Anonymous yet personal, this Blog chronicles
the daily events and musings of Jim.
It provides an easy way for his friends and family to check in on him,
and serves as a online repository for his random
thoughts, kaleidoscopic flashbacks, and writings on an array of diverse topics.
“Deconstructing Jim” is simply here to
entertain you, but not intended for college credit.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Poison Ivy

It turned out that we were in the Ivy League, and didn't know it.

For years we had diligently watered the green plants in our front yard, but had unknowingly cultivating an impressive garden of three-leaved plants known as Toxicodendron radicans (commonly known as Poison Ivy).

Fortunately Laura, our visiting friend, spotted it in an instant and kindly offered to put on several layers of protective clothing and dig up the insidious plant. She likes "gardening."

I made myself useful by staying as far away from the dangerously toxic plant as I could, and documented a small piece of the operation for this blog.


video

If you want to sing along with Laura, Poison Ivy was recorded by The Rolling Stones. Ring tones are available on the web.

Useful sites:

http://www.poison-ivy.org/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poison_ivy

http://www.keno.org/stones_lyrics/Poisonivy.htm

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Remembering Moondog

Today's flashback concerns my memory of a fascinating person known as "Moondog."

At first glance, he appeared to be a harmless, crazy, blind, homeless person who obsessively hung out at 53rd street on 6th avenue in Manhattan. Even in the hot summer he was often seen wearing his self-made Viking suit and trademark horned helmet. I don't remember hearing him perform, but he was a regular street musician and had some strange looking home-made instruments.























Moondog had graced the streets of Manhattan since 1940.  Office workers working that highly congested area of town would have walked past him on a daily basis. Over time, he became a normal fixture, and by the time I saw him in the late 1960's he had gained some notoriety. He was referred to as "The Viking of 6th Avenue."











Later I learned that he was a poet, philosopher, and composer of some note. His music had been performed, and he had a record out on a major recording label. Moondog was known by both jazz and classical musicians, and made an impact in both areas.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moondog






I've heard some of his music, and suspect that it stems from various tribal and earthy roots. Moondog most likely had freely adopted elements of Native American music - such as drumming and chanting - into his songs. He originally came from Kansas.

Around 1974 he departed his perch on 53rd street, and moved to Germany where he made a new home and died there in 1999.

While I am not a Moondog scholar, I do find his life fascinating, and I'm glad to have seen him in person and up close in NYC.

http://www.geocities.com/moondogmadness/

And there is an authorized biography (with a CD of Moondog's music) by Robert Scotto...
http://www.amazon.com/Moondog-Viking-6th-Avenue-Authorized/dp/0976082284/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1217443378&sr=1-1






















Saturday, July 26, 2008

Reunion of the "Concerned Students Coalition"

It amazes me that brain cells can be so resilient.

Last week I had a reunion with some old friends that I have not seen for a very long time. At least in one case, it had been about 36 years since we talked. When a group of people who grew up in the same place and time reunite in the present universe, it's bound to create sparks of mental activity. That is exactly what happened Thursday night. Our reunion was boisterous, wild, and very entertaining.


Laura (seated second from the left) arrived the night before on Amtrak for a visit. She just retired as a second grade teacher from the public school system in NY state. Next to her is Kim, who's beautiful house in the suburbs were were visiting. And Corky (on the far right) shares with me (sitting on the far left) the dubious distinction of being a transplanted New Yorker who came to Red Sox Nation many decades ago.

Kim, on short notice, agreed to host us and our respective families for dinner. Everyone brought something to the feast: Corky and Cathy contributed ice cream and cookies; Laura, Jim, and Willemien brought fresh tomatoes and mozzarella from Wilson's Farm; and Kim and his lovely wife Susannah made a classic Northern Italian pasta seasoned with bread-crumbs and freshly cut basil from their amazing backyard garden (where Laura was in her element). Kim provided a constant flow of fine red Italian and Spanish wine that he selected from his stock.

There was so much to talk about: not only from the days of our youth, but everything that has intervened in the world since. But invariably the discussion would return to the days of our adolescence in the late 60's and early 70's.

Although as individuals we had forgotten many of the details from that period, as a group we could remember an amazing amount of common history and fact. The stories about what we did in those days for entertainment would fill volumes.

Just to recount a few memorable points...

Although I appeared to be the only one who actually made it to Woodstock in 1969 (more on this in a future posting), the Rahsaan Roland Kirk concert at Mercy College seemed to be a big event in the small town.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rahsaan_Roland_Kirk

I found it interesting that Corky remembered something my brother Larry said that night... Larry, a jazz connoisseur who had heard Kirk perform many times before mentioned "this percussionist brings tambourine playing to a whole new level." I was there that night too, with Susan E. who was very impressed with Kirk's circular breathing technique and his ability to play multiple saxophones at the same time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Ah2nBtcn2A&feature=related

(I would see Kirk for the next and last time up close in the Boston Public Library not long before his untimely death from a stroke. He was blind, and was searching through the braille-coded phonograph records in the lower-level music section of the Boston Public Library. I was too shy to go over and strike up a conversation).

In our teenage high school years we had two favorite hangouts...

It was at Laura's house where many of us would flock at lunch hour. It was very close to the High School, and her parents were unusually tolerant of us. A favorite activity was to put on the TV in her living room and mute it. Then we'd accompany whatever daytime television show was on with music from a randomly selected album of music. We found endless amusement in the chance associations that were derived between the visual and audio dimensions while drinking herbal tea and snacking on crackers. It has hard to go back to class.

Our other refuge was the "Peace Center" in the basement of Susan and Christine's house. This place doubled as a movie theatre for 16 mm black and white films that their mom would bring home from her work at a film distribution company in NYC. It was there that I remember seeing WC Fields for the first time.


But, in the era of the Vietnam War, we couldn't sit idle and escape into the comfort zone of silly movies all of the time. I remember getting my draft card at the age of 18 (which I still have), and knowing that the annual lottery for the military would be just around the corner. My brother Larry had a low number, but eventually got a deferment for medical reasons. His friend Wayne (the older brother of our host Kim) was not so lucky. He got drafted and went to Nam, but was one of the lucky ones to return alive and physically unharmed. I vividly remember Wayne telling myself and J. Alexander (the bass player in my band) what it was like to be in the heat battle. It opened our eyes, and we were next in line so to speak. We were more than "concerned." Wayne went on to become very active in the Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Last week at our reunion, we were having collective amnesia about the official name of our anti-war organization. Fortunately, I got an email from Susan who remembered that it was called "The Concerned Students Coalition." Susan, Eric, and Christine all played vital roles as well as others too numerous to list here (such as Dr. Joe, Robert, Floyd, Ann, George, Tom J., Tom B.). Kim apparently made a mass-mailing to the public and the organization received enough donations to pay the phone bill. I often wonder if our little group rated high enough to be placed on something similar to Nixon's "Enemies List" or to have the phone tapped by the FBI.
If anyone from this circle is able to locate their copy of the political and sarcastic song "Spiro Agnew, we love you, we do" which was recorded on LP, it will be digitized and posted on this blog.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

On the Beach in Saco Maine

On July 19th we drove to Saco Maine for the day to visit cousin Ted, Barbara, Audra, Justin, and baby Max (now 17 months young). Ted and Barbara have a rental house on the beach for the summer while Ted (now enjoying semi-retirement) teaches a course at UNE on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.


