Mystery Serials

The Beauty of Great Music

Photo by Mohammed Mehdi on Unsplash

I found this music survey on a blogger friend’s post over at ARHtistic License. She also found it elsewhere here at A Guy Called Bloke. I thought it would be fun to answer myself.

1.) How important is music in your life?

I would say it’s fairly important. I sing in a church choir — currently on break due to the pandemic — and have sung in choirs or musical groups pretty much continuously since I was a high school freshman.

Below is a song I’ve sung with my church choir. (This isn’t my choir performing.)

It’s taken me a long time to get to this point, but I have recently been venturing out into solos. I took a few music electives in college including private voice lessons. Music can inspire me in different ways for different things that I do.

2) What is your favorite type of music and what is your least favorite?

I agree with Andrea of ARHtistic License that I like all sorts of music. This is partly what makes it difficult to define my tastes to someone else or even to myself at times. Lately, I listen to a lot of classical, jazz, folk or folk rock, so maybe those are favorite categories, although those are fairly broad categories. I also like world music, opera and “popera”/classical crossover music. I listen to music in a bunch of different categories and from different time periods, including decades that predate me.

To make things more confusing, I also like music that is a fusion of different styles …

or songs that have been flipped from one style to another.

Earlier, I would say that heavy metal was my least favorite style of music, and that is still, probably, mostly true. I discovered that Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a band I like, is considered “symphonic metal,” so there are exceptions. I’ve also found I can appreciate some operatic, symphonic or folk metal, but I explore these cautiously, because the themes are often dark or pagan. Sound wise, these can be interesting. Rap is probably not something I would normally listen to, but there have been exceptions there too. I wouldn’t listen to “cop killer rap” or something that was full of curse words, etc.

There are songs or singers I don’t really like even under the categories I like the most, so my interests are broad and yet discerning. As I said, it is difficult to pin down.

3) Do you have a music collection or do you listen to whatever on whatever?

I do have a CD collection, but lately, I listen to more music on YouTube or Pandora radio or on Alexa. YouTube is how I discovered Peter Hollens and his acapella multitracking videos …

and this crazy woman, Malinda Kathleen Reese, and her funny Mad Lib style Google Translate Sings videos.

In the late ’90s, I worked in a bookstore. A coworker of mine was very interested in ska music, and, at the time, I thought it wasn’t for me. Then, in more recent times, I learned that one of the Wii Just Dance songs I like a lot is from a ska band. So, I went on a YouTube binge discovering ska songs I like.

One rock subgenre I like is surf rock. I kind of associate that style with the ’60s, but YouTube helped me discover a current band that is creating new music in that style. You can see though that they are going with a retro ’60s feel with their hair, outfits and setting.

4) Are you a singer, hummer or whistler?

Yes, I would say I do all three at different times, but I try not to be bothersome to those around me by humming or whistling. I do remember whistling absentmindedly recently, and my dad suddenly turning to me.

This song has a pretty whistled chorus …

5) Show through links your five best songs.

This is a hard one. It’s not that I don’t have favorites. It’s just hard to narrow it down to what are the top ones out of all the favorites. Since my musical interests are fairly wide, it’s also hard to compare apples to oranges, favorites in different categories. I will link different picks throughout this post, which will, hopefully, give you some idea. I do think of “Rhapsody in Blue” by Gershwin as my favorite classical/orchestral piece.

7) Have you ever been to an outdoor concert?

Yes. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a major concert that was outdoors, but, as a reporter, I sometimes covered local outdoor concerts. Some towns sponsored outdoor summer series of concerts, and I attended some of them and wrote about them. Right now, I’m having difficulty remembering which groups I saw perform, but I know I saw a local band called The Infernos.

8) Do you ever go out to see music live? When was the last time you went to a concert/gig?

Maybe, a month or two ago, I went with a friend to an outdoor church worship band experience. I’m not sure it was exactly a concert. It was more of an interactive singalong. Since then, a brass band performed, again outdoors, at my own church, but, sadly, I had a migraine and missed it.

