Monday, October 19, 2020

Julio

Fifteen months after his brother Lester departed, we have had to say goodbye to Julio today. They came to us as a package deal, and I hope there's some realm beyond the rain and the clouds where they can be so again.

Julio got sick recently and never really got better, and yesterday he had the kind of day that's hard not see after the fact as a farewell. He curled up in my legs last night on our bed while we watched a little teevee--one of his favorite things to do--and then he barely moved again. Today, we all agreed that it was time.

We don't know, really, how old he was, though when he came to us in early 2006 we surmised that he and Lester (who were obvious littermates, brothers through it all) were around a year old, maybe a little more. Fifteen years isn't so bad for a cat...except for it being too short.

We are not catless...but more on that another time. For now, goodbye, Julio. I guess now I'll keep my feet warm when I'm sitting at my desk by wearing socks. Seems boring and inadequate, but you're off for new adventures now.








 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Something for Thursday



 The other night I was looking for some new Celtic music to listen to, so I hopped on over to Google and searched for "Best Celtic Albums of 2020" (or maybe it was 2019). This brought up several articles, and in one of those articles I found mention of an album by a band called "Soulsha". Soulsha hails from Boston, MA, and they aren't just a Celtic band: they perform a fusion of Celtic and African music, which is a mix that just sounds fascinating, doesn't it? Can you imagine blending those two highly melodic and rhythmic musical heritages?

Well, Soulsha can imagine it. This is from their website:

Soulful call and response singing, masterful improvisation, traditional Senegalese and Scottish dancing and incredible energy make every Soulsha show an unforgettable live experience. Intricate rhythms, soaring bagpipe melodies, and New Orleans-infused horn lines come together seamlessly, and the joy of music rises above all differences, reminding us that we’re all in this together.

The band formed through a series of serendipitous meetings in the thriving and intersecting multi-cultural melting pot of Boston. Many of the members are virtuosic and highly esteemed tradition-bearers in their styles. In Soulsha, they saw a chance to bridge divides. The music they’ve created is a conversation between cultures that breaks down all the boundaries, moving the audience to abandon their assumptions as they lose themselves on the dance floor.

While it shares obvious roots with Afro-Celt Sound System’s electronic fusion, the funk-inspired sound of Soulsha puts tradition and interchange center stage, bringing the party energy of Rebirth Brass Band, and the cultural gravitas of masters like Malian Toumani Diabaté.

I listened to their debut album, Carry It On, and I found it an absolute delight. Their music just teems with energy, and the influences of both the Celtic side and the African side can be distinctly heard, and those two styles play together much more easily than one might think at first. Here is "Rhythm's In the Melody", a single from Soulsha's debut album. Enjoy!


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

i carry your heart

 Today I heard a striking choral work on WNED, but I missed the piece's introduction. I'm old enough to remember when this kind of thing was a pain! If you heard a song or piece but you missed the radio personality's intro, you had to wonder what the song was and hope to hear it again. Nowadays, with WNED, I can go to the station's website and look at their playlist to figure out what I heard...or I can actually hold my phone up to the speaker and let it listen to the piece and try to identify it. This works a surprising amount of the time. Yes, I'm still vexed that we don't have moonbases and giant spaceships under construction to launch Phase One of our colonization of Mars, but a device in my pocket that can (among other things) identify music? Now that is something.

The piece was "i carry your heart" by Eric Whitacre. It's a setting of a poem by e.e. cummings, whose birthday it is today, which I suppose is the "hook" that WNED cited to play the piece. You can read cummings's poem here (I would reproduce it here directly, but it's cummings, which means that the typography is important and I don't want to screw it up), and the ever-brilliant Sheila O'Malley has a big post about cummings here.

And here is "i carry your heart" by Eric Whitacre. It's quite a wonderful piece, at times evocative of plainchant or a medieval madrigal.


