Denial   (2017Jun09)

20170609XD_BLOGPic_01

Friday, June 09, 2017                                               10:35 PM

During the Depression, it became obvious that business owners were a threat to the equality of the workers—but with the Red Scare, we managed to deny that—and denying that business owners are a threat is a founding pillar of the Republican platform to this day. When Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a new awareness came to the public—an awareness that what we do, and the waste we produce doing it, and the poisons we use doing it—has an effect on the places where we live.

Even as we busied ourselves, learning to throw our trash into receptacles (instead of on the ground)—chemical and petroleum companies began to push back on the idea of ecology—denying that our use of natural resources could have any ill-effect on the Earth—or that resources would ever run out. And climate-change-denial is still a part of the Republican platform, as well.

It was different in the past, when big money and big business had an understanding ear in the GOP—now, it seems more as if the fat cats outright own the GOP—lock, stock, and ethics. The masses of people who overlooked the favoritism of the entitled for the promise of conservative, unchanging security—they have become dupes of those who would make great change—and most of it retrogression or partisanship. And now they have a crazy man in charge—it may take time, but they will come to see him as a dangerous man.

So many of our political footballs carry within them some sort of denial on at least one side of the argument—right-to-lifers deny that legal abortion is better than illegal abortion—climate-change-deniers ignore the preponderance of both scientific authority and evidence—marijuana-haters deny the probability that pot has many medicinal uses—gun-nuts deny that the ubiquity of guns has any connection to our sky-high murder rate—it goes on and on.

And these people have their arguments, their points-of-view—but seem, in the end, to simply deny something which they are uncomfortable accepting as part of their reality. I can sympathize—but I still think they’re wasting their own—and everyone else’s—time.

Improv – Woods Trails

Improv – High Notes

Bach – Prelude in C (with Improv)

Satie – Gnossienne (with Improv)

Improv – Maelstrom

 

ttfn.

Eternal Argument   (2017Apr19)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017                                              1:51 PM

A good person, we are told, avoids fighting unless it’s absolutely necessary—but the one who throws the first punch has the best chance of winning a fight. A good person, we are told, cares about others—but then again, one is supposed to look out for number one. Honesty is the best policy—but a little white lie can sometimes be the difference between life and death.

If these sound familiar, it may be because they are often the crux of a drama: to fight or not to fight, to give or to take, to be honest or not. So, one might assume that ethics adds drama to life—ethics tell us to find a way around our animal impulses—and that’s where the drama comes in. But, if we are successful, we feel that we’ve risen above our animal nature—ethics is our way of proving to ourselves that we are above dogs.

No offense to dogs—some of them are far nicer than people—but if you try to reason with a dog, you won’t get far. Then again, trying to reason with some people is no different. They use the pretense of reason to rationalize the behavior of an animal. Even math can be warped into the service of bullshit—4 out of 5 dentists agree.

Some claim that ethics are pretentious luxuries, a thin veneer that falls away at the first sign of deprivation or hunger. But the same could be said of friendship—and while that may be true of many friendships, or ethics, it is not true of all of them. Some people are kamikazes about their friendships, or their ethics—are these people mad? Or are the rest of us missing out on some key factor?

I think it depends on how much you value yourself—if you consider yourself a part of something, you’re less likely to see yourself as irreplaceable—you’re more likely to see sacrifice, on your part, as benefitting the whole. If you think of yourself as a ‘lone-wolf’ individual, you’re more likely to see your own survival as the bottom line.

So, it seems our choices are: 1. suicidally sacrificial or 2. selfishly self-centered—at this point, we realize that everything has two sides and there is no simple, rote answer to any question. A-little-of-each presents itself as the obvious answer—but is it really that simple? Sorry—no, nothing is simple—then again, it can be, if you shut your mind to the endless variety of existence. This accounts for the effectiveness of some douchebag giving out with a derisive ‘whatever’ as a rebuttal to common sense. Apparently, ‘I don’t give a shit’ is an acceptable substitute for ‘I know what I’m doing’.

I don’t respect people that walk away from a losing argument—to me, losing an argument is the most educational experience there is—to find out that there is a better answer, a better way of seeing things. What could be of greater value? When I argue, it’s not to win the fight, it’s to communicate a different point of view—and if I lose the argument, I’m obligated to recognize that the other person had a better grasp of the issue than I did—and that I’ve learned something.

Even if someone hears me out and insists on disagreeing with me, because of their ‘faith’ or some such non-rational bullshit—even that I can respect more than someone who enters into an argument just to be belligerent—and walks away with a ‘whatever’ when they can’t bully me with their rhetoric. That’s just being a jerk, in my book.

The glut of such jerks online is similar to the increased hate and xenophobia that we see today—and it has the same source. Trump is a bully-arguer, and a racist fear-monger—and he won the election (or, at least, the Electoral College)—so, other bully-arguers, and racist fear-mongers, feel emboldened, having such a prominent role-model. And in the end, the bad example of our head of state may do more lasting damage than his bad governance. Bad laws can be rescinded, but encouraging people to hate is a poor lesson that can have a life-long impact on our society.

That is my strongest reason for wanting Trump impeached—conduct unbecoming an American. A leader should be an example—and his incompetent, unethical leadership isn’t nearly as damaging as his bad example. Trump isn’t just a bad president—he’s a bad person. #Sad!

Improv – Late in the Day

 

Thursday, April 20, 2017                                        3:29 PM

The Job of Jazz   (2017Apr19)

The R&B brass section, the vocal back-up trio, the echo effect—and then the electric guitar comes in. It’s got smooth power—and makes you feel like you’re madly in love. But the drums seal the deal—you fall into another world—a world that was hiding behind the silence. At that point, anything the front man sings will sound like sexy poetry—he could be reading from a phone book. And that’s the artifice in art—to the audience it is transporting—to the creator it is hard work, made to seem effortless.

Poetry is much the same—Eliot called it ‘a mug’s game’. Writing in general is a matter of pacing and rhythm—even the graphic arts have a sweep to them that is the visual equivalent of rhythm and pacing—composition and contrast, highlights and empty space.

The paradox is pure—self-expression is not for the creative worker—it is for everyone else. It is an expression—which presumes a listener, a viewer, a reader. Yes, it is your unique and personal self-expression—but it is still an expression—a message sent—and why send a message if not to connect to a recipient?

That is the nakedness of it—to be honestly self-expressive is to reveal who we are—and who we are is the sum of our lifetimes. Thus honest self-expression becomes one’s life story—who we are and how we live. Its revelatory nature is the thing that frightens many people away—and they are all quite sensible people. Apparently, strong feelings and conflict drive some people to creative self-expression—contented people can enjoy art (I’m in that group) but they aren’t as driven as those who live and breathe their art as an almost exclusive preoccupation.

Some people insist on being the audience. They’ll call out to a celebrity actor by their TV character’s name—ignoring both reality and the hard work of the actor in an unconscious effort to merge entertainment with reality. To the actor, I imagine, that’s a double-edged compliment—the high regard of the delusional—but with their numbers so high, ratings are guaranteed—in some way, he or she is making their living by feeding that delusion.

And am I any saner, just because I know to turn off my willing suspension of disbelief as the credits roll? We all crave seeing our lives as something other than the reality—we love to connect to feelings we share, to experience vicariously and empathize with the challenges and exertions of heroes and heroines. Reading a good book isn’t much different from living in another time and place as another person. Coming to the end of a great movie is like waking from an incredible dream. Sex, drugs, and liquor have their place—but there is no escapism like the arts.

Hadyn – Sonata in C (Excerpt)

Friday, April 21, 2017                                              12:42 AM

These new videos I’ve posted today include one that is a sight-reading of the 2nd and 3rd movements from a Haydn Sonata in C (I forget the number). First of all, I misspelled Haydn’s name in the video, which is always embarrassing, yet I always do it. Secondly, I don’t keep any kind of rhythm and everyone knows that you have to keep a steady rhythm. Try to think of it as conversational sight-reading. Talented musicians sometimes take exception to my posts—they are the antithesis of good technique—and I get tired, sometimes, of explaining that I can’t play the piano as well as I would wish—but I like to do it, and I like to share it with people who aren’t so picky. I had a run-in just the other day and I wrote it up, but then I decided not to share it with you. Now, however, as a preemptive disclaimer to my poorly-played Haydn, I share it herewith:

 

Friday, April 14, 2017                                              6:28 PM

YouTube Scuffle   (2017Apr14)

“Every Time We Say Goodbye” by Cole Porter (2013Jun06)

https://youtu.be/4BMa7HEE1Uo

This is a video I posted four years ago. Three years go by—nobody watches, nobody cares—then, a year ago:

plica06 (1 year ago) This is so bad. You could have at least practised a bit before uploading.

xperdunn (1 year ago)  plica06: What a perfect opportunity for you to show us all how it’s done with your own video performance. Or are you all talk and no go?

US GameRat (4 months ago) xperdunn: good thing you know how to handel this and im not being sarcastic at all, im being serious. dont worry about what he or she said, because even if you did or didnt practice that is one beautiful song and you deserve the love because i know what music is. i know why this was so good and it still is, so thank you for making this video become true because without this video i woulndt have any other help, and this is the only video i found because i have the same music, and i found it online and so youre basically helping me learn this song. but this video was better that what i thought than what i would find. you impressed me thank you! i dont care if this plica06 guy calls me some random 13 year-old-piano-player-wanna be, i dont give a shit. i love music, and no one can make me stop. i really have an extreme, basically addiction, or really really deep love over music. but yea. thanl you. at least you made this come true than someone judjing you by who you are because i know truly youre an amazing person. really. and im talking to xperdunn 🙂

xperdunn  (4 months ago) US GameRat: thanks for the support, guy! We music-lovers must fight the forces of musical snobbery, encouraging everyone to enjoy music, no matter the trolls. Be well.

US GameRat (4 months ago)  xperdunn yeah! thank you 🙂

pianoplaylist (2 hours ago) plica06 was extremely lacking in tact.  I disagree though that he or she is a mere troll or a just a musical snob.  You, sir, should fight the forces of mediocrity and make a version that is worthy of your years of investment of time and worthy of the genius work of art that this song is.  It’s a free country and you can upload whatever half-baked, sight reading practice session you desire, but you obviously have the talent and the knowledge to refine your rendition and make it more pleasing to the ear.  That would be more encouraging to the learners.  Sorry for being harsh.  I wish you the best in all things.

xperdunn:

So, you can see that plica06 is critical of my poor piano playing—and because I post my videos to encourage other non-talented music-lovers to go ahead and share what they love, I don’t take crap from nobody—that’s part of it, showing people that a troll is nothing but a guy wasting his time at the keyboard.

But pianoplaylist is critical because he thinks I can do better. That’s the trouble with the internet—everyone has an agenda and nobody knows the whole story. I can barely hold a cup of coffee in my left hand—intentional tremors are just one of the symptoms of nerve damage—poor short-term memory is another. My decades-long struggle with HepC and liver cancer and a liver transplant—and all the permanent damage that was done to my body and my mind—make my poor attempts something of a triumph, even though they suck by the usual standards.

And that is the reason I post my videos—anyone else out there who has been told that they weren’t meant to play music—ignore the critics. Anyone out there that is embarrassed to post their music—post it anyway—be brave. If you have even a pinch of ability, you will soon be much better than I am, or will ever be. As long as you love music—play it—share it—don’t stop to listen to anyone else—they should be playing their own music, not stopping your bliss.

I was extremely gratified that my sight-reading was able to help US GameRat to learn to play this beautiful tune by Cole Porter, an American legend. If he is the only person that takes heart from my posts, so be it—good enough. But who knows, maybe there are more young beginners out there….

Improv – First Star

Hello?   (2017Feb28)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017                                             11:42 AM

Feeling a little disappointed lately with the traffic on my blog and YouTube channel. Makes sense, though—I’ve been so busy writing posts and posting videos that I haven’t spared any time to appreciate other people’s blogs and music videos. I do follow some bloggers and YouTube musicians—I’m not completely self-absorbed—and besides, isn’t the point of the Internet to allow us all to bounce our ideas off each other? Sharing ideas and creativity is the only real communication—everything else is entertainment—click-bait and eye-candy to lull the masses.

So, I’m thinking maybe the end of Winter is a particularly fertile period for people to get work done, get new ideas, and feel inspired to create. Like me, everyone else is too busy doing their own thing to check in with my stuff. Either that, or I’m getting old, predictable, and uninteresting—always a dark possibility that I’m sure I won’t recognize when it happens—if it hasn’t already.

Today’s videos use new pictures of the baby—some of them are a little dark because I just used them, as is, to make the video. I’ve been processing hundreds of pictures lately, and for this batch of 376 new ones, I decided to take the easy way out—no photo-shop, no enhancement, just the candid camera. Fortunately most of the pictures are just perfect, like their subject, and my only worry was in recording some music that would be suitable accompaniment to such a beautiful baby.

I tried to play one of Bach’s French Suites—the b minor—but my left hand is getting so spasmodic that I may have to stop sharing my piano-playing and go back to playing for my own amusement. It’s never been that good, but it’s really starting to mess up everything I play. And I really hate not being able to play a strong bass line—it’s my favorite part, dammit.

With our new president, I have a bug up my ass about something he says or does nearly every day—so I’m struggling to come up with non-political posts, just to break the monotony of my constant bitching. I need ‘happy’ posts because I don’t like to put my beautiful granddaughter’s videos on the same page as a post about that horror-show.

But here I am, bitching anyway—and about people ignoring me, no less. What an idiot. I look at YouTube Creators notes sometimes—they always talk about requiring a minimum of 1,000 subscribers for certain programs they offer—and I go check my channel and see that, for my eight years of posting videos, I’ve amassed a whopping 60 subscribers. Usually I’m grateful that there are that many—but YouTube always reminds me that I’m not really ‘in the mix’, as it were. It’s depressing to be a music-lover and be such a terrible musician. Still, it beats living without music in my life.

All’s I can say is—if global warming is going to destroy the world, it’s surely offering us some lovely weather for the apocalypse. Last day of February and it might as well be the first day of June. The crocuses, snowbells, and what-all are simply exploding out of the ground. I should get my camera out there while it’s all blooming—those flowers come and go in the blink of an eye. Even indoors, we’ve got red and white amaryllis blooming all around the kitchen. It’s a very flowery day—too nice a day to complain. Hello.

Hurry Spring   (2017Feb21)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017                                             4:06 PM

Well, today settles it—I get maudlin towards the end of Winter. I start writing poems, I start playing piano in a minor key, I write bitter diatribes with far more than my usual cynicism. My taste in music gets a little weepy, a little dirge-y—I read more than watch TV. It’s a whole ‘Spring-better-show-up-soon’ depression-fest.

Also, I tend to write a lot more personal stuff—half of what I write this time of year is either too personal or too depressing to post—and I go on and on about stuff that I’m pretty sure isn’t driving the throngs to my blog—but that’s February for me. I’m fading fast—and I need some sunshine.

Well, things have settled down a bit—I’m used to either rooting for a Democrat administration, or I’m worrying about the one, really-big mistake that a GOP administration is currently making—I’m not used to purely dysfunctional—that’s a new one on me—and, I suspect, on all of you as well. But normalization is inevitable—short of storming Penn Ave, we’re stuck with the Clown until 2020—and the more avidly we stare, waiting for an impeachable offense, the less likely one is—‘a watched pot…’ and all that.

I’m still getting used to an America that is not actively trying to exceed itself—I’ll miss that forever, or until it returns, whichever comes first. Never before has a candidate won an election with a message of despair. “Make America great again”—I’d like to punch that fucker right in the mouth—the only thing that isn’t great about America is your benighted ass, you fucker, and the cowering, feebleminded jerks who voted for your sick agenda.

But let’s not get ourselves all worked up, every damn day, over the same old tragedy. What’s done is done. The odds on Trump sitting his whole term are long—one definite drawback to not knowing what you’re doing: you don’t know the rules. And while Trump may rubber-stamp some of the GOP’s worst legislation, they will find it hard to actually work with him—everyone does.

Fortunately for the Republicans, their platform was already custom-tailored for wealthy bastards with no public conscience—but they will inevitably try to mollify their base with something—and that’s where they and Trump will part ways. Trump’s penchant for blaming the establishment will ring rather hollow in 2020, after four years of being the establishment, so it’s hard to see him pull this off a second time—unless he actually does something.

But like most of his kind, Trump’s greatest ally would be military strife—even Bush-43 looked more dignified with Americans dying all over the place. Thus, it isn’t that I don’t want Trump to do anything—it’s that I’m afraid his ‘anything’ has some dark options waiting. Improving education, creating jobs, fixing our infrastructure—these would all be laudable accomplishments—if Trump can improve anything on such fronts, I’ll be glad to reevaluate—but I’m not going to hold my breath.

As much as I look forward to the coming of Spring, it will be all the more bitter for being a time of rebirth in an new age of tyranny—for 2017, T. S. Eliot will have got it right: “April is the cruelest month….

Today’s poem and videos all contain cannibalized artwork from my one and only book of illustrated poetry, “Bearly Bliss”. It may seem ironic that my hand-tremors make me unable to draw, yet I still try to play the piano with the same hands—this is because I’m used to sucking at the piano, whereas I was once pretty good with a pen.

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Chopin   (2017Feb11)

Saturday, February 11, 2017                                             9:48 PM

Fryderyk Chopin was tutored in piano by Wojciech Żywny from age six until age eleven. From age 13 to age 16, Chopin (a child prodigy) studied at the Warsaw Lyceum, then composition under Józef Elsner. Chopin lived in Warsaw until the age of 20, in 1830, when he and several friends decamped to Paris—just prior to the November Uprising that same year. This marked the start of a doomed Polish struggle against Russian rule which Chopin is noted as supporting from afar throughout his brief adult life.

Chopin was such a consummate pianist that some of his compositions, when they do not cross into virtuoso territory (which was often the case) are technically accessible even to someone like me—though reading-through and playing the correct notes (mostly) is still a far cry from a true, capital-P performance of a Chopin work. His delicate lyricism and serendipitous, near-improvisational freedom of expression are found nowhere else in written music—and merely playing the notes as written is just a beginning towards reaching the full effect.

But I try—there is something about playing a piece oneself, on the piano—it is the reason that I play, albeit poorly, and with no hope of ever mastering the instrument. When we listen to music, we hear only the sound it makes. But in reading the music, as written by the long-dead genius (or any other) and in pressing the keys with my own hands, I feel an understanding and a connection to Chopin that is easily equal to relationships I’ve had with living people—I get not only the end result, the sound—but also the roots, the human source of whatever musical invention I happen to be playing. It is a wonderful kind of rush that transformed the way I listen to music, as much as it included me in the making of music.

Thus, when I play Chopin, I can stop dead in the middle of the piece—odds are I had to, but even still, I speak to Chopin—I say, ‘clever, that bit—and very beautiful.’ And Chopin replies, ‘I thought you’d like that.’ It’s amazingly like a vicarious composition of my own—as if I was creating it instead of playing it off the sheet music—as if I were Chopin. Despite the fact that my end results are hardly praiseworthy, in the playing of the music myself, I can hear it as Chopin first imagined it—in some ways, sounding more beautiful than the most polished artist’s performance of the same piece.

I was a weird kid. I enjoyed classical music in grade school—I had a lot of LPs, and many more that I borrowed from the Katonah Village Library. I sometimes fought with my siblings about playing classical music on the big stereo in the living room (rather than their rock n’ roll—not that I didn’t enjoy some of that, too) but most often, I would stack’em up on my record player, turn out the lights and lie on the floor to listen in the dark. My dad hated that—he’d burst in and turn on the lights and say, ‘What the hell are you doing in here in the dark?’ or whatever.

But my point is this—I’ve always loved classical music. But it wasn’t until I was fifteen (way too old) before I took piano lessons. There’s something about hitting the keys and making the notes play—feeling the music as an activity, as a part of you, instead of listening to music—it gave me a heightened appreciation of music that I don’t believe is possible without some experience, with some instrument, or with the voice. Glenn Gould’s Bach recordings, for instance, went from relaxing to fascinating—without changing a note—it was like a veil was lifted for me. Music is a wonderful thing to hear—but it isn’t until you make your own that you get the full picture, as it were.

And I’d say that’s why I improvise at the piano every day, too. I can’t make great music, but I can make music—and there’s something very empowering about playing music that no one else has written down, music that I make up as I go along. Survivalists prepare for a life after civilization—I suppose I’m preparing for a life after I-tunes?

ttfn

Xenophobic Nonsense   (2017Feb07)

Tuesday, February 07, 2017                                             6:47 PM

Okay, time to slow things down. Trump’s blitzkrieg of incompetence has the overall effect of forcing us to play his game, on his timetable. He does and says so many inflammatory, imprudent, borderline-illegal things that we simple folk are spurred into instant response—there’s never time for sober discussion—his stupidity is faster than light.

And while it may seem impossible to justify ignoring Trump and his minions for even one second—I sense that pulling back from his shit-storm of non-ideas, and taking the time to laugh at him and them—and to remind ourselves that life goes on, madness in the White House be damned—is the correct course. When caught in an inane conversation with a drunk, we don’t try to win the argument—we try to move away from the drunk—and this seems the sensible course in the case of Trump’s fascist Justice League of Losers and their obsession with media-storms.

Granted, Trump’s Electoral College win is a huge blow—in spite of the majority voting against him, he holds the presidency for the next four years—and that’s a lot of power for a crazy egotist. But the sub-set of Americans identifying as Trump supporters is still, in many ways, a far more ominous threat in the long term. These people are trapped within the echo-chamber of ‘alternative’, resentful, paranoid fantasies about how the world works, outside of their town.

Where their existence was once threatened by the ubiquity of information, the rise of biased information sources has now strengthened their grip on such self-excusing delusions. Bigotry is back in fashion. As long as Trump (and their portion of the Internet) reinforces their balky refusal to open their minds, they’ll feel infinitely justified in maintaining even the craziest notions.

These people have even been convinced to vote against Health Care, for themselves and their families. Think about that. It’s not far different from offering someone a juicy steak dinner—and them punching you in the mouth, like you’d insulted their mother.

You tell them the globe is warming, sea levels are rising, untold disaster awaits—and when their boss at the oil company, or the coal mine, sez, ‘No, it isn’t’, they dutifully jeer at the scientists. Scientists! People who make a career out of sweating the details—and who, more to the point, have no dog in this race—unlike their deniers.

I’ve seen regular people—not rich business owners or anything, just regular folks—who actually oppose the Minimum Wage. The sole purpose of a minimum wage is to make it hard for employers to pay you less than you deserve. Do these people think that the rule will only apply to immigrants—and even if it did, do they hate immigrants that much? How will they feel when their own kids can’t find work that pays their rent? Minimum Wage might start to look a little more attractive then.

So, in my humble opinion, there are some tragically, self-defeatingly, self-destructively stupid people out there—and a lot of them vote. For the most part, they don’t really oppose the changes that the Left promotes—they simply fear change—and that is their only real point of agreement with their leaders, especially Trump. Imagine a 21st-century American putting billions of taxpayer dollars into a wall—a big, stupid wall. Hasn’t he read Clausewitz?

A wall can be swum around, tunneled under, and flown over—if Trump’s idea was to stop immigrants, he’s a failure—if he merely wants to inconvenience them—good work, Donald, spend away. Although it should be noted that immigrants are no strangers to inconvenience. The act of building a big wall can be seen as less of a practical exercise and more of a desire for the world to be so simple. It is a statement more than an achievement—and those familiar with Trump’s pre-presidency resume will recognize this theme.

The sad truth is that rich people raise lazy kids—and rich countries raise lazy citizens—America maintains its preeminence by constantly blending in fresh blood. And if the newcomers are not creamy white, that is beside the point—they are eager—even desperate, for a chance to make something of their lives, and their families’ lives. They work like dogs. They take everything seriously. They listen to what’s going on around them. Basically, all the stuff that you and I are too ‘over’ being Americans to bother with.

These people prevent the rest of us from drowning in our own toxins of apathy and entitlement, selfishness and irresponsibility. They recharge the battery of America and they always have—our own ancestors were part of the process. Deciding to stop now, to shut it all down, to ban travel and build a big honking wall—suicide—sheer suicide for our country and ourselves.

Don’t take my word for it—look at Europe. A lot of those countries are accepting refugees, not simply out of the goodness of their hearts, but also because their populations are becoming too small and too aged to maintain their economies. They need immigrants—and the only reason we don’t is because we’ve always had them. We’ve never known what lack of change, lack of growth is really like—stagnation is foreign to us—but not for long, if we keep up this xenophobic nonsense.

ttfn

Hail Mary Pass   (2017Feb05)

20170205xd-supbowl_li_grfc

Sunday, February 05, 2017                                                2:30 PM

Super Bowl LI today—it may have started already, for all I know, but even non-sports guys like me can’t help but hear about it—and the commercials, and the half-time show. It’s a national institution, there’s no denying that.

And a business watershed—the ad people can spend the whole year getting ready their Super Bowl commercial—and if they get it right, it’s an instant classic, a feather in their cap for the length of their career. Between the ratings fluctuations and the reviews of the half-time entertainment, it’s a show-biz watershed as well. And, of course, it’s a sports thing, first and foremost.

My experience of football was brief and uninspiring—so I don’t want to get all ‘sour grapes’ about the game—it’s exciting stuff. Still, I can’t help worrying that Football will go the way of Cigarettes. With cigarettes, we had that first study showing it was dangerous—and that made the sensible people quit.

But, between industry pushback and personal inertia, smoking remained quite commonplace. Then a second push, following a few court cases lost by Big Tobacco, virtually wiped cigarettes from the face of society—and that was a good thing—I remain a rare smoker, still, but I’m not complaining about the non-smoking movement.

So, too, with football—we’ve already had the big announcement—that hundreds of micro-lesions can form in the brain through repeated concussive blows, making football a very risky way to get rich. Industry has pushed back fairly successfully, minimizing the risk and making noises about helmet sensors and increased vigilance—but the basic facts have not changed.

Now that symptoms can be linked to their true causes, and autopsies include inspections of brain matter for long-term damage, the connection between a youthful football career and a middle-age of drooling vegetation, or suicide, will become nakedly obvious. If we are just now getting rid of bullfighting, how long can we continue to support a sport that kills its human players a few years after they retire? It doesn’t look good for American football.

 

Still, chain-smoking somehow seemed to make a World War into a bearable ordeal—so, if we need a weekend of football to get us through the new World Order fumbling into being, down in Washington, so be it. At this point, any diversion is a gift from above.

And I come bearing gifts of my own—two new improvs with pictures of the world’s finest baby. The music is so-so, but the pictures are adorable. Somehow, the Big Game got politicized—but all I care about is the new “24” series that follows the game—hey, if Keifer isn’t in it, why are we watching? Couldn’t they just call it something new? Well, I’m ‘too old for this shit’, as they say—maybe Sutherland is too.

 

 

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Digging Out   (2017Jan29)

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Sunday, January 29, 2017                                        1:00 AM

Spencer gave me a music book for Xmas—piano arrangements of works by Joe Hisaishi, a famous composer of anime films by Studio Ghibli and video game music, he’s also issued some albums. I’m loving getting to know this stuff—the melodies are fantastic, but bear with me—it’s not every day I get new sight-reading material and it’s still unfamiliar ground. I plan to post covers of every piece in the book, eventually.

I’m still digging myself out from under the profusion of photos received and recordings made during the holidays and the rest of this month. Today’s posted videos include one from a month ago, and three from a week ago—but they also include over one hundred photos that I’ve just gotten to processing. So, nothing in today’s posts is recent except the effort.

 

You’ll excuse some of the holiday photos—there’s still mostly nothing but baby pictures, so you can live with a few ornaments. That baby gets cuter every time I look. I barely listen to myself play the piano on these videos anymore—I just gaze at my adorable granddaughter and remember her recent visit.

 

It’s been a long week—but I used the time to get my backlog cleared, so it wasn’t a total loss. I needed to have a lousy day or two, just to convince myself that photo-shopping picture after picture was a pleasant enough way to pass the time, compared to the rest of what was going on around me—so, there’s no cloud but has a silver lining, once more.

I long to return to a time when I play for the camera, process the video or videos, and post them to YouTube—all in the same day. This playing catch-up is for the birds—and I’ve got a crick in my neck from repetitive keystrokes during the hours of photo-shopping. I’ve gotten to where I prefer receiving videos of the baby, rather than a slew of photographs—much less processing involved for five minutes’ worth of background graphics.

Enough shop-talk. Sometimes, I swear, I type just to hear myself think. This blog is supposed to at least try to be interesting.

The Time-Space Orchestra   (2017Jan26)

Thursday, January 26, 2017                                              9:21 PM

The Buds-Up Time-Space Orchestra was delayed last week by a cold my partner caught—but Pete’s all better now, and here’s another fine mess he’s gotten me into. Seriously, though, I think some of it came out pretty good.

We almost didn’t get to the music, what with discussing the craziness in today’s politics—things are getting weirder, and not in a comfortable way. Eventually, however, we were able to move along to the Gershwin brothers—the song “Clappa Yo Hands” is one of their unfortunate efforts to force a patois onto the lyric—but it’s a nice song.

Then we tried Yellow Submarine and Yester-Me Yester-You Yesterday, both of which I suspect we’ve done before—but we mostly do the covers to warm up for the jamming (at least, I think we do) so no harm done. It’s hard for me to follow a professional drummer when I’m goofing around—add sight-reading and the results are suspect at best. But it’s fun to try—maybe don’t call the covers ‘music videos’, call them videos of us having fun—that’s the idea.

I’m pretty happy with the two improvs—I tried to play along with the drumming and mostly managed it—and the music isn’t awful. Five stars, as far as I’m concerned. Well, it’s been quite a day, what with the playing and the processing and the posting to YouTube—so, th-th-that’s all, folks!