8) Do you sometimes feel like dancing when you hear music? Under what circumstances, do you dance?

I love dance fitness. I have tried dance fitness from DVDs or videos in many different styles: Latin, jazz, ballet, ballroom, country line dance, hip hop, reggae, African, disco, retro, club, etc. However, I’m an introvert, and, for me, dancing is something I do alone for my own health and happiness. The chances of me breaking out the dance moves at a crowded party are pretty much nil. If you happen to catch me in the right mood with a small circle of friends, you might see me dance. If I’m in a good dance fitness habit, I am more and more inclined to want to dance when I hear music. I might spontaneously make up my own choreography if I’m alone. I have even semi-danced in the grocery store aisle while shopping, but my introverted self would only do this if I was alone in the aisle.

9) When do you listen to music?

I would probably listen to music more often if I didn’t need to worry about bothering anyone else with it. I’ve been having trouble lately with headphones too. I do often listen to music while I’m dressing and getting ready for the day (something energizing,) while I’m exercising (also energizing,) when I’m relaxing before bed (something mellow) or even to help me sleep, (something very, very mellow.) For a while there, I had Alexa playing music for me while I was cooking. You can ask her to play “music for cooking,” and she comes up with some interesting playlists.

This is a funny, food-themed jazz song “she” played for me one time while I was cooking.

10) If you answered yes to 6 & 7 — who did you go and see?

I answered these as parts of 6 and 7. I’ve seen Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Casting Crowns, Fernando Ortega, a few others.

11) Is there a song that makes you emotional?

There are probably several songs that would be fitting, but the first one that came to mind when I thought about it was “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables.

12) Do you feel that you have a special connection with some types of music? Which types?

Hhhhmm…. I think that would be folk. I’m interested in several subgenres under this umbrella. I think that if were a songwriter, my songs would fall under this category. As a singer also, I think lyrical songs in this category would suit my voice.

Lately, I’m enjoying some modern folk groups/singers like The Lumineers.

13) Have you ever tried singing in a karaoke bar? What was that experience like?

As I’ve explained, I have had some private voice lessons in college and have sung in choirs for years. More recently, I have begun venturing out in some solo singing, but it took me a while to overcome my stage nerves. (I can’t say I’m completely rid of them yet.) I have gone out with friends once or twice for karaoke, not so much to a karaoke bar but a karaoke pizza place. I didn’t get up the courage to sing, but a friend of mine sang and gave a pretty good Cher impression.

14) Do you listen to music when writing? If so which?

I don’t often listen to music when writing. I seem to need quiet to focus. If I do listen to music, it would be instrumentals, either classical, movie soundtracks or YouTube playlists created for writing. There are songs with lyrics that have inspired my writing, but I will listen to those right before writing a scene, not really simultaneously.

Movie soundtracks can be inspirational. I really enjoyed the soundtrack to The Man from U.N.C.L.E, the 2015 movie. It might help with certain creative stages like imagining the action scene, but I think, would be a little too exciting for me for the actual typing and sentence forming.

15) Have you ever gone to see a musical? Provide link please.

I am actually quite a musical enthusiast, which is interesting, because I forgot to even mention this category in the opening of this post. I could have gone back and edited that, but I thought it was more interesting to take note of that omission and the complication of giving an overview of my interests.

I’ve seen several musicals at New Jersey Performing Arts Center. These include The King and I, The Sound of Music and The Fiddler on the Roof. I saw Les Miserables live in London. A friend and I went to see two Disney plays on Broadway: Mary Poppins and The Lion King. I saw Big River, based on Huck Finn, at another playhouse local to me. Additionally, I’ve seen several others in smaller high school productions, such as Bye Bye Birdie.

16) Do you know all the lyrics to all the music that you listen to?

