So what’s a cycling fan to do, when the winner of the Tour de France, and an American at that, gets a positive drug test, especially after an epic stage like Floyd had a few short weeks ago? If you’re a regular person, or Greg Lemond, you just assume he cheated and he’s guilty and should be run out of cycling period. But the problem with drug testing is that it creates an aura of “guilty until proven innocent”, the same aura that dogged the entire tour after all the high-profile banishments hours before the race was to begin. Ullrich I’m not so sure about, he’s the type of personality who could very well have been doing something he wasn’t supposed to. Basso seems much less of a likely suspect, he’s not perfect and he doesn’t have the pressure to live up to. Much like Tyler Hamilton a couple of years ago, still trying to clear his name, after being accused of injecting someone else’s blood in order to boost performance. This from the guy that was known as the boy scout of cycling.

The same with Landis. They’ve found excessive testosterone in his system, and just like Tyler there are only two possibilities, either he knowingly put it there, or he didn’t. Since both Floyd and Tyler profess their innocence, and really would have been completely delirious to have doped purposefully and thought they could get away with it, I’m inclined to believe both of them. Otherwise, in Floyd’s case as in Tyler’s two years ago, either someone close to him did it without his knowledge, or it was some sort of contamination in something else he took (less likely with the blood), or there’s some sort of contamination in the test (also unlikely), or there’s some sort of conspiracy against them that would involve either someone on the team slipping them something or else at the lab itself. That would make a great tv movie, but it’s hard to imagine it happening, particularly with Tyler, who won a stage and finished on the podium but was nearing the end of his career anyway, what would be the point? Landis is more likely of a target, but still it seems farfetched that he could somehow be the victim of what would need to be a hastily conceived conspiracy, given that all his other test results were fine prior to his big stage win.

So if they didn’t do it knowingly, and it wasn’t done to them maliciously, then the possibility that it was some sort of accident has the most credence, although admittedly not much more than the other options. If the accident was in the inadvertent ingesting of some banned substance into their system, or for that matter even if somebody did it to them without their knowledge, and then one of them goes and wins a stage the next day, like it or not it’s still technically cheating I suppose. The UCI has determined what is an abnormal ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone (T/E). If you have that ratio (11:1 in Floyd’s case where normal is 4:1, although Floyd says it was because the E was low rather than that the T was high), then you have what the UCI considers an unfair advantage, whether it’s natural or an accident or malicious or self-inflicted.

And this is one of the several things that is wrong with the drug testing. Not only are the tests suspect and the testers themselves suspect, but the very idea of setting standard thresholds is the assumption that anyone that exceeds them for any reason has an unfair advantage, as though sports should be judged on such a level playing field that any sort of natural physical advantage is suspect. One could forsee a time in the near future if this continues where someone like Lance, with a natural resting heart rate of 35 bpm or whatever it was, would be banned because the UCI had decided that anything below 40 bpm was an unfair advantage, or just plain cheating.

The only time I can think of that someone was exonerated after testing positive was Gilberto Simoni having cocaine in his system during the Giro, which caused him to drop out, only to have everyone finally concur that he got it from his trip to the dentist shortly before the race began. But while it was a banned substance it wasn’t considered a performance enhancer, so a mea culpa was easier for WADA or the UCI to give in that case. Now with all those guys implicated in Operacion Puerto just before the start of this year’s tour, we’ve already found out that entire teams worth of athletes, Astana-Wurth and Communidad Vallencia, have been exonerated. In these cases they hadn’t tested positive for anything but only been linked to a doctor accused of doping, but the linkage alone was enough to drum them out of the tour and to have the main sponsors of both teams pull out of cycling, damaging their credibility and their careers for years to come. This is where this shoot first and ask questions later approach is at its most disturbing.

