Month: June 2008

Today’s suggested tattoo flash


Zǐ yuē: rén ér bù rén, rú lǐ hè? rén ér bù rén, rú yuè hè?

The Master said, “If a man be without the virtues proper to humanity, what has he to do with the rites of propriety?
If a man be without the virtues proper to humanity, what has he to do with music?”

—The Analects of Confucius, III.iii
(trans. James Legge)

Down a Country Lane

The Boston Symphony Orchestra e-mailed out a press release today detailing a curious promotion.

Tanglewood, Gulf Oil, and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority are teaming up this summer for a special promotion at Gulf gas stations along the Massachusetts Turnpike between Boston and Tanglewood. For every $50 of gas purchased at participating Gulf gas stations, travelers can earn a free lawn pass to Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The promotion will run June 30 through August 22.

The participating Gulf stations, it should be noted, are those actually on the Mass Turnpike. So this is targeted primarily at people who use the Pike to get to and from Tanglewood, or who possibly have a regular commute that involves a big enough stretch of the Pike that they would be buying gas. (My own commute into Boston, for example, never passes any of the participating stations.)

It’s interesting to break this down a little. How many people would even spend fifty bucks on gas getting to Tanglewood and back? Let’s say that the Boston-to-Tanglewood commute is 130 miles, and we’ll go with today’s AAA average of $4.07/gal in Boston. At that rate, if it’s costing $50 for a round trip, you’re getting at best just over 21 miles per gallon—for almost totally highway driving. (I think we all know what kind of cars those are.)

Is it worth it, environmental concerns aside? Kind of, actually—a year ago, gas was, on average in Boston, $2.94 a gallon; if you’re driving a 21 mpg vehicle, it’s costing you $13.88 more in gas to get to the Shed and back this summer. A Tanglewood lawn ticket is 19 bucks. So that trip, all told, is $5.12 cheaper than it would have been last year, keeping ticket prices level for sake of argument. (The break-even mileage on that calculation is 15.46 mpg; worse than that, and you’re still paying more compared with 2007.)

But here’s the odd thing: if you have a car with decent mileage, it’s not much of a deal at all. Think of it—if it doesn’t cost you $50 in gas to get to Tanglewood and back, you’re going to need to go twice in order to get the free pass. The break-even for two Boston-Tanglewood round-trips in order to collect one free pass is 30.92 mpg; if your mileage is between 22 and 30 mpg, you lose money compared with last year. Here’s the breakdown for the official vehicle of Soho the Dog, the 1999 Honda Civic (29 mpg):

260 miles round trip x 2=520 miles
520 miles/29 mpg=17.93 gallons
(17.93 gallons x $2.94/gal) + $38 [two tickets] = $90.71 [2007]
(17.93 gallons x $4.07/gal) + $19 [one ticket] = $91.97 [2008]

(Mileage is from Boston for comparison; in reality, I’d be coming from Framingham, which is only 111 miles one-way, but even then, I’m only saving $1.70 over last year.) Above the 30.92 threshold, you’re saving money, but in order to match the 21 mpg one-trip savings of $5.12, you’ll need to be getting at least 42 mpg.

So this is a promotion tailored to people who own cars that get a) lousy but not abysmal mileage, or b) spectacular mileage. I’d be more inclined to regard this as a good idea if all Massachusetts Gulf stations were participating; even trying to drive less, I’ll almost certainly be buying two or three free passes worth of gas this summer. But by limiting it to stations on the Pike, it’s clearly aimed at those people driving the Pike to get to Tanglewood.

This will probably be a boost for sales at those participating Gulf stations and Pike toll revenues. Is it all that good a deal for Tanglewood? Here’s the thing—parking at Tanglewood is, to its credit, free. In other words, Tanglewood’s take doesn’t depend at all on how people actually get there. The argument is that, by making it less of a financial hassle to cover the distance, more people will show up (and presumably buy at least one more ticket in addition to the free one). But might that subsidy be better spent enlarging the Tanglewood bus service? The BSO actually runs buses out to Tanglewood for $30 round-trip—a deal if your vehicle gets less than 35 mpg these days—but it’s a limited schedule, Fridays and Saturdays only. Make that schedule more flexible, and I’d bet they’d get a lot of takers. (Including those prospective patrons with no car at all, who might be more inclined to buy a lawn ticket than someone who could afford to blow fifty bucks on gas.) And it’s a somewhat greener option to boot.

And if that doesn’t get people in the door?


I only caught the second half of this year’s Sick Puppy Iditarod, the summer program’s marathon final concert that took up a good part of last Saturday, but that was still 4+ hours of fun. Some of my favorites: pianist Eiko Sudo’s sharp-dressed, unscheduled reading of John Cage’s “Seven Haiku”; Meghan Miller, David Russell, and Nicolas Gerpe’s appropriately spacey, far-out rendition of George Crumb’s Vox Balanae; and pianist Christina Wright’s bouncy, balmy playing of “Short Summer Dance” by SICPP’s composer-in-rsidence, Jo Kondo.