I have a pretty good memory for lyrics, but I can’t say I have a perfect memory for it. I’d probably be fairly decent at a game that asked you to remember lyric to songs … provided I was familiar with the song.

17) When you are listening to music — are you listening to the music itself or the lyrics too?

It depends on how distracted I am, if I am listening to music while doing other things. I listen to both. I can sometimes enjoy simple songs with simple lyrics, but the writer in me enjoys music with more complex lyrics. I can also be pretty analytical of songs and their meanings, even with songs I don’t particularly like.

18) Do you listen to music when you go cycling/jogging or working out at the gym? [or any other physical activity?]

Yes. I do a lot of YouTube workouts. Sometimes, the fitness instructors don’t have the license to use very interesting music in their workouts, so I’ll find my own music to play on another tab.

19) Many operas are in French, Italian or German. If you listen to opera, do you understand the libretto (text) or are you happy to get the main idea (gist)?

A little bit of both. I actually enjoy a lot of different music in foreign languages, not just opera, and it isn’t completely necessary for me to understand everything to appreciate it. I do appreciate an English translation and will often look it up if it’s not provided. I have studied both French and German so know a little of both. I’ve never studied Italian but have picked up on a few words and phrases from Italian restaurant menus and studying librettos side by side with the English translation. Some years ago, I saw a Metropolitan Opera film of Les Comtes d’Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach. I liked it so well that I borrowed the soundtrack from the library. Because French was already somewhat familiar, after looking at the French and English side by side, I found it much easier to understand than other operas.

This is just an aria from that opera in a concert format, but I love this one with a mechanical doll that winds down and has to be wound up again.

Here is another foreign language song, in Arabic, that was just recommended to me by YouTube. It sounds so different from western music but so pretty. She has a lovely voice. The English translation is provided.

20) Are you deleting any questions? If so, which ones?

This one … I guess.

21) Do you enjoy watching music videos? What music videos do you enjoy watching most?

I think it should be obvious by now that the simple answer to that question is “yes.” Some music “videos” on YouTube aren’t really videos at all, just the sound with a still picture as in the video I posted for the soundtrack of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. It’s always fun when you can find a music video that has great music and is visually interesting. I like Katie Melua and think she has a unique quality to her voice. This video is interesting, and someone has commented that the effects are odd. I guess it is a bit surreal, but I think it is meant to represent her traveling in her mind/dreams.

Oh Frabjous Day! I Read Lewis Carroll’s “The Jabberwocky.”

It has come up in a few different contexts on this blog that I am a fan of “Alice in Wonderland.” I also really enjoy “The Jabberwocky.” It’s a nonsensical poem, and yet the nonsense words are suggestive by their sounds of different meanings. “Frabjous” might be similar to fabulous or joyous. I’m sure Carroll had some other inspirational words in mind, but even without knowing them exactly, you get the feeling that “frabjous” is something good. The poem might be nonsense, but it’s witty nonsense.

A few of the nonsense words in the poem are explained by Humpty Dumpty in “Through the Looking Glass.”

  • Brillig: four o’clock in the afternoon (the time when you begin broiling things for dinner).
  • Slithy: a portmanteau of “lithe” and “slimy”
  • Tove: a creature the resembles a hybrid of a badger, a lizard and a corkscrew. It lives under sundials and subsists on cheese.
  • Gyre: to go round and round like a gyroscope.
  • Gimble: to make holes like a gimblet.
  • Wabe: the grass-plot round a sun-dial.
  • Mimsy: a portmanteau of “miserable” and “flimsy.”
  • Borogove: a type of bird that resembles a mop.
  • Mome: to be lost from home.
  • Rath: a type of green pig.
  • Outgrabe: a noise that’s between a bellow and a whistle, with a kind of sneeze in the middle

The poem tells of the slaying of a dangerous creature (the jabberwocky,) and it has the feeling of a fairy tale or knight story with the slaying of a dragon.

