Saturday, February 27, 2016

Symphony Saturday

One wonderful effect of this series has been my listening to a lot of music by composers I'd never heard of before. Setting aside what you hear on a regular basis in the world's concert halls, an astonishing number of composers wrote symphonies, and a lot of the ones you don't hear are really quite wonderful. I did a search on Google a few weeks ago, looking for a list of composers who wrote symphonies, and I found just such a list, which has informed and shaped a lot of my listening. Look at all those names! I'll bet there are professional musicians who haven't heard of as many as a third of the names on that list.

I was intrigued by one such name, Felicien David, who was a contemporary of Berlioz and who seems to have been influenced by the great master -- or so it seems to me, by listening to a bit of his music. I really haven't heard much at all of David, beyond two works, but there definitely seems to be something Berliozian in his orchestral writing, his approach to form, and his willingness to employ effects like a spoken-word role in his music. I haven't found much information on David beyond bare-bones biographical detail, but he seems an interesting figure and I hope to learn more about him.

This particular work isn't exactly a symphony but what David calls an "ode-symphonie", or "symphonic ode". It's a large-scale work for orchestra and chorus with speaker, called Le desert, in which David composes musical impressions from a journey her undertook to the Middle East. The work is particularly Berliozian in its blurring of the lines between symphony and opera, and from what I've learned, there were actually plans at one point in David's life (which didn't come to pass) to stage Le desert as an opera.

So, is this a symphony? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it stretches the definition to its breaking point...but it is a very pleasurable listen, and it doesn't deserve the complete obscurity into which it has fallen. Here is Felicien David's Le desert.

Next week...I don't know yet. There's another work by David that might fit the bill, but it stretches the symphony idea even farther, so we'll see. Gotta get to Dvorak sometime....

Friday, February 26, 2016

Bad Joke Friday

I know a guy with a butler who has no left arm.

Serves him right.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Something for Thursday (Happy Birthday, My Love edition)

Posing with Patience (or is it Fortitude?)

The Wife and I at the Erie County Fair!

It's The Wife's birthday! Another year of magic and occasional mayhem in the books. Let's see...over the past year we've gotten to know our dog better and we went to New York City and we discovered places that make good gluten-free fish fry and...well, it's been a pretty good year. My life is better for her being fact, my life is for her being here.


The Wife and the dee-oh-gee in Buffalo Creek, West Seneca. #wny #westseneca

I am reasonably sure that I was a placeholder all these years for the eventual dog.

Here is my annual list, updated last year, of observations from a life together....

1. Her hand fits perfectly into mine, as though our hands were fit for each other.

1a. That said, there's a good chance that she prefers the dog to me.

2. The first time she saw Star Wars was with me. And ET.

2a. The first time I saw Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty were with her.

3. She used to keep an aquarium before a bunch of moves made us give up the fish. Maybe we'll do that again someday. But when we started dating, she had two fish, named Ken and Wanda, named after two memorable characters from A Fish Called Wanda. When Ken went belly-up, she called a friend and solemnly informed her, "K-k-k-ken d-d-d-died." (One of the movie's running gags is Ken's stuttering.)

4. I don't remember exactly when it happened, but I've converted her from someone who hated coffee into a regular coffee drinker.

5. For reasons passing understanding, she has always found Erik Estrada attractive. She and I used to have arguments over who could best the other in a fight: Agent Mulder from The X-Files or Ponch from Chips. (I think Mulder would have blinded Ponch with the beam from those giant blue-beamed flashlights he and Scully were always toting, and then beaten him into submission with his eternally-able-to-get-a-signal cell phone.)

6. One of the first things we cooked together was Spanish rice, which is to this day a comfort dish of ours. The first time we made it together was also the first time she'd ever cooked with actual bulb garlic, as opposed to garlic powder. The recipe called for a clove, but she thought the entire head was a clove, so into the rice the entire head of garlic went. That was the best Spanish rice ever.

7. A few years ago she baked a Bundt cake for The Daughter's birthday, but the damned thing stuck in the pan, resulting not in a ring but a mound. So she just mounded it up, glopped the frosting right over the top, and called it a "Volcano Cake". Now, every year at her birthday, The Daughter says, "Remember the Volcano Cake?"

8. Our first date was to see Edward Scissorhands. So, Johnny Depp's been there since the beginning, from Edward all the way to Captain Jack Sparrow and beyond.

9. We used to go out for chicken wings and beer every Thursday night. We didn't even miss our Thursday night wing night when The Daughter was born: her birth was on a Saturday, and we left the hospital on Tuesday, so at the tender age of five days, The Daughter entered a bar for the first time. This may have made us bad parents, but I don't think so. A girl's got to know how to handle herself in a bar, right?

9a. She's not a huge fan of when I post photos of her sleeping.

Yes, I will get yelled at for this, but she's so cute when she sleeps...even when it's during her favorite teevee show!

10. She insisted on breastfeeding both The Daughter and Little Quinn, which in both cases required lots of pumping. Especially in Little Quinn's case, since he was never able to eat by mouth. Every drop of breastmilk that entered his body went in via the G-tube, so for as long as her production held up, she pumped six times a day.

11. I'll probably never completely understand how much of herself she sacrificed in fourteen months to keep Little Quinn alive and progressing. It seems, in retrospect, that every free day she had was given to him.

12. That same instinct in her kicked in again when Fiona was in danger. She didn't question the necessity or possibility of spending months flat on her back with her feet inclined, if that was what it took. If commitment was all that was needed, Fiona would be here today. (Of course, if commitment was all that was needed, Little Quinn would be here and Fiona wouldn't have happened.)

13. We used to associate certain teevee shows with the snack foods we'd eat while watching them. NYPDBlue was always chips-and-salsa. ER, when we still watched it, was often good ice cream. Now, good ice cream has been transposed to Grey's Anatomy.

