Well, latest talk from out West says the baby has just begun crawling, and she’s eating solid food (though why they call it ‘solid’ when it’s fruit from a blender is beyond me)—I feel like she’s going to grow up and I’m going to miss the whole thing. No fair!
But they are all well and happy, so that’s okay. And things are good here, too. The music-video inbox is slowly draining back down to ‘manageable’—and the improvs are as good as can be hoped for, given the performer. Bear found a beautiful print the other day—an Edward Steichen Flatiron Building poster with a statue of a man in a top hat—very pretty, with lots of blues in it.
We don’t obsess over the news, so once we’ve been bowled over slightly by the morning’s madness in the New York Times, we pretty much let it go for the rest of the day. Bear does the Sudoku and I do the Crossword—I check the TV listings to confirm there’s nothing good on TV again tonight, and we’re done. Then we have the rest of the day to ourselves.
I had the greatest lunch today—roast sausages, and a mac and cheese that (I don’t know how Bear does it) tasted like eating Fondue, but without all the fuss and equipment—sometimes Bear’s culinary magic blows my mind. I’m not too crazy about my recent reads—decent books, I suppose, but nothing I want to crow about—something of a let-down from the books I was reading last week (see reviews above).
Has anyone else noticed? When I drink Irish Breakfast Tea for awhile, Earl Grey tastes like the fanciest tea ever, but after drinking Earl Grey for awhile, Irish Breakfast Tea tastes exciting again. Weird, huh? And after both of them, a little Darjeeling, or even some plain Lipton, suddenly has more taste than I remembered. Same with coffee—even a great Mocha—after awhile, I enjoy switching to African or Arabic.
Well, you can tell I’m just blabbing away—had to have some kind of text to go with today’s videos—hope you enjoy them.
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.
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.
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.
Wow—even I’m tired of me—I can’t imagine how fed up you must be, dear reader. But it’s the weekend now, so I’m going to do my best not to say anything until Monday, maybe even Wednesday—who knows?
Our granddaughter has a wonderful new toy in her crib—a small keyboard that she can play with her tootsies. Punkin sent me a video of it, so I’ve made a new video of the two of us playing together. Enjoy. (I’m the one in the green shirt.)
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:
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.
La-dee-da…. I don’t care. Let it all swirl around me. I usually feel obligated to pay attention, to try to sort the wheat from the chaff. But it all roils on, with or without me—I could live the rest of my life without a glance at the world and no one would ever notice. I could stop watching TV or going online, wait until November, vote for Hillary—and the result would be the same as if I had obsessed over all the political reporting, day and night, leading up to election day.
Those of you with the health and strength can rush down to campaign headquarters and volunteer to get out the vote—you may even decide that you’ve found in Politics a lifetime career—you can make a difference. I am unable to do so—but that’s okay—like I said, my lack of involvement frees me from worrying about my level of engagement.
We live in a media-centric culture. It is a mirror that we hold up to ourselves—and so our lives are judged not just on what’s happening, but whether we find ourselves entertained. It’s a lot to ask of ourselves—as if the whole family-of-man was driving its car down the interstate, admiring itself in the rearview mirror, trying to keep one eye on the traffic and the road signs. We must pay attention—but there are some things that don’t require our attention—they get in the way of the stuff we must keep watching for—dangers, opportunities, and responsibilities.
Not that we don’t need entertainment—I’m not saying that. Ever since fireside storytellers lit the imaginations of their tribe to mark the end of the day, people have hungered for entertainment. It is a part of who we are—just as much as eating or sleeping. In modern America, we’ve found that an overabundance of tempting foods can transform nutrition into a health threat. By the same token, it seems that we have the ability to over-indulge in entertainment to the detriment of our mental health. Sensationalism leads us on, to shorter attention-spans, lack of exercise, sleep deprivation, and carpal-tunnel syndrome.
As a bookworm, I was an early-adopter of today’s media overload. Long before it was popular to spend the entire day staring at a rectangle in your hand, I was reading a book during every free second of my time. Even back then, I found that reading books (a supposedly relaxing activity) could become a binge activity. I’d reach a point where the eye strain, stiff neck muscles, and headaches made it necessary to stop awhile—even at three in the morning, with only one chapter left to find out the ending.
I got a lot out of those books—I learned a lot and I was exposed to new concepts and perspectives that broadened my understanding. But I also missed out on a lot of other things—the kinds of things other people did—which narrowed my understanding. It’s that whole ‘balance’ thing—it always bites us in the tush. And when it comes to the popularity and ubiquity of the I-phone, balance goes completely out the window.
People in olden times often resisted having a phone put into their home—if they wanted to talk to someone, they would go and see them. Nowadays, landline home-phones are only remarkable in that younger people have begun to feel landlines are superfluous. And, as in those days, we have many people today who don’t wish to ‘be online’—if they want to talk to somebody, they’ll call them on the phone. But like the people before, their children are using texts and Twitter and Skype, et. al., to keep in touch—so they are forced to adopt the new tech, if only to talk to their kids.
But what if you’re among the millions of people without the money for gadgets, without access to the internet, perhaps without even literacy? We are creating a divide between the digitally-enabled and the dark-zoners—and these two groups live in worlds that the other cannot comprehend, much less share.
We are approaching a point where digital illiteracy and lack of access will become more disabling than a lack of money. It is a new form of what film-director Godfrey Reggio called ‘Koyaanisqatsi‘ or ‘life out of balance’. Only, in this case, it is specifically Humanity that is putting itself out of balance.
Prototypical ‘wild’ humans evolved to live a life of constant struggle and frequent deprivation. We have built civilizations that free us from such rigors—but being free of the necessity of fleeing from predators, free of hunting, gathering, and finding water and shelter—that doesn’t change the way we evolved.
We still need to exert ourselves. We still need to balance food with activity. We still need to bond, to form social groups, and to share stories. We still need to keep these animal bodies of ours balanced on the tightrope of biological function. Any extreme unbalance of exertion, food, leisure, entertainment, or self-regard causes problems—as lack of balance always will.
So, in the end, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with eating McDonalds or playing Black Ops or Tweeting—the danger lies in imbalance, in overdoing any one thing to the exclusion of a diversity of activities. Just as a conversation must include both talking and listening, our lives must balance our pleasures with our requirements. We take our bodies for granted—but we ought to stop using them occasionally, just long enough to listen to them and give them what they need. But I should talk—I collect unhealthy habits like they were baseball cards.
Okay, videos for today—one new one, and one from a week ago that I’ve put off posting.
What a day—what a beautiful day. Lorraine Gengo and Joanna Binkley came by today, bought me lunch, and we sat and talked about cabbages and kings, just like the old days. All the high school years I spent chasing them around like deer—and just as hard to keep up with. And now they invite themselves over. Wonders never cease.
Of course, it’s a sad occasion—we were all good friends with Cris, and Cary still. He was a very striking personality and we all feel his passing. Still we talked of other things, too—catching up on forty years is both plenty to talk about, and nothing to talk about, but we made do.
I usually spend the day trying not to wear myself out but today I don’t mind being exhausted—I don’t get out much. Seeing people from the olden times really lifts my spirits. I’m kicking myself now, that I hadn’t the presence of mind to take a picture! And me making a movie every damn day…
Seneca’s latest video came out adorable, just like they all do. She’s got two outfits in the new pictures—one says, “Dad and I Agree—Mom is the Boss” (a nice fantasy—everyone knows the baby is the boss) and the other has a whale on it. The teddy-bear looks like a permanent fixture—it’s so cute the way little’uns have ‘sidekick’ dolls or toys or blankets that cannot leave their sides.
I’m happy also to note that my granddaughter continues the family tradition (well, my tradition—Bear is a normal person) of wearing mis-matched socks. I think it adds a certain panache, don’t you?
Pete’s coming! New videos from the Buds-Up Consort coming soon—watch this space….
I finally got in a file-folder from Bear, containing over 100 Photos of Seneca showing off his daughter, Seneca, at his Restaurant—he appears to dance about the place, introducing the Princess to all his co-workers. It’s beautiful—so I made a video of it. I can’t speak for the piano music—my fingers were a bit tired from photo-shopping all those pics—but I think it will do.
The photo sequence repeats once, because I only show each picture for 0.75 secs. That left me with a-minute-and-a-half for the whole sequence, but the music is three minutes. It’s driving me crazy to be in New York while my baby granddaughter is growing up in California—it’s just so wrong. They’re going to visit at Christmas time, so I’m very impatient for the holidays. Meanwhile, I have to settle for photos. Arggh!
Well, anyway, that was a full day’s work—and I think it came out okay—but I think I’ll use these pictures again, more slowly, on my next video. I like the way this one suggests movement, but it’s a little frenetic. I’d like to see the pictures come more slowly. Next time.
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:
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.
Why do I always do this? I post a blog-entry about my rage over politics, full of invective and damnation—then, later in the same day, I post another blog-entry swimming in sweetness and light—usually to go along with my new granddaughter’s latest photo-shoot, hopefully with accompanying piano video using said photos. It’s ridiculous—no one who wants to read one could possibly want to read the other. What am I doing?
Truth is, I’m just being myself. I try not to get worked up about the election, but then I watch CNN or whatever, get a whole new bee in my bonnet, and I’m off to the races. I’d much rather spend the day doing what I did this afternoon.
Bear and Punkin have been emailing me regular albums of virtually daily baby pictures. Today’s batch of eleven photos inspired me to create a new frame for the photos in my video. I work in photo-shop (the Corel version) with screen grabs of medieval illuminated page borders and fancy capital letters (which I used to create a monogram-inset for the royal princess’ picture-frames), going to extra pains to ensure that each photo is the same size and in the same position. Otherwise the video doesn’t flow as well.
Our old friend, Chris Farrell, came by to tune the baby grand today. I waited until his visit before I played today’s piano improvisation. I hope you’ll notice the clarity of pitch—it should stand out, compared to the ‘sour’ recordings I’ve been making these past few weeks. I have to watch that, because frankly my ear isn’t good enough to notice, but I know musicians who actually suffer, hearing an instrument played out of tune. Today’s video does not have that problem. As they say, all mistakes are mine alone…
This is one cute baby. I have trouble sometimes finding inspiration to record my 2,000th improv (actually, my YouTube-uploads total is more like 1,976). However, knowing that I need an audio track for my baby-pictures videos makes it seem easy—but then again, I don’t try as hard—I just try to play something a baby might like. Today’s piece ends with a lullaby of sorts, hence the title.
Bear tells me that Lil Sen watched my previous video on YouTube—out in California—and seemed to think it was okay. Talk about inspiration. I’ll be playing piano improvs until further notice, no problem. Bear returns this Thursday—poor Bear, I’m sure she’ll be sorry to say goodbye (just for now) to our little sweety-pie. Though I’d better come up with a different nickname—I doubt Jessy wants to be called our ‘old sweety-pie’! But it’s bound to be confusing when your baby girl has a baby girl. I’ll work on it.
The summer night is soft and cooling, but noisy—what with all the crickets calling through the screen door. It’s peak summer—quiet as a tomb. If you had somewhere to go, you’re already there. Me, I like to stay home usually. Spencer’s kind of the same way. It’s a Sunday night—it doesn’t come any quieter, if you don’t count the crickets.
I don’t watch the Olympics—not alone, anyway. I’ll linger on an event in the midst of channel-surfing, but that’s about it. And no programmer in their right mind would air anything good while the whole world’s on vacation and the Olympics are on. So the usual tired offerings on Sunday night are exhausted on a Sunday night like this.
I made some videos—one of them uses the pictures Bear took, out the window of her airplane as she flew to California. The other is the first request I’ve had in a dog’s age—someone asked me for a melancholy tune—so I’ve done my best to be absolutely drippy in that one.
I’m trying to make chicken noodle soup and blog at the same time—I’m likely to burn up a pot and go hungry. Wait a second—I’ll go check on it…. Still a minute on the timer. Oh no, another thing I forgot—Roadies is on—I’ll be back.
Sunday, August 07, 2016 11:36 PM
Here I was complaining about nothing being on TV, and I remembered that I like to watch Roadies, and then John Oliver, on Sunday nights. Man, TV goes by fast when you’re watching good stuff without commercials! It’s so rare on regular TV—I can see why people switch to binge-watching whole series seasons online. It’s much more satisfying—and if you don’t like it that much, you can just move on. I have a few Netflix series that I started and got tired of—I told myself for a while that I’d get back to them but as time passed I realized that wasn’t going to happen. But I’ve watched some really good stuff on Netflix, every season, all the way through—like Stranger Things, or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt —bingeing is great!
So now I’ve got one last improv to post before I call it a day.
Monday, August 08, 2016 12:27 AM
I got my bowl of Liptons, in case you wondered—there’s a timer app on Windows 10—good thing, too, because I never heard the kitchen timer go off. Imagine—I can cook and PC at the same time now—hmm… This opens up all kinds of possibilities.
See, I used to multi-task—like a normal person. But I have no short-term memory—or I have advanced absent-minded-ness (I was always absent-minded). Anyhow, I go for a long time without looking up from the keyboard—but with a timer?—oh, man.
I think our trip to the store yesterday helped ‘wake me up’ a little. I can do things—but then I get tired or I muck it up. So I get to a point where I stop doing stuff. But I should really make more of an effort to go outside and move around a little, every other day at least. I’m only mostly useless—I have to remind myself I’m not entirely useless. Not entirely. Not yet.
