Monday, December 12, 2011

Chord by Chord

Years ago, in another life, I went to music school, and for four years got to indulge in that most nerdy of all analysis - music theory. By the time we graduated, if you handed me a score I could take it apart chord by chord and tell you its harmonic progression, no problem. Everyone in our class could, it came with the territory. We also had to chant the chords to "A Star Spangled Banner" while playing the piano as a prerequisite to crossing the stage at graduation, and one memorable night a bunch of us learned how to Texas two-step while singing the alphabet backwards, but those are different stories.

I've forgotten almost all my theory, and only twitter around with Caroline's piano music now, writing out the chords for improvised duets. I hadn't thought about the language behind the progressions for a very long time until our viol da gamba teacher from university posted today's video in Facebook. It's a terrific illustration of the way music is a language that we understand even if we don't know all the words.

If you're new to chord progressions, watch the video and pay attention to certain chords and their effect on you as listener (and also on the little doodle guy in the video). Watch out for those dramatic ii7s in particular!

I promise my next post will be something easier to swallow, but I couldn't resist sharing the little dude and his reaction to Mozart. Thanks June, for posting him!

Friday, December 09, 2011

Die Kleine Hexe

Back in November, I posted about Sandmännchen and the package Caroline mailed to his show. Guessing she wouldn't hear back, a few weeks ago I bought C a small thank you for her effort.

At the time, Caroline's German listening skills were quite decent. Give her a few days in Germany or Switzerland, and she'd become positively chatty. But she'd never been able to decipher any of our German kids books, and while I understood simple books I couldn't reliably translate text into speech. I decided to find a bilderbuch mit DVD to help us both along.

Die kleine Hexe feiert Weihnachten arrived to much fanfare one Friday not long ago, just in time for the weekend. Caroline set its DVD on repeat and read the story over and over again, working on figuring out letter to sound patterns. She decided (and I agreed) that German is much easier to learn to read than English. When she was satisfied we all sat down to hear her read the story of a young witch's Christmas celebration.

The Little Witch Celebrates Christmas opens in the middle of a snow storm on Christmas Eve. We meet our little witch and find her feeling frazzled. All she wants to do is prepare her house for the Christmas witch's annual visit. Instead a covey of other witches and their mediums drop by, warming their toes in front of the fire and getting in the way. In the end, of course, everyone gets organized and helps out, the little witch realizes how much fun she's had with her friends and the Christmas witch thanks her for her generous Christmas spirit.

(Short pause while I consider a daily reading, starting around the 15th.)

So yes, it's a story with a nice moral, but it's also super to listen to on DVD because the story's reader has a marvelous voice. The weekend of the great Die kleine Hexe read-a-thon, C and I vied with each other to see who could most closely copy her accent. (Neither of us conceded. I'm more dramatic, and she voices k sounds to perfection.)

My working theory with accents is that if I put my heart and theatrical leanings into them I'll at least surprise someone. Thanks to our impromptu lessons, I'm hoping that when we visit family in Switzerland this Christmas I can not only surprise my nephew but read to him too. And Caroline is planning another reading marathon, this time with her cousin and James as fellow members of the team.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Mikulas Eve, at Miru

The angels and devils were out in full force at Náměstí Míru tonight. Caroline thought she'd be too old this year, but changed her mind at the last moment. She's decided that next year will be time enough to change hats and don a halo or horns.

If you haven't been in the Czech Republic for Mikuláš Eve before, it's always on December 5th, the evening before Mikuláš' saint's day. Starting around 5 pm, trios of saints, devils and angels head to the big squares around Prague to hand out candy to children willing to sing a song for a bonbon and agree to a yearly review. Kids take the drill seriously; we saw many a long face on our walk to the square tonight. Once past their first talking to, most children cheer up considerably. Caroline sang for at least six trios before we persuaded her to head home to see if the real Mikuláš had stopped by. James refused to talk to a single saint.

Sure enough, at home the children found treasure bags of candy waiting for them (with only one well wrapped potato as a warning from Saint Nick to behave). James sighed with contentment, happy to be home and free from the devils. Caroline hummed her song of the night and decided to start working on her outfit for next year.

{1} Caroline sings a song for one trio; {2} Two devils catechizing a kid on the street (no 4 year old was harmed in this picture,  but he did look guilty afterwards); {3} It's a busy night at Mirak, the angels have to catch up by phone; {4} The devils have already met up, but they're more interested in snacks than quizzing little kids; {5} St. Mikuláš and his devil and angel team up to ask Caroline if she's been good this year; {6} A devil with tail hanging out, bell at her side.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Zdeněk Miler, 1921-2011

Zdeněk Miler, Krtek's creator, died yesterday. I've written about Krtek, the little mole, before. He is the most gracious and kind of Czech illustrated characters and a dear friend of the children. He's also a constant in young kids' lives here, ours not excepted.

Mr. Miler will be much missed.