Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Cybercast of March 29,2005 Chakavak Ensemble Concert posted

Cybercasts related to the Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Reading Room, Library of Congress

Under the March 29, 2005 entry is posted a link to the Chakavak Ensemble cybercast concert of Persian classical music. Sorry, but it's in Real Media format.

The concert is preceded by about 10 minutes of introductory lectures.

Ensemble Director and Center for Persian Classical Music instructor Nader Majd's intro to Persian music theory starts at 6:47, immediately followed by the first section of the concert, which is a series of improvised tar and tonbak duets. The next section features the ensemble.

The full Chakavak Orchestra is quite a bit larger of course, with setar players, a harpist, a vocalist, more drummers, etc. As I may have mentioned previously, we learn Persian music here in two ways - one by studying and playing tightly arranged ensemble music, the other by studying and practicing the Radif, the improvisational repertoire of Persian music, which is the equivalent of standards in jazz, raga in Hindustani classical music, etc.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Result of Standing Neck Roll Experiment

The Standing Neck Roll, as described in the Up Against The Wall article referenced in the previous post, really helped me make progress towards a full Neck Roll, which is meant to be done on the ground. Scott Sonnon's Last Neck Exercise You'll Ever Need! article has photos, a video demo, and description of the Neck Roll. Sonnon says there are three component Body-Flow

No doubt you as the reader were wondering why I should bother with this. The neck-strengthening benefit is the most obvious one, as pointed out in Sonnon's article. The other benefits are releasing of tension from the neck, upper back, and other body parts and improvement in dynamic flexibility.

Body-Flow, as I understand it, is a form of exercise by which so-called regular people release tensions and improve grace and poise. This sounds like Yoga, doesn't it? Body-Flow training includes Biomechanical Exercises (BME in short), and Kinetic Chains, which are combinations of Biomechanical Exercises linked together in sequence. Holding a posture statically, while useful in the early stages of learning, is generally discouraged in Body-Flow practice because the point is to improve one's ability to smoothly integrate breathing, structure, and movement. Some of the movements are reminiscent of floor gymnastics and/or breakdance, which add to the fun factor. Practitioners are encouraged to create their own Kinetic Chains.

I have been studying and practicing Body-Flow from the double-DVD and the Internet for about 3 months now. I have found that prior or concurrent practice of a joint mobility routine, such as what is found in Warrior Wellness, Super Joints, or Steve Maxwell's Joint Mobility DVD, helps a lot. The joint mobility training is useful for loosening the body, promoting joint health, and releasing tension. Body-Flow, because of the greater variety of leverage and stability demands on the body, leads to even deeper tension releases.

The more I practice Body-Flow and Warrior Wellness, the more I understand why Sonnon prefers to introduce his trainees to these methods first before teaching exercises with Clubbells. If you are too tight when you try to do a Clubbell exercise, you will most likely hurt yourself. This is of course true of any exercise, but especially so with Clubbells. But if you are reasonably loose and coordinated, Clubbell lifting will improve your strength without loss of flexibility.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Up Against the Wall

Article: Up Against the Wall

I've been practicing a type of exercise known as Body-Flow, which is a method for "ordinary" people to challenge themselves with acrobatic movements designed to both release tension and improve grace.

One of Body-Flow's Biomechanical Exercises with which I'm having trouble is the Neck Roll. I'm going to try out the ideas in this article to work towards a full Neck Roll.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Robosapien Dance Machine

Robosapien Dance Machine

Check out SourceForge's May 2005 Project of the Month!

I did some Googling and found that there is a fairly active community of Robosapien hackers. This particular software claims it will do the following:

* Create dances to make your robot dance in time with your favorite tune

* Make your own sketches or movies with your favorite robot star.

* Have your robot do complex stunts or perform a long involved series of commands.

Comic Strip for Musicians

Gan Ainm - by Patrick Latimer & Matthew du Plessis

Some light-reading comic relief... Put down your instrument and kick up your feet a bit...