Okay, enough, the video is uploaded and it’s late—more later. Good night all.
Okay, enough politics—what do I know, anyway—other people are already saying anything I have to say—people who get paid for it. I’ve been so swept up by the spirit of the Democratic National Convention—it was thrilling. But patriotism is something only idle people have a lot of time for—most people have stuff to do. So—time to stop obsessing over the TV and C-SPAN, and go back to reading books and watching movies and talking about myself. I know I’m not interesting, but I am interesting to me—and I like to write—or I should say type—I actually hate to write. If I had to do this with a pen and paper—I wouldn’t bother. But in an age of digital records, there is no saving of effort or of paper—there’s just ‘original content’.
Original Content means something you wrote yourself—without reference to Star Wars or Orange Is The New Black—something no other reasonable person would want to sue you for stealing. Be warned—if you do write something profitable, unreasonable people will come out of the ‘word-work’ to lay claim to it. But most writing has little value—so as long as you know you wrote it, you shouldn’t worry. If you’re serious about money—apply for a copyright. It’s easy—it doesn’t cost much (if you really expect to make money)—and it’s the first thing any serious professional writer does.
Original Content also applies to photos, artwork, music, and especially video. If you generate original content, which then generates a lot of clicks—you’re supposed to get paid for that. But mostly that stuff is generated in-house, so it’s not like you can just shop stuff around—although that might be a possibility, I suppose—but you’d have to go meet people. You can’t do business online—not all business, and especially closing a deal. When the Internet was young, sharing stuff was a big deal—now everyone wants to make a buck online—it’s no easier than most office jobs, unless you get a lucky break.
But I’m retired. I generate writing, artwork, and music and I just post it online. I don’t want someone else to use it without my permission—but I have no plans for a cyber-empire. I just want to be a part of it. I can’t do what young people do—posting photos of my junk, making dates on the dating app (damn, what is it? I wanna say ‘Rascal’ or ‘Heartify’…), or multi-player gaming—which I assume is tough on ‘grandpas’ like myself, especially if your hands shake. Most of the new online stuff is ‘young people only’—they don’t say that, but old people who try to fit in ‘with the kids’ are just as creepy online as they are in person. So I do ‘grandpa’ stuff and I post it. I post my piano-playing on YouTube. I post my essays on WordPress. I keep in touch with friends and relations on Facebook. I posted my old drawings on Pinterest, but I rarely have cause to add anything new.
I don’t expect a lot of people to listen to or read my stuff—some nice people do, who know me and don’t mind sleep-inducing stuff. I’m basically just putting my work out there for my own satisfaction—I like to do it. I used to have a spark of ambition—not much of one—I used to think maybe I’d become a great artist. Then I thought maybe I’d become a teacher. Eventually, I decided I just wanted to live a life without a specific goal—that’s a bad approach, but I was lucky. I ended up with a loving family, surviving a fatal disease, and cancer, and becoming an actual grandpa—oh, and I eat regular. I can’t complain.
Sometimes, after I had done a good drawing, I’d Xerox it—and the Xerox copy would look more professional than the original. There’s something of that in my postings—they just seem more substantial for being online for the world to see. I’ve actually had people tell me not to post stuff—you can’t post online without encountering trolls—but I pay them no attention. It’s like they used to say, “If you don’t like what’s on TV, change the channel.” That’s even more true of YouTube posts—if you don’t like my piano-playing, don’t watch it. I usually listen to classical music, myself—I usually only watch my own stuff once through, to check that it uploaded okay. Or I listen to it on CD, when the radio isn’t playing anything I like. It’s my fallback music.
So, Claire is flying to CA soon to meet our new granddaughter—Spencer and I will have to rough it on our own for two weeks—I hope we survive. Jessy and Seneca and Seneca are doing great. My mom had her 85th birthday today, down in Hilton Head, SC. I saw party pics on Facebook and wished I could have been there, instead of just calling to wish her a happy one.
I’ve gotten calls from Kevin Bouricius lately—he’s up in Massachusetts, trying to quit smoking. There’s a book of his oil paintings for sale online—it’s expensive, but the paintings are incredible. (http://www.blurb.com/b/4506248-paintings) He also has actual paintings, if anyone wants to go up there and buy one.
I’ll have to call Pete to set up our August jam—we usually try to post once a month, and I feel like I didn’t do too well this month, what with starting on anti-depressants at too high a dosage—I’ve halved it and I feel like I’m fully conscious again—although it was a great relief to be brain dead for a few weeks.
I was thinking, since Claire and I have our 36th anniversary coming at the end of August, about how our tradition used to be that Claire took the kids to Cape Cod or somewhere, and I’d stay home and work—we spent our anniversary in different states for years. I know it’s a weird tradition—but we’re slightly weird people. Well, the kids are grown, I don’t work, and Claire does—so that tradition has lapsed in more recent years—but if Claire stays with Jessy long enough, maybe the old tradition will come back one more time. I love the weird traditions, the ones that our just our own, the best.
I’ve been letting my muttonchops grow out lately—I look like I guy who shouldn’t have muttonchops but grew them anyway. Hey, you get bored when there’s so little to do. I shaved all the hair around my ears yesterday—I look like an idiot—and the muttonchops only make it stupider. But I stay indoors all day, so nobody sees it—just like my weird clothes. It’s kind of funny when I do go somewhere in public—people look at me sideways, but what’s the use of being sixty if I’m going to care how I look?
I have no new videos. Here’s a reprise of some recent ones:
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!
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
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.
Yes, I know—it’s cheap and silly and stupid—but sometimes I just get desperate for a new sound. I thought, ‘maybe I could turn on the dishwasher or some other appliance—maybe a car engine idling—I don’t know—Oh wait—I know, I’ll play that ocean waves CD at a really high volume, so I sound like I’m playing piano on the beach.’ Yeah, right—no way it’ll sound like a cheap stereo playing ocean waves in another room. Hey, we do what we can—we work with the tools we have. And speaking of which—yes, I’m singing show tunes with a voice that sounds more like a torture victim’s than a vocalist’s—but I like the song, so deal with it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?’
Billie Holiday’s discography includes some beautiful old standards—one of my favorites is “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me” written by Jimmy McHugh & Clarence Gaskill in 1926. I find the sheet music demanding and if I can’t play the thing properly, I certainly can’t give you the slightest idea of how exquisitely simply beautiful it is on the Billie Holiday recording. Those early recordings of Billy Holiday with the Teddy Wilson Orchestra are, in many ways, the apotheosis of musicality—so weirdly perfect and so perfectly weird. (Apotheosis means “the highest point in the development of something; culmination or climax.”—I looked it up to make sure I wasn’t being stupid.) Here’s another favorite Holiday recording:
And that’s the context in which I first heard performed “Everybody Loves My Baby (But My Baby Don’t Love Nobody But Me)” written by Jack Palmer & Spencer Williams in 1924. Again, I struggle too much with getting this sheet music played to give it the easy bounce that it should have.
The middle piece from today’s video is by Vincent Youmans—a real class act—influenced in later years by Jerome Kern—but this early song is more of a jazz take on a revival-tent choir—“Hallelujah” written by Vincent Youmans, with words by Clifford Grey & Leo Robin in 1927. Here’s another from 1927, “I Know That You Know”:
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.
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.
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!
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.
I noticed that today’s YouTube-posted improv was exactly one week after the last one—I used to post almost once a day—am I now going to post only once a week? Am I slowing down because my sixtieth birthday is only three months away? I think it’s more likely that I’ve finally accepted that I’m my own biggest fan and other listeners are not eagerly awaiting my next post.
It’s true that I like my own music—it’d be a pretty sad state of affairs if I didn’t, I guess. And I am one of those few people that enjoyed classical music right from childhood, without being told it was important or impressive—or without having to be taught to ‘appreciate music’ in school—though I did enjoy those classes. So I’m used to liking music that doesn’t interest a lot of other people—music that is more (and less) than just something to dance to. So, for a long time I figured that I might just be ‘inaccessible’, like classical music—but now I think I have to give that up—I am not going to draw a crowd—ever.
My big ‘idols’ are Glenn Gould, George Winston, and Keith Jarrett—and since I’ve never surpassed any of them in any way, I can’t really call them ‘influences’. I think I’d have to go past them in some way before I could relegate them to ‘influence’ status—they remain my idols, people far more talented than I. So, if recorded musicians of forty or fifty years ago are still unreached targets—if I still think of myself in terms of someone who’s trying to get started in music—then I take it as given that my dreams of being notable in music will never be more than dreams.
Not that they were ever very promising dreams—I never received the slightest encouragement from parents, teachers, friends or loved ones—more like discouragement, in many cases. I stuck with music through plain stubbornness—I wasn’t about to let myself be excluded from something that great. And if I had to be a lousy musician, then so be it—I was not about to spend my entire life just listening to other people have all the fun.
Anyway, I stuck to it for a long, long time and now I’m liking my own recordings—some more than others, but that’s how that goes—a few I’m quite pleased with. I have the luxury of having my own music—other people aren’t interested in listening to it, but that doesn’t change the fact that very few people have their own personal music soundtrack they can switch on whenever they get tired of pop music. Just another luxury—did I tell you I have my own library? I am so rich—and on so little money—I must be pretty clever.
I used to make a decent wage—we had very big bills back then, but we didn’t have half so comfortable a lifestyle. Sometimes mo’ money is mo’ problems. Sometimes being able to indulge your whims isn’t healthy. I’ll never be wealthy but I’ll always be rich. I’m lucky that way.
When I listen to other music, I am open-minded and forgiving—if something doesn’t catch my ear at once, I’m willing to give it a chance. When I am feeling very hard-headed and down-to-earth, I can’t enjoy music as much as I otherwise do—engaging one’s critical faculties too completely puts one in the position of ‘finding fault’—and no creative impulse can survive such a negative onslaught.
It only now occurs to me that I always turn my criticism on ‘high’ whenever I judge my own efforts—and in doing so I’m being less fair to myself than I would be to a long-dead stranger—so today I’m having a moratorium on self-doubt and self-criticism. I enjoyed playing this improv on my piano and that’s all there is to that.
Speaking of being open-minded and forgiving—I just watched Chris Columbus’s “Pixels” on VOD. Liberals doses of ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ are required (and a little THC doesn’t hurt either) but if, like me, you are a fan of Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, and video arcade games—then “Pixels” is funny, and a lot of fun.
First of all—I love movies where the characters start as children and then, through the magic of “30 Years Later…”, we begin the real story of the characters in the present day. It’s a great way to give a story depth, especially something as goofy as “Pixels”. Secondly, I love a movie where no one is inherently evil—childishly stupid, yes—misguided, greedy, not thinking things through, … whatever—yes—and I think this is closer to real life. Reality never seems to have a positive villain—for every issue there are just a lot of sides, a lot of needs, and a lot of pigheadedness—but rarely pure evil.
The good guys win and the guy gets the girl—other features I’m always in favor of. No lengthy wrong-turns into gloom and despair—another plus. Factoid hunters on IMDb point out that many game characters used were derived from post-1982 video games, which belies the film’s premise—but if that was the most unbelievable part of this movie, the world would be a very strange place.
What I enjoyed noticing was all the kid actors’ credits—many of the smaller roles were played by children with last names like Sandler, James, and Covert (one of the producers of the film) and I can only assume that the film’s set was very much a family affair. And if you look closely, you’ll catch a glimpse of the actual Professor Toru Iwatani, inventor of Pac-Man, doing a cameo as a game repairman in an early scene, at the Electric Dream Factory arcade. Good times.
In my walk earlier, I felt a strong regret that I hadn’t brought my camera, so I shot a few snaps out the window to use for today’s video:
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):
(first published in 1892)
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.
in Eb major – Andante moderato
“Schlaf sanft mein Kind, schlaf sanft und schön!
Mich dauert’s sehr, dich weinen sehn.”
—(Schottisch. Aus Herders Volksliedern)
[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.)]
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.
in Bb minor – Andante non troppo e con molto espressione
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.
in C# minor – Andante con moto
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?
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.
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.
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.
I played the piano for forty-five minutes today—I’m getting so active that I’m letting a bunch of recordings go—I can’t make a video out of everything I play these days—life is too short.
But I did stitch together all the improvising I did between the Brahms and the MacDowell—it came to just over eleven minutes, but it’s actually three different improvs ‘smushed’ together. The final segment has a break where the camera ends one file and starts another—my camera does that every twenty minutes. If I want to be sure of no interruptions, I have to jump up and restart the recording every time I play a separate piece of music.
The MacDowell is very fragile stuff—I tried to keep the phrasing intact while I let the tempo lag, trying to get my shaky hands to settle in to the proper configuration of each chord to be played. He’s such a romantic, he even added little phrases and poems to the titles of his works:
Xper Dunn plays Piano
September 20th, 2015
Three (3) Pieces by Edward MacDowell
from “New England Idyls”, Op. 62
An Old Garden
Moss grown stair,
Rows of Roses,
All old posies,
Of love undying
from “Sea Pieces”, Op. 55
“A fairy sail and a fairy boat”
from “New England Idyls”, Op. 62
With Sweet Lavender
“From days of yore,
Of lover’s lore,
A faded bow
Of one no more.