(left to right: Barbara, Ted, Justin, Audra, and Max)


(Jim, Joseph, and Willemien)




At dusk and after a thunder storm, it was low tide

and the beach reflected the sky in the wet sand.

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A box with a view - Fenway Park

Willemien had a great seat in an Executive Suite on the EMC level at Fenway Park for the July 12th Red Sox game against Baltimore. Not only was the view spectacular, but the food and amenities were plentiful and delicious. She said it was nice to have a comfortable seat with ample leg-room, and a private bathroom with LCD video screen so as not to miss any of the action. All of this was a nice "perk" courtesy of her employer.

Boston won 12 to 1.

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The Black Swan

The following video on YouTube is about the launching of a hand-made sailboat into the Hudson River under the shadows of the Tappan Zee bridge in Nyack NY.

The classic "catboat" was built by Peter in his garage over the course of a five year span (working part time). I remember on my last visit he was carefully warping the mahogany strips to arch at just the right angle to form the hull.

The sailboat is named "The Black Swan" to reflect the notion of an improbable, unexpected, high-impact event:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_swan_theory

The hull is also finished in a natural oil that makes the dark mahogany wood look black.

The nine minute video features the river town coming together to celebrate the boat's launching with a parade, music, and song. In addition to Peter (who doubles as music director), Laura and their loving dog Oscar share in all of the excitement.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9EPp5QK0h8

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Honoring Elliott Carter


Something unusual is happening in the Berkshires this week...




From Sunday July 20th to Thursday July 24th, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Music Center are mounting a monumental tribute to the distinguished American composer Elliott Carter in a coordinated and impressive celebration of his centenary year. It includes five days of concerts (12-hours of music) drawn from representative periods of the composers' creative output. The concert series includes several American and World Premieres of his work.

I was fortunate enough to attend the two opening concerts on Sunday July 20th.

The 10 AM concert included the following pieces:

Call for two trumpets and horn (2003)

Asko Concerto (2000)

Luimen (1997)

Refléxions (2004, American Premiere)

Double Concerto for piano, harpsichord, and chamber orchestra (1961)

(featuring Ursula Oppens on harpsichord and Charles Rosen on piano. The 81 year-old Rosen played up a storm).

---------

And the 8 PM concert featured the TMC Orchestra with soloists in the following works:

Dialogues for piano and orchestra (2003)

Clarinet Concerto (1996)

Sound Fields for string orchestra (2007)

(an interesting 4-minute study, reminiscent the Farben movement from Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra, Opus 16).

Variations for Orchestra (1955)


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This years' Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music is somewhat unusual, simply because events of this scale involving the music of a single composer do not occur with any frequency. Such is not the norm for a modernist composer who writes in an atonal and complex idiom. Yet, Carter is a unique phenomena for several reasons, and an anomaly in the context of our American musical landscape.

To his benefit, Carter has had the support of many superb musicians who have persistently championed his music over the decades: from conductors such as Lenny Bernstein, Oliver Knussen and James Levine, to the Juilliard, Arditti, and Pacifica String Quartets, to pianists like Charles Rosen, Paul Jacobs, and Ursula Oppens. To my knowledge he has been awarded every major honor and musical distinction possible (including two Pulitzer's), and is one of the few American composers to have truly made an international impact - particularly in Europe where his colleague Pierre Boulez has advocated for him.

The performances by the young fellows at Tanglewood were remarkable, informed, and of phenomenal quality too. It would appear that many of Carter's works are now securely positioned as permanent fixtures in the standard repertory of today's elite musical organizations. He has practically become a household name.




I can say from personal experience having seen Carter in action (when I as a student of his briefly at Yale Norfolk in summer of 1981), that his achievements are justifiably earned. He has worked extremely hard all of his life to create amazing musical works that excite and inspire us. His work will always be of great significance to thinking people interested in the music of our time.

The capacity audience at Seiji Ozawa Hall was energized. They sprung to their feet often to honor the 100 year old composer with spontaneous and enthusiastic standing ovations. I met someone there who is working on an definitive autobiography of the composer. He compared the intellectual and distinguished-looking crowd to a group of "Dead Heads" who travel around the country in a cult attending "Grateful Dead" concerts. (I've heard that Grateful Dead fonding member and bass guitarist Phil Lesh is one of Carter's biggest fans).

Other activities this week include a panel discussion with the composer and musicologists who have made a career specializing in Carter scholarship. I ran into Anne Schreffler who mentioned that her new book about Carter is due out. It can be pre-ordered on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Elliott-Carter-Centennial-Portrait-Documents/dp/1843834049/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1216657381&sr=1-1

The Boston Globe reported today that the BSO has dipped into its' Horblitt Fund to help pay for and promote this year's annual Festival of Contemporary Music. Normally, the festival runs a deficit of about $50,000. This year it will run about $250,000, and the in the end the BSO will probably spend around $400,000 from its' Horblitt fund on this concert series to compensate soloists, publicise it, and record the events for future video release.

Last November I went to the official Horblitt award ceremony for Elliott Carter at Harvard's Paine Hall. It was a small and impromptu function. About 20 people - largely consisting of friends and family - showed up to watch Carter receive an envelope from BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe with a check for an undisclosed amount. This was in fact Carter's second BSO Horblitt over the course of many years.

Professor Shreffler remarked about the history Carter's Harvard connections, and James Levine spoke passionately about the planned upcoming Carter festival at Tanglewood. I assume it was his idea and leadership that forged the Festival of Contemporary Music this summer to be entirely devoted to the music of Carter. The vision at that time was for the festival to last for two entire weeks and include 45 works (this obviously was scaled back), and Levine planned to conduct a significant number of the larger pieces.

Then, in a surprise gesture, the BSO's Music Director walked over to the piano to deliver the world premiere performance of a piano piece written in 2007 by Carter as a birthday present for his mother: Matribute. It is a really elegant piece with all of the Carter-isms we have come to know and love. It also seems to be a quite difficult work to bring off, but Levine performed it superbly. Unfortunately, because of Levine's unexpected surgery of recent weeks to have his liver removed, he could not attend the Carter concerts at Tanglewood this summer. Replacements had to be found in short order to cover for his absence. As a result, the piano piece Matribute will be performed by Ursula Oppens rather than by Levine.

Carter spoke a little at the Horblitt presentation at Harvard too, but as could be expected at his age, his hearing has deteriorated, so questioning was limited. But he did speak on his own rather coherently, and explained that his pieces (and the many thousands of notes in each of them) seem to be spewing out without much conscious thought on his part in recent years. So, he accepted the Horblitt award on behalf of his compositions, and added "my music thanks you." Carter seems to be picking up his musical stride.


