Friday, August 31, 2012

CCC 043 - Peteris Vasks

This installment of the Consonant Classical Challenge features Latvian composer Peteris Vasks. Vasks is the son of a Baptist minister, and his music reflects a deep spirituality. For the most part, Vasks compositions have a serenity to them, with slow-moving harmonies.

His choral composition Dona Nobis Pacem is a good example of Vasks' compositional style.

The subject matter doesn't have to be overtly religious, though. The Concerto for cor anglais (English horn) is one of Vasks's most popular works. And although it's an orchestral work with no stated program, it still has that same sense of spirituality as his liturgical compositions.

Many people wrongly associate contemporary composition with angry, confrontational sounds. Vasks music is anything but. His music is personal and expressive, and exudes an aura of calm. Imagine the effect his Musica dolorosa for string orchestra would have on an audience bracing themselves for an onslaught of atonality.

Peteris Vask has composed orchestral works, concertos, chamber music and choral works that have been enthusiastically embraced by performing groups and audiences -- in Europe. His recordings do sell well in this country, but his music is largely absent from the concert halls of America. And to me, that's something of a puzzle, as Vasks should (I think) appeal both to traditional concert-goers as well as folks just discovering classical music.

Recommended Recordings

Peteris Vasks: Symphony No. 3; Cello Concerto [Hybrid SACD]

Peteris Vasks: Message - Cantabile (1979); Cor anglais Concerto (1989); Message (1982); Musica dolorosa (1983); Lauda (1986)

Music of Peteris Vasks

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Collecting -- and collecting information 4

I continue to gather information about Japanese tin toy cars of the 1950's-60's the hard way -- by direct research. All of this, of course, in preparation for a talk I've been volunteered to give (the purpose of the Collecting -- and collecting information series).

A recent purchase (see The Straco Layout, Part 26 - Maxing out the Motorway) provided me with some more information about this subject, and additional examples of ways one can learn more about a hobby.

The purchase had six vehicles -- three trucks and three cars -- that looked as if they were all part of set. They had the same brand, the same chassis, the same general build and -- most importantly -- the same patina. Because of the brand, I know they were made by the Japanese toy company Namura, but when? I can find no reference works on the subject. (click on images to enlarge)

Mobil retired the "Mobilgas" brand in 1962. Could that be
a clue as to this toy's age?

I know that these type of toy cars were made in Japan between the mid 1950's to early 1960's (when small toy cars were either made of plastic or diecast metal). One of the trucks is marked "Mobilgas." a brand name Mobil Oil used after WWII until it was discontinued in 1962. I'm guessing the truck was made around 1962-63. It wouldn't make sense to market a toy with an outdated logo on it (remember, these were for children to play with, not for adults to collect).

I have another reason for thinking this was made towards the end of the era. The lumber truck that's part of the set is newer than the one I already own (call it truck A).

I think truck B (top) is newer than truck A (bottom).
Note the lighter patina and brighter colors of B.
Truck B (left) and truck A (right).
Note the improved design of the
truck B chassis.
There are some minor differences, especially in the chassis. The newer model (truck B) has a reinforced and painted frame. Note the age of truck A's frame. If truck B were older, the white paint would be closer to yellow, and have accumulated more dirt.

Because the of all six of the Namura chassis are identical, I'm assuming the same age for the three cars as for the trucks. This, even though the body design suggests more of the automotive styles of the pre-fin 1950's than the 1960's. The police car (car B)in this set is far different than the one I picked up earlier (see The Straco Layout, Part 21 - The Flat Arm of the Law).

Both cars bear the "TN" trademark
of Japanese toy company Namura.
Both bear the Namura brand, but represent to different levels of quality. Again, the patinas suggest the flat police car (car A) is slightly earlier than car B, but not by much.

Car A uses small stamped wheels made from recycled tin; car B has more expensive rubber wheels. Car B has a friction motor, while car A has nothing. The frame of car A is unfinished tin, while car B has a painted white frame.  And car A is much flatter than car B, requiring less tin to make. Both sport colorful lithography, though.

Bottom line: car A was made to hit a much lower price point than car B. If nothing else, I now know that Namura built at least two different lines of small toy vehicles -- and probably more.
Car A (left) and car B (right). Although very different
in construction, there is a strong family
resemblance in the lithography design.
Of course, any of my assumptions could be wrong, which would change everything. But I don't think they are. Maybe when all this is said and done I should write the reference work I'm so desperately looking for!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mirian Conti shines in Nolstalgias Argentinas

Nostalgias Argentinas: Piano Music of Argentina
Mirian Conti, piano
Steinway & Sons

Argentine-American pianist Mirian Conti has long championed the music of South America, recording a cycle of Villa-Lobos piano concertos, a collection of Spanish composers and one ofArgentine composers. Her new release, Nostalgias Argentines focuses on Argentine composers of the 1920's, many of whom are little-known to American listeners.

