Learn To Play The Violin! A Review of Violin Tutor Pro (.com)

Photo of Woman Playing Violin
Photo of Woman Playing Violin
This photo of a young woman playing violin was provided by the generosity of skeeze on pixabay.

I mentioned in my previous post If You’re Hankerin’ To Start Fiddlin’…Or Playin’ Any Stringed Instrument that I stumbled upon a gold mine when searching the internet one day…that gold mine is Michael Sanchez and his websites violintutorpro.com and superiorviolins.com.  Superior Violins is the store component of these sister sites and was reviewed in my previous post.  Today I would like to introduce you to the educational website, Violin Tutor Pro.   Michael Sanchez and Loren Alldrin are co-owners of the Violin Tutor Pro.  Together with a talented team of musicians they have constructed a site which makes it possible for anyone with internet access to be able to learn to play the violin at little to no cost.

Their slogan is “your playing is our passion.”  When someone is passionate about something the natural inclination is to share your passion with others.  These guys are so passionate about playing the violin they work tirelessly coming up with new and innovative ways to teach anyone with a desire to learn.  There are many video lessons available on YouTube, from the very beginner lessons starting with how to hold the violin and the bow to advanced lessons involving double stops, single finger scales and lots of advice on developing a beautiful vibrato.  The videos are of excellent quality.

There is  a forum section on the website where members (free) can post questions about different topics and receive answers from fellow violinists and/or the staff.  Some current topics in the forum are Accessories (discussions about things like rosin, shoulder rests, etc), Adult Learners, Beginner Violin Playing, Advanced Violin Playing, Fiddle Playing, and one of my favorites, Video Feedback.  In the Video Feedback section anyone can post a video of themselves playing the violin.   It’s really fun to hear other people play.  The staff and other students (some with years of experience playing) will give feedback and tips for improvement.

Just between the YouTube videos and the forum there is a ton of free information that can help you with the violin and fiddle, whether you are just beginning or have been playing for years.

As most of us know private lessons can be very expensive.   For the nominal cost of $9 a month Michael is now offering access to structured lessons.  Check out the lessons membership page here.   You receive organized lessons to help you along each step of the way, guiding you just as a real-life teacher would in what to practice next.  You have access to music that can be downloaded for free – this is a huge savings!  If you want to take it a step further there are Skype lessons available with teachers from around the world.  I took a Skype lesson with Michael a few years back.  I’m not very comfortable using Skype, even when talking with my own children when they are out of state or out of the country…I’m just a bit older and have found it takes some getting used to.  But it really is a remarkable tool.  Michael was able to immediately notice things about my bow hold that needed to be improved.  He gave me his full attention for the 30 minutes of my lesson and his feedback was very helpful.

So, just as I highly recommend superiorviolins.com if you are in need of a stringed instrument or accessories, I also highly recommend violintutorpro.com if you or your child are looking to begin or continue to master the violin.

 

Love & Mercy (Movie Review, 2015)

Love & Mercy (PG-13), the story of Brian Wilson, singer/songwriter of The Beach Boys fame, is an amazing movie. Much more amazing than I could have anticipated. My experience with The Beach Boys was limited to Surfin’ U.S.A. and Good Vibrations – neither of which I was particularly fond of. How interesting could a band be that produced that sort of pop songs? As it turns out, quite interesting.

Love and Mercy Photo

Brian Wilson is portrayed as a musical genius and watching the film drives a deeper appreciation for The Beach Boys’ music. Wilson is also a deeply broken individual who struggles desperately to please his demanding and self-consumed father. Wilson spirals downwards into drugs and mental illness and then stuff happens. I don’t want to give it away, but the story is gripping. Will everything turn out okay? Will Wilson regain his sanity? His life? Go see!

I’m not the only one who thought it was a good movie. Rotten Tomatoes has it pegged at an impressive 89% fresh while the IMDb has a rating of 7.9/10. For those who don’t surf these sites on a frequent basis, let me just note that these are very impressive scores.

Paul Dano does an amazing job of portraying a young Brian Wilson while John Cusack does a solid job as a middle-aged Wilson. A favorite actor of mine, Paul Giamatti, does a turn as Wilson’s psychiatrist. But honestly, the other real star of the show is Elizabeth Banks who plays an older Wilson’s love interest.

So what are you waiting for? Go see it already!