Below, I read the poem for my YouTube channel.

Try the Pomodoro Technique

For Time Efficiency

Photo by Michael Meyer on Flickr

I never felt I would be sharing a post on a time efficiency technique, because I don’t feel like time efficiency is my greatest strength. But because I’ve had some frustrations in meeting my goals and finding or managing my time to work on them, I looked into this technique recently and tried it.

“Pomodoro” is the Italian word for tomato. I have some funny associations with this word. When I was a teenager with a singing and drama group, our leader, an Italian-American, and another teen on the team had a running joke about “pomodoro.” They would say it very dramatically, with Italian inflection and hand gestures, and joked that if you said it just like that, others would be convinced you were saying something important in Italian.

Well, I’m not sure that’s true, but I remember those funny guys when I think about this technique, which is named for the tomato “pomodoro” kitchen timer. The idea is that you choose a task and then set aside 25 minutes for focused work on that task. You set the timer for 25 minutes.

When the time is up, you record your progress and then take a five minute break. After the break, if you still need to finish the task, you set the timer once again for 25 minutes and then another five minute break. A 25-minute work session plus a five minute break equals a pomodoro. After four pomodoros, you can take a longer, 15 minute break. Then, you start over again, perhaps choosing a new task. You can find an online pomodoro timer here.

I have recently used this technique for different computer work related jobs: writing emails, writing on one of my Creature Kingdom children’s stories, creating the slide visuals for a YouTube video and even for writing this blog post.

Lately, my break rewards have been watching YouTube videos for fun that are unrelated to my projects. I’m not sure I will always go with that reward. One article I read suggested doing something not involving a screen during your break times. I may sometimes decide to get up and move around for a bit. Some fitness YouTubers even create mini fitness routines for, say, the duration of a five minute song. I can see how something like that might be useful if you’re in a situation where you are working from home. (I understand you might not be able to get away with this in an office situation!) You can stretch out and avoid some of the tension that comes from working on a computer for long periods. I sometimes find that movement and music help inspire my creativity anyway, so if you are like me in that sense, this might actually help you to work better.

Here is a video from a fitness YouTuber I follow who has several of these “five minute sweat sessions.”

I have had a number of struggles with fitting in my creative projects. Lately, I’ve had to attend more to my aging parents and some of their physical and other needs. I also work in doggy care, and the demands of caring for dogs, particularly young and active ones, cause frequent disruptions. Thankfully, my parents are having some improvement in their health, and I am finding more blocks of time when I can create. When I do have this time, I don’t want to complicate things by sabotaging myself.

Photo by Jonas on Unsplash

Years ago, I read a book about Sweden and Swedish culture. The writer compared Swedish friendliness to a ketchup bottle, saying, “At first, nothing comes out, but once it starts coming, it’s hard to stop it.” (In spite of the quotation marks, this is not a quote verbatim. In fact, I have forgotten the book title and author, so I can’t give it a proper attribution.)

I’ve known some Swedish-Americans and have a bit of Swedish heritage myself. The saying seems to be true of people I know. I have since then often thought about that ketchup analogy but applied to a completely different subject — creative writing. Though it’s unintentional, it seems we are sticking with the tomato theme in this post.

Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

There are times when creative ideas are flowing fast in my creative writing, but if life causes me to neglect a project for a while, at first coming back to it, the ketchup bottle of creativity requires a little pounding. It’s also at these times when I might be tempted to procrastinate or do some Internet wandering that is not necessarily pertinent to the task at hand.

While writing, I do find it necessary to search the Internet for, perhaps, thesaurus use, visual inspiration for writing a scene or what I call “mini research.” For instance, I just recently named a minor character in my children’s story, a fox. Foxes are supposed to be clever, so I looked up “boys’ names that mean clever,” found a list on a baby name site and chose one … Redmond. Redmond is a good name for a fox, isn’t it? I only now see the similarity to Redd Foxx, the lead actor in “Sanford & Sons,” but I still think, Redmond it is.

