Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Happy Birthday...

 ...to the person whose influence on my life includes, among many other things, a love of these various musical numbers.

And so many more!

(The person in question is my mother, who turns 80 today!)

Monday, August 02, 2021

Sure, we got a billion bucks lyin' around someplace

 Looks like the shoe is finally dropping in Buffalo and WNY, regarding the future of the region's NFL franchise: the team's owners, Terry and Kim Pegula, are floating the idea of a new stadium to replace the team's existing venue, which would be publicly funded to the tune of over $1,000,000,000.

Hold on, let me count the zeroes to make sure I have that right...thousand, million, billion. Yup, that's right.

Newer reports have the team citing possible other locations for the franchise if the stadium doesn't happen. Locations like Austin, Texas.

My position on this is simple: I am against any public funding for stadiums at all. None. Not one penny.

A sports team is an investment on the part of billionaires that in almost every case ends up making many more billions for those owners. If someone who is worth a billion dollars wants something that costs a billion dollars, well, let them put up their own money for it. The notion that the public should put up the money so the owner can reap further billions is ludicrous.

And don't come at me with "Stadiums spur development!" and "Stadiums create jobs!" We all know this is complete nonsense. Study after study after study has confirmed it. I live less than a mile from the local stadium, and believe me when I tell you, the area around the stadium is not a hotbed of massive economic development. There's about half a dozen bars, a convenience store that was a 7-11 once, a Tim Hortons, and one of those really seedy motels where people who, ahem, are required to register their whereabouts and living arrangements with the local constabulary (and whose presence might be communicated to local parents) go to live.

I consider spending a billion dollars on a single project that will literally benefit a small number of people and enhance the profits for literally one family, and I think of things like...local schools. Parks. Water and electrical infrastructure. Libraries. Museums and arts projects. Streetlights. (This last one sounds prosaic, but I think of it every time I drive through another city that has streetlights on its main expressways. Buffalo does not.)

On a larger point, I am sick of living in an economy which is largely organized around the precept that the natural and preferred course of money is ever, ever relentlessly upward. The idea of giving money to people at the bottom of the economic spectrum is seen as socialist nonsense, but the idea of public money being spent in gigantic amounts so that a single married couple can pocket more millions in profits before eventually selling their investment for a gargantuan return is never even questioned.

When sports stadium talk comes up, I think of Atlanta, Georgia. In the early 1990s, an aging facility--Atlanta Fulton County Stadium--served both the NFL's Atlanta Falcons and MLB's Atlanta Braves. The state of Georgia funded the building of the Georgia Dome for the Falcons, which opened in 1992, and the Braves got their new park, Turner Field, four years later when the stadium build for the 1996 Summer Olympics was converted to ballpark status.

In the last few years, both of those venues, built not just in my lifetime but in my adulthood, have been replaced, and for all the usual reasons cited, each and every one of which could be reduced to one very simple reason: the teams' owners could make more money if they had new venues.

And now here come the Pegulas, the owners of the Bills. When they bought the team they tabled new stadium talk for several years, even though everyone around here knew the subject would come up, if not by them then by the NFL itself (which is an organization that is made to further the football-related investment goals of the owners). As the team is finally good again after many years of not being good, it's clear that the Pegulas basically wanted to wait until the local mood was favorable toward the Bills again. It's no accident that the year after the team went 13-3 and nearly made the Super Bowl that the owners are shaking the money tree for a new stadium.

Where will it be built? Current discussion is a new stadium pretty much across the street from the current one, so at least we seem to have abandoned the notion of building it in downtown Buffalo. But still: local money? Over a billion dollars of it?

This local citizen says no. And if the Bills move to Austin (or Toronto, or San Antonio, or Portland, or anywhere else), this local citizen says, "Thanks for the memories, good luck." I saw the point being made all over social media the last couple days that the Bills "bring Upstate NY together" and that the Bills shape the local mood, and that losing the Bills would be an irrevocable blow to the local psyche. This seems deeply unhealthy to me. Plenty of successful and fine cities exist in this country with no major sports teams. It is my firm belief that we can have a very nice and vibrant city, with all of the things that nice and vibrant cities have, without major-league sports teams. I like sports and I get excited by the prospect of Josh Allen leading the Bills to a championship too, and I'd like to see the hockey team stop being awful and win a Stanley Cup...but I'd hate to lose the Philharmonic, the Albright-Knox, Shea's, or our waterfront much, more more. I'd hate to see local schools get worse and for jobs and people to keep migrating away.

Regional identity, self-image, self-worth, and major economic policy should not be based on the existence and/or the performance of local sports teams.

If the Pegulas want it, let them build it. And if they can't afford it, well--Terry Pegula once boasted that if he needed more money he'd just drill another well.

