that's a bit more challenging than the typical toddler fare. Right on!

Jeremy writes:

"The more we listened through my own CD library, the more I wanted to toss Jonah's collection of 'baby music' in the trash. Of course, soon enough, my son will start making musical choices of his own, and who knows what will happen...

...after speaking with so many researchers, it also seems clear that we should never underestimate just how musically sensitive and discerning the infant brain can be. Or, as a Tanglewood usher once astutely observed as I was rushing to the parking lot after a concert with my tiny protégé wailing at the top of his lungs: 'Everyone's a critic.'"

He could have been writing about DJ B! Be sure to read the full article to find out how his little DJ dug Steve Reich, Bulgarian clarinet, and 17th-century madrigals.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Aloha (that's Hello and Goodbye) to Kohala

Next up in Miss B's lineup of CD selections from last week's trip to the library was Kohala's "Deeper Blue." After we put this Hawaiian guitar music into the CD player, DJ B took a close look at the booklet and asked, "What's this one?" She picked up her Hello Kitty umbrella, opened it, and danced a bit with it over her head (perhaps in anticipation of a tropical storm?). After 2 minutes of listening, she said, "I don't want to keep this on" and headed off to the next CD, asking, "What's this one?"

Today she gravitated towards Kohala again and upon hearing it, she smiled at me and then stared off into space. Miss B then got distracted by a stack of DVDs, said "I want cookies," and turned her attention to some dumpster-divers outside our window. Ah, yes, urban living.

So, Kohala is a bit more intriguing to DJ B than Leo Kottke, but far less enticing than metal-seeking scavengers. Island sounds just can't compete with the noises of the big city.

Leo Kottke Can't Stop the Tears

Last week Miss B pulled 5 CDs from the public library shelf, so we have our work cut out for us. Luckily, there wasn't much that held DJ B's interest, so the reviews will be quick. The first album that she requested was Leo Kottke's "Try and Stop Me." After putting it into the CD player Miss B closed the Hello Kitty umbrella that she was holding and then grabbed another CD to look at. Within seconds of hearing Kottke's guitar, she said, "I want that one...over there...this one instead" and we were off to the next selection.

We tried to listen to this again today, but Miss B was in full-on tantrum mode and could care less about Leo Kottke. Too bad, as I'd read some comparisons to John Fahey, which piqued my interest. On the other hand, I've also heard some new age associations, so perhaps Miss B knew what she was talking about when she skipped this one.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Miss B's Not Feeling the Mainstream Pop

When I saw Miss B's third CD selection from the library this week, I cringed. I love the female voice and am a huge supporter of female artists, but the major label compilation "Women & Songs," just screamed cheese from its purple and pink album cover full of the faces of Cher, Jewel, Kelly Clarkson and Faith Hill.

On first listen, DJ B clapped her hands and danced a bit to the anthemic opening track by Christina Aguilera ("Beautiful"). She asked for her dress-up skirt, put it on, and continued to dance to the second song, Faith Hill's "Cry." She grabbed her headphones (I would too), pulled some books from her shelf and said, "I'm just reading some books." At this point she was oblivious to the music as she settled into her literature.

Yesterday we again listened to the CD after Miss B said, "I wanna do 'Women and Songs.'" She listened to the first 9 tracks, while sitting on her yoga mat perusing the liner notes.

Overall assessment: the mainstream pop ladies are simply providing background music for Miss B's book time.

No, I Don't Want Patti LuPone!

The second CD that Miss B investigated this week was Patti LuPone's "The Lady with the Torch." After putting it in the CD player, DJ B danced and swirled for a few seconds, then stopped the CD like a time-crunched radio music director.

Yesterday she brought me the CD again and said, "How about this one?" She opened up the case, examined it and pulled out the liner notes. Thinking that she wanted to listen to the Patti LuPone, I stopped the CD that we were playing (the beloved Verdi). Clearly, I'd misunderstood, as DJ B said, "No. Keep it on."

Today, I again tried to play some Patti LuPone and after a few seconds Miss B said, "I want to turn it off." She kept requesting the Verdi album, calling it the "fancy one...the big one," perhaps because of its 90+ page booklet and large multiple CD packaging.

It's surprising to me that with her love for theatricality ("Guys and Dolls") and opera (Verdi), DJ B would dismiss this Broadway star's concert album full of pop standards.

She clearly did, proclaiming: "No, I don't want Patti LuPone."

Well, OK. Miss B has spoken.

Opera Music Brings out the Inner Ballerina in Miss B

Last week Miss B picked 3 more CDs from the public library. The first one that she wanted to listen to was Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera," an opera in three acts from performances recorded in Milan, Italy in 1956 and 1957. Maria Callas is the star of this CD, and her visage stares off from the album cover and from within the pages of the extensive booklet included in this double CD set.