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Stupid In A Crisis   (2017Jan24)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017                                                7:46 PM

I’m exhausted from responding to alt-right trolls on Facebook. I know that nothing that happens on Facebook matters worth a damn—and I know I’m never going to change the mind of any of these hysterical jingoists. Still, with things as they are, whenever any of that pro-Trump idiocy appears on my feed, I’m going to keep on responding, contradicting and insulting the people who post it.

I didn’t use to. I used to look at their stuff and say to myself that no one could ever be so blind as to be taken in by the charlatan and his creepy minions. But the Electoral College has proven that I was wrong about that. So now, whenever I see a stupid, thoughtless post in support of criminals who just happened to get elected—I post a reply of my own. I don’t want to—I’ve got better things to do—certainly nicer ways to spend my time. But I will no longer let these lies go unchallenged—even in the wasteland of Facebook.

Is it wrong of me to insult these people? Under ordinary circumstances, yes, it certainly would be. And if they are truly so deluded that they believe in Trump, it’s actually cruel of me to torture them with my scorn. But a lot of these people are just feeling the oats of their misogyny, racism, nationalism, and plain old resentment over how shitty their lives turned out. The miserable irony of it is that they have been conned into staunchly supporting the very people that keep their lives so miserable.

Can you imagine it? These rich, powerful people—who can create major changes with the stroke of a pen—accuse the poor, the sick, the displaced, and the immigrant of causing all our troubles. These cynical pigs stand there, with their hands on the switches, their fingers on the buttons—and they expect us to believe that the most powerless, vulnerable people on this earth are causing the problems. It’s beyond tragedy—it’s even beyond farce.

Their eagerness to smear anyone who stands against them is a sure sign that they have no conscience, no real concern for anyone but themselves—they echo the true accusations we make against them, like little children—yet enough people were taken in by this childishness that he won the Electoral College.

So, I apologize to all you people who I may call Stupid (and other things) over the course of the next four years. Please understand that I wouldn’t insult you without reason—you have been stupid, you continue to be blind and ignorant to the real threats, and you show no sign of wanting to become un-stupid in the foreseeable future. If the situation allowed for me to be polite enough to ignore your empty-headedness, I would gladly let it pass—but stupid in a crisis is a real danger, and I don’t have the luxury of etiquette anymore. However meaningless and futile my comments and posts on Facebook may be, they are my only point of push-back against the cretins—besides, evil pisses me off.

 

Big Book of Christmas   (2016Dec16)

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Friday, December 16, 2016                                               11:29 PM

I’m trying to post my final Christmas carols before anyone gets here—I expect to be posting far less once the house gets full-up. I have the raw recordings from last night, but editing them will take some time. This always happens to me—I’m about to complete my big project of recording the entire Christmas songbook—and before I finish, I’m already feeling foolish for having bothered. After all, who wants to watch a long piano recital by a half-assed piano-player, no matter the theme of the concert?

But then I remember that family will watch. Poor piano-playing can actually add a homey touch to a video—and these videos are as much baby-albums of all little Seneca’s pictures and videos, as they are piano performances. I haven’t really created a Playlist—I’ve created a deluxe photo album of the first four months of my granddaughter’s existence (with holiday soundtrack included). And that is certainly worth a little effort on my part.

Just as few words about the completed playlist of: the Big Book of Christmas Music. There is one song missing from the book—“Joy To The World”, strangely enough—somehow the page came loose, and I couldn’t play just the first page, and stop in the middle. It’s not important—I’ll just include it in the next book’s recordings (“Joy To The World” is in every Xmas songbook).

Also, there are a few of these that I don’t play so well. Some pieces use figurations, especially in the left hand, that are difficult for me—I usually avoid them, but this was a clean sweep of the table of contents, from beginning to end, so I did the best I could with the ones I shouldn’t have been playing. The good news is that I won’t be posting these carols ever again, now that I’m sure I’ve done the whole book.

In doing this sight-reading every year, I’m always struck by the carols and songs that are of an earlier popularity—the ones that you can only barely remember hearing before—and then in childhood. There’s really an endless supply of Christmas and holiday music—I was just watching Bill Murray’s “A Very Murray Christmas” (2015) on Netflix yesterday—and that whole musical special was a list of songs I don’t have the music for—great stuff, too. I hadn’t realized there’s this very show-bizzy-type side to Christmas music as well—and Paul Shaffer is fantastic at that stuff. It was excellent fare—for a Christmas Special.

As for the words—this was a big project for me—and close-captioned lyrics would have made the whole thing take ten times the work. If you want to sing along, the lyrics to songs are easily searched online—so, I left it to you, if you want them, they’re out there. I did supply the title at the beginning of each song, so you’ll know what song to do a lyrics-search for.

The entire playlist can be heard here.

But if you want to find a song, here’s the detailed list:

 

Thirteen (13) Christmas Carols – November 21st, 2016

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Nine (9) Christmas Carols – November 23rd, 2016

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Eleven (11) Christmas Carols – November 27th, 2016

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Nine (9) Christmas Carols – November 28th, 2016

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Twelve (12) Christmas Carols – November 29th, 2016

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Thirteen (13) Christmas Carols – December 1st, 2016

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Nine (9) more Christmas Carols – December 1st, 2016

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Twelve (12) Christmas Carols – December 6th, 2016

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Four (4) Christmas Carols – December 12th, 2016

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Nine (9) Christmas Carols – December 12th, 2016

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Seven (7) Christmas Carols – December 12th, 2016

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Twelve (12) Christmas Carols – December 15th, 2016

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Nine (9) Christmas Carols – December 15th, 2016

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Th-th-that’s all, folks!

 

Christmas Caroling   (2016Dec13)

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016                                           11:43 AM

Every year I post YouTube videos of myself playing Christmas Carols on the piano, occasionally singing along. I don’t do it because I play them so well—I just do it to celebrate the season. Also, singing Christmas Carols is one of my earliest childhood memories of a happy activity—sing-alongs, to me, are one of the greatest pleasures in life and, when it’s carols being sung, it just doesn’t get any better.

Caroling is one of the few times I can feel that great feeling from my youth—that God is in his heaven and all’s well with the world. The average carol only lasts a few minutes, but for that short span, I can almost believe—it’s very cozy. Usually, I don’t allow myself the indulgence—day-to-day life is only made more difficult by subscribing to wishful thinking—but Christmas only comes once a year, so what the hell. A little fantasy never hurt anyone.

This year I somehow decided to get very serious about the caroling videos—recording the songbooks from first song to last, so that I don’t have to wonder which ones I’ve done or which ones I’ve left out. I sometimes get serious about my YouTube videos—like with this one trio of Brahms Intermezzi I recorded last year, or the various Bach suites and partitas for keyboard. But my amateur-level piano technique doesn’t really stand up to serious scrutiny, so the projects usually fall apart before I’m finished recording the whole mess.

I’m getting more tenacious in my old age though, I guess—I’m closing in on the full Big Book of Christmas Songs—with today’s posting of twenty more carols, I’ve reached the ‘S’s—so, alphabetically, I’m almost to the finish line. And I am eager to finish this largest and most traditional of my Christmas Carol songbooks, because then I move on to the more popular-song Christmas music songbooks—and they’re a lot more fun/familiar and easier to play. Also, for all subsequent books, I plan to skip any carol already included from a previous book’s videos.

Time, as always, is chivvying me on—less than two weeks until Christmas, and these videos seem to take more time and effort with every post. I always over-do the Carol-playing—so, as the holidays go on, I get more troubled by back-strain, hand-tremors, and weakening eyesight (some music publishers are criminal in their demands on sight-readers—such tiny print). I reach a point where I’m actually conserving my strength for the live Christmas caroling—when a roomful of people are expecting me to accompany actual singing.

In the final result, by New Year’s Eve, I am more than happy to put the carol books away for another year—a full-month’s immersion in any genre is usually enough for me. But I wouldn’t give up my Christmas carols for all the tea in China.

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A Major Influence   (2016Dec09)

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Friday, December 09, 2016                                               2:51 PM

Just because George Winston is the greatest single influence on my piano efforts, there’s no reason to blame him for what I post. I’ve listened incessantly to his recordings—but that is true of at least a hundred other artists—still, I don’t know the man. I don’t know what he’s doing—I’ve always just tried to sound ‘as good’ as he does—knowing full well that a great deal of the appeal to his recordings is the ground-breaking sound-engineering, capturing the lushness of a great concert piano, played by a master.

But I believe we approach these piano-things from opposite ends—he is a talented musician who practically founded the New Age movement, by bringing a geometric, yet non-baroque, technique to lyricism. I was drawn to his music because of my mathematical bent, and tried to lever my lacking abilities through the use of similar stylings—a far more superficial pecking at the borders of musicality. My goal remains to somehow sound ‘as good’ as George Winston, someday.

I don’t expect to achieve it—George Winston is the goods—and he’s as comfortable with classical as with folk, blues, or rock-n-roll—and has his own unique style, into the bargain. But why should I set small goals for myself?

 

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Christmas Is Nice   (2016Dec05)

Sunday, December 04, 2016                                                       2:57 PM

I have to write something nice to post. I’ve started to get some conflict between my gruesome, acidic rants and the videos (of baby-granddaughter and the Xmas-carols) that go with them. I don’t want cute photos of our little Seneca to be stuck beside my venomous diatribes and gloomy Eeyore-isms. So, if I don’t write something pleasant, I have no post to put the new videos in.

Monday, December 05, 2016                                                     8:46 PM

Christmas Music sweeps a broad path—it isn’t a genre—it’s more of a filter applied to every genre. It has the sanctity of church music and the jollity of Santa Claus, the grandeur of Hallelujah and the intimacy of a newborn’s cradle, it has angels in heaven and Elvis in a Blue Hawaii—there are very few things that can’t be squooshed into a Christmas Song, when you get right down to it—including silver bells, one’s two front teeth, and Grandma’s vehicular demise.

I like to be chronological about my annual return to the Christmas-music pile. (When we were younger, I made a point of putting them back in the library bookshelf every January, but lately, they just sit in a dusty pile by the piano until December comes round again—it’s like: why make your bed, if you’re just going to sing it again next December?)

So I start with the carol books—songbooks that focus on the ancient and traditional standards. By the time I work my way up to Irving Berlin and Jose Feliciano, that stuff sounds downright snappy, compared to stuff that was written contemporaneously with Gregorian Chants—or hymns written by Martin Luther himself (does that guy have to do everything for you Protestants? Write a hymn, dammit.)

This year, I’m recording Christmas Carols for YouTube videos like it was my job or something. I guess I hear a skull chuckling at my elbow—and this is my way of setting myself up for absent Xmases. But it’s a good thing I started early this year, in November—here it is December 5th and I’m only half-way through the first book of songs.

I have about five different caroling books—and if I get that far, I have some George Winston sheet music, too. I feel like Winston’s “December” Album is the last modern-day addition to the Xmas-music repertoire. That, and Lennon’s “War Is Over”, and Joni Mitchell’s “River”, represent the furthest reaches of Xmas-music evolution for my generation—younger people could probably cite more recent ‘classics’, but such would be dross to these fuddy-duddy ears.

The rare instrumental Xmas-tunes are my favorites—but they are unanimously difficult on the piano—Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker excerpts, Handel’s Messiah excerpts, Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Bells”, March of the Wooden Soldiers—you name it: if it has no lyrics, it’s a bitch to play. But I get a little better every year. Come to think of it, if my other musical efforts were seasonal, I’d probably be making better progress with them as well. I should have an era a month, from Elizabethan to Swing—that would probably be fun. Hmmm.

But December is taken—and I am on a mission. In future years my carol-playing may become worse, but it’s highly unlikely that it will ever get better than it is now—so the video archive of all of it will make a repeat of the same thing unnecessary next year and in years to come. Maybe next year I can try for the whole Nutcracker, or the entire Messiah (which would be tricky without a full chorus, but there are arrangements…)

Someday, I’d also like to do a good recording of Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons, all twelve months—it’s not official Christmas music, but there’s something about the winter months that’s very seasonal—and it does end with December, after a November ‘sleigh-ride’. Plus the fact that it ‘circumnavigates’ the year makes it kind of New-Years-ey, too. It’s Xmas-ey to me, anyhow.

I’m reminded of my good fortune in being an amateur musician—while doing these books from front to back, I find some of the fun is fading and it’s becoming a bit of a chore. Music is all fun and games until you’re committed to doing a pre-determined set-list, one after the other, easy or hard, like it or not. It’s a whole different animal—and I’m not even performing.

Friday, December 02, 2016                                               9:21 AM

Living Today   (2016Dec02)

If my health were a small child, I would give it my sternest look and say, “I’m very disappointed in you.” Our bodies are a miracle of moving parts, of chemical balance, of evolutionary design—I should be grateful that mine works at all. Bodies are fancy British sports-cars—genius engineering, incredible performance—but get some moisture in the fuel line, a little air in the brake line, a slight under-pressure in the tires—and, suddenly, it’s all hobbled, wobbly and life-threatening.

I’m feeling tremendously empowered today—for a rarity, my body is mobile and my mind relatively clear. That is a glaring contrast to the last few days, when I had so-many-more-than-usual pings and ratchets, I felt ready for the junkyard. But this is something healthy people (and I remember, once, being one) do not have the capacity to appreciate—to wake up in the morning with a clear mind and a body that does what you tell it to—such incredible power—such potential for this day.

I love to write. I bitch about ‘who cares?’; ‘is anyone listening?’; ‘do I have anything to say?’; and so forth, but the truth is I do this because it feels good. Sometimes I go off the rails—but I don’t post everything I type—I give myself liberty to write whatever-the-hell, and then I decide whether it’s fit for public exposure. Like most people, my privacy is important to me—and I try to respect the privacy of others—but that means I’ll never be good writer. Actually, the desire to keep myself to myself is just half of it—I’m also a lousy liar—and a good story-teller has to be comfortable telling stories.

But I don’t need to be good at something to enjoy the hell out of it—take my piano-playing for example—horrible stuff—but you can see that I’m very into it. And I write the same way. I’ll just be sitting around or watching TV and I’ll be struck, out of nowhere, by a notion that propels me to the keyboard—it’s almost inconvenient, except that there’s a thrill that comes with the compulsion.

I suppose it’s an obvious adaptation to the lack of people to talk to—or maybe it simply reveals that I prefer to do all the talking. You have to admit, I do have plenty to say—whether or not it’s worth saying, aside—I really crank it out—I can’t shut up. But there are people wandering the street-corners of New York City that could make the same claim—and they’re actually collecting change—maybe they’ve got more on the ball than I do.

The trouble is that writing is an industry, music is an industry. It is virtually impossible for me to enjoy my hobbies without the thought sneaking in, unwelcome, that other people make money this way—it’s like trying not to think of a purple elephant. I fucking hate money. I’m lucky my wife handles all of it—it makes my skin crawl. But whose head would not be turned by the thought of all the glittering prizes, the fabulous wealth, of the successful—rarer than power-ball winners though they may be?

Shows like American Idol or America’s Got Talent whisper to us that the point of enjoying the arts is to win. Better that more people enjoyed the arts as I do, for their own sake. The talented would still shine out, would still be plucked into the heavens—but the rest of us could just be comfortable with the immense pleasure that amateur artistic pursuits offer us.

To be of less-than-professional training and ability is a very modern concept—a few generations ago, gathering around the piano and singing was as natural as sitting down to watch TV together. And writing correspondence was as much a part of an evening as saying one’s bedtime prayers—volumes of such source material inform our historians. Maybe that’s why we bloggers are so legion—letter-writing is gone out of style—and we’ve all taken to writing letters to Ulysses’ ‘Noman’.

It’s an ironic concept—I’ve learned to use all these social-media apps, WordPress, Facebook, YouTube—and all these graphics and audio editing software suites—just so I can approximate the 19th century habit of playing piano in the living room and writing letters to distant friends.

Pete has Left the Building   (2016Dec07)

Wednesday, December 07, 2016                           3:00 PM

Pete has Left the Building. Ladies and gentlemen, the legendary, the incomparable—Pete Cianflone!! The Buds-Up Symphony Hall-Space welcomes you to return to us soon and—have a safe drive home now.

What a day—Pete came by (as you may have surmised) and brought with him an old drawing of mine—Joanna Binkley wanting to return it for safekeeping—for which I thank her. It’s great to see an artifact from the steady-hand-and-sharp-eye days of yore. I was pretty good, while it lasted.

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And I had something to show Pete—Bea Kruchkow forwarded an archival copy of Newsweek—from 1989—a ‘look back’ at 1969 (then, a ‘whole’ twenty years ago). Time sure is funny. Funny—ha-ha, not funny like fire.

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So anyway, after girding our hairy-purple loins, we set forth to do battle upon the field of sound. First we did a selection of Spirituals that are traditionally connected with Christmastime—and for good measure, threw in two popular songs of Xmas as well.

We did two rounds, or maybe three, of improvisation—I can’t remember. One of them is very loosely based on the Swanky Modes tune, “Any Ordinary Man” (from “Tapeheads” (1988)). Movie-credits soundtracks often have something catchy about them that makes me go straight from the end of the movie to the piano, to try and find the melody of what I just heard. That was the case, yesterday, with Tapeheads—but I soon realized, after finding the notes, that this was one of those energetic songs that I’d have a hard time keeping up with. But Pete had never heard the song—and I’m not exactly a natural-born blues-player—so it’s a toss-up whether you want to call it a bad cover, or just a different piece of music.

Pete and I were happy with all of it, so that’s all that matters. Poor Bear has had an uncomfortable head-cold for three days now—why is it impossible for the holidays to pass without colds? Spence has been renovating the attic room and the cellar, preparing for our royal visitation later this month—all must be just so, ya know. It’s quite something to have an infant come into a house that hasn’t seen one in years—I’ve started noticing dust where I was hitherto dust-blind.

It’s a sign of just how busy life can be—the Buds-Up ensemble has nothing to show for last November. We try to gather once a month, but even that tiny schedule can be impossible to keep to, in this hurrying, rattling time-stream. Still, I’m pleased enough that we had such a good time, today—I think it makes up for the gap—and I hope people enjoy these as much as we enjoyed playing them.

It’s been a busy day—rarely on any December 7th do I fail to stop and think about the ‘day of infamy’. A Japanese Prime Minister visited Pearl Harbor last week—the first-ever Japanese State Visit to the site—and this is the 75th anniversary of the start of the War. There are many Pearl-Harbor-themed movies on TV today—I guess I’ll go watch some of my favorites.

My Dad was a war-movie fan—we used to watch John Wayne movies on TV in the living room—my Dad was a Marine in Korea. Watching war movies is the closest I’ve ever been to actual murder among men—I don’t mind, I tell you. I respect the hell out of veterans like my Dad—but I don’t feel bad about living an un-blooded life. I suspect I would have made a lousy soldier anyway.

December 7th is special though—there’s something awesome about an entire globe in conflict—it may have been evil and stupid and lots of other things—but it was ‘awesome’, in the literal sense of the word, without the implication of admiration young people give the word today. It fills one with awe.

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Working Area   (2016Dec01)

 

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Thursday, December 01, 2016                                         10:25 AM

I’d recommend Haydn—particularly the piano works. Tell your digital concierge, “Play Haydn keyboard sonatas.”—and you’re good for several hours of peaceful working- or reading- music.

If the raw sunlight gets in your eye-line, tape a piece of colored construction paper on your window—the room stays lit, but you don’t get that one headache-inducing reflection in your field of vision. And it looks cheery—like a child’s art project—but you have to replace it once a year because construction paper fades and becomes very dreary-looking, in the end.

As a smoker, I’ve taken to confining myself to two rooms of the house—here in the front room, where I work, and my bedroom, where I watch TV and read. If the doors are kept faithfully closed, the rest of the house doesn’t reek of smoking—but it must be noted that I often open the front door for front-room ventilation, and I have a window-fan on exhaust in the bedroom, year-round (yes, it does get a little chilly in winter).

I’ve also surrendered to the smokeless ashtray—it’s stupid and noisy and uses too many batteries and is a pain to empty every time it’s full—but if you use one, it will demonstrate that most of the smoke in a smoke-filled room comes from the cigarette smoldering in the ashtray, not from the smoker’s exhalations. And studies have shown that smoldering butts give off the dirtiest second-hand smoke—much more unhealthy than ‘smoked’ smoke, and more of it.

Grapes, celery sticks, and baby carrots make the best working snacks—you can eat all you want and it won’t do the kind of damage that chips, crackers, or candy can do. Also, for smokers, hot tea provides a bit of steam-cleaning for the lungs—and drinking tea all day won’t fry your nervous system like coffee. There is something about tannic acid that makes tea bother my digestion more than coffee—but only if I’m really chugging it down, cup after cup. Moderation in all things, as they say.

Don’t multitask. Do what you’re doing and leave the rest for later—it may seem slower, but in truth, when each task is focused on, it gets done better and quicker—and if you go from one to the next without pause, the overall time-use is less than if you hop from one thing to another all day long—the hopping around makes you feel busy, but you’re actually wasting time interrupting yourself. And focusing on a task reduces the number of errors.

Enjoy your work—it is a choice. Even the most menial tasks can become a game in your mind. Indeed, the more menial jobs lend themselves to mind-games better than complicated ones. Insisting to yourself that you hate what you’re doing is counterproductive—and a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Stop when you’re tired. This is certainly something you don’t always have a choice about, but when the choice is available, take it. Nobody ever did great work while running on fumes. I often found that tasks that take an hour in overtime can be done in five minutes when approached fresh the next morning. Answers that play hide-and-seek in the darkness of fatigue will stand out clear as day in the clarity of morning.

Even in the middle of the day, pausing to refresh can do wonders for your productivity—much more so than dutifully slogging on. Short breaks are like remembering to breathe—something else you should try to do. But here is where ‘multitasking’ can actually be useful—if you get stuck on one project, and you have something else to work on that will take your mind off it, that can be as good as a break.

Get a comfortable chair—if your workplace won’t give you one, steal one. I remember one workplace where the office manager was a real stickler about furniture—I would steal a good chair from another room. Every night she had the janitor put the chair back where it came from—and every morning I stole it again. Improvise, adapt, and overcome, as the Corps likes to say.

Don’t get ahead of yourself—whenever I do that, I always skip a step. People used to ask me why I always walked with my eyes on the ground—and I would answer that I didn’t like to step in dog-poo. Ah the good old days, when picking up after our pets was considered beneath us. Still, there are things to  trip on, slide on, and stumble over—watch where you’re going.

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Well—who knew I had so much free advice to give. And you know what they say—free advice is worth every penny you paid for it.

 

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Personal   (2016Nov29)

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Sunday, November 27, 2016                                            6:47 PM

Spencer has made bread. Claire has come home from the gym. I’ve had a full day, for me, but I’m not going to embarrass myself by telling you what I did—little victories are my stock in trade these days. Real little. Okay—I moved two very-light pieces of furniture. That’s a full day for me—okay? You happy now?

It’s getting dark way earlier all of a sudden. Winter is here. I’m still working on video-ing the Big Book of Christmas Carols, front to back. It’s slow going—most of them are very familiar, but some of them need many ‘takes’ before I play it through with some semblance of accuracy. Sometimes, like just now, a few minutes ago, I’m too tired to get a good take. I have to wait for tomorrow’s supply of energy and alertness.

I have my mind set on it. Indeed, I’ve considered keeping the idea, and only posting videos of entire books from now on. I have a large manuscript library, but only a few of them are easy-to-play enough for me to play the whole book. So, I guess I’ll try it with a few books, after the carols are all recorded, and then forget about it and go back to my random recordings.

That’s the thing—I start every new day with a fresh head—any long-term plans I might have do not survive the pleasant distractions of waking up each morning. There’s usually a thread or a hint lying around somewhere, but if I don’t look for it, I miss it. Fresh head—every damn morning. I’m considering tattoos….

Monday, November 28, 2016                                           5:45 PM

I freely admit that I binged the new Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life, on Netflix—which is as good as admitting I watched the whole series, back when (which I did, of course). But it’s not just because I like that kind of show—you go ahead and check—Kelly Bishop, Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel—they’re all great actors who have done lots of great stuff, outside of fictional Connecticut.

That’s the trouble with bingeing TV, isn’t it? It’s over now—nothing to wait ‘til next week for. That’s why I like to stay busy—as I get older, I’m becoming really picky about my viewing. At this point, if it isn’t as pleasant as listening to myself play the piano, while I look at pictures of my granddaughter, then I don’t need to watch it. I’m building a library of granddaughter/piano YouTube videos—I’m stockpiling this stuff. If the TV won’t give me what I want, I can make it myself. And, with my new Wi-Fi-enabled TV—I’m just another channel.

I’m working on two projects at once. Longer-term, I’m working on the next installment of Xmas Carols—the Series. And today I’m also processing a treasure trove of pictures and videos from my favorite movie stars—Jessy and Sen. The two will go together nicely—but eleven-Xmas-carols is always a lengthy video—so I’m here waiting for the music-video pre-edit to finish saving-to-disk. I’ve prepped the pictures into video, and the raw videos from Jessy—so now I just have to put all of that into one video….

I played a Chopin Mazurka on the e-piano, with the Harpsichord setting—nice result. I don’t mean I played all-that-well—but Chopin sounds just swell on a harpsichord. That’s a trick I noticed about good music—you can play that stuff on anything. There’s a guy who’s famous for playing Bach on Harmonica—I used to own the LP, hand to God—and it wasn’t half bad.

I can only use the first half of all my Carols recordings—I stay pretty cheery and spritely for a few songs—but then it becomes a Bataan Death March of sight-reading, turning every song into a dirge. You’d think I’d know all this stuff by now—I can feel my fingers remembering as I play them—why can’t my head do that?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016                                           3:28 PM

Okay, I must be in a post-Thanksgiving metabolic ‘trough’ these last few days—my energy levels are nil. My aches and spasms are small but many. My mental focus is a joke—I’m not even sure if I’m entirely awake. Partly, I stressed myself out—I finally finished the five videos and doing five videos at once makes my head swim—it’s hard to keep everything straight.

But I’ve got them all done now, just waiting for the last two to finish uploading to YouTube. I’m going to try to process my videos one-at-a-time from here on, if I can—it’s a tricky little maneuver that I’ve gotten very comfortable with—but doing more than one at a time makes it ridiculously complex.

 

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Journal Entries   (2016Nov23)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016                                           5:58 PM

I watch TCM today—they showed “Act One” (1963) based on Moss Hart’s autobiography, specifically the part when Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman first meet and collaborate on a play called “Once In A Lifetime”. “Once In A Lifetime” was Hart’s actual first play (well, second, technically—he flopped in Chicago with “The Hold-Up Man”, but the movie leaves that out)—and was made into its own eponymous movie in 1932. I found that out from IMDb, which also cleared up a great mystery: Even as a little kid watching TV game-shows, I was always at a loss as to why Kitty Carlyle was considered a great celebrity. Well now I know—she was Moss Hart’s wife—celebrity.

Then I went with KT to grab some Chinese at Imperial Wok—he had the chicken and broccoli—I had the Taiwanese rice noodles—you can always count on Imperial Wok. It was great to see KT—it’s been nigh on twenty years since last we met. He takes guff from the locals for being a rich guy, so I guess he’s doing pretty well—I certainly don’t get hassled that way, but I doubt I would mind. His daughter graduates in a week or so and already has a job lined up—things are going great.

Then Dee called. I’d seen on Facebook earlier that Malcolm’s multiple surgeries had been successful—only to find, yesterday, that all three of them got sick—Dee a sinus infection, Bossy bronchitis, and Malcolm developed a post-op infection. But they are all feeling a little better—it sounded like Dee had to get off the phone because she had children crawling all over her—I don’t know—it was weird.

So now I’m looking at Sen videos, emailed from Jessy. I’m almost too tired—it’s been a long day. I have a new shirt—very fancy and comfortable—it has green stripes and I think it’s made of a silk blend—it’s shiny. More later.

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[10 minutes later:] Oh, those are sweet videos!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016                                           8:16 PM

Very tired now—I played some more piano, and now I’m back at the videos. I had something—but it’s gone now.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016                                           9:31 PM

Ugh!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016                                    12:03 PM

That’s better—it’s funny how people (or at least I) get run down at the end of a day, like drained batteries, and then wake up feeling fresh the next morning. I didn’t notice as much—when I was younger. Sleep then was more like a switch turned on and off. But now I notice the steady decline in energy and focus as the day wears on—and the fatigue at the end of the day is so much greater now. But, as balance, I’m very appreciative of the freshness and acuity of the morning hours.

I’ve created two new videos using Jessy’s new videos of Seneca—for the first one, “Water Babies”, I lowered the volume of the piano-playing, so you can hear the baby. For the second video, “On ‘Xmas Comes Anew’”, I muted the volume of the baby-video, so you can hear the piano. “Water Babies” is older—I recorded it a few days ago and waited for baby pix—that’s why the dates are different.

Claire signed us up for Spotify—it’s nice to have every classical music recording I can think of, available for my listening pleasure, while I work away here. It has popular music, too—I just don’t listen to that stuff while I’m working. A lot of my work is my own music videos, though. It’s always been difficult for me to go from my own paltry music to the professionals and back again—I suffer from the comparison—but less now than I used to, so that’s something.

 

Baby’s First Bite   (2016Nov22)

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016                                           12:26 AM

It’s tomorrow now, but back when it was still today, Jessy sent me new photos of the Princess enjoying her first meal of ‘solid food’ (baby food, really—she’ll need to wait for teeth for anything solider). But she appears entranced by the process—and I’ve always suspected that babies look upon their high-chairs as thrones—so all is as it should be. I never get tired of that adorable mug.