There’s a lot of unanswered questions in these cases, even Tyler’s, two years on, doesn’t seem to be any closer to the truth than it was when it started. This isn’t like Barry Bonds or Mark Magwire, where you can tell by the pattern of their careers, and for that matter just by looking at them, that something is fishy, and their repeated denials or refusals to comment sound more strident and desperate with every new allegation. But while there are plenty who think everyone is doping and Tyler and Floyd as just two of the more high profile ones to get caught, I’ve got to think there’s more to it than that. Given the relative weakness of the cyclist’s union to actually stand up for its members (unlike, say, the NFL Players Association), plus their guilty verdicts both in the media and the court of public opinion, and barring some sudden confession a la David Millar, it seems hopeless that we’ll ever know for sure.

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Timeout from reviews to note that today is the 15th anniversary of our ascendancy to homeownership in this very house. That’s not very exciting, I know, but who would have expected we’d be here 15 years later? Well, I would, since it was a traumatizing experience and not one to be immediately repeated, plus we’ve got a huge amount of crap that don’t move itself. Beth wasn’t figuring on staying here this long, but hey, it’s her crap too.

After spending our first two years of wedded bliss in scenic Waltham, we decided to buy a house. Couldn’t buy one in Waltham, though, unless you wanted a two bedroom bungalow (less than 1000 square feet). Even though there were only two of us at the time, all the aforementioned crap was going to require a lot of extra space. At the apartment we rented, we had access to the attic, plus I still had lots of comics back in Illinois and Beth had a lot of stuff at her Mom’s house. Investing in real estate was in everyone’s interest because our respective parents could finally rid themselves of all the stuff that we weren’t carrying around with us already.

We started looking in the winter of ’91, and focused on marlborough because it was in the same general direction as Waltham but enough further out to be reasonably priced. Beth, having grown up in Framingham, had to overcome the stigma that all the towns around hers had from all those years of rooting for the high school football team. Every town that Framingham played in football was a dump. Except for Natick, it was a cesspool. We got ourselves an agent who had been the real estate office secretary but had just gotten her license and was related to a friend of Beth’s mother. She and her husband drove us around town one weekend, looking at pretty much all the inventory in our price range. She had no idea what she was doing, unfortunately. We bid on a victorian in an old part of town that Beth really liked, the guy who was selling it was trying to wheel and deal, we were neophytes and unforuntately so was our agent, so the whole thing fell through. Beth was despondent for weeks.

So we stopped looking for a while. We ended up switching agents and went with a Remax lady here in town, who was one of these go-getter million-plus sellers, and she was the listing broker for this house, which we were mildly interested in. The inventory had changed by then and she spent a Saturday driving us around not only in Marlborough but into Hudson too. We even went without her down to Quincy and Weymouth and looked at a few houses there, and one in Dedham, but they were all too small or too beat up. In our price range, you were either looking at fixer-uppers, not my area of expertise, or more “bungalows”. We ended up bidding on this house, even though it had some problems (kinda old, not much of a yard) it was big and in reasonably good shape. Two guys had bought it together a couple of years before as an estate sale, figuring to do some cosmetic work while living in it for awhile, then “flipping” it, to use the current parlance. But the market turned on them and they couldn’t get what they wanted for it. Meanwhile one of them had gotten engaged and was starting to get motivated to sell for less. We made an offer, they countered, we came to within about five thousand and stalled. Neither side would budge, so that deal looked d.o.a. also.

The summer was coming up so we decided to take a break and planned a trip back to England, our honeymoon destination from two years before, driving up from London to Scotland and back. After the trip was all planned, I was off at chorus rehearsal one evening when Beth got a call from our real estate lady, Elaine, asking if we were still interested in the house, since it still hadn’t sold. Beth said we were, so Elaine made a few calls and called back a short while later to say they’d accepted our last offer. Beth wasn’t quite sure what to do, since I wasn’t there, I can home from rehearsal later and she said, “I think I just bought a house.” She had told Elaine we’d stopped looking for a while and had just spent a chunk of cash on a trip to Scotland. “Well, go ahead and take it,” Elaine said, “because it’ll be the last trip you take for quite a while!” punctuated by this horrible aspirating laugh that she had.