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This is all inspiring, a wonderful achievement for the composer individually and for everyone involved with new music collectively. As an audience member, I was certainly in new music heaven. I can't even imagine the excitement that Elliott Carter feels this week.

But, while buried in the thick fog and heavy rain during my long drive back to Boston, I thought about the magnitude of Carter's career. It defies logic in some ways. Modernist composers just don't become superstars. It's just unheard of (Boulez became famous for his conducting, not for his work as a composer alone).

Carter almost seems to be a force of nature. Even the weather seemed to agree and chime in with fireworks in the sky, a cooling wind, and a soft percussive rumble to accompany the Variations for Orchestra at just the right moments of the concert last evening.

In the everyday vacuum of the contemporary music world, there are very few who are able to crash through the glass ceiling of the new music ghetto and make it on to the manicured green lawns of Tanglewood. I wonder if Elliott Carter will be the last living composer of any value to achieve this major distinction. It's taken him a 100 years of hard work to get to this point, and he has had a lot of good luck and support to help him along the way.

Carter's singular career seems a little like the concept of a black hole in astrophysics. Its' gravitational force is so strong, that nothing around it can be seen. Light can't escape. I had to wonder to myself if the young composers in residence at Tanglewood this summer feel at all slighted that their music is not being publicly performed. For many years it had been the norm, since the mission statement at Tanglewood has always been to expose young talent, including up-and-coming composers.

Hypothetically, I wondered what would happen if a nameless composer (let's say Composer X), submitted one of the complex scores penned by Elliott Carter to any major orchestra in the US. Typically those orchestras receive hundreds of unsolicited scores every month. Would the score ever get a serious review, and be read for its' true value? Or, to put it another way, would Elliott Carter ever get a major orchestral performance if his name were not Elliott Carter? Remember, this is a hypothetical question, not simply an exercise in my own cynicism. I don't know the answer, but it would be an interesting experiment.

For composers working today, there is much to be optimistic about.


There is also much to be pessimistic about.

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7/26/08 Postscript: Jeremy Eichler, music reviewer for the Boston Globe, wrote a fine article about the entire Elliott Carter festival. "At Tanglewood, a modernist oasis" appeared in today's edition of the paper...


I found it interesting that his opening sentence of the article is virtually identical to the opening line of my post which appeared five days earlier. He began his piece: "Something remarkable happened this week in the Berkshires." I began my post: "Something unusual happened this week in the Berkshires."

Interesting coincidence. :-)
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8/29/08: The Tanglewood "Carterpalooza" has been posted on the web at:


Good stuff!

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Living the "Glamorous" Life of an American Composer

Even before I can sit down to compose, I've got administrative chores, distractions, and deadlines to meet.

My annual application for a commission from Harvard just went out the door. It requires a written proposal, CV, score, a glowing recommendation from someone prestigious, and a recording of the piece submitted. It also requires a signed letter of commitment from a performing organization - should the piece actually be commissioned by Harvard and written by me.

Wish me luck, but I have applied nearly every year for decades. Applying for this commission annually has become one of my many little rituals as I nurture my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. The results wont be announced until October.

***
I've also got my work cut out for me reviewing the takes from a recording session of my 24 year old String Quartet. The piece was recently performed by a fabulous group of musicians, and they later took the piece into the "studio" for a recording session at Clark University in Worcester MA.












From left to right, Krista (violin I), Rohan (violin II), Jan (cello), and Peter (viola).

Matt, the recording engineer (also a composer)

So my job in the next few weeks is to listen to all of the raw material and try to decipher which takes are the best. It's a big piece, comprising of four movements and totalling 20 minutes of music. The numerous takes are generally just a few measures long. But, I need to carefully review two-day's worth of recordings and make difficult decisions about how they will ultimately fit together. It's interesting to re-familiarize myself with the details of something I wrote nearly a quarter of a century ago. But, the music is surprisingly fresh in my mind.

The editing sessions are tentatively scheduled for late August, and the piece will be digitally assembled and enhanced using the latest version of Pro Tools. I already know that I'd like to add some additional hall-resonance (reverb) to into the final mix.

I'm excited about the final product, since the quartet sounded really great during the recording sessions. But taking the final master to commercial recording companies for release and distribution will be the next challenge. The recording industry is mucho depressed at the moment, and the prospects for a commercial release are quite"iffy." These projects usually require a grant from a foundation, and that would be yet another hurdle to navigate.

***

And then there is the act of creating a new piece, which for me has always been very hard work and an extremely daunting process. I can't just turn it on like a faucet. I need lots of coffee and to get into the groove.

But at least I know who I'm writing the piece for: a Danish Trio consisting of Clarinet, Bassoon, and Piano. Simply by nature of the instruments, this is going to be an unusual work.

***

I'll keep you posted about the progress of these musically-related projects, but it's time to stop blogging and actually get down to the "Bat Cave" to slave in the heat! I feel blessed to have the time to do this self-indulgent work, and I'm not going to squander it.


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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Musical Interlude: Bach Prelude in G maj.

JS Bach
Prelude#15 from the Well-Tempered Clavier
Book II BWV882-893
video

About my friend Lou

To follow up on my previous post, my good friend Lou died on January 3rd of this year. I was invited by his family to speak at his memorial service on 1/19/08, and the text below is excerpted and adapted from my prepared remarks...


---------
...I had been in contact with Lou by email just recently, and we were about to schedule a lunch or dinner meeting to just talk and get caught up on things. But over the past years, he and I had communicated often by email. I knew that he was finally retiring and was looking forward to spending more time with his family and playing on his prized Steinway.

I first met Lou in August of 1993, where he designed and taught a three-month comprehensive Novell training course for a now defunct company in Waltham. He was an amazing teacher, and he had an in-depth grasp of the subject-matter and an innate ability to communicate it. It was one of the best organized and run classes I've even taken. Over time, we stayed in touch, and Lou brought me to the investment house Scudder, Stevens and Clark to work on his team. Lou's technical and interpersonal skills were immediately evident to senior management. Not only did I have the best time of my life working under him, I learned volumes about what a manager should be, and what professionalism is.

One day he asked me fill out an evaluation of him that was related to a Steven R. Covey Leadership and Management program he was taking. I was amazed that on every single evaluation point - from time management, to communication, to ethics - he got my highest rating. He was exemplary, to the point where I almost wondered if he had any faults at all.

The powers at Scudder knew that they had a live one in Lou. While not born into the same social class as them, he was such an expert communicator, clear thinker, and natural leader, that he in affect rose to the top of the company's hierarchy in no time. He had an ability to defuse tense situations, and the skills to mediate between warring parties. He transcended the entrenched corporate culture to work effectively with everyone - at all ends of the spectrum.

At one point management offered him the position of "Chief Technical Strategist" which essentially would have put him in the technical driver's seat for this enormous international company. He declined that offer, feeling that it would not allow him to build and nurture his hand-picked team.