 Conti may well change that with this recording. The piano works all have the flavor of South America, mixed with a European post-romantic aesthetic. The result is an attractive blend of lush harmonies and strong rhythmic pulses. Several of the works are based on traditional Argentine music, such as the Danzas tradicionales of Remo Pignoni.

Carlos Guastavino also uses folk melodies as the basis for a set of imaginative piano minatures in his Caontos populares.

Mirian Conti does an excellent job with this material. Technically challenging works are performed with seeming ease. The balance between classical and folk elements never waivers -- at no time does the music sound like a pastiche of Argentine folk music. Conti makes the music bounce, without being a slave to the beat. Rather, she relaxes the tempos when the piece needs to breathe. The end result is a thoroughly delightful piano recital that -- while full of unfamiliar music -- should appeal to just about anyone.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Straco Layout, Part 26 - Maxing out the Motorway

I believe I'm finally finished with one phase of the Straco Express layout (read more about the whole project here). With one purchase, I've accumulated enough vehicles to properly populate the roads on the display. (click on images to enlarge).

A set of six Namura vehicles came up for auction on eBay, and I was fortunate enough to have the winning bid. I'm not sure whether all six were sold originally as a set, but I would not be surprised if that were the case. They all are about the same age, made the same way (more on that later), and have similar shapes. At the very least, I would guess that the three cars were sold as a set, and the three trucks as another set.

Three Namura cars: Fire Chief, Police, and Taxi.
The three cars all share the same body style, and are only different in their lithography. Two of the three trucks (the lumber truck and the Mobilgas truck) have identical bodies. The school bus is a little different, but the contour of the cab is the same as the those of the other two vehicles.

Three Namura trucks: School Bus, Lumber Truck, Mobilgas Truck
Truck A (bottom) appears older
than truck B (top).
I already had a Namura lumber truck, and my original plan was to keep the one in better condition and sell the other. Now I don't think I will. The new arrival (call it B) seems to be made later than the first one I picked up (call it A). The undersides are different -- truck A has an unpainted carriage, while truck B not only has a painted one, but one with an embossed "Y." That embossing gives the undercarriage a little more strength.

The "TN" trademark that appears on the door of truck A has been moved to a less conspicuous place on the rear of truck B. By comparing the patinas of the two vehicles, it's easy to tell which is the newer model (truck B).

Another clue  to relative age: truck B
(left) appears newer than truck A
(right). Note also the reinforcement
of the chassis on truck B.
There are some other interesting differences between these new arrivals and vehicles already on the display -- which I'll explore in depth in the Collecting -- and collecting information series.

With this influx of traffic, the Straco Express display appears bustling with activity. And the variety of bright primary colors gives the layout the toy-like look I wanted.

What's next? I'd like to have some more buildings and/or trees -- but those will be a little harder to find. It may be a while before there's another post!

Total cost for the project:

Layout construction:
  • Pegboard: $4.95
  • Flathead Screws: $0.40
  • Molding: $2.49
  • SilClear: borrowed from a friend
  • Green Paint: left over from another project
  • Wood Screws: $3.60
  • Felt Pads: $1.99
Power Pack: $5.90
Small Houses: $3.00
Testor's Gray Paint for road: $1.29
Bandai Areo Station: $8.99

  • Two Japanese toy cars: $2.00
  • A.W. Livestock truck: $4.99
  • Taxi: $2.99
  • Ambulance: $2.99
  • Two Japanese patriotic cars: $6.99
  • Namura Police Car $2.52
  • Haji three-wheel sedan $3.00
  • Namura lumber truck $3.48
  • 1950's  sedan $2.99
  • 6 Namura vehicles $16.99
Total Cost: $81.55

Monday, August 27, 2012

Running the Road to Recovery - 5

Running the Road to Recovery is about coming back from an illness. In June, 2012 I was in training for a 4-mile race, and was able to run 3-4 miles at a decent (OK, mediocre) rate of speed. A kidney infection that triggered a secondary infection to my knees derailed my training. But only temporarily.

