Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Making arrangements on our instruments...
A short video of our arrangement was uploaded at youtube by our son Brian, and can be seen at:
Comments are welcome!
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
New Life Now...
I also have the very first koto I ever bought, when I started to learn koto in Sapporo in 1979. I had to borrow money from the koto company and pay them in monthly installments. I cost fifty thousand yen – about $500.00. Over the years, I played it often, and often used it when I was teaching. It has a strong, bright sound, and is still in good shape. But when I had it restrung a few years ago, the strings were so tight it was hard to play easily, and I set it aside and didn’t use it hardly at all.
Brian learned to play koto on one of the loosely-strung castoffs. Then, when we were in Japan in 2003, Kazue-sensei had a couple of wonderful koto for sale and we brought one home and told Brian he could use it. It was almost as nice as my special koto. Brian was thrilled, and loved having his own koto. He was ready for the tighter strings. It was also the point that he grew more serious about composing, and learning some more advanced pieces. And he was growing, and getting stronger. “Be careful. Don’t play too hard.” I warned him, but the inevitable happened. He snapped one of the strings. Angrily, I tried to fix it, but wasn’t able to string it well. I pulled my original koto out of the koto closet. (You know, the koto closet. Where you keep your koto.) “You are too rough with it. Use this for now.”
Finally, he could play with abandon. And he does. That koto was what he created the piece “Timber Hawk”, the piece inspired by the wooden rollercoaster. (Fasten your seatbelts. It is a doozy of a piece.) And more recently, “Dragon’s Fire.” He practices on it, he performs on it, he takes it to senior centers and teashops. Last month he even performed in a bar! (He had to stay on or near the stage.) Always, listeners are amazed at his energy, concentration, and skill. I want to shout out, “And … he’s doing it all on an old, cheap, hard-to-play instrument!” Instead, I try to stay calm and stay out of the way.
I hear him working on Sawai’s energetic “Manjushage” and am filled with memories of working on the exact same difficult passages in Tokyo. He gets frustrated, and I hear him pulling the strings aggressively, in frustration. He plays his own works loudly, and I am glad neither of us has to worry about the instrument. It is making a better player out if him – the kind that will make Kazue-sensei very happy when she hears him.
There used to be an ad in Japan with the tagline, NEW LIFE NOW. That is exactly what this nearly 30-year old wooden instrument is getting. I am so glad I still had it to share. It is wonderful to see him breathe life into this old instrument. It is a little odd to see the next generation coming along and making use of something from your past. But wonderful. What a great way to age – for the koto and myself alike!
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
The Great Knitting Project
And so, Christmas of 2005, I got the boys each some knitting needles and yarn. It was one of those last-minute decisions; I had thought about it, off and on, but the time never seemed just right. Would 12 and 13-year old boys be able to handle it? Finally, a few days before Christmas, I bought them each some yarn and needles, and yarn and needles for myself. My idea was, I’d knit a scarf for John as I showed them to knit, and they’d each knit a scarf for themselves. In my mind, we were sitting in front of a crackling fire, talking and knitting together.
They opened the boxes at the same time, and looked a little confused. “I’m going to teach you to knit as scarf for yourself!” I said. They were excited, but none of us knew what we were in for, of course. I could tell they had no idea of what it really meant, and I realized that, unless you actually do it, you don’t know what it means to knit something, stitch by stitch.
I couldn't’ have picked a better year to do it in; it started raining a few days before Christmas and didn't’ stop for over a month. Jesse’s new bike sat, gleaming, waiting, as the rain poured outside. A day or two after Christmas, when some of the excitement had turned to bickering at a board game, I picked up my needles. “Let’s knit!”
As we started in we talked about the knitting terms, and the history of it being related to making fish nets, and of course looked up the history of knitting. Since they knew John had knit things in the past; he had knit a vest for Jessed and a sweater for Brian about 8 years ago, and a shawl for me about 6 or 7 years ago, they had no resistance to it; it would be doing something that Dad could do. (Dad wanted to knit along, but was too swamped with work this year.) All the boys saw was a new scarf that they had made in their future. “Maybe we can finish in a week!” they said. Probably not.