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Mojo Hand, Mojo Bag, Toby, Conjure Bag, Wanga, Gris-Gris: What It Is

Mojo Hand, Mojo Bag, Toby, Conjure Bag, Wanga, Gris-Gris: What It Is

A good article on the history and background of mojo. The word traditionally referred to a "prayer in a bag" or "portable magic spell", but for some reason some people (mostly white) think it refers to a sexual organ.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

CrossFit: Coaches Corner for Christopher Sommer

Sommer's Olympic Bodies Corner

A collection of articles by esteemed gymnastics strength training author Christopher Sommer, who is working on a book and video series for gymnastic training.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

backfitpro.com - Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance

backfitpro.com - Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance

This book was recommended on the Dragondoor forum as "an excellent presentation of the most current functional spine research and how it applies to health and athlete performance".

Question about Planche/ Front Lever progressions: Kettlebells, Strength, Fitness, Martial Arts

Question about Planche/ Front Lever progressions: Kettlebells, Strength, Fitness, Martial Arts

Excellent advice on training through the planche progression and the front lever progression in gymnastics. I am much further behind in both progressions, but this advice will be no doubt be useful to me at some point. In the former, I still working on the frog stand

In the latter, I'm still working on body rows, which help develop strength for the front lever.

Today, I started doing body rows with my feet elevated on a step stool. Somewhere in the progression would be the tuck lever

The above photos are borrowed from gymnastic coach Christopher Sommer's article, Building an Olympic Body through Bodyweight Conditioning. Check out this article for more information on the planche and front lever progressions.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Dangerous Exercises Essay

Dangerous Exercises Essay

I was reminded last Monday that any exercise can potentially be dangerous, whether it's a barbell lift, Yoga, or aerobics. The conventional deadlift is particularly unforgiving of mistakes. It is a good exercise for lower body and core strength, and it hits the neck and traps as well. I practiced this exercise for 4 years with only one incident, at the very beginning of my deadlift experience. In that time I went from a deadlift of 135lbs (no previous experience) to a max lift of 275lbs.

So what went wrong? I neglected to push my heels through the floor and lift the 255lb barbell with my legs. Why did I make such a rookie mistake? I was distracted for some reason. Maybe I was thinking about music, or women, or something else. Whatever it was, the main point is I was not fully focused on the exercise at hand. The load thus shifted to my lower back and that's why I've been having lower back pain since.

At any rate, this article covers some of the persistent myths about so-called "dangerous" exercises. At some point after I recover from my back pain, I plan to work some straight leg deadlifts, with very light weight, into my routine to further rehab the lower back, as well as help prevent future injury to it.

25 Great Calvin & Hobbes Strips

25 Great Calvin & Hobbes Strips

Truly one of the greatest comic strips of all time!

Technorati: Tag: greasemonkey

Technorati: Tag: greasemonkey

This site is a bit chaotic, but it gives an idea of what the Internet community is doing with Greasemonkey.

Dive Into Greasemonkey

Dive Into Greasemonkey

Free online book on Greasemonkey. An excerpt from the site:

Greasemonkey is a Firefox extension that allows you to write scripts that alter the web pages you visit. You can use it to make a web site more readable or more usable. You can fix rendering bugs that the site owner can't be bothered to fix themselves. You can alter pages so they work better with assistive technologies that speak a web page out loud or convert it to Braille. You can even automatically retrieve data from other sites to make two sites more interconnected.

Greasemonkey by itself does none of these things. In fact, after you install it, you won't notice any change at all... until you start installing what are called “user scripts”. A user script is just a chunk of Javascript code, with some additional information that tells Greasemonkey where and when it should be run. Each user script can target a specific page, a specific site, or a group of sites. A user script can do anything you can do in Javascript. In fact, it can do even more than that, because Greasemonkey provides special functions that are only available to user scripts.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Chest Expander experience so far

I've been incorporating the following Chest Expander workout, targetting the shoulders:

Overhead downward pull to rear x10
Overhead downward pull to front x10
2 arms front chest pull at attention x10
Back military press (diagonal path) x5 (30lb resistance)
Archer (thumbs down) x5
Shoulder Shimmy x5
Overhead pass with arms locked in cross position x10
Whippet x10

Except as noted, I use a cable rated at 20lbs resistance.

I still have trouble distinguishing between resistance training for rehab and resistance training for strength. My shoulder still isn't 100% and is still weak, so I must use the Chest Expanders in a rehab context instead of strength training. This is actually fine because once my lower back feels normal again, I will resume my ring training, and I get enough of an upper body workout from that without increasing my chances of overtraining by adding heavy resistance cable training on top of that.

