3:35am, the birds awake…

I was up late the other day working.  It was the sort of night that kept dragging out for various reasons.  1am… 2am… 3.  By 3:15 I decide I’ve had enough for the day, so save my work, wash up, and ready myself for bed.

By this time it is 3:30am.  The weather has been nice, so the windows are open to allow the cool summer breezes to blow through.  (Summer in Rochester is really marvelous. Just fabulous weather almost all summer long. Almost makes up for the sleet and gray skies from September to May…)

And as I am just about to drift off, that’s when it starts.  3:35am.  Maybe 3:36.  The birds awake.

Well, no big deal, friend.  Right?


It might have been no big deal if they just were deciding to get up a bit early and get that proverbial worm.  But, no!  3:35 (or 3:36) is when they decided to sit outside my window and begin to chirp.  Shrilly, and loudly.  I don’t have much more to say about this except that I am flabbergasted.  At 3:30 in the morning, everything is dark!  Nothing else is awake.  Why are you chirping now, birb?  Are you confused?  Whom are you chirping to? The chirping was also just the usual: chirp…  chirp… The birds were not chasing something off or evading some sort of danger. So, again: Why 3:30am?  What. The. Hell?

Naturally, I did what anyone would do in this situation — I laid awake in bed, sorely irritated, wishing the bird would fly away (which it eventually did at 3:50am), and then blogged about it angrily.

Schumann, Fast zu ernst – Ukulele Duet

One of my favorite little pieces is Schumann’s Almost Too Serious from the piano suite Scenes From Childhood.  Simple, yet bittersweet.  Also used to great effect in the 1996 film, Shine.

I’ve arranged it as a duet with soprano/concert ukulele and baritone ukulele.  Although I have some vague plans to, I have yet to play it with anyone myself.  That said, I’ve played through both parts, and I think they work pretty well.  One or two places where the fingering is a bit cumbersome for the baritone, but honestly better than I expected.

If you play it as a duet, send me a copy, or comment and let me know how it went!

As always, transcription was done in the open-source WYSIWYG music notation editor MuseScore. The MuseScore file is in the .zip, so feel free to edit as you please, particularly when it comes to the soprano fingerings.  I was working on a version that made better use of re-entrant tuning, but I’ll admit I don’t have a feel for that yet, so it’s not included.

Schumann – Scenes from Childhood – 10. Fast zu Ernst – Soprano Ukulele
Schumann – Scenes from Childhood – 10. Fast zu Ernst – Baritone Ukulele

Schumann – Scenes from Childhood – 10. Fast zu Ernst – Score & Parts

.zip with .pdfs & MuseScore file


Tárrega, Estudio in mi menor – Bari Uke

I heard this on the radio and had to transcribe it.  It’s a gorgeous little study that sounds like a heart on the verge of breaking.  Such emotion!

I feel that my transcription has a few issues.  The same thing that vexed the Calatayud transcription vexes this one.  The small range of the baritone ukulele forces the some notes on top of each other, making for some difficult transcription decisions.  As you can see in the snippet to the right, a dotted half-note marks out the bassline.  Although in this measure, the note can ring for the entire measure, other measures find that note played over almost immediately.  I decided to leave these as dotted halves for conceptual reasons.

A different bari transcription I found on the web discards the bassline entirely to avoid these conflicts.  I think that was a poor choice, as the piece benefits immensely from having that extra harmony, particularly in the bridge.  Fingering can be a little awkward at times, but feel free to fake it or to adjust as you see fit to make it easier.  For example:

Measure 3: The dotted-half on the 4th fret can be happily played on the 2nd fret
Measure 10: I find the dotted-half (7th fret) is easily played with my thumb, while barre-ing 5 with my index finger

As always, transcription was done in the open-source WYSIWYG music notation editor MuseScore. The MuseScore file is in the .zip, so feel free to edit as you please!

Tarrega – Estudio en mi menor.pdf

.zip of .pdf & MuseScore file


Calatayud Pasodoblillo – Bari Uke

With the end of the first week of classes for the new semester, I decided to celebrate by transcribing a short piece for baritone ukulele.  It’s Bartolomé Calatayud’s Pasodoblillo, originally for guitar.

It transcribes… okay.  The range of the uke is much smaller than the guitar, so the pulsing baseline of the original gets sort of thrust into the melody at times on the smaller instrument.  There are one or two places with awkward fingerings, as well (which is sort of unfortunate, because the fingerings of the original are so elegant).