In those days before cellphones and e-mail, everything was done by fax, which seems very quaint by today’s standards. Moving day started with the closing itself, where we all had to schlep into Cambridge, and the movers showed up at the apartment around lunchtime, having already done one move that day. We knew we needed a crane for the piano, because that’s how we got it in the apartment, so they were able to use it for the couch and the fridge too. Guys were bounding up and down the stairs two at a time, carrying multiple boxes of books or records. We had planned to help just to keep things moving along, but ended up just getting in the way. The truck was so full they couldn’t swing by Sue’s house as planned to pick up some furniture, but they made a couple of calls and got another truck to do that. Beth had her Mom and her brother and her Mom’s friend Charlotte with a couple of her kids here at the house to help dispatch everything as the movers brought it in, it was Beth’s brilliant idea to have a big dinner here for everyone as soon as the movers left, which I staggered through, totally exhausted.

A day or two later I was off to Vermont to my first board retreat at Keivan’s place, leaving Beth to a big house full of boxes of stuff for the weekend. I figured I had plenty of time to unpack, but how often do you get to spend a weekend in Vermont? Fifteen years later, we’re still unpacking. Beth still wants to move, I’m not against the idea, but it seems like sort of big job, not to be taken lightly. Best to think about it for a few more years.

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auditions

Jul 24, 2006

This evening we had our first round of auditions for new chorus members, in anticipation of rehearsals starting up right after Labor Day. We’ve never done a midsummer audition before, but Steven’s idea was to see how many people would sign up, and if we found some good ones we could get them to accept before they were tempted away by other organizations.

As it ended up, there were only four auditionees, and only one worth keeping. The others weren’t bad, they had some aptitude in one area or another, but Steven is setting the new member bar fairly high, so some who may have squeaked in in previous years would be shown the door this time around. The thing to remember in being picky is that people who are that good can also be picky, and they may actually get accepted by a few choruses and then basically audition us at the first couple of rehearsals and see which one they like better.

We have a few advantages, not the least of which is the friendly nature of the group, which many new people have remarked upon, although I’m relatively surprised by that because I always feel like we could be a lot friendlier than we are. It was a different dynamic in the early days (before my time) when most members were from the local area and probably already knew each other outside of the chorus. But as the group grew in stature, the net got cast wider and now you’ve got people coming from all over the place. Although a suburban location leaves out those who need public transportation, it conversely includes people from outside the city who need to have a location with plenty of parking or who just plain avoid driving close in to Boston like the plague.

The next round of auditions is at the end of August, while we’re in California, so I won’t be around for those, although they should be better represented. We need to beef up the membership roster, so let’s hope they start coming out of the woodwork soon.

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floyd wins!

Jul 23, 2006

One more post about the TdF and then I’ll shut up about cycling for a while. After 7 years of American domination in the person of Lance Armstrong, the assumption this would be a wide-open tour, which would make it a lot more interesting, not just because you knew someone besides Lance would win, but because you expected a lot of ups and downs as all the other contenders attacked each other with impunity. What ended up happening was both more and less than expected. The unceremonious departures in varying forms of Basso, Ullrich, Vinokourov, Mancebo, Mayo and Valverde levelled the playing field even more, taking out a lot of the big names and leaving still a fair number of major players, but no one dominant enough to say with any certainty who was a contender and who wasn’t.

When Pereiro took the yellow jersey (or was given it, after the peloton allowed him to get a half-hour lead on the breakaway), he was still discounted as a serious GC contender (since otherwise they wouldn’t have let him get so far ahead). Landis had everyone right where he wanted, then he fell apart in the last 10K up La Toussuire, and the prevailing wisdom was his chances were done, but then one day later he did the unexpected and got most of it back, in what many are calling the single greatest tour stage ever. So by the final time trial yesterday, you had something we haven’t seen for a while, the top 3 contenders within 30 seconds of each other, with a couple of other guys only a couple of minutes behind them. Landis got back his remaining seconds, Pereiro again held his own, Sastre couldn’t hold on, Kloden did a killer TT. The podium was set, and the French fans had to hear the American national anthem yet again on the Champs-Elysses. I’m sure they’re tired of Americans winning the tour, but it’s not like they have any fondness for the Italians, Spanish or Belgians either, and there aren’t any French guys stepping up to the plate, so it might as well be an American as anyone else.

