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One of the minor miracles of my time in California last month was not one but two pleasant 5-hour drives with my mother. On the way up to Lodi, we mostly listened to old radio shows on Sirius, including a Colloquy from the 1950s led by a professor. He interviewed Shakespeare with a view to establishing who'd actually written the plays. Kit Marlowe interrupts. Then someone mentions Bacon (who's appalled that he's considered a possible contender, bless him). Edward de Vere wanders in, claiming it's all his, before Richard Burbage points out that none of it matters without actors. I think, in some ways, Mom enjoyed my reactions to it as much or more as the actual discussion. Over lunch, we talked about why I'd laughed so hard when de Vere swanned in, and how I'd known it was Burbage before he said his name.

On the way back, the radio plays weren't particularly interesting so I scanned through and immediately found Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. We ended up listening to classical all the way to Los Angeles. The real discovery was violinist Nichola Benedetti. She played Bruch's Scottish Fantasy and as soon as I got home I needed to buy the whole album (also called Scottish Fantasy). I finally got to listen to the whole thing today, and it's beautiful. I'm usually more of a cello or viola girl, but there's something plangent about her tone that captivates me. Even her rendition of Loch Lomond was lovely. But, other than the Bruch, the two following were my favorites.



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I was never a huge fan. I didn't even really hear about him until the late 1970s (what? I lived in DC. I listened to The Osmonds on records and Funk and/or Soul on the radio. BTW, Osmonds was being a preteen white girl; it's the Funk and/or Soul which was the DC signifier.). I saw the "Jazzing with Blue Jean" video in the movie theater when I went to see Company of Wolves (my first X rated film - British X, I don't know what it was rated in the US). I've still never seen Labyrinth, but I grinned to see him as Tesla in The Prestige. I'd recognize him if we passed on the street.

And yet, I feel terribly sad to hear of his death. Whether or not I liked him, he was a force in the arts, not just music, and his passing leaves a ripple over all their surfaces.

The In Memoriam article at Esquire sums it up:
The Beatles are classics now, like Handel or the Louie Armstrong Hot Fives. The Stones are a touring museum piece. But look around. In the major cities of the western world, we live in a world that David Bowie made. It is a better world for his making. Stephen Marche
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Yesterday [livejournal.com profile] davesmusictank shared an article from Psychology Today, on how anti-intellectualism is killing America (and by America the authors mean the U.S.)

One of the things I've noticed over the years is that too many of the US people I know don't develop their own tastes. Now, I'm not talking about my friend set because, frankly, y'all not only have your own tastes you share them at top volume over the internet, and I love you for it. But among the people I know briefly or at one remove or are cousins, I've seen a trend for a good part of my life that certain things aren't "real."

I'm going to use music as an example, specifically two forms I like very much: Opera and Jazz. I can't count the number of times I've heard people say something along the lines of "no one really likes opera." The implication being that if I've said I like opera then I'm either pretentious or lying or both (and in some cases it's not implied it's flat out stated).

But I try to explain that I have my own tastes. I don't like all opera. I don't like all operas by the same composer. I don't like the same composers as my mother and father or my best friend.

When I was tutoring (5th - 8th graders), I would try to get them to tell me what they liked or didn't like as part of a lesson. Most of the time they wouldn't. They'd tell me that they didn't want to go to a museum because they didn't like museums. When I asked which ones they'd been to, they admitted they'd never been to one, but they already knew they wouldn't like it.

If I asked about a specific book or song or whatever, I'd often find them waiting until I said whether I liked it or not so that they could agree with me. I tried to explain that I didn't care whether or not they liked it, I just wanted them to a) give their opinions and b) say why they liked or didn't like it.

This ties back, in my head, to critical thinking. The anti-intellectualism we're seeing isn't new. It may have become more widespread since Richard Hofstadter wrote about it in 1966, but he noticed a history, going back at least as far as de Tocqueville, of valuing the popular above the particular. I'm not saying popular culture has no value. I write fanfiction, for heaven's sake.

In my mind this comes down to taste-shaming. If you don't like country music, you're not a real American. If you do like opera or cool jazz or going to museums, you're not a real American.

