Anonymous yet personal, this Blog chronicles
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“Deconstructing Jim” is simply here to
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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.