Landis’s future is cloudy, since he has to have hip replacement surgery soon and nobody knows for sure if you can come back from that to ride at the top level, and he’s no spring chicken either at 30. Bo Jackson tried to come back after the same surgery, and was never as fast as he was before. So it remains to be seen what’s in store for the Americans longer term chances in Europe, the rest of the guys, Hincapie, Leipheimer, are getting older too, and you’ve got some promise with Zabriskie if he can improve his climbing and Danielson if he can stay healthy. But Landis has shown that even without Lance the Americans are here to stay and a force to be reckoned with. After 3 weeks sitting in front of the tv listening to Al Trautwig, I still can’t wait for next year’s edition to begin. Vive la Tour!

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floyd knows beer

Jul 21, 2006

One humorous aspect to Floyd’s miracle comeback has been the fact that he said after his terrible performance on La Toussuire that he was going to go have a beer. Then after his incredible victory in Morzine, he mentioned beer again. This was picked up by Patrick O’Grady, one of the columnists on velonews.com in Beer me, Floyd.

Asked why he kept calling for water, more water, alternately drinking it and pouring it over his head, Landis quipped: “It was very hot. Maybe that was the explanation, or maybe it was the beer I had last night.”

The obvious question, which nobody thought to ask, was “What kind of beer was it?” O’Grady goes on to say:

Oh, it’s maddening, I tell you. I could be a six-pack away from cycling success – I just don’t know which six-pack has the killer legs in it.

leaving him to conclude he’ll have to find out for himself by systematically trying every kind of beer in alphabetical order until he hits upon the right one.

A follow up letter from one of the site’s readers explained it all, though:

The Landis beer thing got quite a bit of attention from the Dutch and Belgian press as well. One of them is obviously on your wavelength because someone asked about his beer and he said, “By the way, that was an Amstel.” They showed that clip on the nightly Tour round up on Flemish TV and the announcer said that therefore Landis had not been drinking beer at all (because weak Dutch beer is not quite beer – get it?). It was pretty funny.

If I was Amstel, I’d be calling Landis’s agent pronto! “Just one Amstel, and I trashed the peloton on the tour’s hardest stage and won by 6 minutes!” By next year’s tour, it’ll be a competition to see who’s more hammered, the fans on Alpe d’Huez, or the riders themselves.

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superfloyd

Jul 20, 2006

Sure there’s all this stuff going on in the world, what with that crazy guy in the White House and the Israelis bombing everything in sight and Mitt staying in Massachusetts for more than a day, but the real story has got to be Floyd Landis’s spectacular win at today’s stage of the Tour. One can only ask, “What were they thinking?”, that so many other GC contenders held back until it was too late, and by the time they decided to take matters into their own hands they were already on the Joux Plane, the only place in 7 wins where Lance ever bonked, and it was all over. If everyone can just stay upright tomorrow, then Saturday’s time trial will actually decide not only the winner but the entire podium for the first time in a while. To make things really interesting, it should be raining, too, like it was for Ullrich and Armstrong in ’03. After yesterday’s disaster, it seemed there was no hope for Floyd, but not only did he come out swinging today, nobody else had anything left in the tank to answer him.

I should’ve stayed home today to hear Phil and Paul cover it, I was following the early time gaps on my blackberry while I was driving to work, and got frequent updates from velonews.com once I got to my desk, and I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Next year I expect they’ll go the other way and the Pyrenees stages will be in the final week, note to self to work from home or come in late for those. This one’s not in the books yet, so one more weekend where not much gets done around the house. Go Floyd Go!

