Monday, November 29, 2010

An unforgettable game!

If you are a soccer fan--but especially if you aren't--do yourself a favor and watch the Barcelona-Madrid game from earlier today. I just finished watching it. It was outrageous. Don't just watch the highlights! You'll miss the best parts.

Simply put, Barca played soccer at its awe-inspiring best. In the beautiful game, a scoreline isn't always indicative of how the match played out on the field. But 5-0 is a perfect reflection of Barca's dominance--maybe even flattering to Madrid. Barca have ripped teams to shreds before. But to do it with such conviction, such assurance, and such swagger, against one of the best teams in the world! Remarkable. Madrid, after all, had not lost a game all season. Rarely do you see a team put 20 consecutive passes together in a game. Barca did that at least half a dozen times, including in the run-up to the second goal. And all the while they were enjoying themselves, expressing themselves, and putting on a show for the Camp Nou fans, who ate it right up. It wasn't just the sheer number of passes or quantity of possession that did it; it was all the heel flicks, one-touch passes, and nutmegs that Barca inflicted on hapless Madrid defenders. The crowd was already ole-ing passes within the opening 20 minutes. And I haven't even said anything about the goals.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

advantage rule and diving, again

On the eve of an important soccer event in my own life, to soccer we turn again. Right now I can't resist but make an argument I've already made, only more emphatically and with renewed conviction: that diving in soccer is largely a product of the inadequate advantage rule.

I probably should have talked more about this during the World Cup, because diving seems to be Americans' preferred reason for disliking the beautiful game and dismissing out of hand. I could hardly read anything last summer about soccer in the US without coming across some disdainful comment about how diving makes soccer un-watchable. And that now infamous challenge by Carles Puyol on Arjen Robben in the final would have been a perfect way to explain the real deal with diving.

In addition the issue comes come up so often in my own playing, with my being consistently the most fouled player on the field, and what can I say... it makes me extremely angry.

So first, let's think about that Arjen Robben play again. Robben is through on goal in the second half of the World Cup Final, and feels contact, which he knows is illegal, from Carles Puyol. Because he knows the current advantage rule is in force, he knows he has two choices: go down, take the foul, earn Puyol a probable red card and himself a free kick well outside the area, or go on and try to score. To Robben's credit, he chose the latter course, figuring his chances of scoring were still rather high, despite having been fouled by Puyol. Unfortunately for him (but thank God for soccer) he failed to score. It was probably the only moment in which I sympathized for him in the entire game.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Meter, ct'd

A friend of mine wrote me this long email discussing the philosophy of music. I wrote back, telling him the discussion was arcane, and sent him the link to my meter post, below. He accused me of irrelevance.

I remembered this piece I heard last year. My friend plays in a wind quintet. They played this piece, "Aires Tropicales." I heard it twice, once in a masterclass scenario, and then in their concert. Now listen to the beginning of the second movement. Where's the downbeat? Now when I first heard this movement, in the class, I heard it, as I'm sure you did, as the first image shown above. It's the only way anyone would ever hear it! After the bassoon goes on for a while, the other instruments join, but if you'll listen through to the youtube video, the rhythm just doesn't sound right for the entire movement. Then, in the masterclass, they projected the score on screen, and it all made sense. The bassoon ostinato is actually written as the second image above. But once you get it in your head the first way, it's impossible to get rid of it. Every time I heard it, for the rest of the class and then again in the concert, I tried really hard to hear it the right way, in this case not just because it was right, but because the whole piece sounds so much better the right way. But I couldn't do it.

(Apparently, neither can the clarinetist in that youtube video, who keeps tapping his foot on the faux-beats.)

Anyway, the point is, the metrical tension should be one of the most important aspects of this music, but it's completely lost when it's impossible to hear it the right way.

My suggestion: the basoonist should stomp at the start of the second movement to signal the downbeat, or at least breathe to the downbeat. I don't know if that would solve the problem, but it couldn't hurt. I mean, he's got to do something, right??

Point is: this happens all over the place. It's far from irrelevant!

Monday, November 1, 2010


Something's been bothering me for a while, and that something is meter. Meter is a fundamental attribute of most music, something so basic we're usually completely unaware of our effortless perception of it. But I get it wrong all the time. Is it just me, or are you all in the same boat? Quick survey: How do you hear the following excerpts? At 0:29 here, is the strong beat on a) the triplet, or b) after? What about 7:20 here (strong beat with a) the winds or b) before) or 2:13 here [beats on a) the first of the three note motif or b) the second]? (This kinda thing happens all over the place in Brahms...please also note the ridiculous-looking, yet absurdly effective conducting in the first link). But it also happens in Bach (are the 8th notes here grouped in a) 3's or b) 2's?) What about this one? Go to the end of Variation 25 (maybe 5:10 on)....where are the downbeats? Or where's the beat in this one [with a) the bass notes or b) just after? Don't peek at the score, not that it will really matter!]. Just a few examples of the thousands available!

So did you botch the listening quiz like I did? (answer b is correct for all the questions). How much did it matter if you've played/seen the scores to the pieces in question? For me, the Brahms excerpts go in and out, often depending on how actively and engagedly I'm listening (see below). But I can't hear Hilary Hahn's Bach "correctly" no matter how hard I try (though I can play the correct auditory image afterward in my head). Ditto with the Schumann.

So maybe the composer's really botched it? Or the performers? Or is it us listeners?

Or is it just me.