Working in both stressful and relaxed situations for a long time with an individual, such as I did with Lou, allows one to see a person's character. Lou had plenty of it. I'm not understating myself when I say that Lou became my mentor. He was about 10 years my senior, so this was a natural, almost "big brother" role. I learned much from him about how to deal with a complex and changing world, and to balance work-life with one's personal and family obligations and aspirations. For example when I missed a day of work because of back trouble, he immediately made time to call to see how I was doing.

Of course we discussed and explored any and every subject of interest – including, but not limited to - technical concerns. On many occasions (post Scudder) several of us would meet at Bertucci's (our regular hangout) for dinner and to engage in a free-ranging soirée. We'd have these incredible, long-winded, and in-depth discussions about music, philosophy, politics, education, micro and macro economics, cyberspace, and culture that were simply mind-blowing. Whatever subject came up, Lou not only had a well-thought out position, but had done his research and conveyed his thoughts with an erudite elegance that one could simply not argue with.

When the topic turned to sports, I had to concede my ignorance, but it was clear that Lou was not an amateur in that arena either.

A life-long commitment to self-education was another one of Lou's trademarks. After an exchange of some fascinating email regarding late Stravinsky, I was impressed with how informed he was on the subject (I did my doctoral studies in music composition at Brandeis). After inquiring how he had learned so much about the topic, he replied that he had taken an audio course while driving in his car. It was yet another example of his using time efficiently. Lou was a good model for how one should structure and utilize one's resources efficiently and to good use.

He also read profusely, and enjoyed history in particular. His experience as a jazz musician was yet another communality between us. Lou's writing skills were just as sharp as his verbal skills. From corporate to personal communications and to the technical book he wrote but never got published - he had a gift for words.

Recently, Lou volunteered to serve on the IT Advisory Board for the college that I work at. His contributions were extremely insightful, and everyone was elevated by his intelligence and dedication.

Whenever I needed encouragement, advice, or just plain help, I would pick up the phone and give Lou a call, or fire off an email. The response was both immediate and valuable.

Just the other day Lou had kindly offered to help me by being available as an employment reference.

There are probably only a handful of people I have met over the course of my life that have impressed me as much as Lou did. I had nothing but the utmost respect for him, and came to rely on his caring and persistent nature.

It is sad to know that a diabetes-related heart attack prevented him from living longer than he should have, but the wide and dramatic impact that he made on the world is far more than most people can hope for. We are all enriched by the time we had with him.

Going forward, I feel privileged to have been associated with Lou, and I will take those fond memories and wonderful lessons with me into the future.


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To IT or not to IT, that is the question

This morning I electronically submitted my claim for a second week of unemployment benefits. The State requires that I apply for at least three jobs each week.

On Friday I looked at Monster and quickly found a listing for a Novell Engineer at a company conveniently located near me in Cambridge. The listing was from a large IT recruiter, and the company was not specified. I sent off my IT resume by email.

Minutes later the phone rang. It was the recruiter responding to my email. It had just come in on his blackberry, which he was reading as he sped down I95/Rt128. He was very impressed with my resume and wanted to know if I was available immediately. His client, a major biotech company needed a high-level eDirectory engineer with experience ASAP. Apparently this is a skill that has become rather obscure in the Microsoft-oriented age, and people with this knowledge are getting very difficult to find.

As I spoke with the recruiter I came to realize that his client was a large biotech company that begins with a B. "B" is a huge international company with about 1200 employees in Cambridge alone and close to a billion dollars in annual sales per year.

It so happens that I am indirectly familiar with their IT infrastructure and services based on Novell's eDirectory, since my good friend and IT mentor Lou worked there and essentially built it. It's amazing technology.

I had long technical conversations with Lou about what he had implemented at B, and it was very impressive. Lou went to the biotech before their merger - first as a Novell Consulting Services contractor, but then as their Novell guru on staff. He was at the company for many years, and to this day I still run into personnel from their IT department at conferences who worked with him. But, because of politics and what he considered a lack of clear strategic direction and support from IT department, Lou left for another senior position somewhere else.

I had inquired with Lou about his view on employment opportunities at B, since they are one of the few large Novell shops in the area. Lou strongly recommend against it, saying that the internal politics were brutal and that the demands placed upon IT staff is simply outrageous. B runs their entire Directory Services off of two clustered fault-tolerant Intel-based servers. Lou was the guy responsible for maintaining it, and if something ever happened, the company would stop dead in its' tracks (biotech is a highly regulated industry, so getting anything done can be very bureaucratic and full of red-tape). His cellphone could (and usually did) ring at any time of the day or night, and he was expected to fix what ever technical problem arose pronto. In one of my last conversations with Lou before he died earlier this year, he said "don't go to 'B' if you want to have a life."

I've been in that role before as a Vice President of Information Systems at Scudder. It's not a fun existence. People who live in that high-stress environment die from heart attacks before their time - like Lou who passed away just a week or two after retiring.

I'm not ruling out anything. I clearly need a job. But it is with serious trepidation that I put my toes back into the water of IT Operations. It's not a fun occupation when the going gets rough. Heads roll, people yell, and the cell phone never stops ringing.

There may be more sane positions in IT that I could potentially be happy in. I interviewed at Harvard for a Senior Project Manager position in their Server Operations Data Center. Unfortunately I didn't make it to the final round, but I felt confident that I could do the job, and do it well.

I may follow through with the IT recruiter who called me about the bio tech, but I'm very wary about putting myself in that kind of position again.
Been there, done that.

Look for a post about my late friend and former colleague Lou. He was a genius.


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Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Great American Yard Sale

Sooner or later all of the clutter builds up and reaches the point of critical mass. As the late comedian George Carlin nicely put it "we have lot's of stuff."

Fortunately Americans' have a practical solution to remedy this situation. The Great American Yard Sale has long been a suburban ritual. It's a summer time institution in these parts - and I'm glad that it exists.

I say this proudly because the "sell my garbage" tradition is not yet ingrained in European culture. It seems to be an American thing. In Holland for example, the public is only allowed to sell their used possessions on just one day of the year. That day is April 30th; the birthday of their former queen - Juliana. It is known as Koninginnedag (Queen's Day), and aside from public celebration, people are permitted to sell their old tea pots or Delft bric-a-brac TAX FREE. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koninginnedag

We Americans have it good. We can sell our garbage all summer long without a Royal decree.

As a way to rid our basement of extraneous items, and perhaps generate some extra cash, we had a yard sale today. (It helps if you pronounce "yard" with a New England accent).

We have been planning this big event for a long time. This past week we were up late at night sticking little orange dots on countless items for sale while anxiously looking at the weather report to see if the forecast would be in our favor or not. We made bright DayGlo yellow signs to place around the neighborhood, and electronically posted our event on the town's Internet listserv.