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But those new pictures only cover the first four minutes of today’s very long video—18 minutes of Christmas carols—thirteen of them in all. I have it in my mind, in these days before Christmas, to simply record the entire book of carols, first song to last song—and then move on to the next carol book—just to see if I can record the entirety of the Christmas piano experience, here in our living room, this year.

 

Because of that, you will notice that all these songs start with ‘A’, except the Bell Carol (one of my favorites). The next videos will move further along the alphabet, as you might expect.

I would have liked to sing as I played, especially with carols—I’ve known the words to most of them since early childhood. But, it’s harder for me to get a clean recording if I’m trying to play the notes and sing—so, maybe next year I’ll go for the vocals on all of them, too. I’d like to get a microphone set up before doing that—the other reason for not singing is that my voice doesn’t carry, over the piano, without some help. So much to do, so little time.

Anyhow, all these carols have certainly got me leaning towards the holiday spirit—and just in time to go over the river and through the woods to Nana’s house on Thursday (supposed to be quite a crowd this year—16 people or so). I love the season—until the pressure starts to build. If I could spend the whole time playing piano carols and making cookies, I’d be okay—but it’s never quite that simple, is it? Still, fun will be had—or my name isn’t Bozo de Clowne.

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Beaux Artes, in Passing   (2016Nov19)

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Saturday, November 19, 2016                                          12:44 PM

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore—send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

—Emma Lazarus (from “The New Colossus”)

I can’t vouch for perfect accuracy of the above quotation—I typed it from memory. Sometimes it feels good to type something out, instead of just remembering to myself.

I suppose if I lived in a city, I’d spend part of my day on a soapbox. Once this journal-writing/blog-posting/daily-commentary thing gets under your skin, you become a wild-eyed prophet of sorts—whether you’re smart, stupid, or just plain crazy (or all three, as in my case). And it is odd that an activity so clearly aimed at others’ ears (or eyes) should reveal itself to be pure self-involvement. I start out expressing what I think others should know—and, without fail, I end up telling them what I want to say.

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I was just playing some Haydn on the piano. Haydn is the guy—he always puts me in a good mood. Whether you favor Beethoven or Brahms or Stravinsky or Tchaikovsky, you’ve got to give it up for Haydn—he has the best sense of humor of any composer in history. I always loved the drama and the towering emotions of the other great composers—but as I get older, it occurs to me that Haydn was the only composer who regularly laughed at himself. And it takes a certain genius to write music that makes people laugh—I have a hard time telling a joke, with words—it’s kind of awesome that Haydn can do it with sheet music.

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I have always loved art and music and poetry. When I experience the great peoples’ masterpieces, I am always a little bit tempted to envy them their seemingly superhuman talents. But I always yank my focus away from that, so that I can just enjoy the wonder of their works. Envy is always just under the surface with me—but I try to rise above it. When you spend your life trying to do something worthwhile, envying the greats is hard to avoid—especially if, like me, you’re a little defensive. But because it pollutes my enjoyment of their stuff, I always try to turn away from envy.

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In fact, it kind of bugs me, as an atheist, that I respect the Seven Deadly Sins—but, like the Ten Commandments, there’s a lot of good advice under all the mumbo-jumbo. Religions have that going for them—between the mythological parts, there’s a whole lot of experience-based, how-to ‘life-hacks’ included. It is the codified version of advice from old people—and now that I’m old, and know something about human nature, I find myself in agreement with many religious principles, in spite of my rejection of religion as an institution.

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Once you’ve gotten five or six decades under your belt, you witness how people can self-destruct through Envy or Lust or Pride, et. al.—religions label them sins, but even un-washed savages, once they reach a certain age, come to recognize these things as dangers—and that younger people don’t usually see that clearly. Religion includes a lot of old-people-advice. Perhaps that’s why a lot of people get ‘Saved’ or ‘embrace Islam’ in prison—it may be the first time in their lives when they’ve received advice from an experienced source.

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Another reason even we atheists have to give it up to religion is the inspiration it has provided to artists and musicians over the years. Bach seemed to feel that his compositions were prayers of a sort—when his fugues invoke a sense of grandeur, they are his way of glorifying God in music. Now that’s religion I can get behind.

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And it’s funny that a section of Germany that became so progressive about musical religious strictures (and music was bound by many limitations, back then) would produce, in rapid succession, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. One might speculate that any portion of Europe that enjoyed a sudden freedom in the creative arts would have produced similar giants—talent equal to our historic composers may have resided in many people, living in many places where such expression was illegal or sacrilegious. We’ll never know—this is the way it worked out. So, that’s a point against religion, as well.

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You can tell I’m a lapsed Catholic—we are the only atheists who obsess over religion more, as unbelievers, than we ever did as members of the church. But I’ll tell you why that is. Catholicism is very strict, very powerful—Catholics would make good Jihadists (just kidding—although, in the past, that was actually true in a way). My point is that they make this world seem like a temporary inconvenience—as if the important stuff is outside of reality. That was my home. And now I live in reality—dusty, achy, pointless, bothersome reality. I miss my home—recognizing that Catholicism is a delusion doesn’t change the fact that I was happier under that delusion.

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Recent archeological studies have raised doubts about the biblical account of the Jews who left Egypt for Canaan—scripture would have us believe that Joshua led the Israelites in the conquest of Canaan, and renamed it Israel, or ‘the promised land’. But it appears that the writers of Exodus may have indulged in a bit of revision of history, for appearance’s sake. Digs in the area now indicate that the Canaanites held sway long after the appearance of the tribes of Abraham, and that rather than conquer the land, the Hebrew culture insinuated itself into the area over generations. It seems the children of Abraham were not conquerors, but simply a more productive and stable society than the one it lived among.

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That struck me, when I heard of it, as an odd sort of propaganda—after all, conquest isn’t very godly—and the fact that the Hebrews changed the lands, and the people, of the area they settled in, non-violently and almost purely out of living in a better, more civilized way than the natives, says something better, to modern ears, than that they ‘kicked ass’. But it also proves that the Old Testament is as much an exercise in creative writing as it is a historical document, or the ‘revealed word of the Lord’.

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But there are other, more recent, records that serve as a source of controversy as much as they serve as a source of information. The Bayeux Tapestry, for example, is as much a collection of mysteries as it is a treasure trove of historical information. To begin with—it is not a tapestry—technically it is an embroidery. It is over two-hundred feet long and twenty inches high. And although it commemorates William the Conqueror’s Norman invasion of Anglo-Saxon Britain, the tapestry was worked in the Anglo-Saxon style over several generations. And it is worth noting that French historians are only recently admitting that it was not done in the Norman style.

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Damage to the Bayeux Tapestry is to be expected—Sylvette Lemagnen, conservator of the tapestry, has said “Its survival almost intact over nine centuries is little short of miraculous…” And while that is true, the beginning panels and ending panels are either missing or beyond repair. Historians speculate that the tapestry was always stored rolled up—and, depending on how it was rolled, either the end panel or the beginning panel was exposed to air and moisture far more than the rest of it. Thus the story told on those missing or damaged panels remains a mystery—over the centuries, many enthusiasts have attempted to recreate possible replacements. The missing panel at the end, in particular, has inspired several artists to re-imagine the tapestry’s continuation, telling the history of England far beyond its original story of the Battle of Hastings.

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The story the tapestry was intended to tell is obscured by the damage and by the various interpretations of certain scenes and Latin phrases (the exact truth of which has been lost or forgotten over the centuries). But the tapestry still illustrates for us a host of facts about the Norman invasion—and tells another, unintended, story—about how those 11th century Britons lived, worked, and fought. Above and below the main scenes in the tapestry are borders that depict a variety of subjects. People are shown fighting, hunting, weaving, farming, building, and in other activities. Animals, both real and fantastical, are also used as border decorations. Many tools, weapons, and techniques of the times are clearly illustrated. And the story told by the major scenes is augmented by Latin labels, comments and explanations (which are referred to as tituli—which I guess is Latin for ‘sub-titles’, or something).

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All in all, it is an awesome thing—a piece of embroidery, showing what amounts to an historian’s paradise—and it outlasted a multitude of castles, fortifications, and whole nations—a roll of fabric that only becomes more priceless as it disintegrates. And the most capricious aspect of all is that this ‘Britain’s first comic-strip’ tells us more about that time than all the source documents or written accounts that survive from that age.

Sunday, November 20, 2016                                            5:24 PM

I’ve been pondering the beginnings of formal music in Western Civilization. There has always been folk music—or so I assume, since even children will hum or whistle or stomp to a rhythm—but since folk music was ephemeral, passed from parent to child, never notated, never recorded, that is the only assumption we can make about early folk music.

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Some records have survived—the Bulgarian Women’s Choir famously performs songs that reach back to the work songs, love songs, and laments of the peasants of Tsarist Russia. Musicology researchers in 1920s USA found folk music among the hill-people that may be near-perfect preservations of that of the Elizabethans who first settled there—and British, Irish, and other musicologists have found similar hand-me-down relics of the folk music of the British Isles, closer to their origin. Many sources from many places give us remnants of the music that existed before music became the formalized fine art we practice today.

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But when I speak of our ignorance of folk music, I mean that we don’t know where the surviving fragments evolved from, what came before that, and what came even earlier. We can never know—because music has its own pre-history, which dates to far more recently than pre-history in general. I assume that people made music for millennia, but the ‘civilizing’ of music in the formal notation and harmonies that we loosely call ‘Classical Music’ is the first time that any records of music were made. There is some notation stuff from the Roman Empire—but nobody knows what scale it’s based on, and other important contextual stuff that would allow us to translate it into a performance—that isn’t an exception, so much as an example of my point.

So, aside from whatever we might guess, or imagine, or assume about music’s history, the very beginning of its recorded history was Gregorian Chant. Original manuscripts of Gregorian Chant still exist today—and they are still often sung as written, today, by groups that specialize in archaic music. I believe there is an ensemble of monks who are famous for their recordings and performances. The Vatican preserves some beautifully illuminated neumes on original parchment.

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In the late 800s, something called the Metz project developed a system called ‘neumes’, which would develop into today’s standard staff notation. The Gregorian chants from all the surrounding areas were collected and recorded using neumes—and thus the church standardized its musical portion of the liturgy. These chants were very simple by today’s standards—to our ears they sound quite monotonous, but there is a rough grandeur to them—and their main purpose was in singing the words from scripture—or, really, chanting them.

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As with anything, formal music then developed through a combination of new ideas butting up against established norms, popularity overcoming prurience, and tradition often stifling innovation. And there was a lot of ground to cover, if we were to get from Gregorian chant all the way to Ariana Grande, so it isn’t too surprising that it took centuries for music to reach the variety and sophistication we enjoy today.

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The church would remain the sole source of formal music for centuries—until the advent of court musicians, members of a royal household whose sole function was to create musical entertainment. After that, further centuries would see formal music confined to the church and the nobility. Don’t worry—the regular folks still had their folk music—and if I had to choose, I might have preferred their entertainments over the renaissance and early baroque composers’ refinements.

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Classical music would not see verve equal to Folk music until the advent of Ragtime and Jazz. Even when a composer like Brahms would adapt a Hungarian folk tune, say, its wildness would be contained by an over-civility inherent in composed works of the age. So don’t feel too bad for the poor riff-raff excluded from the fancy music chambers of royalty—they knew pleasures far more vital than those heard by the stuffed shirts at their concerts.

In those pre-industrial times, a commoner’s life was hard work—the chance to gain a post as a church musician or a court musician was no small advantage—and the internecine rivalries and petty squabbles of the musicians vying for these posts was a constant. The film “Amadeus” shows us something of this, but in a rarefied form, since its ‘villain’, Salieri, is tortured by envy over Mozart’s heavenly talent more than his professional position.

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We also note the high number of composers who come from musical families—Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and others had musician parents, even musician grandparents. A sure sign that competition for these sinecures was fierce: once someone got their foot in the door, they did their best to secure the same for their children. Though in fairness, every trade and career in those times was primarily handed down from father to son. Women, with rare exceptions, were excluded from the music profession.

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I used to think of composers as wise men who sat writing down notation all day—but I’ve come to realize that many of these great composers led lives of constant busyness. You can read it in their records—complaints about the amount of work expected of them, their students needing training, their ensembles and choirs needing rehearsing, problems with money, instruments, venues, and preparations for big events—and in their few, free, hurried moments they would jot down the actual music we love them for, even today.

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I doubt most people consider the effort involved—writing down every note sounded by every instrument and choir-voice, in separate manuscripts for each performer’s music-stand (and this was back using a quill pen and rough paper)—the notation alone must have been incredibly tedious, notwithstanding the need for the finished product to create beautiful music. Thus I have come a long way from seeing my books of piano music as ancient, alien diagrams from the forgotten past.

Today, when I play, I think of that person—the life they led, the place and time they lived in, and the shared humanity between myself and this or that guy who lived in 15th century England or 16th century Germany. If you listen closely, you can almost hear them saying ‘hello’. It’s a little miracle.

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Big Numbers   (2016Nov15)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016                                           3:24 PM

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It’s a large-number day! Jessica forwarded 50 new pictures of the family, mostly of princess-baby-granddaughter—and I am working as fast as I can to process them into a new video slide-show with piano music—my hands are stiff and numb from sitting here in the front room typing all day on this rainy, chilly November Tuesday.

Claire received her case of professional pastels—a big wooden chest containing three wooden removable drawers, each with rows of different-colored pastels. I assume it is meant for the studio—schlepping this thing around would give someone a hernia. I used to dream of getting such a set, back in my artsy days—but such panoply of choices would paralyze me—that’s probably why I mostly stayed with ink and paper. Claire will put them to good use, I’m sure—she’s not afraid of color. She’s even dipped a toe into oil-painting recently.

I was not left out—I received several pieces of pottery from Nancy Holmes-Doyle in the post today. One of them—a heartbreakingly gorgeous pinch-pot bowl—was shattered in transit. Just another reason to feel bad about missing the ceramics party, from which I could have carried them home unharmed—and gotten to visit with the Holmes-Doyles. It’s been too long—but every day it gets harder for me to get around. Still, we have two beautiful new mugs, two beautiful new candle-houses, a decorative platter, and a little spoon-rest in the shape of a hand—incredible stuff. I’ll try to photograph them all for this post—you really oughta see them.

 

 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016                                              9:52 AM

Can We Be Rude To God?   (2016Nov16)

Believing in God is not a neutral act—it is an offense against reason and a surrender of sanity. I don’t say that to be cruel—it is simply a fact. It’s even part of the rules—ask your preacher—if there were any practical proof of God, then there wouldn’t be any faith—or any need for faith. God says, “Believe in Me.”—He doesn’t say, “Look over here.

Recent ‘Questions’ posted on The Humanist website seem to be subtly asking, ‘How do Humanists make allowances for our group psychosis?’ In a way, they seem to be asking how far we’re willing to go with this Rational Thinking business—and whether or not we non-believers reach a point where we are willing to be rude about the differences.

And that is a valid question in a country founded on religious freedom. After all, it was our religious freedom that allowed us to eschew religion without being burned at the stake—it stands to reason that Christians would wonder if we’ve been given too much freedom—if perhaps it is they, or at least their faith, that will be victimized.

It is a thorny question. Obviously, I am an American, and Americans believe in freedom of religion—but freedom of religion doesn’t address an important issue: How much respect is shown for another’s beliefs? People who believe in something that no one else respects usually get put into mental institutions—it is only natural for believers to be concerned with the amount of respect they are given.

Yet how much respect can a non-believer have for the fanciful tales and notions of theists? Shorn of their ‘given’ legitimacy, the arcana of the major faiths become ludicrous—heaven, hell, angels, an old bearded guy in the sky, transubstantiation—these fantasies are no more acceptable than Greek or Norse mythological tales. As a rational man, I can’t possibly respect these ideas—yet, as a man, I can respect other people having other ideas.

If someone says to me, “I’ll pray for you.” I am capable of holding my tongue—there is little to be gained by insulting someone who has just expressed concern for my welfare. If, at a funeral, a child is being reassured that grandma will be happy in heaven—I’m not going to be the cretin who decides Grandma’s funeral is the place for discussing atheism. But I behave this way because of my respect for other people’s feelings, not my respect for their beliefs.

So please, Humanist-question-contributors, stop asking questions that are sneaky attempts to force us to show respect for your faiths. We don’t respect your faiths—we are unable to. It’s nothing personal—we are simply practicing freedom of religion by answering ‘no’ to all of the above. What we can and do respect are your feelings—if you want to believe in God, we will try not to laugh about it or argue against it.

But if you insist on believing in something that isn’t there, there are going to be conflicts of perception—women and gays are two good examples. The whole point of freedom of religion is to avoid the kind of bloodthirsty nonsense that’s playing out in the Middle East right now. Yet Religious Freedom can only do so much—there will always be disagreements between people of different faiths—and people without faith—the point is to try to live side-by-side, in spite of the disagreements. That’s the reason for separation of church and state—so that no one can make rules to enforce their beliefs, or to criminalize another’s.

But you are probably asking yourself—wouldn’t I, as an atheist, try to criminalize theism, given the chance? I would be tempted—there are many aspects of faith that seem little more than child-abuse or bigotry—indoctrination from infancy, or bias against women and gays—these things are wrong from my point of view. But then again, they were deeply religious people who came up with freedom of religion, and separation of church and state—and those principles kept us atheists from being declare outlaws, back when our lives could have been forfeit. Turning your own good ideas against you would be the height of ingratitude and incivility. I like to think I’m better than that.

So please, Humanist question-submitters, try to stick with questions asked out of curiosity and avoid questions that are little more than subtle digs at ‘the other’.

 

I keep hearing all this BS about how we have to come together now. Yes, he won the election—that doesn’t mean he stopped being a monster. Yes, your candidate won—that doesn’t make you right. I’d love to ‘come together’—but not with Nazis. You people come back to America—we’re waiting right here. Meantime, try not to turn this place into too much of a friggin nightmare.

I’m starting to think the only reason for Republicans is to turn out the Democrat vote, every other election.

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I’ve seen a lot of Trump-supporter memes, crowing over their victory all over the internet. Let me remind you of something. The Nazis attacked Britain—and the British invented a thinking machine—a computer—and Germany ended up as smoking rubble. The Japanese Empire attacked America—and Americans invented the ultimate killing machine—the nuclear bomb—which destroyed Japan to its very atoms. My point being that intelligent, imaginative, open-minded, decent people don’t like to waste time on belligerence and rancor—but it’s still a really bad idea to piss them off.

A Noisy Afternoon   (2016Oct29)

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Saturday, October 29, 2016                                              4:21 PM

The peace and quiet of the suburbs is a myth. In the spring you have chain-saws and wood-chippers, in the summer it’s weed-whackers and mowers all day long, in winter it’s either snow-blowers, snowmobiles, or the collective grumble of an entire neighborhood full of individual emergency generators keeping their furnaces working during a power outage. That’s all discounting the delivery trucks, garbage trucks, septic trucks, oil trucks, moving vans, road-crew vehicles that clank in a variety of rhythms, and the occasional hot-headed hot-rodder with a muffler problem. The ‘summer special’ is the ice-cream truck that plays a Stephen-King-rendition of a nursery rhyme for hours on end—but never passes in front of your own house.

However, in the fall we get the king of noise-makers—the mighty leaf-blower. The guys that operate these things wear muffler-headphones like they use at an airport—but they fail to hand them out to the rest of the neighborhood. I miss the good old days—when the only loud noises were people playing their stereo too loud—or some drunk beating up his wife with the actual Hollywood soundtrack effects. There really should be laws regulating the manufacture of these unmusical noise-makers. I know that it makes people feel like they’re really working when it’s loud—but a car makes less noise, driving by, than these hand-held lawn-tools do—there’s something wrong with that, and very oppressive.

You may hear the whining of this thing during my videos—if I waited for them to stop, I’d never get anywhere. I played a few song-covers from my Looney-Tunes Songbook today—Warner Bros. published an oldies-songbook comprised exclusively of pieces used in the classic cartoons—it’s great fun. Some of the lyrics are very un-PC, but I just play the piano on those tunes, usually. I also attempted new improvs—it was a struggle, but there might be something there.

I’ve got the latest snaps of princess poopypants—they’re included in the videos. She’s such a charmer. I’m just crazy to finally meet her! If I wasn’t such a wreck I would walk to California, just to see that little baby. But at least I get the movies and the pictures—and they’re coming for the holidays (I hope—young peoples’ lives are so hectic).

Anyhow, here it is one o’clock in the morning and I’m still finishing up these videos—I just want to talk. And this imaginary piece of typing paper is my friend. I type and words come out on the screen—it’s just as if I were communicating with someone. Well, at least it’s quiet now. All the leaf-blowing men are snug in their beds, or drinking at a bar. I wonder how the Cubs did tonight?

O, no! Now, their only chance is a big upset. Go Cubs. (I’m a Mets fan, but a century is long enough to wait.)

Thanks, GOP   (2016Oct28)

Friday, October 28, 2016                                         2:43 PM

Ten days left in the election and the FBI announces it’s re-opening its investigation into Hillary’s emails. That doesn’t seem the least bit partisan, does it? It seems Hillary Clinton did not break the law by using a private server—so they have to go after her for misusing her private server. And even that didn’t turn up any great catastrophe—so they had to let it go. Now, they’re just messing around, trying to throw cold water on her campaign at the last minute. But, sure—the Democrats are rigging things.

Bernie said it best: “Can we just forget about the damn emails?” Hillary hasn’t been Secretary of State for four years now—if her private server was putting America at risk, it was then, not now. And no evidence has yet been produced showing she did anything seriously damaging, four years ago. Yes, we can keep looking into it—but it is old news, unless you have an undying desire to destroy Hillary Clinton. After all this time, and all this investigating, with no results—to re-open the case ten days before the election is pure politics.

But that’s par for the course of this election season. A disgusting egotist gets more respect than he deserves—and a fine leader gets mud thrown at her. Show me one decent thing that Trump has ever done—you can’t, because he’s lived a life of self-absorption. Now he wants to save America from itself—yeah, right. Did you hear him talking about ‘ghettos’ today? Yes, he’s seventy—hell, I’m sixty—I’ve heard the word—we used it (improperly) in the sixties. But nobody uses it now. See, Donald doesn’t get it—yes, anyone can become president—but only if you’re qualified to be president—otherwise, no sensible person would vote for you.

Lucky for Donald there are so few sensible people in this country. He’s still got a shot at this thing. Can you believe that? He should have never won the primary—Republicans, I’m talking to you. How did a TV entertainer out-campaign your best and brightest? How did you nominate possibly the only person who could lose to Hillary, after all the years of trash-talk you’ve all laid on her? With the media so eager to follow every red-herring you dream up about the ‘horrors of Hillary’, you’ve got most of the country seeing her as an evil witch, instead of the competent leader she actually is. Only one problem.

By turning your base into deluded crazies, you set the stage for this idiot. But he’s such an enormous douche that Hillary has a chance to climb out of the hole you’ve dug for her. I hope you’re happy. I know I will be, when Hillary takes the oath of office. Thanks, GOP.

 

P.S.  Hey, people are talking about a post-election revolution. Yeah, good luck with that. Plenty of Second Amendment folks are voting for Hillary—so if you start shooting, they’ll be shooting back, believe you me. And they are not cowards, afraid to let Muslims or Mexicans find a place in this great land—or afraid of you idiots, either. So come ahead—just remember, if you think ISIS is scary, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

*****

Okay—Now—today’s video includes a life-study that Claire drew last night. She’s really going to town on this art stuff. In the middle I put baby pictures from our new granddaughter. I also played a Rodgers & Hart cover: “Where or When” in the middle of improvising. So this is a kind of patchwork performance. Hope you like:

Happiness Is Music   (2016Oct25)

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016                                               11:55 PM

On the one hand, I could hate myself for becoming too old to have any ambition in music any longer; but on the other hand, I’m not so sure the intensity of my grasping for music was entirely helpful. There are certain aspects of my piano playing today that I believe are enhanced by my lack of fixation on exactly what I’m doing. I’ve always known that certain activities are done best when least thought of—and music is certainly a great example of that, but I’ve only recently seen certain aspects of that which have ‘held me back’ to a degree.

I always knew my physical limitations would hold me back in piano-playing. So it wasn’t until I accepted that, at sixty, I had probably reached wherever my physical abilities would take me, that I became aware of some mental limitations I had placed on myself—at least in the way I thought of my playing as it related to making sounds. Music is such a wonderful gift—it changes with maturity, always morphing into something more richly-layered, like one’s self, but never degenerating, like one’s body does.

So I accept that the music I play today is as good as it will get. It’s not as much as I hoped for, but it’s far more than I ever dreamed of, back when I started. It has been both a challenging and comforting companion—the best kind of friend.

Today I played a nice long improv. I’m not sure what it sounded like, so, we’ll see.

 

Then I played a bunch of classical arrangements for piano. Three of them were decent enough to post.

 

Then I played a little ‘trailer’ at the end.

 

So much for the musical portion of my day.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016                                         6:29 PM

The Enemy of My Enemy   (2016Oct26)

It’s funny—here we are with two weeks left—everyone’s pretty sure of the outcome of the election—more than that, everyone’s pretty clear that Trump was an evil anomaly—a thing that we narrowly avoided mistaking for a fit candidate. Yet one can still hear conservative pundits talking about his policies—as if he ever had any firm, practical, thought-out policies in the first place—and as if it still matters now, with early voting heavily in Hillary’s favor. Trump is fortunate to find the Republicans so in denial, and so blindly partisan, that nothing he says or does prevents most of them from pushing for the defeat of their arch-enemy, Hillary Clinton.

And this seems indicative to me. The Republicans have adopted an unhealthy habit of using any old rationale, provided it is anti-Democrat, and calling it a policy. The fact that these policies are impractical (like building a wall and deporting millions) or unconstitutional (like banning a religious group) or just plain crazy (like “bomb the hell out of them”) doesn’t seem to matter as much as whether  a policy can be used to beat Democrats over the head. The blind partisanship, and nearly overt bigotry and sexism that lies at the heart of conservatism, have shed the restrictions of logic, science, and sense.

The influence of money hangs over both parties, but the Republicans seem to favor the plutocrats philosophically, as well—as if they approve of a classist view of the citizenry. This hit-or-miss business of the American Dream was like winning the lottery, even back when it had more frequent examples. To think that we can go along as we have been, with people being helpless in the face of big businesses, just so we retain the illusion of economic mobility—is to ignore the oncoming waves of change that will make employment a very different, and much less common thing than we are used to.

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Republicans and Capitalists see the system as set in stone. Their focus is entirely on the status quo and the quarterly forecasts. They fear the true future—the reality behind their pushy forecasts—because time is no respecter of wealth or property or law. The Democrats (the good ones, at least) are more willing to face the future, and to say that people have rights that transcend profit.

When Democrats attempt to enact social safety nets, business regulation, or consumer protection, the Republicans always claim that the government does these things badly—and that the free market would do all this naturally, given free rein. This is false. It reminds me of a time when I was a young man working for my father’s company. I went to him and asked for a raise—I told him I couldn’t afford to live on my current salary. He replied that the company doesn’t pay people what they need—it pays people what they’re worth. (He could be a real hard-ass sometimes.)

Now, in a business paradigm, that makes perfect sense. But as a person on disability now—a person, in other words, who is worth nothing to a company—I can tell you that the free market doesn’t care if you are happy or sad, alive or dead—all it knows is mathematics. The Republicans get partial credit for their claim, however, because it is indeed rare that a government program runs any better than a square-wheeled bicycle.

Still, politics makes everything into a win/lose proposition. If a program isn’t perfect, it’s worthless. If a program is working, you shouldn’t criticize it. This is all very ineffectual and immature nonsense. Outside of political speeches, it is obvious to all of us that if something important doesn’t work, you don’t throw it out—you fix it. And one thing the Republicans don’t make a lot of noise about is this: government programs are complicated as much by wealthy influences and corporate lobbyists as they are by their inherent complexities.

And the whole ‘small government’ argument—please. You don’t hear Russia or China talking about ‘small government’. Our beloved Constitution is the rule-book for our government, such as it is, so we have to have government. And if we have a government, shouldn’t we have a good one, rather than a small one? What is the virtue of small, in the context of the 21st century? It would be nice to pretend we all live on our own farms, and don’t need no G-men snooping around—but that was two centuries ago. These fifty modern states, plus assorted territories, need an up-to-date, fully-functioning government—and anyone who wants it otherwise is a fool or a traitor.

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When you don’t know if you’re being hacked by the Chinese, the Russians, or the North Koreans—do you want small government? When hurricane surges flood New York City—do you want small government? When the Republicans extol the virtues of small government, they are cheering for the idea that businesses can make a profit from abusing people’s trust—but only if the government turns a blind eye. That’s what ‘small government’ means to big business—and that’s why Republicans campaign on it. I’ll believe them when they start to advocate for ‘small military’. You don’t hear that one much, do you? ‘Small government’, my ass—the freedom to rip us off, more like.

What I really can’t understand is why people are so willing to believe the worst of Hillary Clinton. Have you seen The West Wing, or Madame Secretary, or Scandal? To be a politician, even a well-meaning one, you have to play the game—and it’s a rough game. When the Alt-Righters try to blow up her every machination into a demonic conspiracy, it works much better on Hillary than it ever did on anyone else. Why is that? I can never see the point.

Is it the old female catch-22—that if they’re tough, they’re crazy bitches, and if they’re not tough, they can’t handle a man’s world—is it that bullshit? Maybe partly—but I’ll tell you my theory: you remember how we went for good ol’ boys for our last four presidents? Bush Sr., Bill, and Bush, Jr. were none of’em geniuses—and Obama got away with being smart by being so darned charismatic no one noticed. But in all those elections, there were smart, capable, but non-charismatic eggheads that would have made decent presidents—and we practically thumped our chests in defiance, as if to say, “We don’t need any pencil-necked geeks running this place.”