First, there was the casting on. Oh, dear – I had forgotten how tricky that casting on maneuver is. The last time I knit something was over 10 years ago, and I was surprised at how my hands remembered how to cast on. I immediately saw the difficulty of doing that right away, and how discouraged they were getting as I tried to show them, so I cast on for them. That was the only thing I did – the rest they did on their own.
“Now. Here is how you knit. Bring the yarn around, slip if off to the other needle….” Little by little, we did a row. My original idea was that we would learn to both knit and purl, and they would do them every other row. But when we got to purling, I realized how difficult it was to see what you are doing. They started dropping stitches and not being able to see where they were. And their brotherly competitive instincts kicked in, as they tried to beat each other to the end of the row, sacrificing doing it right. After a few rows, we counted stitches. They each had a few more than they had started with. We stopped for the day.
I decided the main thing was to keep moving forward, or they would get too discouraged. That night I undid their first few rows and fixed their mistakes. The next day, we started in again. But the purl stitches were just so impossible! Each row, there were so many problems. So – we changed tactics. “We’ll do purling later. Let’s just knit.” I had told them, the great thing about knitting is, you can always start over; you aren’t stuck with a problem. So…we started over.
By now I had realized that whenever they sat together, they were distracted with the idea of beating each other to the end of the row, and lots of mistakes were being made because of that. And they each needed my attention. So I started sitting with them separately, watching them work as I knit along with them. They were much calmer then, and able to just knit. Finally, we had made it to an inch! They were started to catch on, and see when they had made a mistake. I then kept to our policy of moving forward – if they had too many stitches, instead of ripping out, I would knit a couple of stitches together and tell them to keep going. Onward, forward we went. Stitches dropped, and got picked up. Jesse tended to drop. Brian tended to add. And I got very good and being able to quickly analyze where the problems were and give them a quick fix, picking up stitches and making rows end up with the right amount. We kept going forward; two inches, then three! They talked of the needles as swords, with each stitch being captured and brought over to the other side. As boys, they loved to measure them. After they had caught on to what they were doing, we were able to sit together and knit, and the competitive spirit started being useful. Still….there was so far to go!
We had a few lulls. But the great thing about knitting is, even though there is still a lot to do, you can see some actual progress each time you work on it. The boys found this to be encouraging. “We need to finish these this winter, or it won’t get done,” I said…and then I had to make myself stick to it as well. So, I would find myself taking out my project and first one, then the next boy, would be sitting nearby, knitting. There never was a crackling fire, but there were some nice moments of sharing.
When I had almost reached the end of my own project, I slowed, waiting for them to catch up. Jesse had a burst of energy and got a lot done, encouraged by his own progress, while Brian was distracted with getting ready for a concert. This was amazing to all of us, Jesse included, because of anyone in the family he is the least likely to finish any sort of project. John kept him going with a few motivational talks….compelling him to knit 10 rows at a time (rather than one) before taking a break. We saw an article in the paper that talked about men in New York learning to knit and put it on the fridge. We felt so cutting edge!
Their stitches became more even. They saw how different the beginnings of their scarves looked, and we told them it was a bit of history, right there in their hands; their very first stitches. They became able to knit when I wasn’t there, and took to surprising me with what they had done while I was out. I finished up John’s scarf and he began wearing it, even in the house, to encourage them to finish theirs. And so it was…in just over a month’s time, Jesse finished his scarf. Proudly, he put it on…and it looked great! After an initial disappointment at not getting his done first, Brian got himself motivated and made his even longer. It looked great too! As we say in the Falconer household, “That was easy!”
Hmm. I wonder what our next project will be?
(Here they are, with their scarves!)