(A propos of nothing, there was a discussion at The Guardian last week related to the marginalization of non-white culture in the US. One commenter asked where was Kanye West's country album as if West needed to extend his reach into white culture. For the record, I'd listen to Kanye West's country album. I also like some of his music.)

I can think of no better way to encourage critical thinking than to cultivate one's own tastes. It means listening or viewing or tasting things you might never consider in the normal run of things, but it also means that a person can find the most beautiful piece of music in the world (mine's "The Martyr" by Modern Jazz Quartet. What's yours?) or let her eyes rest on an exquisite painting. It can be as simple as statement as "I prefer Brussels to Paris."

To my mind this is the first step toward defining values and defining values is the required step to being a responsible voter which is the next step toward being a good citizen. It all starts by being able to say, "I like that, and here's why."
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It was on April 3 and it was a great day, well worth taking the time off. There were several fascinating talks, but the two pieces which gripped me by the throat and held me were The DC Youth Poetry Slam Team and singer-songwriter Be Steadwell. Steadwell's song had me in tears, and I do not cry easily at theater.





I wish these had been up sooner. More will be added, probably in separate posts.
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I haven't been around LJ much lately because I was having trouble getting to it on my home computer. It's doing fine right now, so I don't know what was up or where the fault lay.

I also haven't been around because I saw Kingsman: The Secret Service. Multiple times. I loved the movie on so very many levels, but especially all the shout outs from Michael Caine once again wearing Harry Palmer's glasses to entering through a tailor shop a la Man from UNCLE to referencing individual Bond films and Get Smart.

And I sort of got sucked into the fandom. How sucked in? I've written a fanfic series in under two months (begun on 2/23) which has more words than The Great Gatsby. *shakes head* The last time I wrote something that length -- actually, 20,000 words shorter than I've hit to date -- it took me six months of sweat.

And because I'm writing mental backstories for characters, I've been trying to determine what kinds of music they listen to. One of them is a jazz aficionado, and I've been trying to include some of the jazz he would have heard on British radio in the 1970s which led me to Dudley Moore.

In the early 1980s, I started listening to his music from the 1960s and 70s including pieces he'd written (Sooz Blooz is one of my favorites). My folks told me about seeing him in Play it Again, Sam in the West End when we were living in London and going to hear his trio at a club.

He went to Oxford on an organ scholarship and earned his spending money by playing with Johnny Dankworth's group backing Cleo Laine. I can't imagine being proficient enough at 18 to play with one of the premier jazz men Britain's produced and one of the greatest jazz singers of all time. I do remember hitting a shop in Dupont Circle which carried foreign magazines and vinyl records (before there was anything besides vinyl). As I was buying my Manchester Guardian Weekly and a copy of Marie Claire (which was exclusively a French publication at that juncture), I saw a new album being promoted called Smilin' Through and bought it on the spot. Dudley Moore and Cleo Laine recording together for the first time. It's a lovely album with some real high spots.

At the same time, Jonathan Miller had a series on PBS called The Body in Question. I'd developed a completely separate crush on Dr. Miller when I caught a Canadian series on Cities. People who'd been born and reared in a great city, talked about the changes they'd seen, the social context of their background and how it was reflected in the city, and showed off the gems that most people, especially tourists, don't hear about. The four episodes I managed to see were Dr. Miller on London, Germaine Greer on Sydney, Hildegard Knef on Berlin (still a divided city when it was filmed, and she'd been a teen there during WWII), and R.D. Laing on Glasgow. It got me reading Greer and Laing. Miller's episode introduced me to Sir John Soane's Museum, one of my favorite places in London.

Anyway, in the episode of The Body in Question dealing with the nervous system, Miller used Dudley Moore playing classical music to explain how we are able to memorize things physically. I found it today on YouTube, so I wanted to share.


Also, Dudley Moore playing with his trio on Australian Television in the early 1970s.


PS if anyone ever finds a link to the Cities series (or a way to buy it), please share. I've long wanted to see the other episodes.
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A week or so ago, [livejournal.com profile] tediousandbrief mentioned the Falklands War in his lj, and it brought back memories for me. A blank front page on The Guardian (well, not entirely blank. Mostly though.), lots of references to "Argies," The International Herald Tribune being read by British people because the British press wasn't allowed to report accurately. (Found an interesting paper on jingoism in British journalism during the Falklands here.)

And The Flying Pickets.

