The Casual Blog

Tag: Joshua Bell

Spinning hard, mental health, and getting inspired by a great violinist (Joshua Bell)


I’ve been finding it hard to get in a good gear recently at my weekly Friday morning spin class, but  yesterday I kicked butt and took names! My final score was a healthy 337, and I came in first by a good margin.  My recent scores have been a little over 300, and there have been several strong riders who have made that look quite unimpressive.  I appreciated their not showing up this week and letting me look good.

There was a report in the Wall Street Journal recently about the types of exercise that were best for mental health.   The best ones were team sports and group exercises, like cycling and yoga.   So spinning may be doing my brain some good. I’ve also been getting to yoga class a couple of times a week, which I’m confident is good for my head.  

Speaking of mental health, I finished up the introductory mindfulness meditation course provided by Calm, the smart phone app.    I found it worthwhile.  Mindfulness meditation is really simple, in a way, and it’s easy to find basic directions online.  But the Calm coaching gave me some new perspectives, and helped with motivation.

On Thursday, we had dinner at Capital Club 16, and then heard the N.C. Symphony play the Brahms violin concerto with violinist Joshua Bell.  Bell has been much hyped as perhaps our greatest living violin virtuoso, which is bound to raise questions.  But he completely lived up to the hype:  he was truly electrifying. I got big goosebumps and moist eyes, and also a richer understanding of this great concerto. He performed on a Stradivarius instrument that Brahms had heard play this very piece.  Bell’s cadenza, which he composed, was a brilliant distillation of Brahmsian thought.

Some great virtuosos are intimidating, and make music students think of quitting.  Bell, however, made me want to listen harder and be a better musician. Music in the classical tradition takes time and effort to enjoy, and it’s reasonable to wonder if it’s worth it in the modern world.  But Bell made a strong case for its survival. The Brahms is a supreme technical challenge for the violinist, but also dauntingly complex for inexperienced listeners. It was cheering that a concert hall full of North Carolinians seemed to get it and love it.  In fact, we gave Bell a good ovation after the first movement. In the U.S., we almost always wait until after the last movement to clap, but apparently we agreed that Bell deserved to have us break the rule.

I loved the little poem in last week’s Sunday Times magazine:  On a Line by Proust, by Adam Gianelli.  It you’ve never read Proust or Milton, it may not hit you quite as strongly, but it might inspire you to try them.  Like Proust, it evokes the painful joy of recovering past experience, and how our literary lives can illuminate our ordinary lives.  

I’ve been making my way through the NY Times special titled The Plot to Subvert an Election, by Scott Shane and Mark Mazetti.   It’s basically the story of Putin, Trump, and us.  It is hard to believe that this happened, and is happening, and easy to feel overwhelmed.  Shane and Mazetti have done some great reporting, which is worth reading.

I went to Raulston Arboretum this morning and found these butterflies.  There were a lot of beautiful creatures flitting beyond range of my camera.   I was grateful for these.

My eye outlook, a tuba reminiscence, and enjoying some Mendelssohn and Wagner

I saw Dr. Mruthyunjaya for an eye checkup last week,and the news was basically good. The eye test results were mixed — with my injured left eye I couldn’t see any letters on the chart, but I could tell how many fingers the PA held up.

By now I’m thoroughly acclimated to the check routine — getting pressure tested, dilated, photographed, and poked, prodded, and peered into. I used to think of the eye as sort of a delicate thing, but now not so much. Anyhow, after giving me a thorough going over, Dr. M. said those words I longed to hear: “I like what I’m seeing.” My retinal scarring had not gotten substantially worse. My cataract was larger, but he says that’s relatively easy to address. We’ll likely do the surgery in September. I’m optimistic that I’ll be seeing better.

Sally and I drove over to Greensboro on Friday for the opening concert of the Eastern Music Festival. We had dinner with friends beforehand at the Green Valley Grill, where we enjoyed their potato leek soup and cauliflower steak. I talked about being a student musician at EMF as a rising high school senior, when I played the tuba in the student orchestra.

Why the tuba? I remember Mr. Shelton, my first band teacher, asking if any of the trumpet players wanted to switch to tuba, because the band needed one. I liked the look of the big horn, and liked the idea of doing something others didn’t. Other ideas came later: the tuba as a unique voice, as bass French horn, as brass cello. But the start was mainly out of curiosity. It seemed like it might be fun. Which it was.

Getting back to the Guilford College campus brought back happy memories of friends and wonderful music. The concert was the first event of the EMF season by the faculty orchestra conducted by Gerard Schwarz. The first work of the evening was by Schwarz, and featured a choir of boy sopranos. They looked like normal goofy boys, and sounded completely gorgeous.

The highlight was Joshua Bell performing the Mendelssohn violin concerto. It’is a brilliant, gorgeous piece, and Bell was fantastic. Within the first few notes, it was clear that he was a master musician, and he’d considered many possibilities for every note. Along with the logic was a lot of passion and excitement. He played a solo encore that seemed to be variations on Yankee Doodle Dandy in the style of Paganini. The double stops and harmonics were amazing!

The last work of the evening was excerpts from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, including Siegfried’s Rhine Journey, Siegfried’s Funeral March, and Brunhilde’s Immolation. This is amazing music, elemental in its force. The soft parts were a bit tentative, but the loud parts were thrilling!