Tuesday, November 15, 2016

When the moon hits your eye ....

Those of you that can see the "Supermoon" lighting the sky have been, I hope, just as awed as me to just gaze at the thing hanging there. Talk about putting things in perpsective, that lifeless rock has a power like no other and it's not just the power to affect the tides. The moon has been something to ga-ga over for as long as hearts have been beating.

I sat on the stairs last night (sick as I was) and gaped, trying to see as much as I could with my lasered vision (so glad I had that surgery). I think I have the answer to two burning questions inspired by the moon, too:

  • The moon is made of cheese - aged New York sharp cheddar.
  • I'm sure wishing on the moon works.
The moon has inspired some lovely music over the centuries and so, in between history lectures, here's a few charming tunes to enjoy, all about the moon and its' powers.

From 1935, written by Ralph Rainger and the great American wit Dorothy Parker, is a song made famous by Ruth Etting and later Bing. This recording comes from the Master, with a terrific chart by Nelson Riddle (as do the next two songs, too), "I Wished on the Moon".

In 1942, Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke wrote the songs for one of the Best Crosby-Hope Road pictures, "Road to Morocco". The movie is a riot and the songs are all great, with Crosby, as usual, wooing Dorothy Lamour with his throat. Love this tune, "Moonlight Becomes You". 

A different kind of moon tune came from Van Heusen and Burke in this last example, about the moon creating a problem and heartache. I don't know if the moon will make you loony, but love certainly can ... "Oh, You Crazy Moon".

Two French composers, one of whom was truly great, also were inspired by the moon to write something beautiful. Gabriel Faure', in 1869, wrote "Clair de lune" as part of a song cycle and it is heard here from the superb soprano Barbara Hendricks.

In 1905, the great Claude Debussy published the "Suite Bergamasque", for piano and one of those pieces is his "Clair de lune". It has become the most loved of the suite's parts and is played here very well by Philippe Entremont.

Debussy's moon was so popular that it has been orchestrated by several arrangers. My favorite comes from William Smith, long the associate conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, who play it here under it's finest maestro, Eugene Ormandy.

So, gaze at the moon while you can and let your mind wander around it's surface, looking into that one crater that holds the answers to your questions and fulfillment of your dreams.  


Friday, November 11, 2016

A little thought before the big thoughts ...

On this Veterans' Day, and following up on this election, I'm reminded and honored that my grandfathers, father and great uncles all fought, over a third of the last century, to save Europeans from themselves. 

I have many readers of this blog from all over Europe, particularly England, France, Germany and Russia, and certain of them know all too well the sacrifices Americans have made, quite literally with their lives, to confront and destroy evil, rebuild and support the European continent and, for the most part, view the "old world" with an open hand, not a closed fist.  

So, for those of you in Europe that can't understand how Americans could elect Donald Trump, may I suggest you ask yourselves how you could abandon your national identities, accept mediocrity in your leadership and abandon any sense of pride in what once was Western Civilization. Is it any wonder why most of us had families with the foresight to leave Europe and come to America, legally, two centuries ago? 

America is still a youngster of a country, yes, but it is also the only nation of its' type to have ever been conceived. Consider that for just a moment. England gave us the Magna Carta, Napoleon his brilliant and practical civil code and Bismark taught many leaders how to balance power and influence with diplomacy, but it is America's uniqueness; yes, its' exceptionalism, that has made it mankind's greatest experiment.

Our recent elections prove, once again, that what the founders wrought was a wonder of invention and prescience (look it up). This nation elects popularly, but not without a check, just as there was ( yes, w-a-s) a series of checks written into the United States Constitution, a document rarely, if ever, understood by Europeans and blithely mangled and discarded by the recipients of its genius. Believe me, my European friends, we all have a great deal more to worry over than Donald Trump, who will find himself eventually regulated by what is left of America's constitutional republic. 

America will continue to be the nation everyone wants to emulate, while being resented mightily for its success and munificence. So, before I write a longer history lesson next week, consider the above and reflect on whether or not casting stones from across the pond is a good use of time.         


Friday, November 4, 2016

Autumn, at last ...

Much as I complain about cold weather and the dread snow, that purgatory known as Autumn is a favorite time for me, as it may be for you.