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Tone Poem Tuesday

 Admittedly, I am phoning it in a little this week. Here's a virtuoso showpiece for cornet and wind band, setting the Italian folksong "The Carnival of Venice", as played by Wynton Marsalis and the Eastman Wind Ensemble, conducted by Donald Hunsberger. Many a high school and college trumpet player was driven to heights of hero-worship which Marsalis released this album back in 1988 or so.


Monday, October 12, 2020

Fall In WNY

 Autumn is turning out to be quite lovely this year. I remember a recent October--maybe last year's?--where it was just kind of rainy and unpleasant the whole month and then it was November and all the leaves fell at once and it felt like fall never actually happened. Anyhow, here's a photographic glimpse into how Autumn has been going in my neck of the woods. I hope yours is as lovely!

Bridge #ChestnutRidge #wny #orchardpark #autumn #fall #nature #hiking #trees

Reflective #ChestnutRidge #wny #orchardpark #autumn #fall #nature #hiking #trees

Reflective, the other way #ChestnutRidge #wny #orchardpark #autumn #fall #nature #hiking #trees

Stream #ChestnutRidge #wny #orchardpark #autumn #fall #nature #hiking #trees #stream #runningwater

Knox Farm and Mill Rd. Overlook, 10-11-2020

Knox Farm and Mill Rd. Overlook, 10-11-2020

Knox Farm and Mill Rd. Overlook, 10-11-2020

Knox Farm and Mill Rd. Overlook, 10-11-2020

Knox Farm and Mill Rd. Overlook, 10-11-2020

Knox Farm and Mill Rd. Overlook, 10-11-2020

Knox Farm and Mill Rd. Overlook, 10-11-2020

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Eddie

 Eddie's gone. This one hurts, folks.



It took me a while to start loving rock music. I heard a lot of it as a kid (benefits of having an older sister, which I did not appreciate at the time because there are things you need years to figure out, especially when you're a not-terribly-smart nine-year-old), but for various reasons none of it really captured my attention until the early-to-mid 1980s. Part of it might have been a kind of peer-pressure, as I did tire of being the kid who had no idea what all of my friends were talking about when they started discussing music. Another part of it was the arrival of MTV, which even I, as a geeky kid, thought was pretty cool.

We didn't have MTV at our house for a while, because it took several years before the cable company ran the lines out our road to where we lived. But I would watch a lot of MTV at a couple friends' houses, when I did sleepovers and the like. There's a lot of nostalgic hay to mine in the music videos of those first few years, but I'll keep it to just one group here, for what are probably obvious reasons.

There was one very strange video I enjoyed in particular. It actually had a filmed introduction; the music didn't start for a minute or two. Our opening scene has a spectacularly nerdy kid being put on the school bus by his mother. This dude is so nerdy that when his mother flattens his hair with her fingers, it squeaks. She's giving him the standard spiel about making friends and having a good year and whatnot, but our boy--named "Waldo"--is not having in, replying to her in a voice that can't possibly be his: "Awww, Mom, you know I'm not like the other guys! I'm nervous and my socks are too loose." No dice; off to school goes Waldo, after discovering that the bus is loaded with what the 1980s held to be the standard "degenerate" types of kid.

Then our music starts, with some wild drums, and then the most blazing electric guitar work I had heard to that point in my life. And that guitar work remains the most blazing guitar work I've ever heard. The song, and video, were called "Hot For Teacher", and the band was a hard rock group called "Van Halen". That astonishing guitar playing? That was a guy named Eddie Van Halen.

That song, and the others from the album 1984 were my introduction to Van Halen. I would learn not long after that while I'd just discovered these guys, Van Halen had actually been around in a big way since the late 1970s after toiling in obscurity for several years before that, and that 1984 was their sixth studio album. Soon after that album came out, some internal drama happened with the band that led to their lead singer, a charismatic but troublesome guy named David Lee Roth, to leave the group; luckily there was another lead singer available by the name of Sammy Hagar who was between bands at the moment, so he slid right in and the band accommodated him, making new music in new styles to reflect the style of their new lead man, all the while maintaining the focus on the hard-but-fun rock.

And through all of that was the guitar work of Eddie Van Halen.

The music of Van Halen was a big part of my teen years, and I've never lost my love of it, though eventually I didn't buy the albums anymore. 5150, the first Van Halen album with Hagar aboard, was the first rock album that I played almost literally to death, to the point where I knew each and every song on that album backward and forward. I'd quickly get up to speed on all of the Roth-era albums as well, each of which is full of great rock music (well, Diver Down is really kinda meh, isn't it?), but I am probably one of the only people around who can honestly say that I don't have a genuine preference between the DLR and Sammy eras...or, as some people phrase it, "Do you prefer Van Halen, of Van Hagar?"

In all honesty, though, if you put a gun to my head and said "Play the first Van Halen song that jumps into your head!" I will probably wind up selecting "Dreams" from 5150 or "Right Now" from For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge before I choose any DLR song. That might not be a "preference", but there it is.

Of course, Van Halen's history got even more convoluted later on, when I had kind-of moved on from listening to them on a regular basis. Hagar was out, Roth was back in; Roth was out, and a guy named Gary Cherrone was in (for one album, that most people speak of in the same hushed tones as the Star Wars Holiday Special). Hagar was back! Hagar was gone again! Roth was back! Roth was out! Roth was back again! And so on.

Eventually Eddie Van Halen's years of hard living started catching up with him, with news and rumors of his various health troubles, winding up in the end with cancer...and that's what finally took him away from the world, at the age of 65.

What to say about Eddie Van Halen's guitar playing? Well...yes, he could play fast and he could do astonishing things with the guitar. But what always got me was the tone of his playing. There was often a sense of cheer behind it, of happiness, of warmth. A lot of great rock guitar playing often seems obsessed with speed for the sake of speed, and the electric guitar can sound almost angry and snarling in a lot of guitar solos, especially in 1980s-era "hair band" hard rock. Eddie's tone was always clean and pure, and there was almost always melody there, even in the midst of his virtuosic displays of pure skill and talent. Eddie Van Halen made music with the guitar, and his solos always blend into the songs and seem a part of the song. Many guitar solos of the era sound like what they are: rhythmic cadenzas stuck in the middle of the song, where the singer stops singing but the bassist and drummer keep on going.

Eddie Van Halen made the guitar sing and laugh, and in a few songs he even made it seem like it was about to cry. The man wasn't just a guitar god, he was a musician. Eddie Van Halen was to the guitar, for me, as Vladimir Horowitz was to the piano or as Hillary Hahn is to the violin or as Tine Thing Helseth is to the trumpet. In his best work, he isn't just "shredding", he's making music. And that's what I'm going to remember Eddie Van Halen for: the music.

Thanks for the music, Eddie. It was always good, and quite a lot of it was great.




A word about this last one, the live performance of "Best of Both Worlds". My paternal grandmother died in 1986, when I was just about to turn 15, on the morning that this performance was recorded. It was a deeply sad day; she was the first significant loss of my life. It was a Friday. After making the arrangements that morning, my father drove all the way home from Philadelphia, where Grammy lived, and then I remember my parents going out to hang out with their friends on what was a difficult night. I stayed home, as I typically did. Grammy's passing didn't really hit me until my father told me, after he got home, that she had remembered me during her brief hospital stay; apparently someone had said something that had triggered her memory of me. I lost it after that, and I remember being deeply sad for the next several hours, until I idly turned on the teevee and channel-flipped to MTV, which had the Video Music Awards (MTV's big awards show--do they still have the VMAs anymore?), and not long after I tuned in, MTV went to a live segment of none other than Van Halen, in New Haven, CT. They were on their big tour for the 5150 album, their first big tour with Sammy Hagar. This performance is the one to which MTV cut. Maybe it seems weird, but watching them do "Best of Both Worlds"--which is one of the best songs on that album--jolted me out of my funk. It was still a sad time, and Grammy's death was just the start of what was a generally godawful sophomore year of high school for me, but...at least there was Van Halen. Always Van Halen. To this day, I can rely on Van Halen to cheer me up when I'm stuck in the mud.