And now we are stuck with Hillary—smarter than us, more reliable than us, harder-working than us—of course everyone hates Hillary. We’re all looking around for a president we can ‘have a beer with’—the most important credential America knows of, in a president. The candidate we want is missing—and boy are we ticked off that we have to vote for the candidate we need. We’ve never made a practical choice for president before—and wouldn’t you know it—it’s a woman this time. Ooh, my aching back.

That’s my theory. The presidency gives one person too much power—we can live with that, but we’re sure not going to vote for someone who’s smarter than us—that’s a step too far. Fortunately, most voters will (as they say on the news constantly) ‘hold their noses’ and vote for her. As if…—Hey, we’re lucky to have Hillary—take a look at the guts of your I-phone and tell me it’s okay for America to have a moron for president.

I have to laugh when the Republicans bow to the inevitable, and tell people to vote for Hillary for president, but to make sure they vote Republican on the down-ballots—to keep a ‘check’ on her power. Yes, sure—the woman whose life has been all about helping children and families—be afraid of what she might do—be very afraid. Meanwhile, we’re supposed to re-elect the bunch that thought stymying every initiative of President Obama’s, just because he’s black, was a great idea—oh, yes—let’s put them back in Congress, by all means. Although, personally, I think they should all be lined up and shot. Effing traitors.

The Republicans are just Trump-Lite—they both advocate the same things—testing us to see how self-destructively stupid a lie can be, and still work on the electorate. The Republicans never win an election because they are right, they win because we are stupid enough to believe their lies.

What no one talks about is the Russian interference in our election. Why are they doing this? Well, let’s see—they’re only attacking Clinton—not one email from the Trump camp. Can we deduce anything from this? It seems to me that they want Hillary to lose. Why would the Russians want Hillary to lose? Maybe they’re afraid of her. If they were afraid of Trump, they’d be trying to sabotage Trump’s campaign. But they don’t care about any other candidate—just Hillary. Am I the only one who sees some significance in that?

I think they’re afraid of her. If I were Russia, I would be afraid of Hillary. She’s gonna shut down their little expansion party—she’s gonna stare them down and, if need be, shove a cruise missile up their asses. You don’t mess with Hillary. Trump hasn’t gotten any endorsements to speak of in this campaign—it’s a shame that Putin is the only one who wants him to win. Thus, the Wikileaks are something of an endorsement for Hillary, if you think about it. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Reviews   (2016Oct18)

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016                                               2:14 PM

Beautiful day. Leaves is fallin. Sun is shinin. Can’t beat that. Sarah McLachlan may be an acquired taste, but her music is fantastic—what a voice. I’m making a video—I just played Bach’s keyboard arrangement of a Vivaldi Concerto in D, an early transposition from an early influence of old J. S.’s.

Then I played an improv—I don’t know what I’m doing, but it felt good. Now if it only sounds good. I called it “High-End Stroller” because that’s what baby Seneca rolls in these days. There’s a break about a minute in—the camera does that every twenty minutes, making a new file, but it loses a second or two of recording. I took too long with the Bach, I guess—it’s not usually a problem because I rarely play piano for more than twenty minutes—and I often restart the camera recording when playing for longer. What I really need is a film crew, I guess.

 

Shall we discuss politics? No! It’s far too nice a day for that—and tomorrow’s the final Shootout at the OK Corral, so let’s wait, shall we?

Autumn preys on my weakness—if anyone ever wrapped themselves up in melancholy, it’s me—and that time of year (thou may’st in me behold, when yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang…) sorry, Shakespeare got me—this time of year makes me dive deep into memory, loss, and the unending cycle of change that is living.

I fairly delight in depression while the summer fades, the leaves fall, and the winter looms. We must remember that ‘clinical depression’ is an imbalance, that modest, occasional depression itself is natural—a way of crawling into bed and putting the covers over our heads, while working or relaxing. Chronic Depression, the problem, is much in the news nowadays—but if you get depressed, sometimes, there’s no need to panic—it is only when it takes over your life that it becomes a problem with a capital ‘P’.

I used to prefer the grey, rainy days—but now I settle for leaves falling—the wet weather chills me to the bone, making me stiff and achy. I still enjoy breezes—you’d have to be dead not to enjoy a breezy day. But enough about the weather.

I just read a sci-fi book called “Machinations” by Hayley Stone. I was disappointed that the plot was a straight rip-off of Terminator, but it was well-written, with good characters, so I finished the book. Dear Ms. Stone: It isn’t science fiction if you don’t have a new idea—it’s just writing, however good. I took one star off of my Amazon rating—because it was a good book, but it wasn’t good science fiction. (If I finish a book, I usually give it full stars.)

I saw the “Ghostbusters” re-make—loved it—loved everyone in it. I don’t see how they could have pandered to fans of the old original any more than they did—and it was nice. Anyone who wasn’t satisfied is just too hard to please.

I enjoyed a few episodes of “Lucifer” on TV, but as with all outlandish premises, they try to ‘mealy-mouth’ it down to a drama, instead of juicing it up into a comic-book fantasy. I watched nine episodes of “Luke Cage” on Netflix, but I’m getting too old for the kid stuff. I’m having trouble with stories that contain corruption, violence, and amorality—they just upset me. My options are narrowing tightly—I’m down to mostly biopics.

I’m trying to read the new Bruce Sterling book, “Pirate Utopia”, but it’s hard—I’m sorry, I just can’t stand ‘alternate history’ sci-fi—it’s a bridge too far for me. Woulda, shoulda, coulda—that’s all it means to me. But Bruce Sterling is heavy-sledding—I’ll keep on for now, and see if I get drawn in. It might be one of those books you don’t get until you re-read it. Sometimes, they’re the best.

Pete and I   (2016Oct10)

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Monday, October 10, 2016                                               9:25 PM

My good friend Pete came by today and we talked briefly about the presidential race and the disgusting Donald. We had a wild session today—I’m still not sure exactly what happened, but I’ve edited the videos, so you can decide for yourselves.

Right now, however, I have a big back-log of musical offerings. Some were delayed by waiting for fresh baby pictures of the princess—there are several improvs and a Haydn piano sonata. Then there are five song-covers and one improv, from Pete and me collaborating this afternoon. All together, it’s quite a concert—but don’t feel like you have to watch it all at once. A lot of production work, after the actual recording, goes into these videos, so I’d prefer they be savored, wherever possible.

Between the inspiration of becoming a grandpa and the turmoil of the campaign season, I’ve had all my buttons pushed lately—and I flatter myself that it’s coming out in the music. I’ve been doing satisfying stuff lately—not all of it recorded and posted to YouTube—but I like to think that what I do post is representative of my recent work. Pete encourages me—so blame him, if you like.

“Wrong Guy”

“Four (4) 60’s Covers”

“MacArthur Park”

 

“Music Room”

“Haydn-and-Improv Hash”

“Philosophical”

“Cautiously Optimistic”

“Sight-Reading a Haydn Piano Sonata”

“Storms May Come”

“A Phoenix, I”

“Mickey’s ‘Mama’ Song”

Cautiously Optimistic   (2016Oct12)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016                                         10:42 AM

This is more like it. I don’t feel like a lone voice crying in the wilderness anymore. Most people seem to have caught on—electing Donald Trump would be just like electing a hog because it had won the blue ribbon at the Iowa State Fair. That’s a good pig—that’s a pig above its peers—but it’s still a pig.

Donald was (and is) a scheming skeeve, first as a real-estate conniver and Manhattan ‘playboy’, then as a reality-TV star who entertained by being pompously cruel. That he had fourteen seasons is a sad commentary on the American TV audience—but enjoying his perfidy, as semi-fictional guilty pleasure, is a far cry from finding him fit to lead the nation.

Cmdr. Spock could have told you right off that a human doesn’t indulge himself at the expense of others for seventy years—and become a model public servant the next day. He’s not a plotline, he’s a person—he doesn’t ‘pivot’, or suddenly transform in any other way—anymore than you or I do. Thus we conclude that his candidacy was nothing more than a quest for self-aggrandizement and power—in other words, an ego-trip.

And I can forgive Trump and Billy B. for their lewdness on the tape—I can even forgive Trump running for President, for the most venal of motivations, and pretending he’s been ‘called’ to public service, out of idealism. I can forgive all that. To forgive is divine. But I ain’t gonna vote for him—no, that’s a fer piece beyond forgiveness.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, began her life with a passion for helping children. As her life brought her to positions of influence, she used that influence to help children—and learned that helping families is a great way to do that—and found that a community (or ‘a village’) is a great model for raising every American to a place of opportunity, security, and freedom. Thus her passion for children and her love of country melded into a single driving motivation.

Comparison between the two candidates is laughably unequal. Those who hate Hillary Clinton have very vague and diffuse rage against the status quo—the hysterical intensity of it marks it as a prejudice, rather than a reasoned judgement. When they try to tell me that Hillary is ‘just as bad’ as Trump, I can’t think of how to answer them—except to call them ‘dumb people’ (which rarely helps).

I truly think that the world is getting too complicated for a certain segment of the populace—they view the election as an unfair test—a test they are afraid to fail, as if life had become one long math class—and Trump is waving at them, saying, ‘Easy answer!—Over here!’ They are voting their frustration, not their judgement. Emotions and Democracy don’t mix, any more than emotions and the judicial system, or emotions and the practice of medicine. Passion has its place in politics, but only as passion for good, for the truth, and justice.

Has thirty years of campaigning, media fire-storms, scandals, political infighting, and partisan attacks blunted Hillary’s idealism? I should hope so. Imagine, if you will, what such a ‘refining fire’ would do to your dewy-eyed, youthful dreams, or what it did to mine (and I’m just a regular guy). A battle-scarred pol may seem an uninspiring option to the young absolutists—but we should keep in mind what fights she fought while earning those scars.

They were not legal tussles with creditors and unpaid workmen and excluded minorities. She fought to end school segregation. She fought to get disabled kids the right to be included in our public education system. She fought for health care for people who weren’t rich enough, or healthy enough, to get their own. She has served the public her whole life.

Trump, at the 2nd debate, said she’s been in power for thirty years and ‘has nothing to show for it’. That’s right, Donald—by your lights, Hillary has nothing to show for a lifetime of public service—she hasn’t become a billionaire, or a celebrity TV bully, or cheated decent people out of payment for the work they gave in good faith—nothing to show for her life. Well, except maybe millions of grateful people whose lives have been improved, even saved, by her work—and the respect of decent people like myself.

I was very excited about seeing Hillary Clinton be elected the first woman president of the United States. I didn’t think the Republicans could field an opponent that had a chance against her. I was pretty shocked to realize that the campaign to impugn Hillary Clinton was not only alive and well, but had become rabid—and that the majority of Americans were starting to believe, through sheer persistence of repetition, everything her opponents were accusing her of—no matter how wild.

This was complicated by the fact that Hillary Clinton—the actual human being—is indeed less than perfect. She has made mistakes—and she has been a politician—and decades of attack have spurred her to a few unfortunate verbal rejoinders. I get the feeling she doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Neither do I. But none of that—and certainly none of the hogwash peddled by her haters—changes the fact that she is a whip-smart, doggedly capable person—and we’d be hard-pressed to find a better leader for the next eight years.

But enough—28 days from now, we’ll vote, and then we’ll, finally, know whether we are safe. Vote as if your life depended on it. VOTE.

Pete and Joanna — In That Order    (2016Sep15)

Thursday, September 15, 2016                                        6:50 PM

A long and productive day—Pete came by, we recorded most excellent musical diatribes, but he had to cut our visit short and return to the world from whence he came. Then Joanna came by to see Pete—moments too late, very frustrating—but she and I had a pleasant visit, at least. This time I remembered to take a picture:

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Today’s posts bring my total YouTube uploads to 2,005. Of those, 59 are videos of Pete Cianflone and me, collaborating together on improvisations and song covers. The audio-cassette archives of our 20th-century recordings are lost in the mists of time—after many years of pursuing separate paths, we resumed our monthly journey together in January, 2014. It’s all on YouTube: Pete n’Me playlist

I’ll grant you, it’s an uneven catalog (always with the caveat that the problems are all mine—Pete’s a professional who’s nice enough to indulge me) but as we’ve gone along, Pete has figured out an impossible trick—drumming for a pianist with no sense of rhythm. He always makes me sound better than I sound by myself—it’s really something. Today’s videos are a perfect example—no matter how badly I mess up, Pete keeps things going.

 

 

 

Well, it’s been a very busy week. I think I’ll go back to bed for a few days.

Political Work-Out   (2016Aug22)

Monday, August 22, 2016                                       1:47 PM

Now that the ‘ill wind’ of the GOP has bloviated sufficient extremism to fill a Gag Reel of non-presidential character, or lacking character of any sort, really, we might be deluded into sitting back and breathing a sigh of relief—but that would be a mistake. Trump sprang from the mulch he grew out of—the GOP itself is the same cold-blooded, empty-spirited anti-Americanism that Trump is—he only ‘let it all hang out’, rather than the GOP’s normal tactic of ‘teaching the controversy’, or as I like to call it, hyper-bullshitting.

Vainly trying to find rationales for the worst side of people—exclusion, xenophobia, isolationism, and heedless greed—the GOP has played Devil’s Advocate long enough for us to drop the ‘Advocate’ and call them by their true name. Paying taxes for the good of the common welfare is no sin. Welcoming those who thirst for a better way of life is no crime. Insisting that the least of us get the same rights and respect as the rest of us is not faintness of heart—neither is being unable to succeed, through no fault of one’s own.

They reach into our darkest desires and fears—they tell us to blame and to suspect—they take advantage of our desperation, dangling false promises in our view. The GOP are the orcs to the Democrat’s elvish. How anyone can fall for their nonsensical prating eludes me—it is an abandonment of reason and judgment that I would not think most people capable of—yet it deludes a good half of all Americans.

I would have thought the ‘whoops’ war, and the cratered economy, would have woken up voters to the glaring truth. Failing that, one would hope people noticed the Congress they elected has devoted the last eight years to neglecting the people –with an iron resolve usually reserved for doing something productive. And if all that wasn’t enough, you have the specter of Trump—the high prince of unreason—leading them into a tomorrow full of open, blatant hate and fury.

If you vote for any GOP candidate this election, Trump or otherwise, I wash my hands of you as an American—I don’t know where the hell you came from, but you can go on back now. Just kidding. That’s what the ignorant tend to shout—‘Go back where you came from’—even though they shout it at their neighbors, hence their ignorance. I get it, though—if I blame someone else for my problems, then it feels good to shout at them to go away.

I’m sick and tired of this election—I’ve always seen Hillary as the obvious choice; I’ve always viewed Trump as a nothing with an ego; and the longer this circus drags on, the more ludicrous the coverage becomes. But I’m angry at the glacial time-frame of political change—our lives change overnight, and have done for a long time.

Our politics have got to become more pragmatic—we have to talk about grown-up stuff and shunt aside the childish whinings of those who want to turn back the clock (but only in their favor). We have to demand transparency from government, we have to start expecting results, and we have to start voting for people who hold themselves accountable—because we sure can’t do it, after we elect them. With all the work that needs to be done, I really don’t want to hear any more bon mots from the Donald. I don’t want to hear people give Hillary any more crap—you try running the effing State Department—or help run a global charitable foundation.

I don’t suppose it occurred to any journalistic geniuses to research what, if anything, the Clinton Foundation has done—that story doesn’t grab clicks, I guess. But as a viewer, I wouldn’t mind hearing about it—even if it was just boring stuff about trying to make poor people’s lives better. But no, better we stick with vague suppositions about financial hanky-panky—that makes a better news chyron. But at all costs, please don’t inject anything other than the presidential race—that would imply that it isn’t the only thing that matters to everyone. Where would that leave your ratings?

The entire state of Louisiana got flooded and sixteen people died—that’s a tragedy—not to mention tens of thousands of homes destroyed, or at least their contents and first floors—nearly the same thing. But 1,245 victims died in Katrina, 233 deaths were attributed to Hurricane Sandy—much smaller disaster areas—that makes 16 a pretty small number, President Obama—go on with your golf game until your scheduled Tuesday visit. It isn’t the presidential presence that makes the difference—it’s the preparedness and the organization of the relief effort—and Louisiana gets a gold star. The Katrina disaster was an education as well as a tragedy.

I found it amusing these last two weeks that many news shows, especially the NBC network family, were able to suspend their laser-focus on the presidential race to watch the Rio Olympics in awesome detail. But then it was right back to all politics all the time. Would that all the news shows would have the integrity to continue to report on the rest of the country, and the world, and still find time for Trump and the stupid things he says. Perhaps Hillary will be caught on tape, hiccupping during a speech—think of the infinite attacks springing to mind among the Trump campaign staff. But you journalists have minds too—maybe you can find other things to report besides Trump’s latest hiccup-gate comment.

Yes It Pours   (2016Aug17)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016                                           5:28 PM

Two months ago, when our daughter’s pregnancy (and on the west coast, yet) lurked in the back of my mind—and it still looked like we might get taken in by Trump’s big con—and I was smoking too much and doing too little—back then, I resumed my anti-depressant prescription. That’s how bad I got.

But a half-a-pill a day of that stuff really pole-axed me. Yes, I smoked a lot less, because a lot less of me was there—I was zombified. But the cutting back on smoking was good for me—I felt much better. The only trouble was that I wasn’t doing anything else, either—and I wasn’t upset about that. I was very far from upset about anything at all.

Now, if I had wanted to spend my life on drugs, I could do that all by myself—and with much fun-ner drugs. So I compromised—now I take a quarter of a pill every day—and only until October, when I will stop altogether, and see how it goes. There’s a reason I stopped taking them, after all, and if I can do without, I’d really prefer that.

So, back then, it wasn’t just raining anxiety—it was pouring. But now, with our brand-new, cute-as-a-button granddaughter, I’ve been inspired to play new piano improvs. Claire’s trip has inspired me to get out and do more—like doing my own shopping. The influx of baby pictures has given me lots of busy-work in photoshop, making them fit into my YouTube videos. I enjoy my playing more when I’m looking at photos of that beautiful baby instead of myself—I think it makes me sound better.

Then Pete came by today—Hooray! I was pretty disappointed with last month’s recording, because of the anti-depressants making me punchy and basically out-of-it. But we made up for it today.

We started with a request: “Jesu—Joy of Man’s Desiring” by J. S. Bach. (That’s two requests in August—for me it’s been a banner month for music.) I played it slow, so I would make less mistakes—but Bach is good that way—it’s still pretty, even slow.

Then we did a couple of jams back-to-back. That video is called “On A Wednesday Afternoon”. I enjoyed it much more than the title might suggest—I guess I was going for the ‘soft-sell’, there. No Pete Cianflone session would be complete without a bunch of weirdness in the video—blame it on Jessy—if she had sent me a bunch of baby-pictures, you wouldn’t even see us on the video.

Then Pete suggested we cover a Golden Oldie from the 60s, so we played “Let’s Live For Today”. Now, about “Let’s Live For Today”:

Songbook from “Great songs…” series, titled “of the Sixties – Volume 2″ gives the following credits:

“Let’s Live For Today”

Words and Music by Guido Cenciarelli, Giulio Rapetti and Norman David – © 1967 by BMG Songs, Inc.

But Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia gives the following credits:

“Let’s Live for Today”

Writer(s): Michael Julien, Ivan Mogull, and David Shapiro.  “’Let’s Live for Today’ is a song initially recorded by the English band The Rokes in 1966. The song was later popularized by the American rock band The Grass Roots, who released it as a single on May 13, 1967.”

I leave that mystery to someone else to solve, but we had fun playing it—it’s not really a piano piece, but we made do.

The last bit of improv was bang-ish, so the video is called “Monstrous”. Pete said he might be able to come back next week, so we may get two sessions for August—who knows? We toasted the baby—well, I did, Pete doesn’t drink. A good time was had by all. I hope it’s as good to listen to. Enjoy.

As I was saying—new baby granddaughter, clearer mind, more piano music—and having more fun at the piano, baby-picture photoshopping, regular shopping… and it looks like there’s no need to worry about Hillary being elected—(but Vote anyway!) Suddenly, it’s not just raining good things, it’s pouring. Ah, life. That’s what I say. Ah, life.

Huzzah!   (2016Jul12)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016                                             7:40 PM

Don Pietro del Cianflone has returned from summer hiatus—sing laude and strike the tambor! Here, we have the Buds-Up Semi-Ensemble wreaking havoc with the laws of both rhythm and harmony in a spectacular display of bongo-osity and piano-tivity. If you spot this duo—notify the musical authorities at once. If you hear something—you’ve heard too much!

 

 

The rest of this is just me—nothing to see here, just move it along…

 

 

 

 

 

That’s that, for now. A big thanks to Peter Cianflone for the jam session!

 

Be The Government   (2016Jul03)

Sunday, July 03, 2016                                              5:46 PM

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Well, this is embarrassing—I wrote my Fourth of July post yesterday and now I want to write something else—but it’s still the day before Independence Day, so what am I supposed to do, pretend it’s not happening and just write about random stuff? Yeah, that’s the plan. So much for topicality.

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Oh, it’s funny—and kind of exhilarating—when you look back at stuff that pissed you off and had you all off your game and under the weather for days—and you realize that your memory isn’t good enough to really remember what all that was about, so who cares anymore. If I can’t interface with the Internet without somebody getting in my face, then I just play Snood for a while and the whole thing’s forgotten—I’d like to take the credit, but honestly, it gets forgotten whether I like it or not.

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Sometimes time moves too fast (usually) and sometimes time moves too slow (that’s the worst so I’m glad it’s the rarer of the two). Sometimes time seems to stand still—but if you wait awhile, you’ll need to go to the bathroom eventually. For me time has always been a little too elastic—my musical friends are always trying to encourage me to use a metronome—but that really just makes it worse—I get confused about the time between the clicks. So I made a deal with myself long ago—that even though music is primarily about rhythm, it was okay for me to do everything without a good rhythm, anyway—we’ll just call it an overabundance of rhubato, that’s all. It’s not that I don’t want to be rhythmic, it’s just that I can’t—time won’t let me, as they say.

 

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I mean, I can feel an anger inside me—but through a combination of not remembering and not wanting to go there, I really have no idea why. Lots of things make me angry—I have an itchy trigger finger and a short fuse. Must be the Irish in me. Back in the day you could pick one thing to be angry about—the War, or Nixon, or Nuclear weapons, or the Ecology. But now there are just too many things going on, both good and bad—not getting angry is becoming an important skill, because the media will latch onto to that and make you watch TV all day or surf around the Internet until your eyes bleed.

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Yes, there are problems out there—it’s time we stopped getting scared about it, or angry about it, and started getting serious about leadership instead. We are about to have an election in which a miserable, dangerous candidate has a shot just because people are so angry and so uncomfortable—and so poor. And that’s on our establishment, no question about it. They’ve been lying down on the job—doing everything but their job. It’s time we elected new people—but not the worst person in the world, just because he sees an opening.

We need to elect local officials who are not wealthy or corrupt, who have public service in mind. Then we need to do that with our state officials, then our congresspersons. Only when we have regained control of our political infrastructure can we do anything about the big dogs—the governors, the senators, vice-president, and president. Those things are just shiny objects for us to jump up and reach for while all the real work gets done behind our backs.

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A vote won’t do it. People have to start going to town meetings, state party meetings, I don’t even know what kinds of meetings—that’s the sad part. The NRA’s zombie army all have the itinerary—surely the rest of us can start to realize that the crazies need to be beaten back at every river ford and mountain pass, that the lobbyists need to face down protestors outside their offices and in the halls of government. The reason we have such bad government now is because we have taken it for granted—but it needs work, just like your house or your yard—and they are overdue for a lawnmowing.

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We don’t get paid to participate in our government, local, state or whatever—we may not even get what we want, personally, by participating. But if we think of it as an appliance that works when you push the button, then we get a government that has no brain, no heart. Only when large numbers of regular people show up will our government ever resemble our desires, or even our needs. We don’t need smaller government or bigger government—we need to be the government.

Diminishing Returns   (2016Jun27)

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Monday, June 27, 2016                                            11:20 AM

Diminishing returns—that’s what I’m dealing with here. My hands shake, my vision is blurry, my head is all kinds of discombobulated. I’m weak. I’m short of breath. I get kinda squirrely whenever I have to talk to people in person—I just get into a loop, second-guessing myself and them—basically, I’ve just lost the ability to deal. I used to be a shut-in because I didn’t have the strength to walk around—now, I think I hide indoors because I know that regularly interacting with people will expose my insanity and get me committed.

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Smoking is a problem—I shouldn’t smoke, of course. But I don’t have that much else to amuse myself with—being damn-near dead—so it’s hard for me to rationalize quitting to save my life. What life, without a smoke to pass the time?

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Loved ones—sure, I have those. But they have actual lives—they’re busy, they’re engrossed in their own stuff—and any leaning on them takes away from that. I think one person stuck in a frustrating place is sufficient—I can’t see dragging them into this. The paradox of age and infirmity—I’m supposed to be all that more grateful for my continued existence, even as it loses more and more of the features that constitute an actual life. When people congratulate someone on reaching their ninetieth birthday, all I can think is ‘That poor bastard—what must his day be like?’

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Not that I’m promoting euthanasia—I’m not paging Dr. Kevorkian. It’s just that younger, healthier people think of old age as ‘extra additional years’, as if their seniority will be as full and engaging as their thirties or forties. But it’s really a matter of diminishing returns—to a certain extent, we fade before we die. And fading isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Yes, I’m still breathing and I’m still watching TV and eating my breakfast every morning—but I’m used to more than that, or I was—I want more than that.

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Pain? Yes, certainly. I mean, it’s not like someone amputated one of my limbs or anything—but there’s definitely pain. The headaches are the worst because it makes it hard to think of something else—which is my go-to remedy for other pains. But let’s face it, with the back spasms, the stiff neck, the random nerve pains and restless leg—thinking about something else only gets me so far for so long. The gas pains from my messed-up guts are usually the sharpest—sometimes the cry coming out of my mouth is the first notice I have, it’s so sudden. I usually try to morph it into a sentence, as in “AAH-ow ya doin’ this afternoon?”—just so I don’t scare people into worrying about me.

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My close acquaintance with my old friend, pain, makes me a big fan of OTC pain relief—my favorites are aspirin and ibuprofen. But those things only work for a short time—and the next day, I have nerve-endings that are even tenderer from the after-effects. I reach the point where it’s impossible to up the dosage any higher, and the pain is that much worse—it’s a dead-end solution with a high price-tag. Stronger drugs are out of the question—the same cycle, with far greater costs and risks.

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My life is so sedentary I spend most of my time watching TV—and it embarrasses me. TV is such a festival of stupid. So I turn it off and start reading. A few hours later, the pain behind my eyes reminds me why I don’t read like I used to—it’s amazing how much physical effort it takes to read. I used to think it was the most relaxing thing in the world—how healthy I must have been!

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Here are three poems I stole off a few poetry sites:

Cacoethes Scribendi

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

 

If all the trees in all the woods were men;

And each and every blade of grass a pen;

If every leaf on every shrub and tree

Turned to a sheet of foolscap; every sea

Were changed to ink, and all earth’s living tribes

Had nothing else to do but act as scribes,

And for ten thousand ages, day and night,

The human race should write, and write, and write,

Till all the pens and paper were used up,

And the huge inkstand was an empty cup,

Still would the scribblers clustered round its brink

Call for more pens, more paper, and more ink.

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The Birthnight

Walter de la Mare

 

Dearest, it was a night

That in its darkness rocked Orion’s stars;

A sighing wind ran faintly white

Along the willows, and the cedar boughs

Laid their wide hands in stealthy peace across

The starry silence of their antique moss:

No sound save rushing air

Cold, yet all sweet with Spring,

And in thy mother’s arms, couched weeping there,

Thou, lovely thing.

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Moonrise

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844 – 1889

 

I awoke in the Midsummer not to call night, in the white and the walk of the morning:

The moon, dwindled and thinned to the fringe of a finger-nail held to the candle,

Or paring of paradisaïcal fruit, lovely in waning but lustreless,

Stepped from the stool, drew back from the barrow, of dark Maenefa the mountain;

A cusp still clasped him, a fluke yet fanged him, entangled him, not quit utterly.

This was the prized, the desirable sight, unsought, presented so easily,

Parted me leaf and leaf, divided me, eyelid and eyelid of slumber.

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Why poems? I don’t know—it just came up. Poems are nice—when they’re short enough. I used to read epic poetry—whole books of the stuff—I don’t have that kind of concentration anymore. I own many different English translations of the Iliad and the Oddysey—I prefer the ones that don’t go too ‘prose’ and don’t go too ‘lyric poetry’—it’s difficult to retain just enough of the poetry of it that you don’t lose the pace of the storytelling—a subtle balancing act, which is why there are so many versions. I wonder what it must be like in the original Ancient Greek?

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I always wish I’d learned more languages. Languages are the most liberal-arts thing there is—it’s hard to see how they can be of practical use, yet those who learn them have a great mental advantage over the monolinguist. I studied French in high school and college—I never became fluent because I never used it. But even in an English-speaking environment, I’ve run across some Latin roots and French phrases that are gobbledy-gook to other people—so it wasn’t a complete waste. It’s still the easiest way to be the smartest person in the room—knowing a language that no one else does, when that language pops up. And wouldn’t it be nice to watch a foreign film and not have to read the captions?