The Song Movie Review (PG-13)

Love and Hate Relationship

On occasion I receive screener copies of films (these days they tend to be digital rather than physical) and usually these are Christian films. I have a love/hate relationship with the Christian movie industry. I want to see good Christian films but the vast majority are crap so when I received the screener for The Song I didn’t set my expectations high – I was pleasantly surprised.

The Story

The Song Movie lead actorsThe Song tells the story of Jeb King (Alan Powell), a singer/songwriter who marries Rose (Ali Faulkner), the woman of his dreams, but almost loses her as well as his young son in the pursuit of fame, fortune, and fun – the last primarily in the person of a talented and free spirited musician – Shelby Bale (Caitlin Nicol-Thomas) who joins his tour as the opening act.

The Bad

The first few minutes of the film are underwhelming and confusing. Telling the story of Jeb’s father Dave – a famous singer/songwriter in his own right – it lacks any narration and covers a large span of time – I found it downright confusing.

The acting throughout the film is solid and sometimes ventures into greatness with occasional lapses into mediocrity.

The Good

The film claims to be inspired by the Song of Solomon – it might be more accurate to say that it is based off of the life and writings of King Solomon (traditionally Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and some of the Psalms). This could be a recipe for disaster – far too many Christian films skimp on the story and are heavy-handed with the sermonizing – but not The Song.

Instead the song is a genuinely innovative take on King Solomon. It has many subtle references to the story of Solomon (one of the less subtle being that Jeb’s father is David and they both share the last name King) and maintains the overarching themes of Solomon’s life and teachings but with a freedom that allows the story to stand on its own.

There are also a number of times in which Jeb voices over the film with readings from Solomon’s teachings which specifically apply to and illuminate the relevant scene – one of the more powerful being the reading of Solomon’s warning against the adulterous woman.

Ohh, and did I mention the music is catchy? I’m not a musician, but to my untrained ear several of the songs where quite enjoyable.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a fun and thought provoking film, The Song is worth trying. It does contain mature themes (alcohol, drugs, violence) so I wouldn’t recommend it for young children (besides the intricacy of the story and allusions would go over their heads and they’d lose interest) but for teen and adult audiences it should be an enjoyable option.

If you do watch the film I’d like to know what you think of it. Did you like it? What were your favorite allusions to Solomon’s life and writings? What would you have done differently?

Ohh, and P.S., its currently available at your local Redbox…at least it is at mine!

They Like It Too

I’m not alone in my appreciation of the film. While Rotten Tomatoes find the critic rating at only 29% the audience rating indicates 91% enjoyed the film. The IMDb gives it a Metascore of 42/100 while the audience gave it a 5.6/10 and it received a 6 from Metacritic. These numbers aren’t amazing – but they aren’t horrible either.

By comparison, the recent Left Behind movie has a 2% rating from the critics on Rotten Tomatoes and a 47% audience rating. On IMDb Left Behind has a 3.1/10 from the audience, a Metascore of 12/100 and Metacritic gives it a score of 25!

Dear Spotify

Image of Various Spotify Apps

I’ve been using Spotify for 2+ years now, it deserves a longevity award. It also deserves some sort of honor for being one of the few subscription services I dole out for on a monthly basis[1] – placing it alongside Netflix – and everybody has Netflix.Spotify Client Apps

In spite of a number of other options, including from mega companies like Google and Amazon, I still prefer Spotify. It is entirely free if you don’t mind the ads and the premium account is $5/mo $10/mo.

That said, I do have a few things I’d love for Spotify to incorporate:

  1. Tagging – Playlists are cool, they are like categories, but everyone knows that you need categories and tags (ala WordPress). I like creating playlists – but what if I want to listen to a song on a specific subject? Or what if the song is on multiple subjects? Yes, I can create multiple playlists – but this quickly becomes cumbersome.
  2. Listens – It would be great if Spotify displayed how many times one has listened to a song. I am an explorer – always trying out new bands, new albums – and oftentimes forgetting who I’ve listened to previously and which songs. If I could see how many times I’ve listened to the song it would allow me to more efficiently explore.
  3. Searching Artists, Songs, Albums – I’ve listened to a lot of artists and this list of artists (or songs or albums) can become overwhelming. Sometimes I know I want to listen to an artist that begins with some letter or word, but I can’t remember its name in its entirety, it would be great if I could search only what is in “Your Music.”
  4. Language / Topic Filters – I know that Spotify includes “explicit content” warnings on songs, but I’ve listened to far too many songs that had “explicit content” and weren’t marked as such. This becomes important when (a) one is playing the music in the presence of others who might find the content offensive, (b) one finds it offensive, or (c) one is allowing Spotify to post to one’s Facebook timeline and has an audience that includes individuals of young(er) age for whom such content might be inappropriate.
  5. Shazam Functionality – If I am listening to the radio in the car I still have to use Shazam to find out and save what song I’m listening to. Adding this functionality into Spotify’s mobile app would be huge…especially since Shazam now makes me integrate with Rdio.

