Saturday, October 31, 2009

Book Review: Unexpected Knitting

I consider myself mostly a weaver who occasionally knits. (This is a pretty amazing statement, considering how little weaving I've been doing lately. Hope springs eternal.)

Recently, I checked out a knitting book from the library, and I am COMPLETELY in love with this book! I'm definitely going to have to purchase my own copy, because it's one I know I will come back to again and again and again.

The book is called Unexpected Knitting, by Debbie New, and it is a feast in so many ways. The photographs are stunning and beautiful, but even better - it is full of the most incredible IDEAS. She discusses a variety of knitting design techniques, then for each one has a specific example of something to make using that technique. The techniques are:
  • Free form knitting
  • Scribble lace knitting
  • Swirl knitting
  • Sculptural
  • Virtual Knitting
  • Cellular Automaton Knitting
  • Ouroborus Knitting
  • Labyrinth Knitting
These range from easy and spontaneous to very complex, and yet she has a way of describing what's going on that makes it easy to see how each technique works.

I like some of her subheadings, too...
  • For those who like to jump right in
  • Learning to love your mistakes
  • An elegant muddle
  • The Better Mousetrap Sock and other sculptures
  • "Knitting" the impossible
  • Self-generating patterns
  • Playing with mitered rings
  • Long space-filling strips
Each techniques has its own gallery of photos showing the amazing possibilities she has explored in her work.

To cap it off, there's an Appendix with all the basic techniques you will need.

Let's just say if I were stranded on a desert island and I could only have one knitting book with me, this would be it!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

No *Visible* Progress - Just Audible

Okay, I know I'm in a stall - both with weaving and this blog, but truly, I am NOT catatonic. Things have been very busy lately, just not with anything for which I can produce visible evidence here. :-)

I've actually had two main focuses lately: symphony chorus and a study group I'm co-facilitating.
I'll stick with one of them in this post.

La Jolla Symphony Chorus
I saw a notice in a little neighborhood newspaper this summer announcing that the La Jolla Symphony was having auditions for its chorus. I checked out their web site, gulped at the requirements, and immediately sent an email asking for an audition time (before I could chicken out.) I sang in some pretty cool choirs in my college days, but that was back in the 70's! We have an occasional choir at the Unity Center, and when it fits my schedule, I sing with them, but if anything, that revealed to me the changes in my voice since my youth. Scary, sad.

And I LOVED singing in a choir. There's something utterly magical about it, and there's nothing more satisfying than those moments when you realize something incredible has just been created, and you are a part of it. It's the closest you can get to bliss without sex! So why I have let this part of my life languish for decades is beyond me. Anyway, back to the audition.

I was surprised to get an immediate response to my audition request, so the day and time was set. I downloaded the practice theory quiz (which surprised me by how difficult it was) and began practicing a Brahms song. (You had to prepare one song to sing - either an art song or a piece from a musical. I definitely don't have a solo Broadway type voice, so I chose an art song.) I practiced and practiced. I freaked and freaked, wondering if it was going to be possible to achieve a presentable voice in time. The day before, I looked up the translation of the song I had prepared, and realized it was a man singing about a woman. I freaked some more, changed my plan to a very simple Italian song (Caro Mio Ben.)

The day of the audition, I did some vocalizing in the car on the way there, but nothing big, since I assumed they would warm us up as a group, then call us back individually for the audition. Boy, was I wrong. I got there and was handed a quiz. I sat down and started working on it, trying to keep my anxiety at bay. After a few minutes, I was tapped on the shoulder and called back to the rehearsal room.

The first tester started by playing several short melodies and asking me to sing them back. No warm up, just dive in. It went okay, though my voice was wobbly from nerves. I did okay on all but one of them, and got that one after a few repetitions. Then I was asked to sing a series of six melodic lines written on a sheet of music. Again, I did okay on all but one of them - couldn't seem to sing a sixth, in spite of the reminder of "My bonny..." - did the Goldilocks thing - sang a fifth, then a seventh, and didn't get the sixth until he played it on the piano. :-( I don't remember everything, or in what order things happened, but I think this same fellow had me sing the alto line of a hymn. That went by quickly, but I think I did okay. Back to the table in the hallway to work on my quiz.

