La Crosta, the Maestro’s take. Karting and the tempo giusto.

I am a big fan of the area surrounding La Crosta. Mostly because the new DePaul School of Music is one of the more impressive facilities I’ve ever seen. There is a ton of stuff to do around that area (The Lincoln Park Zoo is within walking distance), and a lot to eat. Unfortunately there’s also a lot of construction going on, and absolutely nowhere to park. The Doc walked because he’s very near, and luckily I took my scooter. One of the best kept Chicago secrets w/r/t scooters and mopeds is that you can park them almost anywhere. You can park them anyhere where there’s permit parking WITHOUT having to have a permit. You still have to pay for metered parking, but there is almost always permit parking within a block or two of metered parking. Combine that with the fact that you can squeeze a scooter in between almost any two parked cars, and it’s really a no brainer.

There was so much construction going on around La Crosta that I wasn’t even sure it was open. For Saturday lunch time it was dead. But the place was nice, and while I waited for the doc, I ordered a plate of cheese (for him) and meat (for me)

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prosciutto, salame, capicola, egg (!), cheese, and bread

This was arguably better than the pizza. Or maybe I just need to do slices from now on. I have memories of the pizza being delicious. I ordered “classico pepperoni,” and it had the burnt crust that I so love, and the pepperoni was caramelized. This is a word that usually fills me with dread. Mostly because it promises something delicious, like caramel. But usually ends up being something disgusting. Like onions. I was wary of the caramelized pepperoni, but it definitely added a sweetness to the meat.

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I’m pretty sure the pizza was great, but man, did I pay for it after. Also loading up on the bread beforehand probably wasn’t such a good idea.

Even though the place was deserted, the decor was really nice. They had soccer going on every TV, and as we were leaving, I noticed it was televised on RAI. I don’t even like soccer, but before the RAI app got crappy and stopped letting me listen from non-Italian countries, I would enjoy listening to soccer, to practice my Italian, but also because the announcers seemed to have zero emotional-regulation. Not unlike F1 announcers.

Which brings me to karting. I’ve done a lot of it these last three weeks. Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays host league events in Sugar River Raceway (Brodhead Wisconsin), Concept Haulers Motor Speedway (Sheridan IL), and Michiana Raceway Park (North Liberty IN), respectively. This last week was the only time I made it to all three events. So the Saturday pizza outing was in between karting events.

The main thing that I have taken away from these last three weeks (besides the fact that I seem to mostly come in third place), is that corners are like tempo changes. There are so many parallels between conducting and karting, but I’ll stick with this one for now. A lot of conducting is about finding the right tempo. And this fluctuates throughout a piece. Even in something as seemingly simple as a Mozart symphony. Not everything is metronomic. The search for the tempo giusto (the “right tempo”) hounds conductors all their lives. This becomes even more varied as we advance towards the 20th and 21st centuries, and in opera the problem of tempo completely explodes, because you’re now dealing with human voices, who are wearing costumes, and under lights, and interacting with each other, etc. so the needs of the tempo giusto become more complex.

In karting, it’s very important to remember that it’s not about driving the fastest. It’s about finding what is called “the line” or the optimal driving path. Anybody can tear-ass it into a corner, but you’re going to suffer coming out of the corner, and people are going to get ahead of you. So you have to make adjustments coming into corners. Similarly when you are going from one tempo to another, you have to make an adjustment. You need to find the tempo giusto. Say you need to make a momentary rallentando (slowing down). If you do it too much too soon, then the music becomes molasses. if you wait too long to do it, the whole ensemble can become a 60 car pile up.

I was reminded of this at Michiana yesterday as they opened up the track to include one of the more daunting hairpins I’ve ever experienced. The hairpin was so intense that if I waited too long to brake, I risked completely going off the track (a friend of mine did just that, several times), but if I braked too early, it was impossible to get the momentum back coming out of the corner. These are such basic lessons that you are constantly thinking about them while racing. But it was interesting to think of these things in relation to handling an orchestra.

I have gotten better at both karting and conducting over the years, but the search for the perfect tempo giusto is one that will never end. Simply because there are thousands of factors that go into every tempo decision. Now of course in karting the tempo giusto is the difference between winning and losing, but I would argue that in music it’s the difference between making music, and beating time.

And here’s a little video I made of Friday night’s race with an analysis of one of my madrigals:

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