2013-08-20 performing Johann Pachelbel's Canon in D at a wedding

My sister asked me to perform the processional on accordion at her wedding. These are my notes on what happened.

The Canon is written for three voices, plus a ground bass / continuo, and piano chordal accompaniment. Obviously I couldn't play all of that on my own, even were I a skilled accordion player. I am a mediocre player.

My brother-in-law-to-be offered up assistance from his grandfather, who is a old-timey guitar picker. On receiving the sheet music, Grandad informed us that he does not read sheet music, and bowed out.

At this point I started frantically looking at sequencing portions of the piece.

I had been looking at the Korg Volca series, and the price was right - $150 with free shipping. I decided to buy the bass version pronto, but discovered that they weren't currently available in the States. So, I ordered one from Japan - at a $75 premium, plus $25 shipping.

On arrival, I belatedly discovered that the sequencer couldn't drop below 10 bpm nominal (which came to 40 bpm the way I was programming it) - significantly too fast for the piece. So, I needed an outboard sequencer. I bought a Boss DR-5 Dr Rhythm used for $100, but that turned out to be unable to drop below 45 bpm. That was returned, and exchanged for a usb-midi adapter, a midi cable, an eighth inch cable, an eighth inch to quarter inch adapter, and some cash. I would use the laptop for sequencing.

Brother-in-law-to-be found me another performer - Doug Stanley, a college friend of his who plays clarinet. Doug suggested transposing to C (white keys for me, not quite so high for him), and transcribed the piece to Finale for two voices. Once I added to ground bass back in, I could use Finale Notepad as a sequencer for the Volca, and as a sheet-music page turner for me. Finale Notepad unfortunately doesn't seem to be able to save MIDI settings across sessions (or even consistenly across playbacks), but I could assign the cello part to channel 1 and the melody voices to other channels, then instruct the Volca to receive channel 1.

Next up was repairing and cleaning a few things: A little Fender Bullet amp I picked up at Goodwill for $15 needed cleaning, resoldering the input jack, and taping down a rattling transformer inside. I attempted to repair the 'good' accordion which had been brutalized on it's last flight, and was successful in getting the sunken bass buttons aligned again, but discovered that one of the bellows corners had been ripped off and was no longer in the case. In other words, the instrument was damaged not by baggage handlers, but by TSA vandalizing it and throwing away the pieces. In any case, I didn't have time to get that repaired, so the clunker accordion would have to do.

Doug wanted to play at 30 bpm, so that's what we practiced at (separately). Day of, when we finally got to practice together, we discovered that was a little fast, and dropped it back down to 27.

The wedding planner told us three to four minutes, "so be ready to play for five". The rehearsal processional ran 3:30. At 27 bpm, the whole piece would carry us to 8:27. For five minutes, we would need only 34 measures of the full 57. But how to end?

We could just nod at each other, meaning 'finish this phrase and hit C', but what about the sequencer? I tried writing an Autohotkey script to stop playback at the press of the spacebar. It worked fine - but Finale Notepad lingers on for a moment after being told to stop. We finally realized that I would just have to swipe the volume knob on the Volca while droning C.

The Volca runs on batteries, and so does the laptop, so I replaced the Volca batteries at the last moment, and kept the lappy plugged in all morning long. Someone (Thanks, Someone!) fetched a 40 foot extension cord to run from the reception hall to the outdoor spot we would be playing at. The wedding planner lets us snag a table and tablecloth from the bar, and the lappy, synth, midi adapter, and patch cords were hidden behind the amp. The cord from the synth to the amp's front input jack I looped through the amp's top handle for neatness' sake. My wife adjusted my new bow-tie after I was strapped into the accordion.

And then, the performance. We flubbed it a lot. Doug had some squeaks at the high parts and dropped out once, and I simply dropped out at the 32nd notes where I had intended to 'just play the important notes'. When the processional was complete, my eyes were on the sheet music and Doug had to whisper 'kill it' to let me know it was time to end.

Our wives noticed the problems. They both said it was 'Okay'. Everyone else seemed to think we did great.

Of course, no one really pays attention to the musicians at a wedding.

Congratulations, Chloe and Nick.

2013-08-22 Something to do with Oversized and Overabundant Summer Squash

My father's garden is producing lots of big yellow crookneck squash, and we are being subjected to the surplus. The other day, tired of stir-fries and soups, I thought I would use one to make a gratin. I sliced two potatoes, a squash, and an onion, blanched them all for about eight minutes, layered them with béchamel, and topped it all with Tillamook cheddar, and baked.

It was watery.

Erin suggested salted and draining the squash next time, as if it were eggplant. I might try that.

But today, I ate the leftovers for lunch. They were no longer watery, but instead smooth and dense. Perfect, in fact. I am assuming that the liquid exuded by the squash was gradually soaked up by the potatoes and béchamel. In any case, now I know how to use summer squash in a gratin: cook it the day before, and reheat to serve.