It's not just the shift in temperature or the shift in color and pigments in the sky, trees and earth, it is, too, the change in mood and feeling. Sometimes these changes are like the wind, which sometimes move so fast it can't be seen. When the wind is not green, but lavender or rust and one isn't sure whether to embrace the wind or shelter from it.

Shakespeare, naturally, had something to say about it, in his Sonnet 47 ...

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,

To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

The irony of autumn is that while it is the harbinger of cold, frost and the end of things, it is also invigorating, bursting with the last appearance of beauty before the freeze and, quite possibly, a respite from melancholy and things missed and ached for. There is beauty in every season, usually right before us..  

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Hold on, I'll be done in a Jif ...

After last night's almost unimaginably childish back and forth between Megyn Kelly and Newt Gingrich, who, until last night, I thought were intelligent people, I feel compelled to report some truly important election news, which appeared in last week's Olean (NY) Times Herald. It's an AP story, so it simply has to be true, you know. I present it in full below and then comment ...

Amherst, Wis. (AP) - Disorderly conduct charges are pending against a woman who authorities say smeared peanut butter on 30 vehicles outside a gathering in central Wisconsin that she mistakenly thought was a Donald Trump rally.

WSAW-TV reports that investigators say the Monday night conservation group meeting in Amherst had nothing to do with politics.

Authorities say the 32-year-old woman was drunk when she entered the meeting and began yelling about how she hates Trump. She departed when asked to leave, but authorities say she then used peanut butter to draw phallic symbols and write profanities on vehicles outside. An incident report said the woman's blood-alcohol content was 0.218, about 2 and one-half times the state's legal limit for driving.

She is free on bond.

So, let's do some analysis of this penetrating study in human behavior, shall we? Let's start with the group meeting itself. I suppose that the inebriated lady in question could have mistook "conservation" for "conservative", so at least imagined she was in the right place for her purpose.

Ah, but now to the purpose of her visit. I think it's reasonable to assume that, drunk or sober, this lady loathes Donald Trump. Well, darling, join the club. Perhaps she thought that if she made her dislike known in the loudest and most profane tone possible, the startled conservationists would come to their senses and hate Trump, too. Then again, I suspect most conservationists aren't Trump fans to begin with. Of course, maybe those people had been bad that day and deserved a good cussing out. Perhaps they inadvertently ran over a turtle or something. In any event, even the most mild-mannered conservationist won't stand for too many insults, so asking the drunken sot to take a hike (HA-HA) was a good course of action.

At this point I confess to being confused at how the story develops. The way it reads, one would think that the drunken lady (lady?) had the peanut butter at the ready, brush, stick and/or fingers just itching to be used in the exercise of free speech. But, that also suggests that this woman had already determined, well before the attack, that peanut butter would be the instrument of expression for her ire.

If that's so, why peanut butter? Why not whipped or shaving cream, which, being so close to Halloween, is in ample supply at any store near you? That would certainly be less messy and easier to apply. Of course, Cheese Wiz might have been an excellent choice, too, given that there's a handy little squirty thing at the top of the can. Cheese Wiz also hardens very well and is a pain to remove, and no, I won't tell you why I know that.

In any event, peanut butter it was and I then found myself wondering just how much she had to use to deface 30 vehicles. That's a helluva lot of cars, folks. So, I did a little quick research and calculation, and here's what I found out:

Jif peanut butter (Creamy, of course), in a 16 ounce jar (that's a pound for those of you in Salamanca), averages $2.48 per jar. Let's be conservative and say she needed one jar per car. That's 30 jars, 30 pounds and with the 5.34% sales tax included (I checked the Wisconsin state and city tax rates), a cash outlay of $77.34. And that's BEFORE the booze ...

So who the hell decides to premeditate a plot like this and haul around 30 pounds of peanut butter? That takes me back to our heroes of the week, Megyn and Newt and the lesson I am taking from these two seemingly unrelated incidents.

As for the lady in Wisconsin, let's just say she has too much free time, must be terribly lonely and, face it, has an obsessive love for peanut butter (presumably to eat). But she also is an anti-Trumper (I almost wrote "Thumper", but that would be too easy) and so, based on the last several weeks, has Megyn Kelly become. No judgment here, folks, just fairly well apparent.