Monday, January 23, 2006
Seeing Ikebana in a New Light
At the urging of our friend Karen Nagata, before we played I shared my disastrous story of encountering Ikebana during our stay in Japan…how I was either leaving too many branches and leaves on the arrangements, making them “gomi gomi” (messy) and then trying to make up for it by trimming them too much, making them “obo-zu san ni natta mitai” (ending up looking like a shaved monk head.) Somehow I never got the hang of it, and my attempts at flower arrangement classes conveniently stopped after about a year of not seeming to make much progress, when we moved from Hokkaido to Honshu.
And yet Ikebana artists are concerned with many of the same concepts we are thinking of as Japanese musicians. The concept of “ma” (space, or gap) is very important in Japanese music, and of course is pivotal in Ikebana. Making the most of single notes, and noticing the “neiro (color) of each note is another concept that is shared, as the flower arrangers are concerned with making each stem, branch, and blossom meaningful. The asymmetric aspect of Japanese music can also be seen in Ikebana arrangements as well. After many years of practice, ultimately creating one’s individual style within the guidelines of one’s years of practice is wonderful to behold.
The lunch included a flower arrangement done by someone representing each different school and their “story” for how they created it. Fascinating! As I listened to each arranger explain how they approached their creation, I felt an affinity for what they are doing. All of our hands and minds, each with their own experiences, limitations, training, and inspirations, working to create pieces of art.
At the end of the luncheon, the arrangements were taken apart and our instruments were put away. The ephemeral aspect of what we create, as musicians whose music rings for just moments in the air, and flowers that bloom so briefly and are arranged for moments in a vase, filled me with wonder. We had all been nourished by each other’s art. And tomorrow, we will continue to strive to create again, our flowers and music as fleeting as cherry blossoms.
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Wobbly the Squirrel
A few weeks before Christmas, John suddenly noticed a squirrel that seemed to be extremely sick. He called me over, and we peered at it through our second-story window to the ground below. He could barely keep his balance; he was trying to hold a seed and eat, but every time he picked up his front paws to lift it to his mouth, he fell over and rolled along the ground. We felt we were watching his last moments. “I wonder what happened to him,” John said. We watched, unable to not watch, for a few moments, as the poor animal fell, struggled to his feet, and then attempted to eat. It was so odd, to see a squirrel without balance, struggling so. We distracted the boys away from the window, so they wouldn’t see the silent scene that was taking place below. And then suddenly, John said, "I wonder if he has been poisoned."
The thought struck me hard. Perhaps that was what had happened to him. He was obviously struggling with something. Poisoned. Who would do something like that? It seemed unthinkable, yet we knew that in our suburban neighborhood, with many houses along greenbelts such as ours, the wildlife often ended up irritating people to no ends; squirrels chewed holds in roofs, raccoons took over attics, and bobcats ate cats.
I could not get the vision of that poor struggling animal out of my mind. The whole day, I thought about how awful people can be, how cruel it was to harm animals in any way. The image of that squirrel, obviously nearing his end, struggling to eat and rolling this way and that on the ground because he was unable to obtain his balance, simply would not leave my mind. I thought about him all day, and at night I dreamt about the poor squirrel.
The next morning, we looked out the window, and he was still there. John threw out more seeds. He rocked this way and that, struggling to eat. By this time John had looked up information on poisons, and it looked like that wasn’t the case after all. We watched. Perhaps he had been attacked, and had injured his spine trying to get away? We looked more closely, and it seemed he favored one side. A stroke? Other squirrels ate nearby, scurrying to and fro, scampering up and down the trees, scolding and digging. The odd movements of the singular squirrel who could barely sit up were a stark contrast to their movements.
Day three. The boys now were watching too. We explained we had no idea what had happened to him, and that we thought he was living on borrowed time. They watched, and we talked again – for the 100th time since I got suddenly sick three years ago – about how quickly life can change.
But as each day passed, the first thing we looked for in the morning to see if that squirrel was still around. John named him: Wobbly. Sometime in that first week or so, John saw the neighborhood cat come into the yard and head straight for the squirrels under the trees. In a flash, he was on the deck, throwing a potted plant at the cat, who ran away. The boys watched in glee, yet for us that old question of where to draw the line at interfering with Mother Nature came up. But we couldn’t help it – we were glad we had given Wobbly another day.