We took some time off to visit family (that's why my last post was almost a week ago). Across the street from our relatives is the practice track for the local high school. It seemed like a good time to get some base metrics, so I spent a few days just on the track. It was eye-opening.

Admittedly, my runner's watch isn't the top of the line, but I had no idea it was so inaccurate. The first day I ran exactly one mile around the track. My watch recorded 1.09 km  -- which is about 0.67 of a mile. So now I'm just using the watch to record the time, and mark the distances with careful measurement. Note the difference.

Date Time Distance Run/Walk Rate
8/27/12 33:14 3.21k all run 5.8k/h
8/20/12 38:22 2.36k 3 min./30 sec. 3.60k/h
8/13/12 32:37 1.95k 1.5 min./30 sec. 3.60k/h
8/5/12 29:49 1.76k 1 min./30 sec. 2.88k/h
7/30/12 13:30 .80k 1 min./30 sec. 2.88k/h

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Collecting -- and collecting information 3

I wonder if you can have a hobby about hobbies. I continue to research the subject of Japanese tin toy cars in preparation for a talk I've been volunteered to give (the purpose of the Collecting -- and collecting information series). As I sift through primary resources, I realize that doing the research is kind of fun.

It also occurred to me that research has always been an important component to whatever hobby I've been involved with, whether it was stamps, comics, toy trains, vintage music, or pulp literature. For me, it's important to know as much about the history of the subject in order to put the objects into context.
While researching toy cars from Japan, I learned quite a bit more about
my three Japanese train sets -- including the actual manufacturer of the
set in the middle.

Sometimes, it's been as simple as reading a definitive reference work or two. Other times, (like now) I have to pull the information together from disparate sources and make the connections myself. To me, the difference between collecting and hoarding is the knowledge one has about the objects assembled (well, that and sanitation).

Maybe my real hobby is collecting information -- it's the one constant running through my various interests as they ebb and flow.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Re-opening the Repertoire

Consider this a companion piece to my early post Rusted-shut Repertoire? In that post, I talk about an article Anne Midgette wrote, Little-known composers get their due in the studio if not the concert hall.

Her article led with an example of a neglected composer -- Hans Gal. Gal is a composer I had never heard of before (and that's saying something). So I decided to explore.

A good number of the people I know who listen to classical music seem somewhat incurious about it. They're quite happy to enjoy Tchaikovsky's First Piano concerto, and not think anything more about his ouvre.

Me? I notice that the title says "First Piano Concerto." So I immediately wonder how many more he wrote (two), and what do they sound like (good, not great). I do the same thing with opus numbers. That's Op. 23? How many works did the composer write? Wonder what Op. 1-22 sound like. And Op. 24 and beyond.

So when I see the name of a composer I don't know, I'm instantly curious about their music. So who was Hans Gal? Gal was a Post-Romantic composer who had a promising career in Germany until forced out by the Nazis. He fled to Great Britain, where he remained the rest of his life. Although he continued to compose, his career never fully recovered, and his works were not frequently performed after 1933.

And how did I find out more about his music? I went to YouTube. In time, I may purchase some Gal recordings, but before I do, I'd like to know if it's music I'd like. As a way to audition music, I've found YouTube to be a surprisingly good source for classical music.

Here's what I found:

Promenade Music (1926)

Clarinet Trio, Op. 97

As well as his  Capriccio for Mandolin Orchestra , ASerenade for String Orchestra, Op. 46, Suite for Alto Saxophone and Piano, and some other works, besides. I also found an interview with Kenneth Woods, the conductor whose become a champion of his music.

So I could very quickly get an idea of what the composer's output was like, and decide if I wanted to explore further and perhaps invest in some recordings. (I'd say yes.)

Opportunities to make discoveries like this are all around. You just have to be open to them.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Running the Road to Recovery - 4

Running the Road to Recovery is about coming back from an illness. In June, 2012 I was in training for a 4-mile race, and was able to run 3-4 miles at a decent (OK, mediocre) rate of speed. A kidney infection that triggered a secondary infection to my knees derailed my training. But only temporarily.

I didn't feel like I was working that hard, so I extended the run first to 2 minutes, and then to 3 by the end of the week. One of the things I remembered from training was the importance of breathing. So even though my pace hasn't changed, my breathing hasn't either. I still take a breath every 4-5 steps, and make sure I keep the same pace up hill and down.

This week I'll be doing some running on a track -- my goal is do a full 4 miles and see what my time actually is. I'll also be significantly increasing the running portions, too. Be nice to increase the speed, but we'll go for endurance first.

