Monthly Archives: April 2020

Podcasts for Fun, Learning, and Relaxing

I love listening to podcasts, and especially now, during shelter-in-place and physical distancing (I prefer that term to “social distancing”), podcasts may be a great way to pass the time, learn something, or if you are having trouble going to sleep or are filled with difficult emotions, for relaxation.

What is a Podcast?

If you don’t know, a podcast is kind of like an internet radio show. You can listen to these audio shows whenever you want. You can pause and restart at any time. There are tons of podcasts on every topic you can think of, and you can subscribe to the ones you like.

They are organized by topic, free (some offer additional and/or ad-free content if you are willing to pay a little bit), and vary from shows from one individual talking about whatever they like to those from large companies and broadcasters (NPR, ESPN, etc.). Anyone can host their own podcast, and it takes very little gear and money to do so.

Here’s a good description: What is a podcast and how do they work?

How to find and listen to a podcast?

Most people listen to them on their smartphones. What you need is an app that lets you listen to and subscribe to podcasts. iPhone folks might use Apple Podcasts, Overcast, ListenApp, or many others. Android users might use Google Podcasts, Podkicker, etc. There are many cross-platform apps including Spotify, Pocket Casts (which I use), TuneIn Radio, and more. Here’s a list of apps.

Once you have an app installed, you can search for a particular podcast, or by a topic, listen and subscribe if you wish. Your phone can download shows automatically for you to listen on your own, in the car, whenever, even if you happen to be out of cell phone and WiFi range.

Don’t have a smartphone or don’t want to be bothered with yet another app? Most podcasts have websites you can visit and listen to shows. You give up the ease of subscribing to and auto downloading shows that you can take with you, though.

Toby’s favorite podcasts

What podcasts do I recommend? As I said, I listen to a lot of podcasts, and my mood changes from week to week and month to month. Here are some of my current favorites:

Well-Known and Popular Podcasts – these might be good for first-timer podcast listeners to check out:
This American Life – one of the most popular podcasts out there.
The Moth Podcast – live storytelling. Funny, fascinating, heartbreaking, never dull.
RadioLab – a great podcast, a bit in the vein of This American Life, but more science/history; truly fascinating and entertaining
Heavyweight – going back to a moment of regret; highly rated. I am warm/cold on it as I find the host both funny and grating at times

Science and Technology
The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week – three hosts share three separate really weird stories, then vote on the weirdest; fun and interesting
Choiceology with Katy Milkman – Wharton prof Milkman explores stories of irrational decision-making and the science behind it
Reply All – podcast about the internet. Wouldn’t seem interesting, but it is very!

Crime and Justice
Criminal – fascinating podcast about crime, detection, and justice
More Perfect – amazing podcast about the supreme court. Sounds boring, but it is fascinating!
Sold In America – fascinating, heart-breaking 8-episode series about sexual slavery in America, and the unintended consequences of laws intended to protect victims
Caught – Lives of juvenile justice – stories about kids getting into trouble and mass incarceration (pre-southern border wall family separation, etc.)
The Clearing – April Balascio’s emotional journey from reporting her father and investigating allegations that he was a mass murderer
Serial – seasons 1 and 3 (skip 2). Season 1 gripped a lot of the podcast nation with its long form story about a teen convicted of murdering his girlfriend.
Ear Hustle – podcast made and recorded within San Quinten Prison about life in jail

History and Social Commentary
Death, Sex, and Money – fascinating podcast about those three topics we are told we should “never discuss”
You’re Wrong About – reviewing stories you thought you knew; kind of like “Adam Ruins Everything”
Rumble with Michael Moore – Moore talks about current events and interviews interesting people
UnErased – fascinating, heart-breaking series about the “pray the gay away” movement
Uncivil – history podcast about the Civil War and how those stories connect to issues of race today. Way more interesting than it sounds. I especially cannot recommend more highly the last two episodes, “The Ring” and “The Fugitive”
Remade in America – hosted by Bassem Youssef, aka Egypt’s “Jon Stewart.” Interesting, entertaining, and thoughtful discussion on race, identity, and being an outsider
Rough Translation – how are stories, news, etc. discussed elsewhere in the world?
Where Should We Begin? with Esther Perel – listen to actual therapy sessions hosted by couples therapist and author of “Mating in Captivity” Esther Perel
Revisioninst History with Malcolmn Gladwell – long, fascinating journey through overlooked and misunderstood historical events/people

Song Exploder – musicians break down how they were inspired and created a song

99% Invisible – honestly, I often listen to this to go to sleep since the host, Roman Mars has such a gentle, soothing voice.
Slow Radio – probably not good for cooking or running, but for slowing down. 5-20 minute episodes that are gentle, relaxing recordings of nature, and gentle stories. I like it just before going to bed.

I Play Viola

Time for another musical parody.

I’ve always loved Peggy Lee’s rendition of “Fever.”

Years ago I wrote a parody which I performed for a Classical Revolution PDX when we regularly performed at The Waypost in NE Portland (hence the references to “The Waypost” in the song).

Here I am accompanied by bassist Rob Busey with whom I perform in the Newport Symphony. Thanks, Rob!

Hope you enjoy it.

“I Play Viola” (sung to the tune of “Fever”)

Stay safe, secure, and sane, friends.

Delightful and amusing videos and one scientific article

Here are some assorted links I find delightful and amusing:

1. Cats, marbles, and dominoes:

2. Scientists put ants on stilts to test and verify that ants count steps as a way of determining distance.

Ant with stilts

3. 6 y.o. Performs and sings “I Wish You Love”

4. Squirrel foiled by greased bird feeder pole

5. “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square” performed by Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen & Michel Petrucciani

6. American Hedgehog Warrior: Course 3

All About That Bratsch’

My last music offering was on the serious side. Here is something upbeat and humorous. It is my parody of Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass.”