As usual, the transcription was done in the open-source WYSIWYG music notation editor MuseScore. The MuseScore file is in the .zip file so feel free to edit it yourself if you have better fingerings or if you want to transpose into a different key!



.zip file of .pdf and MuseScore file

Brain Timer

Brain TimerIt seems like every exam I’ve given I scramble to find a clear and easy-to-use clock and countdown timer. (I like to project these in the lecture hall so students can pace themselves (or panic, as appropriate, when time is running short).) So I whipped up one of my own. Displays current time on the left, and the remaining time in a “1h 2m” remaining format. Also sweeps out a decreasing arc of brain as the time decreases.


Feel free to use, adapt, steal as you please.

Continue reading “Brain Timer”

I am younger in my dreams

Que reste-t-il de ces beaux jours?
Une photo, vieille photo
De ma jeunesse…

-Charles Trenet

I have found myself remembering my dreams more than usual lately, perhaps due to a few months of nightmares that I can’t seem to shake. Obvious ones come in the form of panicked work-dreams — heart-pounding anxiety dreams where I wake panting and needing a cool glass of water to calm me down. Others are more nebulous and unclear in their imagery. And then there are the ghosts.

Continue reading “I am younger in my dreams”

Thoughts After my First Float

When I was young, I decided to make a thorough tour of my local library by starting at Dewey Decimal 000 and working my way up. I didn’t get too far because I got very wrapped up in 110 – Metaphysics and 130 – Parapsychology. Aside from books discussing psychokiesis, ESP, ghosts, and transmutations of the soul, there were books that discussed various states of consciousness and the (miraculously extensible) limits of the human body. This is where I first learned about things that continue to exist on the fringes of science, but that seem to be reaching more into the mainstream public’s spotlight of attention — lucid dreaming, cryonic preservation, and sensory deprivation, among others.

In works mentioning sensory deprivation, John C. Lilly’s work was inevitably highlighted. In the 1950s, while working at NIMH, Lilly — yes, the same Lilly that gave LSD to dolphins in the name of science — was at the forefront of a whole cadre of scientists investigating the effects of sensory deprivation. Although most of those scientists concluded that sensory deprivation was harmful and caused distress, Lilly was one of the few to realize that the methods employed by those other scientists were suspect. In an early lecture on isolation tanks reproduced in Tanks for the Memories,tanks_for_the_memories Lilly notes that others were strapping participants into chairs and forcing them to stare at blank walls, having them lie motionless in artificial respirators (iron lungs), or placing paper over their participants eyes while shining a bright light against the paper and playing loud white noise in the background (deprivation through masking stimuli). Tellingly, none of those participants asked to repeat those studies, particularly as prolonged sitting in one position can produce considerable discomfort / pain. Lilly’s method was notably simpler — put people in water in the dark. Much like me, Lilly was the type of scientist who believed that if you are going to subject people to an experiment, you should run yourself in it as well (excepting things like drug therapies tailored to certain illnesses, of course), and he and his wife subjected themselves to hundreds of hours of accumulated isolation time. They found they were absolutely hooked on it. Likewise, participants begged to be able to participate again and again, and from there, the whole thing took off. Lilly found himself building tanks wherever he went and making converts of those who tried it (including physicist Richard Feynman!). In the public’s hands, though, reports started getting more… mystical. People reported visual hallucinations, sudden healing, out-of-body experiences, spiritual breakthroughs, the ability to see into the future (<– I kid you not)…

Clearly, I was interested in trying it for myself.

Continue reading “Thoughts After my First Float”

Bach Cello Suite 1 – Bari Uke

Sheet MusicAs a hobby, I play the baritone ukulele.  I’m also a huge fan of Roger Ruthen’s site, pdf-minstrel, which has a large section of music transcribed for bari uke, including many classical and Renaissance pieces. Huge Fan!

There were some pieces that I felt were missing, though, so I decided to transcribe them for bari uke myself!  I’m currently working on transcribing (and memorizing) the six suites for cello by Johann Sebastian Bach.  So far, I’ve got the first suite done.  The transcriptions are done in the amazing open-source WYSIWYG music notation editor MuseScore, and I’ve included the MuseScore files in the .zip file in addition to the .pdfs in case you want to edit them yourself.  And you should!  Customize!  Personalize!  Play around!  MuseScore is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, so you have no excuse.


JS Bach – Cello Suite 1

.zip archive of all 6 pdfs and the original musescore files