Music is one of the great interests of my life. My musical tastes are quite broad, including in particular classical, jazz, and rock music — you can get a sense of what sort of thing I like from my (now very dated) music links page. I enjoy listening to music, playing music, and in particular composing music. In the following entries you can read about the various music-related activities in my life.

June 20, 2006

Amicus Curiae

A quick look at my reading list in the side bar and my reading post archive will indicate how far behind I am in blogging about my reading, so I’ll try to catch up a bit.

First of all, there are some new books on my bed-side reading pile. For my birthday, my wife gave me the three follow-up books to Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization (about which I have yet to write): The Gifts of the Jews, Desire of the Everlasting Hills, and Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea. She also gave me Alton Brown’s Gear for Your Kitchen as a Father’s Day present. So I have a lot of reading to do!

Next up, Jeffrey Miller’s Murder’s Out of Tune, one in a series of mystery books about a crime-solving cat named Amicus Curiae (‘Friend of the Court’). Having the narrative centred around the cat was in interesting technique, though it seemed a bit precious at times. I’m not sure if Tigger was inspired to go around solving crimes with me either. The novel is set in Toronto, and while I at first found it fun to catch all the Toronto references, I think Miller overdid it a bit — he seemed to revel in the local detail. The plot revolved around the murder of a member of a jazz quartet obviously based on the Dave Brubeck Quartet. The fictional quartet was led by the piano player who received all the fame in spite of the fact that the alto sax player wrote their most famous number, a relationship clearly modelled on Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond. I found the writing style a little distracting at times, a little too self-conscious. So all in all, I don’t know if this book is for everyone. If you like cats, if you live or have lived in Toronto (especially if you know the Toronto legal buildings), or if you’re a jazz fan, you might get a kick out of this book, but otherwise I don’t think it will change your life.

The next couple of books on the list, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and M.A.C. Farrant’s Altered Statements, were for one of the classes I was teaching this past term. I hadn’t actually read Mrs Dalloway before; as an undergrad I read To the Lighthouse and some of the Virginia Woolf selections in the Norton Anthology. And I had never heard of M.A.C. Farrant before. Though I didn’t find Mrs Dalloway personally resonant, it’s an excellent book for exemplifying early 20th century prose fiction style and stream of consciousness writing, and I certainly intend to continue to use it in survey classes. As for Farrant, she is a British Columbia-based post modernist writer. Altered Statements is a collection of short narrative pieces bordering on the surreal, sometimes funny, sometimes shocking. While it was an interesting example of post modernism, again I’m not sure that it resonated with me.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ll write more about my reading later.

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April 13, 2005


This quiz is quite interesting actually…

You scored as Musical/Rhythmic. You are sensitive to sounds in your environment, enjoy music and prefer listening to music when you study or read. You learn best through melody and music. People like you include singers, conductors, composers, and others who appreciate the various elements of music.















The Rogers Indicator of Multiple Intelligences
created with QuizFarm.com
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August 12, 2004

Lac Vert

Last weekend, my wife and I went up to her parents’ cottage, our only real vacation this summer. You can read my wife’s account of our weekend here, and see some photos not included in my post. Here’s a picture of the cottage from the back, which my wife didn’t use:


Among the cottage activities were a cut-throat game of Scrabble won handily by my father-in-law Ian — I came in a distant second — much music, much eating, and some swimming and lounging on the beach reading. Here’s a view from the beach:


I brought up with me my baritone ukulele and my guitalele, knowing there would be guitars already there. Here’s a picture of me noodling on the baritone:


Among other things, we played songs from the two books I had put together containing songs suitable for the ukulele and 50’s rock and roll tunes. Here’s a selection of photos (1, 2, 3, 4).

Dinner on Saturday night was a spit-roasted suckling pig, already described by my wife. Here’s a picture of Pete enjoying his birthday pig:


On Sunday we had barbequed rabbit, which you can see on the table in this picture, the remains of which became a wonderful rabbit stew for Monday’s lunch. Also worthy of mention is a frittata that Aven’s grandmother, Aven, and I made for lunch on Sunday. Made from a variety of ingredients we happened to have on hand (1, 2, 3), the frittata was first fried on the stovetop before being baked and then broiled. That and a cold beer made for a nice lunch.

It was a much needed relaxing weekend, and hopefully these photos give some sense of the experience. I’ll finish off with a photo of Saturday night’s bonfire which, I think, ideally captures the cottage mood:


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Gebrocen sweg

Having recently seen Sting perform at the ACC, I decided that the next book from my bed-side pile would be Sting’s Broken Music. A dear friend of mine went to meet Sting earlier this year and got an autographed copy of his book, which she very sweetly gave to me knowing what a Sting fan I was.