I think the Pomodoro Technique helped me a good deal. I stayed off of email and Facebook during my focused blocks of work. I forced myself to concentrate on the matter at hand, and soon the ideas were flowing more easily. After each pomodoro, I recorded my progress in my tasks. With my writing tasks, I recorded a word count but also summed up any revisions and recorded any Internet searches.

With the timer going, I was also more motivated not to linger on Internet information that wasn’t pertinent. For instance, I looked up information relating to carnival rides for my Creature Kingdom story on Hyacinth Mouse. I didn’t remember what a tilt-a-whirl ride was like, but after looking into things, my imaginary ride became a hybrid of a tea cup ride and and a tilt-a-whirl ride. I didn’t need to watch an entire video of a tea cup ride, since that is already familiar, so I stopped it and didn’t linger on that information.

My own illustration of Hyacinth Mouse in her tea cup ride

This is very silly, but around midnight, after my first day trying this method, a song was in my head, “Pomodoro, pomodoro, pomodoro!” It wasn’t a “pomodoro” song. It was Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” song from the 80s, but I had mentally replaced the repeated “Amadeus” with “pomodoro.” I wasn’t even particularly trying to be clever. My brain just made an instantaneous, almost subconscious association. The two words do have the same number of syllables and some similar sounds in similar places. Note to self: midnight brain might be creative? Maybe, a “pomodoro” song will come to your mind if you are feeling successful.

Seriously, I think the method has helped me to set aside some focused time and limit distractions. It is also easier to focus for a short period when you know you have a break coming up. I would recommend it for writers and students with studies as well as those doing other types of work on a computer.

Would you try this technique? Have you already tried something like this or some other time efficiency techniques? Let me know in the comments.

Coloring Page Freebies

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

I made these coloring pages somewhat recently, sharing them on Facebook a few months ago, but just recently added them to my site. These feature creature characters from my Creature Kingdom series — well, planned series. I have The Journey of Digory Mole, and there are two others in the works, another illustrated story, Hyacinth Mouse and the Twirly Whirly Carnival and a longer book involving Digory Mole, a new sidekick, Willy Lee Otter, and lots more animal friends they meet along the way, including a group called the Busy Beavers Guild.

The coloring pages are not really illustrations from Hyacinth Mouse but they do feature some new characters that will be introduced in this book. I chose a couple of virtues as themes. Feel free to share with your children, grandchildren or other young friends.

Juniper Bunny and Hyacinth Mouse
Harrison Hedgehog

You can find a few others on my Coloring Pages page.

The ABCs of SAT Vocabulary

25 Vocabulary Words in Pictures and Sample Sentences

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

Here are 25 vocabulary words taken from Barron’s SAT vocabulary flashcards. I have added my own example sentences and found photos to illustrate the sentence concepts. Hopefully, this visualization will help you to understand and recall the definitions. Even if you are not preparing for the SAT, this list might help keep your vocabulary sharp.

There are only 25 words in this list, and not 26, because there are no words beginning with X in this flashcard set.

Apprehension

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

[ˌaprəˈhenSHən] 1) fear of future evil; 2) understanding; 3) arrest (of a criminal)

Jake was filled with apprehension when he thought about tomorrow’s exam.

Benevolent

Photo by Tom Parsons on Unsplash

[bəˈnevələnt] disposed to do good

He truly was a benevolent man and often found ways to help the homeless in his city.

Consensus

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

[kənˈsensəs] agreement arrived at by a group as a whole

Chris talked to his coworkers, mentioning three local restaurants where they could get take-out, but the group couldn’t come up with a consensus.

Detrimental

Photo by Jaroslav Devia on Unsplash

[detrəˈmen(t)l] causing injury or damage

Everyone knows that smoking is detrimental to your health.