Start drilling, Terry. Better start now.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Tone Poem Tuesday

 The operas of Giachino Rossini are staples of the operatic stage, and the overtures from those operas are staples of the concert world. But even within Rossini's well-known work, some works are more well-known than others. William Tell and The Barber of Seville are some of the best-known works of all time, including their overtures, which have enjoyed (or endured!) second lives in popular culture outside of the context in which Rossini originally wrote them. Less well-known, but still a staple of the repertoire, is Rossini's take on the Cinderella folk tale, La Cenerentola.

La Cenerentola was Rossini's follow-up after the huge success of The Barber of Seville, and its success was more uneven than the earlier opera's. La Cenerentola did not open particularly well, but it grew quickly in popularlity through the 19th century. However, the style of singing its music required did fall out of favor, and thus La Cenerentola fell into relative obscurity. The opera was revived in the mid-20th century and has enjoyed stable popularity and performance ever since.

The overture is pure Rossini, starting with an air of subdued mystery before giving way to the kind of infectious energy and earworming, propulsive melody that is his hallmark. I'm always interested in how many of Rossini's overtures don't start with any kind of Bang!, instead starting pensively and building up their energy.

Here is the overture to La Cenerentola by Giachino Rossini.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Something for Thursday (Friday edition)

UPDATE: The video for the performance I chose, for some reason, won't embed here, so click through to hear the music.

 A day late, but not my usual excuse this time! I wasn't too busy...in fact, I was all set to post, but I couldn't pick out a piece of music for this.

You see, yesterday Sheila O'Malley posted about the work of painter Edward Hopper, the artist behind Nighthawks and other famous paintings that suggest urban loneliness and solitude. In Sheila's words:

I love the loneliness in Edward Hopper’s work. The insomnia. The urban midnights. The voyeurism. The emptiness. If you’re heartbroken, Hopper is your kindred spirit. I find his paintings very sad, sadness you can wallow in. Many (most?) people do what they can to avoid loneliness. I have never been able to pull it off. All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

Living in a major metropolitan area, you are constantly up against other people’s lives. People have private moments in public. You can peek into people’s windows as you walk by. You give each other privacy as best you can. People can weep on the subway, and nobody freaks out. Everyone clams up, goes into their own private head-space, and the weeping person may as well be in her own room for all the attention she gets. Believe me: having been that weeping person, there’s a comfort in anonymity. There is nothing quite like the freedom to be left alone.

At the same time, there is the sense of being privy to other people’s secrets. There are just so many damn windows. How do other people live? How are they managing?

Here are a few of Hopper's paintings, including, of course, his most famous painting, Nighthawks.

A lot has been said and written about Nighthawks, and those four people in that cafe...but what catches my eye is the storefront across the street. There's no merchandise on display in the window. Nothing at all. If the couple from Phillie's wants to window shop, there's nothing there to look at. Just a cash register, and a printed bill in the window that we can't read from this distance, so we don't know if simply says "closed", or "closed forever", or "seized by the IRS", or...anything at all. And above the storefront...equally vacant windows into offices or apartments.

So, back to the music. I read Sheila's post and wanted a piece of music that conveys the sense of loneliness that Hopper creates in many of his paintings, and that's where I struggled. I could have picked a song, maybe the title track, from Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely, but I just wrote about that album recently and wanted something else. Slow ballads, maybe...or songs about urban life, like Glenn Frey's 80s potboiler "You Belong To The City"...but nothing really fit, and I'm not sure this piece fits either, but I'm going with it.

Enter Claude Debussy.

Debussy, like Bach and Chopin, wrote a series of short pieces for keyboard that he called Preludes. Where Bach and Chopin used their Preludes to explore each key in the chromatic scale, Debussy did not. This Prelude was written in D minor and is titled "Footsteps in the Snow". Its character is cold and austere, with one particular motif recurring throughout in almost chant-like fashion. About halfway through we get a genuine break into lyricism, but the mood shift is short before the lyrical melody carries us right back to the work's core motif, a sad and insistent motif indeed.

Does "Footsteps in the Snow" suggest the same kind of loneliness that Edward Hopper suggests in his paintings? Well...I suppose that's for the listener and the viewer of the art to decide, isn't it? Debussy is definitely conveying some kind of cold, quiet, hushed solitude.

Maybe it's odd to be thinking of quiet urban solitude in the bright summery suburban days of my life right now, but the cold is always coming....

Wednesday, July 21, 2021


 This is in my workplace's parking lot. I drive past this each and every day.

And if it has to bug me, well, now it's damned well gonna bug you!

Rending of teeth! Gnashing of garments!

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Tone Poem Tuesday

 A contemporary work today, by Belize-born British composer Errollyn Wallen.Wallen's family moved to London when she was just two, and it was there that she grew and matured into her professional life as a prolific composer and teacher.