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The first Sunday in May seemed like a good weekend to drive down to New York City and ride 42 miles through the city streets with 35,000 of my closest friends. I’ve been hearing about this Five Boro Bike Tour for several years, and it turned out that Jee had done it several times when he was living in New York (even James, our big boss, has done it a couple of times), and when the subject came up during the winter, we decided it would be a good early season goal to give it a try. It’s not a race, just a pleasure ride through all five boroughs, the main attraction is that all the streets are closed off, so you can ride not only through midtown and Central Park, but down part of the FDR, over the Queensboro bridge, onto the BQE and over the Verrazano Bridge.

The weather was ideal, not too cold, not too hot. Jee stayed with his brother in law in Brooklyn and rode over the Brooklyn Bridge to get to the start line, I came down the day before with the family and we spent Saturday afternoon in Manhattan, hitting shrines such as the Disney Store and even spending a few hours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the first time we’d taken the kids to a real art museum. We spent the night across the Hudson in scenic Fort Lee, New Jersey, then it was up bright and early to meet up with Jee in lower Manhattan by the Wall Street bull. Beth and the kids did some more shopping at FAO Schwartz and the American Girl store, while Jee and I lined up a good 10 or 15 blocks back from the start line, with at least that many more behind us.


What’s interesting about a bike ride with 35,000 people is that there are many places, particularly at the beginning, where you have to walk. Although the starting gun was at 8:30, we didn’t cross the start line until after 9, having walked there alongside our bikes. There was a huge amount of organization involved in bike traffic control, they were throttling the entrance to Central Park because the roads are so much narrower through there. We saw a few accidents, people collapsed in the middle of the road for no apparent reason. The course was mostly flat, and they kept cautioning you to slow down on those rare downhills (mostly the far side of the bridges). There were a number of places to stop along the way and grab a free bottle of water and a banana. We were passing people left and right as we rode, but when you stopped for a break the line of people going by just kept going and going, so you had no sense whatsoever of where your spot was in the continuum of riders.


We finished by about 2:30 at the Staten Island ferry, then stood in line for the free ride across the harbor back to Battery Park, where I called Beth and she drove down and picked me up on the side of the road and we headed for home. In the final analysis, 35,000 is too many people, maybe five or 10 thousand would’ve been plenty, it was a good time, and at 42 miles shatters the old record for my longest bike ride ever, I’m not sure if I’d rush back down there to do it again. Jee was kind of ambivalent after it was over, but a few days later he was talking it up at work and telling the team we should all do it next year, there were certainly plenty of people participating who looked like they’d never been on a bike before, so for what seems like a long distance to the neophyte it is very doable. Most of the people riding were not New Yorkers. In spite of the number of cyclists around here, I doubt you could ever do anything like this in Boston. Too many hills.

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on the musical front

Jul 18, 2006

Our chorus has a new conductor after 52 years under the previous administration. Allen retired at the end of the ’05 season, so during the last year we auditioned three candidates who did one concert each. Two of them were neck and neck as far as their musicianship, personality, and enthusiasm. The other exceeded them in musicianship (particularly as a choral conductor), but sadly lacked in every other category. We had a fourth concert after the 3 candidates had their turn, so we asked the guy from Harvard to do that, which sent the whole chorus into disarray with his unorthodox style and while I think he meant well, he didn’t exactly gel.

It was hugely enlightening after having gotten so used to Allen’s style over the years at how different these guys all were, not only from him but from one another. It was kind of fun to be subscribing to the conductor of the month club, if you weren’t that crazy about the guy, well some other guy would be standing up there for the next time. But for many people, particularly the older, more crotchety members of the chorus, they didn’t want variety, they wanted continuity, preferably with someone who took the time to communicate with people individually and learn their names.

