Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Lollipops and Roses –

Last night there was a Band Concert at the Middle School where my younger son attends. There is a Concert Band for each grade, 6th, 7th, and 8th, and two Jazz Bands one for the 6th grade and then a combined one for the 7th and 8th grade. I don’t entirely get the structure for the Jazz Bands, but I supposed it makes sense. I also don’t entirely get the order in which the Bands perform during the evening. My son is in 7th grade and his group performed first. But it is gauche to leave until the entire concert is over (Global Warming and a school without air conditioning puts a high premium on good manners) and while I was polite my mind started to wander during the rest of the concert.

The temperature notwithstanding, the kids make a better sound now then they did earlier in the school year. That is noticeable. I also notice, however, that while the individual pieces are different from earlier performances, the style of music has not changed much. And particularly when the Jazz Bands were playing I start to think they should instead play things more melodious, and for whatever reason I start to think of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and in particular the song Lollipops and Roses. In fact, I started humming that song internally to myself during the concert.

When I was growing up I took piano lessons and one of the things my teacher taught was to read sheet music where there was melody in the treble clef to be played by the right hand and chords written out, e.g., C#7, for the left hand to do a little bit of improvisation – block chord or arpeggio – to accompany the melody. After the lessons had stopped I continued to noodle around with the piano. We had a fake book – about 500 pages of sheet music with the melody and chords as I’ve just described – and I learned to play quite a few of the songs in it without too much practice ahead of time. One of those, you guessed it, was Lollipops and Roses. It really is an interesting skill to learn a melody by hearing somebody else perform it repeatedly and then being able to reproduce a tolerable version on your own without too much effort, seeing the sheet music for the first time.

Six or seven years ago we bought a piano for home and for the kids to learn. I was the one who played it the most. That skill was still there (my eyes are so bad now I can’t tell if the notes are between the lines or on the lines, but other than that all the cognitive ability remains) and I think that’s because “cheating” as it is to only read the melody and produce the accompaniment on the fly, there is a certain conceptual understanding in learning piano that way and once you have that it’s like riding a bicycle. I took a lot of Chemistry in High School and College too – almost all of that is forgotten. But that’s because it couldn’t be distilled this way down to a primitive skill that is quite general and broadly applicable. The piano playing was different that way. (My kids got piano lessons too early and they didn’t stick with it. They play the clarinet now – but they only learn their part that way, not the accompaniment.)

When I got home that night I did a Google Search on “Whipped Cream and Other Delights” the album we had where I first heard Lollipops and Roses, and which featured the hit, “A Taste of Honey,” as well as the title song. This was a wonderful album when it came out in 1965. You can hear clips from the album at the Amazon.com site that I linked too. If anything, it has gotten better with age. I can’t recall the last time I heard this music (before last night). It doesn’t get played on Oldies Radio; it’s not Rock. It doesn’t make it to Jazz Radio either. It is melodic, but with an attitude. Finding that Web page gave me a really strong connection to when I was a kid. Sometimes, you can’t go home again. But other times you can.

I’m not sure whether there is a broader lesson here or not. Sometimes, it’s just nice to hum the music.

* * * * *

Below is a little video, completely unexceptional in itself, perhaps it’s downright bad in that I’m not looking at the camera most of the time during the recording. But it does use the captioning tool that is now part of Google Video. I’m doing a demo next week in a computer lab where I want those in attendance to get an appreciation of the video at their own workstation, but those workstations won’t have speakers, so I thought the captioning would be a nice alternative.

This turns out to be pretty easy to produce. I wrote a script, did a “dry run” where I recorded audio only just to see about my timings. I basically assumed 3 seconds per line and just went with that. You can see the script at the following link.

Then I recorded the video. It wasn’t perfect timing-wise but it’s not too bad. (The guy walking around in the background with his cell phone was an unplanned touch!!) I’m sure it is much easier to produce in this order than to record the live presentation first and then attempt to make a transcription of that, and then get the timings between the transcription and the video. I used short sentences or phrases for this, not the way I talk or write most of the time. But it is consistent with that 3 seconds per line idea.

I’m still trying to decide if I like it or not. The video itself is not completely natural because I’m reading. But making videos in this manner is something that others should be able to do. In that sense, learning this is like learning to play the melody and then improvise on the chords. It’s not the full deal, but it is a lot quicker to get something that’s tolerable.

(To actually produce the captioning I copied my script with the timings in it and placed in the textbox that Google provides for captioning videos. It took another 12 hours after the video originally was processed for the captioning to appear.)

* * * * *

Last week a colleague in the College who is sending her kid to the U of I next fall asked me what type of computer to get. I wasn’t prepared for the question and I made something up on the fly, but in retrospect I think my answer wasn’t half bad – buy a cheapie computer at the outset or start with a hand-me-down from mom and dad and then a year or two in plan on buying a new and a more expensive one when the kid better understands his own need.

* * * * *

In trying to find the common thread in these items, I’m struck by the idea of willingly doing something simple and imperfect first, recognizing that there may never be a ramp up to the next level, while getting some immediate proficiency. This may be my theory of learning in a nutshell. It is definitely a legacy from being my father’s son. It was his style – from raking leaves in the yard, to doing arts and crafts on a rainy weekend day, to guessing at words in the crossword puzzle. It is so at odds with the do-it-right approach that seems to predominate nowadays. That’s worth further reflection in a future post.

No comments: