Archive for the ‘music’ category

Tchaikovsky And Raccoon

May 7, 2010

Prima Raccoon

May 7, 2010—Tchaikovsky’s 170th birthday.  Noted all over the world today because it inspired Google to put up an icon depicting Swan Lake.

(In my mind’s ear, I hear a young voice saying in a few weeks—Tchaikovsky?—isn’t he that guy Google did the ballet picture about?  If the young voice remembers at all.)

I hope it does, as Tchaikovsky is a composer who is particularly appealing to the young.   At least, I always loved him as a child.  (Since I seem fixed in perpetual childishness, that also means now.)  His mix of soar and sentimentality, the accessible and the exotic, really excited  me.  I had an LP (a big black record!) of his “greatest hits” that I used to play repeatedly in our basement—this was a particularly good place to dance around as there were no mirrors, and few visitors.

I loved dancing to Tchaikovsky’s ballet music—it seemed to call up grace (or, at least, imagined grace).  It is music that extends and curves one’s arms, that supports an uplifted spine, that points the toes, twirls the body, makes one feel correspondingly light and beautiful.

One does not usually group Tchaikovsky with those composers that died at a crazily young age–Mozart and Chopin—but Tchaikovsky was only 53 at the time of his death.  He came to his own as a professional musician relatively late (at least compared to Mozart, ha!  Who didn’t? ), spending his school years at the Imperial School of Jurisprudence in Saint Petersburg (poor guy!)   Though his musical genius was well recognized after he began composing,  his life was tinged with melancholy and crisis, many suspecting that his sudden death resulted from suicide.   This is hard to believe based on the music alone.  Tthough it does have a minor or somber quality, it is also often embued with a sweet and enthusiastic cheer.

Changing the subject—abruptly—I saw a raccoon in Central Park this evening.  Seriously!   With mask and ringed tail, scratching its way up the bark of a Central Park Tree.   Stopping to stare down at us with typical New Yorker attitude  (meaning we felt that we shouldn’t stare back too long)

It was my husband who truly sighted the raccoon—telling me that he’d been watching it for a while but hadn’t wanted to say anything till he was sure of exactly what it was.  (I have a phobia of r–s.  Hint–another animal that begins with  “R”  more common in Central Park.)

I thanked him for his restraint.

When we listened to Tchaikovsky later, he mentioned that I must have had a really hard time with the Nutcracker Ballet.

It took me a while to understand what he was getting at.  (I’ve blocked all those big grey saggy dancers out.  Especially their tails.)

Suddenly, Tchaikovsky did not seem quite so cheerful.

Yearning For Chopin (Baptismal Birthday)

February 22, 2010

 

Frederic Chopin Thinking About Sand

Frederic Chopin’s 200th birthday, as measured by the date recorded on his baptismal records, is today (February 22, 2010).   Chopin himself always gave his birthday as March 1.  Poland, playing it on the safe side, is celebrating the birthday from today through the beginning of March.  That sounds good to me.

Actually, what sounds good to me is Chopin’s music.

Actually, what Chopin’s music really sounds like to me is yearning.  (Yes, that’s a cliché, but only because it’s true.)

The music sounds like that prickling that you get at the back of your eyes when sad, or nostalgic, or…yearning.

That prickling at the corners of your lips when thrilled, or happy,  or ….yearning.

Like cattails by the side of a Northern lake.  (There’s a jump.)  Not cattails, perhaps so much as autumn, brown and deep and gold clinging to blue and light and green.

Speaking of green, some of the music sounds like thick, slightly damp,  grass against young bare running dancing feet.  Then like your mother’s hands on your forehead, when, flushed and tired after running dancing in thick, slightly damp, grass,  you lay your head on her lap.   Only the music is fragile and yearning and sweet enough to sound more like the memory of those things (perfect/gone) than the things themselves.

The lighter chords, especially at the end of a piece, sometime remind me of the light slap of a boat in water, a sound reflecting reflections (the water is glassy, the bright color of the boat shows in its rippled surface.)

The stronger chords sound like justice (never without its somber side, even when triumphant).

And the really really soft chords (as in the Nocturnes) sound like the feel of the nape of your neck, rather, like what the nape of your neck feels.

Sometimes, when I get very specific in my memories, the music reminds of Arthur Rubenstein on a TV talk show (he used to actually be on those ) telling, with a curved rueful smile, of the time he tried to commit suicide as a young man, feeling a complete failure, and failing even in that (his bathrobe belt noose broke), he decided to just live.  Playing music, loving life.  For a very long time.

Only, the music makes one think of life and love cut short.

I’m being sentimental.  (The music can be too.   But in the best sense of the word—it makes you feel.)

I’m sounding confused.  (There are sometimes an awfully lot of notes.)

I’m all over the map.  (How could he write so much, so widely, wildly, creatively, in such a short time?)

It’s hard to think ‘happy birthday, Frederic.’  Too much sickness, too few years.

It’s enough to just sit and listen, awed (and yearning.)

PS–for another watercolor portrait of another great guy who was maybe born on February 22,  check out post on George Washington, Cherry Pie.

Heart In A Box – A Simple Proposal

February 13, 2010

Heart In Box (by Jason Martin)

The photo above is a bit unusual at Valentine’s.  Typically there are boxes in the shape of hearts rather than hearts in plain old boxes.

Looking at the picture made me think about hearts that are out of the box. And that (wierdly enough) brought up the trend towards increasingly elaborate proposals of marriage.   (By elaborately planned proposals, I do not mean the scheme of Andy Bellefleur in one of the Sookie Stackhouse novels in which he enlists Sookie’s help in putting an engagement ring in a basket of fried chicken fingers.  Yes, they were greasy.)

I refer to the proposals that are the work of an entire business, a special “events team”.

