Friday, September 21, 2007

The Planets

The other day I was stuck in a lot of traffic so I decided to sort through the CDs in my glove compartment and I was thrilled to find my copy of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.” I thought I lost it. I’m listening to it right now.

Last Saturday night my mom and I went to the Utah Symphony’s first concert of the season where they performed “The Planets.” Abravanel Hall was packed. I remember the first time I heard this piece was in Abravanel Hall, maybe…fifteen years ago. The last time I heard “The Planets” performed was back in 2003 in London. That time it was a little different because some guy named Colin Matthews, feeling bad for Pluto, was commissioned to write a piece for the ninth planet (Holst wrote these before Pluto was deemed a planet in 1930). My mother and I both agree it was quite presumptuous of Holst to write an entire work for the planets in our solar system, thinking no more planets would be discovered. However, last year Pluto was stripped of its planet status and demoted to a star. So maybe Holst knew something we didn’t.

It kind of makes me wonder if that Pluto movement will ever be performed again. Probably not. I don’t remember it being that great anyway. Who does this guy think he is amending Gustav Holst’s work? Well, it was a commission.

Moving on…Besides the awe and wonder outer space embodies, I think one of the reasons I love “The Planets” is because it’s program music (as opposed to concert music). Definition of term: music intended to evoke extra-musical ideas, creating mood, imagery, or a scene. That would explain my love for film music as well.

I have so many thoughts on “The Planets” I thought I would write my own program notes. My Grandpa Durham used to write the program notes for the Utah Symphony (or he wrote the reviews in the paper, I’m not sure) I don’t know a lot when it comes to writing about music, but it’s just my blog, so I’m not worried about people taking what I have to say seriously. It’s not like I’m adding a planet to the work. However I do take issue with the order in which these pieces were performed:

MARS: the Bringer of War

Anyone who passed the second grade knows the pneumonic device that helps you remember the order in which the planets are beginning with Mercury, the nearest to the sun. “My very energetic mother just served us nine pizzas” (again, to be current, we have to scratch Pluto, so maybe “mother just served us naan” or something).

All the other planets are performed in order, why did Holst switch Mars and Mercury? I asked my mom this question and she said “Because you have to start off with a BANG!” as if it didn’t bother her at all. Later that night we met up with Barlow Bradford, and I asked him the same question and he had the same answer (which I thought was weird).

Well, it does start out with a BANG. In fact, it’s kind of terrifying. The drums pound as if they’re going to come and get you, yet you want to stay and find out what will happen.

VENUS: the Bringer of Peace

After Mars shoots you with a healthy dose of adrenaline, Venus slows your heart rate back down with predictable patterns and a heart-wrenching violin solo that comes and goes. There’s something nostalgic about this movement. It reminds me a little of golden-age film and tv music, so maybe some film composers mimicked this style a bit.

MERCURY: the Winged Messenger

Again, I don’t know why this couldn’t have begun with Mercury. It’s exciting enough. I don’t know why I’m so hung up on things having a practical order. Holst really did a great job of communicating a sense of flight in this piece (Mercury is the winged messenger, after all). My mom’s favorite part is about 1:40 into the piece after there’s all this build up and then the strings play a downward minor scale (if I were smarter I could tell you what key it was in). It sounds like Mercury was shot from a slingshot and then it happily soars off.

JUPITER: the Bringer of Jollity

Even though both my mom and I have favorite parts from different planets, Jupiter is our favorite one. It’s just so happy and boisterous, and you get a sense of the expansiveness of Jupiter.

At parts the tempo speeds up and you get excited, but then the symbols sound and the piece slows down a little. Holst wrote a beautiful theme for Jupiter that was later cast as a patriotic song for England. Random fact from my mom: this was Princess Diana’s favorite hymn. When the hymn began, Mom placed her hand over her heart. I noted she didn’t think to do that at the beginning of the concert when Keith Lockhart led the orchestra and audience in “The Star Spangled Banner.” She wishes she were British.

SATURN: the Bringer of Old Age

Apparently this one is Holst’s favorite. But it’s so sad! There’s this ticking of the clock and a tolling of the bell that sounds so ominous. It kind of sounds like some huge entity is going to come swallow you whole. And I don’t understand why Saturn brings old age.

But my favorite part of the whole work is in the last minute of Saturn. It’s so simple; it’s in the last minute after you feel like you’ve been floating in a trance for awhile. Suddenly the strings come in quietly and slowly play four notes of a major scale, and then when they repeat it, the scale changes to a minor key with the fourth note. I don’t know how something so small – something that lasts only a few seconds can make me feel so good, but it does. I’ve just been playing that part over and over again on my iTunes.

