Brahms, Dvorak, Mahler, the Byrds and Buddhas

Kurt Nemes engrossing story contains an eclectic playlist–a must read….

Kurt Nemes' Classical Music Almanac

There is a Theosophist saying (sometimes attributed to Buddha) that goes, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” The origin of the word Buddha means “to wake up” and people think of the Buddha as a great teacher. And what is a great teacher but someone who wakes you up? Why this is important to me is because, whenever I most needed it, a person has appeared in my life to either teach me or point me in the right direction. There have been three outstanding Buddha’s in my life.

In my junior year of high school, I became good friends with a classmate whose family was completely different from my own. They all listened to classical music, read The New Yorker, discussed classic works of literature, and studied languages. That’s where I first heard this Brahms trio:

They opened up a whole other world for me. I felt so uncultured…

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Never Mind, Donald—We Got This (2015Sep10)

Thursday, September 10, 2015                                        7:58 PM

This is what it comes to? Big numbers of folks so bitter, angry, and disillusioned that they’ll get behind our new reality-star ‘Mick Mussolini’ and the rest of us scared shitless of the possibility that ginger clown might have an actual shot at the White House. If you’re like me, your first thought was, “Hey—if the standards are that low—hell—I’ll be president. Better my incompetent ass than that citified red-neck from the bowels of Wall Street.”

I thought the domesticated Republicans were bad enough—dense enough to require remedial classes in just about everything and stubborn enough to keep pushing—let the whole country go to hell if they can’t have their stupid, thoughtless, selfish way. After decades of their favorite oxymoron, ‘Reagan-Think’, they’ve created a constituency of hate-zombies—people who can’t live with the idea of having to respect their wives, their daughters, non-whites, foreigners, foreign countries, or science. And Trump has out-stupided all of them so well that he’s stolen their troop of dunces right out from under them.

They’ve become so treasonously politics-first that they’d prefer their criminally stupid tycoon to a seasoned, capable political leader—just because all the candidates in that category happen to be Democrats. So they’ve gone from their first instinct—to ditch the jackass—to their fallback—embrace him as their only hope of dislodging the Democrats from the Executive.

They’re busily railing against the Iran Nuclear Agreement, just as they railed against Affordable Health Care, not because they have an alternative, but just because they don’t want the Dems to post a win—they should all be shot for treason. And they’ve ginned up this execrable attack on Planned Parenthood because they can pretend Planned Parenthood is code for ‘abortion clinic’—when in fact it primarily supplies important women’s health services—and those fuckers know that. But will that keep them from shutting down the government at the end of the month, trying to kill funding for women’s health? Stay tuned—or better yet, like I said, line’em all up against a wall and shoot’em.

Give me a billion dollars and a helicopter and I’ll show you a hundred better ways to use it than to make a joke out of our country. We don’t need to make America great ‘again’—it started out great, it has exhibited greatness over and over again, and it remains the greatest country on the face of the earth. If the Donald wasn’t such an ignorant asshole, he would know that.

Happy Anniversary To Us (2015Aug29)

Saturday, August 29, 2015                                                12:27 PM

Claire and I have been married thirty-five years today. And as the world has changed quite a bit since August, 1980, so have we—but some things stay the same—I still feel incredibly lucky, Claire still puts up with me, and we are still both happy as clams when we know that our two kids are both fine and dandy. I feel a little guilty, however, since there is only one Bear—and the rest of male-kind has to make do with less-perfect mates—sorry, fellas.

Today’s first video is “Xper Dunn plays Harpsichord on August 29th, 2015 – J. S. Bach’s keyboard transcription of Antonio Vivaldi’s ‘Concerto in D Major’”. As you will hear, it takes me a minute to get me sea legs underneath me in the first movement. The second movement (the slow one, of course) is where I make the least mistakes. And in the third movement, you can hear the computer suddenly make a weird tone, apropos of nothing, which distracts me—while you can also see that I am tiring by this point—just as I’m supposed to be making the last movement all jig-gy and jocular. So, a pretty terrible rendition of one of my favorite pieces of music.