A treasured store
Of lover’s lore,
For one no more.”
I also played the Brahms Opus 117 again, all three intermezzos, like I do every day—I almost posted today’s, but it still isn’t quite ‘there’ yet.
Well, we’ve been confusing two different things for a long time—for so long that it’s become a part of our national character—a lot of us think that good business practice is the same as good governance. So we must not blame Mr. Trump, who simply surfs the wave of public approbation.
I’m reminded of how the ‘modern’ age of machines brought so many sudden changes that some changes in our thinking went a little too mechanistic—into fascism. Fascism seemed reasonable at the time—it had logic and (pretend) science, and modern folk were all about the logic and science and mechanization back in those days.
Inflating of Nadars air balloon on a field outside the Barrier Utrecht, Amsterdam, September 14, 1865, John D. Brewer, 1865 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
Likewise today we have great changes that influence changes in our thinking—we don’t even need wires today to make a connection, never mind something as arcane as eye-contact. We’re de-centralizing—we’re going Uber. And Americans maintain a firm belief that business will ‘regulate’ itself—although that is only true in terms of fair competition between companies, and has no relevance to the way in which business treats people. Unfair business practices do somehow persist—proving that business regulates itself on the same model as evolution—a bloody, kill-or-be-killed status quo that ends up with the winners becoming alpha predators—and everyone else is the food. The endgame is simply a new monarchy based on ownership rather than bloodlines—if those two things are truly separate.
Hemelvaart, Jan Punt, 1748 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
Because of technology, we have lost the connection between ourselves and our world—our survival is more dependent upon the economic infrastructure—the stores, banks, office buildings, mines, factories, ports, the housing, highways and airliners—than it ever was on the source material for those sophistries: the crops, water, air, lumber, cattle, and cotton—the stuff that hitherto more visibly either grew from or fed off the Earth.
Bacchus and Ariadne, Gerard de Lairesse, c. 1680 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
We used to husband our resources, tend our fields, plant and harvest our crops—now we buy stuff. Some guy with a huge machine is doing all the agricultural stuff, somewhere out in that blank breadbasket between the coasts. Except for that one Mr. Greenjeans out in Iowa, the rest of us are working on maintaining our infrastructure—though it should more rightly be considered a superstructure, as it is built upon a natural world that once had a structure of its own—we couldn’t control nature like we do our modern environment, but we didn’t have to maintain it, either.
Dolls-house Ceiling-Painting of a Cloudy Sky with Birds, attributed to Nicolaes Piemont, c. 1690 – c. 1709 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
Progress isn’t addition, it’s a trade-off—you get the new, but you lose the old. And while we are marveling at the brave new cyberworld of our present—where paper is disappearing and robots are working faster and better than the humans they replace—we should give a thought to the tremendous loss that implies. It’s not a question—it’s a given. Worse yet, history tells us that we never appreciate the true value of something until it is gone beyond recall. So, while we know that our loss is enormous, we are still waiting to feel the pain. Some days, it feels lucky to be old.
Paradise, Herri met de Bles, c. 1541 – c. 1550 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
As I see it, ‘isms’ will always trip you up. Take any Ism to its logical conclusion and you get mayhem—capitalism turns to thievery, democracy turns to mob rule, Christianity becomes a platform for hate and violence. None of our societal systems and structures stand on their own, alone—they all must be leavened with humanity. One sign of our modern progress is that some people are finally trying to turn humanity into ‘humanism’—they may mess it up—people usually do—but at least we recognize that there is something there, something elemental—that outshines any system of government or faith or justice. It is humanity that allows compromise, forgiveness, and tolerance.
Loss of Faith, Jan Toorop, 1894 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
These are the foundation of freedom and justice—without them, we have only an eye for an eye and the whole world blind—or at least lacking depth-perception. The most singular aspect of humanity is that it isn’t a system of checks and balances—it’s just giving. It’s what we do for infants, for the sick or hungry, for our grandparents and great-grandparents, for anyone we truly feel love for—or even for a stranger—we give, and we don’t look for compensation.
The Shipyard of the Amsterdam Admiralty, Ludolf Bakhuysen, 1655 – 1660 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
When I see these crowds at campaign rallies shouting for justice, I want them to stop shouting long enough for someone to tell them that you don’t get justice—you give mercy, and you hope for justice. Laws help keep the injustice to a dull roar, but nothing will ever end injustice but mercy, compassion, and generosity. If you’re fighting for someone else’s rights, you have a shot at being a force for justice, but if you just looking to get your own, Jack—you’re being selfish. Your therapists will tell you that’s a good thing—but your therapist is an idiot. Still, what can your therapist tell you? How do you tell anyone exactly how to be a human being?
Val van Icarus, Hans Bol, Anonymous, c. 1550 – c. 1650 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]
Thus endeth the lesson, as Sean Connery intones in “The Untouchables”. I’m wearing a T-Shirt today that I’ve had since one summer of the 80s, when our onetime family business, Mal Dunn Associates, threw a pool party, back in the day–pretty good shirts–still looks good:
I used the above photo, along with my usual pilfering of the Rijksmuseums website’s collection of masterpieces, for the three videos below:
Instead of Donald Trump or Hillary’s E-Mails, I’d like to obsess about the overpowering of the young Moroccan bullet-train gunman outside of Paris yesterday—let’s spend the rest of the summer talking about that. The main heroes seem to be two US Marines—though without minimizing their heroism, it should be noted that the entire car—British, French, US, whatever—rose as one to beat the crap out of this would-be terrorist.
It reminds me of the heroes of United Airlines Flight 93, who fought the hijackers and died in the crash, sparing whatever Washington, DC target the terrorists had in mind. It is unhappy that people are prepared for this, but it makes me strangely happy to know that they now are. Terrorists be advised—people aren’t just going to sit there anymore.
It is daunting what a lone sicko can accomplish—but it is thrilling to know what a group of right-thinking strangers can do in response. And it’s well past time that terrorists got a little of their own back.
Neither can I contain my pride in our mighty Green Machine—those guys you don’t mess with. And it isn’t every day that we get to see them in their purest form—jumping to the defense of innocent people, without orders or prompting—hell, without a second thought. That’s just too cool. I don’t come from a traditionally military family, but my father was a Marine—he served in Korea—and I have a nephew who’s currently serving (Go James!) so I always feel a touch of pride whenever the United States Marines make the world a better place.
Yesterday, after I’d upgraded to Windows 10, I restarted my PC. Upon re-booting, it asked my for my MS account login. Had I not been able to, miraculously, dredge my password up from my foggy memory, my computer would have become a worthless chunk of chips and wires right then and there. Then the router started acting up—my son fixed it by plugging my PC directly into the cable modem, but now he and my wife have no WyFy access! Is it a coincidence that our router failed right when I upgraded to Windows 10? I’ll let you know after he’s bought and installed a new router. [Note from the following Saturday: Booboo installed the new router and all’s well.]
Operating System upgrades for Windows actually go back to DOS versions—before Windows, we had several versions of DOS. Sometimes a new OS would re-format the hard drive, erasing all the files. It always required changes to the software and the hardware-drivers—meaning that the new OS was useless until all the upgraded versions of the programs were installed. And OS upgrades had their share of bugs, too. After forty years of this, I am understandably leery of OS upgrades.
In the earlier days, a new OS would give noticeably faster response time, notably better user-friendliness, and noticeably more-reliable overall performance. As we’ve become more sophisticated, the changes are harder to pin down. And as OSes became more concerned with online connectivity, the changes have become blurred by differences in bandwidth, signal strength, and traffic density.
We see OS changes that benefit the computer industry more than the individual users—like adding the ‘Store’ option to our media-player apps. And we see an unhealthy focus on phones—as if having a desk to sit at is a bad idea—not that I’m against i-phones, PDAs, etc., but all that curries to the trend in making computing a superficial, convenience-based behavior, rather than an activity we use for specific purposes. It is glamour (and distraction) over substance.
But I’m mostly just grouchy because I’m having an off day—I suppose it’s to be expected after my recent run of very active, mostly successful days. Nothing is as reliable in life as ups and downs. I used to marvel at how the blackest prospects could turn around in a day, or how giddy climbing could suddenly come crashing down—now I just take it for granted. The miracle would be if change ceased and all days were uniform.
Today, I couldn’t play the piano worth a damn—relatively speaking. And I can’t get settled. And I can’t eat. And I went for my walk but I didn’t like it. Fuck this.
Saturday, August 08, 2015 11:53 AM
Stupid by Crazy (2015Aug08)
Stupid by itself is not a problem. Ignorance is nothing but a blank space where information might be, but isn’t. Kitties are stupid—puppies are stupid—babies are stupid—ain’t nothing wrong with stupid. Crazy by itself I have no problem with. I’m a little crazy myself—there’s nothing wrong with a little crazy—sometimes it even helps. But when you take Stupid and lead it around by Crazy—then you’ve got trouble.
That’s why we need to get a handle on religion. That’s why we need to get together on the history of religion. Anyone can know about it—Frazer’s “The Golden Bough” gives a dense (and somewhat boring) outline of how beliefs and rituals evolved over time—how no religion sprang from nowhere, how they’re all related and they all evolved over the ages as a continuum of human nature.
Further, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the library at Nag Hammadi give us insight into the early days of Christianity—when many different people had many different ideas about who Christ was, how He lived and died (and lived?) and what His message was. We have the record of the four Councils of Nîmes from the early first millennium, delineating the church rules that men ultimately formed based on their understanding at the time. And we have the history of the Papal Wars, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment to further show that religion is not set in stone—and never has been.
Then there’s the cognitive dissonances of religion. Ancient texts show none of the knowledge of astrophysics or astronomy that one would expect in a creator of the universe—they indicate only the ignorance of pre-science humans. Religions have differences based on geographical limits—where one might expect a supreme being to speak to all humans as one, all over the world. I could go on, but religion itself is a process of having faith without proof—it’s as hard to argue with that kind of idea as it is to argue with an idiot.
Yet I believe religion has a place in our lives. It enhances community, it provides purpose and meaning in a world that lacks both, and it is especially important for children to have some framework to overlay the cold-blooded chaos of the godless universe. But we must forever relegate religion to a ‘Santa Claus’-like status, wherein it is given no domain over the decisions of adults, particularly our leaders. It is used now to promote and perpetuate fear, conflict, and abnormal psychology—we must remove that absolutism from our society if we are ever to stop bigotry, misogyny, and charismatic megalomania.
We in America see the rise of wireless communication begin to transform our leaders into followers—the instantaneous response of large numbers of the electorate leads to knee-jerk reactions on the part of our politicians. They no longer sit and contemplate the future well-being of their constituencies—they’re too busy responding to tweets about what happened two minutes ago. I’d like to see a politician or two stand up to a podium and say that they are atheists—that they don’t represent modern mythology any more than they represent the ancient Greek pantheon of gods.
What I’d really like to see is all the big businesses lose the support of all that evangelical hogwash they use to befog issues that should be determined purely on human rights, without any hocus-pocus. I’d like to see leaders with the guts to stand up to the universe without imagining a ‘Blue Fairy’ god at their backs, protecting them with magic, promising them an afterlife in heaven (or hell) or giving them permission to judge harshly those who are different.
Artist: Winslow Homer (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1836–1910 Prouts Neck, Maine)
Oil Paintings by Winslow Homer (1836–1910)
“Camp Fire” (1880)
“Searchlight on Harbor Entrance, Santiago de Cuba” (1901)
“Rainy Day in Camp” (1871)
“Harvest Scene” (ca. 1873)
“Moonlight, Wood Island Light” (1894)
“Shooting the Rapids, Saguenay River” (1905–10)
[courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC]
After my exciting trip to play a fancy concert grand at WestConn, I’ve had some more-intimate experiences with the freshly-tuned piano in my living room, which I’d like to share with you here:
[The following two book reviews were posted to Amazon on July 27th, 2015]:
Book Review: “Armada” by Ernest Cline
I’ve just finished reading “Armada” by Ernest Cline. There’s a new-ish school of fiction that suits science-fiction specifically, which I think of as the jump-the-shark approach. Scalzi’s “Redshirts” is a good example—the premise is based on the old insider-joke about Star Trek (the original TV series): the away-team member who wears a red shirt is the character that will be sacrificed to add suspense to the episode. In the Scalzi book, the hero finds himself thrust into what he considered a fictional setting—eventually discovering that his fate is being controlled by some outside ‘programming director’ who has misunderstood the exact role that Star Trek plays in our entertainment, and in our reality.
The hilarious “Galaxy Quest” (1999), again, posits a Star-Trek-like classic TV series which an alien race have mistaken for historical non-fiction and subsequently built themselves a real starship, complete with transporter and a parroting computer-voice. They come to Earth to ask the aging star of the series to be a real captain on their starship—mayhem and comedy ensues. It’s great fun—I’m a fan of jump-the-shark, when it is done with wit and competence.
Ernest Cline’s “Armada” takes a page from “The Last Starfighter” (1984) in which an ordinary teenager obsessively plays a video game that simulates space battle, only to discover that the machine is a testing device to locate talented recruits for real ‘starfighters’ struggling to defend the galaxy from evil. But Cline goes beyond jump-the-shark to ‘multiply-referential jump-the-shark’, including a backstory that involves most sci-fi movies and video games of the past forty years being both training devices for potential warriors and orientation for the whole planet’s population—preparing them to find out that much of popular science-fiction is, in fact, non-fiction.
In doing this, Cline gives the reader a survey of popular science fiction and gaming culture from the premiere of the first Star Wars through to the near-future setting of the story. He pre-empts criticism of recycled plot-lines by cataloging the many ways in which his character’s story reflects the plot premises of the many films, games and stories from which he borrows.
Such ingenuousness gives the story great humor and zip—the protagonist’s interior monologue is not unlike our own interior critique of the story we’re reading. And in the age of remakes, one can hardly criticize Cline for re-doing the concept of Last Starfighter—that movie is thirty years old, familiar only to old farts like myself—and the pixel-screened arcade game of that old classic is as a stone spear-head in comparison to today’s MMO-game-players and the globally interactive worlds they now inhabit.
My disappointment stems from my inability to become absorbed in the story. While much ingenuity is displayed in the references to pop culture and other attempts to add a sense of realism to a highly coincidence-crammed story, the story itself never lingers long enough to give any one scene or character as much depth as is needed to balance out the fantastical aspects of the book. Worse, not a single turn of plot manages to rise above the cliché. While I hesitate to spoil the story, I can assure you that you will not be surprised. Amused, perhaps, but hardly surprised—or engaged.
This style of storytelling comes close to reproducing the suspense and excitement of an action movie—and as with action movies, death can be a stumbling block. Deaths, whether of individuals or of whole populations, are seen through the lens of ‘the mission’, rather than engaged with as dramatic events, as in a ‘chick flick’—and such insularity against this most deeply human aspect of any story has caused many an action thriller to fall flat. The audience is unable to ‘will its suspension of disbelief’ in the face of too much superficiality.
Conversely, young readers and sci-fi newcomers will no doubt find this a much fresher experience than I did—over the decades I’ve become a really tough audience. When the cultural references become central to the story, there is an unavoidable difference in the reaction of older readers, like me, who may find it all too familiar, and younger readers who experience a sort of ‘revelation’ from the massive download of new ideas and connections. Forty years of sci-fi cultural remixing may blow the minds of today’s teens, but it’s just old, familiar memories to someone with gray hair.
Cline’s previous novel, “Ready Player One”, was likewise criticized for a lack of dimension in a NY Times book review, while USA Today wrote, “[it] undoubtedly qualifies Cline as the hottest geek on the planet right now”. So there you have it—“Armada” is another Cline book that may act as a dividing line between we sci-fi ‘grandpa’s and the younger audience coming on. I still give it five stars, just because it is head and shoulders above a lot of what’s out there.
Book Review: “Idempotency” by Joshua Wright
“Idempotency” takes a difficult computer term as its title because the ‘tech’ in this techno-thriller is an imagined method for allowing a person’s mind to be led through a simulation of an alternate life and to return from the virtual experience without losing one’s sense of their original self. It is a concept almost as thorny as the actual definition of the word.
Fortunately, the plot manages to simplify all of that into a cyberpunk-like tale of suspense, cyber-hacking, secrecy, and madness. There is still some imbalance, as in the fact that the supposed protagonist turns out to be more of a victim, while several other extraneous characters fight over his fate. There is also a great deal of vagueness as to who’s hacking who—or who’s spoofing who. The near-future society-building is sprawling but diffuse—dystopian vistas are suggested but never fully drawn, leaving the background of events somewhat muddied.
I found the writing slightly opaque—but I can’t honestly say whether that is a failing of the author’s or my own. Sometimes, stuff just goes over my head. In my experience, science fiction writers and readers have to find their intellectual level—and there are some writers who are simply beyond my ken. Then again, I found the ‘villain’, an unstable, bitter fundamentalist, to be almost over-the-top simplistic—and unbearably grating—insanity-level religious extremism makes me crazy in real life, so much so that I find it hard to take even in a fictional character.
There’s originality here, though not a lot of it. Bottom line—I finished the book. These days, that’s a winner, just for that—but it didn’t inspire me to sing its praises. Still, the young Mr. Wright is just getting started—I look forward to his next effort.
Pardon the mangling of the Horace Greeley quote—he and I share a birthday—and he was a big deal in my Gramma Duffy’s town, Chappaqua. They have a statue of him, he drained the swamplands there, Chappaqua has a Horace Greeley high school—it’s a whole thing.
Anyway, the point is, I’ve just returned from the western campus of the Western Connecticut University’s college at Danbury—the music building to be precise. Some of you may know my old friend who tunes our piano, Chris Farrell. Between his twice-annual visits to our house, he tunes a great many other pianos—including the thirty-three beauties that reside at WestConn.
Chris very kindly invited Claire and I to see the place—and he even let me play a little—which was a great treat and a big thrill for me. The Steinway concert grand I played on today retails for $180,000—and it sounds like every penny of it. I’m tremendously grateful not just for the opportunity to play in such a rarified environment on such excellent equipment, but also just for the break from my hum-drum, everyday Mason Hamlin baby grand’s all too familiar timbre.
Plus, a great instrument just naturally makes the player sound better—I hope I get that little extra in these recordings—they’re very short, but it was a bit unsettling to be sitting on a stage playing a grand piano—I don’t get out that often. Claire said it sounded pretty good—you might think that a modest compliment from one’s wife is no big deal but in this case you’d be wrong.
As a bonus, I return home to a freshly tuned piano. Piano’s always sound best that first few days after a tuning. That reminds me—my apologies to anyone listening to my recent improvs who had ‘ear’ enough to notice that I put off calling Chris for a couple of weeks too long. You can always tell when my piano’s a little sour—I stop posting any classical music. I figure my playing is atrocious enough without the pitch being off.
Here’s a little something from yesterday—before Chris came to tune, unfortunately, but here it is anyway…
Whilst casting about for titles for today’s crop of piano improvs, I supposed the heat of summer made me conscious of how summer is caused by our hemisphere leaning more towards our star, Sol, than during the rest of the year. So I’m using famous stars’ names for titles today: Polaris (Ursae Minoris), Sirius (Dog Star), Algol (Beta Persei or Demon Star), and Sol (Sun). Don’t expect the artwork to correspond to the title stars—I just used a general Astronomy theme for the videos.
I’m astronomically inclined due to both last week’s New Horizons flyby of Pluto (successful after a nine-year voyage) and the anniversary, yesterday, of the first moon landing. But who am I kidding? I’m always into astronomy, space flight, science fiction, all that stuff. In time, my fascination became leavened with the realization that outer space is not the old west—pioneering in the twenty-first century is a long game, generations long, given the distances and the difficulties.
Plus, once you’re up there, you need a heat shield just to get home again—if you thought it surprising that a sandstorm’s winds can scour the flesh right off your bones, just imagining mere atmospheric friction turning you into a piece of overdone bacon. Still, I love NASA, I worship astronauts and cosmonauts, and I’ll never lose the thrill of ‘boldly going’ somewhere where the gravity is a balmy zero.
One exception is the final video, “Sol (Sun)”, which uses some handheld video of our neighbor Sherryl’s garden—it’s kinda jumpy, so my apologies if you find it unwatchable. If you can hang on, there’s some very pretty flowers—even a couple of bees and butterflies.
Wednesday, July 22, 2015 4:05 PM
Oh, What A Busy Day! (2015Jul22)
Claire drove me to the DMV this morning at the crack of 10:30 am—and we didn’t get out until 11:30—just wait ‘til those people see my Yelp review. But then we went to the Eveready Diner, which I would highly recommend—if I did Yelp reviews. Not that I have anything against it—I just don’t get out much—and I don’t have a cell-phone. I’d have to acquire a life before I acquired the modern habit of sharing it, interface-wise, on the fly—like the kids do. Plus, I’d have to start wearing my glasses all the time, trying to interface with those small screens and keyboards. Someone will eventually roll out the new ‘senior model’ I-pad—about a foot and a half square—with a full-size, ergonomic keyboard for a ‘kickstand’.
When we returned I went next door to visit with Sherryl—her garden has been the subject of some recent videos, but she showed me her biannual hollyhocks (nice perfume) and some other amazing flower whose name eludes recall.
[insert flowers pictures here]
Hollyhocks (I think)
Sherryl told me three times and I still forget the name…
This time, I took video as well as stills, and I found, upon editing it just now, that it looks much better at half-speed—it reduces my hand-shakey-ness and lets the viewer get a better look at the flowers. I would have loved to retain the soundtrack if it had just had the bird-calls and bee-buzzings, but all that cool shit was drowned out by the whine of landscaper power-tools and passing traffic. Changing the speed ruins the audio anyhow—so it all works out. I think it’s a pretty fair tour of a summer garden in full glory. Now all I have to do is figure out how to use twelve minutes of garden tour for a five minute music video—maybe I should just go play some more piano….
Nah, that way lies madness. I’ll edit it down to just the best parts and see what’s left—maybe I can distill its essence into five minutes. Like I said—busy day. Whenever I go over there with a camera I end up with hours of post-work here at the computer—today, for instance, I got over forty good photos along with the video footage.
Back in pre-digital days, most of my shots didn’t come out the way I wanted, if they came out at all. All the things my daughter, the photographer, has learned to do so painstakingly by hand are mostly done for me when I set it to ‘Auto’. A camera’s ‘auto’ does a lot—focus, light-level, aperture, who knows what-all else, and although I can’t adjust these factors artistically, as a professional photographer does, it still lets me take a great picture. In the old days, I’d pay good money to get a roll of film developed, but I’d be lucky to get two or three photos I really liked. So that’s another effect of digital—I have much more experience with a camera than I would have in earlier times—we all do. Photographs now are not only free (the big plus) but we get instant feed-back from the camera’s digital display—telling us when to take a second try at something we messed up.
I like being older—because of such things. Someone who’s never used a Brownie and waited weeks to get back terrible black-and-white prints that cost money—a younger person just can’t appreciate what a wonder a digital camera is. Like me with light-switches—I had to be taught what a wonderful thing they were—I had to be taught that they weren’t always part of the walls of houses—I grew up thinking they were nothing special, just something that was always there. I was in my teens before I saw an electrician wire a frame-house under construction—I suddenly understood that a house has a nervous system, so to speak. I was even older when I learned specifics of the history of Michael Faraday, Joseph Henry, Nicola Tesla, Thomas Edison, et. al. And even so, I’ll marvel at the parade of history, but a light-switch is still just a light-switch to me—yet a digital camera will always be a small miracle.
Time sucks. We’re always waiting for something to end—when we’re not waiting for something to begin. And then, when it’s happening, we either wonder how long we can hope it will last or when it will finally be over. If time isn’t stretching out interminably into the distance, it’s contracting to a sliver in which we haven’t time to take a breath.
The only time we are truly happy is when we find ourselves outside of time—so focused on someone or something that we don’t even think about the passage of time. We always come out of such experiences wondering how much time has passed, or surprised at how much or how little time has gone by. Time is very strict and a person would be a fool to ignore it—which makes it very hard to get outside of that pressure, and why we love to escape from time’s grasp.
Our obsession with time is paradoxical. We call games ‘pastimes’ because they ‘help us’ pass the time. ‘Diversions’, too, while helping us escape the cold bareness of reality, also help speed the passage of empty moments. While we often wish we had more time for one thing or another (and we are certainly in no hurry to reach the end of our time) we spend a lot of our lives trying to lose our awareness of our sequential voyage from one moment to the next.
Time is elastic—but, seemingly, never in our favor. Hard times seem to drag on—good times are always over too soon. Whenever we are truly uncomfortable time will seem to literally stand still. Whenever we are in the throes of pure bliss, it seems to end before it’s even fully begun.
I love T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” because it explores the mystery of time:
“Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.”
Memory, as well, is explored—another elastic paradox having to do with time. Yet memory is nearly instantaneous—we don’t need the same amount of time for a memory that we need for the original event. How does our brain remember something that happened for hours, or days, without spending more than a moment to do it?
Still, even in physics, time can be measured to the micro-second—but it retains its elasticity through the mechanism of relativity. Einstein says, ‘the faster we move, the slower time goes’. But relativity only pertains in relation to something else—in our solitude, time has no relativity, it simply goes on.
In life, we get two breaks—we don’t have to deal with any of the time before we are born, and we needn’t concern ourselves with time after we die. It’s odd that something so central to our lives is almost non-existent outside of our lifelines. That’s why the subject of history is a choice—we can, if we’re interested, study the times that preceded our existence—but we don’t have to. History can’t be changed—but it is easily ignored.
My interest in time was purely academic in my youth—but now I can’t help obsessing over the differences made by my long illness. Most people have a childhood, a school period, an adult career, and retirement. But for me the period most of my peers spent having a career was spent being severely ill, at times flirting with death. Had my life been a few years earlier, I would have died when I was half the age I am now—but due to progress in medicine, my illness was cured and I returned to a ‘normal’ life in my late fifties. But there’s nothing normal about a life that has such a strong similarity to the tale of Rip Van Winkle. He had a little trouble with time, too.
I was oddly happier when on death’s doorway than I am now—back then I saw things through a hazy half-awareness, lost between my lack of short-term memory and the blur of anti-depressants—and other drugs too numerous to catalog. Now that I’m somewhat straight, somewhat aware, and somewhat active, I find myself going from TV to piano to computer to front yard. To cycle through those four lonely choices, sometimes several times a day, becomes a threadbare existence so repetitive that it threatens to lose all meaning.
There are many examples in history of great people whose childhood was sickly, solitary, or otherwise troubled and lonely—and that translated into strengths in later life. There are even more examples of people whose later years became shrunken and cut-off, with nothing but memories of past excitement. But these are relatively natural occurrences.
There’s nothing so unnatural and disorienting as having the ‘hole in one’s life’ be smack in the middle of it. It cancels out any of the inertia from one’s beginning—and it leaves no running room to get up to speed for what’s to come. Just as an example—try job-hunting with a resume that’s blank from 1991 on—it’s hard enough to get hired at the age of fifty-nine, going on retired.
The only silver lining is that I’m able to read again. I get tired quickly and I have to use an index card/bookmark to keep track of the characters’ names when I read the really big books, more than 800 pages, that I love the most. But it’s summer—which means that my TV is showing over 300 channels of garbage and re-runs until September—so having my favorite diversion available again is a real godsend.
Still, I was at such loose ends today that I played three separate improvs on the piano—morning, afternoon, and evening. I hope you find that they help pass the time.
I was watching the credits roll up at the end of a movie and I heard a very simple piano theme being played—I thought, “Hey, I could do that.” And I did. Since it was a soundtrack kind of improv I figured it needed a movie, so I made a slideshow of photos taken by my daughter during the holidays six years ago, in 2009. Her nom de business is ShotByJessy—if you’re looking for a great photographer online—just BTW.
For the record, I’m not copying the theme of the movie I watched—I just improvised using a very simple melodic figure accompanied by an arpeggiated baseline, is all. It’s still copying, stylistically, but it’s not technically plagiarism. I’m usually trying for something a bit more sophisticated when I play improvs, but it’s good to fall back into simplicity now and then—in music, simple can be very evocative.
Due to my illness, my driver’s license lapsed over two years ago. Bear and I spent two hours in the DMV today—I was able to prove who I was thanks to my birth certificate, marriage license, life insurance policy, valid debit card, voided personalized check, and my original Social Security card. I also passed the written drivers test. But at the last minute, a search produced an unpaid speeding ticket outstanding in the state of Maine. It was from our honeymoon, thirty five years ago—we went through a speed trap where they were stopping anyone with out-of-state plates—I was going 63 MPH.
I called the Maine township that issued the summons. They couldn’t find the records in their archives—so they told me they’d call me back. It seems they are more concerned with screwing me on the national database than with keeping any record of such an old outstanding warrant. So we gave up for today—another trip to the DMV is in our future. And I still don’t have a valid ID. Nothing’s easy.
I’m feeling something of an ethical pinch—my videos from the last two days were slideshows of the artworks of Gustav Klimt and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. There is some cognitive dissonance in the great masterworks’ place in culture—not so long ago, museums were considered public services because they allowed the public to partake of the rich tapestry of the graphic arts, sculpture, etc. Public TV runs shows that educate us about the great artists—their lives, their techniques, their place in history, the society they lived in, their influence on future artists—you know the drill.
But the online images of these great works carry a copyright—usually the museums’, but sometimes the images are the property of printers and poster-makers—regardless, the upshot is that they’ve found a way to make a profit off the old masters and by doing so have made these images property. Museums have found that gift shops, on-site or online, can help fund the place—the Met in NYC has a catalog that includes copies of historic jewelry, prints, posters, calenders, t-shirts—I don’t know—you name it. And that’s great—I’m happy for them—NPO’s gotta do what an NPO’s gotta do—right?
I get all my images off of Wiki-Commons or my Rijksmuseum’s ‘users-welcome’ studio—some of the files in my image library are downloads from the early, open-source-minded days of the dial-up web. I don’t consider any of these images my property, but I do feel that anything available, if it is part of what any reasonable person would consider pre-digital cultural history, can be used in the same spirit of education and public service which museums are based on.
I’m sensitive to this issue partly because my infrequent uploads of classical piano music to my YouTube channel are often flagged as copyrighted material. This happens because the security software is poorly designed and matches the song title with any other claims on the song title. That’s fine for rock-n-roll, but classical music is virtually all public domain and over a century old. Some of the more modern composers, like Gershwin, still have a claim on their works (or I should say their heirs do) but only for a few more decades. From Palestrina to Rachmaninoff, the rest belongs to all of us.
Now if there were a standards complaint, I couldn’t argue—my recordings are execrable compared to a polished musician’s. But I can’t help being a little bitchy about someone telling me that my Bach recording is infringing on someone else’s copyright—that’s just nonsense. And that online protocol for appealing the robot’s judgment is intimidating. I understand that they are trying to minimize the need for a human being to ever be involved in the process and I understand how important such a thing is for online processes. But threatening to erase someone’s account for making a false complaint is a tad harsh—even for an online robot company.
Anyway, back to the graphic-image files issue—the core of the issue is capitalism. If I was set up to make money off of my music (I wish) then I would be much more circumspect in my use of non-original stuff. Between my drawings, my photographs, and my outdoor videos, I usually manage to spice up my piano videos with nothing but purely original content. But that’s a bit confining for someone like me, who isn’t making any revenue off of this hobby of mine. Sometimes I like to throw in a little culture. So I’ll play classical music—or even pop song covers. I’ll make a video slideshow of Van Gogh paintings or Dore illustration engravings to give my viewers a break from my ugly mug sitting at the piano.
As someone pointed out to me at a recent garden party, being sued by anyone would be the best thing that could happen to me—the publicity would be priceless. I take that with a grain of salt, however—he’d be correct if we were discussing a talented artist who only needed discovering. But I need lessons, not discovering, so I still worry about copyright entanglements—the world looks for ways to get you, there’s no sense handing them ammunition.
But never mind all that. I’m very excited this summer—I don’t know if my expectations have slumped down to where they touch reality or whether I’m actually starting to be satisfied with some of my own work, but I just feel good about these two videos from yesterday and today.
I’ll tell you the secret—I’m working on recording Brahm’s Opus 117. I practice those three pieces for an hour or so, and afterwards I improv better than I ever have before—go figure. The first one was played on my electric, so I had no video. I decided to do an Ingres slideshow—but the piece is only two minutes and change, so I had to pick which artworks to include.
When I was a young artist-in-training I had some awkwardness dealing with nudity. The naked human form is a beautiful thing—no one can argue that. But to me, a naked girl will always be a naked girl—artistic detachment is not in my toolbox. But, like I say, nudes are breathtakingly beautiful, so here they are. If it makes you feel guilty, tell yourself it’s ‘great art’.
The second video, from today, is my proudest moment, a personal best of musicianship, to date. A little dog from next door decided to add a coda, which saved me the trouble of thinking up a title.
Having heard the news about the Confederate flag being removed from public display—and having just watched the movie “Woman In Gold”, I am struck by just how slow and incomplete justice can be. The movie tells of a story I remember seeing in the news when it happened—and it struck me then how many years the “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer” had been separated from its rightful owners. The Nazis looted the painting from the childhood home of the late Austrian-American, Maria Altmann, in 1938—and it was not returned to her (the last surviving family member) until 2004, 66 years later.
The movie ends with an afterward: over 100,000 pieces of art looted by the Nazis during the war have not yet been returned to their rightful owners. If the movie’s story is anything to go by, that number may remain correct for decades—it’s not easier to right an old wrong, it’s harder.
America still struggles with pockets of institutionalized racism, such as the reports from Ferguson, MO where, for the two years studied, African-Americans accounted for 85 percent of traffic stops, 90 percent of tickets and 93 percent of arrests, where whites were one-third of the population—and that the fines from those traffic tickets provided the bulk of the town’s revenue. Taking down the Confederate flag is an important gesture—but it is sad that the south has taken this long to separate their history from their heritage. Slavery may be the history of the south, but I hope it is not considered their heritage—at least not the average southerner’s.
There’s a naiveté to the evil of the Nazis and the Confederacy—the evil that remains today is less visible. Police persecution, payday loans, and fine collection services are just a few of the more intricate and therefore invisible ways in which we commit modern American bigotry. The convoluted restitution protocols for European victims of Nazi looting are likewise Byzantine to the point of opacity. But our modern world is full to bursting with intricate evils that maintain the status quo, deferring justice wherever the pile of gold is high enough to cast a shadow in which rot can thrive.
This is a downer post, I know, but it’s been a downer day and I can only work with the materials provided. Gustav Klimt’s portrait, ‘Woman In Gold’, is used for my video’s title card, but the other works by Klimt used in the video are just whatever I could steal off the internet—they are not part of the movie’s story—or at least not that I know of. They’re just beautiful, so I stole them.
The first time I got a true sense of history was when I asked my parents about World War II. My parents were children of the thirties, so WWII was their childhood, for the most part. But WWII as history—as it was presented to me in school, on TV, and in books and movies, was a historical event. When I asked them about it, it seemed to be something they heard on the radio news—no more a part of their everyday lives than I found the reports of Nixon’s Watergate scandal, which was a big part of my youth but which I found to be nothing but an annoying part of every day’s newscast and paper headline.
Most grown-ups of the early seventies were relieved when Nixon’s administration went to jail and he finally resigned—I was simply relieved that everyone could stop talking about it. My parents felt much the same about the last World War—it was something horrible that the grown-ups got upset about. There were things I learned about the Second World War that my parents didn’t know about—and didn’t have any interest in knowing about. I consider myself lucky that none of my kids ever took an interest in the Nixon era—I’d be just like my folks.
Similarly, we here at home knew far more about the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan than the soldiers who were doing the fighting. They probably don’t get CNN in action zones—and they’re probably too busy to watch it, even if they did. It’s always about perspective—if you can climb a tall tree in the middle of Kansas, you can see more than everyone else—but the people on the ground are the only ones who matter, the ones who get things done. On the news we see what’s happening everywhere—a soldier under fire has strictly local interests.
History, despite its importance, has already happened. We can talk about it, we can learn from it, but we can’t change it. Our interests in history tend to focus on whatever means something to us on its face. Everyone likes the Revolutionary War because it was a war for freedom—and freedom is a popular thing. The history of science has fewer fans—science is a forbidding enough topic without the addition of dry old history. Neil DeGrasse Tyson has remarkable success at it—yet he has to leaven it with plenty of the new, the latest things, the wildest new theories, the bleeding-est-edged tech. My point is that you don’t have to stray far from the beaten path of military events and inventions to find areas of history that have no writers, never mind no readers.
It makes sense. History, in a sense, is a playback of the past—put too much detail into it and you end up without enough of a present to do anything but study the past. Plus, history is the history of all—we have enough trouble keeping track of all the details in our own solitary lives. To tell the story of everyone mandates that we speak in mostly general terms—else we reduce history to a series of actuarial tables.
I was equally nonplussed by my parents lack of interest in the classic movies that I watched incessantly on old late-night TV, and later, at the dawn of cable, on American Movie Classics, followed, finally, by Turner Classic Movies. But those movies were seen by my parents as they were meant to be seen—in a big old movie palace with close-up faces ten feet high. Those stars weren’t legendary to my parents in the same way—they were contemporaries, even if my parents had never left Bayside Heights to mingle with the Hollywood elite.
More importantly, I have contemporaries of my own, many of whom have no interest in old movies. A taste for cinema isn’t all that common, no matter what generation you’re a part of. There are lots of people who go to the movies—that’s not quite the same thing—in the same way that lots of people listen to and dance to popular music, but have no interest in music in its broader sense.
One piece of music history that has relatively few fans is swing music. It gets by—no genre is completely ignored in this age of media. But being so distinctively antique while lacking the gravitas of classical music—plus being confined to such a tiny slice of the historical timeline—it has a specificity that limits its mass appeal to the occasional cameo in popular culture. I count myself among its adherents, though I don’t pretend to any great learning on the subject—I just like to play it. Don’t get me wrong—I listen to early Sinatra, Billy Holiday, Glenn Miller, Arte Shaw, and lots of others. There’s a sense of power to the percussion in swing music that isn’t exceeded (perhaps couldn’t be exceeded) until the advent of electric instruments and amplifiers.
I admire that—I’m always trying to get the maximum effect from my baby grand’s acoustic sound alone. I feel like whatever extra fanciness I could get from a synthesizer or a beat box would be frosting rather than cake—not that I don’t like frosting. And I recognize that there’s a power to amplification and synth that nothing I can do will match—maybe a great pianist could take that challenge, but I’m still shooting for ‘good’.
The jingoism of the post-war forties and fifties was out of favor by the time I ran across “They Call It America (But I Call It Home)” by Freddy Grant (1953). Singing such unabashed patriotic mush was frowned upon by my Flower Power generation (see this wonderful essay on Patriotism in Music).
Nevertheless I can’t deny the thrill of such crowing. It feels good to celebrate the greatness of America, even if we are far from the perfect picture being painted in the verse.
The “Our Love Affair” cover is not the famous “An Affair To Remember (Our Love Affair)”—a romantic song composed by Harry Warren for the 1957 film “An Affair to Remember”, but the lesser-known song from “Strike Up the Band” (MGM, 1940) in which it was sung by Judy Garland.
I used a bunch of my classical art graphics to create the video backgrounds today—they give a sense of history, though I didn’t put them into any chronological order or anything. I’m kinda pushing the copyright envelope today—song covers with screen-grabbed art-works. Hey, I can’t do everything myself—and my amateur status makes it all fair use, since nobody really watches my videos anyway.
The following songs are performed in “Six (6) Swing Songs That Start With ‘S’ “:
I used to resent the loss of clarity that age brings. But lately I’ve just been letting it happen, kind of enjoying the montage of unprompted feelings and memories that swirl around inside me, changing from one moment to the next while I simply sit here.
Fifty-nine years of experiences, of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, actions, feelings—it’s a lot, even with our brains designed to drop several stitches as we go along, retaining only details and prompts instead of the entirety of events. And I’ve reached a tipping point, where the exciting memories of my youth are more vivid than my actual perceptions, here and now.
I couldn’t understand these things when I was younger—I doubt I was supposed to, either. Now that I’m old enough to stop making long-term plans, starting a career or a business would be folly, going back to school would have me wondering just what I’d do with a degree at the ripe old age of three years from now. Even learning for learning’s sake is a bust at this point—having forgotten most of what I’ve learned over the years, I see little point in cramming new stuff in there. Plus I spent two decades learning every new piece of software and hardware that came along—and even if I could still remember any of it, it’s all worthless knowledge about obsolete tech, here in 2015.
No, the coming thing for old folks is to indulge in the philosophical musings that come naturally to someone whose spent fifty, sixty years watching the comic-tragic rushings-about of modern society. The random memories that poke their heads in—the random influx of old passions re-ignited—these moments come and go like flittering birds, chirping of immortality. We can unreel in our minds the conditions that prevent the conditions that prevent the conditions that would ‘fix’ waste and want and anger—we’ve lost the ability to exclaim, “Well, why don’t they just fix it?!” Unfortunately, we know why—human nature creates and enforces the madness of society—we cannot be better than what we are. And—the world is a big place.
My mother’s side of the family boasts sea captains and pirates from New England and doctors from New York, even going as far back as Elder Brewster, a passenger on the Mayflower. Her mother created a circular genealogical chart—scans of pieces of which I’ve included in the video—the technique was so effective that a local Camden, ME reporter wrote an article about it back in the seventies.
Family trees are notoriously difficult to arrange due to the doubling effect—every one person has two parents, four grandparents, eight, sixteen, thirty-two great-great-great-grandparents. You can see how it’s hard to make the list fit without having ten-foot-wide paper. Gramma Duffy’s idea was to start with yourself in the center of a circle, then put your parents’ names on both halves of a thin ring outside that center circle. The next ring out will have their parents on the four quarters. Conveniently, the circles get concentrically bigger as you begin to need more room for all the names. Pretty tricky, huh?
Because of their heritage, my mother’s mother and her female ancestors had membership in the DAR, until my grandmother quit back in the thirties. She, like many other women, was following Eleanor Roosevelt’s lead in protesting the DAR’s refusal to allow Marion Anderson to perform a recital (for an integrated audience) at their Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. Mrs. Roosevelt (and her husband) arranged to have Ms. Anderson perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday 1939. That began a tradition that culminated with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech on the same steps three decades later.
According to my research, The Daughters of the American Revolution is a far cry from the close-minded group that tussled with our most famous First Lady. Today they are inclusive and community-minded, as far as I know. But my mother and sister have never felt the urge to join. I can see why—it’s not very American to have a sense of entitlement because of your bloodline, even without the racism.
Today’s video was played on a Yamaha electric piano. My Yamaha has a Record function, so I needed some video to go with. I chose my mom’s family history because I’ve always meant to make a video of the records.
Also, here’s a video from yesterday that shows the popular hedges outside our kitchen window—apparently favored by the local bumblebees.
Oh, and here’s some video of me sight-reading Haydn—it’s pretty sloppy, but there you go.
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.
Today as I tried once again to make the perfect playlist I was eventually lost amongst a directory of albums in My Music—an eclectic music-lover’s senior-level over-profusion. In a lifetime of seeking out and collecting every possible type of music (though I don’t enjoy every type of music I’ve found) I’ve accrued a collection too diverse and frankly just too large to be encompassed in a single playlist. It haunts me.
It’s also an apt metaphor for my intellectual life. I’ve learned enough history that any part of it resonates with the echoes of similar eras, similar fears, similar crimes—even victories that have to be won again and again. Hook that onto my semi-awareness of current events and now, all the news reports send me into spirals of hope, dread, exultation, and despair—but mostly into extended musings on the tragedy of human nature.
My sheet music collection is stacked all about my piano—thousands of incomplete attempts to learn the music of a hundred or more composers. Then there are my piano recordings—I’ve uploaded over 1,700 videos to YouTube over the past several years. There’s no way I’m ever going to get that organized—or even get a vague sense of what the whole mess amounts to. This writing I’m doing right here—just the most recent addition to tens of thousands of pages of random, disorganized essays, poems, memoirs, anecdotes, and other involuntary effusions of erudition—although it could be described differently, depending on the reader.
I don’t see how anyone could enjoy it more than I do—it’s pretty egocentric, in the main. And even I don’t care for a lot of it. It’s not easy to write something worth reading—and I’m too OCD to simply delete my failed efforts. I’m an autobiographical hoarder—and the result is a mass of writing from which no one will ever extract a polished diamond, as Ezra Pound did with T. S. Eliot’s original manuscript for ‘The Waste Land’. My writings are destined to be merely a waste land—strictly lower-case.
If you’re not me, it’s kind of funny. All my life I’ve heard people talk about how you have to focus on one thing to ever get anywhere. I’ve ignored that bit of wisdom and here I am, at 59, running right into a brick wall of infinite beginnings and limitless unrealized efforts. It turns out there’s a reason why eclectic-minded people are usually a little screwy—being unfocused is a poor survival strategy—hell, it’s a poor strategy for anything—so you have to be a little crazy to go there.
I never get bored, at least. I do get confused however—but it’s a nice sort of confusion—the world is so big, so varied, so infinite—it’s like being stoned without being stoned. Not that I could speak to that.
Now here are two videos. One is very silly, because I just sing the word “Hey” over and over. The other one just has a silly title (a la Papa Hemingway) but the playing is serious, for me at least.
Okay, this time I’m giving credit where credit is due–Sherryls’ got the green thumb. Harlan, however, makes an appearance towards the end of the video (see yesterday’s blog about the Big Tree across the street).
My friend Pete came by today. While I was waiting for him I took a few photos of my neighbor Bob’s big tree. My other neighbor Harlan happened to bicycle by and offered the loan of a Cajon—a sort of a box used as a drum—the different sides of the box make different drum sounds. It’s all the rage, or so I’m told. Pete made good use of it—but I’ll let you hear for yourself.
I’ve had a good week. Here are three more videos from earlier.
I’ve been trying to hook up my electronic piano to my PC using a MIDI-to-USB connection, but my Music Studio software isn’t picking up any input from the MIDI port. Maybe I need a new Sound Card—I don’t know. All I know is after hours of wasted time, I had to settle for recording my e-piano’s own playback—so, apologies for the sound quality. In the video, you can see that I dance about as well as I play.
The title graphic is from the Rijksmuseum—it’s a page from a French marionette catalog of the 18th century, I think:
[Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Français, 1786, eee 312: La minaudiere Marinette…, Pierre Charles Baquoy, Esnauts & Rapilly, 1786 (Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website)]
The other improv is me trying to reproduce that first improv, but on my usual Mason Hamlin baby grand piano. Thus “Reiterations”….
[“Fighting Peasants”] “Vechtende boeren” by Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne, 1600 – 1662
Wednesday, June 17, 2015 10:12 PM
Things are calm and peaceful—nothing’s wrong—and that’s excellent news. The past three days I’d been feeling pretty homely at the piano, but I couldn’t post it until now because I did a special background movie for the three improvs—”Winter (Amusement on the Ice)” by Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne, (1625) and “A Musical Party” by Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne, (c. 1635 – c. 1645) –source graphics downloaded courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website and converted using “Photo to Movie 5.0” (software from LQ Graphics, Inc.).
My old friend, Randy Bell, dropped by yesterday for a brief recording session. It had been three years since his last ascension from his Georgia home to visit his old stomping grounds and we had a lot of catching up to do. Inevitably, we turned to music—Randy, a one-time fervent ‘Dead-head’, has a very different musical perspective from mine, and our collaborations, while challenging, produce some very interesting results (for me, anyway).
It was a confusing afternoon in one sense—I have a tendency to improvise on basic chord progressions, and those chord progressions, being in some sense basic building blocks in a variety of tunes, can go in and out of the ‘cover’ domain. For instance, my favorite a-minor chord progression led Randy to start singing along, revealing those chords to be the basis of a Chris Issak hit, “Blue Spanish Sky”. However, as I said, some chords progressions are basic components to many pieces, of both classical and popular music. So if I have to credit Chris Issak, then Chris Issak has to credit basic music theory, as do the Beatles and the Turtles, who use the same chord progression in hit songs of theirs, and Vivaldi, who uses it in his “Four Seasons”.
Having crossed that line, I showed Randy how I had derived my favorite G-Major chord progression from Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”. It was weird—after a good half hour of ‘improvisation’, we had recorded two ‘covers’!
But my favorite part was Randy teaching me to play a cover of a song written by someone we both knew—“Hard Road Blues”, written by Randy’s lifelong friend and one-time collaborator, Burrie Jenkins. Burrie is a Massachusetts composer and guitarist best known for his “Dharma of the Leaves” . I hope he doesn’t mind too much that Randy and I ‘roughed up’ his tune—it was hella fun to play…
Overcast, sprinkly day—our neighbor hurt his hand on a power tool, but Bear had just bought some first aid supplies—now his fingers look like gauzy sausages. If it ain’t one thing, it’s another. But my day went alright—up until now, when I’m finally posting the videos—the Stevie Wonder Covers video is like eighteen minutes long—and I’ve got a splitting headache from all this video editing. Not that my performance wouldn’t make Mr. Wonder cringe to hear it, but he’s on his level, and I’m down here on mine. With some more practice, I may be able to post better attempts in future videos—I love his music. I hope that, at least, can be heard.
The improv is silly—on purpose. I felt it was high time I did something silly and this improv qualifies.
The Artworks for both videos, by Caspar Luyken and Carel Allard, are, once again, provided (for non-commercial use only) by the wonderful Rejksmuseum (State Museum) in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
“Verzamelen van het manna in de woestijn”, Caspar Luyken, 1712
(“Gathering Manna in the Desert”)
Source Graphic courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website
“Sterrenkaart van de noordelijke sterrenhemel”, Carel Allard,
Johannes Covens en Cornelis Mortier, Anonymous, c. 1722 – c. 1750
(“Star-Chart of the Northern Hemisphere”)
Source Graphic courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website
It’s been a banner day for music here. First, I got off one decent improv this morning; then Pete arrived, and we knocked out two covers and two improvs—a decent day’s work for my YouTube channel and some decent music, if I do say so.
I’ve been practicing the “Brown-Eyed Girl” cover in anticipation of being accompanied by my professional drummer buddy—but the “My Guy” cover was just easy enough for me to get through without prep. The improvs made me very happy—if there’s a bit of paisley and patchouli in there, there’s a reason—‘nuf said. I’ve never been exactly ‘hard rock’, per se—which is why I appreciate the support from Pete, who definitely is. He always add so much energy, he almost makes me sound healthy!
Here we go…
I really needed today. Lately, I’ve been very down about the piano-playing—I’ve frustrated myself by working on difficult pieces and I’ve been even more frustrated by how hard it is to keep improvising without ‘going backwards’—if that makes any sense. But today was fun—and I’m truly pleased to share the results. Thanks, Pete!
“Gavotte variée”, from Suite in A minor (1726) by Jean-Philippe Rameau
I start this recording with the most difficult of the variations—I was trying to warm up—but then I start from the beginning and play it all the way through. I take some pride in how well I sight-read this Rameau piece, in spite of my poor motor-control—it is a big improvement over the way I’ve played it in the past.
Unfortunately, it is still a terrible job if compared to any proper performance—I recommend listening to Trevor Pinnock’s (or anyone else’s) performances, elsewhere on YouTube, to hear the charm, power, and beauty of this piece when played properly by a musician, on either the piano or, more properly, on the harpsichord.
Plus, while this recording is over ten minutes, Trevor Pinnock plays the piece in about two minutes—so it saves time as well. I only post my own recording because I love this piece and I’ve tried most of my life to play it—like all my classical ‘dream-board projects’—and this may be the closest I ever come.
Note: I don’t play this sheet-music so much as play around with it–and while I eventually hit every written note, there are parts where I’m just improving on the chord changes. See ‘Trevor Pinnock’ (and others) to hear a proper performance of this piece.
I’m still feeling off-balance today. When I’m happy the beautiful things in life make me want to sing but when I’m sad the beautiful things in life make me want to cry. There’s a little of both in today’s piano videos.
I’ve just learned that Gilbert Freeman has been injured at the Grand Canyon. He is presently in the Trauma Hospital in Flagstaff, AZ—I wish him a speedy and complete recovery. Gil is a retired music teacher responsible for hundreds, if not thousands, of music-lovers, many professional musicians, and even a few virtuosi. We all have fond memories of our days in his choir and in his theatrical productions. I do hope he’ll be okay.