The first time DJ B put this in her boombox, she listened for less than a minute before stopping the CD and moving on to the next selection. Yesterday, we tried out the CD again and Miss B immediately left the room, saying, "I want pink shoes." She grabbed her baby doll, danced with her, then clasped her hands together while she smiled and did a slow spin, as I'd never seen before. Like a ballerina, Miss B swirled to the music in a much more controlled fashion than her typical dancing.

She turned to the booklet for the CD, saw a picture of Maria Callas and asked, "Who's that?" After she heard voices on one of the tracks she turned to me and said, "so that's her?" while pointing at a picture of Callas. She spent a lot of time studying the booklet while she listened. When I asked Miss B what the music sounded like, she said, "cauliflowers."

While listening she continued to do ballet and yoga moves, lifting a leg in the air while sitting on a yoga mat, then raising her leg while balancing the rest of her body on her toy piano. Today she danced some more to Verdi and said, "So that's Verdi," while pointing to the Callas picture.

As Miss B danced she said, "I like Verdi" and "I'm like Verdi." She was definitely feeling the music and channeling Ms. Callas.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Miss B disses the Barefoot Diva

The third library selection from this most recent batch was Cesaria Evora's "Voz D'Amor." Jaded by her intense passion for "Guys and Dolls" (what could possibly compare?), on initial listen DJ B smiled politely for a few seconds before extracting Ms. Evora from the player, saying "I want Guys and Dolls." We tried it again a few days later and Miss B asked for milk, saying, "Turn it down and eat milk."

I'm thrilled that Miss B has been selecting a wide range of female artists, but it's a bummer when she's not giving some of them a fair shake. Whether I like it or not, it's becoming very clear that some music is just background noise for DJ B (classical and jazz in particular) and other music gets her up on her feet dancing for joy.

Maybe I shouldn't be super surprised at shoe-loving Miss B's reaction, though, as this Cape Verdean singer has the nickname "barefoot diva" on account of her shoe-less performances.

No to Classical Piano

After her overwhelmingly positive response to "Guys and Dolls," DJ B wasn't very willing to give her other two new CD selections from the library a chance. I managed to get her to check out Alicia De Larrocha's "Favourite Spanish Encores," which to me is a beautiful release full of soothing piano music by this talented Spanish artist. Yet, Miss B only listened for about 10 seconds before she stopped the CD, declared, "I want Guys and Dolls," and handed me the CD to put away.

A few days later I offered up this album again and Miss B was game. Yet, she seemed distracted when we put it in the boombox and asked for "more cookies." She then asked to dance with me, saying, "I want to hold you and spin around." Then she stopped and said, "I'm thirsty. I want some milk." She wandered about the room, found the "Guys and Dolls" CD case, opened it to find it empty and asked, "Where's the Guys and Dolls CD?" We searched some more, found it, and she was again happy dancing wildly, saying "fly like a bat."

Unfortunately this week nothing can compete with "Guys and Dolls," even if it's gorgeous piano music played by a talented lady legend.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Luck be a Lady!

Last week Miss B was back in the saddle and happily picked three new CDs from the library. When we got home the first one that she wanted to check out was "Guys and Dolls: The Original Cast Album." She asked me, "What's this?" and I replied, "Guys and Dolls," to which she responded, "Ohhhh. Guys and Dolls."

From the opening notes Miss B was hooked. Her first response was to put on her silk fairy skirt and black patent leather shoes. With a huge grin on her face she said, "I'm like a fairy princess" as she spun around in circles to make herself dizzy. She then grabbed some rhinestone studded cat eye sunglasses and said, "I'm a fairy princess. I want my wand."

Ever since this first listen, DJ B has been reluctant to listen to anything else or do anything else. One day I asked, "do you want lunch?" and she answered, "No. I want to dance. Guys and Dolls. Guys and Dolls are coming to my house." We've probably heard the album nearly 100 times since it came home with us and each time Miss B dances feverishly the whole way through, doing her own version of musical theater.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Camper Van Beethoven and Children's Music

I'm extremely dubious about children's music, which is why the focus of this blog is the main CD section of the library and not the kids' section. I haven't found much kids' music that I like, so I'm most interested in introducing well-crafted adult music to DJ B. For that reason, we haven't hit very many children's music performances, either. I realize that we're missing out on a whole subculture, with artists like The Sippy Cups, Enzo Garcia, and Miss Kitty (who we have seen) wowing crowds in San Francisco on a regular basis.