In the final analysis, the search committee had two equally worthy and popular candidates and chose the more connected of the two, who unfortunately after a year and a half of assuring us that he could change the rehearsal night for his other engagement so it wouldn’t conflict with ours, found out after getting the nod that he couldn’t do it after all, and had to withdraw. So we went with the number two choice, Steven, who in many respects I think will prove to have been the better choice anyway. He’s been very involved already, even though the rehearsals don’t start until after Labor Day, and is full of ideas but on the musical and administrative side. The chorus has been living a hand to mouth existence the last few years, audiences are down, membership is down, some of it due to the lack of an artistic director, plus some other managerial shortcomings. After two years of focusing on who would lead the group for the next 52 years, now it’s catch up time on taking care of all these other pesky details that have been languishing like giving better performances and getting more people to come hear them and raising the buckets of money that it takes to put on a show in this town.

Sadly, and maybe coincidentally, Allen passed away this past winter from cancer. His family put together a nice memorial service that somehow didn’t seem to measure up to the scope of his contribution to musical life in Boston. One thing that I still think about is a story told by the president of the choral directors association at that service, who said that shortly after he became president, he passed Allen in the hallway at the annual convention and Allen took him aside and said, “Jim,” or Dave or Bob or whatever his name was, “Always the highest standards.” That’s so Allen. It’s not even a complete sentence, but it sums up his attitude and the sense of purpose that he conveyed in any group he stood in front of with a baton. Allen was reputedly a tyrant in his younger days, by the time I came along he was much mellower, but still evinced tremendous respect from everyone he came in contact with. He wasn’t happy at first with the idea of retiring from the chorus, but I think he still thought there was more to be done, and once he didn’t have those weekly rehearsals in his mind, it’s not entirely surprising that his decline was relatively quick. I find his influence extends even in my piano playing, and as he made his presence felt in front of a chorus, an orchestra, and audience, his absence is felt equally as much.

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I’m always finding some new artifact of pop culture to become a fan of, it’s my curse, I suppose, and one that I’ve acquired over the last several months is the cartoon “Family Guy”. I’ve never gotten into the Simpsons, and while I’d watch King of the Hill, it wasn’t deserving of cult status. Probably Beavis and Butthead was the last cartoon I would seek out, although South Park is usually pretty reliable. So awhile back Wizard magazine had an article on the 10 greatest cartoons, which for Wizard means the 10 greatest still being produced, since no one there is old enough to remember anything from before that. Some of the choices were more than a bit lame (Super Robot Monkey Team Hyper Force, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends), which may be inventive but aren’t really that entertaining to anyone over the age of 8. But Family Guy was also on the list, and Adult Swim started showing it around that same time, so I caught a few episodes and I was a fan, and now I’ve got the first 2 seasons on DVD. Unforunately in spite of all the different times its shown (on Fox, Adult Swim and even TBS) they seem to focus on the same subset of episodes, so there were a bunch on the DVD I’d never seen, and some of them have commentary tracks, which can be enlightening but contain a disproportionate number of extended pauses where no one says anything and they just watch the show, which can be very annoying.

What I like about Family Guy is you never know what anyone is going to say next, while every episode has a plot, most of the jokes are non-sequiturs that primarily come from pop culture, and a lot of ’70’s/’80’s pop culture at that, such that the younger crowd couldn’t possibly get all the references. This formula of random jokes is the running gag in a South Park episode about Family Guy (the one where they wouldn’t show an image of Muhammed), where it is revealed that the writers of the show are really a group of manatees that just take a bunch of balls with different words written on them and line them up in some random order to make the jokes. As one of the grownups from that South Park episode says, “At least Family Guy isn’t all preachy and have its head up its ass like that other show.”