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I got a new TV recently—I switched to LCD because my old Plasma screen acted as both television and space heater—very convenient in winter, but a real pain in the ass come summertime. My old buddy, Flippy, came by today to take the old monster off my hands—I hope he’s going to use it in a well-ventilated area. It was a huge, expensive TV, so I’m happy that it didn’t end up in the junk pile.

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The new TV is disappointing—I bought a 32′ diagonal Sony LCD because I figured if I moved it closer to the bed (the big one was all the way across the room) it would have the same apparent size as the big one. But Sony tricked me—the screen is 32″, but the picture is much smaller, unless I go full zoom, which fills the screen but makes the picture grainier. Consumerism is such a bait-and-switch con game. Plus, the TV was surprisingly inexpensive, until I realized that I now need a sound system for it (the old, big one had it built-in) and the sound systems price out at about the same price as the new TV! So now, instead of being happy with my purchase, I’m watching a tinier screen with tinnier sound. Argggh!

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One good thing about the new TV is that it’s Wi-Fi enabled. That means I can switch to Netflix or Hulu—I can even watch myself on my YouTube channel videos—that’s pretty cool.

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Okay, here’s one of my favorite Bach pieces:

and since it’s a really nice composition, and I don’t play it that well, here’s the link for Glenn Gould, playing the same piece, but properly–and beautifully:

Enjoy.

Bach and Dr. Seuss   (2016Jun20)

Monday, June 20, 2016                                            1:09 PM

Dr. Seuss on Gun Control

We are born and we live—we love and we give

We believe what we wish and we think sometimes too

Sometimes we are faithful and sometimes, untrue

When we are not peaceful we’re provocative

People are silly—just watch them and see

People get ugly—you know they can be

People like laughing—it’s such a relief

But then we like fighting—and that causes grief

People are silly—if I wasn’t one

I’d say let them all walk around with a gun

I wouldn’t even mind taking a bullet from one

If I didn’t have a wife, a daughter, and a son.

 

(please note: this poem is in the style of Dr. Seuss, not actually by him.)

It’s a lazy day. Happy summer. I recorded one of Bach’s French Suites. Ordinarily I wouldn’t bother posting it, but I want to forget about the troll that bugged me a few days ago, so I’m posting more classical music videos. This one is no better than that one, because I don’t play all that good—but I hereby declare that to be okay. Anyone that doesn’t like it—doesn’t have to watch it.

I also managed an improv. The set-to with the troll took my mind off my biggest problem, which has nothing to do with my playing bad classical music. I’ve always played classical music badly. I usually tell myself that it’s background research—I only play the classical for practice—to get ideas and improve my technique—for when I improvise. Because I’ve been pleased with my growth in that area—some of my improvs are quite listenable.

I know this because I burn CDs and listen to them while lying around or reading. I started doing that way back when I was still using a Sony cassette recorder and never posted anything. The idea was to hear myself in playback and see what I sounded like to another person. I learned a lot—enough so that, at some point, I actually began to enjoy listening to my own CDs. They still couldn’t stack up against store-bought music, but they were good enough that, when factoring in that I had made them myself, it was nice to listen to.

But lately I don’t know. I’ve always sounded kinda the same, but I was always trying new things. I think lately the problem is that I’ve accumulated a bunch of ‘tricks’ that I like, and I use them too much—it’s getting repetitive. So I’ve recorded some improvs lately that I didn’t think were good enough to share online because they’re just too much like stuff I’ve already posted. I don’t know, maybe it’s just getting old. I have been improvising for like thirty five years by now—maybe I’ve just reached my peak and I don’t have it in me to do any better.

Anyhow, for today’s recordings’ titles, I recycled my drawings from the last post—I’m not making many new drawings, so I have to make the most of what’s left in my old archives.

 

..

Confusion About Violence   (2016Jun16)

Thursday, June 16, 2016                                          10:00 AM

Some motherfucker has commented on my YouTube post of one of Mendelssohn’s ‘Songs Without Words’ saying, “What a laugh! lol.” So I went to his YouTube channel to see what he was about—he had a post of the same piece, which he played very well, liked a trained pianist. My recording was definitely inferior—I don’t play very well—but I still didn’t understand why he felt the need to deride me—who made him the Internet Music Police, anyway?

Maybe he didn’t mean to be mean—I jump to conclusions about that, because he wouldn’t be the first troll on my YouTube channel and I’m kinda sensitive about my piano-playing. Maybe he’s just trying to make friends and he’s even more socially inept than I am—but that would be giving him a truckload of benefit of the doubt. A friendly comment would have made a point of laughing with me rather than at me.

But that leaves the question of ‘why would anyone bother?’ Who surfs YouTube looking for videos to make fun of—and how would a person’s life become so vacuous that being unpleasant to strangers would become a pastime? He may very well have been trying to upset me—but all such comments only confuse me—don’t people have anything better to do?

 

I’ve made many comments on other people’s YouTube posts—but I never bother unless I want them to know how much I enjoyed their music, or thank them, or encourage them to keep playing and posting. Here on WordPress I find myself sometimes trading barbs with someone who offends my sensibilities—but on YouTube? If I don’t like a YouTube post, I just stop listening—I don’t go out of my way to tell someone I don’t like their music. That’s like telling someone you don’t like their religion—or their face. It’s just rude.

 

 

I don’t like violence—I don’t understand how it keeps being such a big part of our lives. It never produces anything but more violence. Maybe I’m just lucky enough to live a life where violence doesn’t come up—but even in situations where violence is commonplace, I still don’t see it doing anyone any good.

And trolling seems to me much more an advertisement of loneliness than any kind of criticism I would take seriously.

Book Review: “The Sound of Time: A Novel” by Julian Barnes (2016Jun03)

Friday, June 03, 2016                                               11:37 PM

Friday’s here—and just as I often don’t get fully awake before noon, I feel like I’m just getting warmed up whenever the end of the week rolls around. Old and in poor health is no way to suck the marrow from life. But I find I have company, or rather, competition.

That is to say that I’ve just finished reading Julian Barnes’ excellent historical novel, “The Noise of Time: A Novel”, touching on the life of Dmitri Shostakovich—a Russian composer of the Soviet era, and a favorite of mine since my early teens. I clearly remember mentioning the name to my mother one day, mispronouncing it, and being surprised that she corrected my pronunciation of his name—firstly because I realized he was famous enough for my mother to know his name, and secondly because I had been enamored of his music for months, while saying his name wrong (I had been thinking of him as Shos-TOCK-ovich!)

The Russians take pride in their deep sadness—as an American, I’ll never get that, but I get it, kind of. Masochism, irony, and melancholy are tools I have used myself in defense against a dysfunctional reality. But my life, and my troubles, are of an American smallness, in comparison to Barnes’ description of the living hell Shostakovich found himself in. He was a sensitive composer trapped in Stalin’s Russia, forced to publicly denounce his own works, and the works of his hero, Stravinsky—and other close friends and respected musicians; in danger for years from ideologues and politicians trying to ferret out disloyalty, even in thoughts and feelings, especially among artists—and even more especially in composers who had achieved global fame.

The book reminded me of the stories I heard about Soviet Russians living in terror of anonymous squads who came and took them in the night, often never to be seen again—and about the ideological tyranny that deposed aesthetics as the yardstick against which their art was ‘measured’—and sometimes condemned, along with the artist’s life.

Stalin’s rule, up to 1953, was so bloody that upon his death and the ascension of Khrushchev, it was said that ‘the Soviet had become vegetarian’. Although it may be more proper to say that the Soviet ceased to be cannibalistic, since Stalin’s machine had been devouring his own people. And Shostakovich was apparently a pretty nervous fellow—at the height of the pseudo-ideological criticisms of his music, he spent every night, for weeks, waiting at the elevator to be taken away by the KGB so that they wouldn’t have to burst into his apartment and drag him away in front of his wife and child. Barnes writes that Dmitri was just one of many people who observed this nighttime ritual during the terror known as Stalin’s Cult of Personality. Shostakovich’s life was one horror show after another—and it didn’t help that he was fairly well-off, compared to the average Soviet Russian—that just gave him more to lose.

As a boy, my favorite of his works was the last movement of his fifth symphony—but as I matured, I learned to prefer the rest of the symphony. According to Barnes’ story, Shostakovich was forced to add the final ‘triumphal’ movement to the symphony because the foregoing movements were so unremittingly ‘pessimistic’—and so he composed the final movement ironically. To my callow ears, and to the politburo, it sounded glorious (which saved Shostakovich’s life, and career)—but as my tastes matured I came to find the last movement somehow brash and ugly, and prefer the music that comes before—and now I know why, I suppose. Much is made in the book of the fact that when confronted with brainless tyranny, the only safe rebellion is in irony—but that irony over time gets lost in itself.

This book is no happy story, but it is something perhaps better—a fascinating story about strange and awful truths, and the horrendous lies that hide them, for a time at least. I have long since given up hope of finding in great artists’ lives any kind of reflection or explanation of the exaltation of their creations—but this book actually matches up the bleakness heard in most of his music with the day-to-day life of its composer. I read it in one sitting—something I’m only pushed into nowadays by irresistibly good writing and an enthralling story.

Barnes quotes Shakespeare at one point, mentioning that his Sonnet LXVI resonated with the artists of Soviet Russia, particularly the line, “And art made tongue-tied by authority”. I had to go look at the whole poem and I am struck, not for the first time, by how apropos Shakespeare always is, no matter how modern we think we have become:

  Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,

  As to behold desert a beggar born,

  And needy nothing trimm’d in jollity,

  And purest faith unhappily forsworn,

  And gilded honour shamefully misplac’d,

  And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,

  And right perfection wrongfully disgrac’d,

  And strength by limping sway disabled

  And art made tongue-tied by authority,

  And folly—doctor-like—controlling skill,

  And simple truth miscall’d simplicity,

  And captive good attending captain ill:

     Tir’d with all these, from these would I be gone,

     Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.

(Shakespeare, William (2011-03-24). Shakespeare’s Sonnets (p. 132).  . Kindle Edition.)

I love that line about “And folly—doctor-like—controlling skill,”—geniuses so often appear to fools as people who need to be ‘cured’, or at the very least, ‘corrected’. The poem as a whole is fitting for a Shostakovich biographical novel—he too was often tempted by thoughts of suicide, harried by the ubiquitous surplus of malevolent injustice crowding every aspect of his life.

That’s my take on the book—-lacking a segue, here’s two improvs from earlier today–hope you like them:

 

 

..

 

 

Memorial Day   (2016May30)

Monday, May 30, 2016                                            11:50 AM

Last night PBS aired the Memorial Day Concert from Washington DC—and all weekend long there have been war movies on TV—I just watched one of my favorites on TCM—“Sergeant York” (1941). An uncredited portion of the soundtrack contains “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” (by James Milton Black, 1892) sung in church at the beginning of the picture. Afterwards at the piano, I guess I mixed it up in my mind with (“Give Me That”) “Old-Time Religion”, another traditional gospel song from 1873.

ELD 064My dad is in this picture somewhere–he served in Korea after boot camp, and made it home safe.

Anyhow, I decided to improvise on that, since the soundtrack of the movie had those themes woven into the music. I began by trying to pick out the tune, but if you can get past that, I think it turned out alright in the end. I’m remembering the fallen today—have a safe and happy Memorial Day, everybody.

Higglety-Pigglety   (2016May25)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016                                               12:21 PM

Pete’s late—looks like no jam today. And I just got my microphone working! Oh, well. Oh, wait—maybe he comes at one, instead of noon? I can’t remember—maybe he does. Damn this swiss-cheese brain of mine.

Well, Jessy is expecting—which is great. Spencer is working on historical fiction for gamers (I’m not really sure—something like that) and he asked me for some medieval music examples recently, for research—he’s started up gardening and mowing, now that spring has sprung—which is also great. And Claire—well, as usual, Claire is unbelievable—life-drawing classes almost every day, a watercolor painting-tutorial day at the Botanical Gardens recently, and a drawing class in Katonah once a week. (She’s really becoming a phenomenally able graphic-artist). And that’s all beside the daily (at least) trips to the gym—and her ongoing work on her resume for her dream-job. Plus, she takes care of me, Spencer, and the house (with her other hand—ha ha).

So, let’s see—Claire was a prize pianist and music student in her youth, raised two toddlers as a young adult, got her Bachelor’s in computers and worked for an online-encyclopedia company during her programmer phase, then took care of her dying husband so well that the bastard never died, then went for her Master’s in occupational therapy, got in shape with pilates, yoga, and the gym, started drawing lessons—and is about to get a new job in her new OT career, at the same time as becoming a new grandmother. Lazy—that’s Claire—she’ll be sixty in a couple of years—and what will she have to show for it? Some people.

I used to have a life—boy, those were the days—but that was so long ago I can hardly remember what it was like. Okay, it’s one-twenty now—even if Pete was coming at one, he’s late now—looks like no jam today. Guess it’s time to go watch TV. Damn. Well, there were new movies on the menu yesterday—I hope one of them is worth watching.

Son of a bitch—Pete’s here!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016                                               6:20 PM

Okay, Pete came—we had a great session—then he had to go home—and I had a cheeseburger—now I’m just editing the video—and writing a blog about the political news of today.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016                                               8:41 PM

Okay, the best thing in the new movie listings is Zoolander II—hardly inspiring, although I’ll probably watch it. Ben Stiller really makes me laugh—when he isn’t making me puke—I think his masterpiece, “There’s Something About Mary”, redefined the boundaries of good taste in a comedy film—and it’s something of a genre these days. I can take that stuff, up to a point, but my gross-out limit is a very low bar.

I’ve gotten my rough cuts of the jam session edited—three improvs and a medley of eight Burton Lane tunes. The first improv sounded to Pete like calypso music, but I thought it sounded more like I was having a fit, so I call it ‘Calypsis’.

The other two improvs came out real nice—me in my best voice, I felt. You decide. One, “Either Way”, is three minutes, the other, “Twilight of the Gourds”, is a minute and a half—but still, all told we got about 32 minutes of video for the day—not too shabby.

Let’s talk about our Burton Lane songbook-covers video—first and foremost, none of this is Pete’s fault—he just puts up with my eccentricities. And, yes, this is some pretty sloppy piano-playing. But there are some moments of interest—and we did have fun joking around. If it were just me, I’d probably have second thoughts about posting this—but with Pete there, it’s still pretty entertaining, most of it. So, listen, don’t listen—either way, you’re right.

Thursday, May 26, 2016                                          11:38 AM

Afterword:

Last night I had my choice—sleepless, or sleep with nightmares. I finally got a few hours of shut-eye, but now that I’m up, my back is killing me. Which all goes to show that I had more excitement and fun yesterday than this old carcass is prepared to deal with. That’s a bad thing, kinda—but it’s also a pretty good thing, if you think about it. It’s not like I don’t get occasional nightmares and backaches—without having any excuse at all—and a good day is a good day, regardless of tomorrow.

Nice Day   (2016May09)

Monday, May 09, 2016                                            3:19 PM

Gosh ain’t it great? Is there anything quite so delightful as a face full of sunshine after a week of rainy days? No, I don’t think so. And I don’t usually go outside, you know—bugs and mud and why would you, right? But today, oh yeah—today I went out and stuck my head up, like a flower, drinking in vitamin D like someone had added sugar.

I’ve been practicing some Brahms over the weekend, and earlier this morning—from the first volume, with the sonatas and all those variations, and just a few of the kind of pieces that make up my usual stomping grounds, volume two. I tell you, I spent about an hour just trying to play this one original theme—trying to ignore the forty pages of complex and challenging variations that only virtuosos bother with, that come after the Thema. Brahms isn’t happy unless you have to be Hercules to play the damned chord.

But today I’ve been enjoying Edward MacDowell’s “Sea Pieces”—there is one Song from that piano suite which is often included in Selected Easy Classical Piano books, but the rest of the pieces are quite challenging. I enjoy it after Brahms, because it seems easier after that monster’s sheet music—and I get a break in the middle, where that easy Song is. One of these days, I’ll be able to play most of it without stopping.

I’m feeling good today—things are going well—Claire’s finally over that awful cold that stalked her for over a week—Jessy’s in her last trimester and taking off from her job to take it easy. And I played a recital on Friday. Okay, now I’m gonna stop, because inventorying my memory for good stuff has just reminded me of some not good stuff. But I’ve felt worse, that’s all I’m saying.

 

I just found this new guy on YouTube, Bryan Schumann–ain’t he great?

 

 

The Yearly Recital   (2016May07)

Saturday, May 07, 2016                                           9:00 PM

Sherryl Marshall had her annual recital next door last night—I traditionally kick things off, since I’m shameless enough to do it—and it helps put the others at ease to see me mess things up (which I do) and not have the world come to an end. Everybody gets up and sings a song or three—I did “Masquerade”, “Maybe”, and “Marching Along Together”, all from the 1930s, and all (as Claire pointed out) from the ‘M’ section of my songbook. I’ve played my parents’ old songbook for decades, but still I had to rehearse these three for a few days beforehand, just to be comfortable performing them in front of other people (something I only do this one time each year, excepting Xmas-caroling sing-alongs).

Afterwards, when I got home, I was like an old car that keeps backfiring for a while after you turn off the ignition—spazzing and making involuntary exclamations—like the police were coming for me or something. I’m really not cut out for public performance. But then there is also a feeling of having made it through an ordeal, which is very satisfying. I spent most of today just basking in the fact that it was over with, and that I hadn’t screwed it up too badly.

I don’t get out of the house much. It’s wonderful of Sherryl to include me in these annual recitals—I’m not even one of her students. She says it makes the other students comfortable to see a neighbor there, that it makes it more casual—but I think she’s just being very kind to her shut-in, next-door neighbor. And these annual concerts help to remind me why I don’t try to perform more often on my own—it’s terrifying. I only do it that once each year—I don’t know how Sherryl has the courage to do it for a living. But then, she’s a real musician—a professional—and I imagine that gives a person more confidence when they stand up in front of a crowd.

I wish I could offer you some video from the concert, but I left my camera at home—I didn’t expect my singing to be worth recording. This re-enactment video will show you why—I guess I do better under pressure. Or maybe it was the setting—I don’t know.

 

Also, I want to wish all you mothers out there a very happy mother’s day!

G’night.

 

 

It’s The Little Things   (2016May02)

Monday, May 02, 2016                                            3:02 PM

When it comes to the fine arts, we are always prepared to follow the examples of those how have come before—in spite of also recognizing that past artists are of a greatness few can match. Thus we end up with grade-schoolers trying to emulate Mozart or Da Vinci, which is all well and good, especially if the youngster in question has a spark of talent that needs fanning into flame. But, as I have often put forward before, I believe the arts should not be a fenced-in preserve for the talented.

When we are in kindergarten, or even K-thru-3, we often sing songs together—this is both educational and fun, and little notice is paid to a lack of rhythm or tonal ear by any one child—though there is often material there for a critic, to be sure—and greatness is put to the side. Entire schools would gather for ‘auditorium’, which usually ended with a sing-along.

Later on, as early as high school, ‘choir’ becomes a class subject, weaning out those with little interest or ability. That’s fine—that’s understandable—it is school, after all, and they’re there to learn. But are all those other children meant to spend the rest of their lives without a song? That seems rather unlively to me. So I have been a one-man protest movement for music—aided these last ten years by YouTube, which allows my amateur efforts to reach far beyond the few people that walk past our house and sometimes hear tinkling inside.

Lately, I’ve had a few good improvs—but they’ve only lasted a minute or so. I have had to teach myself to sometimes be satisfied with that—there is a temptation to keep going, to create something of awesome architecture, like the musical greats of the past. But I am not a ‘musical great’—I’m not even a ‘musical so-so’—so if I record a mere minute of something nice, I try to accept that with good grace rather than try for something more traditional. And you would be surprised, as I have often been, by just how slowly the seconds tick by when you’re trying to be creative at the keyboard—a minute of decent improvisation is no small feat, not for me anyhow.

Also, while improvising, the longer one plays the more likely one will fall back on old tropes, familiar filler that one has used before—and one edges away from true improvisation and turns more towards rehearsal of the familiar. This is okay once in a while, but it should be recognized as such, or one’s improvs will come to sound like a familiar refrain. One’s personal musical style will make that problem enough without willingly pursuing the familiar. I’m proud that my daughter has told me that she can always tell it’s me at the piano—but I’d feel much differently if she had said I always sound the same.

Anyway, here are today’s selections—two very short improvs and one that is longer but is really three separate improvs (in different keys) in one video. Then there’s a long one that isn’t quite audience-ready—it’s a sample of the practicing of classical composers that I do to help keep my improvs changing and growing. One of my favorite songs is the old classic by Spanky McFarlane, “Sing Your Own Kind Of Music”—lyrics to live by, I’ve always thought.

Music Monday (2016Apr25)

Monday, April 25, 2016                                          12:34 PM

Earlier in Western history, composers did not become famous as pop stars do today. Music in general did not get broadcast by any media. You knew the nursery rhymes of your neighborhood, the work songs, the dances, lullabies, love songs—folk music—but it wasn’t ‘folk’ to you, it was all of music, as far as you knew. Musicians had to spread their works on foot, like Johnny Appleseed, and many of them were popularizers of music, as much for their careers as for their love of music.

That is why there is a national flavor to each Old World country’s music—there really wasn’t a great deal of interaction between musicians who lived hundreds of miles away. We see composers, and later on, virtuoso performers, travel farther and reach more people, causing more concert halls and opera houses to be built, as transportation improves—until the invention of the phonograph and the radio begin to act as distributors of music, separate from the musicians themselves.

 

We think of classical music striving towards a greater freedom of expression, from the confining rigors of Gregorian chant to the wild liberty of the expressionists and the modernists—but that freedom was as much forced on them as fought for. Religious, political, and technological revolutions all caused upheavals in the norm, creating spaces where composers worked without the confinements of a generation earlier. That’s why we call the great composers geniuses instead of revolutionaries—they didn’t battle their way into new music, they discovered it within their imaginations. The tawdry battle between conservative and progressive music critics always lagged behind, creating a sense of resistance to change—but the musicians always simply filled a vacuum and left it to others to sort it out.

 

I’m always aghast at the contrast between old and current music—all those centuries of seeking the magic formula, the series of sounds that would thrill the audience—finally adding syncopation, blues notes, and latin rhythms to drive the excitement-level ever upwards—until the electric guitar came along, with that electronic buzz that satisfies people in a way that an entire symphony orchestra or big band never could, regardless of the composition of notes. Amplification added something unnatural as well—and suddenly four boys from Liverpool could fill Shea Stadium with adoring listeners.

It’s not that I hold it against rock and roll—I love the Beatles as much as the next member of my generation—it’s just so easy, it seems like cheating. The greenest beginner on an electric guitar can enthrall a roomful of music lovers—meanwhile a hundred musicians have to study for a lifetime to play a Stravinsky ballet suite—and it doesn’t have the drawing power of a Jimi Hendrix solo. People just love the alien sound of electronics—they can’t get enough of it. I think the “Switched-On Bach” album is probably Bach’s biggest sales hit of all time—and it’s because it was all performed on a Moog synthesizer.

 

It’s not as if electrification was the first music tech—keyboards were invented—bellows-driven organs, steam-driven calliopes, cranked hurdy-gurdies, paper-roll pianos, and spring-driven music boxes. And there’s the subtle plumbing that turned a pan pipe into a modern flute, a bugle into a trumpet—and all the mysterious varnishes and the carpentry of resonance that goes into making a fine string instrument—those Stradivariuses aren’t worth a king’s ransom for nothing. The modern piano-forte—what we call a concert Steinway these days—was such a masterwork of technology that many people link its emergence with the greatness of Beethoven’s piano sonatas—he was the first composer to have access to the modern version of a keyboard. He certainly makes use of its dynamic possibilities—no one could’ve written all those triple fortes and triple pianos for a harpsichord—or, at least, no one could play any dynamics without a hammer-action to control the volume.

Even today, music drives tech innovation—no musician is satisfied with what has come before—they’re always searching for something new—both in the music and in how it is played.

 

Have a good week.

Sunshine Session   (2016Apr18)

Monday, April 18, 2016                                          5:05 PM

Pete and I went for two today—and came up with an extended session which I am pleased to share with you here—three improvs, six cover songs, and a piece by Domenico Scarlatti, no less—it was quite the take and I am now very tired—we don’t usually get so ambitious on these monthly get-togethers.

Now you can say that the covers—and certainly the Scarlatti—are terribly done and I can’t really argue with you. I post these more for the fun we had than for any great contribution to YouTube. But I stand by the improvs—they’re not so bad—and I don’t care what you think. Nothing inspires me more than to have a drummer play along with me—and Pete’s the greatest.

We start, as always, with an improv—today’s first improv was a warm-up, kinda Spanish-ey (I like to steal rhythms from Rodrigo) but not quite the greatest thing ever. That’s the trouble with improvisation—you can’t just ‘start’, you have to work your way into it—and I fear I lose listeners sometimes just because you have to give us a minute before we get anything going. Listeners don’t usually give that kind of slack to a YouTube video—but there’s no way around it, for me.

Here’s the chronology of today’s two part set:

Improv – When The Deep Purple Kush

Domenico Scarlatti‘s Sonata – Longo 23

Improv – Bluesome

Cover: “Crystal Blue Persuasion”

Cover: “All My Loving”

Cover: “Crimson and Clover”

[break]

Improv – Stone Soup

Two (2) 1960 Covers:  “Gee Whiz” & “Silence Is Golden”

Cover: “Sugar Sugar”

As you can see, the second round was shorter and less ambitious—but I’m still impressed that we had a second round at all. Only at the beginning of our sessions would I try something crazy like the Scarlatti—but I got that out of the way (and out of my system)—and trust me, you really haven’t played Scarlatti until you’ve had tympani backing you up—even if it is only bongo drums. There are many fine pianists (and harpsichordists) on YouTube, so you can hear the piece played properly (I gave you the Longo number) if you wish to do a search.

The second improv came out that way because Pete said, after the Scarlatti, “Hey, let’s try something more bluesey.” So I improvised using mostly seventh chords, which is my way of sounding bluesey. I’d play like Art Tatum if I could—but again, just search on “Art Tatum” if you want to hear some real blues piano.

I had a great time today—we played some of my favorite piano arrangements of cover songs from the sixties—and there was a third improv that we tried to be spacey with—like an acid trip on the piano—but I don’t know, I was pretty tired out by then. We had a great, sunny day to play in—so for today we bill ourselves as the Buds-Up Sunshine Band (with apologies to K.C., et. al.)

We talked a bit about a podcast—but as we discussed it, I realized that I always pick activities that can’t be rushed or scheduled. If I had to do an improv once a week on schedule—well, I couldn’t do it. It’s just like the poetry or the drawing—I can only do what I’m inspired to do; I can’t just decide it’s time to play an improv. Besides, I have my good days and bad days—getting together with Pete once a month is about as busy as I can manage—and even then, some months are better than others. Fortunately, today was kickass.

 

 

 

Th’th’that’s all, Folks!

Journal Entry   (2016Apr12)

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Saturday, April 09, 2016                                          10:27 PM

In high school I wrote a term paper comparing T. S.Eliot’s “The Waste Land” with Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland”—a spurious pairing based on both titles inferring the existence of a ‘land’ of some sort. On first reading I found T. S. Eliot rather opaque—so I was able to make a case that both works involved a lot of nonsense. My teacher was probably so glad that someone bothered to read Eliot that she forbore from destroying my facile interpretation of his poem—I think I got a high grade based solely on the ambition of my reading.

But having been introduced to Mr. Eliot, I was off and running. I read all his poems and most of his plays—then I read most of his essays—then I read critical analysis of Eliot’s life and works, seeking some explication of this rather difficult poet. In the process, I was led to read parts of the Bible, some Shakespeare plays, some poetry by Marvell and Donne, Jessie Weston’s “From Ritual To Romance”, and a good chunk of Fraser’s “The Golden Bough”. At one time I could recite “Burnt Norton” from memory—though at sixty now, and having read all the Four Quartets many times over, I think I understand the poem better now than I did when I could recite it.

Eliot is a strange influence on a young man—he was both after and before his time. He was after his time in the sense that Old World propriety meant more to this native of St. Louis than to the inhabitants of the modern-day London where he spent his adult life. He was before his time in many ways—not least of which being his rejection of religion in his youth and his return to it later in life—not unlike the born-again backlash against secularism that would sweep America a decade after his death.

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Eliot being as much a philosopher as a poet, studying his work as an adolescent may have made me old before my time, at least mentally. Looking back on it, I feel that studying Eliot made me old before my time in much the same way that being ill for so long, and even dying momentarily on the table during my eleventh-hour liver transplant, made me dead before my time. In my mind the two are similar in having made me an outsider among my contemporaries and robbing me, in a sense, of the innocence enjoyed by most people—both the carefree-ness of youth and the ignorance of death most adults maintain right up to the end. But there is room for doubt as to whether those things affected me or if I just have that sort of personality.

Because of this feeling I have a tendency to feel irritable whenever my thoughts turn to social ills, politics, or man’s inhumanity to man—I know that most people give these things only cursory attention now and then, rather than becoming obsessed with our immature behavior as a race. Most people cling to the assumption that humans shouldn’t be any better than they ought to be—but my ‘old geezer’ perspective rants and raves at our insistence on such ingenuousness. I look ahead so persistently that I never enjoy the present—it is a maturity shared by few. And that’s the way it should be—it is foolish to take the world’s troubles on one’s shoulders, when there is little to be done about it other than fret.

‘One day at a time’ is considered great wisdom by many—to me, it smacks of the grasshopper—wasting away the present, without a thought for tomorrow’s troubles. But then, I’m no big fan of ‘surrendering to a higher power’ either. So no twelve steps for me—I get along without them, but I’m glad they work for other people.

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Monday, April 11, 2016                                          11:53 AM

Yes, I know that Monday has a bad rep amongst the working—but for those of us who are unable to work, Monday has a sweetness to it that workers could never imagine. After being disabled it took me years to get over the vestigial thrill of the weekend. Every Friday night I would get that conditioned response—relief that the weekend was finally upon us—but what followed were two more days just like all the rest, if not less enjoyable.

Stores close early on the weekends—those that open on Sunday at all—and you can’t call any place of business to work out a billing or customer service problem. The weekend roadways, should I venture out, are crowded and slow. House-bound people tend to watch a lot of TV—and weekend TV sucks. (Okay, I’ll give you “Madame Secretary” and John Oliver on Sunday night, but that’s it.)

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All weekend long it’s mostly sports on TV—I could never acquire a taste for televised sporting events—believe me, I’ve tried. Even Turner Classic Movies (TCM) deserts me—Slip Mahoney and the Gang in the morning and silent films at night. The news channels (which I dislike enough on weekdays) run ‘caught on tape’ prison documentaries instead of live reporting—which is very apropos—weekends on TV are a lot like prison. All of this makes perfect sense—the vast majority of people have lives—and those lives are busiest on the weekend—why run top programming for an empty room?

I’ve learned to love Mondays. On Monday the New York Times crossword is as easy as it’s going to get—and Jeopardy is once again on at seven—those may seem like little things, but they loom large when one’s life has few other high-points. Weekend food is usually leftovers and take-out, so the food is better on Monday, too. Everyone else is starting their week and that excitement comes through a little, even if there’s a lot of tail-dragging that goes with it. When weekends involved a lot of partying, I used to have a terrible time on Monday morning—now that I can’t have that sort of fun, enjoying Mondays is my booby-prize, I guess.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016                                          9:50 AM

There is so much music. I own so many CDs that a strong man couldn’t carry them all in one trip—stacks and stacks of them pile up as I continue re-ripping my collection to my new external hard drive—and all I can think about as I go through them is how much music is missing. My old LP collection was more complete, and I never lose that urge to buy enough CDs to equal that former glory—but that old collection was largely built up during my dad’s tenure as VP of Direct Mail at BBDO, back in the sixties. It included the Deutsche Gramophone recordings of the complete works of Beethoven (about twelve volumes of six records each) and the entire Time-Life classical music series (another pallet-full of records)—an avalanche of recordings he was given as free samples in the course of determining their mail-order ad campaigns. (We used to joke that he should talk Mercedes Benz into doing a Direct Mail campaign.)

I am one of five siblings, but neither my parents nor my siblings showed any interest in classical music back then—all the free records went to me and no one was jealous about it—in fact, I often fought over the living room hi-fi with my siblings—they much preferred Rock and R&B. I liked that music also—but I preferred variety—I wanted to listen to all music. The whole world was mesmerized by rock’n’roll back then—when I actually bought classical records  at Fox & Sutherland’s, they were going cheap—sometimes only a dollar or two, where Beatles albums were closer to ten bucks. The whole classical catalog was referred to as ‘loss-leaders’—records that were produced to enhance the reputation of the label, rather than to make a profit.

Having that in my early days, I would get huffy, later on, when some piece of classical music became popular—“Thus Spake Zarathustra” used in the soundtrack to “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Bolero” used in the movie “10”—people would say, “You’ve got to hear this!” and in my mind I was always thinking, “Yeah, right—like I’ve never heard that before, you philistine.”

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When you listen to classical music and read classic literature at thirteen, you get used to being an outsider. But there is a way in which everyone will suddenly become an expert on something that found its way out of obscurity and into the spotlight for a time—and I find myself caught between my delight that others are finally sharing in the joy I get from these obscure sources—and resentment of my private preserve being trampled by the unwashed. But it’s not all my fault—I spent most of my time feeling outside of society and to do that day after day required that I build up some pride in being different—and there’s some unavoidable bitterness when that difference gets erased in a surge of popularity.

To make matters worse, there is so much music that even my obsession has gaps in knowledge. When ‘Classical Music’ appears as a Jeopardy category, I always assume I’ll know all the answers—but oftentimes I don’t—there’s just too much to know. Plus, ‘opera’ is the most popular form of classical music—and I’ve never much cared for opera—I don’t know much about it. Well, that’s not true—but I know less about opera than an opera buff.

It makes me laugh when Music Choice’s ‘Classical Masterpieces’ channel gives out with three factoids about the composer, that cycle on the screen while the piece is played on the audio. It’s ludicrous—they could be scrolling the composer’s complete entry from Grove’s Music Dictionary—or at the very least, the Wiki entry—in the time it takes some symphonies to play. Do they suppose that would make people less likely to watch? How information-phobic are people, anyway? They’d probably tell you that the factoids are meant to pique your interest so you’ll go google the composer yourself—but that’s just lazy.

Then again, I only turn to that channel when I’m reading—still, they could actually build up a viewership of music-geeks, if they put a little effort into it—maybe not—I don’t know. They make me irritable anyway, mis-titling and mis-crediting a surprising number of audio-tracks—so I know there’s nobody home at that company that gives a damn about classical music. I guess it’s still a loss-leader.

 

Here’s a song cover and an improv from yesterday:

 

 

 

Piano   (2016Apr06)

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Wednesday, April 06, 2016                                              12:14 PM

I feel better about my piano-playing when I listen to some Erik Satie—but that’s a false equivalence—since his rebellious ‘ditties’ flew in the face of more than a century of standards and practices in Western music, whereas my plonking about comes long after Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Cage—not to mention Zappa. Still, there’s something similar there and it makes me feel better about myself and my playing. I’ve been practicing a lot of Chopin and Tchaikovsky lately—and those two are definitely not reassuring to later musicians but, rather, make one feel that music in general is far beyond mere mortals.

MORNING AND NIGHT

 

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Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Tchaikovsky—it’s weird how most of my practicing boils down to these three nowadays—I used to be all about the Baroque—especially Bach, Handel, and Telemann. I still play them on occasion but in recent years I’ve developed a fondness for that intimate personal touch so prevalent in the Romantics. I’ve also progressed to where they have become more accessible—the Romantics can be more demanding of technique.

TELEMANN

 

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I’ve been doing a lot of writing and a lot of piano-playing lately—but I haven’t had the presence of mind to include the piano recordings into the blog-posts, so this post will include several YouTube recordings I’ve neglected to share recently. Beyond that, there’s a great deal of piano-playing I won’t be sharing at all—sometimes I take a break from recording and just play—it gives me some elbow-room to take a break from being recorded. I’ve tried to learn to ignore the camera, but nothing I do seems to make me unaware of being observed—and that tightens up my playing in a way that makes playing without the camera a tremendous relief.

KLAVIERWERKE

 

I wrote a poem yesterday about Tchaikovsky—not a very good poem, but I can’t help that. Much has been made of Tchaikovsky being gay (true) and of his being pressured into committing suicide (false) so it’s difficult for me to imagine his life and times—however, it is true that in spite of his innovative compositions, his contemporaries sometimes criticized him for being too European and not Russian enough—kinda strange for the guy who wrote March Slav, huh?

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Tuesday, April 05, 2016                                          3:16 PM

 

Pyotr Ilyich

My fingers plonk the keys—some Tchaikovsky

For beginners—full of Russian folk themes—

And the poor man’s life—under the thumb of

Entitled bullies and spoiled aristos.

Tchaikovsky is so delicate—so effeminate in some phrases,

Such fairy-like, walking-on-air-ish-ness—

His music is beloved—but for such a man

To live in the cold world—the horror.

 

I love Tchaikovsky—anyone, really, destroyed

By their own delicacy—to live is to die, and no matter

How long the course, among the many ways to die

What more glorious fate?

So many of us rail against the challenges of life.

We neglect to feel life—and our accomplishments,

Even those of grandeur, are as nothing if we fail

To build something inside us.

Pyotr Ilyich will live forever.

 

-© April 5th, MMXVI  by Xper Dunn

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But evolving acceptance of gays has rendered the isolation and frustration of millions of gay people through the centuries a uselessly cruel tragedy—in a way, by channeling his struggles into his wonderful music, Tchaikovsky got more out of his social taboo than most gays of the past. That doesn’t lessen his suffering—but his legacy is a lot more than most gay people in his era were granted. I sometimes ponder the possibility that most of the fine arts were practiced by a predominance of gays—it being the only place where they could express themselves without being thrown in jail or burned at the stake. Then I remind myself that there’s plenty of misery available to the straight life, too—enough to evoke creative expression to equal the biblically damned.

TCHAIKOVSKY

 

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I also played an improv to go along with my previous post about Grandma/First Lady/Senator/Secretary/Candidate Clinton—which I belatedly include herein:

GRANDMA CLINTON

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Then there’s this business, which I couldn’t think up a title for, so I used a misspelled version of a current movie title:

SUM

And that brings me up to date with my YouTube postings. I hope you enjoy some or all of them….

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You’ve Got To Pay For The Lawyers   (2016Mar20)

Sunday, March 20, 2016                                          2:41 PM

Happy Vernal Equinox (1st day of Spring) everyone! It’s colder today than it was on Xmas, so of course they’ve forecast a little snow for the area.

I’ve been asked about copyright issues. First, let me disclaim any education, pre-law or otherwise—I don’t really know anything—I can only give what is my present understanding of how these things go. Firstly, aside from my downloadable e-CD, “Opus Eleven by XperDunn”, I don’t have anything profit-based online—my YouTube videos are downloadable and are all part of their Community-Usage pool of material, my blog is not subscription-based, and I have nothing for sale on E-Bay—I’m a non-profit user.

As I understand it, that doesn’t exempt me from copyright law, it just makes me a low-value target for the litigious—unlike successful artists, who it seems must spend a great deal of time and money fending off pretenders to their work, valid or spurious. Were anything of mine to go viral, or to show any revenue-earning potential, then I would have rich people’s problems—but don’t hold your breath.

As far as what you can post to YouTube, there aren’t any hard and fast rules—you can even post a favorite album of yours, if you go to the trouble of making a video out of it. But if you do that, and the band you posted doesn’t like it, YouTube’ll take it down. What I do is slightly different. I post covers of music—meaning I perform a piece of piano music on video and post that.

A lot of my stuff is classical or folk—and that stuff is in the Public Domain—which means it’s at least a hundred years old and no one can ‘own’ it. But I do a fair number of jazz and pop covers from songbooks—and in these cases both the original music belongs to someone else—and the piano arrangement rights belong to the publisher of whatever book I’m sight-reading. Here’s the weird part—I own the video of my own performance.

In the case of covers, YouTube will send you an email asking you to agree that the song doesn’t belong to you—but they leave the video posted online. I always include a ‘cover’ tag with any such post of mine, just so nobody can claim I was trying to pull something. When I’m not feeling lazy, I try to include the credits and copyright info for each cover-song in my description text as well. It may subsequently have a suggestion-link that uses your video to sell the original artists’ e-tracks—but even if they don’t use it as advertising, the cover post itself is free publicity. Unpopular YouTube channels like mine don’t get a lot of views—and if I post a really bad cover, even my channel subscribers don’t watch it—so it isn’t as if it hurts the composer—unless he or she listens to it.

Perhaps I hadn’t made it clear in my previous posts about copyright claim disputes—in my case, it’s all about the principle of the thing. My sole downloadable CD for sale hasn’t sold even once in two years, that I know of—and that’s pretty much what I expected. Only when an artist generates revenue does the issue of copyright become a serious legal matter—after all, you’ve got to pay for the lawyers. If you are a piano player, like me (or play any instrument, or if you sing) then you should feel free to post whatever you record—nobody is going to sue you. No one’s going to pay you either, but no one’ll sue you.

 

Enjoy your Sunday.

Old Books   (2016Mar13)

Sunday, March 13, 2016                                          3:13 AM

I used to burrow through the complete works of old authors—it was so comfortable in the worlds they created—a slower, more intimate and more gentle place than the present.

Just take a look at this:

“THE FOURTH CHAPTER

A MESSAGE FROM AFRICA

THAT Winter was a very cold one. And one night in December, when they were all sitting round the warm fire in the kitchen, and the Doctor was reading aloud to them out of books he had written himself in animal-language, the owl, Too-Too, suddenly said, “Sh! What’s that noise outside?”

They all listened; and presently they heard the sound of some one running. Then the door flew open and the monkey, Chee-Chee, ran in, badly out of breath.

“Doctor!” he cried, “I’ve just had a message from a cousin of mine in Africa. There is a terrible sickness among the monkeys out there. They are all catching it—and they are dying in hundreds. They have heard of you, and beg you to come to Africa to stop the sickness.”

“Who brought the message?” asked the Doctor, taking off his spectacles and laying down his book.

“A swallow,” said Chee-Chee. “She is outside on the rain-butt.”

“Bring her in by the fire,” said the Doctor. “She must be perished with the cold. The swallows flew South six weeks ago!”

So the swallow was brought in, all huddled and shivering; and although she was a little afraid at first, she soon got warmed up and sat on the edge of the mantelpiece and began to talk.”

– from: “The Story of Doctor Dolittle” by Hugh Lofting

Isn’t that delightful? Could you imagine a cozier scene? There were many things I didn’t care for in the Doctor Dolittle books—but I was hooked on the sense of contentment that radiated from each tale’s beginning and end—there were adventures—sure—but they were always bracketed by scenes of tea or a pipe-smoke, in an easy chair by a warm fireplace. It speaks perhaps more to my need for quiet and contentment than to any great skill of Mr Lofting as an author.

Or how about this fragment from an introduction to another great children’s book:

“This country is not Fairyland. What is it? ‘Tis the land of Fancy, and is of that pleasant kind that, when you tire of it—whisk!—you clap the leaves of this book together and ’tis gone, and you are ready for everyday life, with no harm done.

And now I lift the curtain that hangs between here and No-man’s-land. Will you come with me, sweet Reader? I thank you. Give me your hand.”

– from the introduction to: “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood” by Howard Pyle

It seemed to me that no one could read such a preface without settling more deeply into their armchair and opening their mind to the verdant clearings about olde Nottingham Wood, busy with bold yeomen, rubicund friars, and good fellows who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor.

Or try this—from the introduction to a book so bound up in chivalry and honor and nobility that even the words have straight backs and stiff upper lips:

“Then to proceed forth in this said book, the which I direct unto all noble princes, lords and ladies, gentlemen or gentlewomen, that desire to read or hear read of the noble and joyous history of the great conqueror and excellent king, King Arthur, sometime king of this noble realm, then called Britain; I, William Caxton, simple person, present this book following,”

– from Will Caxton’s preface to: “Le Morte D’Arthur” (Sir Thomas Malory’s Book of King Arthur and of his Noble Knights of the Round Table)

How happy I was to find, later on, that even the adult fare of long ago was couched in intimate, trusting honesty:

“This little work was finished in the year 1803, and intended for immediate publication. It was disposed of to a bookseller, it was even advertised, and why the business proceeded no farther, the author has never been able to learn. That any bookseller should think it worth-while to purchase what he did not think it worth-while to publish seems extraordinary. But with this, neither the author nor the public have any other concern than as some observation is necessary upon those parts of the work which thirteen years have made comparatively obsolete. The public are entreated to bear in mind that thirteen years have passed since it was finished, many more since it was begun, and that during that period, places, manners, books, and opinions have undergone considerable changes.”

– Advertisement by the Authoress, To “Northanger Abbey” [by Jane Austen]

One of my favorite features of these older writers was their complete lack of concern with the length of their sentences—or with how long they took to make a point:

“Chapter I.

Treats of a Place Where Oliver Twist was born, and of the Circumstances Attending his Birth.

Among other public buildings in a certain town which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, it boasts of one which is common to most towns, great or small, to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born, on a day and date which I need not take upon myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events, the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.”

– from:  “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens

Even in sophistication, we find cynicism and the weight of experience translated into the subtlest of sentiments:

“The Memoires of Barry Lyndon, Esq.

Chapter I. My Pedigree and Family–Undergo the Influence of the Tender Passion

Since the days of Adam, there has been hardly a mischief done in this world but a woman has been at the bottom of it. Ever since ours was a family (and that must be very NEAR Adam’s time,—so old, noble, and illustrious are the Barrys, as everybody knows) women have played a mighty part with the destinies of our race.

I presume that there is no gentleman in Europe that has not heard of the house of Barry of Barryogue, of the kingdom of Ireland, than which a more famous name is not to be found in Gwillim or D’Hozier; and though, as a man of the world, I have learned to despise heartily the claims of some PRETENDERS to high birth who have no more genealogy than the lacquey who cleans my boots, and though I laugh to utter scorn the boasting of many of my countrymen, who are all for descending from kings of Ireland, and talk of a domain no bigger than would feed a pig as if it were a principality; yet truth compels me to assert that my family was the noblest of the island, and, perhaps, of the universal world; while their possessions, now insignificant and torn from us by war, by treachery, by the loss of time, by ancestral extravagance, by adhesion to the old faith and monarch, were formerly prodigious, and embraced many counties, at a time when Ireland was vastly more prosperous than now. I would assume the Irish crown over my coat-of-arms, but that there are so many silly pretenders to that distinction who bear it and render it common.”

– from: “Barry Lyndon” By William Makepeace Thackeray

I could read this syrup all day—it often made me despair of having been born too late—into a world that has no time or patience for such graceful effusion.

And I couldn’t just pick up such books and start reading them, like a magazine or a newspaper—these books were fine wines—they had to be set up for, settled in for, and my mind had to be quiet enough for their delicate traceries to take hold of my imagination—they were too quiet to break through to a mind caught up in 20th century busyness.

However, once well started, great books became another world, so distinct and real that I would hurry through whatever obstacles stood between me and a return to those pages—and once back there, I was not easily drawn back into consciousness of the world around me. I didn’t study these works as ‘classic literature’—I didn’t attend to the structure, plot, or characterizations—I simply consumed the story, swept up in a vicarious universe. I couldn’t even remember what I’d read—not in the way of a student—they were movies that played in my mind—my involvement was total.

Well, things aren’t quite like that anymore. Like many of my former pursuits, my reading has been rendered difficult, brief, and harder to get lost in. Plus, there isn’t much left, unless I start re-reading those same books (not a terrible idea). But reading remains my favorite thing to do—I’m a bookworm, tried and true. Give me a choice between a good book and a good time in real life—and I’ll retire to find my reading glasses and a comfortable chair.

All that being said, I made two videos today—the first is a brief improv, but the second is an interesting collection of seven short works by the baroque German composer, Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), who was self-taught and became a musician against his parents’ wishes—two things I admire in any person.

 

 

Goodnight for now…

Super Leap Week   (2016Mar01)

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Tuesday, March 01, 2016                                                  5:18 PM

I know what would fix our economy—raises. Nobody’s been given a raise since the 1980s. You could double the salary of any working person today, and they’d still be underpaid if calculated by the same increases the wealthy have enjoyed these last few decades. But no—the wealthy fret about how the world would end if we had a $15/hour minimum wage. Are you kidding me? Who could live on $15/hour? And if you can’t run your business without paying a living wage—then you can’t run your business—you’re incompetent. Since when does a business plan include victimizing your employees? Well, I take that back—literally all business plans do that, and always have.

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It seems strange to me that employers make half their money short-changing their customers—and the other half from short-changing their employees. Shouldn’t we just shoo these people away? We haven’t converted to an ‘office-free’ economy—we’ve converted to a ‘security-free’ economy—at least to employees.

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And a business is not a person. Until a business can feel pain, it will never be a person—and it will never deserve the rights and considerations of a person. That’s just legal mumbo-jumbo being promulgated by the rich. Let’s shoo all them off too.

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I’m serious—terrorists at least have the decency to chop your head off and make a clean end to it—American employers want to enslave us and abuse us until the end of time—who’s really worse? Capitalism has gotten out of hand—and the only way to restore the balance is to make the streets our workplace, dismissing all CEOs, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and HR personnel. Shoo’em off, that’s what I say. Their mismanagement is going to let our infrastructure rot away and be buried beneath the waves of global warming, anyway—dismissing these entitled fops wouldn’t cause any less disruption than their continued oversight will produce. We’ll just feed them the same line they feed everyone else—‘Hey, it’s not personal—it’s just business’. It is unfortunate that wealth confers power, without conferring one whit of good judgement. It that sense, it greatly resembles violence.

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Harumph! Anyway—let’s talk about something important—how’s Hillary doing? It is Super Tuesday, and the sun’s getting low in the sky—though, if you ask me, Leap Day is pretty special—making ‘super’ Tuesday something of an anticlimax. It’s just a bunch of primaries. Still, if I imagine myself in Hillary’s shoes (and yes that does feel uncomfortable) it must be a thrilling day.

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I’ve gone from sight-reading through Chopin’s book of mazurkas to his book of nocturnes—I have hours of recordings I’ve spared my listeners—I enjoy sight-reading through good music like that—but I don’t keep to tempo—and I go back and correct myself when I flub a passage—it’s a lot more like actual reading than it is performance—it’s quite unlistenable. I just do it for myself—it’s really fun. And after I find favorites, and do them over and over, I eventually get to play them better. I used to post some of the work—nowadays I only post the finished product—when I’ve gotten it as far as I’m going to get it. But that’s a tough call—take today’s nocturnes—they’re not great, but they’re a lot better than the other four that I’m not posting.

The improvs are a poser as well. I try to make them all different and, technically speaking, they are all different. But inasmuch as they’re all ‘me’, they’re pretty much all the same, too. So I post them all, even knowing that some judicious editing would make my YouTube channel far more attractive. But when you post nearly every day, it gets to be like writing a journal—you’re too busy writing it to ever read it back to yourself. Same with this blog—sometimes I go look at a post from a year or two ago, and I think to myself, ‘Huh! Did I write that?’

Okay then.

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Music and Death   (2016Feb28)

Sunday, February 28, 2016                                               1:34 PM

I’ve just been listening to a bootleg CD, a gift from my friend, Chris, of a live concert of Peter Blegved at St. Ann’s in Brooklyn. It filled me with the sense of music being both powerful and personal—you pick your own words, you tell your own story, you make up your own tune. What could be more empowering? What could be more intimate?

I appreciate all that from a distance, though. You won’t catch me onstage in Brooklyn singing to a crowd of people (like they’d have me). There has to be a motive force to get a person onstage—I have nothing I wish to share that urgently with other people—typical of someone who’s always had trouble communicating. To me, it’s a struggle. It’s so easy to be misunderstood—and that’s when people are paying attention to begin with. All it would take is one heckler and I’d be outta there. I think of entertainment as show business, emphasis on the ‘business’—music, itself, is another thing entirely.

I guess that’s what I’m trying to say by posting thousands of piano videos on YouTube—I love music, but I’m no entertainer. I don’t really invite people to listen to my playing—more that I’m asking people to share my love for the music I’m struggling to recreate (in the case of the classical and other sheet music covers). I put the improvs out there because I don’t mind people listening to them, not because I think I’m the second coming of Tchaikovsky or something. Perhaps an illustration would help clarify—sometimes I listen to one of my better improvs and I think to myself, “Hey! That almost sounds like real music.”

It might help my self-esteem if I didn’t have such a deep appreciation of music—I’ve always been a fan of classical music, first and foremost. I like all the other kinds, but if I had to pick just one—classical. I like rag, swing, jazz, rock, blues, funk, folk, and show-tunes, too. Between the great composers and the great performers, the virtuosi and the rock-stars, Glenn Gould to Jimi Hendrix to the Bulgarian Soviet Female Vocal Choir, my mind is awash in the glory and the diversity and the ecstasy of centuries of great music. So when I plonk away on my Mason-Hamlin baby grand, it’s unlikely that I’ll get a swelled head.

Conversely, I never have to worry that I’ll run out of things to do—there’s always more music to learn, there’s always more music to invent, there’s always room for improvement in my technique—it’s an infinite hobby that offers nothing like an endgame—perfect for someone who’s feeling his years.

My illness has been serious enough to offer ample opportunities to contemplate death. I consider it unhealthy to dwell upon, but only when it remains in some distant sometime—when you hear it knocking, it’s only natural to give it some thought. Funny that my one great fear, it turns out, is the embarrassment—‘He was right in the middle of something—he actually thought he was going to keep on living—what a schmuck!’  I imagine the dirty clothes I hadn’t got around to putting in the hamper—all the loose ends that a person assumes they’ll ‘get to’ eventually. I could almost spend the rest of my life making sure I leave a neat room behind me, with no unfinished projects lying around. How sad for my family to have to tidy up after what I presumed would be the rest of my life—you know?

I don’t think anyone fears the actual dying itself—it’s the absence of the life that’s impossible to get my head around. What good’s a universe without me in it, right? At some point, I will no longer have a vote on what constitutes reality—I’ll be completely non-participating. That just doesn’t seem right—it’s eerie.

And it is unhealthy to dwell on—I’ve found that being sick enough to feel compelled to face death is a horrible curse—we’re not meant to face the infinite. Our lives are meant to be lived as if they are open-ended—admitting death’s inevitability spoils that. So I really shouldn’t even be writing about it—it’s not fair to you, dear reader. Forget I said anything.

Vigor (2016Feb12)

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Thursday, February 11, 2016                                           5:23 PM

We rely on the Brownian motion of personal relationships—we don’t acknowledge it outright, though—instead, we tend, when things are going well, to say ‘uh-oh, I just know something bad’s gonna happen’—or when things are going badly, to say ‘oh well, things will get better’. We don’t assume our lives will always get better—but we like to assume they’ll always change. And I suppose one of my biggest fears is that I would someday find myself in a situation that never changed—I can take the bad with the good, but I can’t take the nothing. That wouldn’t work for me.

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I think that’s the horror of poverty—looking at the situation and seeing no possibility that it will ever change. Even the American Dream has something of that—the pursuit of happiness doesn’t guarantee happiness, but it implies change of some kind—the possibility of it, at least—and that is why President Obama’s call for hope and change resonated so deeply for Americans—change is the American Dream. The financial inequality and the shrinking of the middle class frighten us—because they signal an end to mobility. America is becoming set in its ways—and that’s exactly what people yearn to escape when they dream of coming here. It’s the curse of ancient roots—to lose even the dream of change—and America, at a mere two centuries, is already getting as stagnant as the rest of the world.

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Americans used to travel more—we used to relocate more—we were restless—‘cruisin’ was the national pastime. Growing job markets used to attract relocated workers looking for new opportunities—now growing industries hide inside our computers—we don’t even go outside anymore—except to go to the gym. When did fresh air and new sights become the enemy? The person who figures out how to reinvigorate the millennials is going to make a revolution—and a butt-load of money. But what kind of app gets people outdoors?

I recorded a lot today—a whole bunch of Chopin mazurkas (only three made it onto YouTube) and a bunch of scraps of improvising that I threw together into one video—it isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be—it’s really kind of a nice change for me.

 

 

 

 

If I don’t post before then–have a good Valentines Day!

Happy Birthday To Me!   (2016Feb03)

Wednesday, February 03, 2016                                       10:13 AM

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I am sixty years old today. I was born in 1956. Television is only a few years older than I am—but I’m a few years older than NASA. Some of my sharpest childhood memories are of watching NASA on Television—in between Civil Rights protests, Vietnam War news-reports, the assassinations of Martin and John and Bobbie, the Flintstones, Mary Poppins, and Star Trek. Computers used to be building-sized machines—cars used to have curves—and so many things used to be ‘shocking’—I miss ‘shocking’.

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There was shocking art, shocking music, shocking language, shocking nudity (remember “Hair”?) and shocking space flights—orbiting the earth (Mercury), docking in orbit—and space-walking (Gemini), and landing on the moon (Apollo). I am not the only thing that has gotten old—‘shocking’ is showing some gray hairs as well—here in the future of wrist-computers, gay marriage, black presidents, and robots on Mars. I like it—I’m happy that we’ve matured to the point of accepting these new normalities—but I do miss ‘shocking’.

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I miss kids outside, too. That used to be where you found kids—outside playing. I’m too old for kick-the-can—but it’s sad that no one plays kick-the-can anymore. I play Candy Crush now—and, yes, I’m too old for that as well, but I enjoy it—still, it’s no kick-the-can. As a kid, I was often chided for staying indoors all day, reading books—but even then, I spent more time playing outside than the heartiest of today’s kids.

My parents took us five kids camping in the summertime—Taconic State Park was a wilderness to a kid from Bethpage, Long Island—but we also hit Maine, Pennsylvania, Virginia—hiking in the woods, building a campfire, sleeping in a tent—I’m often disappointed with myself that I didn’t do the same with my kids. Being the son of a Scout Troopmaster, I certainly had the skills—I guess it’s just one of those things where you have to grow up to appreciate it—and my kids grew up before I did.

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My dad taught me carpentry, too. I knew how to use power tools before I had a shop class—my dad had a workshop in the cellar—and I used to have a small workshop of my own—I could build furniture and fix parts of our house—but it’s a library now and most of my tools are gone. My son is familiar with basic tools, but I never taught him as much as I should have—he’s like me—more a reader than a builder.

I find myself thinking about time—the past, the present, the future—and while my head is whirling with thoughts, I have nothing to write down here—I suspect I’ve blogged for so long that I’ve already told most of my life story—and I hate to repeat myself.

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Claire has put flowers all over the house to mark the day for me—and with the rain pattering down outside the open front door it’s very spring-like for my birthday—how bizarre—I remember one early Long Island birthday party when my father had to shovel a tunnel from the front door to the street—not a path—a tunnel—to allow my party-goers into the house after a blizzard. While blizzards are not the standard, either, it is true that a February-third birthday has always been snow-covered—whether Long Island or Westchester, February’s coming is well into winter—and a lack of snow is unnatural—though these easily-chilled bones have trouble complaining about warm winters.

