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.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The volume thing

Ruminating on an epiphany:

I play softer; they sing louder. Or that's what I thought was happening. Was it really more like "I play softer, I get to hear them better?

Here's what happened. For four years now, every Wednesday I head for a nursing home where I play oldies for the "oldies." Actually, these are real, real oldies,(the tunes,) I'm playing for some real, real "oldies," the people. The folks are, I guess, all over 80, an age I will reach myself in two years. So, music to people, we're a real good match. I have tried to understand and appreciate for WHOM I am actually playing. Though some are barely awake in their wheelchairs, most are enjoying the music actively, but their range of thought is limited. It has been said the folks with Alsheimers respond really well to hearing the songs that have been familiar to them throughout their lives. The memory seems to work more actively in the presence of a familiar tune. Recently, then, I began to experiment with some "fill-in" type activities, where I would stop singing at a point where familiar words were repeated, and listen for them to fill in the missing lyrics. It has worked very well.

In the course of this effort, I tried playing more simply, single notes sometimes with one hand, and found that they really sounded great, and I would try comments like, "Well, we can skip the extra rehearsal this week," or something else terribly clever. (A side discovery: jokes and glib remarks don't process very well with these people; their thinking is too slow and limited. The people laughing were the attendants and visiting younger relatives.

Today, however, a new discovery. The nursing home piano is stiff in its action, and never really well tuned. This causes me to attack the keys more firmly, all of which is hard work. So today, I was doing a good deal of soft, simple playing, and found I could really hear the folks a lot better. But wait! They were singing well all along, and I just could't hear them, for all the banging I was doing on the piano. As Jack Benny used to say, "Well!"

So not only was I not hearing this great sound,(and let me tell you, the sound of elders singing in their own gentle way is something special to the ears,) but I found I didn't have to work as hard as I had been working all these four years. Note: it took me four years to figure this out. Given enough time, who knows what else I may learn, if I open myself up to it.

Very personally, I have to be very thankful not only for the opportunity to play for the folks, but for the lesson I learned today. This old dog did, in fact, learn a new trick.

End of ruminations:

Keep the faith, whatever yours is, and fight the good fight.

Darfur is right next door.


Monday, December 28, 2009


Volume 2, #1

As I was saying..........

I seems so much more difficult to write about one single thing these days. We are bombarded with so much going on, I can only remember Wordsworth's assessment of "the world" in his time, and how it seems perfectly to touch the truth of our times:
"The world is too much with us; late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers." Perfectly descriptive of the beehive we live in.

Decades, centuries, and nothing changes about the human condition. But then, there's them that copes with it, and them that don't.

Keep the faith, and don't forget those real people in Darfur.

That's it for today,


Friday, April 04, 2008

The Unkindest Cut Of All

There exists in 2008 America a quiet quandary, a presence far beyond the "elephant-in-the-room" phenomenon. A recent story told of a missing Iraq War veteran, who, suffering from post-combat trauma, was found decomposing in a drainage pipe. A Hollywood horror film could not have created a more gruesome image. The sadness is explosive; the quandary is far less visible, far more critical.

The reaction to his having gone missing was typically contemporary American: the volunteers, the search parties, the understanding former servicemen who grasped the situation with ready empathy, and, most of all, the distraught family. The story told of a grouping of people of wide political convictions but united in one thought: this young man and his family need our help. The eventual discovery, perhaps inevitable, brought the story to a close.

But the quandary continues: it is difficult to describe, and will never fit every case identically, but it is there, and it is troublesome. Consider: whoever are the category, or demographic, of those who join the service or the National Guard these days, just place one of them before your vision. For the most part, they have very little idea of what they are in for. They have not experienced combat. They think there are rules governing their combat exposure. They believe something good will come from their time in the service. From this point on, things happen that are not voluntary, but are forced on them and their families.