I went through the quiz, doing the easy parts (not many) and working to contain the anxiety beginning to brew. Soon, I was tapped again.... off to the rehearsal hall. The director sat up in a seat in the audience area, the accompanist introduced herself - a lovely, very kind woman. She smiled and commented on my celtic knot necklace. I handed her the music for my song. And.... with no warm up, we launched into the song. It was thankfully short. I was a bit breathless in a few places. I thought my voice sounded terrible, but just kept trying to breath deeply and hang in there. I was given a sheet with We Wish You a Merry Christmas and asked to sing it. I did. Still fearful - it was right at the part of my range where I have a break in my voice and have to be careful. After a quick run through, I was asked to sing the version at the bottom of the page, which had lots of markings. That went okay, too - well, at least I was able to indicate I could understand the markings, even if my voice didn't sound very good.

As we walked back to the hallway for me to finish the theory quiz, the director asked me a few questions. I mentioned that my youngest son just graduated from high school, and when I saw the notice for the audition, it seemed a good time to try to return to something I left behind in my life that I dearly loved. I finished the quiz, and came home, went to my room and threw myself on my bed and sobbed for two hours. I was embarrassed, but mostly, I felt bereft. I was convinced that I had sounded terrible, and that this was a dream too long deferred that had died.

The next afternoon was when they were going to give results. When I got home from church, Eldy gave me a message to call the coordinator for the chorus. I called and got an answering machine. Did lots of deep breathing, and a few hours later, I tried again. She answered. I was astonished to hear her say "The director would like to invite you to join the chorus in the alto 2 section." I couldn't believe my ears! When I went to tell my husband, he had a big grin on his face, so I knew that he already knew. Boy, is he good at keeping a secret!

I've been to four rehearsals now, and they have been both scary and exhilarating. At the first one, we sight read two pieces, and I was astonished. I asked the woman next to me (who I shamelessly followed) if they had sung those pieces before. No. And yet, they all seemed to know their lines flawlessly. They even watched the director and followed him, while sightsinging. Amazing!!! The second week, the woman I had sat next to wasn't there - she ended up sitting in the back of the room away from everyone because she said she had been sick. Then, the back row of women I was sitting in was asked to move to the front to make more room for the men. So... not only did I not have the person I was following next to me, but I was in the front row. Luckily, I had practiced a LOT, and it was fine. In fact, it was more than fine. Normally, I don't get to stand in front, because I'm tall. Well, when you are in front, you hear all the voices blending behind you, which is a lovely feeling. In the rehearsals since then, I've returned to the back row. I know I'm okay now. I still don't know that many people, but slowly but surely, I expect to make some dear and deep friendships.

The work we will perform in December is the Bernstein Mass, and I will admit that it is probably the most difficult piece of music I've ever worked on. So I'm stretching a lot, in so many ways, and I'm very very happy. I'm also loving technology - I have the music in my little iPod shuffle, and listen to the full score while sitting at the piano, so I can play my part when I'm not sure about it. How cool is that? The only problem is that the earbuds started aggravating my tinnitus, so I'm taking a break for a few days, and found some inexpensive little speakers on ebay.

I am deeply grateful for this experience. The music we are singing is incredible, the director is absolutely fantastic, and I am very lucky to get to sing with a group of such wonderful singers. This is the best example I've had in a long time of the great reward for walking through BIG FEAR.

I'll post later about my study group, and about my weaving pondering. I loved Sue's latest blog post - definitely lots to think about there! Maybe those lines of thought will even get me back weaving. I hope so. In spite of my other bliss, I've really been missing it.