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I feel sorry for my contemporaries—hitting sixty has traditionally been the beginning of a slow, comfortable slide towards the sunset—but for us, it’s more like someone has hit a reset button—saying, “All that you have known is no more—and all that is new is strange to you”. Between climate change and technology change and social change I don’t know which is more disorienting. I wish I could come at all of this brave new world with a young heart and a young body—that I could face with some relish. But to have things go whirling off into the unknown, now, when I’m no longer a real part of it—that’s disheartening.

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Still, I cheer the good changes—and there have been many—the world is undoubtedly a better place than it was in 1956—all our present troubles notwithstanding. You learn that progress changes for good and for bad—the people with bad agendas and self-serving goals adapt and overcome obstacles just like the good people—computers and rockets can be used for good or ill. The fight for the soul of humanity abides—and always will—no progress can change that.

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Have you ever heard the fourth movement of Sibelius’ 2nd Symphony? It’s the greatest—I mean the whole symphony is nice, but that last movement—OMG. It’s like the Beatles—you can hear the same tune a million times, but it stays exciting and new, year after year. The difference, with classical music, is that you get something that lasts a half hour or more—instead of a four minute tune—that alone makes classical music great—to me, at least—I like something that hangs around for a while. And the conductor can alter the tempo and phrasing so much—I swear, I’ve heard Tchaikovsky’s Fifth by at least five different conductors and it’s like they’re five different pieces of music—it’s really something. Even a piano solo—look at the difference between Bach played by Wanda Landowska and Bach played by Glenn Gould—you’d swear it was a different composer.

Anyways, here’s some of my piano-playing:

 

 

Wednesday, February 03, 2016                                       10:21 PM

Surprise Party!

Okay—talk about a contrast of moods—this morning I was all contemplative—I played a thoughtful improv—I got sentimental with my blog post. I assumed I’d have a quiet day—I had asked Claire specifically not to have any party plans for my birthday—and Pete had called and said we’d get together to jam today. But as soon as we set up to record—Claire threw me a surprise birthday party—Pete was there as a decoy—to make sure I was up and dressed when people arrived, and Harlan and Sherryl came, and Marie and Evan—Claire and Spencer, of course—and Greg came along eventually. It was a lovely time—there was Swedish meatballs and mac’n’cheese and angel-food cake with strawberry icing—and I got nice presents (mostly colored socks—my specialty)—and I had a captive audience while I played the piano. Jessy called by I-phone from California—so we got to see her baby-bump and her pregnancy ‘glow’—she’s so beautiful as a mother to be—even more beautiful than usual. But maybe I’m biased. I gave the camera to Spencer and asked him to take pictures of everyone.

Groundhog Day   (2016Feb02)

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Tuesday, February 02, 2016                                             6:32 PM

I had “Groundhog Day” playing in the background for part of the day—Comedy Central ran it on a loop, in honor of the day. And for those of you following at home, Puxatawney Phil did not see his shadow this morning—which legends tells us betokens an early spring—as if global warming wasn’t threatening to bewilder the spring bulbs out of the lawn right here in early February. I have a special fondness for Groundhog Day because it has always been the day before my birthday—which I share with Horace Greeley, among others. And the eponymous film is one of my favorites because lots of people say they don’t care for science fiction—but everybody loves “Groundhog Day”, and if that’s not science fiction, nothing is.

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My CD-library-designated external hard-drive died, and today I purchased a new one-terrabyte Passport by Western Digital to replace it. I’ve started ripping my CDs to the new drive—but I have hundreds of CDs, so it’s going to take a few days. I hope I didn’t lose anything irreplaceable—but I’m not going to spend $500 to find out (that’s the average cost of a data-retrieval service to restore a broken hard-drive’s data). I’m enjoying the review of my CD collection, anyway—so I’m just going to relax and enjoy rebuilding my digital music library. I was fortunate in using my C: drive for the downloaded music files delivered by Amazon or I-Tunes—I don’t know where I’d begin to restore that part of my music collection. Do I re-order it? Do I have to pay for it twice? What’s the deal? Here’s hoping I never have to find out.

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Hillary won (just barely) and Trump lost in last night’s Iowa Caucuses, so I’m cautiously optimistic. I think people forget that Hillary Clinton would be our first woman president—and that’s aside from being the best candidate, regardless of gender. We’ve been so excited and proud, most of us, to have elected Barrack Obama—and now we have a chance for another first—but somehow, the fact that we’ve had our first non-white president takes some of the luster off of the idea of our first woman president—which is weird. I guess, emotionally, people can get too much of a good thing.

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Ms./First Lady/Senator/Secretary Clinton has done a lot of the downplaying herself—I guess she doesn’t want to make her gender the focus of her candidacy—and I can see why she’d think that—but I’m excited. Female heads of state may be rare—but guess what’s rarer? Female heads of state who commit war crimes, or get caught in corruption, or do the many bad things that male heads of state get up to when they get the chance—that’s what (or should I say who?). Not that women are always good—perhaps they get less chances to ruin the world—but that still leaves them with pretty good track records.

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Good old Bernie is a nice guy—but he’s promising the moon to college kids—and those young people have enough school-loan-debt and unemployment to make them hungry for change—even hungry enough to vote. But let’s get serious about a Socialist running in the national election—the Democratic primary is one thing, but getting the whole country behind him is altogether different. And that’s just getting him elected. Look at Bernie Sanders’ voting record in office and ask yourself how much bi-partisan support his programs are liable to generate—even an elected Bernie could never deliver on his promises unless those same people vote in progressive Democrats to the Congressional and Senate seats.

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Anyway, I continue to watch the race with interest. Now here are some videos I posted recently—I hope you like them:

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, finally, this is a post originally from my Amazon Customer Reviews:

Monday, February 01, 2016                                             3:58 PM

Book Report: “This Long Vigil” by Rhett Bruno   (2016Feb01)

This would be more properly titled ‘Short Story Report’ but I often fall into the pit of convention—and in this case I am helped along by my Kindle, which renders the purchase and consumption of all fiction into the same seamless ‘buy-with-one-click’ stream—with the exception of the length of time for which we will be beguiled by the author. In this case—blink and you’ll miss it.

I found ‘This Long Vigil’ entertaining, well-written, and engrossing—but far too short. In the case of such snippets, one is more likely to feel the resonance of what’s missing than the paucity of what’s not. In this particularly case, I was left wondering how the premise came to be—what devilish organization would decide to put humans into the situation which the protagonist of this story finds himself? A solitary life leavened only by the voice of a parental computer, but surrounded by a thousand sleeping bodies who will never wake—this story leaves a lot unexplored—particularly how someone could survive such a life without succumbing to emotional imbalance or outright insanity. The protagonist’s final option skirts the issue, but couches it as a hero’s choice—not the ultimate desperation of a tortured guinea pig.

In programming we have the ‘reality check’—we look at a program’s results and, rather than check the calculations, we’d ask ourselves ‘does the output make any sense in general?’ If the ‘number of orders shipped’ equals negative two, or twenty million—you know you have a program bug—that’s a ‘reality check’. Story’s like “This Long Vigil” can be haunting and evocative—but the lack of a ‘reality check’ in the premise always breaks my vicarious concentration. Fortunately, this story is over before you have too long to dwell on it—the doubts come after. I look forward to reading something of Rhett Bruno that is longer and less darkly-toned—and I must stop here lest my review outstrip the story.

Caregiving   (2016Jan30)

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Saturday, January 30, 2016                                               12:32 PM

Caregivers are the big growth sector in the jobs market—as the population skews toward seniors, which all developed countries’ populations do, the need for people to assist the aged, infirm, or confused mushrooms with places, buildings, groups, and the individual caregivers around which such systems form. For as the need for caregiving expands, the reaction of capitalist free-marketry is to create an ‘industry’. Suppliers of equipment, materials, and medications form one sector while organizers/suppliers of the caregivers themselves form another—and they accrue protocols and regimens that conform to existing gatekeepers, such as the FDA and the AMA—and regiment themselves in such a way as to conform with business expectations. It’s a growth industry.

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Meanwhile, for the less well-to-do, caregiving is more of a homegrown thing—people like me end up being cared for by our spouses, our parents, or (as with most seniors) our own offspring. In my case, my wife went back to school for her bachelor’s degree in computer science, went to work for Scholastic’s online encyclopedia, left to get her master’s degree in occupational therapy, and became an accredited occupational therapist—all while shepherding me through a decade of HepC, liver failure, three cycles of treatment with Interferon and Ribavirin, liver cancer, a liver transplant—and another decade of recuperation and infirmity while the HepC attacked my new liver—only to be stopped last year by the new cure for HepC.

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I was one of the lucky ones—many people I knew with HepC are long gone—but I can’t help thinking that my wife may be one of the unlucky ones—having to subsume her own drives and ambitions to account for an ailing dependent. She is looking forward to a new career in occupational therapy, one which I presume will remit commensurate with the need for a master’s degree and passing an accreditation exam—but for over twenty years she has already worked as an unpaid caregiver. The millions like her will see only a handful reach the same success—most unpaid family caregivers find themselves hobbled by the constant needs of a dependent, finding it difficult to make ends meet, much less get ahead.

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Caregiving can be, all familial sentiment aside, a form of involuntary servitude—and in this country, where we question even a mother’s need to care for her children over the demands of capitalism, we give little thought to the efforts imposed on those who care for the aged and infirm. Neither do we consider, as we are still embroiled in the debate over giving equal health care insurance to rich and poor, how caregiving takes on its double aspect—paid servants caring for the rich while indentured family members care for the poor.

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Medical-related care and technology is unnatural—the Christian Scientists recognize this—whenever we delay the natural course of a life, we enter a somewhat science-fiction-y world. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld would say—I’m no Christian Scientist, but it is fitting that the religion with ‘science’ in its name has some logical basis for its eccentricities. But caregiving really reaches into the outer limits of this question. In the case of seniors, for example, how long is it a good thing to prolong the life of someone with ever-decreasing mobility and awareness? When do we ever reach the point where life is too much a readout on a medical monitor—and too little actual living?

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I find myself questioning whether my own quality of life justifies the ongoing expense and effort—and that’s without even beginning to consider whether my needs justify my wife’s sacrifices. But of one thing there is no question—respect must be paid. When people give of themselves, whether it’s the raising of children or the caring for the old or the sick—they transcend the earthly plain of profit and survival and make of their lives an expression of humanity. We glorify those who express their creative passion, but we fail to marvel at those who express an even more transcendent quality—mercy.

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Caregiving gives us a window into capitalism—for the rich, caregiving becomes something they pay money for, in lieu of gratitude—while they overlook the importance (and expense) of the same service among the less fortunate. For the rest of us, caregiving remains a sacrifice worthy of our respect and gratitude—and sometimes, a job for which no payment is sufficient.

I had much more to say, but the gas-tank in my brain is empty for now. Here are two piano doodlings from yesterday:

 

 

 

The Sanders Surge   (2016Jan17)

Sunday, January 17, 2016                                        6:47 PM

Well, don’t expect much, because it’s been a rough few days and it is Sunday after all. I’ve been thinking about Bernie Sanders and his surge in the early states’s polls—and while that doesn’t mean a change in the overall Democratic nomination process—it does feed into my worry that I’ve been so set on Hillary Clinton for so long that I might be overlooking something in her number one rival for the Democratic nomination. However, now that I’ve taken some time to think on it—this is why I’m ‘still for Hil’:

A couple of things—first, Sanders supporters might not be taking into account that Bernie’s message, while attractive to the Democrats themselves, may fall on deaf ears in the nationwide election. Secondly, while I applaud all of Bernie’s most thrilling reforms, I question whether any person could deliver on any big, sudden financial reform—there’s a lot of headwind in that process—and while Hillary may be promising to do less, she has more chance of getting it done.

Hillary Clinton, because of Bernie’s rhetoric, is becoming the ‘bird in the hand’ candidate. You can take what she offers and be fairly certain she’ll win the election (and, as importantly, work better with a probable GOP-majority congress) or you can reach for what Bernie is offering, even though the realpolitik of his succeeding in both the election, and in working with a GOP-led congress, are less than promising.

I kind of think of Bernie Sanders as an Elizabeth Warren without the wisdom to see that such reforms will require a longer game—and greater influence—than a presidential term or two. In fact, Liz Warren, continuing her struggle in the Senate, has more chance of getting these kinds of reforms passed than a President Sanders ever would.

The chaos of the Republican campaign has caused the Democratic race to be shrunk down into a cartoon of itself, with little room in the meager coverage—between Trump sound-bites—to get the subtle nuances of why Hillary Clinton is still far and away our best bet, in spite of Bernie’s pyrotechnics in live performance (who’d a thunk it, huh?) And I admit that my fear that one of those Republican clowns could possibly ‘slip through’ is another factor in my favoring Hillary Clinton. Bernie supporters should recognize that his appeal stems from the very things that will make him beatable by a Republican—‘Socialist’ isn’t a dirty word to Democrats—but to the rest of the country? Please. Not that I have any objection to Bernie Sanders—wonderful guy—great ideas—total champion of the little people—but as presidential candidate in lieu of Hillary? No.

So, that’s my two cents on the Sanders surge.

I played some music the other day, right after several days of practicing nothing but my book of Chopin’s Mazurkas—so I’ve entitled it ‘Mazurkoid’—not because it sounds like Chopin, but because it has harmonies and rhythms I’ve never have thought of, had I not immersed myself in his genius—and I like to give credit where credit is due. All my improvising, honestly, is informed by constant practice, sight-reading through the great composers, the great song-writers, and any sheet music I can find, really—so while I don’t know where my fingers will go next, I know that their paths have been shaped by others—and all I’m adding is my personality.

 

Today I played from my Jazz Standards book—these are songs that I may have posted previously but if so I guarantee that these are better versions than I’ve ever recorded before, so I want to post my progress, if nothing else. They’re even kind of listenable, if not professional grade, renditions—so please feel free to give them a listen. I also ended with a tiny improv that I call ‘Moving On’, because it sounded so bright and sunny—like a fresh start. Wish it was longer, but I was pretty tired from all that jazz. I had just failed to play a decent rendition of Gerry Mulligan’s “Five Brothers” which was so bad it’s not on the recording—and you can hear me mumble, “I ain’t no Gerry Mulligan.” as I begin to play the improv….

 

 

 

Xper Dunn plays Piano – January 17th, 2016

Nine Jazz Standards:

Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams
Cute – by Neal Hefti
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore
Moonlight In Vermont
Imagination
Bernie’s Tune – by Bernie Miller
Let’s Get Away From It All
Fly Me To The Moon
Moonglow

Nothing To Be Afraid Of (2016Jan06)

Wednesday, January 06, 2016                                          12:41 PM

Suicides are up; random violence is rising; Europe is turning away from its march towards unity—back towards nationalism; borders are being walled off; and worst of all, stupidity is on the ascendant. I don’t think even Hillary can handle all of America’s problems—and I don’t think even America can handle all the world’s problems. Yet population continues to grow—meaning there’s less of everything for everyone. And our planet is hurting, which means we can’t use as much of it as we used to.

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We’ve been told that racism is over—but it isn’t. We’ve been told that population growth is no longer a problem—but it is. We’ve been told that capitalism is good for us—but it isn’t good for all of us. People will be what people have always been—talking a good game, but walking the walk of self-centered-ness. Problems that can be solved are not—and problems that make money for somebody are lied about—their existence denied outright.

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It looks pretty hopeless, doesn’t it? How do we solve one problem when that one problem is enmeshed with a hundred others? How do we discuss our problems when the kibitzers get all the air-time—and the words of wise men and wise women get bumped for Bieber updates? As I look over this post I see nothing but bummed-out despair in my words—but am I lying? No. Am I focusing on the bad and ignoring the good? No—the good’s ‘all good’ but it doesn’t solve the problems of the bad. Sunshine and laughter would make far better material for a post—I know that. But our problems abide.

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What do we do? I don’t know. All I know is what we shouldn’t do—we shouldn’t turn to demagogues like Trump—he’s just a 21st century Hitler waiting to happen. And we shouldn’t throw up our hands, just because there are too many problems. We should care about each other—that’s the only answer. Pass all the laws you like—if we don’t care about each other, it’s all just wasted paper.

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Trump’s recent call to register Muslims reminds me of a story I heard—about Sweden during the Nazis—when they were told to have all their Jews wear Stars of David on their clothes, the entire population put stars of David on their clothes. They found an answer to Hitler—through the simple expedient of caring about each other. And they did something else—they put their fear aside. Americans used to think of themselves as that kind of people—people that put their fear aside.

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Today America is the world’s largest producer of fear—we have become a nation of cowards. We cower before black teens, we cower before people who wear headdresses, we run to the gun store to stock up on firearms, as if our neighborhoods are different than they were last year, or the year before—fear is in fashion.

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We have to stop being afraid of our neighbors and start caring about them. And we have to act on that caring—and stop acting on our fears. People will never be sensible—it’s not in our nature. We cannot ‘formulate solutions’ to all the threats our imaginations can conjure—we have to care about each other and embrace the courage that made this country great.

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Personally, I’d prefer to take all the super-wealthy out back and shoot’em—but Iraq taught us that evil is a snake without a head—destruction without caring about what comes after just makes things worse. We are quick to listen to the shouters, the bullies, the hecklers—as if there was no wisdom in silence, no good in quiet reason, and no point in patience. We can’t help it—people are like that. But if we care about each other—and if we act on that care—we might start voting for people who care about people, too. We might start voting for people who aren’t rich or pretty—like Berny. But he’s just one guy—electing him wouldn’t do nearly as much good as emulating him. Better we should all become him than expect him to change the world all by himself.

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A phrase from T. S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday” has always stuck in my head:

“Teach us to care and not to care

Teach us to sit still.”

I think it means that we need to learn what to care about—and we have to have the courage to sit still—to not flinch at every worry that flies past our heads—and to have the patience to work things out the hard way—instead of going with ‘Hulk smash!’

So, anyway, my two improvs for today are titled “Teach Us To Care” and “To Sit Still”.

 

The camera didn’t work today, so I’ve substituted video of photos randomly selected from my hard drive–if you are a relative or friend of mine, you’re probably in the video–then I ran out of material and used illustrations from my book of Bear Poems to fill up the rest of the video. For the classical recital’s video, I used some of the great art from my library of images.

I also played from my “Classics To Moderns” piano book today—the stuff towards the end of the book. Run down to Stanton’s Sheet Music to get your own copy—there’s a whole series of easy-to-middling piano works for the amateur (like me) that are nonetheless very beautiful and satisfying to play—I’m sure with a little practice, you could play them much better yourselves in a surprisingly short time.

 

Xper Dunn plays Piano, January 6th, 2016

12 Works from ‘Classics To Moderns’ :

Romance –Reinhold Gliere (1876-1958)

Brisk Game, Novelette, & The Horseman –Dmitri Kabalevsky (1904-1987)

Chanson Sans Paroles (Op. 40, No. 2) –Jan Sibelius (1865-1957)

Prelude No. 4 (Op. 11) –Alexander Scriabine (1872-1915)

Sea Piece & To A Wild Rose –Edward MacDowell (1861-1908)

Valses Poeticos –Enrique Granados (1867-1916)

Elfin Dance, Song of the North, (‘Saebygga’) & The Cowherd’s Song (Op.17) –Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

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Piano and Rain   (2015Dec17)

Thursday, December 17, 2015                                         3:22 PM

Been playing a lot of Burton Lane Songbook lately—it suits my mood—especially the ‘Finnegan’s Rainbow’ stuff—ethereal and lost-ish. Posting what I assume will be my last Xmas Carol YouTube video this season—I’ve already done four of ‘em and one with Pete—about twenty or more songs all told—that’s enough for one Christmas. Got a decent improv out of it, too—been lucky with the improvs lately—I’m pleased with the last few.

Raining today—not very Christmas-ey while we trim our tree—a little guy this year—barely big enough for all our ornaments. Gotta lot of cardinal ornaments—they go with the clan of actual cardinals that live outside our kitchen window. Got the door open it’s so warm outside—I can hear the dripping and the splatting and the occasional shushhhh of passing cars—not too Christmas-ey, I tell ya. And what’s with all the mist and fog these days? I feel like I’m living on a Game of Thrones set….

That Christmas Thing   (2015Dec03)

Thursday, December 03, 2015                                         4:42 PM

Well, it wouldn’t be the holidays if friends didn’t get together and sing some Christmas songs—and that’s what me and Pete did today. We also managed a couple of brief improvs. It was grand and glorious.

 

 

Holiday Music (2015Dec02)

Wednesday, December 02, 2015                                               11:15 AM

It’s a long way from sheet music to video—I started this holiday season with the idea that I could video myself performing an entire book of Christmas songs and carols. I play them cover-to-cover every December, and most of the songs in the different songbooks are the same—there’s only so many traditional holiday songs that remain popular over the years. Carols and such have to be good songs, but they also have to be accessible to the untrained voice, and catchy, without being too challenging for the average kid to sing.

It’s its own genre of music—but don’t be fooled—some of these babies are just as demanding to play on the piano as your average piece of classical music—it may be for the kids, but it’s not kid-stuff to play. There are pared-down versions, of course—but it took me some years to be able to play the intermediate versions—and I don’t like to backslide.

Also, I pretty much have to sing along. It’s more difficult to sing while I play, but I know most of the words—and what’s a Christmas song without the words, after all? Anyway, the thing is—I start to record the songs—and I find that the recordings are not as good as they felt like, while I played them. So then I try again—and by playing the songs more than once, I hope to get a useable recording of each—but then the camera’s battery died just as I was getting warmed up—and an hour of playing goes unrecorded. The next day, I try again, but now my back hurts and my fingers are stumble-y.

I consider backing off, taking a day or two off from playing piano—but then I realize that if I don’t keep going, I’ll forget what I was doing (this is a common problem for me). So I keep pushing when I should be resting—suffice to say I won’t be publishing ‘recordings of entire songbooks’ on YouTube anytime soon. But I got a few done.

Sunday, November 29, 2015                                            9:55 AM

Okay, Christmas carols—Now, I’ve made no secret of my atheism so someone might reasonably ask why I’m so crazy about the holiday music. Well, firstly, I love music—and the holidays provide the only real opportunity to suggest a sing-along, outside of a boy-scout campfire, without hearing a chorus of moans in reply. Besides that, there’s also the matter of childhood memories—when I was a kid, we not only sang Christmas carols around the piano, we still went to midnight mass.

The carols are fun to sing and play, but they lose a bit of luster when you no longer ‘feel’ the lyrics the way a young, Catholic-indoctrinated boy does. Nowadays, I am comfortable enough in my atheism to allow some nostalgia for faith—to allow myself to pretend to still believe while I’m singing—and the thrill is back, to a certain small degree. For me, there’s no smidgen of cognitive dislocation involved at Christmastime—what with the irony of Santa Claus being a belief we grow out of, and Christ being a belief we’re supposed to maintain. But it is just that irony that now allows me to pretend that Christmas is what it once was—at least while I’m singing.

I would, if I could figure out how, prefer to make videos of a crowd of carolers—a video of just me, singing and playing carols, lacks something in the holiday-cheer department—but I have to work with what I have available.

Saturday, November 28, 2015                                          11:25 AM

Treacly Ever After   (2015Nov28)

Have a holly-jolly…. Oh, hello there! And welcome to the dreamy snowflake happy kids express—yes, it’s that time of year again—and if you share my sickness, you’re once again binge-watching the Hallmark Channel’s offerings of Christmas-themed TV movies—partly because it’s crack for the romantics and partly because it’s a fascinating infinite loop of wishes coming true and impossible dreams coming true and fantasy—and while that may not be, as Hallmark claims, ‘the heart of Christmas’, it is certainly the heart of good TV.

Last night was an especially rich vein of fantasy—two movies which both combined Christmas miracles with becoming a princess: “A Crown For Christmas” and “A Princess For Christmas”. It got me thinking about how royalty is an old-fashioned type of myth that no one believes in anymore—and how Santa Claus is an old-fashioned type of myth that no one believes in after grade school—and how Christianity is an old-fashioned type of myth that many people still believe in. I think it’s odd how these Hallmark Channel movies focus so much on fantasies and miracles and dreams coming true—it’s as if theism has a market value, and this holiday-centric company is willing to intermingle Christianity with other, admittedly-pretend ideas—just for the entertainment value—in spite of how it lumps Faith in with childhood imagination and wishful thinking.

It’s like they’re admitting that Christianity is more of a ‘feel-good’ idea than a fact—something we keep as a tradition more for the sake of innocents and children rather than as a core belief—it’s quite undermining, if you think about it. There are so many of their Santa-based plot-lines that end with the kids being right all along—there is a Santa Claus—and that seems a dangerous concept to mix in with Christianity, which expects followers to keep believing into adulthood. Are they trying to say that real Christians believe in Santa Claus, too—even though the grown-ups are buying their kids the presents, and know full well that if they don’t, there’ll be nothing under the tree?

Or are they saying that Christianity is just an idea—and you have to do all the work yourself? Because, I’m sorry, but that’s Humanism—atheism with a smiley face. Now, if Christianity is just a thing for the kids, like Santa Claus, and all us grown-ups are supposed to play along, both for the kids’ sake and because it’s just a nice thing—that’s cool—I can get on board with that. It’s just when some very serious grown-up, like a politician, starts talking about how we should sprinkle magic-dust on public policy—that’s what I can’t deal with. If we could keep religion at the Santa Claus level, where we only talk seriously about it when we talk to kids, but laugh about it amongst ourselves, that would be fine with me. Maybe that’s why I like the Hallmark Channel.

 

In Which The Hero Has A Narrow Escape   (2015Nov24)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015                                           8:00 PM

We got new chairs—they’re classy, made out of unpainted wood—not folding chairs, which have been our go-to chairs, mostly. It’s good to have chairs—that way you can have company—uh-oh! Company? Wait a minute….

I started to write a post today, then about three pages in, I realized I was mistaken in my facts. I had to walk away—I hate when I realize I’m wrong about something—it’s not like it happens every day (more like every other, but never mind).

But I walked away with a cigarette burning in the ashtray. I came back just now, hours later, and the smoke-eater ashtray is still on, wasting its batteries, and there’s a butt that’s gone out on the newspaper that I use for a mouse-pad, with a little burned-out circle in the paper. I almost burned my house down because I got upset about being wrong.

It’s partly the chairs’ fault—you don’t usually get a parade of new chairs coming through the front door, which I’m sitting next to. So, stunned by being wrong and confused by a shower of furniture, I walked away from a lit cigarette—but I was lucky. The house abides.

Then I misspelled “Haydn” on my video graphics, and had to go back and correct all that—it’s just my day for screwing up, I guess. Day after tomorrow is Thanksgiving—there’s a pressure (for me at least) building from the approaching holidays—opening ourselves to feelings, in the tradition of the season, makes the thought of trouble more intimidating. When things go wrong during the holidays, they don’t just go wrong—they ruin the holiday. Not that I expect things to go wrong—but bustling shoppers and stressed-out parents and heavy store traffic, all together, just need a little complication, like bad weather for example, and the whole thing becomes a nail-biter. I kinda feel like ducking, until January 2nd makes it all go away—I love January 2nd—it’s like that day you come home from vacation—the good times are over, but it’s nice to just settle in again.

Well, next blogpost, I hope to know what I’m talking about—if that was ever the case.

Are You A Robot? (or Dan Cablevision de la Mancha)   (2015Oct15)

Thursday, October 15, 2015                                             3:11 PM

Most who know me would say that to describe me as ‘quixotic’ would be putting it too kindly—I can be downright ingenuous when the situation arises—as it did today, as I read my Kindle while listening to classical music on my cable TV. Optimum cable offers Music Choice as part of its TV service—a channel for every popular music genre, displaying title and artists while it plays the audio (with silent graphic ads, of course). Classical music, being less than popular, gets only the last two channels—Classical Masterpieces and Light Classical. Don’t be fooled—the only difference is that Light Classical plays shorter pieces—they don’t really understand what ‘Light Classical’ means, technically. But the channels’ titles are not that big a deal.

What upset me was that I heard a Bach piano piece that I also play—it was familiar to me so I looked up from my book and saw “Bach- English Suite No. 1 in A – Huguette Dreyfus, Harpsichord”. This was not the first time I had seen Music Choice listing a piano performance as a harpsichord performance—while Baroque music can be played on the original harpsichord or the modern piano, they are very different performances that only a machine could confuse together—and inaccuracy makes me crazy—especially when it’s on a digital database. When a database is filled with errors, those errors last forever—it’s a mistake that will never be erased, and I don’t cotton to such rapscallity.

If Music Choice wants to spell Keisha with an ‘S’ instead of a dollar sign, that’s okay by me—but classical music is historical, and errors in historical data confuse an already difficult subject. Imagine if someone wrote a biography of George Washington that was full of inaccuracies—wouldn’t that bother you? Imagine how you’d feel if they put it on TV on an infinite loop, 24/7.

You won’t be surprised by what happened when I went on live-chat with Optimum’s customer service. But perhaps it will amuse you:

(responding)

New party (‘Tierra’) has joined the session

Tierra: Hi, my name is Tierra M and I will be assisting you today.

CHRIS DUNN: Hi Tierra

Tierra: Hi, My name is Tierra, How can I help you today?

CHRIS DUNN: Music Choice airs piano piece but titles it harpsichord piece on the Classical Masterpiece Channel – description is “Huguette Dreyfus, Harpsichord – Bach- English Suite No. 1 in A” but the performance is a piano.

CHRIS DUNN: This is not the first time I’ve seen mistakes in the listings

Tierra: I am sorry that you are having an issue and will be more than happy to assist you.

CHRIS DUNN: Who checks this stuff?