Date Time Distance Run/Walk Rate
8/20/12 38:22 2.36k 3 min./30 sec. 3.60k/h
8/13/12 32:37 1.95k 1.5 min./30 sec. 3.60k/h
8/5/12 29:49 1.76k 1 min./30 sec. 2.88k/h
7/30/12 13:30 .80k 1 min./30 sec. 2.88k/h

Friday, August 17, 2012

CCC 042 - John Joubert

The Consonant Classical Challenge continues with British composer John Joubert. Joubert has a long and distinguished career as a composer, and there's a good chance you've heard his work. If you enjoy holiday music. Joubert has written extensively for chorus, and several of his works have entered the repertoire for English choral singing. "Torches" is one of his more popular works, and is often featured in Lessons and Carols services in the UK.


Joubert's instrumental compositions feature the same type of linear melodic development, supported by harmonies that, while triadic, have a distinctive contemporary flavor. His Piano Sonata No. 3 shows these tendencies to good effect.

John Joubert is a well-rounded composer, with not just choral music in his catalog. He's composed four string quartets as well as other chamber works. In addition to two symphonies, Joubert has also written concertos for violin, bassoon, oboe, and piano. Here's a sample of his piano concerto.

John Joubert continues in the Second English Renaissance tradition established by Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Although he's performed with some regularity, it's not likely that American audiences will hear his works in concert any time soon -- even Vaughan Williams doesn't get his due in this country. And that's too bad. Because there's more to this composer than just a few Christmas carols. Much more.

 Recommended Recordings

John Joubert - Symphony No.2, William Alwyn - Prelude and Derrybeg Fair, Carlo Martelli - Symphony, Op.4

John Joubert: Symphony No. 1

John Joubert: Choral Music

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Dussek Symphonies: Comfort Music

Dussek: Four Symphonies
Helsinki Baroque Orchestra
Aapo Hakkinen, conductor

Naxos' new release presents four symphonies of Franz Xaver Dussek, who was a close friend of Mozart. After hearing the works, that fact didn't surprise me. There's a distinct similarity in sound.

Dussek was one of several talented composers living and working in Bohemia in the 1760s-1770s,, and his music is very much of its time and place. Just like the early and middle symphonies of Haydn and Mozart, Dussek's are all in clearly delineated forms. And Dussek's melodies similarly drive steadily towards their cadence points, pause briefly, and start the process over again.

That's not to say these symphonies sound trite -- far from it. Dussek captures that same spirit of excitement one hears in Mozart's works of 1770's (when the symphonies on this release were written). Orchestration is light, and the music zips along, more concerned about elegant turns of phrase than expressing deep emotion. While Dussek follows the forms of the day, he does so with imagination. There's nothing cliche about these works, just a feeling of familiarity.

Three of the symphonies follow the three-movement fast-slow-fast structure of the early classical period. They're short, to the point, and entertaining. The last work on the disc, the Sinfonia in B-flat major (Altner Bb3), is more substantial. It has four movements, and sounds more like Haydn than Mozart. The themes are a little more substantial, and more fully developed.

Aapo Hakkinen and the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra find just the right balance with this music. The ensemble is crisp, and plays with a lightness that keeps these works buoyant.

I found these symphonies thorough enjoyable. Comfort food isn't gourmet dining, but it makes you feel good when you eat it. Dussek isn't Mozart, but his music made me feel good when I heard it. So let's just call these symphonies comfort music -- and call this a positive review.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lio and Marmaduke

I've never been a big fan of Brad Anderson's comic Marmaduke. The single-panel strip's been running since the late 1950's, and even as a kid I never found the Great Dane's antics amusing. So I enjoyed a recent installment of Mark Tartulli's Lio quite a bit. (click on image to enlarge)

I'm always appreciative of a comic strip that shows its self-awareness in a clever fashion. I think lobbing a hand grenade from one comic to another on the page qualifies. And for the non-fans of Marmaduke, the image that suggested the strip might go out with a bang simply added to the fun.

 What would have made the gag even better, though, would have been a coordination between the artists of both strips -- similar to what Stephen Pastis and Jeff Keane did with their  Pearls Before Swine/Family Circus crossover gag (Breaking the Fourth Wall of Comics).

But how would Anderson resolve the joke started in Lio with Marmaduke? I don't know, but it's something to think about.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Rusted-shut repertoire?