So, yeah. Thanks again, Eddie. (And Sammy, and Dave, and Michael, and Alex. And heck, you too, Gary.)


Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Tone Poem Tuesday

 Edward Bland (1926-2013) was a composer and filmmaker who may be best known for a film he made in 1959, The Cry of Jazz, which has been deemed sufficiently significant in the history of Black filmmaking that it has been named to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. (You can watch the film on YouTube, here.)

I haven't been able to find a whole lot of biographical information on Bland, but he grew up in interesting circles: his father was a postal worker who moonlighted as an amateur literary critic, and thus knew such luminaries as Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks. Bland himself would study music at the American Conservatory before going on to a lengthy career as a composer and teacher.

This work, Piece for Chamber Orchestra, is an interesting work of stark modernism. Bland apparently described it as "the piece I wanted to write after I heard The Rite of Spring," and the debt to Stravinsky can definitely be heard in the demanding rhythms and harmonic language. The piece is strongly rhythmic and consists of a lengthy conversation between the instruments of Bland's orchestra. Listening to it, I can just imagine the level of musical awareness this piece demands of its performers, as the individual voices are almost improvisatory in nature, and yet everything has to mesh together. If you respond to Modern music at all, you will surely find Piece for Chamber Orchestra by Edward Bland a fascinating listen.


Monday, October 05, 2020

"I've learned so much"

In Larry McMurtry's great Western novel Lonesome Dove, for much of the novel the point of view changes between the main story (a group of Texas cattlemen leading their herds north for selling) and a secondary plot in which we follow the nasty adventures of Dan Suggs and his brothers, who are a murderous trio of guys, killing and robbing their way across the prairie. About two-thirds of the way through the book, our lawful cattlemen meet Suggs and his brothers, and they manage to subdue them quickly and make ready to hang them from the nearest tree. But to their surprise, they find that a friend of theirs, a guy named Jake, has fallen in with the Suggs crew.

Jake is not a bad guy, but he's something of a ne'er-do-well who makes his living lurching from town to town, gambling and drinking and whoring and doing it all some more. It's been a while since I read the book, so I don't remember how it is that he falls in with Suggs and his brothers, but he does, and McMurtry captures his disquiet well as he witnesses murder and crime after murder and crime.

But when our heroes, William Call and Augustus McCray, defeat Suggs and company and get them all tied up in order to mete out cowboy justice, this brief conversation transpires:

Call went over to Jake. Deets [one of their companions] seemed hesitant to tie him, but Call nodded and covered Jake with his rifle while Deets tied his hands. As he was doing it Pea Eye and Newt [two more of their companions] came over the hill with the horses.

"Call, he don't need to tie me," Jake said. "I ain't done nothing. I just fell in with these boys to get through the Territory. I was aiming to leave them the first chance I got."

Call saw that Jake was so drunk he could barely sit up.

"You should have made your chance a little sooner, Jake," Augustus said. "A man that will go along with six killings is making his escape a little slow."

I've been thinking about that passage ever since our President made a video, aimed at his fans, regarding his experience with COVID-19 and his intention to leave the hospital later today. After having spent the last bunch of months spreading all manner of misinformation about the pandemic that is gripping the world, decided to record a video for his fans last night, in which he said, among other things, that he's "learned so much" about the disease.

He's "learned so much".

Imagine that. This many months after the pandemic began, this many months after lock-downs and scenes of horror in New York City, this many months after case spikes and the death rate never going down to zero, this many months of America just existing with this damned thing, arguing over masks and "mah rights"...now our President has "learned so much".

The time to learn so much would have been the beginning, sir. The time to learn so much would have been in the very beginning, when you would have learned so much from the pandemic team the previous administration left in place, had you not dismissed it.

You should have made your chance a little sooner, Mr. President. A man that will go along with two hundred thousand deaths is "learning so much" a little slow.

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