What was that about my lower back? I'll report in another post

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Thoughts while reviewing last week's lesson

Last Friday's lesson included coverage of one of the basic gusheh of Persian classical music. Gusheh, I suppose, can be thought of as melodic fragments. Certain gusheh, when combined together, become a dastagh, which is very roughly equivalent to a Western scale, but not really. There are 400 gusheh in the classical repertoire.

This gusheh falls into the non-metrical category of Persian music. This means there is no designated time signature or tempo. In notated form, the note values are treated as approximations - more emphasis is placed on the durations of the notes in relation to each other than the Western notion of tying the notes down to a time signature and tempo. I do not know if all gusheh are non-metrical like this, but apparently improvisation in Persian music begins with the study of gusheh.

Some of my teacher's thoughts on playing gusheh:

Before the age of the fossil fuels, the world was quiet. It was not as noisy as today. It's just the age of fossil fuels... the airplane,the automobiles... So the music, in order to compete with the noises, has become louder and louder, and we lost our ears... our ears are completely distorted... Just imagine the world without automobiles and without planes... so that you could listen to the music of the wings of a butterfly... So, I want you to close your eyes and sit down and play this. It's a sort of meditation. It has to give you the melody, that tranquility. If that happens, you're good, otherwise it's not a matter of technicality. So you have to get into the essence of it. You have to open up, you know, this, and go inside deep and try to get the beauty out. So, this [the notation] is just a reference.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Today's Training

The first rehearsal for the June concert is coming up on May 22 and I had yet to start practicing the chosen repertoire, which is entirely composed of selections from Handel's Messiah.

First, though, I warmed up by reviewing the beginner's program from Warrior Wellness, then started playing with selected drills, based on comfort level, from the intermediate program.

I then started practicing the Messiah selections, taking breaks as needed to try to abate the inevitable onset of shoulder soreness. My shoulder has recovered enough from the injury to tolerate short sessions of viola playing before it starts to get sore. During breaks from viola playing, I do any of the following: joint mobility drills such as those from Warrior Wellness, relaxation drills such as those on Fast And Loose, or shoulder stretching and traction using my Jumpstretch mini flexband. There are so many Messiah selections that I was not able to get to the last one in the music packet even though I spent the greater part of the day (including breaks) covering them.

I also combed the Sandow Plus website for online books on chest expander training/strand pulling for drills with my new Lifeline Chest Expanders that would be useful for my shoulder rehab. Noe's book in particular had some drills (eg. Shoulder Shimmy) not found in the other books. I also looked at the books by Bonomo, Danks, and Park. After evalutating each drill that I found with a light chest expander to see which I could do without pain and which I chould not, I began compiling a selection of drills for my rehab used. As I may have mentioned previously, I am a recent convert to training with elastic bands and cables due to their uniquely restorative properties for my shoulder. In other words, my shoulder almost always feels better after a session with these bands/cables. I do not intend to fully replace my freeweight deadlifts and ring training with these bands/cables, but they are an essential part of my personal physical culture for this reason.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Today's Training

Joined a volunteer group and was assigned to landscaping at a local high school. Work included carrying mulch bags, pushing loaded wheelbarrows while trying to keep them steady, weeding around trees, and putting mulch around them.

We also helped another group paint doors but this wasn't nearly as strenous.

Was really sore afterwards

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The breakdance video that inspired me to adopt gymnastic training

Check out this amazing breakdance video featuring Bboy Junior. This inspired some people to change their physical training and certainly inspired me to rethink mine. I originally started lifting weights because that's what I thought I had to do to be able to perform feats of athleticism and grace as exemplified by Bboy Junior, Olympic medal-winning gymnasts, Michael Jordan, John Jefferson, and so on. More specifically, I wanted to be able to do handstands, planches, circles, and flairs.

I recently realized that I could get closer to these goals by adopting gymnastic training methods, instead of waiting a few years to work up to a respectably heavy pressing weight. I learned that strength training can be specific, which is why you cannot take a bodybuilder to gymnastic equipment and expect him to perform immediately like the Hamm brothers.