If there's any consistency to all the things I do in classical music, it's this: to make people aware that there's much more to the art form than just the basic repertoire. My radio program "Gamut" is a weekly survey of that world; the Consonant Classical Challenge offers up living composers that (I think) should enjoy a wider audience; even the CE Classical Challenge, which looked at the repertoire choices of public radio station was primarily concerned about expanding the choices for listeners.

Anne Midgette, in a Washington Post article, shows just how difficult that task may be. Little-known composers get their due in the studio if not the concert hall sums it all up in the headline. Midgette writes:
Although more music is available on recordings, it sometimes seems that less of it is heard in live performance. This is certainly true in the orchestra world, which continues to rely heavily on Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, make occasional forays into contemporary music, and have little room for forgotten composers. 
As Midgette points out, orchestras are scared of losing the audiences they have (that would be the ones that continue to shrink) and so stick to the tried-and-true. She also brings up another issue:
Performers of little-known repertory have to fight the tacit assumption that the work must not have been very good if it was neglected in the first place... [James Conlon] calls it “a misuse of Darwinism” to assume that the works that have survived are automatically better than the ones that haven’t.
But as James Conlon points out -- and it's something I continually try to communicate to anyone who'll listen:
...a more varied musical diet is simply more enriching. “I can hear Mozart over and over, conduct it over and over,” Conlon says; “I never get tired of him. Still, people need to hear new things. . . . There’s always more out there. The act of listening to something you don’t know is very different.” 
Midgette articulates some key problems facing the music world today, and I strongly recommend reading her entire article. It's a look at how recorded repertoire has far outstripped that of the concert hall. The centerpiece of the article are some new recordings of  Hans Gal -- a composer I have never heard of before. I'll be checking out those recordings. I'm always excited to find new music to explore.

How about you?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Running the Road to Recovery - 3

Running the Road to Recovery is about coming back from an illness. In June, 2012 I was in training for a 4-mile race, and was able to run 3-4 miles at a decent (OK, mediocre) rate of speed. A kidney infection that triggered a secondary infection to my knees derailed my training. But only temporarily.

This week I tweaked the run/walk ratio, doing 90 seconds of running then 30 seconds walking. No physical problems, so I'll probably bump the pace up quite a bit more.

And now rather than taking 2 hours to complete a 5k race, I can now do it in just under an hour and half, Better, but still far too long. I'm going to move the running up to 2 minute intervals, and if there aren't any problems, by mid-week increase it to 2.5. There are some races coming up in September I'd love to do -- at a decent pace.

Date Time Distance Run/Walk Rate
8/13/12 32:37 1.95k 1.5 min./30 sec. 3.60k/h
8/5/12 29:49 1.76k 1 min./30 sec. 2.88k/h
7/30/12 13:30 .80k 1 min./30 sec. 2.88k/h

Friday, August 10, 2012

CCC 041 - Paul Moravec

American composer Paul Moravec has been called a "new tonalist," which makes him a perfect candidate for the Consonant Classical Challenge. Moravec composes in a tonal language, but it certainly isn't the same as the late- or even the post-romanticists.

Moravec holds the distinction of winning a Pulitzer Prize for his one of his works, the Tempest Fantasy. Inspired by Shakespeare's play, each movement paints a musical portrait of one of the drama's characters.  In addition to being an award-winning composition, it also serves as an excellent introduction to the composer's style.

Moravec's catalog includes three concertos (for clarinet, violin, and cello respectively), as well as two operas. He hasn't written much for full orchestra, but his chamber orchestra and string orchestra works are quite fine. His 2005 composition "Morph" provides ample evidence of that.

The harmonies Moravec uses aren't terribly complex, but they're often more than simple triads. Moravec's use of dissonance helps give his music a sense of forward motion, pulling the listener along to the next section of the music. "Autumn Song" for flute and piano features an elegiac melody that (to my ears) is the essence of Moravec's compositional language.

Moravec's style can be thought of as a logical extension of the post-romantic tradition. While the tonal traditions of the past form the foundation for his work, they certainly don't contain it. Moravec uses them to create new and original compositions that very much speak to contemporary audiences. In my opinion, Paul Moravec is a composer that should be programmed more often. It can only further his music's appeal.

Recommended Recordings 

Paul Moravec: The Time Gallery; Protean Fantasy; Ariel Fanstasy

Paul Moravec: Tempest Fantasy; Mood Swings; B.A.S.S. Variations; Scherzo

Paul Moravec: Cool Fire; Chamber Symphony; Autumn Song

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Collecting -- and collecting information 2

As I mentioned in the first post of this series, I've been volunteered by my father to give a talk about Japanese tin toy cars of the late 1950's - early 1960's for his toy car collector's club. Why? Not because I'm an expert, but primarily because we still have most of the Japanese tin toy cars he bought for me as a kid. Since he has the material to display (and has to provide a program for the meeting), he thought it only natural that I should share my knowledge about them with the group. Except that I don't really have any.