My George Gershwin songbook has always been difficult for me to play. Those Tin-Pan Alley harmonies make absolutely no sense, if like me you’re used to Bach, Mozart, or even Contemporary Pop—until I play them—then they make perfect sense. Gershwin’s music reminds me of Mozart in the way that he seems to find the perfect sound, right on the knife-edge of dissonance, or even just plain noise, but in its narrow escape from that, sublime in its perfect fitness.
This makes it all the more frustrating that, as sheet music, it is an obstacle course of illogical and unexpected twists and turns. I know, if I could only play it properly, how gorgeous it would sound, as I flub and fluff my improper way through it. And it’s fairly gymnastic playing, too, by my standards—physically on the edge of possibility, for me. So I was surprised yesterday when everything seemed to conform fairly easily to my hands—so ‘doable’ as to make singing along a possibility.
Today, I resolved to do a Gershwin Covers recital—I figured if yesterday’s sudden windfall ran true, I’d better take advantage while the advantage-taking was good. I decided it would be called “Gershwin is Sweeping the Country”, since “Love Is Sweeping The Country” is one of his peppiest, happiest tunes and I really like it.
I played four or five songs with semi-decent results (they comprise the video below) but when I got to “Love Is Sweeping The Country” my luck and/or energy had run out. There’s this damnable chromatic sweeping up and down in the course of the song—beautiful stuff, but murder on my brain and eyesight—so that recording went into the trash-pile, and all that’s left is the play-on-words of my title. I’ll work on it for later. It’s a really cool song.
Prior to playing, just to get the blood flowing, I took a walk. I meant to go all the way around the block, but when our driveway appeared, midway, I took the easy way out. Hence the title of today’s little piano improv “Short Walk”. I brought my camera along on the walk, though, so short or not, I got some striking photos of the local color. I hope they make a more picturesque background video than my ugly mug—once again, I’m relegating the video of me to the corners of the screen.
There are plenty more in my Gershwin songbook, but I didn’t want to press my luck today. I look forward to a second or third Gershwin Covers video, sometime soon.
Last evening was the fourth annual Students Concert that Sherryl Marshall hosts for her voice students—and she is kind enough to include me every year. This year I sang “The Way You Look Tonight” and got through it without any serious harm done. I didn’t have my trusty videocorder, so I’ve reproduced the effort today. Also, I threw in “Can’t Help Singing” because, unlike Sherryl’s stage last night, no one was watching this time. Both songs are by Jerome Kern.
“The Way You Look Tonight” has lyrics by Dorothy Fields. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1936. The lyrics for “Can’t Help Singing” are by E. Y. “Yip” Harburg. Kern and ‘Yip’ earned an Academy Award for Best Original Song for it in 1945. At the 1946 Academy Awards, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II won for Best Original Song for “All Through the Day”—the award was posthumous in Kern’s case as he had died on November 11th, 1945.
I’m not like ‘Baby’ from “Dirty Dancing”—I went ahead and stuck myself in the corner—of today’s two videos. I wanted to show off my photos of all the life springing up out of the ground ‘round here. I used them ‘straight’ in the Kern-Covers video, but I went for a more psychedelic version on my longer-than-usual Improv to Spring. Hope you like both of today’s videos—especially as I don’t think I get any better than this.
Herman Hupfeld , in his beautiful lyric to “As Time Goes By”, wrote:
“This day and age we’re living in / Gives cause for apprehension
With speed and new invention / And things like fourth dimension.
Yet we get a trifle weary / With Mr. Einstein’s theory.
So we must get down to earth at times / Relax relieve the tension
And no matter what the progress / Or what may yet be proved
The simple facts of life are such / They cannot be removed.
You must remember this….”
We’re pretty familiar with the rest—there are few people who have neither heard this song nor watched the movie, “Casablanca”. But like the vast majority of standards, the ‘intro’ is usually overlooked—if not left out altogether. In the case of many songs, the ‘intro’ is no great loss. Some are outright drivel, or the worst sort of doggerel, and the fame of such songs indicates that some smart performer realized he or she had better get right to the ‘burthen’, without any preamble, or they’d lose their audience. And, surely, this also accounts for the fact that most classic songs are considered as having been properly performed whether they include the official ‘intro’ verses or not.
However, in some cases lyricists positively shine so much in their wit and wordplay that it’s a shame to leave the ‘intro’ unrecognized—particularly with the great lyricists. Nothing upsets me more than a songbook that decides not to print the ‘intro’—taking the choice out of my hands for the sake of volume, I suppose.
“As Time Goes By” has a fascinating introductive verse, as seen above. Hupfeld bewails the hectic pace of modern life, it’s constant changes and new information. He gets “a trifle weary of Mr. Einstein’s theory” and wants to get away from all that. He seeks out bedrock principles on which to rest, safe from the shifting sands of cultural distraction. And, of course, he finds them in Love, that favorite of all bedrock principles.
How surprised Mr. Hupfeld would be to learn that his theory of days-gone-by would see eternal popularity in spite of such enormous changes in women’s roles and in relationships generally. A kiss is still a kiss—except when it’s a workplace harassment lawsuit or a charge of improper touching of a minor or the gift of herpes. And in a way, a kiss is now more than a kiss, assuming that Hupfeld wasn’t imagining two men or two women kissing.
Worse yet, we are no longer allowed to ‘weary of Einstein’s theory’—we have to remember our PIN numbers, our passwords, the usual computer Control-codes, game-controller button-sequences, et. al. We have to worry about our AC’s BTUs, our car’s MPG, separating our recyclables, our FICA, our prescriptions deductible, and whether we have time to find out what ‘streaming’ is, or should we just keep trying to program our VCRs. Neither Hepfeld nor Bogie could have envisioned a culture where everyone had to learn to type—and only with their thumbs.
Still, the most luxuriously nostalgic aspect of these lyrics is that they still hung on to the dismissive subtext of that word ‘theory’. Today, when we mention Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, whether Special or General, we hear the word ‘theory’ in its historical sense, not in the sense that no one yet accepts the truth of it—much like the ‘theory of evolution’. Only the fringe-dwellers in today’s society place any emphasis on the word ‘theory’ in these phrases. Back in the early nineteen-forties, though, Einstein’s theories could still be confined to cocktail-party gabbing—Hiroshima and Nagasaki were yet to come, as were nuclear power plants, nuclear subs, nuclear aircraft carriers, or nuclear-powered space probes.
Today we take Relativity for granted, just as we accept quantum physics, or the big-bang theory. Now string theory, dark matter, black holes, and the Higgs-Boson particle have come to be commonplace concepts among physicists and cosmologists—even discussed on popular science programs for the layperson. On top of that, we are in the midst a digital-technology revolution, an upheaval so great that it threatens the stability of global civilization with its sheer speed, while we try to adapt from the ‘generational’ pace-of-change enjoyed for all prior history, to change that now happens on a monthly basis.
What wouldn’t we give to ‘sit under the apple tree’ of the 1940’s whenever we got weary of all that? Oh, for the days when the ‘facts of life’ were not only simple, but they couldn’t be removed! Here’s me taking a stab at the old classic, followed by two more piano covers from my piano songbook, “AFI’s 100 Greatest Movie Songs”. (I also recorded “Evergreen” but left it out in the end—I’m sure I can do it better some day soon.) I left out all the video effects today—sometimes less is more….
This video of six song covers is seventeen minutes long—but it isn’t what I really wanted. I thought I’d dig up any John Denver songs I had the sheet music for, and do a recital of just that. But I couldn’t find “Rocky Mountain High” or “Annie’s Song”, his biggest hits—all I could find today was “Follow Me” (1970), “My Sweet Lady” (1971), and “Leaving On A Jet Plane” (1966).
Like many of my favorites from my high school years, “Follow Me” is one of those songs that has a great rhythm and spirit, but vaguely misogynist lyrics. In this one he actually sings, “..make it part of you to be a part of me..” (as if “Follow me, up and down…” weren’t enough).
It always freaked me out a little that song-writers of such a politically active and ‘enlightened’ era would shill for the barefoot-and-pregnant mind-set in lyrics to their otherwise-modern rock tunes. John Denver, Paul Anka, and Bobby Vinton were some of the worst offenders in this arena, but it was fairly widespread through the sixties and seventies. By the eighties I guess feminists were calling people out on some of this stuff to the point where other people started to hear what I’d been hearing, and things got a bit more ‘aware’ from that point on.
The only real trouble is, I like“Follow Me”—I enjoy singing it, even though I kind of gag on the lyrics. “My Sweet Lady” is likewise a bit much on the saccharine-macho side, but I still enjoy his recording of it. It is included here, however, only because I was desperate for John Denver songs—it’s not really in my wheelhouse, as it were. And “Leaving On A Jet Plane” always feels weird to sing because it was the song all the girls on the school-bus sang on the road during class outings—the most popular version was released by Peter, Paul & Mary, and Mary Travers’ vocals predominate on their recording, so it became a ‘girl’s’ song.
The other, non-John Denver songs are of the same ilk—popular music of the sixties and early seventies that managed to not be rock-and-roll—Tom Paxton, (“The Last Thing On My Mind” ) like Denver, was more of a folk singer/songwriter. The Bacharach/David team (“Look Of Love”) and David Webb (“Wichita Lineman”) were both of the sophisticated, atmospheric school—almost Jazz, but with enough Pop to hit the charts.
I regret that these covers aren’t my best work—but, as always, they’re the best I can do. However, I was very pleased with the piano improvisation “Spring Earth”. I feel like I got a real “Le Sacre du printemps”-vibe going on this one, in my own goofy way.
And I end with a few more photos of the spring bulbs popping up out of our yard….
Here are three more Cole Porter piano covers—true piano covers, this time. I tend to sound like a dog howling when you get these long-held notes. Besides, the playing is tricky enough on its own. I haven’t had a chance to listen to the improv(s) yet—they are two short quips, one from this morning, one from this evening. That’s true of the Porter, too—“Begin the Beguine” was played earlier, the other two this evening. Hope you like’em. And I hope you had a fine day, as well.
My apologies to all you who didn’t share this experience today—but I had a nice, quiet day. Turner Classic Movies showed Cole Porter musicals all day—I caught most of “Silk Stockings” (Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse) and the first half of “DuBarry Was A Lady” (Red Skelton, Lucille Ball). By that time, I felt an itch to do a little Porter of my own. I’d also felt a yen for this particular Jerome Kern song last night. Probably came into my head because it has ‘Spring’ in the lyric. Anyway, I had that all queued up, so you get one by Kern, two by Porter.
These scores are tough sledding—very thick chords, some of them. I’d give anything to just breeze them along in a nice tempo, but I work with the tools I have—my apologies. The improv is short today, but I thought it was kind of cute. You decide.
Again, source material credit for my graphics has to be given. Source graphics courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website. The Rijksmuseum Website, by the way, is a great site for at-home museum visiting—and if you’re digitally crafty, you can download anything you see, for free, and use it in a project of your own. It’s Gr-r-reat! https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en
Table cover, Christiaen Gillisz. van Couwenberg, c. 1650 – c. 1675
Gezicht op Derwent Water, in de richting van Borrowdale (Cumberland), Thomas Hearne, 1754 – 1817
In the first recording, I do my best with ‘Melody in F’ arranged for piano, [from “Souvenir d’un lieu cher” (Memory of a Cherished Place) for violin and piano, Op. 42 (Meditation, Scherzo and Melody) (1878)] by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893). The original piece is just beautiful. I’ll provide the YouTube link here, if you’d like to hear Janine Jansen perform an Encore broadcast on April 19th, 2013, with Paavo Järvi conducting the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra in the Alte Oper Frankfurt. (You’d better listen to mine first–I can’t follow a real virtuoso, no matter what instrument they play!)
The second recording, the improvisation, is one where I think it’s pretty obvious that I’ve just played the Tchaikovsky piece, but maybe that’s just in my head. It’s hard to tell–you can steal a lot from another composer without it showing, unless you’re taking the actual melody….
I’m getting lazy about my videos. Today, I played two little piano covers but they only last for a coupla minutes, so I just left them tacked on to the improv instead of making a separate movie—so sue me. I’m still going to add “cover” to my YouTube tags, which is their criterion for posting something that’s copyrighted. I’m just excluding the song titles from the video’s Title and putting them in the Description instead. No big deal. I always include song titles in my cover-video Tags, and that’s how people find stuff nowadays anyhow.
Immediately following my improvisation there are two piano covers of classic popular songs,“I Don’t Care if the Sun Don’t Shine” and “In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town“, which I am reading from arrangements in the “Lawrence Welk Favorites” song book. Though hits in their day, they are rather obscure in the present-day popular memory, so I’m including these brief historical references from Wikipedia.
“I Don’t Care if the Sun Don’t Shine”[From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]: a popular song, written by Mack David.
The most popular version was done by Patti Page in 1950. The Page recording was issued by Mercury Records as catalog number 5396, and first reached the Billboard chart on May 20, 1950, lasting 9 weeks and peaking at #8. It was her first Top 10 hit. The song was also one of the first recordings by Elvis Presley.
A Dean Martin version of the song was featured in the 1953 film “Scared Stiff” starring Martin and Jerry Lewis. The Patti Page recording is featured in the movie “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”. Actor Guy Pearce also briefly sings excerpts of this song in the film, as does Terence Stamp. The first Spanish-language version was recorded by Marco Tulio Sanchez, the precursor of rockabilly in his country Colombia during the 1980s. It was originally intended for Disney’s Cinderella, but not used.