Which of these features? Or what other features would you like to see in Spotify?

  1. [1]I no longer pay fro a subscription. I am happy with the ad-supported version. Sure, its a little annoying, but I don’t listen to music enough these days to make a full account worthwhile.

Water Within’s Better Off Broken (Song)

I’m always stumbling around looking for new musical artists…and Spotify surfaced a band called Water Within. I’d never heard of them and their songs all had well under 2,000 listens – indicating they aren’t very popular. Usually this means that they aren’t very good…but on rare occasions…such as this one…it means they are amazing and just haven’t made it big yet [but I’m betting they will.]

Water Within Musicians
Water Within Musicians

Their music reminds me of JJ Heller’s earlier albums, though lyrically I can’t place them, perhaps somewhere near Michael Card…so fuse Heller and Card together in your mind and you might get something close to Water Within.

Anyways, I’ve been listening to their album Unlocked and there have been several songs I’ve enjoyed but Better Off Broken knocked my socks off…ok…I wasn’t wearing socks, but if I was…

Seriously, this is my new favorite song…Listen to it and read the lyrics (I listened to the song and wrote up the lyrics, so there are probably some discrepancies between the actual words and what I have).

[Sidenote: While the lyrics are sad, the music is upbeat…and they make it work.]

[Sidenote 2: Calvary Community Church’s (where I pastor) slogan is Broken people growing together communicating the idea that all of us are in need of a Savior and that one of the primary ways God grows us is through deep community]

My scars are so visible.
How can I help but notice
My mind holds tragic memories
Its hard to keep my focus
Who do I think I am
Doubting your voice when
You say you make all things new
Why do I think I can stand
On paperthin pride that denies
That i need you

I’m crying out
Come in tear down these walls
I can’t do this alone
I’ve been so lost
I need to come home
Break through all of the scars
Heal me as only you can
I’ve tried to fix myself
But I’ve found
I’m better off broken

So worn out
So weak now
Your strength in me
Makes me need you
I’ve been wounded
So beaten
The death of me
Lets you shine through

Who do I think I am
Trying to heal a heart
That deceives itself
Why do I think I can stand
When I’m on my face
Oh God, I need your help
I’m crying out

So worn out
So weak now
Your strength in me
Makes me need you
I’ve been wounded
So beaten
The death of me
Lets you shine through

Better off broken (repeated w/variations)

If I’m fixed just break me
If I’m broken then take me
And make me whole again
This is restoration

When I’m lost come find me
When I’m found refind me again
The power of restoration
Ohhhhh

I’m crying out
Come in tear down these walls
I can’t do this alone
I’ve been so lost
I need to come home
Break through all of the scars
Heal me as only you can
I’ve tried to fix myself
But I’ve found
I’m better off broken

Better off broken [repeats with variations]

I’m Happy!?! (Music Videos)

A Little Fun…

Today I watched (HT: Mashable) a beautiful, fun video by some of our elder generation performing a rendition of Pharrell Williams’ recently famous song ‘Happy.’ I’ve embedded it below.

After you’ve watched it (or before) check out the original music video, embedded below.

Some More Serious Thoughts

[Feel free to skip this if you just wanted to smile. =)]

This makes me think of three ways of living, ways we are all likely to favor at one juncture or another in our lifetimes:

  • Denial – Things are bad but we are unwilling to admit it.
  • Reality – Things are bad and we are willing to admit it.
  • Choice – Things are bad, we admit it, but we are choosing to experience it differently.

I think this cycle of choices can be seen in individual’s lives as well as in society as a system and over time. It doesn’t matter when one jumps on the merry-go-round, you are still on the merry-go-round and will go past the place you did not start with at some juncture or another.