I was actually a little surprised at how well written the book was. Many first-time writers who are famous for some other persuit don’t come across so well. I found Sting’s book to be quite gripping, if somewhat disturbing at times. He’s certainly a very intelligent man. The book deals mainly with Sting’s life before he became famous, the realities of growing up in the north of England in the 50’s and 60’s and the building of his musical career in the 70’s. I suppose those who aren’t particularly Sting fans won’t be drawn to the book, but it’s actually quite interesting because of the world he writes about.

Reading this book (along with a number of other factors) has certainly made me want to have more music in my life. It’s something I’ve put aside for a number of years now, but I’m coming to realise that sometimes one has to make time for things.

Posted by Mark at 03:48 PM | Comments (0)

July 25, 2004


As my wife already mentioned in her blog (along with some pictures), while my father-in-law was visiting here we did some typical Toronto activities, including a visit last Saturday to the Distillery Historic District on Mill Street. I thought I’d include a description of our activities here to give a sense of what Toronto has to offer. (Those not interested need not continue reading this lengthy entry.)

While at the Distillery District, we enjoyed some comestibles from the Brick Street Bakery, including my choice of a roast beef sandwich, my wife’s of a chicken and tarragon pie, and my father-in-law’s of a stout and steak pie:


Wonderfully fresh bread as the contented look on my face indicates.

Of course we visited the Mill St. Brewery:


If you ever have a chance, try their beers (unfortunately I don’t know how widely they are distributed). In particular, I like the Coffee Porter and the Tankhouse Ale.

We happened to have gone to the Distillery District during the Party Gras festival, part of the Beaches Jazz Festival, so we saw many great jazz bands including this fabulous trad jazz band, The Downtown Jazz Band:


The bass player had this neat electric bass on which he even played a bowed bass solo. Notice the tiny trumpet in this picture. We listened to a number of bands ranging from small ensembles to big bands. Another intriguing band we saw I can only describe as Jamaican funk jazz, and we sat for a while and sipped some beer while listening to Zydeco Storm. All in all, quite a good quantity and variety of music.

We also enjoyed the various art galleries and the historic architecture (here’s a sampling: 1, 2, 3, 4).

After a quick respite at home, we headed out to another typical Toronto destination, the Danforth, where we had dinner at our favourite Greek restaurant, Avli. After the fabulous dips with pita, as usual I had lamb chops, Aven had the rabbit pie, and Ian had the roast lamb special, and we enjoyed two different half bottles of retsina.

After dinner, we to see my friend David’s band (appropriately named The David Hein Band) perform at the Black Swan. Excellent as usual. Here are a couple of photos (1, 2). And that was just Saturday. Stay tuned for an account of Sunday’s exciting activities.

Posted by Mark at 05:18 PM | Comments (0)

July 19, 2004

Haligu lufu

Last Wednesday, my wife and I went to the Sting concert at the Air Canada Centre (ACC). You can read my wife’s comments about the concert here. The concert was actually a double bill with Annie Lennox, who played an hour-long set before Sting’s hour-and-a-half set.

The opening act was a solo classical guitar performace by Sting’s guitarist Dominic Miller, which was quite good but somewhat lost in the large venue. Though I’m not particularly an Annie Lennox fan, her set was quite enjoyable, particularly the songs I knew and particularly her rockier numbers.

Sting’s portion of the evening very good and demonstrated what an excellent backing band he has — Jason Rebello is a phenominal pianist. Sting performed mainly his solo material, leaning particularly on his more recent albums. Perhaps unsurprisingly he played only three of his Police-era songs — with the large back catalogue he has, it’s hard to get all that much into an hour-and-a-half set. Annie Lennox sang a duet with Sting on his “We’ll Be Together”, which was quite good. Also worthy of mention was the extended jam on “Roxanne”. The sound engineering for the night was rather disappointing, however, as the vocals were rather muddy and overall the volume was too low. In the past I’ve found the sound at concerts at the ACC to be quite good, so I’m not sure why the quality was off this night. I’ve now seen Sting perform four times, and while this wasn’t his best concert in my experience, it was nevertheless quite enjoyable.

Inspired by this concert, I’ve decided that the next book from my bed-side pile will be Sting’s Broken Music, which was given to me by a very dear friend of mine who had gone to meet Sting and got the book signed earlier this year.

Posted by Mark at 05:45 PM | Comments (0)

May 01, 2004


Last night I went to see the David Hein Band — David being one of my oldest and dearest friends — compete in and win the latest round of the Emergenza Music Festival. Hooray! I guess the next stop is the Canadian finals.