“In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town” [From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]: a popular song written by Ira Schuster and Jack Little with lyrics by Joe Young in 1932.
Ted Lewis and His Band performed it in the film “The Crooner” in 1932. His version was released as a single and it went to #1, where it remained for 10 weeks.
Johnny Long and His Orchestra had a million seller of the song in 1946–a slight revision of their 1940 version. The ’46 version reached #13. Jerry Lee Lewis recorded a version in the winter of 1958/1959. Somethin’ Smith and the Redheads re-charted the song in 1956 where it reached #27.
The graphics are from our garden last May—which is only two months away—something to look forward to.
My rendition isn’t quite up to Paul’s standards, but I do my best with the fingers I have. I plan to record the other dances of the partita in the near future—they too have a bouncy delight to them—except for the Sarabande, which is one of the sweetest slow pieces in baroque music. I shall have to feel extra-on-my-game when I attempt that one.
The improv came out very novelette-ish and made me think of waves and wind and open water, thus the title and the ‘cover art’ (pictures, once again, courtesy of the Rijksmuseum web-site). Enjoy—
I’m drinking ‘Yukon Gold’ this morning—Tea Trader’s most expensive loose-leaf, all the way from Ireland (though I suspect the tea-leaves weren’t grown there). It’s black as coffee—and nearly as strong—and has none of the smoothness of your Earl Grey (which was already my favorite, long before Picard was even cast, so don’t even) but instead has a bite as sharp as an Irishwoman’s tongue.
St Paddys’ is a-comin’—which always makes me harken back to my halcyon days as head-of-systems for my dad’s old agency. In the 1980s, he would take the entire staff to the Blazer for lunch every St. Patrick ’s Day. (If you haven’t had the pleasure of eating at the old Blazer in Somers (just north of Katonah) you’ve missed out on the legendary, ‘best burgers’ in Westchester.)
My co-workers and I loved this special day—no other companies got St. Patrick’s Day off, so we felt privileged—although it wasn’t exactly a day off. We worked until lunchtime and left en masse. Lunch at the Blazer was actually mandatory—if you didn’t want to go, you could stay at the Croton Falls office and work all afternoon. Everyone went, of course. The saddest part of it was picking the person who had to stay and cover the phones—you’d think they were being left behind on the family trip to Disneyworld. But there was the consolation of telling everyone who called that day that ‘Mal Dunn Associates was closed on St. Patrick’s Day…”
In the old days, there was still smoking in bars—we smoked, we danced, we ate burgers, we ordered Kamikazes by the pitcher—this was an office party with boots on, I tell you—and it usually went on and on—at least until Mal left and the drinks were no longer free. All you needed to do was wear at least one article of clothing that was any shade of green at all. My dad had a lovely, high Irish tenor, and when he sang “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”, everyone stopped to listen. It’s still my favorite song. I’m always somewhat disappointed nowadays, when St. Paddy’s rolls around, because nothing happens anymore—it’s just a day. So much of life is like that—oh, pooh! And oh, bother!
This has been quite a week for me, piano-wise. I played so much Brahms and sixties-hits piano covers and improvisations, that I had to re-charge my camera half-way through the two days’ worth of playing. It was so much material that I’ve been spending the last three days rendering it all into post-able YouTube videos. I’m really quite tuckered out by the whole thing—and three days is a long time to wonder if my music is worth the trouble of posting, especially the Brahms.
But here’s the thing. I’m sight-reading through the Brahms (and everything else I play) not ‘performing’ it the way a pro pianist would—so, why bother posting it? Just for my friends and relations who wouldn’t listen to Brahms anyway, except that I’m in the video. Plus—and this is just for my own satisfaction—sight-reading Brahms is no picnic. You try it—you’ll see. In truth, it’s all about me—I’m not really posting this stuff for anyone else.
Neither am I truly sight-reading. Sight-reading implies that I’ve never seen the score before—but I’ve been sight-reading Brahms for decades. It would be more proper to call it score-reading, but this is one of those cases where I sacrifice precision of terminology for ease of comprehension.
Gosh, this took forever. It’s 3am Saturday now, and I’m still waiting for the last video to upload to YouTube. Six pieces by Brahms, four Improvs, and two groups of 60s covers (using a total of ten recordings of songs)—there was a lot of material to work through. I’m going to be scared to sit at the piano from now on—what a schlep!
And my sleep has been skewed—I’ve been reading lately and that always makes me overlook the passing of the night. I’ve just finished “Yesterday’s Kin” by Nancy Kress, “The Doubt Factory” by Paolo Bacigalupi, and I’m midway through “Henry of Navarre” and just started on “Alan Turing: The Enigma” (which is a whopper—776 pages). All good stuff, if you’re looking.
I almost had it on the twenty-seventh, last week—blogging and/or posting an original poem, an original drawing, and an original piano music video—but I had trouble trying to scan my drawing with the three-way printer/scan/faxer, which led to me destroying the internet connection to the router, which led to me crawling back into bed and watching TV for hours. By the time I’d created an illustrated-poem graphic, I just didn’t have the juice to sit down at the piano. So, just a poem and a drawing—though I shouldn’t complain—they were both well-received.
Today, I made sure I sat down for a quick keyboard recital, before I started working on all the technical stuff. Typing up a poem; sketching out a picture; tickling the ivories a bit—not that big a deal. But then try scanning, photo-shopping, text formatting, file-transferring, audio-editing, video-editing, and uploading it all—there’s where the hard work comes in.
Anyway, to content—to call today’s offering a mixed-bag is an understatement. Firstly—I was lying in bed last night and looked over at the t-shirt that I’d used to block the power-LED on the TV (otherwise the bright blue light is right in my eyes as I try to go to sleep). It looked just like the head of a cow or a moose—some sort of beast’s head. So I grabbed my trusty sketch-pad and drew what I saw. As you can see from the side-by-side comparison of a photo of the t-shirt and my drawing, the t-shirt still looks more like an animal’s head than my drawing does. (Hey, I never said I was Rembrandt).
Secondly, I was hand-rolling my cigarettes this morning when the phrase ‘there’s nothing to it but to do it’ came into my head and started re-arranging itself. Pretty soon I had a whole stanza in my head and I had to rush through my tobacco-rolling to get to the keyboard—by which time my head had come up with a second stanza but was in danger of dumping the whole thing out of short-term memory. When I think of a poem, I literally have to run to the keyboard to type it in before it fades away—that’s how leaky my short-term memory is. Most of my essays, half-written in my head before I get to the computer, and my better improvs, singing in my head while I rush to set up the camera by the piano, are all the same story.
Interesting ideas come and go out of memory like flitting shadows—the trick is to get to a working medium in time for the good ones, while not exhausting myself by trying to capture every stray idea that blows through town. As you may have noticed, I’m not one of those planner-type artists—I don’t write voluminous novels, room-filling frescoes, or complete musical compositions. I just try to chase after the scraps of ideas that stumble into my broken brain, and catch them with my shaky fingers. The large-scale mind-palace that allows long-term project-planning (and once made me a sick programmer) is now just a memory. And, like all my memories, a vague one.
Back to content—so the poem happened to end with “I think I hit a fairy with my car.” Dramatic? Yes, but unsatisfying. So I wrote some more verse in front of the first-draft, some more verse after, and ended up with a politically themed poem, which was not my intention. Still, when writing, especially poetry, sometimes you tell it, sometimes it tells you. It’s hard enough to write a poem without trying to make it walk a straight line, too.
And, thirdly, I have a brief musical interlude for today—a cover of the old classic, “That’s My Desire”, in which I do my best Vic Damone impression, and a squirrelly, little improv, for your delectation, dear reader/listener/viewer. I hope at least one of these hot messes provides someone with a moment’s pleasure today.
Finally, I’m adding my recent drawings to look at, which I finally got scans of, thanks to sneaker-net (my son repaired the internet connection, but the printer still isn’t ‘sharing’ like it’s supposed to). Here they are (click on the images to see them full-sized):
Not for the first time, I’m using graphics from the Rijksmuseum website in my videos. One of them, “Whaling Grounds in the Arctic Ocean”, painted by a fellow named Storck in 1699, shows men not only whaling, but prowling about on the ice floes, attacking some poor polar bears! I guess they were attracted by the smell of the blubber being rendered aboardship? Anyway, it’s a fantastic painting—it even has some walruses hanging about in the foreground.
It being rather cold and savage, I used it as a frontispiece for the video “Improv – February Finally Dies”, which was the nicest title I could think of for the last day of this horrible month. All of the pictures are cool—you can see how I’ve crowded out my credits just to enlarge the pics and give you a better look at them.
For the end-credit page of the Piano Covers video, I used a sheet-music-cover illustration done by none other than Toulouse Lautrec (for the song, “Oceano Nox”) showing a sailor leaning over the prow of his ship, contemplating the night. I knew Lautrec did posters and commercial art, but sheet-music covers surprised me. For the title card, I used the wonderfully evocative “Egyptian Dancer in Tent” by de Famars Testas (1863).
For the improv “Spring is Possible” I used two different images of the sea-god, Oceanus—one engraved by Goltzius (1590) and the other by Galle (1586). I really enjoyed these paintings, so I’m going to add them to this post, following the YouTube Videos—check’em out.
Well, I was apparently ‘feeling my oats’ today—it didn’t help the piano covers any, but it sure came out in my improvs. I hope they sound half as good as they felt to play…
These are two familiar pieces of Tchaikovsky for those who listen to my videos, but here is today’s run at them, for your listening pleasure. I’ve just finished watching “Whiplash”, a wonderful film about a horrible music teacher and the demands placed on exceptional musicians, and while the film gave me a great deal of food for thought it certainly left me in no doubt as to my unfitness to join the ranks of professional musicians—I just love Tchaikovsky, that’s all.
Today’s improv came in three separate themes, so I have marked them in the video—just trying to add flavor. I’m looking forward to listening to them—I hope they came out good…
O, and there’s one from yesterday that’s kinda lively:
The great and powerful Peter Cianflone, drummer extraordinaire, came by today (or technically yesterday) and kindly agreed to join me in some ridiculous music-making, none of which is his fault—he was just an innocent, bongo-playing bystander. I do like the piano with a little extra percussion, though, and Pete’s performance upon the mini-bongos is not to be missed.
Nothing went right today at the keyboard—I haven’t listened to it all myself yet—the improv may be passable, who knows? But we had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs, so it’s all good.
Yes, that’s what I’m promising for your Lunar New Year with this collection of music—transports of joy. Either that, or something slightly less felicitous. You decide. The Tchaikovsky is choppy—the old sight-reading problem—and of the two improvs, I’d say ‘Whooping and Hollering’ is the inferior effort but ‘Carrying On’ is pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. There are also two more-pastoral-type improvs from the sixteenth—they’re pretty standard ‘me’ stuff.
We went to the A&P earlier today and I got Bear some Ferrero-Roche while we were there—Valentine’s Day accomplished. I also played her a few love songs, which are presented here, along with three improvs. Religions are all about Love, so I thought I’d give today’s improvs religious names. I don’t practice a religion, but I love the terminology. No offense.
Bach’s English Suites are a favorite of mine. This is not the first time I’ve posted a recording of the A Minor Suite, though it is rare that I record the full suite. This recording was done over two days and it’s a bit better than any of my previous attempts, so I’m posting it. Someday, I’ll have to review my YouTube channel videos and delete all the older versions of redundant posts—assuming that the newer ones are always better—I’ll have to do some comparison listening to be sure. So, maybe someday is pretty far off.
It’s not that I don’t listen to my own recordings—I hear them plenty when I’m editing them and I also burn them to CDs and listen to them away from the computer. However, it’s an educational process for me—I hear the mistakes more clearly than the music and I can’t help but make mental notes on how to play it better next time. Once I’ve given them a good listen, they usually just make me itch to jump up, go to the piano, and play it again, better. But that’s just the sheet music for other peoples’ stuff.
My improvisations are a different story—for some reason, I really like my own music. Not every day, and not all day, but I like it and I listen to myself quite often, especially when reading—or to lull me to sleep at night. I like to listen to some real music—all kinds—and listen to some ‘me’. My music isn’t better than real music, but it isn’t exactly worse—it’s more like ‘complimentary’ to real music—it gives me a break from the passion and precision and perfection of say Glenn Gould, or Ziggy Stardust, or Matt Glaser, or Enya. It’s filler, for when real music is too much but silence is too little. To me, anyway.
So, here’s a long-ass Bach piece that came off rather well, and the improvs from each day (I highly recommend Tap-Dance–it came out pretty good):
16 Russian Folk Songs
(Covers from the Russian Songbook)
01) All Throughout The Great Wide World I Wandered
02) Do Not Scold Me And Do Not Reproach Me
03) The Boundless Expanse Of The Sea
04) My Sweetheart
05) No Sounds From The City Are Heard
06) Do Not Awaken My Memories
07) Stenka Razin (From Beyond The Island)
08) Snow Flurries
09) The Cliff of the Volga
10) The Story of the Coachman
11) The Little Bell
12) Farewell To Happiness
13) The Slender Mountain Ash
15) Oh, You Dear Little Night
16) Down The Volga River