Tierra: Can we start by verifying the account info with your name/address/& phone # associated with the account please.

CHRIS DUNN: chris dunn po box 343 (914) 048-0035

Tierra: I need the complete service address please.

CHRIS DUNN: 44 jupiter drive, somer NY 10500

Tierra: Thank you, please allow me a few moments to review your account to better help you.

CHRIS DUNN: It is not me who requires help. I know that the titles on your Music Choice music are wrong—my concern is for the people that don’t know—who trust Optimum to provide accurate historical information

Tierra: I do have to follow protocol to get this addressed for you.

Tierra: Can you tell me if it’s on both boxes?

Tierra: As well as the channel number please.

CHRIS DUNN: I’m not stopping you—I’m just saying.

CHRIS DUNN: the channel number is 898

CHRIS DUNN: It’s not a problem with my box, but with your broadcast

Tierra: I understand and have to get all the information from you to be able to assist you further.

Tierra: Can you let me know if it’s happening on both boxes?

CHRIS DUNN: yes

CHRIS DUNN: it is

Tierra: Thank you, I’m going to get these boxes updated and reset if that’s okay?

CHRIS DUNN: You can reset my boxes, if that’s what you want to do. I’m a little disappointed that you don’t seem to understand what I’m saying.

Tierra: I’m sorry you think I don’t understand what your saying, I do understand you, I do have to follow protocol to be able to assist you further to getting this issue resolved.

CHRIS DUNN: Okay

Tierra: One moment while I troubleshoot this issue.

Tierra: Can you see if these boxes rebooted please?

CHRIS DUNN: The HD box is in the process—the other box is normal.

Tierra: The other box will not allow me to reset it from here, You will need to unplug the power cord for the box either by the outlet or from the box of the box. You are to leave it out for 15 seconds and then plug it back in for it to reset.

CHRIS DUNN: What now?

CHRIS DUNN: Power reset complete

Tierra: Thank you, when it say’s turn on, power it on and let me know when you get a picture.

CHRIS DUNN: Okay

Tierra: Thank you.

CHRIS DUNN: Picture

Tierra: Thank you, I will go ahead and escalate this issue over to our engineering team for them to see if they can address this issue and they will follow up with you within 24 hours. When they contact you, if they cannot reach you they will make a second attempt and leave you a voice mail. At this time, is there anything else that I can assist you with?

CHRIS DUNN:  No thank you

Tierra: It was my pleasure helping you today, Please know we are available 24/7 for you, by Live Chat, Email, Phone, as well as by Twitter and Face book. Have a great day!

Party (‘Tierra’) has left the session.

:Party (‘CHRIS DUNN’) has left the session.

Now, I wanted to say a lot more than ‘no thank you’ at this end of this farce—but I left open the possibility that this person felt trapped in her protocols and could only report my complaint if she did all her usual stuff. I believe it far more likely that she was a not-nice person who enjoys using her job to annoy anyone who contacts her, but you never know. Either way, she’s not getting a job in rocket science anytime soon.

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I’m disappointed that Optimum is smart enough to know how to make money off of their music channels, but not smart enough to identify the music they air. And by insulating themselves so completely from anyone who might ask them to correct their mistakes Optimum represents what is worst about our new digital society. To log on to my chat-session, I was asked to prove I wasn’t a robot—if only it worked both ways.

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No News Is Good News   (2015Sep29)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015                                          12:19 PM

I’m exhausted—and no wonder. The pope, the speaker, the UN, refugees, drought in California, water on Mars, a super blood moon, the new Daily Show once again precedes the Colbert show… is it just me or is the world turning twice as fast these days? Have you noticed a lot of news shows start their segments with, “Well, there’s a lot to cover tonight…”? That used to signify a ‘busy’ news day—now it’s just what they always say.

My personal life, away from the TV, isn’t quite as busy. But I did just post a big Brahms performance I’ve been working on for months—and I just found out today is my son’s 27th birthday! (I wish Claire had told me before I said to him, “Good Morning”—like it was any other day…) We had our daughter and her husband here for a visit from California last week. Claire just passed her big OT qualification test—a culmination of years of study for her OT Master’s Degree—and a sign that she will soon be job-hunting. But first she has to do jury duty in NYC—we were relieved she was only called downtown last week for Thursday morning—commuting right through the pope’s visit to ground zero—that would have been a hassle. I’ve got a road-test next week that will re-instate my driver license, if I pass it—Spencer just passed his a few weeks ago. So, okay, maybe I am busy.

As they say, it beats the alternative. I’m sitting here at my keyboard, on watch to tip the delivery man when he gets here with birthday lunch Chinese take-out. Tuesday is new movies day On Demand—Melissa McCarthy in “Spy”—so there’s even a good movie in my ‘cart’. Time to catch my breath, I think.

Patton was right—“Americans love to fight”—but I think he oversimplified it, thinking in bellicose terms. Our Revolutionary War was a declaration of our willingness to fight when we encountered unfairness. “Live Free or Die” seems overly familiar and trite to us today but it was a formula for suicide in the centuries before the Declaration—when the greatest prior advance in social justice had been the allowance that a person owned their own soul at death—“Free Doom”. Somewhat less ambitious, wouldn’t you say?

And after the revolution, when Texas was willing to enter the Union rather than submit to Spanish imperialism, we fought for them. Then the majority of Americans decided to fight against slavery—give or take a week-long Civil War historians conference on the ‘root causes’. It was unfair—and we were willing to fight over it. In both World Wars, we entered on the losing side—fighting unfairness. The internal struggles over racial equality, gender equality, and the rights of the sick, disabled, LGBT—all fights over unfairness. You show me an injustice and I’m ready to start swinging—why? Because I’m American, that’s why. I really would rather die than live in unfairness.

There are always those who don’t get the central premise—as early as Hamilton’s arguments with Jefferson over Federalist versus Republican, there were those who sought out the ‘easy win’—people who felt that leaving the mother country was simply a chance to be an England of our own, with a monarchy and all that implies. They wanted Washington to be “President for Life” and be addressed as ‘your majesty’—but Washington said ‘no’, like an American. Hence he is known as the Father of our Country not just because he fought the war, but also kept the peace as an American would and always will.

Today we have many people who don’t get the central premise—they think America’s greatness resides in its wealth and power—its shock and awe. Nonsense—childish nonsense. The unbelievable success of our country comes not from any material richness or military prowess—it comes from our ambition to fight for the truth. Yankee ingenuity has been finding new shortcuts towards a better future since the founding. Freedom of speech has made our democracy into the strongest of ties between a government and its people of any country on Earth. Open minds and open commerce have exploded into a global community of digital thinking, space exploration, genetic manipulation, super-sonic travel, and on and on.

Our greatest threat is the explosive variety of our success—the ‘easy wins’ float around like fish in a crowded barrel—the opportunities to exploit our success by working either in lieu of the American spirit (through hyper-capitalism) or in direct opposition to it (through extremist bible-thumping and xenophobic exclusion) are more numerous, and get better media coverage, than the real goals of true Americans.

The enemies of America seek to reinstate unfairness through new pathways—income inequality, religious division, jingoism, and denying the existence of intractable racial injustice—and all their arguments are based on fear and hatred, with a big dollop of laziness and greed to top it off. They make me tired—traitors in our own land. Fight the power!

FunkBros-Nice3

There—I had to get that off my chest. I always get self-righteous after watching a documentary. I just watched “Standing In the Shadows of Motown—The Funk Brothers”—about all the great studio musicians whose uncredited artistry was behind hundreds of number one hits—hits that I remember from my childhood as the ‘product’ of the lead singers and groups whose names are so familiar to us all today. A handful of men in a Chicago basement would be responsible for over a decade of a multi-million-dollar music industry, without so much as a credit on the dustjacket. That kind of unfairness burns my chaps and it always will. Why? ‘Cause I’m a ‘Murican, that’s why.

Brahms Day   (2015Sep26)

Saturday, September 26, 2015                                          12:34 PM

Finally, I’ve reached the point where I’m willing to share my progress on the Brahms Opus 117. Here are some details about this special trio of piano intermezzi I’ve pieced together (mostly from Wikipedia.org):

Johannes Brahms

Three Intermezzi

Op. 117

(first published in 1892)

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The book is originally Claire’s (she’ll still play a bit now and then—still better than me—oh, well) so you can see I had the benefit of practice notes left in her margins by the great piano teacher and performer, Muriel Brooks, who taught Claire for years—and even gave me the only ten lessons I ever had. Old Ms. Brooks is notable for the host of young Westchester piano students she helped shepherd towards musical enlightenment—most of us not so cooperative, as you may imagine. Some of Claire’s fingering is also marked in pencil which made things much easier for me.

  1. in Eb major – Andante moderato

 

“Schlaf sanft mein Kind, schlaf sanft und schön!

Mich dauert’s sehr, dich weinen sehn.”

—(Schottisch. Aus Herders Volksliedern)

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[Schlaf sanft mein Kind, schlaf sanft und schön!

Mich dauert’s sehr, dich weinen sehn.]

[(Sleep softly, my child, sleep softly and well!

It breaks my heart to see you weep.)]

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This first intermezzo, so like a lullaby, has such sonorous harmonies, such profound base lines, and so soaring and angelic a recapitulation in the finale that I find it almost too exciting to play. While this is considered a fairly simple piece to perform, as you can hear—even a single wrong note can mar the entire work.

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  1. in Bb minor – Andante non troppo e con molto espressione

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This second piece, my favorite, demands the most of what I lack—an alacrity with the keyboard—though I’ve tried many times, I can never give it the lilting simplicity it requires. This is as close as I can get, so far.

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  1. in C# minor – Andante con moto

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This last, longest, and most difficult of the three is something of a voyage—there are changes of mood, of key, and of texture—it begins with a troll-like dirge but the middle section is the most gymnastic and fragile keyboard sheet-music I’ve ever seen.

I first heard this work on an LP included in a Time-Life boxed set entitled “The Romantic Era” back in the early 1970s. Something about these three intermezzi has led me to listen to this piece again and again—I am haunted by its beauty. In some sense, each of the three is a variation on an old Scotch lullaby. In some papers there is also a tantalizing utterance of Brahms about “cradle songs of my sorrows”, which has often been associated with the set. I always found these pieces too dramatic to be lullabies, with the exception of the first, which does share tones of the famous Brahms’ Lullaby—but who am I to argue with music historians?

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And now, a note in defense of my posting these to the public:

Music belongs to us all. Sure, there are those who excel at performance or composition—and I’m the last person who’d ever disrespect their tremendous talent and skill—but again, music is for everybody. As Judy Garland once sang, “If you feel like singing, sing. (If you can’t sing good, sing soft).” And my version of ‘singing soft’ is to post my piano-playing recordings on YouTube, where other people can listen to them, ignore them, or even complain about them—and I don’t disagree with the complainers. I’m not a gifted musician—I never will be—but I’m in love with music, with the piano, with the music of the great composers.

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And aren’t we all on different levels of ability or skill in just about every endeavor? Isn’t there always someone better, or smarter, or quicker? Even if that isn’t always true, it is true for all of us except one—and that one only in one area of expertise. But we don’t sit about, waiting for only the best to do the things we are not ‘best’ at—we all do what we can, as best we can, at whatever moves us.

Classical music seems exotic to us—so we think of virtuosi as almost sacred (which in some ways they are) and exempt ourselves from attempting what they have already done, better than we ever could. I say no—I say music is for everyone. Listen to the greats—but let yourself sing as well—or play an instrument, or write a song—you have every right—in some ways, you even have a responsibility to have creativity and self-expression be a part of your life.

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When we absent ourselves from the arts we atrophy the most aspirational aspects of our personalities—we are less than we can be, when we eschew the arts—just as we are ignorant when we eschew the sciences, for lack of being ‘geniuses’. In practicing piano, I have always heeded an early piece of advice: Always work on the parts that are the most difficult for you. And I’ve broadened this to include my whole life—for those of us with slender talents, it is just as important, perhaps more so, to make an effort towards creativity; for those of us with trouble learning, it is just as important to read something new, to learn, however slowly, new things. I don’t see adulthood as an end-point, but as a higher level of development towards a better self, an advanced stage of the learning and growing that we sometimes assume is the role of schoolchildren—and ends with childhood.

Plus, I like to share my stuff with my friends and relations who love me and support my meager efforts—just because I made them. And YouTube is free. So there it is—the great Brahms Project—but understand that I hope to post a much better performance next year, or the year after that.

Years ago, I often named my improvs ‘post-Bach’, ‘post-Haydn’, etc.—because I felt that the composers whom I had just sight-read had inspired me somewhat in the improv immediately afterward. But that naming convention led to too many duplicate titles, so I began making up names instead, for mnemonic purposes. Today, however, I return to this convention, in honor of Brahms.

Pete the Conqueror   (2015Sep18)

Friday, September 18, 2015                                              1:27 AM

I was grateful yesterday to be joined once more by my good friend Pete Cianflone for an unusual recording session. In the course of our collaboration, we decided that we should retire someday to an old-folks’ home in Colorado, where weed is legal—someplace like “The Buds-Up Sunnyside Rest Home”. And thus a new super-group is born.

Pete crushes it on the Purcell “Air”—giving it the kind of renaissance aura such old music calls for—and he adds great vocals to the drumming on our Beatles song-covers. The improv isn’t half-bad either—and I take all the blame for the Rainbow Connection cover—sometimes I just like a song better than I can perform it.

I’ve been playing too much and posting too slow, so I’m adding four or so less-new videos, after the four Pete and I just made—they seem a bit pale compared to the new stuff but when I’m on my own, I have to do what I can. I hope you enjoy it all.

September 17th, 2015  –  Peter Cianflone, Bongos and Xper Dunn, Piano

Improv – Buds Up

September 17th, 2015  –  Peter Cianflone, Bongos and Xper Dunn, Piano

Henry Purcell – Air in d minor, Z. T675  (originally intended for “The Indian Queen”)

September 17th, 2015

Beatles Song Covers  –  as performed by The Buds-Up Retirement Orchestra

featuring Peter Cianflone on Bongos and Perc. and Xper Dunn at the keyboard

“What Goes On”  –  by Lennon & McCartney and Richard Starkey   (Northern Music ©1965)

“Yes It Is”  –  by Lennon & McCartney   (Northern Music ©1965)

“You Like Me Too Much”  –  by George Harrison   (Northern Music ©1965)

“Wait”  –  “You Won’t See Me”   –  “You’re Going To Lose That Girl”  –  “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”

all by Lennon & McCartney   (Northern Music ©1965)

September 17th, 2015

The Rainbow Connection  (from The Muppet Movie)

Words and Music by  Paul Williams and Kenneth L. Ascher  (Jim Henson Productions ©1979)

Song Cover performed by The Buds-Up Retirement Orchestra

featuring Peter Cianflone on Bongos and Perc. and Xper Dunn at the keyboard

Xper Dunn plays Piano  –  September 17th, 2015

I was anticipating Pete coming, so I called this:

Improv – Big Day Pre-Vue

Improv – Passionata   (2015Sep13)

Improv – Jheezum Crah’n Gollamalla   (2015Sep11)

Improv – Romanza   (2015Sep12)

J. S. Bach – Partita in e minor (2015Sep11)  –  (Only for the hard-core—this one lasts about 35 minutes!)

VOD Movie Review: “Love And Mercy”

Saturday, September 12, 2015                                                   10:47 AM

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I just watched “Love and Mercy” (Director: Bill Pohlad, 2014) a Brian Wilson biopic, starring Paul Dano as his ‘past self’ and John Cusack as his ‘future self’. It was beautifully made—not just the photography, which was stunning—but Atticus Ross’s musical collages, made for the soundtrack using samples from the Beach Boys’ oeuvre, had a way of (very appropriately) making Brian Wilson’s inner nightmare sound like a cyclone of Beach Boys tunes. And John’s sister, Joan, isn’t fooling anyone with her uncredited cameo as one of the back-up dancers in the scene that recreates the “Fun, Fun, Fun” televised performance—she’s only in the background for an instant, but there’s no mistaking that toothy grin.

The Beach Boys were a guilty pleasure of my youth—much like Anthony Edwards’ character in “Downtown” (Director: Richard Benjamin, 1990) who meets with disgust from Forest Whitaker’s character when he claims the Beach Boys as his ‘jam’. (It gave me inordinate pleasure to see Whitaker’s character’s ‘family’ become Beach Boys fans by the end of the film.) While the politics and social agendas of other song-writers’ lyrics of the time made many dismiss the Beach Boys as insubstantial party music, Brian Wilson’s musical genius shone through for people like me who cared more for the sound than the ‘meaning’.

Also, there is great yearning and loneliness in songs like “In My Room” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” that was audible to those of us who shared Wilson’s suffering under draconian parenting or his isolation from less-sensitive, less-artistic family and friends. So often, people condescend to Beach Boys music as fluff—while overlooking Wilson’s subtle but profound reflections of domestic abuse and teen angst—perhaps it takes a ‘fellow traveler’ to hear that subtext.

“Love and Mercy”, like other Beach Boys biopics, made my skin crawl with the depiction of his horrendous father—and then added an even creepier note to Wilson’s life by depicting his twisted therapist. Both nightmare scenarios resonate strongly for me—too strongly to enjoy the story, in spite of the incredible cinematic skill brought to this effort. But I gloried in the deconstruction of their classic hits as we are shown recreations of the production process Brian Wilson goes through, experimenting and fine-tuning every instrument, every beat—to create the overall sound that we find so familiar. I especially enjoyed the evolution of the passage that combined Theremin and cello within “Good Vibrations”—so hard core, yet so outside the box of ‘rock’—an ineluctable sound if there ever was one.

I also wanted to cheer when Melinda Ledbetter (played by Elizabeth Banks) throws open her office door to confront the monster therapist (played with Oscar-worthy monstrosity by Paul Giamatti)—what a moment! Though difficult for me to bear, the movie was overall a tremendous experience—a true masterwork of film in many ways—and a welcome further examination of the life behind some of the twentieth century’s finest music.

Here’s a YouTube playlist that shows my ongoing struggle to mind-meld with Brian Wilson:

Daily Doings   (2015Sep05)

Saturday, September 05, 2015                                          6:19 PM

My last few posts are not of the type I admire or enjoy—I don’t know why I post them. They feel right at the time—but in the rearview, they always seem kinda mean-spirited—as if I catch the meanness from the meanies I rail against. But time will take care of them—time makes everything seem less urgent, less dire—and it doesn’t need me to do that.

I’ve been too distracted lately to interweave my posts with anything other than my anger. Today I present a recital, warts and all—fairly representative of my usual morning’s doings. There are works by Mendelssohn, Bach, and Brahms—unedited, with all my slip-ups, and a nice little two-minute improv at the end. I would have preferred to edit the page-turns and the garbled notes—for the sake of you, dear listener—but today you get the real deal, just by way of full disclosure. I have also appended some videos which I left out of recent postings. No pressure—watch’em when you want the musical equivalent of ‘peace and quiet’ and you won’t go far wrong.

Morning Recital (Mendelssohn, Bach, Brahms)   (2015Sep05)

Improv – Delicatito   (2015Sep02)

Improv – Family Time   (2015Sep03)

Improv – Weavers Dance (2015Sep02)

You Tread On My Dreams   (2015Aug31)

Monday, August 31, 2015                                       1:54 PM

William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939) is an interesting guy. Considered one of the pillars of twentieth-century poetry, he was born in 1865—much like our twenty-first-century pop stars who were all born in the 1980s—centuries can be a weirdly illogical dividing line. Yeats’ life was a full one—he excelled early on, and it is said that he is one of the few writers who wrote their best work after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. His poetry is like walking through a dream—he really had a knack.

It always surprises me that a great artist and creator can have such subtleties of expression and nuance of feeling—yet their relations with women are always as confused and complicated as any moron’s. It’s as if women are men’s blind spot—and if you look at the present-day struggle simply to recognize women as equal, you may consider the theory proved. What is our problem?

His poem, “Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” is a strikingly beautiful bit of writing—it has been quoted in books, movies, and songs galore. One of the most famous musical-setting versions is “Yeats Songs”, for baritone & piano, by Richard Bunger Evans—I’m not crazy about ‘modern’ atonal stuff, but you may enjoy it:

Yeats Songs, for baritone & piano:

The poem also inspires its share of artwork, as well—for example:

http://lacewoodshelties.blogspot.com/2009/03/aedh-wishes-for-clothes-of-heaven.html

Here are the words:

The Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light;

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

-W. B. Yeats

Gorgeous imagery, isn’t it? But isn’t Aedh being a little passive-aggressive? Aedh is one of Yeats’ three mythic characters—the others are the Artistic one and the Rational one, but Aedh is a pale, lovelorn victim of La belle dame sans merci—a passive-aggressive take on love if there ever was one. It’s not too far off from a rapist blaming his behavior on the woman’s attractive attire—as if, when men find women attractive, it’s their fault that we suffer when they fail to reciprocate our feelings. It’s as romantic as misogyny gets.

Still, it is romantic, much like when Elton John can’t remember what color eyes a girl has but still ‘loves’ her enough to write her “Your Song” (I won’t get into the details of Bernie Taupin being the lyricist—or of John being gay, for that matter). Much of our romantic-themed media is layered with latent misogyny—perhaps indicative of the confusion men feel when women want to be equals in public but still prefer a more brutish, or brutish-seeming, mate—that this is just the flip side of men’s feelings about the same things never seems to occur to us.

And speaking of gay—I think it’s possible that our emotional problems with the LGBT community are largely based on our tendencies to separate the female from the male—and when we’re struggling to meet public standards of political correctness concerning the ‘weaker sex’, gays make it all just too confusing—like an added complication that breaks our mental backs. It’s just a theory.

Anyway, I feel like I’ve wandered too far from any one topic to ever make a coherent post out of this mess, so why don’t I just offer today’s musical ‘sermon’:

You Tread On My Dreams:

O—and here’s something even weirder from yesterday:

Insecten:

Journal Entry   (2015Aug14)

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Friday, August 14, 2015                                           2:46 PM

I like this new business of ‘clarifying’ things—walking things back, revisiting ones comments, non-apologies for things that may or may not have been said (hey, they’re on videotape). When I went to school, if you said something stupid that tail was pinned on your donkey for life—no take-backs. I guess grown-ups get to come at it two or three times (or over the course of a weekly cycle, as with Jeb’s recent multiple-choice answer to a simple question).

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This plays right into Trump’s hands, since he wants to make questionable statements—keeping the media coming back, keeping him at the top of every news-hour recap—campaigning for free, courtesy of the 24-hour infotainment cycle. God help us if he ever gets to that part of a stand-up schtick when the performer says, “But, seriously, folks…”—even a glimmer of intelligence will seem to us the wisdom of Jove.

But fuck Trump.

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I join all of you in dreading the end of summer—I could use another three months of this weather, but we’ll probably only get another three weeks. Yet, with global warming, we won’t have any snow until February. I liked it better the old way—four seasons, all distinct, all on schedule.

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Hooray! My driving test is scheduled for October. Re-licensing, here I come. It’s a two-edged sword, though—I’m pretty confident I know how to drive, but how embarrassed will I be if I flunk my driver’s test at the tender age of fifty-nine?

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The quest for Brahms-ian competency trudges on—I’m playing the Opus 117 every day—all three Intermezzos. I get better and better—I keep thinking: soon, I’ll be able to post a video of me playing the Brahms Opus 117! But it’s a moving target. Once I reach one level of familiarity, it only accentuates how poorly I’m handling the rhythm, or the dynamics, or the voicing, or the fingering, or the phrasing—there’s no end to the damned thing. I figure I’ll just keep going. This will be the first time I’ll have practiced a piece before posting a video of it, and I don’t want it to be a waste of effort—I want to sound like I can play the thing—yet that remains to be seen.

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My drawing continues to defy me—I know I can do it. Not as well as when my hands didn’t shake, but I can still get something out of it. No, the hardest part is getting myself to start. I have to find the pad and the pen and put on my glasses. (Who’d have thought you need to see what you’re drawing? You’d think you’d know, like you’d feel it or something, but no—not that easy.) Once I get going, I forget the cigarette smoldering in the ashtray—it’s always been that way—I look up a half-hour later and see this long ash that I could swear I just lit a second ago. It’s the starting that stops me.

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My poetry had a good summer—must have been four or five poems. They’re good for my drawing, too, since I have a “Graphic Poetry” blog and I get impatient, once I’ve written a decent poem, to have some artwork to make the new post with. It gets me drawing.

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So with all the recent activity, I daydream about releasing a twelfth digital album on CD Baby (See my eleventh  here). It would only be my second digital album, really. The first ten were privately burned to CD and distributed as Xmas cards to my friends and family somewhere between five and ten years ago. It’s just as well—I feel like my recent efforts are another level above my old stuff—not necessarily ‘great’, but certainly much better than my earlier recordings. Still, like the work on the Brahms, I’m inclined to wait and see just how much better I can get over the next few months or years.

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I’m also toying with the idea of printing out my poems. The beauty part about creating each poem as a graphic, like a small poster—is that I don’t need to do anything but print them out on good presentation paper with a fresh ink cartridge and a ‘highest quality’ print setting. I could even print them on both sides of the heavy paper, just like a real book. But while I’ve always meant to learn some DIY binding craft, I never got around to it—so I’d still be stuck with a loose pile of papers. I don’t know, just junk I think about…

Here’s today’s improv:

Stewart’s Impending Sign-Off   (2015Jul02)

Wednesday, July 01, 2015                                                11:59 PM

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Wow, I guess I’m a creature of habit—the time-stamp is just one minute off of last night’s time-stamp. But that figures—lately, all work stops for me at 11 PM. I don’t want to miss any of Jon Stewart’s final Daily Show hostings. He’s off in august and that’s like five minutes from now in old-guy time. I’ve enjoyed the political satire of the Daily Show since Craig Kilbourn, i.e. since day one—‘fake news’ was an idea whose time had come, and Claire and I loved to watch it.

But Jon Stewart made it more than just a joke–he turned it into a public service. For seventeen years he’s made us laugh while informing—and while castigating those who deserved it. I’m going to feel a little lost without Jon Stewart saying all the things we all wish we could say to power and to pretense. The foibles and evasions of today’s corporate and political powerbrokers are bad enough—why should they escape without even having to pay the minimal price of public exposure to well-deserved ridicule? I hope Stewart’s replacement is up to filling those shoes.

Yet I have been wondering of late whether Jon Stewart isn’t too much of a good thing. His prey has adapted to the constant lampooning—and worse, we the audience have perhaps taken a Daily Show ‘public flogging’ as sufficient response to politicians who we’d be better off voting against than laughing at.

But that’s the Catch-22 of the Daily Show. It’s the only news program that doesn’t cater to the egos and the agendas of its subjects—making it the straightest-talking infotainment in the whole news line-up. You really can’t not watch it. Fortunately, one of Stewart’s old ‘correspondents’, John Oliver, with Last Week Tonight on HBO, has refined the format’s technique to the point of activism—many of John Oliver’s hashtag-coaxing broadcasts have been followed by headlines the next day—displaying the power of combining Oliver’s immense influence and the might of the Internet.

I’m not really too worried about what comes after the Jon Stewart era. Ever since Will Rogers, Americans have had an appetite for an acidic but humorous observer of the human condition as it manifests itself in current events and personalities. That’s now a vacuum that will always be filled by someone somehow. But Jon Stewart has set the bar pretty darn high.

Now, as for today’s improv video—today was one of those lazy days where I left in some sight-reading without identifying the pieces properly. Some days I just can’t be bothered. But I’ll tell you now, so you’ll know: in the middle of the improv, I play a piano transcription of the aria “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” from ‘Messiah’ by G. F. Handel. After the improv ends, I play two more pieces: the “Evening Prayer” theme from Englebert Humperdinck’s opera ‘Hansel and Gretel’ –and- the “Largo” from G. F. Handel’s opera ‘Xerxes’. I won’t win any prizes for the sight-reading, but it’s not completely terrible. And the improv came out real nice, I thought. Tell me what you think.

Yesterday’s I-Phone   (2015May25)

Monday, May 25, 2015                                            2:56 PM

The rise of the digital age has many markers: the first PCs, the first off-the-shelf software suites, LANs, the Internet—but nothing singled out such a tectonic shift in society as the I-Phone. Hell, it even started a revolution in Egypt, not to mention the slew of new businesses, of whole new industries, it spawned.

In many ways, we can draw parallels in the rise of the Electric Age—it started with light-bulbs, phonographs, silent films, electromagnets, and dynamos—but nothing pulled the populace into the new age like the radio. Today, we view the radio as archaic and primitive. But it was really the first time that we used our burgeoning understanding of physics in a way which affected the whole population.

But what is radio? Pierre Gassendi proposed a theory of light as particles in the 1660s. Newton agreed with him. Robert Hooke proposed a “pulse theory” of light as waves in 1665. The argument over whether light was made of particles or waves would continue until the mid-19th century.

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In 1845, Michael Faraday discovered that light was related to electromagnetism. James Clerk Maxwell’s studies of electromagnetic radiation and light helped him conclude that light was a form of electromagnetic radiation and in 1873 he published A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism. Heinrich Hertz confirmed Maxwell’s theory by generating and detecting radio waves that behaved exactly like visible light, with properties like reflection, refraction, diffraction, and interference. Maxwell’s theory and Hertz’s experiments led directly to the development of modern radio.

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Marconi

Marconi’s Law, concerning the relation between the transmission distance and the square of the height of an antenna, was tested in experiments made on Salisbury Plain in 1897. Guglielmo Marconi did pioneering work on long-distance radio transmission. His development of Marconi’s law and a radio telegraph system has him credited as the ‘inventor of radio’. He shared the 1909 Nobe