Ruminations on the crazy people we are, by a retired teacher/musician. Can't get the "requests" out of my system after years of barroom/lounge/restaurant/party gigs mining 100 years worth of the musical mother-lode.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Mood Music

The music on the satellite radio was good stuff. Mellow, well composed, well played; so as I left the room,(not to return for some time,) I left the radio on.

Wasted electricity.....perhaps; wasted music.......perhaps not. Call me flaky, but I think the room deserves a little fun, too. My conversation with myself as to these values was, however, interrupted when I reached the next room. The TV was on, and an ad for a performance of Les Miserables was being aired at that moment. Miserables, indeed! They were all angry, and heading straight for me. It occurred to me that, in recent decades, producers haven't hesitated to stage Broadway productions that have featured anger, or downright wierdness; witness The Phantom of the Opera. (A main character with his face covered; really!

I sought relief by changing the channel. Not cautious enough, however, I ended up on one of the CFTM (channels for the immature,) and was blessed with a rapper going at it mad as hell. More anger. On my way back to the radio room, I mumbled about what the reason for all this angry music was. Bless my soul, I walked into the room I had left, to find the good-good-good music going strong, just as I had left it, and gave thanks for the impulse I had followed in the first place. I was gifted with instant improvement of ambience as soon as I opened the door.

Could it be that "angry music" is an oxymoron in the first place; thus, "angry music' is no music at all. Now, we are getting somewhere. Shakespeare has said that "Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast." I remember: the music is supposed to calm you down, not mad you up. I have enjoyed music of the last century that spanned a range of emotions from sadness, to outright elation; from 'Black Coffee,' to the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel's Messiah; from 'Over There' to 'We Shall Overcome;' from 'Mairzydoats to 'Black and Tan Fantasy.' At no time through most of my life have I personally played or sung an 'anger' song. Given the times I have lived through, and the times I have known through my parents, I have no recollection of someone "coming at me" with a song. It just doesn't work. And mind you, we have experienced anger aplenty through those years. Even 'I'll Be Glad When Your're Dead, You Rascal, You" is sung with an air of comedy. The Blues, a great American music, is never truly angry.

So, what's it all about, Alfie? Pehaps the present generation has so little respect for the art of music, they don't care if they splatter it all over a city wall, like equally angry graffiti. Maybe the problem is, the education they receive has given them so little in the way of self-limitation that they carry out their culture like the proverbial devil-may-care bull in the china shop. Perhaps, as many young'uns are wont to say, "Whatever." I don't know.

With that admission, I will put a period on this rumination.

Keep the faith, whatever yours is, Fight the good fight, and remember, Darfur is right next door.

Friday, January 01, 2010

strange connections

Let's try this solution: having happened on two experiences today which, lacking any reason to, I immediately thought of as connected, I now have to discover, as I write, what I saw in them, or felt in them, that imposed this connection on them, and on me.

One was a song, and the other was a parade.

Perhaps twenty years ago, my daughter brought to my attention a recording by one Syd Straw of a re-discovered Stephen Foster song titled, Hard Times." I was instantly smitten with both the sound, and the feeling within it. It became and unthought emotional experience for me, and so it has remained ever since. The line central to the whole thing was, "Many years have you lingered around my cabin door; Oh Hard Times, come again no more." Given that it was Stephen Foster, and that it was being delivered in something of a country or bluegrass framework, I immediately attached it in my mind to the poor people of the Appalachians, with a particular picture image of a wretchedly poor woman sitting on her back porch in the hills somewhere, deprived of hope, but carrying on anyway. The fact that she is telling "Hard Times" to "come again no more," surely indicates some innate spunk that has her fighting inspite of her situation.

Well, many years have passed, and today I played a CD of Edgar Meyer, Mark O'Connor, Yo Yo Ma, James Taylor and Allison Krauss performing some new, some old, music of the mountains, and lo and behold, I hear James singing "Hard Times." Since that moment, I have been busy with that image of the forlorn old woman sitting on the porch of her rickety cabin somewhere in Appalachia. Having some ongoing, however distant, awareness of the conditions that prevail in Appalachia by way of a contributory connection to the Christian Appalachian Project, I often receive materials describing those conditions. Of course, those conditions are not limited to old women on back porches, and those of all ages are troubled by them.

Given that Stephen Foster wrote the song about a century and a half ago, the simple idea came across to me that for some people, things haven't changed much, have they. One could as well apply the song to Foster himself, since his last years were a disaster.

Later today, as I watched the Tournament of Roses Annual Parade in Pasadena, CA, I was impressed with the content of some of the earlier floats and groups, as to the heroic content they illustrated. One such was a blind marching band from Ohio. They were led by an arm-in-arm cadre of mature blind people walking along with just one sighted person at the side to set the pace. As to the band, each playing member had a marching assistant to guide them along as they played. And yes, they negotiated that big turn into Colorado Avenue that all the marchers have to make.
The second group that caught my attention was a float bearing the images of many who had been in the organ donor program, and whose generosity kept just as many others alive. Sitting along both sides of the float were people of all ages, recipients of the organs that now allowed them to take part in the greatest parade in the whole world.

Shortly after, a combined Marine Corps marching band came along. No nonsense, good old John Philip Sousa music, standard Marine dress uniforms, nobody looking like a caballero, nobody playing a drumset hanging off the shoulders with five different drums, all just straight down the line traditional. They were damned good, and I loved it, as much as I loved skipping along at hometown parades, trying to keep pace with my Dad playing bass drum with the Fife, Drum, and Bugle Corps of the Waverly Engine Company in Eastchester, NY.

And so, there they were, the little old lady on the Appalachian back porch, and the Tournament of Roses Parade, pushing in on my sensitivities in the course of this New Year's Day, 2010. And so, what's to be made of it?

It doesn't matter if there is any rhyme or reason to it, I have to figure out my own connection. The only thought I had awareness of in all this, was the continuity of things. Human misery doesn't quit, and neither does the human urge and capacity to fight it through. There was also an element of trust in these pictures. the blind marchers trusted in each other and their assistants to march five miles without tripping or falling. The organ recipients trusted that someone else's body part would work for them. The marines trusted in John Philip Sousa that he would keep them all in line and on the tune. Most of all, I believe that back-porched lady in Appalachia was trusting in God that she would find some way, some how, to carry on, because by God, she wasn't put on this earth to Quit.

Okay, I figured it out. Trust, and our connection to, and reliance on, others, and in the end, on God, was today's message for me. That's enough.

Keep the faith, Fight the Good Fight, and remember, Darfur is right next door.