Erudite

Photo by Pickawood on Unsplash

[ˈer(y)əˌdīt] possessing great knowledge

She had a reputation for being erudite and had an impressive two-story home library.

Fluctuate

Photo by Craig Whitehead on Unsplash

[ˈfləkCHəˌwāt] waver

All day, the weather fluctuated between snow, sleet and rain.

Genre

Photo by Chamindu Perera on Unsplash

[ˈZHänrə] particular variety of art or literature

Mystery is my favorite genre in both books and TV shows.

Hyperbole

Photo by Mike Suarez on Unsplash

[hīˈpərbəlē] extravagant statement (usually not meant to be taken literally)

Ann was prone to hyperbole. She said she was “hungry enough to eat a cow” but felt full after eating three White Castle burgers.

Idiosyncrasy

Lumixbx / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

[ˌidēəˈsiNGkrəsē] individual trait, usually odd in nature

The fictional detective, Hercule Poirot, is known for his idiosyncrasies like straightening objects and laying down a napkin on a public bench before sitting on it.

Juxtaposition

Photo by Greg Jeanneau on Unsplash

[ˌjəkstəpəˈziSH(ə)n] state of being placed side by side or close together

The green building looked even brighter when viewed in juxtaposition to an adjoining one, nearly identical but in a dull beige.

Kindle

Photo by Jade Stephens on Unsplash

[ˈkindl] 1) set on fire 2) inspire (an emotion)

Listening to music kindled her creativity while painting.

Labyrinth

Photo by Iulia Topan on Unsplash

[ˈlab(ə)ˌrinTH] 1) something very intricate or bewildering in structure; 2) place made up of twisting passages and blind alleys

She soon felt lost in the labyrinth of narrow streets in this foreign city.

Meticulous

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

[məˈtikyələs] excessively careful

Hannah was a meticulous housekeeper and would notice if an item on her kitchen shelves was an inch out of place.

Nefarious

Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

[nəˈferēəs] very wicked

The cat looked to me like it was scheming a nefarious little plan, probably involving a mouse.

Obscure

Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash

[əbˈskyo͝or 1) make unclear 2) conceal

Fog obscured his view of the road.

Pragmatic

Photo by Peter Ivey-Hansen

[praɡˈmadik] concerned with the practical worth or impact of something; dealing with facts

Erin browsed the shop with her friend but was too pragmatic to buy anything she didn’t need.

Quandary

Photo by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash

[ˈkwänd(ə)rē] state of perplexity

Faced with so many vending machines and beverage options, Jose was in a quandary over which to choose.

Retract

Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash

[rəˈtrakt] 1) take back 2) draw back

The woman accused her neighbor, at first, thinking she recognized his shadowy figure by the fallen body, but she later retracted her accusation.

Somber

Photo by Leonard Laub on Unsplash

[ˈsämbər] 1) dark in color 2) depressing in nature

The fog over the castle ruins created a somber atmosphere.

Trite

Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash

[trīt] not fresh or original

After everything she had been through, she felt her friend’s advice to “keep her chin up” sounded trite.

Usurp

From freebibleimages.com

[yo͞oˈsərp] seize another’s power, rank, or authority

In the Old Testament, King David’s son Absalom plotted to usurp the throne from his father.

Vacillate

[ˈvasəˌlāt] hesitate in making a choice

The politician seemed to vacillate on the issues, changing his position to please different factions of voters.

Warrant

Photo by Quinn Buffing on Unsplash

[ˈwôrənt] 1) give adequate grounds for 2) give a warranty for a product

He was angry about being the brunt of a prank, but that didn’t warrant giving the prankster a sound beating.

Zealot

Photo by Maddi Bazzocco on Unsplash

[ˈzelət] person who shows excessive religious or political fervor

(Note — The word is sometimes used in other contexts where someone can be fanatical.)

Sarah’s roommate did most of the cooking but was a zealot of healthy eating, sometimes going as far as tossing Sarah’s junk food snacks in the trash.