I started my gymnastic pursuit with gymnastic rings. The official competition-level rings are expensive and can only be mounted from high ceilings. Fortunately, lower-cost rings are available and can be suspended from a tree limb, playground structure, rafter, etc. I ordered mine from here (check with Tyler first for availablility). I also got the Ring Training DVD for exercise ideas.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Today's Training

Breakfast: Cheese Croissant and Tea
Lunch: Brocolli, Cauliflower, Spinach, Greek-style salad, Duck, Spicy Sausages

Gymnastic Strength Day

Took rings to park, but favorite section of playground, the monkey bar beam with the chain-suspended handles, was overrun by little kids swinging around. Kids usually shy away from that due to the height of the beam and distance between handles, but not today. Luckily, I found a nearby tree which I had not noticed before with usable branches for suspending my rings.

Ring Training with Joint Mobility during breaks:

Body Rows x8
Reverse Grip Pushups x8
Pullups x4
Dips x5
Repeat Circuit 2x

Support Holds 15,14,10,10,12 seconds for total just over 1 min.

One of the boys from last week (the 5 year old) once again demanded to play with the rings. This time I told him, "I can't do that. I need your Mom or Dad to tell me its ok". He stubbornly grabbed the webbing of one of the rings and held it. I was going to add that its because I don't want him to get hurt (and me get sued by Mommy and Daddy), but after just a few seconds the other kids drew him back. As for the dips, I did the first 2 circuits with the legs assisting, then for the last set did them with no leg support at all, though with very limited ROM (forgot to "pull myself down"). The last set actually felt better on the shoulders - the leg support made it harder to find a shoulder-friendly groove.

TNT cable (single 40lb) military presses x3 x2

Be Breathed Butterfly practice x5 x3 - Wow! The torso is curling closer and closer towards my face on the descent phase of the Butterfly movement after each set!

Dinner: Rotiserrie Chicken, brown rice, boiled veggies (broccoli, kale leaves, mustard leaves, turnip greens).

Flexband shoulder traction

Tuesday Night Crapshoot

The Tuesday Night Crapshoot is a jam session focusing on free improvisation, held the first Tuesday of the month at Red Room in Baltimore. Free improv may very well be the one musical genre that is equally accessible to musicians of all levels, from raw beginners to professional level players. Other improvisational genres have requirements that can be daunting to the beginning musician: considerable technical expertise, theoretical knowledge, intimate familiarity with the repertoire of the genre, etc. Free improv does not require any of that. This is great for the beginner, because free improv allows him/her to immediately explore the tones of his/her instrument, practice interacting with other musicians, and develop his/her creativity. This makes free improv the perfect complement to Western classical music training, with its rigid emphasis on perfect technique, interpreting the work of composers other than yourself, and not having any opportunity to spontaneously express yourself.

However, I do not wish to mislead the reader and play into the hands of free improv's detractors, who claim any 5-year-old child can free improvise as well as the likes of Cecil Taylor, Sam Rivers, or Fred Frith. There is a substantial difference in quality between the improvisations of an experienced improvising musician with total command of his/her instrument and those of a raw beginner, which become increasingly apparent to the listener as he/she listens to more and more free improv.

As for the Crapshoot itself, my main concern was how my recovering shoulder would react, as I have always been called to play 3 or more times, even when I was a beginner (my guess is the novelty of the viola, since the instrument is rarely heard in free improv). Fortunately, my shoulder held up fine even though I was called up 4-6 times (I forgot - I just remember playing a lot). Despite my long layoff from the viola due to the shoulder injury, I was confident and relaxed. I was also happy to let Jake play my viola, though the thought did not occur to me until well into the 2nd half of the jam session. He was without his instrument, and dependent on friends to lend him theirs, as I found out later; so his instrument for the night was his voice - at which he turned out to excel. He is still very much my superior on the viola, so it was also a treat to watch and here him play mine.

Other improvs that come to memory were the quacking horns - one person selected all the reed players and restricted them to percussive and short-duration notes, so they ended up sounding like chickens in a barnyard. The duet between Jake and the cellist was pretty sweet. One young electric guitarist (definitely under 18) impressed with his skills and energy. Two Theremin players (one with the top-of-the-line Moog) showed up, so it was a pleasure hearing them when they were called upon.

All in all, an excellent night.

For more information on free improv, I recommend Derek Bailey's classic book, especially the updated version.