Wednesday, March 18, 2009

File Under "Fools, Rushing In"

Today's advise: Do something that you are afraid will make you look foolish.

You'll feel better because you made a fool of yourself and the world didn't end.

The first singing lesson was a low-key but liberating experience. My teacher (who is at least 10 years younger than I am but sports a beard I couldn't grow in this lifetime) lives in a dilapidated green house in Rochester's "Neighborhood of the Arts." I knew I had the right house because I could hear the saxophone from the street. When I peeked through the screen (yes, it was that warm today), he just nodded at me and kept playing. I followed him into his music room, where he set the sax on a pedestal between two electric guitars. Further along the wall was an acoustic guitar and a gorgeous vermilion mandolin. No banjo in sight, which was odd, as that's his specialty.

I guess I should clarify that I'm not taking vocal lessons, exactly. I'm taking music lessons, but my instrument is going to be my voice. It's more portable than a piano, you see, and thus easier to practice while I'm driving. We began the lesson with some low-level musical aptitude testing to see what I already knew. The conclusion is that I can tell the difference between double and triple time, I can tell the difference between major and minor keys, and I can repeat a melody that I hear. I cannot, however, maintain that melody in the presence of a harmony. We then sang together to check my technique, and from this we learned that I breathe correctly (yeah, yoga!), but I don't vocalize well. What followed then was a lot of singing scales while performing strange visualization exercises involving "pointing" my vocal chords and then "projecting" the notes equally outward onto a level plane. By the end of the lesson I could hear an improvement in how I was singing (particularly notes at the upper end of my range), but I'm fascinated that abstract imagery can affect the way I shape and hold notes.

I recorded myself singing along with a recording of "Latter Days" by Over the Rhine. I was going to embed it here as a digital archive of where I'm starting from. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be), Blogger only supports embedded video. I suppose I could make a blank video with just a sound-track, but... eh. Why bother? Let's just say that it's not bad (or at least not opening-round-of-American-Idol bad), but it's a long way from good.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Time Crisis

I'm thirty-seven, and that means it's time to start doing self-indulgent, middle-aged shit. To that end, I am starting vocal lessons. Feeling excited... and a bit nervous... but mostly sort of foolish.

As far as mid-life identity crises go, though, this is a whole lot cheaper than a Maserati.

I'm taking lessons from one of the guys behind The Varnish Cooks, an old-time country and blue-grass band here in Rochester. They are currently kind of defunct, which is a pity, because they could really shake up a room.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Easy Noodles for Lunch

Today's happiness is the recipe for the lunch I eat on a regular basis. I love the Trader Joe's noodles-in-a-box stuff, but (1) we don't have Trader Joe's in Rochester, (2) the calories and sodium are through the roof if you eat the entire box, and (3) all that extra packaging makes me feel guilty. I came up with a much healthier subsitute that is super-simple to make the night before, and it tastes like lots more work than it really is. It causes serious lunch-envy at the office.

What you need:
  • Microwave-safe container
  • 1 package of pre-cooked udon noodles (7 oz) [If the noodles come with a packet of seasoning mix, read the sodium content. Read it again. Say "That can't possibly be right." Read it again. Drop the seasoning packet into the garbage in horror. Try to forget how much Ramen you ate in college.]
  • 1 cup frozen chopped vegetables (although there's nothing wrong with fresh!)
  • 1 cup frozen pre-cooked meat-like substance (I use Quorn)
  • 3 tablespoons of marinade
Put the ingredients into the microwave-safe container in the order listed, seal the lid, shake, then refrigerate until meal time (for me, that's overnight). When you're ready to eat, shake the container to distribute the sauce, unseal one edge of the lid, and microwave on high for about 2 minutes. Stir and enjoy.

This dish is a pretty balanced, filling meal, it takes less than five minutes to put together, and the calorie count is only 405 as long as you're sensible in your choice of marinade, and stick to only a few tablespoons (which is all you need, because the dish is going to soak in the seasonings all night). Most commercial marinade's only have about 30 calories/tablespoon, which isn't bad. I sometimes add a tablespoon of peanut butter, which adds more protein and fiber, but you have to be mindful of the added calories, sodium, and fat if that's a concern.

I'd love to find a healthier alternative to the pre-cooked Udon noodles (i.e. something with whole wheat) that doesn't sacrifice the "I can make this in five minutes" easiness. If you have any ideas, let me know...