Friday, November 19, 2010

Bells to celebrate many seasons

Mostly I'm celebrating the discovery that Ellen Kushner's "Sound and Spirit" radio program is available online. I used to be a regular listener to her wonderful mixture of music and stories, but lost track of it when I moved from one NPR/PRI station's listening area to another.

Her website has players and "embed" code for individual episodes. This is my first try at embedding one in a Blogger page. Utterly painless... Odd that it looks like a video player when only audio is involved. The program logo didn't show up properly when I first posted this, but the audio plays -- and that is the point.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Appalachian music themes at Radford University

Strange coincidence... I just discovered that the RU InterLibrary Loan department I've been using a lot this summer is also home to another banjo player who recently began blogging about Appalachian musical culture under the library's auspices.

Bud Bennett's first few entries look great, from highlighting the library's music collection to pointing out the existence of County Sales in Floyd, an old-time-music record distributor that he and I both discovered, as Bud says, "Back in the mid-to-late 1970s, far from the New River Valley..." (He links to a Roanoke Times story about County that I missed a couple of weeks ago.)

Running into Bud's blog (while on an Interlibrary Loan visit to the library's website) reminded me that I've been neglecting this blog... even more than I've been neglecting my other five or six blogs and Websites.

The most recent things I've posted about music have been some tweets about a local journalist-musician's (highly recommended) new book, which I'll recommend to Bud by posting them here again:

Ralph Berrier's reading at the Radford Public Library even had yodeling! And applause for it -- and his writing...

Rave for Ralph's book: "No matter. If he has yet to master the fiddle, he rarely hits a false note on the page."

Local journalist fiddler finds fame & WSJ byline with 'If Trouble Don't Kill Me' Book Excerpt -

Speaking of trouble... This week's Roanoke Times headline about an Appalachian music fan with a Radford University connection was less celebratory, but at least it does have a happy ending:

The university is officially yanking the name off one wing its arts and music building, the part that has been called Powell Hall from one end (and Porterfield Hall from the other).

A few years before I got here, an Appalachian Studies class at the university pointed out that the building's namesake John Powell, along with being a composer and champion of Appalachian music, was a notorious racist.

Plans to drop the name were postponed along with plans to renovate the building, until a call from a Roanoke Times columnist reminded the performing arts school's dean of the issue recently, calling Powell, "a terrible and persuasive racist whose work harmed uncounted Virginians."

Dean Joe Scartelli, now acting provost, got the Board of Visitors to act quickly (if belatedly), officially dropping the name last week. I hope the university facilities folks and website editors scrub it away soon, without whitewashing the historical fact that the school let the name stand for 43 years. Was the naming of the building a conscious act of "whiteness" in 1967? That was a big year in the Civil Rights movement, with an important Virginia case before the Supreme Court, the ironically named "Loving v. Virginia," and a future publisher of the Roanoke Times and Radford board member -- covering the "Mississippi Burning" case for The New York Times.

For anyone not familiar with RU and its arts facilities, here's one last coincidence or bit of irony: While plans to renovate Porterfield/Powell were on hold, the school built a fine new performing arts center next door and named it for Douglas & Beatrice Covington.

Along with being a patron of the arts, Dr. Covington, Radford's fifth president, was the first African-American to head a predominantly white university in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


I noticed on Facebook that the Carolina Chocolate Drops are in Scotland. Can't find anything of them doing Robert Burns songs, but I wouldn't be surprised if they bring some back...

(One of these is here for comparison...)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

In the company of great writers... a Droid blog experiment

I write like
Kurt Vonnegut

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Maybe I do write like Vonnegut, maybe I don't. But the first paragraph I used to test this promotional text-analysis site -- which produced the result above -- actually came from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

Warning: Geeky section begins here, but I get back to "writers" after next horizontal rule.

This blog item began as an experiment in posting a code snippet online using Blogaway, a Blogger editor on my Droid phone, to see if that attractive "I write like..." box would appear the way the promoters intended.