URANUS: the Magician

This one kind of sounds like an army of munchkins coming after me. I realize that's a ridiculous description, but that's the imagery I get. It starts out with trumpets and trombones warning you that something is coming and then they march toward you and then they run toward you. Eventually, it’s not so scary. I think you realize the magician is more crazy than dangerous. It slows down and then it starts to sound like the Nutrcracker for a split second. It might be the flutes or the triangles, or the whole “magical” feel. I need to be more proficient in musicology to sound like I know what I’m talking about.

My favorite part of this piece was watching Keith Lockhart. He was more animated in this piece than he was in Jupiter. His knees would come up, his arms would flail, but the best part was when he jumped up on both feet and landed in third position.

NEPTUNE: the Mystic

This whole movement is so quiet you barely notice it’s there. It’s beautiful and ethereal but doesn’t have a melody really until the very end when the womens chorus comes in. By the way, the chorus is offstage, so if you’ve never heard this before, it kind of confuses you. My favorite part was when the old man sitting behind me leaned over to his wife and said not-so-softy, “Where’s the singing coming from??” The singing continues with the orchestra until the instruments fade away and the voices are left singing until they eventually fade away. At this point, you kind of feel like you’ve floated so far off into outer space that you’ll never get back.

Yeah, Earth doesn’t get a movement. I guess we’re all supposed to know what Earth sounds like.

Wow. I just spent a lot of time writing this. It’s probably the most enjoyable thing I’ll do all day (I have a bad attitude about work lately). Time to go grocery shopping for Gallery Stroll. If you’re around tonight, you should stop by!

Sunday, September 16, 2007


To me. Yes, I'm that lame. I'm writing myself a congratulatory post. You see, I won an Arty this past week. If you don't know what an Arty is, don't worry, it's probably because you're one of the many people I know who don't read City Weekly.

I must admit, I didn't know I won this award until someone emailed me with "Congratulations!" in the subject line. This email came from someone I met several years ago. He sends me mass emails about three times a week advertising his writing workshops and other things. So normally I delete all his emails because I don't need to know about the next writing workshop or literary reading. And normally I delete all emails with "Congratulations!" in the subject line because they're typically bogus. But coming from this guy, it interested me enough to open it.

He said, "Congratulations on the mention in City Weekly!" I thought, "Huh? Oh, maybe they wrote about the Rio Gallery or something." I knew it was their Artys edition so maybe we got an Arty. I walked on over to the Rio Grande Cafe to pick up a paper, and to my surprise it was me, Laura Durham who got an Arty. (If you click on the image above you can scroll down and read what they wrote about me).

It feels good to get an Arty, especially because I'm not an artist. My Arty was for "Best Artists' Helper". Suddenly an email I received earlier from a friend made sense when he opened with, "How's the city's best helper doing?" I just figured he was trying to butter me up and get me to say yes to the favor he was about to ask of me.

Anyway, I prepared a little speech for I have several people to thank for this award.

I would like to thank my coworkers at the Utah Arts Council. There are few that measure up to the pleasure that is your company. If it weren't for you, I would have run away from this government job a long time ago.

I would also like to thank all the artists who come to the visual arts seminars time and time again for your attention and interest in the boring side of being an artist. Or as City Weekly put it, "not pretty." (I'm still trying to figure out what the pretty side of being an artist is.) Your loyalty motivates me to be your helper.

And of course, thanks to the lovely person out there who nominated me. Although I hear City Weekly handpicks people and organizations who advertise with them, makes up a category they fit into, and then gives them an award as a marketing tactic (that would explain categories that really only apply to one person or organization: i.e. "Best Snake Dancers" or "Best Knocked-up Nun". But that's cool too. If that's the case, thank you to City Weekly for giving the Gallery Stroll a deal on advertising in your paper. And thanks to Kristina who writes the checks to them. I still don't know where all that money comes from and I've stopped asking.

I'm just excited to get a plaque with my name on it.

Monday, September 10, 2007

"Oh, I don't think there's anything in that black bag for me..."

Only in recent years have I developed an affinity for purses. I used to hate to carry them. And if you're with a group and the only one with a purse, you better believe someone's going to ask you to stow their stuff.

Now I keep several bags/purses. The problem with keeping more than one is you risk the chance of being in a situation where you say, "Oh no, it must be in my other purse." That has happened to me on several occasions when I've needed my camera, my checkbook, my key card, my business cards, etc.