Part 6, the last of the concert, might have been the best. Frederic Rzewski’s “Moonrise With Memories” was limpid and gorgeous, anchored by trombonist Brandon Newbould, who was memorably joined by violinist Ethan Wood and clarinetist Ariana Lamon-Anderson taking vocal turns in the introduction to the second part. Helmut Lachnemann’s “temA” found mezzo-soprano Thea Lobo, flutist Miller, and cellist Rachel Arnold crisp and crazy, gracefully surmounting each new extended technique. And guest percussionist Mathias Reumert fomented a terrific six-player account of Louis Andriessen’s “Workers Union,” a riot of loud, funky lockstep clusters that is now my favorite post-midnight programming choice.

As usual, the long evening closed with Michael Finnissy’s “Post-Christian Survival Kit,” with the new-to-SICPP addition of singers bringing out the ecclesiastical echoes behind the freeform folly. The marathon has become one of the best nights among Boston’s dog days.

You can find a review of last year’s Iditarod here.

Listener discretion advised

Our good friend Jack Miller may not be the world’s most rabid Dresden Dolls fan, but he has baked cookies for them, which is probably more than you’ve ever done. Anyway, Jack bought tickets to this week’s Boston Pops concert, which features Dresden Dolls front-Kabarettist Amanda Palmer. The BSO then sent him an e-mail asking him if he knew what he was getting himself into.

From: myBSO
Date: June 17, 2008 11:33:12 AM EDT
Subject: Attn: June 19 & 20 Amanda Palmer Ticket Holders

As part of the Pops Edgefest series, the June 19 and 20 concerts will feature alternative rock singer Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls. These concerts will not follow the traditional Pops model and may contain explicit lyrics.
If you wish to exchange your tickets to these performances, please contact SymphonyCharge at 888-266-1200 or visit the box office at Symphony Hall.

I applaud this sort of initiative. I have been to many a concert that could have used such a warning.

As part of our continuing mollification of superannuated subscribers, this week’s concerts will feature a big-name soloist playing a very old piece while the rest of the musicians phone it in. If you wish to exchange your tickets to these performances, please contact us or visit the box office.

As part of a misguided effort to appeal to Generations “Q” and higher, this week’s concerts will feature the conductor filling time that could have been devoted to music with long spoken introductions and awkward jokes. If you wish to exchange your tickets to these performances, please contact us or visit the box office.

As part of our marketing department’s desired pattern of risk-averse programming, this week’s supposed new-music concert will be made up entirely of pieces that sound like watered-down John Williams. If you wish to exchange, &c.

Classical Music: second-guessing the audience since 1970!

Dancing In the Dark

Cyd Charisse, who died yesterday, really was one of my favorite dancers. She was famous for the femme fatale roles she exemplified throughout the 1950s (beginning with one of the all-time great film entrances in her appearance in Singin’ In the Rain), but she was in a different category than most of her female colleagues—at a time when the prevalent style of female dance in Hollywood musicals was the high-octane athleticism of Eleanor Powell or Ann Miller, Charisse was effortlessly smooth. Here’s perhaps my favorite example, her and Fred Astaire in the “Fated to be Mated” number from Silk Stockings—precise, casual grace.

Her New York Times obituary reports that she “was believed to be 86″—a nice bit of old-time movie-star historical fog.

One-Armed Bandits

In light of Daniel Wolf’s plea for more intellectual property law expertise and input on the part of music scholars, it’s worth pondering this little cautionary tale: CBS Home Video has just released another volume of the 1960s television series The Fugitive on DVD, with one rather glaring change—all the original music has been stripped out and replaced by a recomposed substitute. As The Classic TV History Blog reports:

This is not the removal of occasional snippets of songs, which has (lamentably) become commonplace in the DVD realm because it’s expensive to clear the rights to popular tunes for home video. Instead, it’s the wholesale deletion of the entire original musical element of the series—and without any warning to consumers beyond a standard boilerplate disclaimer in tiny print. This is the first time any television show has arrived on DVD in such an aurally mutilated form. It’s a very big deal.

It’s not entirely clear why the change was made. The Fugitive relied on a tailor-made library of themes and cues by jazz composer Pete Rugolo, though sometimes also licensing stock music from CBS—but all concerned entities are now owned outright by Viacom. Was hiring composer Mark Heyes to substitute music on the fly simply cheaper than tracking down the old stock music composers and negotiating a royalty? (On the Film Score Monthly message boards, there was a report that the publishing rights for some cues were owned by a defunct company, and there was no clear transference; but, as others pointed out, that didn’t seem to affect the DVD release of the show’s first season.) Maybe we can get all the lawyers to fight it out on top of a carnival tower.

Bulldog on the premises. But he’s a Trinity student.

Their dog ambled about a bank of dwindling sand, trotting, sniffing on all sides. Looking for something lost in a past life. Suddenly he made off like a bounding hare, ears flung back, chasing the shadow of a lowskimming gull. The man’s shrieked whistle struck his limp ears. He turned, bounded back, came nearer, trotted on twinkling shanks. On a field tenney a buck, trippant, proper, unattired. At the lacefringe of the tide he halted with stiff forehoofs, seawardpointed ears. His snout lifted barked at the wavenoise, herds of seamorse. They serpented towards his feet, curling, unfurling many crests, every ninth, breaking, plashing, from far, from farther out, waves and waves.

—James Joyce, Ulysses