The bad news: The Droid blog editor converted the HTML tags of the badge's "code for your blog" widget into their encoded-character equivalents, which disabled the code. That is, it created new code to put the symbols like < and > on screen instead of interpreting them as part of the behind-the-scenes HTML code. Instead of the "I write like Kurt..." box, you got something that looked like the garble on the right.

I also wasn't able to edit the code in the"Edit HTML" window of the regular Web interface to Blogger using the Droid's browser, small screen and pull-out keyboard.

The good news: Once I got back to the Mac the fix was a simple copy-and-paste operation.

Bottom line: You'd think a phone using Google's Android operating system would have an elegant and powerful built-in app for editing blog posts in Google's Blogger system. If it does, I haven't found it.

To be fair, Blogaway does seem fine for more conventional posts, but I don't think I'll try it with code again soon. It'll take a while for the eyestrain to wear off after this first attempt.

Here's more information on the program for other Droid users:

Back to the "I write like..." writing-analysis page... For more background on the page, see this interview with Dmitry Chestnykh. Rocket science or not, it's fun to play with. If I give the text of any page I've written about the Web, with URLs and computer jargon, including the page you're reading, it says I write like Cory Doctorow. I tried again with a few paragraphs from my home page that talked about teaching and my coming to Radford, and I was back to being Vonnegut. When I pasted in a short paragraph about newspapers (which appears under my grandmother's picture on, this was the text:

That's probably a Sunday Boston paper or Springfield Union. The past week's Daily Hampshire Gazettes are stacked on the radiator in this photo taken by my father. I started delivering the Gazette in junior high school and still remember columns by Arthur Hoppe making me laugh--the first byline that ever stuck with me.

and this was the report:

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Now that makes me feel old. I wonder what did that? Maybe those old New England places and newspaper names kicked the analysis into "Last of the Mohicans" mode? Anyhow, it's nice to see some variety in the reports. I grabbed a New York Times story about the Supreme Court's conservative shift (by Adam Liptak), and said it sounded like Stephen King. Just scary, I guess.

Final test: I went over to and grabbed a few paragraphs of Cory Doctorow's blog.

It says he writes like Ben Franklin.

No it doesn't. I made that up. You can't always get things to come out as ironically as you want. It said he writes like Cory Doctorow. Except when he writes like Kurt Vonnegut.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Linking around a Web of ragged memories

As a pre-college-graduation present to myself many years ago, I bought a guitar from a guy who bought it from another guy, named Dave Lindorff... whom I have just stumbled upon, thanks to a Web link to some of his journalistic work. And one link does tend to lead to another.

I'm not sure I ever heard Dave play -- although I did learn a tune or two from his brother Gary. And I don't think I knew that Dave and I both chose journalism as a career some 40 years ago.

Strangely, though, one of the first songs I played on that old red sunburst Epiphone Frontier, with its pickguard decorated in cactus flowers and lariat loops, was "Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag," which Dave apparently updated a few years ago and still has on his MySpace page, playing roughly the same guitar part... which I guess we all learned from some combination of Country Joe, Jim Kweskin and Dave Van Ronk.

I still use the same guitar lick, which works on a medley I start with "Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate" -- not as politically meaningful, but timeless in its own way.

Mr. Lindorff, however, is now down in my record book as the only person I know of to attempt "City of New Orleans" on the Appalachian autoharp.

(As for the Epiphone, I traded it years ago for a Martin with a fatter fingerboard, but I saw one just like it at Gruhn Guitars last month and was momentarily tempted...)

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Bluegrass jam in the evening; strawberry jam in the morning

The River City Grill, 103 Third Ave. in Radford, Va., isn't just a new home for the Monday night fiddle and banjo jam... It has great food (judging by my first two meals there), a working wifi connection... but no website yet, so I managed to post a Twitter tweet about it with a link to some place with the same name in Irvington, NY. Duh.

Whether by Web or by 5 minute walk, I hope Radford University's seniors find the place in time for graduation on Saturday. If they do, maybe they'll be inspired to re-enlist for master's degrees so they can be regular customers.