The band was fantastic and I heartily recommend you check out the website which has online tunes and information about upcoming events.

At the pre-show party, I was lucky enough to win a door prize, a copy of The Live of Pi by Yann Martel, which I’ve had recommended to me many times. I love getting books either through chance like this or as gifts! My pile of books for the summer grows!

Posted by Mark at 11:51 PM | Comments (1)

March 23, 2004

Se geonges elpendes stæpe

As proof that anything can be played on a ukulele, Brook Adams has put online a number of mp3s of himself playing songs ranging from James Bond theme songs to Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze, from various Beatle songs to the Spiderman theme, and from Monty Python’s The Galaxy Song to my personal favourite, Henry Mancini’s The Baby Elephant Walk. Definitely worth a listen.

And now for a gratuitous picture of an adorable Tigger:


Posted by Mark at 05:42 PM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2004


I just managed to get tickets to the Sting concert here in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre in July. When I tried to get tickets to his concert at Massey Hall (about a week from now) I was disappointed to find out that I couldn’t get two together, and I’d have to pay a rather ridiculous amount for them. But the ACC is a much bigger venue. I still feel vaguely cheated by all the convenience fees, etc., etc., but what can you do?

Posted by Mark at 10:48 AM | Comments (0)

March 09, 2004


Well, I’ve put this off long enough. While it is no secret that music is a great interest of mine (I play a number of instruments and even started a music degree as an undergraduate), it may not be common knowledge that over the past year I have become quite devoted to the ukulele.


For my birthday last year, my wife Aven gave me a ukulele, specifically a Denver Duke. Little did she know what she’d started.

I found out that there were two other types of ukes availible at our local music store, and I couldn’t resist. I bought a baritone ukulele, a lower-pitched ukulele made by Hilo, and a guitalele, a six-stringed ukulele made by Yamaha. If only I’d had these when recording the Folk Brigade material!

As it turned out, the guitalele came with a cloth carrying case, but the other two didn’t, and so, rather than buying cases over the internet, I decided to make cases:


The plaid one in the middle is the guitalele case, and the two black ones are the ones that my wife and I sewed out of black denim and grey fleece for the lining. Here you can see a closeup of the inside of one of the cases.

The surprising thing is that I’m not the only Old English scholar with a ukulele connection. Although he doesn’t play the ukulele himself, Roy Liuzza plays in a band called The Rites of Swing that features a ukulele. I haven’t heard any of their music, but I imagine it would be great.

In addition to the Ukulelia weblog linked to on the sidebar, another site I’ve found useful in my exploration of all things uke is the ezFolk Ukulele Section. I’ve even fuelled my uke habit by putting together my own book of ukulele transcriptions. My latest plan is to do some digital recording on my computer of Gershwin songs played on the uke. I don’t know why, but somehow it seems appropriate. Maybe when I do get around to doing this, I’ll put clips up on this blog for you all to hear.

As a side note, the original ukulele I got for my birthday came in an oddly shaped cardboard box, which strangely enough is the exact right size and shape for Tigger:


I’ve taken to calling him my furry ukulele. I’ll never be able to take away these boxes because he’d be so upset with me. Here are a couple more pictures of the furry ukulele to bring up the cuteness quotient of this posting.

Well, I guess I end this rambling entry with a picture of me playing the uke, as well as the baritone and guitalele:


Posted by Mark at 05:42 PM | Comments (0)

February 28, 2004


Last night I attended an interesting lecture given by Roberta Frank, a former professor of mine. The talk was entitled “Not Much is Worse than a Troll”: A Norse Poem from Medieval Orkney and discussed the Old Norse poem Málsháttakvæði (which means ‘proverb poem’). This poem is filled with proverbs such as “Not much is worse than a troll”, “Dragons often rise up on their tail”, “Easily grasped are the crimes of a hog”, “The living man always rejoices in a cow”, and “To love another’s child is to cherish a wolf”. Roberta’s talk stressed the importance of philology and how close attention to language informs our understanding of medieval Northern Germanic literature and culture, and was both interesting and entertaining.

Following the lecture was a reception and then an enjoyable performance of early music from Scandinavia by Ensemble Polaris. Among the many talented musicians in Ensemble Polaris are the multitalented Kirk Elliott, who played violin, harp, bowed psaltery, accordion, and Swedish bagpipes, and Ben Grossmann, who played the hurdy gurdy and jew’s harp. I always enjoy hearing unusual and/or early music instruments being performed. The performance was recorded by CBC Radio 2 for future broadcast on Music Around Us, so give it a listen when it comes up.

All in all, a nice way to spend an evening.

Posted by Mark at 12:40 PM | Comments (3)