Lots of pretty pictures, but not much information. Unless
you look closely at the boxes, that is.
Well, make that didn't really have any. Since that first post I've been doing research about the topic, and have learned quite a bit.

One thing I've found out is that the Internet has its limits. I've found an site that lists Japanese toy manufacturers of the postwar era, and that's been helpful. And there are a few interview with some collectors, but that's about it. There's not a lot of posted about the subject -- most of the information I've gathered has been inferential or garnered from passing references.

For example: I purchased a book about Japanese tin toy cars that I hoped would give me a basic overview. Nope. It was a showcase of the top-of-the-line, most desirable vehicles -- none of which I have. However, all the cars were pictured with their original boxes (for Japanese toys, the box can represent over half the value of the item).

The book included a few of Bandai's "Automobiles of the World" series -- just the rarest of the over 100 models offered, of course. But by carefully examining the printed lists on the boxes, I believe that the Bandai Mercedes Benz I have was part of that series. I don't have the original box, but the car is the right size, and the same proportions as the rare color variations shown in the book.

I don't have this model, but I do own a variant of it, so
the information on the box is very helpful.
I've also been looking carefully at eBay listings. I don't really trust the posts, but I do look at the box art (when shown). Note this listing of an antique car with its box. I don't have this model, but I do have the convertible version -- same color, same styling. So even though there's no markings on my car, and the box is missing, it's obviously an "Old-Timer Car" from Shioji & Co. Ltd.

Who was Shioji, what else did they make and how long were they in business? I have no idea.

I'll keep digging, but I'm hoping this presentation doesn't include a Q&A afterwards!

Collecting -- and collecting information

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Straco Layout, Part 25 - The Oldest New Addition

Traffic continues to increase on the Straco Express layout (read more about the whole project here). I recently found another small Japanese tin toy car to use on the display. (click on images to enlarge)

Like many of the cars I've found, the identity of the manufacturer is unknown. But the general style of the graphics and the colors of the lithography suggest to me that this toy might be from the late 1940's - early 1950's.

My understanding is that most Japanese toys made in the immediate postwar era were marked "Occupied Japan," so I'm guessing the early 1950's. Which makes this sedan one of the oldest on the display. Its patina suggests it might even be older than the red, white and blue cars (see Part 20 - A Patriotic Traffic Pattern).

Similar, but not identical. Note the hood ornaments and crests.
Initially, I thought the car bore a strong resemblance to those patriotic pair of cars I added recently. The hood ornament and grille seemed to be the same.

Placing them side-by-side, it's clear that there are similarities. But it's most likely the cars were made by different companies.

I suspect that both drew inspiration from Cadillac. Both have winged hood ornaments and crests that bear more than a passing resemblance to Cadillacs of the era.

Those hood lights don't look
street-legal to me.
One odd thing about the new car, though. It has roof lights that would be appropriate for an emergency vehicle like a police car or fire chief car, yet the family of four riding inside clearly show this is an automobile for civilian use!

Ah well, it was a simpler time. The sedan is a nice addition to the layout/display, so I'm happy. And it's added a little to my understanding of vintage Japanese toys.
The not-Cadillac sedan (center) fits in nicely with the Straco Express layout/display.

Total cost for the project:

Layout construction:

  • Pegboard: $4.95
  • Flathead Screws: $0.40
  • Molding: $2.49
  • SilClear: borrowed from a friend
  • Green Paint: left over from another project
  • Wood Screws: $3.60
  • Felt Pads: $1.99
Power Pack: $5.90
Small Houses: $3.00
Testor's Gray Paint for road: $1.29
Bandai Areo Station: $8.99

  • Two Japanese toy cars: $2.00
  • A.W. Livestock truck: $4.99
  • Taxi: $2.99
  • Ambulance: $2.99
  • Two Japanese patriotic cars: $6.99
  • Namura Police Car $2.52
  • Haji three-wheel sedan $3.00
  • Namura lumber truck $3.48
  • 1950's  sedan $2.99
Total Cost: $64.56


Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Pubcasting and the HD Radio Pretense - Part 2

Who knew my premise would be proven so quickly? Just a few days after posting Pubcasting and the HD Radio Pretense, WGCU in Fort Meyers, Florida, announced they were dropping classical music entirely.