Why, you quite sensibly ask, would I post such a horrible excuse for a performance of a piece I love so much? Well, it’s not about me, really. I learned to love this piece by listening to it over and over again, incessantly, on an LP re-recording of a wax-cylinder master-recording of Wanda Landowska. Wanda Landowska was a legendary harpsichordist and a great proponent of Bach’s enduring legacy to musicians and to music lovers. Even on a scratchy, antique recording, she makes this Bach/Vivaldi piece sound like heaven itself—pure, sweet, perfect, simple. I highly recommend giving it a listen, either before, or in place of, my own awkward attempt:

Back to me—I first came across the sheet music in a library book which I Xeroxed and created my own copy of—years later I would buy a printed copy, which is much easier to sight-read. It tickled me, over the years, to simulate small moments of the beautiful sounds I heard Wanda make—even though I would practice it for years on a piano until I acquired the Yamaha Digital Piano P-95, with the harpsichord setting, that allowed me to make today’s recording. And, as bad as it is, this is by far the best performance I’ve ever made of the Concerto in D—or ever will make, most likely. And when I play this piece, I don’t hear myself making a hash of it—I hear Wanda making it sound like heaven. That’s the trouble with most of my music—I hear what I want to hear, and you poor suckers are stuck with what I actually sound like:

Then again, you’re not going to hear anything like today’s improv anywhere else on the web—at least, I haven’t found it. This leads me to a couple of alternatives—one, the most likely, that I’m a wanna-be New Age musician trying (and failing) to sound like Keith Jarrett or George Winston—while completely overlooking the fact that New Age is no longer new. Or two, that I have succeeded, against all odds, in finding a style that is all my own—which incorporates my failings and what few strengths I may have into a form of music like no other. That would be nice—though it still avoids the question of whether I’m worth listening to.

The Yamaha P-95 once again comes into play today, in that I find touching a ‘piano key’ and hearing weird electronic noises is very refreshing and inspiring to someone who has spent forty years playing an acoustic piano, where a key gives a tone, the same tone, timbre, and texture, always and forever. So, today we hear my usual guff, but rendered into something new by the simple use of a few ‘effects’ buttons—I almost like myself in this:

My mother-in-law dropped off some great blondie brownies—and later I’ve been promised Chinese take-out for dinner (my favorite). I hope you all are having as nice a day as I am.

Sadness, Then a Big Day (2015Aug06)

Thursday, August 06, 2015                                               10:27 AM

The night before last we had some terrible news—Jessy’s wonderful dog, Tuesday, passed away post-surgery in San Jose, CA, apparently from a reaction to the anesthesia. Tuesday was the best dog ever and she had a full life, but she will be sorely missed. There is much sorrow here and in California.

On a happier note, I had a big day yesterday. In pursuit of my driver’s license I took my fresh-minted learner’s permit to the five-hour mandatory course last night. For those of you like me who got their first license in the seventies, the process used to be (1) learner’s permit, and (2) driving test. Now they have this middle step—a five-hour driving course with a certificate that must be surrendered at the time of the driving test. The hardest part is spending five hours in a chair—my ass is killing me—but I have a certificate now.

Meantime, I was running the Windows 10 upgrade on my home PC. It ran all day without doing anything. I thought it was no good. Then I remembered to turn off my anti-virus protection software, and the upgrade ran fine. I’ve spent the morning today getting used to the changes—but it will take awhile, as always, before I settle in to the new protocols. So far, however, I’ve been spared the inconvenience of having to upgrade all my other software and hardware-drivers, which is new—and much appreciated.

There’s a new feature to Windows 10, the One Drive—a ‘cloud’-like storage that allows ‘anywhere’ access to personal files—I’d be thrilled if I had an I-pad or other remote device—or if I ever left the house.

As for today I think I’ll just take it easy. I’m not used to days as busy as yesterday was. I can take one of them, but not a bunch in a row, like a normal person—I still have a ways to go before I reach that level of re-engagement with life. But I do have the latest OS on my PC, and I’m that much closer to regaining the driver’s license I let lapse during my long illness—and that’s a pretty big deal from where I’m standing. Who knows—I may get a job someday soon if things keep on this way—or, at least, I’ll be able to drive myself to a job interview.

A Day at London’s Natural History Museum

More from sci-fi writer and Kenyon College microbiology professor, Joan Slonczewski:


1_NHMThe most amazing experience I had in London was visiting the Natural History Museum. Built in 1881–just a few years after Darwin’s Origin of Species–this extraordinary building (by Alfred Waterhouse) intended to represent a “cathedral of nature.” The columns of this ornate building purposely differ in style, representing the diversity of natural life. Animals of all different species perch upon the windows.


The animals exhibit “natural” behaviors–the lion (above, center) is entwined by a python. Inside the vast edifice (below) amid zig-zagging stairs out of Hogwarts, monkeys climb the arch.


Above all the exhibits and thousands of visitors, the cathedral ceiling represents the most important of life forms: all different kinds of plants.


Darwin gets his statue, which visitors crowd to share his photograph.


Darwin also gives his name to the Darwin Centre, the super modern laboratory (2009) next door. This laboratory actually faces the visitors’ gallery, where the public can…

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