Wobbly became part of our home life. On Christmas, John got a candle with tiny pinecones all around the base for decoration. “For the man who throws us seeds. From the squirrels.” The boys are now old enough to get this sort of concept, and get into it. “Look! Who would have thought the squirrels were making candles with those pine cones!” “Look what the squirrels made for Dad!”
It is now nearing the middle of January. We are on Day 27 of straight days of rain – about to set a record for this area. The hummingbirds are still coming, the woodpeckers make their stop. And wobbly is still here. He seems to have gotten better. He doesn’t fall over as much when he eats, and has gotten very good at leaning against the roots or trunk of a tree to help maintain balance. He can run up trees…a little crooked, but up, up, up just the same. He seems to have more awareness, and scampers, in his own wobbly way, around the yard. The other squirrels occasionally intimidate him, but for the most part ignore him. Through all this incredible rain that just will not stop, Wobbly is, Wobbly is, Wobbly just is. A squirrel with scrubby fur, leaning on things to keep his balance, doggedly digging for food, running awkwardly up trees for safety. Each morning, he gives us a little piece of hope.
No matter how much longer he is there, I want to keep Wobbly in my heart. This year, I want to live like Wobbly. No matter what, I want to work with what life gives me to the best of my ability. Even if I have to lean on things for support. Even if I have to try a little harder than when I was younger to get things done. I want to be like Wobbly, a determined squirrel who faces each day squarely, and doesn’t give up.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Another inspiring trip!
And meeting Linda Morris and her 2nd grade class in Baltimore - what an inspiring, delightful day. Her students just shine under her skillful guidance, and they sang and chanted "Koto Tales" right along with me. Their questions were thoughful, and their appreciation was wonderful. Of course, like all kids, they love music. They love stories. But Linda helps them to love them even more, helps them to appreciate them even further. She asks questions, and talks about things such as artistic judgement, points out different decisions that have gone into creating something. Makes them aware of what they could do, as artists, as well. (Her students even write reviews at Amazon!) What a present that is for the kids -- not to mention the artists!
I felt so relevant to all their lives! Teachers care, and students blossom...and someone can walk in and tell "Koto Tales" and feel very, very meaningful.
The Hartmans, publishers of Dirty Linen, who so kindly let me stay in their artist room (with absolutely spotless linen!) were fantastic to meet as well. Many similarities to our own household, where we are working from home -- meeting in the kitchen for discussions off and on, and then "Back to work!" Work concerns are never far from the mind, and it somehow weaves its way into every aspect of life. But -- like John and I -- they seem to love what they are doing. Despite concerns, setbacks, and feeling like you are on a constant teeter totter, every day is an adventure, life is challenging....but good. It is all worth it.
How lucky I am!
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Greater Kansas City Japan Festival
As we were about to climb into our cars after being treated to a wonderful dinner by the festival committee, we noticed that Professor Tsubaki’s car has the license plate, KANKOKN. Always interested in language, John asked about its meaning.
Professor Tsubaki explained: “It is Kankokan. The concept has three parts. First, to dare to do something. Second, to do it continuously. Third, to make a habit of this thing, so that when you don’t do it, you miss it.” Professor Tsubaki spoke with conviction, and his words carried some weight.
After that, I discovered that Professor Tsubaki’s dojo is called just that, Kankokan. What a wonderful philosophy to lead a purposeful, meaningful life!
This is something so elemental to mental and physical health – something that anyone who has applied themselves to learn something comes to understand. To apply yourself a bit is a start. But when you have applied yourself to something for a long time, so much that you can’t stand not doing it, then you have gotten somewhere.
I am so glad to know Andrew Tsubaki and those around him who live with such vision and purpose. I came home feeling inspired.