According to,
WGCU already moved its classical music programming from FM to its HD-2 radio signal in 2008. The limited broadcast power of its HD signal, however, had left classical music fans in Naples and Marco Island no alternative but to stream it online from the station's website.
As I said in my post, the trend is for public radio stations to shove their classical programming onto an HD2 channel rather than kill it to avoid a sh*tstorm of bad publicity. And that's exactly what WGCU did. At the time, of course, it was represented as simply continuing the service.

And now that another station is broadcasting classical music in the same market (sort of)? WGCU dropped classical like a hot potato, and is introducing a new format.

Now keep in mind, this new format will still have the same dismal over-the-air audience numbers that classical did on the HD2 channel. This decade-old technology has never really gone anywhere. And with the available of streaming Internet audio via smartphones in cars, HD Radio's become irrelevant.

According to the article, the new format will be AAA.
XPoNential Radio is produced by WXPN in Philadelphia. WXPN also produces "The World Cafe," heard on WGCU-FM. [Station General Manager Rick] Johnson said the genre, known as adult album alternative, "opens the door of public radio to a new group of listeners from college students to young professionals [emphasis mine] to children of the 1960s and '70s who will appreciate this eclectic blend of music."
Check that Jacobs Media study of core public radio listeners again. Internet usage is growing, and it's growing among the younger demographic. In reality WGCU probably doesn't care if anyone listens to their HD2 channel -- they're looking to grow their online listenership. And WGCU probably be successful.

I just wish they were a little more honest about the whole thing. According to Johsnon, "This summer WNPS began broadcasting the same classical music programming as heard on our HD radio channel. As public broadcasting, we want to provide listeners with variety and we do not want to duplicate services."

Fair enough. WGCU's trying to follow the money, which -- with public broadcasting under siege -- seems like the responsible thing to do. But why not be totally honest about it?

After all, have you ever known a public radio station to drop Morning Edition or All Things Considered just because another station with some coverage overlap also carried the programs? (In other words, duplicate services?)

Me neither.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Running the Road to Recovery - 2

As I've outlined in the first post of this series, I'm working my way back to where I was in June -- able to run 3-4 miles at a decent (OK, mediocre) rate of speed. A secondary infection to my knees derailed my training. But only temporarily.

I kept the same pace, but significantly upped the distance. No physical problems, so far. This next week my goal is to get to the two-mile mark. Then I'll start decreasing the walking time and upping the running.

Sure, my pace is consistent. But it's consistently bad. At 2.88k/h it would take me almost 2 hours to complete a 5k race. That's about one hour too long (at least). Time to pick up the pace!

Date Time Distance Run/Walk Rate
8/5/12 29:49 1.76k 1 min./30 sec. 2.88k/h
7/30/12 13:30 .80k 1 min./30 sec. 2.88k/h

Friday, August 03, 2012

CCC 040 - Judd Greenstein

This installment of the Consonant Classical Challenge is a little different. The primary intent of the series was to offer up living composers whose works would fit nicely in concert programs with the basic repertoire. It was my way of demonstrating to traditionalists that there was plenty of vital, engaging classical music being written that deserved to be heard, and that the stereotype of contemporary music was ugly, off-putting noise simply wasn't true.

Judd Greenstein might not quite appeal to the bluehairs -- but he definitely should to younger listeners just starting to explore classical music. Greenstein easily and naturally blends elements of jazz and rock into his music in a way that shows their origins while still sounding organic to the work.

Consider his string quartet "Four on the Floor." To my ears, it's the equivalent of Brahms taking the then hot new dance the waltz and making it a platform for his own musical expression.

Because Greenstein writes in a modern pop vernacular, his music has immediate appeal, and a surface familiarity that helps keep the listener oriented. His work "Sing Along" is aptly named -- it practically invites the listener to hum along with the ensemble!

In addition to being a composer himself, Greenstein actively encourages the development of new music through his work with the arts organization New Amsterdam Presents and its label New Amsterdam Records. As might be expected, since Greenstein works extensively with new music ensembles, most of his work is for smaller chamber groups, some with unusual instrumentation.

His chamber work "Clearing, Dawn, and Dance" is a good example. This 2010 work is composed for flute, clarinet, trumpet, violin, viola and cello. In lesser hands, the trumpet might dominate the ensemble, but not here. Greenstein combines and recombines the instruments in ways that keep the sound fresh, and the ensemble homogeneous.