So the past month or two I've stuck to one purse. It's more of a tote really. But it holds a lot of things. And over the past month or two, I've accumulated a lot of things. I don't keep everything in here (I don't know where my checkbook is at the moment) but it has everything I need on a typical day -- and maybe something you might need.

You see, too many times someone has asked me for chapstick or lotion or gum or Tylenol and I feel like I let them down. So now I not only keep stuff for me, I keep stuff on hand just in case someone else might need it.

The problem with this bag is that it has so many different pockets and zippers and compartments that it can take me a long time to find what I'm looking for because the only thing with a designated place in my purse is my cell phone. So I've resolved to keeping everything in the big pocket to make things easier on me. It seems like a good idea when I see a bag with all sorts of specialized pockets for my credit cards, pens, cell phone, etc., but there's also something to be said for just one big pocket of a purse where you know everything is in that one compartment somewhere.

I've learned I have preferences when it comes to purse features. I prefer the clasp close rather than the zipper (it can make too much noise, plus its more fun to snap the clasp). I also really like purses that have those metal feet attached to the bottom because I have to set my purse down on a lot of floors and surfaces and it's easier to clean those metal feet than the whole bag. I already mentioned not too many compartments is a good idea for me.

Who wants to play a game? I've played this twice in the past week already, but I think it's fun. Maybe because I think I won both times. It's called "Who has the most random things in their bag?" The object of the game isn't to have the most stuff, it's to have the most random stuff. I'll list everything. Here we go:

Wallet (that's a given. Mine contains money, receipts, credit cards, club cards, gift cards and parking validations).
Key card to my building
Digital camera
Cell phone
Orbit gum
Gum wrappers
Business card for Tom Alder at Zions Bank
Business card for Cat Palmer, artist.
Two bobbypins
Rio Grande Cafe matchbox
Tube of pink lip gloss
Another tube of lipgloss
Two trial packages of Advil along with two coupons for Advil (thanks to the State Fair)
A little packet of pepper (thanks to the Greek Festival)
Earplugs (needed them to block out the snoring on family vacation)
Another pair of sunglasses
Notepad from the Monte Carlo resort and casino

and the item that trumps it all every time...

Pocket King Lear (Mom gave it to me at some point and I never took it out).

Did I win?

(Oh, bonus point for those who got my movie reference in the post title)

Monday, September 03, 2007

Collections and Recollections

Recently I remembered I collect lanterns, although I haven't actively collected them for years. Mostly because I don't have places to keep them anymore. I see lanterns at different places and think I would like to buy them, but of course I don't because my practical side has intruded on my more impulsive side lately. Maybe one day I'll start collecting them again. But I do have one sitting to the left of my desktop here at home that I really like. I think I got this one at TJ Maxx.

The lanterns pictured aren't mine of course. I'm too lazy to take a picture of my lantern and upload it to my computer, so I just googled lanterns and found some I thought looked cool.

This got me to thinking about all the things I used to collect growing up. One thing I collected when I was little was mugs: souvenir mugs, to be more specific. I have mugs from Disneyland, Canada, Yellowstone, F.A.O. Shwartz, San Diego, etc. And sometimes when my dad went out of town on business he would bring me back a mug. So I think I have a mug from Georgia with peaches on it. I even have a mug with the Simpsons on it. I bought that one at ZCMI at South Towne Mall. The best one is the FAO Shwartz mug because the tall NYC buildings fade when you put hot chocolate in it and stuffed animals and toys appear.

All my mugs are currently wrapped in newspaper and sitting in a couple boxes somewhere at my parents' house. I'm not sure how many I have. When I lived at home, I used to sit on my bed and think about my mugs, trying to count them in my head and identify where I bought each one. I should uncover those sometime. Last time I used them was for a soup party I had several years ago. I let everyone pick a mug. I should do that again.

I collect angels too. Although I wasn't aware of that until my mother told me. Apparently, she would give me an angel every year for Christmas. I don't know when she started doing that, but she still does, I think. It was a couple years ago when she gave me a present and said,

"And this is your yearly gift for your collection." I was like,
"I collect angels?"
"Yes, I give you one every year!"

I can't believe I never noticed. I remember thinking, "I do have a lot of angels up in my room." Now I usually don't bring them out until I decorate for Christmas though. I wonder how many I have. I guess I could count my angels and that will tell me how many years I've been collecting them -- kind of like rings on a tree.

Again, the angels pictured aren't mine. Although they look like angels my mom would buy for me. Mostly because they're singing. And they're Scandinavian.

Other things I collect:

glass jars
pens that aren't mine

What do YOU collect?