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Making a splash
Furu ike ya
mizu no oto
They are each enchanting in a different way, but the one I tend to like best (probably the one I read first as a student) is:
The quiet pond
A frog leaps in,
The sound of the water. (Translated by Edward Seidensticker)
He is one of the few who uses "quiet pond" instead of "old pond" -- I like this, since the word old implies quiet, and I like the contrast that this word creates.
And, here is my repsonse, what this haiku has come to mean to me - someone constantly working with developing my own artistic voice:
There is no sound
In the water
If you don't jump in
Thursday, August 25, 2005
top ten reasons to stop cooking
And life is better this way. Only an ocassional foray into that area. Like, for German pancakes, bean dip, cheese omlettes, and about a pie a year.
TEN REASONS TO STOP BAKING AND COOKING
1. You can do other things, More important things, like blogs. Walks. Naps.
2. You actually *like* tater tots. And corn dogs. You've developed this appreciation in your kids.
3. You use your kitchen as an office. (My boys have pulled scotch tape off of their pancakes.)
4. You don't have to do as many dishes. Need I say more?
5. You have boys. (They like ice cream better than homemade cake or cookies any day. And your husband scours the paper for ice cream coupons.
6. You can support your local ethnic restaurants.
7. You save on electric bills (You know.. from oven and dishwasher use!)
8. You finally realize you never were getting the points you thought you were getting.
9. The less time you spend with marshmallows, chocolate chips, and baking ingredients, the less you eat them.
10. Your 13-year old son cooks better than you do, and he NEEDS something to do.
Oh, and last but not least...face it, it never tasted like you thought it would when you made it yourself.
My love-hate relationship with Amazon
But as I've progressed, from a baby with a single CD to a toddler label with a few titles to a full-grown label with 12 titles, I've felt the playing field is not that level at all. For example, even though my recordings have been extremely well-received and reviewed in national publication such as School Library Journal ,Booklist, and Dirty Linen, I am only allowed to post a 20-word quote from the review. Twenty. Words.
You may notice that publications from major labels have beautifully-written full reviews posted. When I inquired about having my reviews from major publications posted, I was told that Amazon purchases only select reviews from the publishers of the magazines. When I asked about being one of the people selected, I was given the runaround response; the first response was reiterated.
Oh. The playing field isn't exactly level.
More recently, I asked about having 30-second samples of my music posted..the way, well, yes, Cher and Green Day have theirs posted. Rather than having my only option for buyers to hear my music is to give them a free, complete download of the pieces. (Complete. Free. Download.)
Here are the main parts to our conversation:
Please advise as to how to download pieces that i would like to have as samples, not as free downloads.
Your text states that is not possible, yet many of the CDs listed offer samples...
And they answered:
We are currently not able to list 30-second sound samples on the
detail pages of Advantage music items.However, you are welcome to
upload MP3s of your music to Amazon.com's Digital Music Network.
MP3s uploaded to Amazon.com's Digital Music Network need to be
complete songs, not samples. The tracks you submit are entirely at
your discretion. Please know that titles appearing on the web site
with sound clips are not Advantage titles but are supplied by our
I wrote back:
What does that mean, your distributor? Are we not all in this fairly? You block some artists....when samples could be made so easily? Is there someone to contact about this?
I don't want to make waves...just want to sell my titles.
Their response was:
We understand your desire to provide our mutual customers with the
ability to listen to samples of your music before making a purchasing
decision. Unfortunately, at this time the only way to accomplish this
is to upload the entire track as an mp3 file. We do not allow
uploading of clips at this time for our Advantage members. If this
ability is added in the future, we will be sure to announce it to our
The third time, I asked
Is there someone there who I can communicate with about having this
changed? I have an award-winning lullaby CD ("Oyasumi - Goodnight") that has been in the top sellers for two years.....and mutiple award-winning
Children's recordings....Thank you.
And the response was:
We understand your desire.....etc. etc.
Please understand that we will not respond to further inquiries on
this matter. Thank you for your understanding.
OH. NOT LEVEL AT ALL.