Until River City Grill gets a website of its own, I'll post whatever relevant links I find here:
Those first two meals I mentioned: Crab cakes and a salad for dinner; generous vegetarian omelet for breakfast. RCG had its grand opening last Saturday and the menu says it'll be open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. This being final exam week in a soon-to-be-deserted college town, I have my fingers crossed...

Sunday, April 04, 2010

One swallow doesn't make a jug... I mean a summer...

A springtime gift of pink azaleas from an old time radio show:

Breakfast in the Blue Ridge - Audition Sales Pitch:
"“Breakfast in the Blue Ridge” was a popular syndicated country music program featuring “National Barn Dance” performers Lulubelle and Scotty. In this post and the next, we hear two sides of the Audition disc for the series, circulated to station programmers and advertisers."

I like the way Rand's Esoteric OTR site even gives you the label of the transcription disc for a programs... In this case the "program" is actually a promotion for the series, interviewing Lulubelle and Scotty about their new morning show... a nice behind-the-scenes look (or listen).

After the sales pitch comes the sample program, so here it is, if you're more interested in the music than how radio was made in the old days.

It really makes me sorry I don't have them to listen to at drive time these days.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Coffee shop withdrawal, but the band plays on

I'm seriously annoyed that a cold, Tuesday classes, winter weather and general procrastination have kept me away from the Monday night Fiddle & Banjo Jam at the Coffee Mill in Radford all winter... especially since the Coffee Mill was my favorite place in town and has been struggling for a year.

Now it has pulled the plug, at least until some new owner steps up and smells the coffee, or opportunity, or something.

It's hard to believe a college town can't support one independent coffee shop a five minute walk from campus. However, the university houses an on-campus Starbucks, an Au Bon Pain and a Ben & Jerry's with Green Mountain Coffee. I think they all accept students' parent-subsidized meal cards. Even with free wifi, that was a lot for the Coffee Mill to compete with.

On the other hand, closing at 5 p.m. most nights was no way to encourage students to come down off the hill, and a recent decision to close on Sundays killed my pattern of weekly homework-grading visits.

The coffeeshop's only regular evening event was the Monday Fiddle & Banjo Jam, which packed the house, but catered more to bluegrass fans than to the average Radford student... and probably didn't make much money, since the place was so crowded you couldn't get to the counter to order another scone, quiche or latte -- words you won't hear in many bluegrass lyrics.

Anyhow, along with missing some great music on Mondays, I've missed a chance to congratulate maestro Ralph Berrier on his new book, so I'll throw a few links here.

Ralph calls his If Trouble Don’t Kill Me, "the true story of my music-playing grandfather and his twin brother..."

His home page is streaming about 15 minutes of a 1942 Christmas broadcast by Roy Hall and His Blue Ridge Entertainers on WDBJ in Roanoke, complete with Dr Pepper commercial and nice renditions of Fireball Mail, Deep Ellum Blues and more.

If you're not from around here, you may have missed Ralph's project at The Roanoke Times, mapping Virginia's
Crooked Road traditional music events and venues.

Meanwhile, the good news is that Ralph is keeping the Fiddle & Banjo jam alive by moving it a mile or so down Main Street to Wade's Supermarket.

Until I went looking to confirm the rumor, I didn't even realize the session had its own Website!:

I've just gotta get out more.

A couple of loosely related stories by Ralph:

Monday, January 11, 2010

Centennial year for gypsy jazz guitarist

I love coincidences... Another journalist who doubles as a computer geek and triples as a guitar player... (He's terrific at all three, but I'm older and my fingers don't move as fast.) Reading Adrian's interview at a journalism publication tipped me off to a January 23 musical milestone this month...

Five questions: Adrian Holovaty – The Society for News Design:
"5. Is there a bright future for gypsy jazz guitar players?

Yes. Gypsy jazz has enjoyed a renaissance over the last couple of years, probably thanks to the Internet and YouTube. These days, hundreds of videos of world-class players are just a click away, for free, and there’s been an explosion in instructional material. And January 2010 is Django Reinhardt’s 100th birthday. It’s a good time to be playing this type of music."