Saturday morning seemed to arrive very early. Before we knew it, people were hovering outside our door at 7:30 AM for a yard sale advertised to begin at 9 AM. These early birds are known as the "vultures." They are professionals who take their work very seriously, and have the phrase "can you do better?" burned into the speech-center of their brains. And the more advanced examples of the species use technology too. I saw one lady snapping photos of select items with her cell phone. I presume she was emailing them back to her staff at HQ who were analyzing it and finding comparative prices on eBay.

Even before I could inject French Roast coffee into my bloodstream, we had to move what seemed like a truck load of stuff from our basement over to the driveway and front yard. Here is a photo of how things looked once we were setup...

The results were good. Many interesting people came and our clients seemed to be made up out of the fabric of America. We heard a lot of different languages being spoken, including Hungarian. In the process you get to know your neighbors a lot better too, and meet people from the community at large. It's a very social activity, and clearly the consumer can determine a lot about the seller...including what you wear, read, and listen to. It invites discussion. Even our regular mail carrier took a break from his route to see what we had for sale. It was a mini-happening.

In the first hour "product" was just flying off the shelf. Some items that we had been embarrassed to offer for sale found a rightful and happy owner. Little children came in droves and earnestly picked through the boxes of toys to find the one that appealed to them in a special way. Others found an item of interest or fascination (such as an obsolete analog cell phone) and they were glad to take it home for a dollar or so. Joseph made out very well, having sold his PS2 and a lot of video games and controllers - including Guitar Hero II. (He recently upgraded to XBox360 and has no need for the old technology).

I had also thought people might like to beat the heat and purchase a bottle of ice-cold drinking water. We had purchased bottled water and a large cooler at Walgreen's the evening before thinking it would be a nice option, but for some reason nobody seemed thirsty today. But it will eventually come to good use (I hope). On hot days this summer I plan to take the water cooler down the hill to sell cold drinks to dehydrated joggers, rollerbladers, and bike riders as they zoom by on the bike path. It's the Capitalist way. It seems that wherever there is a need, there is someone to fill the niche and supply the service.

Our yard sale had been scheduled to go until 1 PM, but we kept the doors open a little longer to satisfy the strong demand. Cars kept driving up, and at one point it created a traffic situation on our normally quiet little street. What didn't sell is currently piled up on the sidewalk in front of the house with a large sign reading "free" on top of it. We hope that these last remaining remnants will mysteriously disappear in the dark of the night. (Anyone in the Boston area reading this is welcome to drive by and pick through it).

Today's take was close to $200. Not bad since most of the items were priced to be purchased for small change! Joseph earned about half of that, and he is currently out at the local Chinese restaurant having dinner with his buddies and paying for his buffet with hard earned cash from the yard sale.

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Now, if I could only clear garbage and clutter from my mind as easily.

Is that what blogs are for? (A rhetorical question).

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Postscript: July 13th. I woke up early the next day and looked out my front door to discover that virtually all of the free items had been removed during the night.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Helen Louise McCown - Soprano






The American soprano Helen Louise McCown was born in Charleston West Virginia. She graduated from the Juilliard School of Music where she received top honors. Her vocal teachers and coaches included Willem Van Giesen, Paul Althous, L.S. Fabri, and Coenraad V. Bos.






The talented soprano appeared with the New York Symphony under Leopold Prince and has been successful in radio concert broadcasts in New York and the South. She had her own television show on WSAZ in Huntington West Virginia and performed at the renowned Greenbrier Hotel with the Meyer Davis Orchestra. The soprano performed at Max Loew's NY 79th street nightclub "The Viennese Lantern."





Whether she sings German Lieder or American folk-songs, operatic arias or operetta, Helen McCown wins public enthusiasm.




Press quotes....

"Warmly received for some beautiful singing - she has an engaging personality, is appealing to the eye, is a serious-minded musician and her diction is good."



Her charm, poise and vocal skill held the audience spellbound as she sang..."







"Her dramatic soprano voice is ideally suited to the exacting arias of 'Elijah.' It is a voice of exquisite beauty and dramatic structure. Her high tones were sung with keen fidelity to pitch and her low tones were sung with the breadth and warmth associated customarily with the Contralto voice."
























Program book from a performance at Carnegie Hall
on Saturday, May 25th, 1963 where she sang Al Di La by G. Onida.

Al Di La
Non credevo possibile,
Se potessero dire queste parole:
Al di lá del bene più prezioso, ci sei tu.
Al di lá del sogno più ambizioso, ci sei tu.
Al di lá delle cose più belle.
Al di lá delle stelle, ci sei tu.
Al di lá, ci sei tu per me, per me, soltanto per me.
Al di lá del mare più profondo, ci sei tu.
Al di lá de i limiti del mondo, ci sei tu.
Al di lá della volta infinita, al di la della vita.
Ci sei tu, al di la, ci sei tu per me.
La la la la la...
La la la...
(Ci sei tu...)
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Al di là (Beyond) - Tanslation
I couldn't believe it was possible
For these words to be said:
Beyond the most precious good, there you are.
Beyond the most ambitious dream, there you are.
Beyond the most beautiful things, there you are.
Beyond the stars, there you are.
Beyond, there you are for me, for me, just for me.
Beyond the deepest sea, there you are.
Beyond the borders of the world, there you are.
Beyond the infinite sky, beyond life.
There you are, beyond, there you are for me.
la la la...
(There you are).

Notes: Her teacher was Dutch pianist and accompanist Coenraad V. Bos. b - 1875, d - Chappaqua,NY, 5 AUG 1955. Coenraad V. Bos accompanied the 1896 première of Brahms's `Four Serious Songs.' His book "The Well Tempered Accompanist" is a classic text for singers and accompanists.


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Aunt Effy and the Young'uns

Aunt Effy needed a backup band to take her show on the road. She enlisted my two brothers and myself along with a sharp banjo player named Christine. I played guitar, my older brother Larry played upright string bass, and my little brother Ricky kept time on the drums. Collectively we were known as "Aunt Effy and the Young'uns."

Here is a photo of us performing for an enthusiastic audience....





The family-oriented show included tunes from her Nashville album, and some newer songs too. One of the more comical moments in the performance was when Aunt Effy (the Butcher's Daughter) grabbed a realistic looking rubber chicken out of her red wicker basket and hurled it around her head while singing. That usually brought the crowd to its knees laughing - a least at Senior Centers.

We performed at large venues (such as the Westchester County Auditorium), outdoor music festivals, and in smaller settings too.

I remember particularly well a show we played for a "captive audience" at the County of Westchester Department of Corrections in April of 1971. After being searched, we were escorted into the general prison area and over to a makeshift stage where we performed for over 100 inmates. They were very enthusiastic, almost too much so. There was so much heckling that I could hardly hear the music I was playing. At one point we invited some of them to come to the stage and sing with the band. One young man was due to be released soon, and his dream was to be a singer. He never contacted us on the outside, but I hope that he had some success in the music business. Not everyone can have the fantastic career of a Johnny Cash.

After the concert we received a thank you letter from a prison official - Mr. Lissner (Col. Army Ret'd). He wrote:

Your show was a tremendous success, each and every inmate in attendance was thrilled to be part of your show. Special thanks to your "young'uns" for their professional display of great musical talent, especially in the manner in which they worked with the participating musical inmate groups.

Please keep us in mind for future engagements in the Jail and the Women's Division.


As you go through life, you never know who you will bump into from your past. Many years later when I was in graduate school at Brandeis, one of my colleagues - a precocious 12-tone composer named John - revealed that he had a checkered past. Apparently, as a youth John had been arrested for being in the possession of some heavy drugs and was sentenced to time at the Westchester County Department of Correction. I don't know if he was in the "captive audience" the day of our "Aunt Effy and the Young'uns" concert or not (probably not), but it just goes to show you that the world is small.

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Musical Interlude: Bach 2-Part Invention in Eb major

Bach 2-Part Invention in Eb major BWV 772-801


video

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

My John Houseman story

After I finished High School I spent a year at Juilliard Extension Division taking music classes. One of the things I did there was join the chorus. We performed some cool stuff (e.g. Mozart Requiem at Alice Tully Hall with Abraham Kaplan conducting, etc). We were also drafted to be in the stage chorus for an opera by the Swiss composer Ernst Bloch (Macbeth). I had to learn the music, dress up like a soldier and be on the stage in addition to singing the part from memory. Bloch was the teacher of composer Roger Sessions of the Juilliard composition faculty, and his daughter Suzanne Bloch taught early music on the college faculty.

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/02/09/arts/suzanne-bloch-94-musician-devoted-to-early-instruments.html





The opera production was directed by the famous director, actor, and producer John Houseman. Among other things Houseman worked with Orson Wells on the notorious radio adaptation of H.G. Wells "War of the Worlds" which caused major hysteria and mass panic in the NY city metro area in the 1930's one Halloween evening.





You can read more about Houseman here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Houseman

He was a very daunting person, although I didn't fully appreciate his impressive credentials at the time. He spoke with a pronounced English accent, and came across as bit of an obnoxious snob to us kids. I remember a run-in he had with our chorus conductor who allowed us to sit in chairs off-stage. Houseman wouldn't have it, we had to suffer along with everyone else. We feared him. Besides directing the staging of this particular opera, he was head of the newly formed and prestigious Juilliard Drama Department. But new to the field of opera direction, his reputation was on the line.

Along with the members of the chorus, acting students had bit roles in the opera too. They were always so eager to please Houseman and get any role that they could to demonstrate their talent. For all I know, their future careers may have depended on it.

During the long and tedious rehearsals of the opera I had made friends with a couple of the acting students. In general the musicians, pianists, and composers were required to take chorus. They were introverted, anti-social, and just didn't want to be there at all (composer Andrew Violette was one of them). However I got along just fine with the actors, and made friends with one guy in particular.

One day Housman lined up the guys (from both the pool of chorus members and actors). It felt like an audition as he looked us over with his hard glare. He needed a soldier to stand on the inclined stage as an ornament with slippery leather shoes motionless for eight or ten minutes holding a lit torch as part of the set. It required nerves of steel, concentration, and cool (not my strong suit).

He explained that if the flame landed on the stage, it could set the Juilliard Theatre on fire and instigate public panic. If a piece of the petroleum gel were to land on the wooden stage, the actor would be responsible for calmly extinguishing it with his leather slippers and pretending that it was all a "part of the show."

He looked us over carefully. All the male acting students were eagerly seeking the part - and his approval too. In my memory they seemed to be begging like little puppy dogs waiting to be thrown a biscuit.

After a long deliberation, Houseman pointed to me. (I was tall and looked more like a soldier than the other kids I guess). It resulted in one of my big moments in life - to be on the big stage and have a silent role, and I actually found it fun. I had to learn when to be ready to go out, and my cue was the music itself. Over many rehearsals and several performances I sometimes lingered, but never missed a cue.

How did I get onto this long story you ask?....

The acting student who I befriended had been standing next to me in the line-up during the "audition." In affect he had unsuccessfully auditioned for the small bit-part I had somehow secured. But he turned out to have a good career in acting anyway. Even though the famous John Houseman had chosen me over him to hold the torch, this young actor soon got work on TV. He was the psychiatrist on "Cheers."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelsey_Grammer




Grammer went on to star in many other TV shows and movies and led the tragic life that those people in Hollywood seem to live. He always seems to be in the tabloids (and I noticed on the Wikipedia listing that he also shares a birth date with me - although he is one year younger).





I never kept up contact with the young actor. But I do remember helping him empty a keg of beer in the Juilliard cafeteria at one of the few school social "activities."

In retrospect, as I learned more about the history of Juilliard and how the faculty treated students, Houseman probably gave a chorus member the tiny acting part to simply to piss off the drama students. It was a power trip.

So every time I hear about the TV show Cheers or Frasier, it makes me think of this story.


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Cholesterol and Me

Jim's Cholesterol Readings











DATE Total Cholesterol "Good" HDL Total HDL/Ratio LDL Triglycerides Medication Sears ratio(Tri/HDL)

These are my test results. Look Ma, I can do tables in HTML! :-)
May-00 278 42 6.6 138 436 none 10.4
Aug-00 168 36 4.7 88 222 Zocor 10 MG 6.2
May-01 191 37 5.2 111 216 Zocor 10MG 5.8
Oct-01 154 33 4.7 96 127 Zocor 20MG 3.8
Aug-02 177 37 4.8 99 205 Zocor 20MG 5.5
Apr-03 166 49 3.4 86 154 Lipitor 10MG 3.1
Apr-05 172 39 4.4 88 226 Lipitor 10MG 5.8
May-06 178 35 5.1 88 274 Lipitor 10MG 7.8
May-07 163 39 4.2 83 199 Lipitor 10MG 5.1
May-08 174 38 4.6 80 279 Lipitor 10MG 7.3

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Musical Interlude: Bach 3-Part Invention in C major

JS Bach 3-Part Invention (Sinfonia) in C major BWV 772-801

video





Tiffany Mantel Clock

Have you ever received a "sign" or wondered about coincidence or fate? Years ago I read C.G. Jung's 1951 book "Synchronicity" and found it strange but quite interesting. Here is one definition of synchronicity: "The concept of synchronicity indicates a meaningful coincidence of two or more events where something other than the probability of chance is involved."

To learn more or refresh your memory, check out this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synchronicity

Here is an example of my own very personal "synchronicity" experience...

When I was growing up in the house in DF, my father and mother had a beautiful, heavy brass mantle clock made in the 1930's by Tiffany. Its internal "works" were manufactured by the Chelsea Clock Company in Boston. The soft ticking sound and chime are still a part of my childhood memories, and I dearly remember my dad as he ritualistically wound it up and adjusted the always-drifting time.




It sat on top of the marble fire place in the living room. The mantel clock never kept time well, and it stopped working at some point, at least physically. Repairs were unsuccessful. My parents moved away from that house, but took the clock with them. The years advanced, and they aged and later passed away.

I inherited the clock from my parents. (More on how it came to them later).

When my son Joseph was little, I brought the clock to a repair shop in Harvard Square to see if they could get it to run again. The shop sent it out and they tried and tried, but after bringing it back a a number of times (and spending way too much money) all efforts to make the clock operational failed. It just wouldn't work any more.

Now and then I would tinker with it myself to get it to start up and tick, but to no avail. Since this clock has special meaning, I would never part with it, and kept it downstairs in my house displayed prominently on top of a book shelf in the dinning room. It was (and still is) a very nice piece of decorative furniture.

Years later, when Joseph was three or four, he woke up very early one Saturday morning on his own. For some reason he went downstairs by himself in his pajamas and found a stool to stand on in front of the mantle clock. He opened the glass lens and pushed the arms around with his little fingers, somehow starting up the mechanism. The clock ran, and the chime sounded, arousing me upstairs from a dream.

It was a miracle, at least in my mind. The connection between my father and Joseph was made. My father and Joseph never met, except for that moment. (Joseph inherited my father's middle name). To this day, Joseph and I both realize that something magical happened at that morning.

While the clock ran for an hour or two, it seized up again and hasn't run since. But, I'm happy to have had that one miracle.

(I've noticed that the Chelsea Clock Company is still in existence, and they run ads in the New Yorker magazine offering restoration services. I'm torn between letting it be, and putting it through modern surgery. I'm leaning toward letting it be).

Random coincidence or an example of Jung's Synchronicity? You decide for yourself, but I've made up my mind.

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The way the clock came into my family's possession is also a strange story...

One day, when I was probably 4 or 5 years old, my mom explained that an old lady would be living in our house. Upstairs from the kitchen were some somewhat autonomous rooms originally designed as a maids quarters. I think I only met her once, but I just remember a very old and frail lady - perhaps a 100 years old. My mother said that I should call her "Aunt Katherine" but she was clearly not a real aunt.

From what I could ascertain from my parents, they had taken in this poor old lady to live out her final days in our house. Perhaps my dad had done some legal work for her or her family. Later, I learned that her name was Katherine Lockwood, and that she was a widow, had no immediate family, and no descendants. My parents had befriended Katherine when they were her neighbors on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. My brother Larry remembers her grand and spacious apartment. I also gathered from my mom that she had once been very wealthy and had lived in Connecticut.


The rear of the photo reads
"Daughter of Wm Lockwood, Greenwich Connecticut in the early 1900's."

Almost as soon as she arrived, she must have died. I came home from school and my mom would only say that Aunt Katherine is no longer with us. I guess by default we inherited what ever she had, which consisted of the Tiffany clock, a fine wooden desk that my brother Larry inherited, some ornate bric-a-brac, and a cardboard box filled with stock certificates. The stock certificates, which I still keep, were from the early 20th century, and for huge dollar amounts and numbers of shares in mostly oil and gas companies in Texas.

Not that long ago, I had these stocks professionally researched, and every single company and share came from businesses that went bust in the 1929 stock market crash of the Great Depression. Not a single company survived in any form. But when you look at the stock certificates, which incidentally are very elegant and official looking documents, the Lockwoods were billionaires on paper - at least at one time.

Curiosity got my goat. Who were the Lockwoods? I have a hunch (but no definitie proof) that she was the last survivor of the LeGrand Lockwood family. LeGrand was a robber-baron, a banker-railroad tycoon who went broke in the late 19th century. That family made a fortune, and just as easily lost it with their notoriously bad investments. LeGrand's children, one of which may have been Aunt Katherine's father, lost every penny. There is a little history on the website of the old family mansion in Norwalk Connecticut.

http://www.lockwoodmathewsmansion.org/new.html

If antiques and old mansions could talk, what stories they would tell!


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Frans Hals

Here are two 17th century portraits by Frans Hals of my son Joseph's great, great, great,... grandparents. Lucas was a wealthy "potash" dealer in Haarlem (whatever potash is).

The paintings are in the Rijksmuseum on permanent loan from the City of Amsterdam. (Frankly, I don't see any family resemblance).

1) Lucas de Clercq
http://rijksmuseum.nl/collectie/zoeken/asset.jsp?id=SK-C-556&lang=en

http://www.humanitiesweb.org/human.php?s=g&p=c&a=p&ID=6769 (another view)

2) Feyntje van Steenkiste (his wife)

http://rijksmuseum.nl/collectie/zoeken/asset.jsp?id=SK-C-557&lang=en -
-----------------
More about Frans Hals... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frans_Hals

In his later work Hals developed a cool palette, alternating blacks and grays with brilliant and sparkling color. The master reached the height of his renown in the 1630s. He painted, in these years, several groups and a number of important single portraits (e.g., Lucas de Clercq; Rijks Mus.).

His possessions were seized for debt in 1652, and difficult years followed. Four years before his death he was granted a pension by the town. In the 1630s his compositions became simpler and monochromatic effects took the place of the bright colors of the earlier paintings (Lucas de Clercq and Feyntje van Steenkiste, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1635).

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Grosse Fuge as Portal into New Music

There are not many good entry points into the universe of modern music. I think it relates to how we hear, and almost involves unlearning the way we have heard music in the past.

The perception of hearing is just extraordinary. It is perhaps even more developed in our biology than the sense of sight.

Imagine an astrophysicist gazing into the night sky, looking at the stars, and seeing the wonder of it all. Then think about the great telescopes that have evolved over time cumulating with space-based systems. Think about how that perception of the sky today is different from say the first human inhabitants on the earth. Each sees the vastness of space so differently.

There are some extraordinary people who can hear complex patterns of sound and process it in their brains real-time with amazing agility. They can push the human mind and their ability to hear to the limit. They have a depth of understanding about sonic relationships that go far beyond the capabilities of ordinary people.






In history, some of these gifted people explored patterns of sound more than others. One such individual over-came many personal obstacles (such as deafness) to make that important leap into the future. Beethoven is one such entry-point into the world of new musical thought. He can serve as a Portal in the new music landscape.

While I can find examples of modern non-linear musical thinking going all the way back to the Renaissance, Beethoven had a vision that is closer to our time. To this date, whenever his Grosse Fuge is performed, some audience members run for the door. The piece causes for some psychological dislocation. I've even heard of people getting physically ill from it.

The Grosse Fuge (for String Quartet) is a late work, and he wrote it when he was almost completely deaf. It had been assumed by his patron that he was either mad, deaf, or incompetent. For some mortals, the piece merely sounds "ugly." But if you want to gaze into the world of complex music, this is a potential doorway. Like Einstein work worked not long after him, Beethoven could see what no one else was able to. Einstein replaced Newton. Beethoven built on top of Mozart and Haydn and took it to a new level. The world has never been the same since.

Here is an article by Alex Ross (the current music critic for the NY Times who just published a book about Modern Music) mentioning the Beethoven manuscript for the Grosse Fuge...

http://www.therestisnoise.com/2006/01/beethovens_gros.html

Lewis Lockwood, a musicologist at Harvard calls the Grosse Fuge the "Holy Grail of Music, a vortex of ideas and implications." I couldn't agree more.