So, we deny bad things are happening until they become so bad that we can’t bear them any more…then we break and sometimes this break results in a choosing to be real. Being real is highly valued…and I value very highly being real.

That said, depending on our circumstances, real is a place we may remain for a very long time – and over time the expression of real can become pessimism, hopelessness, anger, fear, and so on.

So then we have a third way of living that acknowledges what is real yet  chooses to make the best of a bad situation.

I’ve worked for years with teenagers[1] and each generation I have worked with has heard me repeat on more than one occasion that it doesn’t matter what we do as long as we are together and choose to have fun.

What I mean is, it is primarily (I would not say only) our attitude that determines our experience. I can have a great time cleaning – if others enter into the experience with me and we all have a positive, upbeat attitude.

But I don’t think as a society or as individuals we stay there – rather we loop back into denial. Why? Because once we have chosen to be happy we feel that we must be happy and when we aren’t happy we don’t want others to know that we have “failed” at being happy and now are back at the “lowest point of our emotional maturity” – and so we go into denial.

So which is the best phase? I’d say that each phase has its place. Denial is useful in situations of overwhelming suffering and it is oftentimes utilized when we first experience trauma as well as when the trauma is sustained over a long time.

Reality is useful when we are no longer in the overwhelming suffering and need to move out of denial.

Choice is the preferred state of being (that is, we prefer it, I’m not saying it is inherently superior) which allows us to recognize the effects of reality upon us without being broken by reality.

  1. [1]It feels awkward saying this, I feel so young and inexperienced…but I’m not. As of the end of August it will be eleven years non-stop.

Mandolyn Mae: Indie Musician.

Go Listen to Mandolyn Mae…

I like Mandolyn Mae’s music, you should too. You can listen to her debut CD Once on Spotify. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find anything by here since (Once was released in 2013) nor does it appear she has been touring this year…but she does have an active Twitter account. You can also check out her Facebook page – though it has been languishing.

Mandolyn Mae's Once album cover.
Mandolyn Mae’s Once album cover.

I was reminded of her music this evening as I was going through some old documents on my computer and stumbled across the lyrics I had typed up for two of her songs: Here We Are and Tonight.

I couldn’t find these lyrics online when I first heard the songs and a quick search didn’t turn them up now either…so I figured I’d mention how I liked her music and include the lyrics here in case other fans are looking for the lyrics to these songs as I was…

My favorite songs from Mae are the two mentioned above and The Only Person Alive.

Caveat About Songs…

The songs for which I am giving the lyrics became favorites for me during an extremely difficult phase in my life…I’m not still in that phase and so the lyrics don’t reflect my heart as they did then…but their power to provide soothing to me in the midst of that ordeal was significant.

In other words, don’t think I’m depressed, sad, angry, etc. b/c I posted the lyrics for these songs….or that these songs reflect my thoughts/feelings toward that individual with whom I went through such a difficult time… 🙂

Here We Are Lyrics

A photo of Mandolyn Mae.
A photo of Mandolyn Mae.

so this is what it feels like
to look at you in the candlelight
and know we cannot be together now
i know we said its over
but its hard getting over
your the one that i’ve been loving all this time
and i think you and i both know
when we both broke into pieces
you cannot fix this

here we are
at the end of it all
and there is nothing i can say
to take back all i ever said
and there’s no drink
none that i can see
that can make me forget
all that you once meant to me,
what you once meant to me

its amazing how much time can make
before i get the worst of mistakes
like the time you said i could not do this without you
when i knew that it was ending
and i thought that i could mend this
but i can’t b/c i don’t trust you anymore
but honey you and i both know
that we could go on for hours
talking about failure

here we are at the end of it all
and there’s nothing i can say
to take back all i ever said
and there is no touch
in the clubs of all LA
that can make me forget
all that you once meant to me,
what you once meant to me
what you once meant to me

i’m at a war with regret
over all the time i wasted
against all the time i spent
loving this boy i knew
the man i knew
this love i knew that became me and you

so this is what it feels like to know that for the first time
my skin won’t feel your breath on me tonight
here we are at the end of it all
and there is nothing i can say to take back
all i ever said
and there’s no love
nowhere i’ve ever heard of
that can make me forget all that you meant to me
what you once meant to me
what you once meant to me
what you once meant to me
what you once meant to me