They had a Christmas hit -- which is the one everyone always remembers in Britain; Americans tend to remember summer songs -- in 1983. They'd recorded an album (and I recently discovered a TV special) called "Live at the Albany Empire." The album had several politically pointed segments that were omitted from the TV special, but they both have a cover of "Walk Like a Man." (It's at about minute 31 on the special.) On the album, it's directly linked to the Malv... Falklands War.

What I hadn't known about them, though, was that they began as part of a theater group called 7 84. The name referred to the 7% of the population which held 84% of the world's wealth. And it hit me: As recently as thirty years ago, the 1% was 7%.

ETA: The album opens with Red Stripe (described as one YouTube Commenter as "Uncle Fester in eyeliner") saying, "People keep asking us, have we got a record, have we got a record they keep asking. I tell them, 'of course, we got a record. What'd you think we are? Choir boys?'"

ETA2: In a weird synchronicity, I got an email from someone I hadn't heard from since 2008. Our correspondence had been related to The Flying Pickets song (written by Rick Lloyd -- gold hat in the video) called "Remember This." Neither of us could figure out one phrase in the chorus. A month ago, he met Rick Lloyd and asked him. It turned out to be:
"Venceremos" is a Spanish slogan meaning "We shall overcome".

The lyrics are:
Remember this, nothing is sacred. We live right beside the abyss.
Remember this, there is no doubt that your name is on somebody's list.

Remember this, the cloud you live under is hiding the thunder to come
Remember this, truth's out of season, they'll try you for treason, my son
Remember this

Venceremos, they can't tame us, please remember this
Venceremos, we'll be famous, our names on every list

Remember this, requiems don't quite make up for the loss of a life
Remember this, southern bananas fall prey to piranhas by night.

Venceremos, they can't tame us, please remember this
Venceremos, we'll be famous, our names on every list

Lost out here in the market place with nowhere left to run
Too many people have disappeared to doubt what has begun

Remember this, locked in the stadium are people who've fought without fear.
Remember this, battered and broken for what they have spoken for years

Remember this...
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Twenty-five years ago, the Berlin Wall came down. Less than ten years later, I made a remark about not having been back to Berlin since the wall came down and [livejournal.com profile] sunspiral's and [livejournal.com profile] roozle's eldest son, who was 11-ish, asked if the wall were medieval.

I remember both my first and my last times in Berlin (which sounds far more like the beginnigs of a novel than a personal story). The first time was 1985. My father headed a program for Boston University and the professors moved every four months so that they could make certain that the students got all the credits they needed toward their Master's in International Relations. Because the previous head had let things get muddled, we'd spent the previous year in the Brussels apartment for Christmas.

Read more... )

Music

Oct. 25th, 2014 10:19 am
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Did anyone know that there was a Steeleye Span album called Wintersmith done in cooperation with Terry Pratchett? I didn't. I found it at the British Amazon.

Gershwin

Mar. 28th, 2014 11:54 am
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Last night I attended a lecture with performances by Robert Wyatt on George Gershwin's life and work. The information about his life was fairly pedestrian, but I learned a couple of new things. The first was that his jawline was irregular because he'd been kicked by a horse. The second was that the Lullaby for Strings pre-dates "Vi's Song" in Blue Monday. The tunes are nearly identical and, for various reasons, I was under the impression that the Lullaby was the later setting.

Mr. Wyatt is not a brilliant pianist. He played the single piano version of the Rhapsody in Blue correctly, but without a great deal of variation. There are a couple of places of great warmth and poignancy in the Rhapsody and they were distinctly cool.

The bits that were best were where we heard new, for a given value of new, Gershwin music. Josefa Rosanska shared a composition teacher with George Gershwin (and they may have been an item for awhile) and she had two pieces called the Novelettes that were left to the Library of Congress upon her death. He played a few sketches from Gershwin's 1924 Composition book, one of which was clearly an inversion of one of the themes used in Rhapsody in Blue, and two of which were part of the Five Preludes (only three were published) which he performed in 1926. They were thrilling to hear, even in their somewhat unfinished states. He also introduced me to "Sleepless Night" in both its forms which is another unpublished work. Those moments were lovely.

