Posts filed under:  Musical Dogs

From the Annals of The Practical Musician

Kizmit checks out my new compositional aid

Back in graduate school, I used to admire the impeccably finished manuscripts of a composer friend, whose orchestral scores were marvels of precision, each notehead and tiny stem aligned like miniature Japanese calligraphy.

“How do you make your scores look so perfect?” I asked. My own music notation more resembled Beethoven’s scrawl. I like to erase musical thoughts and re-do them, constantly.

“I have a secret,” Ruzh said.

He showed me how his penned manuscripts were actually written with a fine-point mechanical pencil on archival paper. Once it was mistake-free, he spritzed the paper with hairspray to fix the final version.

Nowadays, of course, anyone who arranges or composes must learn to use notation software. I have been learning to use Finale, which, I must say, is a tedious process. In order to produce a complex piano score, there are a lot of un-intuitive hoops a musician must jump through; in my opinion, the elegant efficiency of the human brain and hand has not been so easily translated into computer language. Until one masters the quirks of the program, one must spend countless hours in front of a computer with multiple keyboards and mouse attached.

The muskulo-skeletal system protests.

“You need an ergonomic task chair,” my friend in the corporate world insisted. She mentioned a few brands, whose price tags also had me wincing.

After some searching, I came across a brilliant idea: someone in our area had decided to start a business recycling task chairs and other office furniture. They refurbish the pieces and re-sell them at one-fifth the original price. Even more brilliant — they had recently opened a “showroom” not far from my house.

I found the small showroom near an industrial park complex off a busy road. I was shown a number of different chairs. “And if you don’t like any of these,” the office manager said, “you can choose anything in the warehouse.” She opened the door to an un-air-conditioned, dimly lit space several acres huge, and jam-packed with desks, cubicles, and conference tables around which ergonomic task chairs sat, as if ready for a meeting. Besides a man unloading a pallet of office furniture in the distance, it was just me alone with thousands of chairs.

In the end, I settled for the Criterion made by Steelcase. It is sturdy, padded, compact, and adjustable in nearly every conceivable way. The manager helped me muscle it into my car, as the chair is heavy. (It takes the “steel” in its name seriously.) After getting it home, I noticed, because the chair was upside down, that I had some cleaning to do, which involved tweezers, disinfectant, and lots of paper towels. I also noticed that the “ship date” said “2000.”

But the chair works great. I can sit tethered to my computer for long periods, and stand up again as if I’d just gone for a nice walk. There’s no excuse for me not to produce a decent quantity of work.

Just think, J.S. Bach produced over a thousand compositions with a quill pen, flickering candles to illuminate his desk, no central heating. I’ll bet you anything he did not have an ergonomic chair.

But I’ll bet he would have loved one.

 For more information about recycled task chairs, check out Ethosource.



Liszt-loving pooch

kiz tilt hd

Could you play that passage again?

Two years ago, my husband and I took the plunge and got our daughters a dog. It was only after we brought Kizmit home for the first time did I belatedly read the dog training book that advised “choose a docile, eager-to-please eight-week-old puppy that you can train and socialize easily.”

I realized we had done the opposite: we had chosen the non-shedding, 10-month-old adolescent Lakeland Terrier with the intelligent eyes and aloof demeanor. My daughter and husband loved Kizmit’s red color and adorable face. I loved her calm stance –- unlike all the other canines bouncing around the breeder’s house, I had the feeling that she would stay quiet during my hours of piano practice.

Well…I realize now that her calmness should have signaled to me that she is an “alpha” dog. Our little pooch, all fifteen pounds of her, thinks she is Madame Mao. She snaps at our favorite friends (the nicer the people, the more she wants to dominate them,) she runs away given half a chance, she sits only for tasty treats, and she barks at deer from the window at ear-splitting decibels. But about her listening to music, I was right.

When I begin to play, Kizmit trots over to the piano and bumps my knee with her nose. Then she will choose a spot nearby, turn around three times and lower herself to the floor, as if submitting to the music. If it’s Bach or a contemporary piece I’m practicing, she lies down in an adjoining room. At the first strains of Liszt or Chopin, however, she walks directly to the piano, lies down by the pedals, rolls on her side or even on her back, and promptly falls asleep.

Despite her non-comprehension when it comes to obedience training, Kizmit can distinguish between good and bad piano playing. Once I brought her to an informal recital given by my college students. When a student stumbled and played wrong notes, Kizmit paced restlessly around on her leash. But when a student played smoothly, with technical ease and musical expression, she lay on her side and fell asleep, waking only to bark furiously at the applause.

Perhaps it should be no surprise that any creature with such an acute auditory sense might appreciate Ravel. Kizmit can hear a deer walk through the neighbor’s yard from an upstairs bedroom – she charges downstairs, ready to attack. What surprises us is the extent to which Kizzie is charmed by sonorous chords and beautiful melodic lines.

Whatever the books say, I know we’ve chosen the right dog -– one who loves music.