When I first heard her hit, the idea to rewrite the words as “All About That Bratsch'” came to me immediately – “Bratsche” (“Brah-cheh”) is the German word for “viola.”

The words came pretty quickly to me, and then I arranged it for string quartet.

Here are my friends, Casey, Mitchell, Dana, and Erin backing me up on my parody.

Regarding the Viola

Fact: There are more jokes about the viola than about any other musical instrument or vocal range.

You can verify this by looking at the de facto compendium of music jokes, hosted at MIT. So numerous are the viola jokes that they split them into two sections.

I picked up the viola two decades ago and was smitten. I still play my violin, but it mostly sits silently neglected in my dual case while its larger companion is removed and played regularly. My blog post of a couple days ago was one of those rare occasions where I played my violin.

Many people do not know what a viola is and how it differs from the violin. I gave a little talk a few months ago on this very topic. Click this link to see my presentation slides (28 slides in total):

The Viola: A light-hearted look into a serious instrument”

It talks about the history and development of the instrument, why there are so many viola jokes, and famous people and composers who loved the viola. I hope you enjoy the slides while learning about the viola.

I borrowed quotes from Jennifer’s Stumm’s excellent Ted Talk about the viola: “An Imperfect Instrument.” She includes several excellent musical excerpts in her talk demonstrating the sound of this lovely instrument:

Here is an excellent performance by my friend, Aurora Giselle Torres Cuevas performing the Prelude from Bach’s Suite No. 2 in D Minor which really showcase the viola and its unique sound and rich tone.

Why do I love the viola? I composed my own soliloquy to the viola twenty years ago (with all due respect to the violin and the wonderful people who have mastered that beautiful instrument):

The violin is like a high school or college student: full of fire, energy, passion, and ego…but not much emotional depth.

The viola is the blues singer. Her voice has been destroyed by cheap booze and cigarettes. She’s loved and been betrayed…many times. When she sings of happiness, it is tinged with pain, because we know it won’t last. When she sings a sad tune, it cuts deeply, for it comes from personal loss.

Toby Loftus

If you have any questions about the viola, feel free to comment and I’ll respond as best I can.

Art and Humor From Afar

There are so many really good online videos being produced. Some funny, some heartwarming, come clever, and some with a bit of everything.

Here’s an assortment of some of my favorites:

Two episodes of John Krasinski’s funny, heart warming, and moving SGN (Some Good News):

Episode 1 (including 15th anniversary of “The Office” with Steve Carell, and adorable Coco)

Episode 2 (surprise “Hamilton” for Aubrey)

Jimmy Fallon, Sting & The Roots Remix “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” (At-Home Instruments)

TwoSet Violin: Musicians During Quarantine (You Laugh, You Practice)

Rotterdams Philharmonisch Orkest performs excerpt from Beethoven’s 9 Symphony in isolation:

New York Philharmonic perform Boléro tribute to healthcare workers:

Duets by Myself

Yesterday I was feeling a little wistful and melancholy, and these two beautiful songs from “Fiddler on the Roof” kept going through my head. So I decided to record them. This would be my first ever duet with myself.

I haven’t played my violin in a long time, so I was a little apprehensive how it would sound. Regardless of the many imperfections, I hope you will still enjoy these.

These are my own duet arrangements for violin and viola for “Sabbath Prayer” and “Far From The Home I Love.”

For my dear friends who celebrate it, I wish you a Happy Passover.

My friend’s birthday

Today is my friend, Melissa’s birthday.

Last year there was a big birthday bash for her, but I could not attend, so I created a surprise birthday video for her. With her approval, I’m sharing it publicly for others to enjoy. This is one way you can celebrate someone’s special day while still maintaining social distancing.

Happy birthday, Melissa, with many happy returns!

Oregon Distillers Step Up To Produce Hand Sanitizer

During this time of need, I love learning about how businesses and individuals are stepping up to help however they can.

Oregon has a number of distilleries, and many of them are converting their production away from booze and starting to produce much-needed hand sanitizer.

Oregon Grain Growers in Pendleton produced 125 gallons of hand sanitizer yesterday alone to be distributed for free to local nursing homes, doctor’s offices, and first-responders.

“I sleep better at night making hand sanitizer than alcohol right now,” says owner Rodney Bullington.

Hood River Distillers has produced 1,000 in the past couple weeks and is aiming for another 11,000 gallons soon. It is working with the Oregon Health Authority to distribute to health care and food service workers.

A number of Portland-area distilleries are stepping up including New Deal, Stone Barn Brandyworks, Rose City Distilling, Shine Distillery, Aria Gin, Freeland Spirits, and more.

Stillwagon Distillery in Charleston, just two miles down the road from where I grew up, owned by and operated by dear friends, and producer of the best rum I’ve ever tasted, is now joining the cause. They will provide hand sanitizer to local healthcare workers and hospitals

Richard Stillwagon, owner of Stillwagon Distillery in Charleston, OR

Owner Richard Stillwagon says, “This will pass. Humanity has experienced pandemics, wars, and famine many, many times. What we will be remembered for will be what we did and how we acted during that crisis.”

All these distillers are, like most businesses, struggling through this difficult time. Most will make no profit or lose money doing what must be done. Please consider them in your purchases now and in the future.

Some Humor For Your Day

Some assorted humor to brighten your day:

1. Museum Asks People To Recreate Paintings With Stuff They Can Find at Home, Here Are The Results

2. Star Trek TNG – Data Bloopers

3. Watch 66 Oscar-Nominated-and-Award-Winning Animated Shorts Online, Courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada