Anonymous yet personal, this Blog chronicles
the daily events and musings of Jim.
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thoughts, kaleidoscopic flashbacks, and writings on an array of diverse topics.
“Deconstructing Jim” is simply here to
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Friday, January 30, 2009

Raptors in suburbia

We have a hawk that likes to hang out around our house in suburbia. At one point this morning it few right up to the window and stared directly at me in the eye.

There seems to be a food supply in the area, and this fellow just caught and consumed half of a squirrel for breakfast, depositing the other half of the carcass conspicuously on my back porch. It's is kind of sad, since we have gotten to know our squirrels quite well over the years.

He came back later to finish off the remainder of the squirrel for lunch, and didn't seem to mind my presence. Maybe he plans on having me for dinner.


Feb. 5th update...

This particular story has created more hits than any other post on this blog (I'm tracking it with Google Analytics). For those wanting more video, there is now a series of movies on Youtube - starting with:

I also received two very informed email from a reader named Soheil. He has allowed me at add his comments to this post...

Jim, that raptor eating the squirrel on your back porch is a young Redtailed Hawk. This one undoubtedly hatched and grew up in an urban neighborhood, hence its lack of fear of humans. Also, young birds often seem tamer or bolder than adults. Presumably, the boldest or tamest get taken out and the surviving adults are the more cautious ones.
About the squirrels: Those and just about all rodents seem to have been put on earth to feed hungry hawks. Basically,the world of the living is divided among two classes: Hawks and hawk-fodder. Count me on the side of the hawks.


Jim, as a birder I'm used to having my opinions on birds (and mammals) on the bird listservs around here. You may use my post in any way you like.

Cool video. I love the way it uses its legs to boost up every time it tears a piece off. Sharing our world intimately with these wild creatures is fun, isn't it? I recently spent a week in Nevada with a very experienced hawk-bander counting, trapping and banding hawks. Most were redtails, but with other species mixed in. It's a grand experience to hold one of these creatures in your hands. It's even grander (and painful as hell) when one takes a bite out of you, or sinks its talons into you.

On the local front, there were 136 Redtails counted on the Greater Boston Christmas Bird Count in December. That's not an all-time high, but close. In Saugus, at Rumney Marsh and Bear Creek Sanctuary, we've recently tallied at least 9 species of raptors,including 4 - 5 Redtails, 2 Roughlegs, 2 - 3 Northern Harriers, 2 American Kestrels, a Merlin, 2 Peregrine Falcons, a Bald Eagle, 2 Short-eared Owls and a Snowy Owl. The place is crawling with raptors. The varmints must be tasty!

Sorry, I don't know if you are interested in these facts and figures, but I'm just brimming with enthusiasm about raptors these days!



Tuesday, January 27, 2009

50 million dollar fantasy

The $850 billion economic stimulus package being proposed by the Obama Administration includes a one-time $50 million budget item to enhance the National Endowment for the Arts (or NEA). $50 million sounds like a lot of money, but that’s only .0000588 percent of the total stimulus plan, and it will likely be distributed among the 50 states by the NEA.

According to a population estimate for today provided by the US Census, there are 305,694,610 residents in the United States.

Doing some quick math, that amounts to a gross benefit of only 16 cents per citizen for the additional funding by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The proposal to spend 50 million on the arts appears to be very controversial, and I’m pessimistic that this line-item will survive the X-acto knife of Republican members of Congress.

But for the moment, let’s be optimistic and assume that the 50 million for the arts component will pass. How should it be distributed? Given my bias, I think it should largely be awarded to composers and to support performances of their music. It’s long over due, and time that composers for once earned the lion’s share of the blueberry pie. Yes we can!

This would certainly stimulate the economy. For every dollar spent on a new musical work, many individuals in the food chain will directly or indirectly benefit: from music copyists to the performing musicians to the recording engineers to the concert hall proprietors. And after the curtain goes down, it’s not uncommon that after paying all of the bills, that the composer will have little if anything left over. It injects cash into the economy rapidly and broadly.

But how should we specifically distribute the 50 million dollars? Should five composers be commissioned to write five operas limited to a budget of approximately 10 million dollars each? (Not an unreasonable estimate). Or perhaps we should commission just one composer to write a massive work of monumental proportion - a "put a man on the moon"-sized musical work that unequivocally represents the superiority of American musical culture and sends a strong signal to the world. It would have to be worthy of the NEA's slogan: "A Great Nation Deserves Great Art." Of course such a massive project would be awarded to someone rather well-known, and I don’t think that I would make the short list.

On the other extreme, the National Endowment for the Arts could go broad, subsidizing 50 million American composers with a check of $1 each. Perhaps I would make that short list, but even that would be uncertain given my track record. It's hard to calculate the odds, since there is no good way of estimating the number of people residing in the United States who consider themselves composers. But I know that the number is very large, and by some estimates counts into the millions.

It is true that there are at present some music-related grants at the National Endowment for the Arts available for the asking. The American Masterpieces: Chamber Music Project (CFDA No. 45.024 2009 NEA01AMCM 7314800) is one such example. According to the grant program description, it is intended “to acquaint Americans with the best of their cultural and artistic legacy by sponsoring performances, exhibitions, tours, and educational programs across all art forms that will reach large and small communities in all 50 states.”

The NEA project was designed to “celebrate the extraordinary and rich evolution of chamber music in the United States.” The good news is that grants are available for chamber music performances in conjunction with educational activities that will highlight specific repertoire by American composers. Projects may be initiated by eligible organizations of all sizes, genres, and aesthetics such ensembles, presenters, festivals, colleges and universities. BTW, the NEA has defined chamber music as encompassing “music for traditional ensembles such as string quartets and trios, as well as compositions for mixed ensembles, traditional and indigenous instruments, and jazz.”

But the bad news is that commissions and premiere performances are not eligible. Only Nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3), U.S. organizations; units of state or local government; or federally recognized tribal communities or tribes may apply. Grant require a non federal match of at least 1 to 1.

Back to reality.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dinner with Friends

Last night we had some good friends over for dinner. It was an opportunity to celebrate the recent birthdays of two of our guests: composers Ezra Sims (1/16) and Robert Ceely (1/17).

Sims and Ceely have known each other since 1954 when they were classmates at Mills College in California studying with Darius Milhaud and Leon Kirchner. Both composers ended up moving to Boston, where they have become local icons and resident gurus of the new music scene. I met them both when I moved to here in 1973, and have remained in contact ever since.

left to right: Ezra, Jim, Bob

Our conversations over dinner covered a host of interesting topics, and brought back a lot of memories. It was interesting to hear stories about their student years, the teachers that they had studied with (such as Bob's late teacher at NEC, Francis Judd Cooke), and about mutual friends and acquaintances (such as composer David Rakowski and pianist Tim McFarland).

The Ceely's said they will be attending the upcoming Opera Boston's production of Shostakovich's surrealistic opera (based on a short story by Nikolai Gogol) titled The Nose. Rarely staged in the U.S., the work was suppressed by Stalin in the U.S.S.R after its 1930 premiere. Ezra hypothesized that Stalin's objection related to with a particular gesture in the trombones.

The conversation turned to the post-war craze of orgone energy collectors, and Bob mentioned that composer Ralph Shapey had a large box known as an orgone accumulator at his house in New York. Bob had rented a room from the rough-around-the-edge composer for $30 per month. (Shapey probably got into orgone energy through violinist Rudolf Kolish who was an avid follower of Wilhelm Reich and his outlandish theories). Shapey also would listen to his metronome endlessly.

Bob expressed strong opinions (as he often does) regarding the recently published autobiography of composer John Adams and about his opera "Dr. Atomic" which he saw at a local movie theatre broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera performance. We also had a spirited discussion about Broadway composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim and his studies with Princeton 12-tone composer Milton Babbitt. As usual, the name of Elliott Carter came up too. It was said that Babbitt's music is more "tuneful" than Carter.

Bob asked Ezra about a theory book by Serge Inanovitch Taneiev (1856-1915) titled "Convertible Counterpoint in the Strict Style." In 1962 it was published in the US in a translation by G. Ackley Brower who was disciple of Dr. Percy Goetschius. Ezra had apparently studied with Brower. The book, at least in translation is rather incomprehensible and full of mathematical symbols. Ezra explained the the original intention was to include a circular decoding calculator along with the book, but unfortunately the extra expense related to the post-war paper shortage made publishing the book along with the transposing wheel impractical.

Somehow we got talking about Dr. Charles Burney, the famous English music historian (1726-1814). One of my teachers use to call me "Dr. Burney" for reasons that to this day are still unclear. Jonatha Ceely, an expert in English history and culture, explained that Dr. Burney was the father of novelist Frances (or "Fanny") Burney. Ceely is very familiar with Fanny Burney's life and work and relayed some interesting history.

Upon our request, Jonatha Ceely inscribed copies of her two books: "Mina" and "Bread and Dreams" both of which are published by Delacorte Press. At present she is finishing her third novel.

The dinner consisted of a fresh garden salad prepared by Willemien, lasagna which I baked, assorted antipasti, plenty of Chianti, strong coffee, and birthday cake.


Schumann or Schubert?

On July 20th, 1956 the German Democratic Republic (the former East Germany) released a pair of stamps commemorating composer Robert Schumann a 100 years after his death (photo on right).

It was soon discovered that the scores behind Schumann's portrait belonged to another composer, that of Austrian composer Franz Schubert. A redesigned postage stamp with corrected scores was reissued on October 10th, 1956.

You might think that the Schumann stamps with the Schubert scores would be valuable to collectors, but it only trades for about 4 Euros (5.50 US $) as listed in the German Michel catalogue. The corrected/reissued set with Schumann's scores sells for more: 9.50 Euro (13.- US $).


Friday, January 23, 2009

Music and the Market: Song and Stock Volatility

Philip Maymin is Assistant Professor of Finance and Risk Engineering at Polytechnic Institute of New York University. Maymin, who was born in Moscow, graduated from Harvard in 1997 with a B.A. computer science and an M.S. in applied mathematics, earning both degrees in just 3 and a half years. He completed his PhD in Finance at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business in 2007. Maymin has had a varied career for someone his age, including running for the US House of Representatives, managing his own hedge fund, and acting in the moive "Starving Artists" - which in 1998 won a feature film award at the NY International Independent Film and Video Festival.

Maymin recently published a paper titled Music and the Market: Song and Stock Volatility.

I compare the annual average beat variance of the songs in the US Billboard Top 100 since its inception in 1958 through 2007 to the standard deviation of returns of the S&P 500 for the same year and find that they are significantly negatively correlated. With the recent high stock volatility, people should now prefer less volatile music. Furthermore, the beat variance appears able to predict future market volatility, producing 2.5 volatility points of profit per year on average.

Dr. Maymin created a multimedia time-flow analysis document and posted it on YouTube. It compares stock market data from 1957 to the end of 2008 against the corresponding the popular music of the time.

Maymin notes:

Can you tell just by watching and listening if higher market volatility tends to correspond to popular music that is steadier, and vice versa? Or is it a phenomenon that can only be tracked quantitatively? The top left chart shows the movement of the S&P 500 for a rolling one year period. The bottom two charts show the time series and histogram of daily returns for the period -- the more vertical lines there are on the bottom left chart, the more volatile the market was at that time. On the top right is a music video for each year chosen to be representative of the rank of that year's average beat variance.

I have always been a critic of music constructed entirely out of hard and steady rhythmic pulsations (such as in Minimalism). It's interesting that higher market volatility tends to correspond to musical compositions that are steadier, and it also lends scientific support to my theory that the economy and our musical culture would be better served with molto rubato.



Canned Music

I had discussed the famous “March King” John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) in a previous post, since my grandfather performed in his band. ( )

It is worth mentioning that Sousa had raised flags of concern over the impact of music recording technology on society. In my mind he accurately predicted the subsequent decline and fall of musical literacy in the modern world as a result of this technological paradigm shift.

In the past century we have seen a social transformation of musical values. By in large, people have gone from being active participants of musical culture to mere consumers of one or more musical products. In fact, the term “canned music” was coined by Sousa, and it’s a label that has stuck. As with the term “canned food,” canned music implies repackaging, mass-consumption, crass marketing, and the supermarket convenience of modern life. It also signals an end of an era when people lived self-sufficiently, valued tradition, and stayed close to the land. When we were an agricultural society we knew how to prepare fresh and healthy dishes using skills that were handed down through the generations. Similarly, songs that grandpa sang, or the bluegrass fiddle tunes that were part of a family’s musical history, fell by the wayside as the new recording industry rudely interceded into modern life.

Sousa's stance against the recording industry was not just talk. He “walked the walk” by refusing to conduct his band if it were being recorded. But the enormous tide of societal change was against him, and his world-famous band was eventually engaged commercially to make recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company - which later became RCA Victor. During these sessions conductor Arthur Pryor served as his surrogate (However, there are some recordings where Sousa does conduct).

Sousa, a man of principals, accurately envisioned the devastating changes that the recording industry would inflict on the culture of concert music and to various long-established businesses of musical commerce: such as publishing, concert performance, conservatory training, and musical instrument manufacturing. He lived at a junction in time when the livelihood of professional musicians was at stake, and saw that it was about to change radically.

We have since seen the aftermath of a musical profession that has been systematically decimated and dismantled. Not only have highly skilled professional musicians become more scarce, but the equally-important culture of music making formerly produced by talented amateurs has all but vanished from the American landscape.

Compared to a century ago, our generation rarely attends live concerts and is barely aware that a classical music tradition exists. Music has become a mass-produced commodity, not unlike frozen food, since recordings only capture a moment from the past. We hardly ever experience music in the freshness of moment, with all of the unique perils and intrinsic excitement of a one-off live performance. One could even argue that once a musical composition is captured on a recording, it is for all intensive purposes robbed of a future life. It dissuades us from performing the music again and kills our incentive to experience it in variation or from the perspective of a different interpreter.

I would even go so far as to make the case that if American jazz of the twentieth century had NOT been recorded, people would still be going out to clubs to hear it live. Jazz musicians would have been better compensated than from the raw deal they got from the recording industry. Our musical culture would have been much better off.

In 1906, at the age of 50, Sousa testified before Congress about his serious reservations concerning the mass-production of music. He not only cites the thorny issues of copyright – which still plague us today – but speaks of a loss of our collective musical voice. It is an interesting piece of history, and I have to wonder what would have happened if the world had listened to him. Is possible that our musical culture would have been stronger today if we had considered his views and heeded his advice?

STATEMENT OF JOHN PHILIP SOUSA to a Congressional Hearing in 1906

Arguments on the Bills S. 6330 and H.R. 19853, to Amend and Consolidate the Acts Respecting Copyright: Hearings before the United States Senate Committee on Patents, and House Committee on Patents, 59 Cong. 23 (1906) (Statement of John Philip Sousa)

Mr. Sousa. Mr. Chairman, I would much rather have my brass band here. I think it would be more appreciated than my words will be. [Laughter.]

Mr. Chaney. We would rather have you, just now.

Mr. Sousa. Thank you.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to quote Fletcher, of Saltoun, who said that he cared not who made the laws of the land if he could write its songs. We composers of America take the other view. We are very anxious as to who makes the laws of this land. We’re in a very bad way. I think when the old copyright law was made, the various perforated rolls and phonograph records were not known, and there was no provision made to protect us in that direction. since the, the talking machines have come out, and the claim is made that the record of sounds is not a notation.

There are three ways for the composer to make a living by his music: By sight or by sound or by touch. The notation of my compositions or the composition of any other composer for the blind must be entirely different from the ordinary, because it must be read by the sense of touch. The notation that is made for a combination of instruments is brought out by sound. The claim that is made about these records is that they can not be read by any notation simply that no method has been found to read them up to the present time, but there will be. Just as the man who wanted to scan the heavens discovered a telescope to do it. No doubt there will be found a way to read these records.

We are entirely in favor of this bill. The provisions satisfy us, and we want to be protected in every possible form in our property. When these perforated-roll companies and these phonograph companies take my property and put it on their records they take something that I am interested in and give me no interest in it. When they make money out of my pieces I want a share of it.

Mr. Sulzer. They are protected in their inventions!

Mr. Sousa. Yes, sir.

Mr. Sulzer. And why should you not be protected in yours!

Mr. Sousa. That is my claim. They have to buy the brass that they make their funnels out of , and they have to buy the wood that they make the box out of, and the material for the disk; and that disk as it stands, without the composition of an American composer on it, is not worth a penny. Put the composition of an American composer on it and it is worth $1.50. What makes the difference! The stuff that we write.

Mr. Bonynge. What is the protection by the terms of the bill that is given you?

Mr. Sousa. That in any production of our music by any of these mechanical instruments they must make a contract with us or with our publishers; that they must pay us money for the use of our compositions.

The publishers of this country make contracts with composers and agree to give them a sum outright or a royalty on sales for each and every copy that they publish and sell.

The companies making records for talking machines take one copy of a copyrighted piece of music and produce by their method a thousand or more disks, cylinders, or perforated rolls. If they would buy one copy from my publishers and owners of my copyright and sell that one copy, I would have no objection; but they take the copyrighted copy and make what they claim is a noncopyrighted copy, sell it, and do not give the owner of the copyright a penny of royalty for its use; and they could not do this if the composer had not written it and the publisher had not published it, and I want to be paid for the use they make of my property.

Mr. Webb. Does this affect records already made?

Mr. Currier. No; it does not affect existing copyrights.

Mr. Sousa. No. That is a sop. I am willing to let it stand for the sake of the future, but I think it is wrong. That is a sop to them, the talking-machine companies, and hereafter they will make money after this law passes on the pieces that I made before the law went into effect.

Mr. Chaney. So that we will get “El Capitan” from the phonographs in various places?

Mr. Sousa. Yes sir; and I’ll get nothing for it; and I am the man that made “El Capitan.” [Laughter.]

I speak in the interest of the publishers and the composers, and some of them asked me to come here because I could talk from the heart, and I do. I am sure of what I say. There may be some interests opposed to the bill for selfish reasons, but these interests know the bill simply gives us rights we are entitled to.

As to the artists, Mr. Millet said that the got $8.75 for one of his pictures. You can take any catalogue of records of any talking machine company in this country and you will find from 90 to 100 of my compositions on it. I have yet to receive the first penny for the use of them.

There is another point to consider. These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy in this town in front of every house in the summer evenings you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or the old songs. To-day you hear these infernal machines going night and day. [Laughter.] We will not have a vocal chord left. [Laughter.] The vocal chords will go because no one will have a chance to sing, the phonograph supplying a mechanical imitation of the voice, accompaniment, and effort.

On this river, when I was a young man, we went out boating and the music of young voices filled the air.

Last summer and the summer before I was in one of the biggest yacht harbors of the world, and I did not hear a voice the whole summer. Every yacht had a gramophone, a phonograph, an aeolian, or something of the kind. They were playing Sousa marches, and that was all right as to the artistic side of it [laughter], but they were not paying for them, and, furthermore, they were not helping the technical development of music. Go to the men that manufacture the instruments that are nearest the people “the banjo, the guitar, and the mandolin” and every one of them will tell you that the sale of those instruments has fallen off greatly. You cannot develop music without these instruments, the country singing school, and the country brass band. Music develops from the people, the folk songs. and if you do not make the people executants, you make them depend on the machines.

Mr. Currier. Since the time you speak of, when they used to be singing in the streets.

Mr. Sousa. Well, Mr. Currier, I am 50 years old.

Mr. Currier. I was just going to ask you: Since that time, the law has been passed to protect the authors of musical compositions, which would prohibit that. Is not that so?

Mr. Sousa. No sir; you could always do it.

Mr. Currier. Any public performance is prohibited, is it not, by the law?

Mr. Sousa. You would not call that a public performance.

Mr. Currier. But any public performance is prohibited by the law of 1897?

Mr. Sousa. Not that I know of at all. I have never known that it was unlawful to get together and sing.

Mr. Currier. It probably has not been enforced to that extent.

Mr. McGavin. You think it ought to be against the law for some people to attempt to do it, do you not, Mr. Sousa? [Laughter.]

Mr. Sousa. Yes.

Mr. Currier. It is possible that that has deterred the young people from singing.

Mr. Sousa. Would you not consider it a greater crime to turn on a phonograph?

Mr. Currier. I do not consider singing a crime.

Mr. Sousa. If you would make it a misdemeanor, do you not think it much worse to have a lot of these machines going than to have a lot of fresh young voices singing?

Mr. Currier. I think a great many people in this country get a great deal of comfort out of the phonograph.

Mr. Sousa. But they get much more out of the human voice, and I will tell you why: The phonograph companies know that. They pay Caruso $3,000 to make a sound record in their machine, because they get the human voice. And they pay a cornet player $4 to blow one of his blasts into it. [Laughter.] That is the difference. The people, the homes, want the human voice. First comes the country singing school, and next comes the country brass band. Let us do something to help them. You can do it by making these people pay me for everything that I compose. [Laughter.]


John Cage performs Water Walk

Composer John Cage appeared on the popular TV game show "I've Got A Secret" in January of 1960 and performed his composition "Water Walk." The host of the show is radio and television personality Garry Moore.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Real Bios of Fictional Composers

Throughout the years, composers have been portrayed in literature and film. Here are the “bios” for a few of the notable fictional composers….

Richard Halley from the novel Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.
Richard Halley spent years as a struggling and unappreciated composer. At age 24 his opera Phaethon was performed for the first time, to an audience who booed and heckled it. For years Halley wrote in obscurity. After nineteen years, Phaethon was performed again, but this time it was received to the greatest ovation the opera house had ever heard. It appears his critics felt he had paid his dues long enough that he was at last worthy of their approval. The following day, Halley retired, sold the rights to his music, and disappeared.

Edward Bast from the novel JR by William Gaddis.
Edward Bast teaches at JR's junior high school where he is composer in residence appointed by the Foundation. He rehearses Wagner and delivers an educational TV lecture about Mozart. He tries to get a job writing “nothing music” and accepts a $200 commission to write “zebra music.” At various times he finds his studio vandalized, and that his house has disappeared, and is fired from his job.

Adrian Leverkühn (1885-1940) from the novel Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn As Told by a Friend by Thomas Mann.
Mann modeled Leverkühn on composer Arnold Schoenberg. In the novel Leverkühn effectively sells his soul to the devil for a generation of renown as the greatest living composer. Leverk's great step forward is Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique.

Beginning his studies as a student of theology, Adrian Leverkühn succumbs to his passion for musical composition. His early pieces lack energy and imagination. However, the young man experiences himself as having made a pact with the devil. In a confession written years later, Adrian recounts that after hearing Strauss’s opera Salome, he "voluntarily" contracted syphilis in an encounter with a prostitute. It was an episode that he believed emblematic of this Faustian bargain. The confession recreates his dialog with Satan, who promises the composer an artistic breakthrough if he agrees to forego human love. Leverkühn sets off on a brilliant 24-year career, becoming the greatest German composer of his time. His oratorio Apocalypse is premiered in Frankfurt in 1926 under conductor Otto Klemperer. Throughout the novel we learn technical details of Leverkühn’s many compositions, culminating with his masterwork -an oratorio titled The Lamentation of Doctor Faustus. His personal life consists of a series of aborted relationships. In 1930 as he was introducing his final masterpiece to a select group of friends, Leverkühn experiences a stroke and lapses into a coma from which he recovers physically, but not mentally. He survives for another decade in a demented, childlike state, and cared for by his mother.

The story is set into the context of the deteriorating military situation in Germany during which Mann had written the novel. Arnold Schoenberg was not pleased by any of the associations made between him and the fictional composer Adrian Leverkühn.

The Baroque composer Van den Budenmayer. He appears in several films by Krzysztof Kieślowski - including “Red” and “Blue” from his three color trilogy and in the “Double Life of Veronique.” Van den Budenmayer is an Eighteenth-century Dutch composer. In “Bleu,” we have a married couple of composers: Julie (played by Juliette Binoche) and Patrice de Courcy.

In the Hollywood film An American in Paris, Oscar Levant plays Adam Cook. Cook is a chain-smoking, neurotic, expatriate American composer. Oscar Levant was a real-life pianist of note, good friends with George Gershwin, and had been a composition student of Arnold Schoenberg. Levant’s own 12-tone Piano Concerto is a neglected but worthy work.

Alexander Hollenius in the film Deception (1946) with Bette Davis. Hollenius is an older, established composer involved with a much younger pianist. When her true love - a cellist thought killed in the war – reappears on the scene, it ignites an intense love triangle. In a rage, the composer tries to kill his rival with a cello concerto! (I kid you not). Movie trailer:

Vinteuil in A la Recherche du Temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past) by Marcel Proust. Vinteuil, a modest piano teacher, turns out to be a great composer. A petite phrase from one of his sonatas becomes the leitmotif of Swann's love.

Kuhn in the novel Gertrude by Hermann Hesse. Gertrude was Hesse's third novel, published in 1910. It is written as the fictional memoir of the famous composer. Like many of Hesse's novels, there is a strong influence of Nietzsche.

Bendix Kaar
in the novel Hot Ticket by Janice Weber. Kaar attended London’s Royal College of Music, served in Vietnam, made a fortune in the exotic hard-wood business, but sold it to become a lobbyist and environmental consultant in Washington D.C. He had a penchant for disharmony. His Sonata for Violin and Piano was handsomely commissioned for the birthday of Ethel Kiss by her son Fausto. The sonata has a slow movement subtitled Elegy but fades out on the G string after a humongous fugue. Kaar tore up all of his operas after receiving a stomach-wrenching review of one of his stage-works in London. “It was a trashing for the ages.”

Port Moresby is the protagonist in Paul Bowles’ novel The Sheltering Sky. The composer is patterned after Bowles himself, who was a composer as well.

Preston Thib is a 104 year-old composer in an unpublished fictional autobiography by Boston-area composer Robert Ceely.

Eckhard Rabindranath Unruh in How Is This Going to Continue? by James Chapman. This unusual novel comes in the form of a libretto for an oratorio. It is available online at:

(I'm sure there are others)


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Ursonate

Kurt Hermann Eduard Karl Julius Schwitters lived from 1887 to 1948. He was a German-born artist who worked in several genres and media - including Dada, Constructivism, Surrealism, Expressionism, graphic design, typography, sculpture, and installation art.

His most famous installation piece was the Merzbau. It involved the transformation of more than six rooms of the family house in Hannover situtated at Waldhausenstrasse 5. The photo on the right is of a room in the Merzbau taken in 1933. (The Sprengel Museum in Hanover has a reconstruction of the first room of the Merzbau).

Schwitters made countless collages, but buyer beware: forgeries of his work turn up almost weekly on eBay.

Schwitters also explored poetry and music composition. His Ursonate (or: Sonate in Urlauten) roughly translates to Primeval Sonata in English. The first version of Ursonate appeared in 1922, but it evolved over a decade. He continued to make changes and improvements as he performed the sound poem himself. The work was finalized and published in 1932. A link to musical score can be found below.

The movements of the carefully constructed sound poem are as follows:
einleitung und erster teil: rondo
zweiter teil: largo
dritter Teil: scherzo
vierter teil: presto -ablösung

There are many good renditions (and some funny MTV-like music videos) from sections of the lengthy Ursonate on YouTube, including a historic recording of Schwitters performing it himself. However, the following rendition by Jaap Blonk is among the best that I've ever heard. His performance from memory before a live audience is augmented in the video with a display of real-time computational typography by Golan Levin using software that automatically follows his voice. The performance took place at the Artefact Festival at STUK kunstencentrum, Leuven, January 2007.

Blonk performs the sonata at a convincing tempo, with great expression, vocal color, and precision. If you follow along with the score, he takes us up to the Grimm glimm gnimm bimbimm (theme #11) at the bottom of page 15 (the score is 22 pages long). If you have any young children in the house, they'll get a blast out of this performance....

View the Score:

Schwitters provides us with the following notes about his Ursonate:
"The Sonata consists of four movements, of an overture and a finale, and seventhly, of a cadenza in the fourth movement. The first movement is a rondo with four main themes, designated as such in the text of the Sonata. You yourself will certainly feel the rhythm, slack or strong, high or low, taut or loose. To explain in detail the variations and compositions of the themes would be tiresome in the end and detrimental to the pleasure of reading and listening, and after all I'm not a professor."

"In the first movement I draw your attention to the word for word repeats of the themes before each variation, to the explosive beginning of the first movement, to the pure lyricism of the sung "Jüü-Kaa," to the military severity of the rhythm of the quite masculine third theme next to the fourth theme which is tremulous and mild as a lamb, and lastly to the accusing finale of the first movement, with the question "tää?"...

"The fourth movement, long-running and quick, comes as a good exercise for the reader's lungs, in particular because the endless repeats, if they are not to seem too uniform, require the voice to be seriously raised most of the time. In the finale I draw your attention to the deliberate return of the alphabet up to a. You feel it coming and expect the a impatiently. But twice over it stops painfully on the b..."

"I do no more than offer a possibility for a solo voice with maybe not much imagination. I myself give a different cadenza each time and, since I recite it entirely by heart, I thereby get the cadenza to produce a very lively effect, forming a sharp contrast with the rest of the Sonata which is quite rigid. There."

"The letters applied are to be pronounced as in German. A single vowel sound is short... Letters, of course, give only a rather incomplete score of the spoken sonata. As with any printed music, many interpretations are possible. As with any other reading, correct reading requires the use of imagination. The reader himself has to work seriously to becomes a genuine reader. Thus, it is work rather than questions or mindless criticism which will improve the reader's receptive capacities. The right of criticism is reserved to those who have achieved a full understanding. Listening to the sonata is better than reading it. This is why I like to perform my sonata in public."


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A silly dream...

It’s now about twenty minutes after five in the morning. A foot of snow lays softly on the ground beyond my window, and it’s dark and cold outside. The day is about to begin, but for now there is a moment of silence. It’s January 20th. It’s going to be a historic day as our 44th President takes office in a few hours.

I am writing this shortly after I woke from a dream. It proved impossible to go back to sleep, but I need to tell my story. Sitting at my computer, restless, Microsoft Word beckons me to tell it about the event that just transpired.

It began like other dreams, a confusing hodge-podge of unrelated surrealistic and random events in serial succession, none of which make much sense of all. But then I found myself lost in an unknown urban setting – the bowels of a modern city – a hotel I think. After wandering through a maze of underground hallways and tunnels, I came through a door and exited up into the retail space of a large bookstore. It’s not Barnes and Noble, but a bookstore that sells used books - perhaps Powell’s in Portland, Oregon where I visited on vacation a few years back.

Miraculously, I found myself in the music section of the voluminous bookstore. This is not unusual since I am typically drawn to used bookstores to explore rare and out-of-print editions about my discipline: Music Composition and Theory. I was immediately drawn to one book in particular with a red cover, and pulled it off the shelf. I observe that it is dog-eared, but in good shape and I know what it is immediately. When I open the jacket, I see right off the bat that it had been my book. It still bares my name written in the inside cover, and still contains my carefully written annotations and comments.

The book in the dream was “Serial Composition” by Reginald Smith Brindle, a British composer who’s work was published by Oxford University Press in 1966.

He was an expert on the music of 20th-century Italian composers such as Luigi Dallapiccola, Ildebrando Pizzetti, and Bruno Bartolozzi, and had studied with all of them. Smith Brindle died in 1993 at the age of 86.

I was puzzled how my copy of “Serial Composition” had fallen into the hands of someone else, since I had purchased it decades ago for what was then a hefty price: $6.00. The subsequent owners had apparently added their own names and annotations in the years following my stewardship of the book. I looked to see who they were, and what they had written, but I did not recognize any of them. One owner had written his name in blue ink on the top right corner of the outside cover, although it was vague and blurred from the age of time.

As with many of my books, this one has a unique history, insider anecdotes, and personal associations from the youth of my student days. It had acquired the stains of use and the dust of many years on the shelves from a series of run-down apartments – including a period tucked away in storage between homes.

I purchased the book brand new when I was a year or two out of high school, but referred to it sporadically through years of college and graduate school. At that time practical “how-to” textbooks or technical field-guides about how to write 12-tone music were scant - at least until the American composer Charles Wuorinen published his “Simple Composition” in 1979. “Simple Composition” turned out to be not so simple, and it is just as biased and inane as Smith Brindle’s “Serial Composition.” With the wisdom of 20-20 hindsight, writing any book about the act of composition is impossible, and writing an aesthetically-neutral book about serial composition is just as futile. Nevertheless, both of those books made it to my personal collection of odd-ball artifacts concerning this obscure little corner of the musical universe. I have an entire room filled with out-of-print and out-of-use tomes on modern music and contemporary music theory. It’s a treasure trove of now-historic musical relics.

On little anecdote related to “Serial Composition” dates back to a colloquium that occurred at Brandeis for the graduate students studying composition in the early 80s. Composer Nicola LeFanu, a professor at King’s College London, Oxford educated, and a practicing a serialist, was invited to speak. Her music was familiar to me from her stint at Harvard on a Harkness fellowship in the early 70s because the new music group Collage played one of her works. Only a few faculty members and students made it to the colloquium, but I recall that professors Marty Boykan and Conrad Pope were present. At one point during her impromptu talk, LeFanu took a swipe at “Simple Composition” - the Wuorinen book. I forget precisely what it was that she said, but it was disparaging and contained an overtone of British superiority. With the arrogant over-confidence of a graduate student, I returned the torpedo with the reply, “Well, the Smith Brindle book sucks too.” Everyone got my joke.

In the dream I gaze at the book that I had formerly owned in amazement, but someone comes up to me, sees what I’m reading, and immediately attempts to grab it out of my hands. He’s a young man, has dark hair, a British accent, and is muttering, “I must have that book.” I hold it tight in my grasp, but he is persistent, undeterred, and appears unstable. I assured him that I’ve read it cover-to-cover many times, know its contents, and would be willing to give it to him if he told me why he wants the book so badly. The man can’t make his case. He’s confused and continues to forcibly grab it out of my hands. We engage in physical combat: mano a mano.

I woke up disoriented, covered head to toe with the moisture of perspiration, yet half-asleep. Still in an adrenaline rush, I consciously wondered if I had in fact lost my old book to the used bookstore. I glanced at the alarm clock on my bedside table but all I saw was the LED flashing in red and stuck at 3:26 AM. The electrical power had gone off briefly during the night. Everyone in the house was fast asleep.

I walked over to the adjoining room where I keep all of my music theory books, the flipped on the light. The room is filled to the brim with musical treatises – most of the brainy 12-tone-influenced classics: including “Basic Atonal Theory” by John Rahn, “Post Tonal Theory” by Joseph N. Straus, “Serial Composition and Atonality” by George Perle, “Composition with Pitch-Classes” by Robert D. Morris, “Generalized Musical Intervals and Transformations” by David Lewin, “The Structure of Atonal Music” by Allen Forte, and the pioneering work by Howard Hanson published in 1960: “Harmonic Materials of Modern Music.”

I search through the walls of shelves for the bright red Smith Brindle book. It should be easy to find because of it color and characteristic canvas binding. I can’t find it. It’s not where it should be. Still groggy from my dream, I begin to wonder if the dream could be true. How could someone have gotten their hands on my book? Did I misplace it somewhere in my travels? Did I lend it to someone? Finally I find it hidden behind a front layer of books on the outer rim of the shelf. Speaking silently to myself so as to not wake members of my family who are still fast asleep, I utter “Ah ha, Smith Brindle is safe and intact!” All of my original notes written in pencil scribbled 35 years ago are there too. I had written my annotations very lightly as not to damage the book for the rightful next owner, whoever that may be. The book will survive longer than I. This copy of Smith Brindle’s “Serial Composition” will live in perpetuity.

Dreams are only informative if we listen to their message. You don’t have to be Dr. Freud to interpret my dream and get a sense about what the book represents to me. I’ll leave the analysis to you.

Feeling a sense of relief after finding the book, my next urgent stop was the bathroom. I did what most old men have to do at various times throughout the night… pee.



Monday, January 19, 2009

Before the Music Dies

Branford Marsalis (b. 1960), is a American post-bop and new music composer, and saxophonist. He performs frequently as a soloist with classical ensembles, his own Branford Marsalis Quintet, and with his older brother Wynton Marsalis. Branford studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and played with Sting during the 1980s. He was the music director of television's Tonight Show from 1992 to 1994.

Branford's 2001 album Creation places an emphasis on "classical music" and he is in demand performing with symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles worldwide. He is also active in music education.

The following YouTube clip comes from his documentary"Before the Music Dies." It is an enlightened and candid perspective on music education in America at the college level. Hear what he has to say...



Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hold the applause

Sam Allis, wrote today on page A2 of the Boston Sunday Globe an essay titled “Make a joyful noise: Classical audiences should loosen up and applaud at will.” He addresses the issue of applause between movements at a symphonic or chamber music concert.

The custom is - and has been for some time - that applause should be reserved until the entire work has come to a conclusion. On occasion, a few people unfamiliar with the norms of classical concert going have inadvertently applauded between movements of a musical work, creating momentary embarrassment for them, and a tad of unease for those enjoying the silence.

Allis cites examples of what he sees as an ingrained cultural humiliation process for the classical music novice - a degrading experience that he equates to a “rite of passage to gain admission into the Grand Order of Aesthetes.” In his mind, admonishing an unknowing applauder for his or her sins is akin to vindictive hazing. The cruel act of public banishment is symptomatic of why the outdated cultural institution of classical music is in rapid decline. Allis seems to view the “applause rule” to be indicative of the worst aspects of an elitist world of art music governed by cultural snobs and know-it-all experts.

His opinion seems to be that it’s OK to clap enthusiastically when you are moved, since it happens by default at other music venues such as rock concerts and in jazz clubs.

Allis quotes several prominent musicians who appear to be out front about this – including pianist Emanuel Ax (who he refers to as “Manny”) and conductor/composer Andre Previn. Ax makes his case for relaxing the arcane applause rule, calling it an “Edict of Silence.” He’s consulted with eminent musicologists on this issue, and sees no good reason to strictly enforce the staid and unwritten law. Above all, Ax does not want to ostracize the waning audience for classical music, and earnestly strives to forge a symbiotic relationship between performers and listeners – some of which are brand new to the scene.

Previn is more cautious in his pronouncements, saying it would be inappropriate to clap after a long Bruckner adagio, but that in other instances it would not bother him.

Mark Volpe, general manager of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, is said to be in agreement with Ax on the issue of applause, observing that the vow of silence is terrifying newcomers to the classical milieu and has potential to negatively impact the bottom line, particularly in these brutal and trying economic times. Arts organizations are running scared. They don’t want to alienate or intimidate anyone.

I credit Allis for bringing up this topic, but I disagree with any notion that we as an audience should discard the tradition of withholding our applause at a concert until the musical work has fully concluded.

It’s not a simple matter, since I have come to realize that music is almost entirely a sociological and cultural phenomenon. Experiencing music in a concert hall does not occur as an isolated event independent of the trappings of tradition and long-standing culture. The music that is presented does not, and can not, stand alone in pure abstraction disassociated from the collective consensus of our civilization. There has to be general agreement about what the concert ritual is about, and what the rules of engagement are.

For many of us who live for music, the concert experience is not unlike attending a religious service at a house of worship, and many classical works heard in performance stem of religious contexts. Music that is carefully selected and performed in this venue is not only dependent on the concert hall for its acoustical rendering of the sound, but on the reception of it by a thoughtful, sensitive, and committed audience. The audience plays a vital role, since any form of music wouldn’t persist for very long unless a dedicated following were to exist.

The erosion of the number of people who are actively engaged as consumers in the classical music business can not simply be attributed to what might be regarded as outmoded traditions. There are other factors in play, but the “applause rule” is not to blame. In fact, one could even make that case that “snob appeal” is a very important ingredient in the toolkit of marketing strategies needed to sell expensive tickets to high-brow cultural events – such as Boston Symphony concerts. While you might sell a few more tickets if the red-carpet trappings of prestige were purged, you would probably only bring into the “big tent” a few newcomers who had been put off by the pretensions elegance of tinsel chandeliers or the jaded appearance of rich people wearing tuxedos. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a purist. I have attended BSO concerts wearing blue jeans and sandals, but that is only an eye-sore for some, not an ear-sore.

It’s a complicated paradigm, and I don’t want to imply that admission should be limited by a glass ceiling, but there is an unfortunately an element of earned or inherited acceptance. Many subscribers to BSO concert seasons have held their tickets for a life-time – often passing it down through the generations. Perhaps if what they perceive as an elegant night out on the town to experience high culture were degraded, they would stop attending. As Groucho said, “I wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member.” In other words, the BSO Social Club is by definition snobby, and irregardless of the music that they play, the socio-cultural baggage needed to keep the ship afloat is a necessary evil.

I don’t know where or how the age-old tradition of clapping at concerts began. It’s an odd custom, and its existence is just as hard to justify as its absence. What does disturb me is a growing lack of commitment and respect to the music within the confines of the concert hall. It’s not just about the performers and how well they played, but it’s fundamentally about the music and our spiritual connection to it. One does not applaud in church. Similarly, one should be pious and remain silent until the musical work has run its course. It’s part of a bargain that we have made collectively with the composer to hear the music out with respect – from beginning to end – without the interruptions or mental distractions that breaking the mood would surely entail.

Musical works conceived in multiple movements are for the most part designed and intended to be heard as a unified work. The silence between movements is intended as just that: Silence. Silence is one of the composers’ basic materials. It is not redundant, extraneous, or optional. It’s one of the more important structural aspects of a musical composition – framing the overall architectural design of the individual constituent parts. Personally, I would not want my experience of a work to be interrupted mid-stream. From the performers perspective, I believe the majority of them would prefer not to be distracted or to lose their concentration from frequent applause occurring throughout their reading of a musical work. Save it until the end.

A good example of the importance of silence between movements occurred earlier this season in a performance by the BSO led by its music director James Levine of Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum by Messiaen. Levine left very long durations of silence between the movements (lasting minutes) as a way to articulate the religious and meditative nature of the work. It is a piece that benefits greatly from reverent silence strategically inserted between sections, and all of the 2000 or so members of the audience who attended the concert instinctively understood this ritual: no one dared to made a sound. The silence in Symphony Hall that day was not only deafening, but it contributed to the emotional impact of the work and provided an important level of meaning. That’s why we go to concerts, to experience not only the audible music, but to share in the reflective quality of musical silence in the presence of others.

There is also a slippery slope to beware of. If one loosens the rule regarding applause, why not loosen or eliminate other rules of good conduct too? What’s so bad about cell phones on in this wired age? Why not accommodate late-comers, head-for-the-door early departers, and those who like to hum or sing-a-long? What about booing? Many people hold contemporary music in disdain, so why not allow them to heckle the performance of a new and unfamiliar work as it is played? I’m a reactionary when it comes to these violations. Personally, I think the mistake of allowing a cell phone to ring during a performance is justification for capital punishment.

To insure the longevity of the classical music industry, we should consider enforcing the rules rather than abandoning them. People need to think twice about attending a concert if they suffer from a bad cold or cough. Coughing at a classical music concert is a crime, and those people should be punished – severely. In fact, these violators should be humiliated more often than they are in today’s liberal anything goes concert environment. Call me a snob, but on occasion I have asked fellow concert goers to leave the hall for making noise with candy wrappers or talking. A few summers back, two people at a Boston Pops concert ended up in a fist fight in a dispute over talking while the music was being played. The riff was caught on camera, and aired on one of the local TV news stations that evening. It’s not a trivial matter.

We need to draw the line very clearly about what is (and what is not) an appropriate way to conduct ourselves at concerts of classical music. I’m in favor of maintaining the long established status quo with regard to applause between movements. There is little to be gained by throwing out the restriction, and so much to lose.

Hold the applause until the end. Please!



Thursday, January 15, 2009

Askinosie Chocolate

My blog is an opportunity for me to sound off about the things that I find exceptional in life. The majority of my postings have been about music, but I have written occasionally about other passions too.

My most recent obsession is dark.

Dark Chocolate that is.

A few weeks ago I watched a news program on cable TV where a former criminal defense lawyer from Springfield Missouri was interviewed about his new business. Entrepreneur Shawn Askinosie, with a bit of help from he what he attributes to divine intervention, hit upon the idea of going into business to make the best chocolate possible. He quickly became an expert in the subject, and dove head-first into starting Askinosie Chocolate.

Askinosie Chocolate caters to a high-end niche in the market, and probably wont pose any threat to the mainstream commercial chocolate industry any time soon. But his bean-to-bar philosophy is unique in the industry. Askinosie travels to remote regions of the world to meet with farmers in person, and if he likes their cocoa crop, pays them handsomely for it. In fact, his farmers are the stars of the show, and featured by name and photo on the labels.

Shawn Askinosie (second from right) with some of his farmers.

The following short video on YouTube provides some background information about Askinosie and his growing business. They have begun shipping to Europe even though the competition on the continent is stiff. But I'm sure chocolate connoisseurs in Europe will devour his product once they get to know it.

Shawn sent me a few of his bars to review on my blog, and although I'm no food critic, I have to say that this is the best chocolate I've ever tasted in my life. It's packaging is unique and fun to read, but once you shed the wrapper, the rich aroma is out of this world. And when you taste it, you'll wonder how you lived for so many years with artificial mass-market substitutes. This is the real thing.

Just as great cheeses are made from known and trusted sources of milk, gourmet chocolate should follow the same rule of law. In the case of Askinosie, his product derives from cocoa beans of exceptional quality and that are carefully selected for their distinctive taste. Askinosie's beans are not purchased from third-party brokers or wholesalers, but are carefully chosen by Askinosie on site. You can rest assured that every product stems from a single agricultural origin, and that only natural ingredients of top quality are added (e.g. cocoa butter, organic cane juice, goat's milk powder, sea salt).