Tonight Lyrics

i thought about you and i pray for you today
that all the sadness that you carried
would somehow walk away
you would find comfort
and some sort of calm
and a way to recover
from all thats gone wrong

and how does it feel tonight
to know for the first time in your life
i know that your a liar
a performance and a cheater
how does it feel tonight

i thought about you and i hurt in my heart
to know you where lonely
and everything you had fallen apart
there was a day i knew every line on your face
but sometimes when he kisses me i couldn’t tell you your name

and how does it feel tonight
to know for the first time in my life
i know that i don’t want you
even though my daddy loves you
how does it feel tonight

and how does it feel right now
to know that this heart of mine
has found someone who loves me better
and i love him more than ever
how does it feel tonight

this is over
never again
you weren’t worth it
never again
never again
and how does it feel tonight
to know for the first time in your life
i know you are in fact a liar
and a world class cheater
how does it feel tonight
how does it feel tonight

Musical Artist Review: Brooke Fraser.

I have no clue how popular Brooke Fraser is. She writes songs that are oftentimes cryptic and open to interpretation with a folksy sound. But it doesn’t really matter how popular she is – b/c I like her music – so I listen to it and I want to share it with you.

Probably my favorite song by Brooke Fraser is “Hosea’s Wife” – based off of the Old Testament book of the same name:

Brooke Fraser.
Brooke Fraser.

I just spoke silence with the seek next to me
She had a heart with hesitant, halting speech
That turned to mine and asked belligerently
“What do I live for?”

I see the scars of searches everywhere I go
From hearts to wars to literature to radio
There’s a question like a shame no one will show
“What do I love for?”

We are Hosea’s wife
We are squandering this life
Using people like ladders and words like knives

[Chorus]
If we’ve eyes to see
If we’ve ears to hear
To find it in our hearts and mouths
The that saves is near
Shed that shallow skin
Come and live again
Leave all you were before
To believe is to begin
[/Chorus]

There is truth in little corners of our lives
There are hints of it in songs and children’s eyes
It’s familiar, like an ancient lullaby
What do I live for?

We are Hosea’s wife
We are squandering this life
Using bodies like money and truth like lies

[Chorus]

[Bridge]
We are more than dust
That means something
That means something
We are more than just
Blood and emotions
Inklings and notions
Atoms on oceans
[/Bridge]

She also has a song titled “C.S. Lewis Song” – now how can you not like someone who names one of their songs after C.S. Lewis? The song is based around one of Lewis’ most famous quotes, one John Piper uses frequently, which she paraphrases as, “If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy, I can only conclude that I was not made for here / If the flesh that I fight is at best only light and momentary, / then of course I’ll feel nude when to where I’m destined I’m compared.”[1]

I’m also a fan of Crows + Locusts – and I imagine from the title you can get a sense of the topic – somewhat similar (dark) to Hosea’s Wife…So I won’t quote it here for you…But Brooke Fraser doesn’t sing primarily darker songs – in fact she has a number of light and joyous songs that a more general audience may find appealing.

The most popular of these on Spotify is “Something in the Water.” If there was ever a song that was meant to be danced to, this is it.[2] You can see the music video below:

And I’ve included the lyrics below:

Do do do do do do do do do do

I wear a demeanor made of bright pretty things
What she wears, what she wears, what she wears
Birds singing on my shoulder in harmony it seems
How they sing, how they sing, how they sing

Give me nights of solitude, red wine just a glass or two,
Reclined in a hammock on a balmy evening
I’ll pretend that it’s nothing that’s skipping my heart when I think of you
Thinking of me babe I’m crazy over you

[Chorus]
Aaah Aaah Aaah
There’s something in the water, something in the water
Aaah Aaah Aaah
There’s something in the water, that makes me love you like
[/Chorus]

I’ve got halo’s made of summer, rhythms made of spring
What she wears, what she wears, what she wears
I got crowns of words a woven each one a song to sing
Oh I sing, oh I sing, oh I sing

Give me long days in the sun,
Preludes to the nights to come
Previews of the mornings laying in all lazy
Give me something fun to do like a life of loving you
Kiss me quick now baby I’m still crazy over you

[Chorus]

Oooh oooh ooh (3x)

Give me nights of solitude, red wine just a glass or two, give me something fun to do

[Chorus 2x]

Do do do do do do do do do do

  1. [1]Lewis’ original quote (in Mere Christianity) is “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
  2. [2]I would dance to it, if I danced.