As is so often the case when talking about Gershwin's music, no mention was made of the Second Rhapsody or the Cuban Overtures among the classical works and very little was discussed about the major transition in Gershwin's tunes that occurs when he begins to work with his brother Ira in 1924.

There were some notes about Gershwin's private life. A list of his known girlfriends, including his long-term relationship with Kay Swift, was included. I know I shouldn't be surprised, but no mention was made of the fact that, based on independent diary entries by several different people, it was a fairly open secret that Ms Swift was his domme. Other than bare mentions in a couple of biographies, no one has ever explored that dynamic and what it might mean to his music.

Personal anecdotes under this cut. )

I feel like last night had many missed moments. There were sheet music pictures that should have had some commentary, including one that was definitely drawn by Gershwin himself. I'm really glad I went to the lecture, but I also wanted so much more.

Some of my favorites:
Dave Grusin's arrangement of Prelude II
Solo Piano version of Rhapsody in Blue I was unfamiliar with the performer, Jack Gibbons, before this. (If it feels fast to you, remember, Gershwin's Piano Roll version is nearly six minutes shorter.)
The Second Rhapsody by Michael Tilson Thomas and the LA Symphony
The aria "My Man's Gone Now" performed by Florence Quivar I couldn't find the version I first heard, with Wilma Shakesnider.

Opera

Dec. 2nd, 2013 12:57 pm
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Since I just put in the request for topics, I'm choosing my own today.

There is an article in today's Guardian about boredom, or, perhaps more accurately, about being bored by certain art forms within certain contexts. Opera is the particular form mentioned, but there's a certain branching out, both in the article and the comments to other things: long movies, Shakespeare, certain novels. (I admit, I still haven't gotten through bloody Ivanhoe.) According to the Google Doodle, it's also Maria Callas birthday (and I know it's my Dad's 81st).
Read more... )
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Many, many Marches ago (say 1977?), I was a teenager at an all girl's boarding school. We were told at chapel in the morning that anyone who had a free period at (sometime in the early afternoon) should come back to chapel.

The Duke's Men of Yale performed. It was my first time hearing that type of acapella, and my first time hearing Lulu's Back in Town and Istanbul (not Constantinople). I wasn't near the front. My only interaction was running to my room and back as quickly as I could for money to buy the tape that was available. I played that tape for years afterward, and it disappeared sometime in the early 1990s.

When I was visiting my parents in Bonn (1985?), my sister and a friend of hers heard the Duke's Men at Koln Cathedral. I was furious that I hadn't gone with them -- a choice I made because my sister's friend was one of those Americans who thought the Germans should all speak English.

Anyway, just over a year ago, I found some of their more recent releases at Amazon and then found the website. I sent a request about one particular song off the long-lost tape, and never heard back. In January, I attended a concert of theirs, and asked about the song. No luck. Three days ago, I sent a follow up email, and today, I got three versions of the song -- one of which is the one I remember with so much fondness. I've been grinning all day which is surprising because Brighten Your Night With My Day is actually a somewhat melancholy song.

Squeeee!

Jan. 9th, 2013 10:13 pm
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Yesterday was pay day. This is relevant for many reasons, but I always have a list of things I would like to buy on any given (non-rent due) pay day. This month it was the latest music from The Duke's Men of Yale. I couldn't find it at Amazon, so I went to the Duke's Men's Facebook page where I saw a posting that said they were playing a public concert in DC tonight for $10. The posting had been made only 13 minutes earlier.

I immediately rearranged my workout for tomorrow night instead of tonight, checked out the directions at google maps, and swore to all and sundry that I would leave work on time.

When I got there, the venue hadn't opened yet, but one of the guys was so thrilled that anyone was there that he took me in. I sat in the front (so close that I was actually serenaded during one comic number) and chatted about a song of theirs from nearly 40 years ago that I'd been trying to track down. From first to last, I had a great time. There was only one number where they started off-key and stayed off-key (which is pretty good for the acoustics of the venue), everything else was delightful.

There are 14 members of the group. The audience outnumbered them, but only barely.


I heard the lead singer in this video sing "Gonna Build a Mountain" tonight, which he did magnificently. This song was sung by another member of the group who performed beautifully.


This one was performed tonight by the same two singers as in the video. Lovely.

I needed this kind of break. It beat getting warnings about flu shots from Arisia.

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