I hope this amazing "portal" provided by Beethoven works to improve your hearing. It's not going to be an easy journey, but one that I think people should make.

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Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg - documentary


I watched the movie "Speaking in Strings." It is a 1999 documentary about the Italian-American violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. It is also a film about the classical music industry, how only a tiny fraction of one percent of musicians ever attain major success or fame at all, and a biography of a very interesting, non-conformist musician - Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg.

The movie chronicles her rapid assent to fame: from a Juilliard student of Dorothy DeLay winning the 1981 Naumburg competition, to a burned-out and depressed suicidal wreck (don't worry, the movie doesn't end on a down note). Sonnenberg, who speaks with a robust NY accent, is a Rosy O'Donnell type. She plays with: sharp knives (which resulted one Christmas day in her cutting off the tip of her left pinkie), and hand guns (which were initially recommend to her by a friend for defense against a psychotic fan who was stalking her). Nadja smokes Camel cigarettes like there is no tomorrow. Not surprisingly, she takes musical chances.

The film is packed with video of not only her performances as soloist with orchestras from all around the world, but with wild and unpolished first-rehearsals with friends and recording sessions. There is interesting footage of her with conductors Gunther Schuller, Marion Alsap (then Colorado Symphony, now music director of Baltimore), and others. Watching her as a performer is unnerving. She can't stand still and the contortions of her face are psychologically disturbing.

The high-point of the film for me is footage of a riveting performance she gave of the Shostakovich Violin Concerto #1 at Carnegie Hall just two weeks after she tried to shoot herself in the head with a pistol due to severe depression. The body language says it all. The intense, un-earthly sounds coming out of her violin (harmonics near the opening) and the way in which her body and instrument appeared to be possessed is perhaps unlike anything I have ever experienced in a musical performance before. I've seen people in various altered states (e.g. religious fervor), but it is not everyday that a musician with the unbelievable technical prowess of Sonnenberg flies loose on the concert stage and creates a connection with the supernatural.

Rent the movie from NetFlix or from your local video store. You can check out her official website too...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Rock and Roll circa 1970

Here I am learning to play the guitar.




It was years later before someone showed me the "correct" way to hold it.


This photo was taken in our basement music room. The psychedelic day glow mural in the rear is of my own invention. Jeffrey, on the right, played the electric bass.



Here I am attempting to use the electric guitar as a Vietnam era assault weapon (a Jimi Hendrix influence?)

....while our drummer Chip shows off his safari hat.







Although not an official band member, Laura is seen here at the first Peace Rally ever in DF. We bailed out of school early that day, and some of the teachers joined us for our protest march through town.

Laura, Floyd (our keyboardist), Christine and others later gained notoriety for their splendid rendition of "Spiro Agnew, We Love You We Do" sung to the infamous Pachebel canon Dona Nobis Pacem.

Between sets Floyd takes a break.





Christine played banjo, acoustic guitar, and composed a number of folk-oriented hits, including a catchy song about "Garbage" that we all fondly remember for its' wit and humor.


I painted the star on this guitar, which proudly displays the colors of the flag: Red, White, and Blue.

More about Aunt Effy the Butcher's Daughter

Aunt Effy wrote the following essay about her childhood, family, and parents Lawrence and Lula...




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Our house lay in the bottom land at a place where the road forked and crossed over Tyler Mountain. Down the road a ways stood a little white church, a one-room school house and the blacksmith shop. Just out of sight in the hollow, in the back of us was our old barn that Papa had turned into a slaughter house.

I was the fifth child in a family of seven and I spent a happy childhood running barefoot over the hills in this little country hamlet in West Virginia.

When I recall those wonderful years and my large, loving family, I think of Papa. It was his foresight and courage that vare our life excitement and hope.

One day when times were particularly hard, Papa loaded the wagon with fresh killed pork, chickens, country ham and sausage and went peddling towards town. Ringing a bell and making friends wherever he went, he was unknowingly sowing the seeds of a meat business that would in time change our life and the countryside around us.

Already Mama had more than her share of work, so it couldn't have been her idea to build a store down front across the road from the church and school. Spendin' money was scarce in the hills and the store added more work than profit or income. Yet, people liked not having to go to town for "boughtin" things; they walked and came by horse and wagon to buy fresh meat, coffee, sugar, flour, chewing tobacco and snuff.

In no time the store became a gathering place for young and old with more visitin' than buyin'. The women folks remained ketchin' up on news with Mama and helping with some unfinished chore - the latest quilt or a new batch of jelly cooking on the coal stove in the back. Along with the usual woman talk, heads were often bowed in prayer for a sick child back in the hollow or for a heartborken woman whose man was away in the pen.

Boys and girls stopped in after school for a penny piece of candy or to "look." Young couples who were courtin' found a place to meet and talk.

Saturday night was mostly for the men folks. Carrying a lantern or wearing a carbide cap, they came from all over and sat around the potbelly stove chewin' tobacco, whittlin' and swappin' stories of fox hunts and "hants."

Everyone went to church on Sunday and to prayer meeting during the week. Papa and the hired help were the few exceptions and were usually working at the slaughter house. I recollect Sabbath services when the "Amen Brother" was drowned out by the squeal of a runaway pig in the creek out back, or by Papa's strong voice headin' off a stray cow in the road out front of the church.

I'm not sure how well Papa was in keepin' the Fourth Commandment. Like many other things that were to come along later in life, Papa did get to church and was saved and baptized.

My two fun lovin' uncles who lived across the mountain ran the square dancin' in the summertime. They built a large dance platform beneath a big beech tree with an elevation up around the trunk for the musicans.

The dance I remember best was when I was ten years old and danced most of the day with Uncle Adam. My brother, Hurchel did the callin' and Uncle Fred kept four dance sets going from noon until sundown. Above the excitement of the "do-si-doos" we heard the lively and unforgetable music of a young and unknown fiddle player - Clark Kessinger.

Papa and my older sisters worked in the stand selling sandwiches, watermelon, lemonade and tobacco.

Mama along with other women whose religion frowned upon dancing and fiddlin' music, sat in the background mindin' the younguns and admiring secretly, I suspect, the happy dancers.

Towards evening everyone started home. We were the last to leave for there was work to be done and the wagon to load. Earlier in the day I hid my new shoes under the dance platform and when I went to get them they were nowhere to be found.

It was dark as we followed the wagon back home across the mountain. My heart was too light and happy to mind the blisters on my feet from dancing or the scolding I got for losing my shoes.

When I was eleven, changes were made in the isolated but wonderful life we led. The meat business had grown by leaps and bounds with the entire family sharing in the work. Our store which had been the center of many good times was closed.

The paved road came through, over the mountain, followed by electricity, the radio and music from Nashville. For some time I showed signs of a good singing voice and was sent to town for trainin'.



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More about Clark Kessinger:



And here is a photo of the one room school house. Aunt Effy is on the far right of the top row.



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