I tend towards the spartan, but the marriage proposal business seems crazily excessive to me,  the commercialization of the personal,  the overwhelming of the heartfelt with artifice, the exchange of the truly grand for the grandiose.

I understand that people want to try to ensure the perfect moment, the perfect memory.  Perhaps they also hope that the perfect proposal will ensure the perfect marriage.  But, as two famous sages, Gautama Buddha and Mick Jagger, separately said, “You can’t always get what you want.”

Okay, okay, Buddha’s saying was more along the lines that ‘desire is the root of all suffering’, which is somewhat broader than Jagger’s pronouncement.  Buddha’s truth, after all, encompasses the idea that even if you do get what you want (such as the perfect marriage proposal), it will not ensure happiness.  (Desire and desire and desire leads to desire and desire and desire.)

Jagger’s saying, in my teenage mind, was always followed with”mumble mumble mumble…YOU GET WHAT YOU NEED,” as if basic satisfaction was a bit on the automatic, if shouted, side.

But today, when I really thought about the lyrics, and actually looked them up, I saw that they were more complex:

“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find

You get what you need.”

What does the “trying” here mean?  Or for that matter getting what you need?  Trying to get enough so that you might not get off, but at least you won’t go into withdrawal?

Maybe.  But my semi-Lutheran, semi-Buddhist, admirer-of- Mick-Jagger, self prefers to think of it as trying to find acceptance of what you already have,  trying to discover that, at least occasionally, you have enough in what is available.

Which brings me back to the heart in the box.    Creativity, memorability, glow, glimmer, really do not require so very much:  tin foil, a  discarded box, a hole cut in some white paper, a very small battery, a teeny light, darkness.

Heart In A Box (Jason Martin)

Silliness Recalled – “Hit and Run Night Stand”

January 2, 2010

As any of you who are regular readers of this blog must realize, I am a great believer in silliness.  Not the silliness of anger that won’t back down, or pride that won’t unclasp, but antic, self-mocking, ego-abandoning, silliness.  (The best example may be the many posts about Robert Pattinson, who, by the way, is (i) apparently not truly attached to Kristen Stewart, (ii) once chipped a tooth while flossing, and (iii) didn’t shave while staying with his family over Christmas.)

I like being silly, in part, because it is simply exhilarating.  Being silly makes you feel like the word and action “frolic,” like the word and action “skinny-dip,” like you yourself are the first bite of a cupcake, the sidestep in an impromptu tapdance, the profiled Egyptian hand in a Monty Pythonesque walk.

Being silly, if done wholeheartedly, makes you feel young and carefree and as if you really do have choices in life, or, at least, in the moments right in front of you.

I have been extremely lucky to have known others who, though not perhaps as independently silly, were willing to be silly alongside of me.  One of these was a roommate in, of all places, law school.  Although a serious student—she already had a Ph.D., beginning law school—she was perhaps one of my greatest compatriots in silliness.

How does this silliness manifest itself when you are both blonde, reasonably attractive (she was actually beautiful), weighed down by the travails of law school (more interested, that is,  in the plaintive than the plaintiff)? What form does it take when one of you has an electric organ left in storage by a brother who had once studied at the same University, and the other a guitar?  When one likes to sing, and the other, from Mississippi, has long been infatuated with George Jones and Tammy Wynette?

Write country music, of course.  Adopt country music names.  Go down to Nashville to make a demo tape.  Stay in the Country Music Hall of Fame Motor Inn.  And because you are both budding lawyers, but too busy to do full copyright registrations, mail lyrics to yourself via never-opened envelopes sent by certified mail.  (The idea was to document the date of composition.)

My dear friend and compatriot in silliness died a couple of years ago from cancer.  But I received today from her very kind husband a package holding a stack of unopened certified envelopes addressed (both sender and recipient) with our long-unused country music names (Gussie and Cindy Fay.)

Of course, receiving a package like this in the mail can knock the silliness right out of you.  I miss my friend more than I can articulate.   But, after absorbing what the package contained, I made myself open up all those old certified envelopes, and, reading the lyrics, well, it was pretty hard not to laugh.  There’s nothing like silliness, especially past silliness, silliness recalled.

We had many more titles that I remembered—”Romantic Fever,” “Bed and Bored,” “I always Let My Fingers Do the Talking (But You’re Already Walking Away), “The Paycheck Song” (written in the hopes of being picked up by Johnny Paycheck—we waited outside his dressing room at a show at the Lone Star Café),  “The Social Drinker,” “Dream House,” etc.  (All our songs, true to country music style and rebelling legal precision, relied heavily on puns.)

My favorite was always, “Hit and Run Night Stand.”  The first stanza:

“I’m a victim of a hit and run night stand,
I’ve been laid low by a truckdriving man,
His trucking is so good, I wish he’d make his truck stop here,
But that man is only happy, when he’s shifting gears.”

You’ve got the gist of it.

Silly silly silly.  Fun.

(All rights reserved.  Gussie Gustafson, Cynthia Fay Barnett.)

Louis Armstrong- Pure, Not Simple

November 30, 2009

I don’t usually cite videos on this blog, but just saw a wonderful clip of Louis Armstrong from 1933, playing “Dinah” on a Danish sound stage:  http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/23/louis-armstrong-in-2-minutes-53-seconds/

I’ve always loved Louis Armstrong.  He seemed to me, when I was a child and he was an old man, to convey pure eye-popping exuberance.  I marveled then that a voice that was so scratchy could also be so good.   Here he is young, energy sparks inside and around him; the syncopation is perfect; his voice is instrument as well as song;  he’s both beat and melody, dancer, conductor, percussionist, singer, trumpeter.   So musically he’s pretty great.  But once more, it’s the exuberance that carries the moment.  And the listener away.