Local (Radford, Va.) note: Scott Fore plays a Django style too with his Hillbilly Hotclub, but YouTube seems to know him better for another style... Even though he won't have the whole band, maybe he'll do some Django tunes at the River Company Jan. 22.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Don't ever try to milk a kipper

"When It's Night Time In Italy, It's Wednesday Over Here"

Why has this old song come at me from three directions today? Coincidentally (thanks, Bill), the Times reflects on how "All the Rules of the Music Business Have Been Remade" with some discussion of YouTube, mashups, MP3 players and more. On first reading, I don't see anything about the phenomenon I've run into lately -- musicians on the Web are competing with a century of recorded history, suddenly available to anyone who pokes into digitized collections of 78s at or scores of collector sites, or unlikely reappearances, re-reappearances, and flights to space (where the song popped into the plot of a science fiction radio series, no also online).

Is it that this 1924 song, needs no mashing, or is self-mashing? I noticed lines in the last verse, not included on some recording, that add what the scholar's might call "cultural/historical context" and might clarify some of the author's and original listeners' influences (as in "operating under...")

If there’s sunshine in Washington, what makes the moonshine dear?
When it’s night time in Italy, it’s Wednesday over here.

If you lay on a mattress, you’ll find that spring is near.
If you haven’t an appetite, just think of Paul Revere.
By the time that they pass a bill to bring back wine and beer,
It’ll be night-time in Italy and Wednesday over here.

Another attempt at lyrics, and another. And an instrumental version, in case you want to sing it yourself.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Not the Apple iTablet or iSlate -- the OLPC XO-3

My XO-1 was the proto-netbook, an innovative low-power mini-laptop with wifi, mesh networking, a rotating screen with a "panel" mode (but no touch screen, alas), and a daylight-viewing mode I still haven't seen matched... as well as some fascinating educational software concepts.

And that was the point: One Laptop per Child had/has a goal of getting teaching machines into the hands of children around the world.

Alas, that first XO also had a keyboard that was a royal pain -- not just built for child-size fingers, but prone to "stuck" membrane keys for "ctrl" and "alt," which rendered my XO useless, especially after "pinching" a key to unstick it caused a rip in the membrane. (Presumably school systems met with the same problem acquired bushels of replacement keyboards, along with these easy-repair instructions.)

I wasn't surprised to see the XO-2 "concept" design last year featuring only a touch panel in place of the keyboard half of the laptop, eliminating the XO-1's weakest link and creating an intriguing two-page "electronic book," with either half usable as an iPhone-style touch-panel keyboard or display.

But now OLPC has taken the conceptual evolution another step, simplifying things even more with the

XO-3 concept design

That first typing-surface image made me laugh, reminding me instantly of the screen-keyboard configuration of my second computer, circa 1985, the Tandy TRS-80 Model 100. It ran on four double-A batteries, had a text editor, communication ports and a programming language, and I used mine for about seven years, including some news-reporting trips on the backroads of coastal New England.

Meanwhile, I'll keep watching the Apple tablet gossip. (There's even some speculation that the XO screen I like so much might play a part.) Whatever happens, I certainly hope they don't seriously call it the "iSlate," no matter how much the name might appeal to procrastinators.

As for the thin just-a-panel XO-3, while folks like Forbes magazine speculate about roadmaps and practicality, I have a mental image of thousands of school kids holding panels above their heads, wirelessly networking their screens together to build a composite-image reminiscent of sports-stadium audience card-stunt displays... but a thousand times more creative... and saying... whatever the 21st century generation wants to say to the world.

Friday, January 01, 2010

New Year traditions...

Welcomed with a new calendar from the Floyd County Historical Society (bought at the last Floyd ContraDance) and some ritual foodstuffs I learned about when I lived in North Carolina, here's to 2010...

I didn't do anything wild on New Year's Eve, but, if the mountain roads stay driveable, I may try for the “Howl At The Moon” benefit concert with Windfall and others, Saturday, January 2, at 7 p.m. at the Floyd Country Store, although not on its calendar.

How else to celebrate?

(If any of my Web production students are reading... take a look at that Floyd County Historical Society page, figure out why it's in the condition it's in, figure out who is in charge, and make them a redesign offer they can't refuse!)