Of this work, Wallen says:

Composing for the orchestra is my favourite challenge, [and this] work is an especially important one for me. It is an innate human instinct to be free, just as it is a low of nature that the river should rush headlong to the sea. That is the concept behind Mighty River.

Slavery claimed the lives of countless people, but somehow my ancestors found the grit and determination to persist in spite of the conditions in which they found themselves. I dedicate Mighty River to my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother. Though I never kner her, I am driven on by her courage in the face of dreadful dods and am inspired by her example not merely to survive, but to thrive.

I first heard this piece the other day, and it's quite amazing. This performance by the National Youth Orchestra is quite something, and I'm discovering a keen apprecation for the music-making that comes from youth orchestras and ensembles these days. What they sometimes lack in technical polish they often make up for in an ability to make accessibile to emotional heart of a work. I'm less and less drawn to the musical restraint of maturity as I get older.

Mighty River opens with a solo horn quoting "Amazing Grace", and then as the rest of the orchestra joins in, the piece genuinely does settle into the kind of constant flowing motion that is suggestive of a river on its way to the sea. But throughout the piece, with all its rocking and flowing rhythms, bits and pieces of other spirituals are heard, including more quotes from "Amazing Grace". The music takes several darker, more introspective turns, but somehow it always finds its way home to that rocking ostinato, and ultimately back to "Amazing Grace" before ending on a gentle major chord. One senses the constance of Black persistence and forced endurance mirroring against the constance of the river's motion.

Here is Mighty River by Errollyn Wallen.

Monday, July 19, 2021

WNY Love Letter: The Dumas Bridge

 First things first: it's not a bridge. Also, I am quite literally the only person who calls it the Dumas Bridge.

Let's back up.

One of my favorite locations for nature walks in my neck o' the woods is Knox Farm State Park. This park is located in East Aurora, NY, and it constitutes the house, stables, farm buildings, and grounds of the old Knox Estate. The Knox family was, for a time, one of the richest families in the region (if not the richest family in the region). Seymour Knox was one of the founders of the famed Woolworth Company, the chain of five-and-dime stores that used to be prominent in American retail. Other members of the Knox family were high-ranking bank officers, and Seymour Knox III was the first owner of the Buffalo Sabres.

I honestly don't know where the Knox Family has gone since then. There may still be Knox descendents in the area, but if there are, they don't seem to be nearly as eminent in the community as they were "back in the day". The family's old country estate has since become a park, first a local park, and later part of New York's State Park system.

Knox Farm is itself a wonderful place, with the feel of an old English estate: the main house still stands and before COVID was the site of many wonderful events, including a craft sale where I used to go Christmas shopping each year. But there are also the outlying woods, surrounding the estate, through which well-maintained trails run. Walking in the Knox Farm woods is always a peaceful return to nature, and while there's enough variance in the topography to make different parts of the park feel differently from one another, it's not at all a demanding place to walk, like some of the other local nature parks located in the hillier regions.

I'll say more about Knox Farm in a future post, but for right now, I single out a single spot on one of its many trails:

It's not so much a bridge as an earthen embankment build to allow transit over a narrow bog through which the higher meadows drain into the lower ones. A culvert runs beneath the "bridge" to allow flow, but it's not like there's a stream there, just a slow occasional flow of dampness. Instead of a drop on either side, like you might expect from a bridge, there's a slope, so if you jumped you'd roll about six feet down on the northern side, and maybe ten feet on the southern side. The worst that might happen is a sprained ankle and you'd get muddy.

So no, it's not much of a bridge. But it has wooden fenceposts on either side that are of particularly rustic construction, and between those posts, and the fact that the bridge is far away from any visible buildings on the estate, and the wooded path that approaches it with its gentle S-curve, the bridge seems to me to always feel like something from a much earlier age. In fact, for me it suggests something quite specific: this bridge looks like a location out of The Three Musketeers, which is why I call it the Dumas Bridge. Every time I am here, I imagine our heroes--Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D'Artagnan--galloping around the bend and over the bridge on their way to thwart some scheme of Milady de Winter or Cardinal Richelieu.

Or perhaps D'Artagnan and Constance meet by moonlight on the bridge, for a secret tryst. Or perhaps Milady's agents meet on the bridge by torchlight to exchange secret information.

Who knows...but it's nice to have an imagination that I can bring to bear on my walks in the woods. I could as well think of this place as the Alexander Bridge, imagining Taran and Eilonwy and Fflewdur Fflam crossing the bridge on one of their adventures. Or maybe there's a place like this in The Shire, a place in the back woods that Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin pass as they make their way in secret to the Old Woods and Bree beyond whilst evading the mysterious Black Riders.

Or maybe young Aeric Seaflame finds a bridge like this on one of the back roads of Frobish Forest as he flees the agents of Lady Perris Winterborne...but to learn about that, you'll have to wait until I finish writing the book in which those exploits take place.

For now, we'll stick with Dumas.

All for one, and one for all!