Newt Gingrich is an avowed Trumper and also happens to be one of the most intellectually gifted and imaginative politicians we have ever had. Don't argue with me, I know the man. So, being so intelligent, why on earth would he reduce himself to the smallest intellectual denominator to engage in a cage match with Megyn Kelly?

And why would Megyn Kelly, a trained attorney, professional broadcaster and, from what I am told, most intelligent and self-controlled person, resort to baiting somebody she knew full well would give it right back to her, with salt and lemon, thank you very much?    

What I have learned from this rigmarole is this - pay no attention to anything other than what you yourself know with some level of certainty about this election, go into the booth and do what you think is right. Personally, I'm done talking about it, looking at it or in any way, shape or form wasting one more moment of God's gift of time on this stuff.

I think I'll go have a sandwich, because, after all, choosy mothers choose Jif.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Goodnight, little one ...

Just saying "goodnight" to my little granddaughter, which is a lesson in patience, how to keep your equilibrium and the wonder of generational transference.

She's a busy bee, this one, and she has a sting just as potent. She'll be tough, all right. Let's just hope not too much so, cause that can scare people off. Sometimes it also attracts the wrong types, so I've taken it upon myself to educate this kid in ways no one else can. Not that her mother isn't wonderful with and for her, she is indeed. But certain things trickle down from the old, not so old and now new. For example ...

When my three children were headed to Napa valley, I always made sure I did two things for them as I walked them around. First, I told them a joke. Second, I sang them a song. I don't know if my father told me jokes as a baby, but he certainly sang to me (even though he was no Caruso). As I rocked my granddaughter to sleep tonight and sang the song I sang, I recalled those that were sung to my three and what was sung to me.

It's one of those rights of passage, I suppose, that will soon be gone, just as the memories will fade and the people in them will be gone, too. But I'll keep them alive as long as possible, and not just for the little girl I held.

One wouldn't think of Dean Martin in the same breath as Johannes Brahms, but Brahms's famous lullaby was given words in 1957 and Dean recorded the tune, on an album arranged by Nelson Riddle and conducted by Frank Sinatra. My parents had the record and my dad did sing it to me at night. It's certainly not a tune you might sing to a baby today, and Brahms most likely wouldn't approve of the recording, but it's still soothing and I still like to listen to it now and again.

My oldest son was always a strong reactor to music, and being autistic (although I didn't know it at the time), the sensory connection was even more pronounced. He was a sweet baby, sleeping through the night at 7 weeks (thank you) and a calm little fella. He still is, for the most part. His tune was one I selected and he happened to enjoy very much. Lullaby in Ragtime is an old tune, featured in one of Danny Kaye's pictures, The Five Pennies. I first heard it on this record, from a great 70's album that came from an unlikely pair. Gordon Jenkins arranged and the singer was Harry Nilsson. Great tune and I love singing it still.

My daughter, born in 1994, is the mother of this new future taxpayer, and her daughter is every bit her mother. That having been established, my daughter was quite the pistol as a baby and still is. But at night, when she did finally begin to drift off (come to think of it, she never drifted, she just crashed headlong into the crib), she was downright calm. She liked this tune, which I happen to as well, and it comes from Billy Joel's last decent album, from 1993, Lullabye.

My youngest was a joyous baby, always looking for a roll of toilet paper or pots and pans to scatter every which way. Today he is a typical young man of 2016, which has its virtues and curses. But he is a smart guy and at his core, a sensitive soul. His tune of choice is an old one and I do so love it. When he heard me sing it around the house, he would come to me and listen. Would that he listened as well now .... oh, well. I don't know anyone who doesn't enjoy Danny Boy, sung here so well by Andy Williams.

And the littlest angel? The tune I picked for her and that she likes is one that a grandfather would naturally select, although it might not be known to you. From the production Sweeney Todd, Stephen Sondheim crafted a touching and poignant tune in this, a song about always being dependable and a fierce protector, which I am to this child and to a couple of others, too. Not While I'm Around. 

I hope to be around for this one and, if at all possible, that she knows, as all my children do, that they always have at least one in their respective corners.          