Today, I set my music snobbery aside to check out the free music gig by Chris Molla at our local San Francisco Public Library branch. The room was packed with babies and tots, who seemed to enjoy the folky music played on guitar and accordion. Chris engaged the crowd, asking for color suggestions for one song where he seemed to improvise rhymes on the spot, based on the color. He told us that the orange/door hinge rhyme credit was courtesy of a 6-year-old. Miss B kept her colors to herself and was reluctant to get up and dance, but she did smile throughout the show.

Afterwards the librarian told me that Chris Molla was a founding member of indie band/college radio staple Camper Van Beethoven. And, now, he's a preschool music guru playing at a library near you!

The moral of the story is I'll have to give kid-oriented music a second look now, as sometimes it comes with some pretty cool credentials.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Jazz is Okay Daddy-O

The other selection from DJ B's recent duo of CDs was Archie Shepp's "Four For Trane." It's some fine jazz music, originally recorded in 1964, remastered and reissued in 1997. Considering the fact that one of Miss B's favorite books is "Charlie Parker Played Be Bop," I figured she'd dig this release, featuring sax, trumpet, trombone, bass and drums.

After dancing around the room to Dueto Voces del Rancho, we popped Archie Shepp into the boombox in preparation for nap time. Miss B listened with interest, put a pair of sunglasses on her bear and continued to dance around. She turned down the music and we both started to rock some stuffed animals to sleep. According to DJ B, Shepp is acceptable, but not necessarily a favorite.

P.S. The album cover of the version we got was just a plain black background with the album title on it. Perhaps if our version was as cool as the original album art above, DJ B would be even more jazzed about it.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Loving the Latin Music

Last week we were in the midst of sleep-deprivation, smoky air from the California fires, and general crankiness around the DJ B household. When we took our weekly trek to the library Miss B was reluctant to choose any CDs, saying, "No. I want videos." I feared that our project's days were numbered. I managed to steer her back towards the CD shelf, but could only get her to pick 2 albums this time around.

DJ B's first pick was Dueto Voces del Rancho's (The Two Voices of the Ranch) "Mas Fuertes Que Nunca" release from 2001 (which is next to impossible to find online). Miss B picked up the case and very intently studied the album cover and sleeve before putting the CD into the player. After she hit "play," we heard the intro with people talking in Spanish. DJ B looked at me and grinned and then began to dance as soon as the music started. She grabbed her purple stuffed unicorn to dance with, then handed a bear to me to dance with. She then walked the unicorn on the carpet and left it to get her stuffed Sponge Bob (why not the Spanish-speaking Dora?). Miss B danced like crazy, then requested her sunglasses, saying, "I want eyes on...for dancing."

Is Antony the Most Soothing Mama of all?

The 3rd and final selection from Miss B's public library jaunt was the Antony and the Johnsons release "I am a Bird Now." I was so thrilled to see this amazing (and indie) album show up in Miss B's batch of goodies. When we put this in the CD player for the first time (at nap time), Miss B said to me, "I wanna rock you," which means that she wants me to hold her in my arms and rock her in anticipation of sleep. So, I held my baby and we listened to the soothing sounds of Antony's mama-like vocals before I placed her in her crib for sleepy time. A few nights later I put her to bed with Antony playing and it worked wonders as the perfect nighttime soundtrack.

Is Janis Better Mama Music than Joan?

Miss B's next library pick was Janis Joplin's "Pearl." After DJ B was done checking out Joan Jett, she asked for "more mamas" and pointed to the Joplin CD. We put it in the boombox and, like Joan Jett, it elicited smiles and dancing.

The next day, when given a choice among her new picks, she again pointed at Janis Joplin. When we played it, DJ B started to dance with her glittery toy princess cell phone case. She put on a hat, then put her headphones on over the hat. After realizing that didn't work that well, she took off the headphones and hat, then put the headphones back on her head and attempted to put the hat on over the headphones. Unsuccessful, she began to throw the hat in the air, yelling "throw!", "hat throw," and finally, "I want milk!"

Rocking out to Joan Jett

On a recent visit to the library, the CD shelves weren't super jam-packed, so Miss B was able to get a clear view of some of the album art. She spotted Joan Jett's visage calling out to her from the cover of "Sinner," and immediately grabbed her first selection of the day.

When we got home she asked for the "mama one," so we popped the 2006 Joan Jett and the Blackhearts release into the CD player and Miss B smiled and said, "I want to dance with my baby" and grabbed her doll. She then collected her purple butterfly umbrella and started dancing with it (closed) and then opened it and began to sing. She said to me, "wanna dance? let's jump!" We listened more through lunch and DJ B rocked her foot under her high chair and kept saying "Joan Jett."

Most fun of all, though, was her reaction to the slower, more ballad-like "Watersign." During that track Miss B closed her eyes and slowly swayed back and forth. Now where's that lighter when you need it?!