The same guy who created Family Guy later did another show called American Dad, which downplays the free association in favor of more interaction between the title character, a rabid conservative G-man, and his somewhat more liberal family. I’ve got that one on DVD also. While Adult Swim, the 11pm to 6am time slot on Cartoon Network, is the primary source of old episodes of both of these, I can’t stay up late enough to see much of them. They show a lot of other original stuff that’s downright hilarious, like Robot Chicken, Venture Brothers, Harvey Birdman. There’s plenty of other shows that are popular but I can’t get into (like Aqua Teen Hunger Force), and some are just crap (like Squidbillies), and then once in a while they have the bizarre idea to go retro with some non-cartoons, like Saved by the Bell, and most recently Peewee’s Playhouse, which I avoided when it was on the first time, so not everything sticks, but there’s more than enough worth watching to eat into my already scant free time. Probably just as well it doesn’t start until 11pm.

The best thing about Family Guy is the mayor of the town is Adam West, and he’s actually voiced by Adam West. Which reminds me, when are the old Batman tv shows coming to DVD? Creighton would have it that King of Queens is the greatest show on tv, but I don’t see it. It’s not even a cartoon.

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the bartlett musicians

Jul 14, 2006

Justin turns 8 next month and this past Wednesday he had his first official piano lesson, making him almost exactly the same age as I was in I had my first piano lesson in December 1970. I haven’t ever given the kids formal piano lessons, my feeling is if they want to learn they need to have a teacher they respect. Other than teaching Chloe how to play the beginning of “Chopsticks” a few years ago, they’d never seemed that interested, but lately Justin had expressed an interest in giving it a try, he has more the temperment (i.e. attention span) for it than his sister, so we’ll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, this past year Chloe has been playing the violin at school. When she started fourth grade last fall, she had the opportunity to pick an instrument to play in either band or orchestra, or she could continue to be in the chorus (you can’t do both because they meet at the same time). She was definitely interested in trying something, although she still liked the chorus too. I counselled her that this was the one time in her life she could start learning an instrument, and if it didn’t work out she could go back to the chorus, since there’s not much cumulative effect from learning to sing at that age. I was trying to steer her towards flute or clarinet, because I said if she gets really good I’m only out a grand or so for a topnotch instrument, whereas if she chooses violin and excels at that, a pro version will cost as much as a car. So of course she picked violin, we did a rental for the first year with the stipulation that she had to stick with it at least that long before deciding whether to continue. Her friend up the street started on flute and lasted about six weeks, but otherwise this year’s fourth grade turned out for band and orchestra in record numbers.

As it turns out, Chloe exhibited some aptitude for it, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering her parentage and that she’s always been singing along with the tv or CD’s since she could talk, memorizing the tunes and words effortlessly. She’s not a prodigy or anything, but she seemed to get the hang of it relatively quickly, to the point that she could kind of coast between group lessons sometimes because at school they could only go as fast as the slowest kid. I’ve said about other instruments, how difficult can they be, you only play one note at a time? But I had the opportunity to consult on her violin homework, since even though I don’t play the violin I know how to read music (fortunately she didn’t pick an instrument in a different clef), so that gave her a leg up, too. As the school year wound down, she was somewhat apathetic about whether to continue or not, but we expect that, if she’s not kicking and screaming against it, then you have to consider it a positive reaction. The original violin we rented was a 3/4 size, but now she’s taller than Nina, who I’m sure has a full size violin, so Beth got another rental for the next year, and since the only full size violin they had to rent looked like it had been played by Pete Townshend, they reluctantly agreed to let her rent a new one (the first one was new also, and she took very good care of it, so she had that in her favor also).

They don’t offer cello in the fourth grade in Marlboro, but I’ve selfishly thought that’s the instrument Justin should really go for, and then we can have a piano trio in the house. I just bought volume 2 of the Beethoven trios from sheetmusicplus.com a couple of months ago when they were having a big sale on Henle editions (since I have about all the solo piano music I need for now), but I can only play along with the stereo for the time being. I told Chloe there’s lots of good violin music out there with piano, once she gets past “twinkle twinkle”. Something like violin suits her better since she’s much more of a social butterfly and likes being in a big group, where Justin fits more the loner, brooding musician that is more your typical pianist. I’ve been anticipating this age when they take up an instrument since they were born, it will be interesting to see where it all ends up.

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