The enlistee bocomes part of a thinking pattern, at least partly necessary, that is forced on him by the military-political complex. To wit: "you are engaged in the defense of your

country." How is that? Well, "your President" has said so. Because "your President" has said so, the DOD has not only said so, but written it into all the orientation materials that that he will experience throughout his training and all the morale material he will hear throughout your time "in country." His officers and NCOs will all speak the same language on this subject: you are engaged in the defense of your country. The enlistee has no choice at this point as to believing the "party line," because his survival depends on it. He has to be a team player to survive. So, if there was any inclination to examine carefully the "party line," it will tend to disappear. So he has now become our defender.

Now, what of his family? Some of them might have had no strong opinion on the war, though that is no longer likely; you are either with it, or against it. Some families have actually gladly sent the enlistee off to war, because they didn't need any convincing that the Iraq War was being fought in defense of our country. Note the U.S Army TV recruitment ads that feature a father proudly standing with his son in uniform. No question that, to them, this is clearly a patriotic matter. But now comes the tough part, and the quandary emerges.

Suppose this war never was for the defense of the United States; suppose this war was mistakenly gotten into by ideologues who wanted it, and Congressmen who failed miserably to represent the Constitutional system of "checks and balances." How then shall we view the disappearing, eventually decomposing veteran of this war? Further, how shall we approach his family? Shall we arrive at the funeral home, to compassionately tell his survivors that we are truly sorry their loved one got caught up as a victim in a political tug-of-war by a passel of politicians who never knew what it was like to face death, dismemberment, and trauma to the psyche in a war zone? That would be the most unkind cut. We have seen some of that from people who use military funerals as a venue for protest: it doesn't matter what the protest, it's just totally unthinking.

It is too late for the lost one and his family. But it is not too late for others outside the immediate situation. What not to have ever happen again?

This war was a "half-war." We have in our Constitution, both explicit and implicit, the principle that major decisions should not be arrived at by a majority of one: that's why efforts to amend the Constitution require a two-thirds or a three-fourths vote. It has, further,always been the conventional wisdom that we should never, never, never, commit our service people to being in harm's way without a strong vote of support from the representatives of the people. Note that: a STRONG vote. Never mind the fraction: a clearly, unequivocally STRONG vote. There has never been strong support for this war, and now there is practically no support. This war is a "half-war" if ever there was one.

Consider the implication for that enlistee. he suffered his pain without ever knowing his country was behind him. In his final loneliness in that drainpipe, think of what this "half-war" and its driving forces have done to him. It will do him or us no good to think that the "warhawks" of 2003 will burn in hell. The monument we can erect in his memory is a committed populace that can leave its comfort long enough to vote for candidates who will truly "keep the peace."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Unique Characteristics

Long Time:
Phil Rizzuto gone!
Well, the great ones of the fifties are disappearing for certain. Passing away of elder icons is not what is new; the loss of an attitude is truly a sorrowful loss. Phil actually did not believe he belonged in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He thought it was for the "sluggers" and the 20-game winners.
But his type of contribution was what made teams successful: determination, dedication, and respect for the game he played, the life he lived. Too bad this is too readily identified as "old-fashioned."
Holy Cow!, Phil. Movin' on. There is, indeed, a great ballgame in the sky: all hits, all runs, no errors.
Fight the good fight!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday; Bah, humbug!

Or is that Christmas?

"Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return." As a kid, I cringed at those words. What kind of a thing is that to say to a child? It's a damned mean religion that sets out to scare its children. Scared everybody, as a matter of fact. They should have called it the House of Fright and Shame instead of a religion.

But it's Lent. Call it anything you like, repentance and atonement are good for everybody, administered in proper doses. It has a way of reducing ego, and any number of other afflictions. Better still, it leads one to the joyousness of Easter, or Spring, or elevated temperatures, whatever.

"Ashes to ashes........" Well, being reminded of our mortality can help us to better appreciate the life we have. Like the man said as to "....it's not the fall that hurts you, it's the sudden stop,"......... well, we might as well consider ourselves immortal: it will be true until it is no longer true, and then who will know?

Here at this colder parallel, the croci shot up in the December/January quasi-Spring, and they paid the price. Now the big mystery is, will they live again?

Stay tuned!

That's the rumination for today; stay the course, fight the good fight!
12:11AM, 22 February, 2007. Happy Birthday, George! Sorry you got caught in all those car sales on the ill-titled Presidents Weekend.