Judd Greenstein's indie-classical style might not appeal to the Keepers of the Flame among the concert-going set. But for those who might be coming to classical through indie music, Greenstein will make perfect sense. Just like Brahms' waltzes did for the pop music crowd of the 1890's.

Recommended Recordings


First Things First


Thursday, August 02, 2012

Pubcasting and the HD Radio pretense

Jacobs Media just released their fourth annual study of core public radio listeners. There are lots of posts about the marked increase of tech and social media among listeners, which is something the study clearly shows.

But buried in the data is another story, I think. Consider -- according to the report:
  1. HD Radio is only used 6% - a 3% decline from last year.
  2. The average age for listeners who have been a contributor for more than 11 years is 63.
  3. The average age for listeners who have been a contributor for less than 5 years is 50, with 19% being in the 25-34 age group (a demographic that doesn't even appear in the 11+ category).
In the olden days, most public radio stations were primarily classical music and news. Then Morning Edition and All Things Considered became the "tent poles." Both listenership (and giving) spiked dramatically when those two shows were on. So it wasn't long before stations were looking for ways to keep the magic going, by programming more news/talk.

But what to do about classical music? Everyone knows that only old people listen to classical music. They also represented the long-time (and sometimes big money) supporters of the station. But the real money -- and the younger audiences -- were in news/talk. So changes had to come.

No public radio station wants to be characterized as a culture-killer. Witness the firestorm when WETA dropped classical to go news/talk a few years ago. So rather than get rid of classical, some stations simply moved it to their HD Radio digital channel.  "No, classical isn't gone. We still broadcast it, and you can listen just as before -- if you have a special HD Radio, that is."

HD Radio has enjoyed greater usage in the public radio market than the commercial broadcasting field -- but its penetration is still dismal. And (see fact 1), it's shrinking. So for a station to claim that everybody wins when classical gets shoved onto a frequency that no one can receive seems a little disingenuous.  "No, we're not getting rid of it -- we're just putting it in the back of the attic where no one can easily get to it."

Fortunately, there's an upside to all this. Most stations that shift their music programming to HD2 also move it to the Internet. And online listening is an option that's growing among public radio listeners (just like the rest of the public).

The Jacobs Media survey shows the Internet to be the second-most used media for their study group (mobile phones were tops at 96%, Internet second at 91%). And over half regularly listen to content from their smartphone or MP3 player in the car. Sure, it could be podcasts (44% usage for this savvy group), or stored songs, or Pandora (only 18% usage). But there's a good chance that a significant part of it is content from the station -- and not necessarily their broadcast signal.

I have to admit that as much as I hate the programming of over-the-air WQXR (which I think is bland and boring), I love Q2 Music, which is their online-only alternative classical music service. It's innovative, it's fresh, it features living composers and unusual repertoire -- it's great! And it's online.

And I don't think they ever pretended it was available on an HD Radio channel.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Holmboe Chamber Symphonies -- Minature Gems

Vagn Holmboe: Chamber Symphonies 
Lapland Chamber Orchestra 
John Storgards, conductor 
Dacapo SACD 

I wasn’t that familiar with Vagn Holmboe’s music before I received this collection of his chamber symphonies. But after listening to them for a while, I would definitely like to explore the repertoire of this Danish composer further.

Written in 1951, the first of Holmboe’s three chamber symphonies shows a composer in full command of his material. 1 somewhat spare and lean at the beginning, building inexorably as it moves towards its big climax at near the end of the work, before finishing quietly with a reappearance of material from the opening movement.

The second chamber symphony is subtitled “Elegy.” Overall it’s a quiet, atmospheric work. Holmboe makes effective use of mallet percussion instruments, especially the vibraphone, which brings a hint of unearthliness to the mix. Holmboe was a conservative composer, using a primarily tonal language, but the somber harmonies and downward-turning chromatic melodic motifs almost sound atonal.

Holbmoe’s third chamber symphony, “Frise” is actually an orchestration of a choral work of the same name. Both were written to commemorate the unveiling a new frieze at a school. Although technically an occasional work, it’s much more substantial than just a “grand opening” fanfare. Holmboe digs deep into the ensemble, bringing instruments to the fore in groups of two and three to spotlight a melody. It’s a kaleidoscope of instrumental timbres changing in slow motion. The work has six movements, which, with a playing time of about 20 minutes, gives it a somewhat episodic quality and sounding very different in character than the first two works on the disc.

John Storgards leads the Lapland Chamber Orchestra in a compelling reading of these works. The performances sound fresh and engaging – even more so when played on an SACD player.