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Two, or is it three, beautiful things...

It crossed my mind that there has been scant poetry here for some time and that just won't do. 

No deaths to report, no axes to grind and no politics to play, just a touching and lyric poem from Pablo Neruda that I was reminded of while having a brief, but very pleasant thought earlier today. 

This should sound just right, too, while lingering over the words, from the pen of Gabriel Faure'. 

Your Laughter

Take bread away from me, if you wish,
take air away, but
do not take from me your laughter.

Do not take away the rose,
the lance flower that you pluck,
the water that suddenly
bursts forth in joy,
the sudden wave
of silver born in you.

My struggle is harsh and I come back
with eyes tired
at times from having seen
the unchanging earth,
but when your laughter enters
it rises to the sky seeking me
and it opens for me all
the doors of life.

My love, in the darkest
hour your laughter
opens, and if suddenly
you see my blood staining
the stones of the street,
laugh, because your laughter
will be for my hands
like a fresh sword.

Next to the sea in the autumn,
your laughter must raise
its foamy cascade,
and in the spring, love,
I want your laughter like
the flower I was waiting for,
the blue flower, the rose
of my echoing country.

Laugh at the night,
at the day, at the moon,
laugh at the twisted
streets of the island,
laugh at this clumsy
boy who loves you,
but when I open
my eyes and close them,
when my steps go,
when my steps return,
deny me bread, air,
light, spring,
but never your laughter
for I would die. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Rounding curves, with elegance ...

Is the way I'd describe how the Academy of St. Martin In - the - Fields, one of the finest chamber orchestras of the last century, sounded under its' long-time music director and conductor, Sir Neville Marriner, who died yesterday at the age of 92.

Marriner looked, spoke and, if it's possible to pin any accuracy to the characterization, conducted like an English subject and his manner was courtly long before the Queen tapped him on the shoulder. Under Marriner's direction, the Academy grew to international prominence and fame, made hundreds of recordings, many of which could be considered ideal and has stayed an oustanding ensemble long after Marriner's departure. That alone is the best kind of musical legacy, the legacy of permanence.

Marriner began as a violinist in the London Symphony and played under every great conductor of the last half of the 20th century, to include Pierre Monteux, who took over the LSO in 1960 (at the age of 85, with a 25 year contract) and learned  from all of them what to do and what not to do. He most favored Monteux's approach to music-making, which was rarely heaven-storming, but always clear, accurate and with a sound that was full but never opulent or lush. An example of how well the LSO sounded under Monteux (and with Marriner in the fiddle section) can be heard on this recording of Ravel's La Valse from 1961.

Marriner founded the Academy in 1958 and began leading it full time in the early 1960's, with Monteux's encouragement. The orchestra's focus was almost exclusively on the great baroque composers, Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and the rest of the usual suspects. In the early days, Marriner conducted and played violin, giving cues to the orchestra with his bow, which is common among chamber orchestras. The Academy's performances of this music were by no means "authentic" in that the orchestra did not use period instruments, with gut strings, but they did have an authority that came from informed study of balance and tempo, as this performance of the Air on the G string, from Bach's third orchestral suite, shows in fine form.

Marriner went on to found the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and become the music director of several bigger bands, including the Minnesota Orchestra. He was less successful with the more dramatic composers such as Berlioz, Schumann, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, etc., precisely because the intimacy and refinement he brought out in baroque works didn't translate well when you want a fortissimo out of 100 guys. Still, some of those recordings are very good, indeed, such as this performance of Wagner's prelude to Die Meistersinger. He plays it straight, which is all it needs to sound on its' own.

My own favorite Marriner recordings are those of the Haydn symphonies, which he and the Academy made throughout the 1970's on the always high quality Phillips label. Haydn is a favorite composer for me and the unusual quirks of Haydn's writing (he pretty much "invented" the symphony as a musical form), especially some unlikely instrumental pairings, brought out the best of Marriner's direct, unfussy conducting and made clean performances that otherwise might sound cluttered.

So, goodbye, Marriner. Given your name I could make some dreadful pun about the journey ahead, but that would be self-serving. How about we say so long with Haydn, specifically the finale of the Symphony # 45, known, appropriately enough as the Farewell Symphony.