(These ideas are explicated in this sloppy manifesto)

Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Swept away...

Last night we saw a TV commercial for a DVD player selling for less than $28 bucks at WalMart, the most revolutionary force in retailing, and possibly the most revolutionary force in commerce, ever. My friend John Venlet highlights the incredible efficiencies of the medical community, where it is not encumbered by regulation and health insurance. Those two thoughts together had me ruminating, in humble Thanksgiving gratitude, over all the things that are amazingly better than they were when I was my son's age. Is there anything, I wondered, that is not massively improved? Just then, in answer to my question, the municipal street sweeper came schlushing up Cochise Drive. Slow, ungainly, completely useless for cleaning anything (although it does a nice job of dirtying things up in muddy spirals), it is the ideal expression of the Communist idea as understood by American unionists: It gives a reliable Democratic voter a do-nothing job. The municipal street sweeper cannot change, because it is already perfect. Mere capitalism, no matter how protected by regulation, no matter how indemnified by insurance, no matter how ossified by WalMortification, can never hope to achieve a perfection like this.

Monday, November 22, 2004
Violin Boy

My son Cameron had his first concert with the Phoenix Symphony Guild Youth Orchestras yesterday. I wrote about his auditions for this amazing group of young musicians earlier this year. Since then, there have been weekly practices on top of all his other practices and performances, and a weekend retreat at a mountain campsite, all leading up to yesterday. The auditorium of Central High School was packed with proud parents and grandparents, there to see the four Youth Orchestras perform.

Cameron is fourth chair, second violins, in the Strings Orchestra, the entry-level ensemble, a respectable spot on the ziggurat. But as good as he is, and he is getting to be very good, some of the older children are simply astounding. The top-level Youth Orchestra is breathing right down the neck of the Phoenix Symphony.

Not every little last thing in Cameron's life is perfect, and we whittle away where we can, as the occasion commands. But we catch a glimpse of the perfection he can achieve when he picks up the violin. He plays with the Children's Choir at St. Francis Xavier, where he goes to school. The Church is a vast, vaulted space, marble everywhere, and it loves his violin. He is accompanied only by the pipe organ, a High Mass of very Baroque music.

Just lately we bought him a Yamaha Silent Violin, akin to a solid-body electric guitar. It has no sound box, so a bow on the strings produces only the buzz of the strings, audible at two feet but not at six. A piezo pick-up feeds the buzz of the strings to a battery-powered pre-amplifier, so you can plug headphones in and hear a modeled violin tone. You can alter that tone from bass to treble, as well as change the reverberation from dead to Carnegie Hall. But if you plug the quarter-inch output jack into an amplifier, you have a violin such as no one has ever heard. At a minimum, you can pull tremendous volume from a very light, deft touch on the bow--to play arpeggios at incredible speed, for instance. Add in the distortion power of a decent amplifier and you have a very robust pop instrument--lead guitar parts, sax and trumpet solos, a huge quantity of music written for other instruments but falling within the tonal range of the violin.

Classical music is very serious music, very conservative music. The Symphony Guild matters a lot to us, not because we want Cameron to grow up to be a serious musician, but because we want him to grow up to be a serious man. But Cameron is 13 now, the birth of the band age, and with a Candy-Apple Red solid-body violin, he can take the lead parts in anybody's band--jazz, blues, country or rock.