Specifically I sampled a San Jose Del Tambo "Nibble Bar" from Ecuador (photo on left). It includes 70% dark chocolate and 2% Askinosie cocoa butter made from the same beans. The farm where the beans come from is situated in the foothills of the Andes Mountains near a village founded by the Quechua Indians by the Rio de San Miguela. This bar delivers Ecuador's centuries old Arriba Nacional flavor in a 3oz package. Vitaliano Saravia, shown on the packaging, is the lead farmer.

The yummy Soconusco Dark Milk Chocolate (+ Fleur de Sel) is made with 52% Cocoa. The beans come from Soconusco, Mexico and contain 52% cocoa liquor and a touch of Fleur de Sel sea salt. The lead farmer is Jorge Marroquin.

Shawn Askinosie has a good business model. He strives to make a delicacy of top quality, and a healthy product. (Their roasted nibs have almost 65 times more antioxidants than broccoli). All of their beans are grown organically and harvested without the use of pesticides or insecticides. They pay their farmers above Fair Trade prices, and share 10% of the net with them.

In other words, not only does it taste great, but you can feel good about eating it too. While I have not been able to find this product in local stores around the Boston-area, you can purchase his chocolate online at and read about the process. You can even track the "choc-o-lot" from the number on your individual package, and read the detailed notes about the journey of your particular item from the rain forest all the way to your home.

I'm hooked.

Askinosie Chocolate
514 Commercial Street
Springfield, MO 65803


Another YouTube video...


Sunday, January 11, 2009

A patron of new music dies

Betty Freeman died at the age of 87 in Beverly Hills Los Angeles. She privately commissioned hundreds of works from approximately 80 composers over a period lasting four decades. The list of composers receiving support is formative: John Adams (for "Nixon in China" and other works), Pierre Boulez, John Cage (annual grant for living expenses), Harrison Birtwistle, Steve Reich (for "Different Trains" written for the Kronos Quartet), Kaija Saariaho (for the opera “L’Amour de Loin”), Tod Machover (“Hyper-Violin Concerto" for the LA Philharmonic), Lou Harrison ("Piano Concerto" for Keith Jarrett), George Benjamin ("Three Inventions for Chamber Orchestra"), Derek Bermel ("Elixir" for American Composers Orchestra), David Cope, Charles Dodge, Paul Dresher, Jacob Druckman, Robert Erickson (five works!), Morton Feldman, Alexander Goehr, Daniel Lentz, Steve Mackey, Magnus Lindberg, Witold Lutoslawski, Ingram Marshall, Thea Musgrave, Conlon Nancarrow, Matthias Pintscher, Mel Powell, Terry Riley, Ned Rorem, Christopher Rouse, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Leonard Stein, Marco Stroppa, Morton Subotnick, James Tenny, Virgil Thomson, and La Monte Young. The list goes on, and on...

She also underwrote the performances and recordings of many of these compositions and provided generous funding to contemporary music festivals and new music ensembles. Freeman provided annual living grants to select composers, stage directors, and choreographers - including John Cage, Bill T. Jones, Peter Sellars, Robert Wilson, Merce Cunningham, and Harry Partch.

Freeman met composer Harry Partch in 1964 when the composer was homeless and nearly destitute. She provided him with a place to live and financial support for the final decade of his life.

Noted music critic Norman Lebrecht called Freeman "the midwife of postmodernism."

Everyone involved with the world of contemporary music should be eternally grateful for her un-yielding support of their art form. She will be sorely missed.



Saturday, January 10, 2009

My Grandfather

My paternal grandfather Daniele was born in 1864 in the town Cervinara in the Province of Avellino (near Naples). He immigrated to America in 1893 and soon after joined the U.S. Navy as a musician in the band. His tour of duty included participating in the Spanish-American War of 1898. Returning to NY, he met my grandmother Annina. They got married and started their large family in 1900.

There are very few surviving photos of either of my grandparents. The elegant photo above was taken by J. de Santis studio on 165 8th Avenue in NY in 1909. At that point they already had five children, and my father had just been born. The photo below was taken in New York City, and the baby is my older brother Larry.

Daniele's instrument was the valve trombone, and he played it in the U.S. Marine band under John Philip Souza (seen in photo on the left). He traveled with the band on European tours between 1900 and 1905, and possibly on the 1910 world tour that included Great Britain, Canary Islands, South-Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji Islands, Hawaii, and Canada. My Aunt Aurelia (b. 1906) told the story about how her mother would kick her out of the bed when her father finally returned home after a long trip away. Below is a photo of Daniele with his trombone and uniform.

There is a family story that when Sousa's band gave a command performance for the President of France, that the world leader requested to hear an obscure Southern Italian song. No one knew it, except for my grandfather who had grown up in a Province of Avellino (close to the Partenio mountains). He began to play the folk tune on his trombone alone, and the orchestra joined in after him as best they could. The French President was pleased.

Here is a photograph of his actual trombone, and while it needs repairs, it hangs on my wall as a prized piece of family history.

After retiring from the Navy, he found work during the Great Depression as a tailor making alterations on fine women's suits.

Daniele was a founding member of the musicians union in New York City -American Federation of Musicians Local 802. On the left are two of his union cards, and below is a "Scroll of Honor" awarded to him from the Associated Musicians of Greater New York in 1953.

Above is a photo my grandfather taken in 1950 at the age of 86 snoozing on the porch of the summer house of my aunt Clara and uncle Charlie situated on Lake Oscawana in upstate New York.

He lived until he was 92, although he smoked De Nobili (rope cigars) and drank gallons of red wine while listening to his beloved Italian opera on the phonograph and radio. When my father married an aspiring opera singer, he was extremely pleased.

While my grandfather never learned to play jazz, he was fascinated by this music, saying to my aunt Helen "How do they do that?"

In his final years, his eyesight and hearing deteriorated, and he walked with a cane (seen in the photo on the right). He kept the cane handy as a potential weapon of self-defense while roaming the streets of NY.

My grandfather stayed busy with a family store just below the family's apartment - but it was never proved to be a profitable venture.

He made several trips back to Italy with family members before the war (including my father), but was happy living in New York and chose to remain there. He kept in contact with his family in Italy, including his brother Annibale who was a professor at the music school "Metronomo" in Naples (founded in 1900). During the initial years after WWII, he and my grandmother sent packages of food rations back to their families to aid during difficult times.

His famous slogan in his dialect of Italian was 'OOO-Fah' which meant 'Leave me alone, I want to sleep.'

Here he is (photo on the left) taking a walk in the park with my Aunt Ellia and Uncle Joe.

The photo on the right is of my grandmother Annina Tammaro. She came from a different town in Italy called Solofra.