Am I crazy to feel frustrated? I realize these are real people I'm writing to, but they have no power to do anything. Everywhere I look, I see the BIG being advocated, the small being overlooked. I am so disappointed in Amazon. Are they really thinking about their customers? Or are they thinking about promoting certain labels? Why can't someone discover my music and stories through 30-second samples? We all know it's not hard to do.
I won't even go into the "out of stock" problem, where Amazon orders many titles one by one, and when someon buys it, the text changes from "only one left in stock" to "Usually ships within 1 to 2 months". Even though I ship orders immediately with delivery confirmation so I know they have reached Amazon within a week, Amazon tells me "it can take 7-10 business days to process shipments once they have been received in our fulfillment center." Again....what about the customer? Who wants to buy a CD that supposidly will take 1 to 2 months to receive?
Well, I guess I went into it a bit after all.
In the meantime, the playing field has been leveled a bit because of everyone's access to Paypal, which I've happily added to my own website. (Which doesn't have quite the traffic as Amazon...) I've also worked with other people such as the folks at CD Baby (www.cdbaby.com) who are true supporters of both musicians and the customer. These are real people who have actually called me on the phone to explain a website question. And musicians receive more money per CD, even if they sell them for less than at The Other Place. This better serves both the customer and the musician. And when they are about to run out of stock, they send an email out asking for more CDs, so the future customers will not have to wait. They offer a myriad of additional services for musicians as well - all at very reasonable prices. And not surprisingly, they are growing.
I assume I speak on behalf of many musicians here. . I am so excited to share what I've created --- and I have invested so much in my music. I can only hope that our voices grow stronger and stronger! The consumer, it seems, should be aware of the situation, and maybe even Amazon will hear us, and consider making some changes. In the meantime, the playing field is being leveled by others.
Saturday, August 20, 2005
Whatever we wear,
We look beautiful
Will there not be anyone
Taking up his pen?
(trans. R.H. Blyth)
What a special night this will be.
Monday, July 25, 2005
my favorite kind of audience....
It is incredible what a difference the people AROUND the kids can AFFECT the kids when they are at a performance. Parents who help keep the kids focused by not engaging in a lot of question-answering, not bringing out snacks during a performance, and who stay engaged themselves are making the performance more meaningful for everyone. It is wonderful when I have audiences like that! It can bring the performer to a higher level, too.
Saturday, July 23, 2005
Driving down the road
I glance at my 13-year old son sitting next to me, ipod in his ears, reading a book. He doesn't look up. If he did, he would see his future, being acted out in that car in front of us....
At this point, that possibilty is simply unbelievable for both of us. I keep driving, he keeps reading.
Monday, July 18, 2005
life without television, part 1
But in the case of TV, not having one means you have a LOT MORE!
A lot more time. A lot more conversation. A lot more thinking. A lot more reading. A lot more DOING: practicing. playing. making. dreaming. Even a lot more goofing around!!
The other assumption is, if you don't have TV, then you must read a lot.
Well, our family does but probably not as much as you imagine. Our kids read the most. Probably 1-2 hours a day. They love it. Next would be John; lots and lots of magazines- science, computers, and the New Yorker. Mine is most sporatic - fit in between the cracks.
When there is no TV competing for your attention, you find there are a lot of other things to do, too. You are more set free to DREAM BIG!
People often assume it is sort of a grave, bland serious life, a life without TV. Like living without any flavor in your food. Actually - it adds a lot MORE flavor to life, because your life becomes your own again.
More on this later. For now, just this. Not having a TV is WONDERFUL. We love it. All we have to do to remind ourselves how great it is to not have one is to eat in a restaurant with one on. Those kinds of places are great reminders of how lucky we are!
PSIf you watch TV, by the way, it is fine with me. This is just what we've chosen to do, and it works great for us.
PPS We (mostly the boys) do occasionally watch a DVD. About 2-4 a month.
More on this later.....
Sunday, July 17, 2005
there are no unwounded solders
In War, No Solder is Unwounded.
It seems like I must have seen that before, but I don't remember it. Such a good one.