14. "Our" first teevee show was LA Law.

15. Subsequent teevee shows of "ours" included ER, Mad About You, The Pretender, Profiler, CSI, Firefly, and more.

16. On our first Internet account, we set up our combined e-mail identity after the two main characers on The Pretender. We were "Jarod and Miss Parker". People familiar with the show wondered what that said about our relationship, since Jarod and Miss Parker aren't allies. In fact, Miss Parker was initially a villain but as the show went on her character became much more complex.

17. She started roller blading, got me hooked, and then promptly stopped roller blading. Now she prefers biking.

18. It was almost without warning that I met her parents for the first time. We started dating late February 1991; a couple of weeks later was spring break, for a week, so I came home to Buffalo. At the end of that week I tried calling her, only to learn from the old lady she was renting a room from that she wasn't home because of a death in her family. I remembered her saying something about a sick grandfather, and that's what turned out to have happened; her grandfather had passed away from Lou Gehrig's Disease. When I got back out to school, her entire family was there. So I met the future in-laws on the spot. Luckily, I seem to have made some kind of decent impression.

19. Our first long trip together was from Iowa to Idaho, to visit her family, a couple of weeks before school began in August of 1992. She had already graduated college, but I was in my senior year. While we were out there, the infamous Ruby Ridge Incident was taking place twenty miles down the road, so all week there were National Guard vehicles on the roads and helicopters overhead.

20. I am forever amazed at her ability to take some fabric and create a garment. This skill of hers looks like magic to me.

21. Her first pair of overalls were a gift from me. She thought the whole thing was goofy – maybe she still does! - but she wore them for years until at one point they became too small for her, and then a short while later they became too big for her. We didn't start wearing overalls together until we'd been dating for about a year.

22. Back in the 90s, on two different occasions, we picked out Persian kittens. Both were wonderful cats, both are gone now, and we miss them both dearly. The first was a beautiful tortoiseshell Persian named Jasmine; the second was a red Persian named Simba. Both died in the year preceding this blog's launch.

23. Adopting Lester and Julio was The Wife's idea. I'm still unsold on these two giant lummox goofballs.

24. The Wife also took The Daughter to adopt Comet, when The Daughter was only two.

25. Shortly after The Wife moved to Western New York to be near me, she adopted a cat from the shelter she named Lilac. That cat never really liked me all that much. Lilac died a few months after Little Quinn passed.

25a. She is directly responsible for all the animals with whom we currently live.

Indulging Lester

Why they invented hotel rooms

Julio's favorite position

Cats and Wife. (And my left shoulder)

Snowmageddon '14, continued

Day 59: Clear wife, blurry dog. #100DaysOfHappiness #NewDog

The Wife is unimpressed with Julio's uninvited advances. (Notice Lester in the background.)

26. She loves to laugh, particularly at my expense. She is convinced I don't think she's funny, but that's just not the case.

27. Things with which she has a deft touch include: a pair of scissors, a needle and thread, a kitchen knife, the mixer, bread dough, a screwdriver, a lug wrench, and a shot glass.

28. It irritates her that The Daughter has inherited my tolerance for sunlight -- I tan, whereas The Wife burns.

29. The Wife likes to read, albeit not quite as much as I do. She always has a book going, and she reads every day.

30. She never used to use a bookmark, until I finally decided I was tired of watching her flip through a book looking for a passage that was familiar to her so she could find her place. I bought her a bookmark.

31. She loves nuts – except for walnuts and pecans, which I love. This makes it occasionally difficult find good brownies and similar items in bakeries, since many people default to putting pecans or walnuts in their brownies or other chocolate cookies.

32. When I first met her, she was a huge Anne Rice fan and read most of what Rice wrote until she decided that Rice's output wasn't interesting her much anymore. Since then she's read a lot of other authors, including a lot of unfamiliar names whose books I've plucked from the stacks of offerings at library book sales over the years. Interesting how obscure even the bestsellers of yesteryear eventually become, huh? Currently she really loves Gregory Maguire, the Wicked guy.

33. When we first met, she was a Washington Redskins fan. So of course, the first Super Bowl we were together was the one where the Redskins knocked the Bills on their collective arse. Oh well, at least she hated the Cowboys.

34. She prefers her KFC "extra crispy", where I'm an "Original Recipe" guy.

35. Movies that are particularly meaningful or nostalgic to us, in addition to Edward Scissorhands and Star Wars are Dances With Wolves, Titanic, The Lord of the Rings, Singin' in the Rain, and the James Bond movies.

36. For some reason we didn't take any pictures when we were on our honeymoon or when we were on our vacation to Disney a year later. I think we were between working cameras at those points...but lately I really wish we'd have addressed that at the time.

37. Things we did on our honeymoon to Cape Cod, Boston, and New Hampshire: road a boat out to sea to watch the whales; visited the New England Aquarium; ate dim sum in Boston's Chinatown; bought lots of kitchenware at an outlet strip (don't laugh, we still have some of that stuff); visited the Boston Science Museum. While doing two days in Boston we stayed at a hotel about forty miles out and road the train into town; on the second day, on the way back, we fell asleep on each other's shoulders.

38. Our first argument as a couple resulted from a common misunderstanding between people when one is from Iowa and one is just living in Iowa for a while. I told her we'd meet for dinner, so she showed up at noon and got annoyed because I wasn't there. Well, duh! I said "dinner", not "lunch". Except, remember, she's a native Iowan, which means instead of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner like most (ahem) normal folks, she ate breakfast, dinner and supper. Thankfully, I've converted her since then. Whew!

39. Our first wedding anniversary saw us spending a week at Walt Disney World. What a wonderful time that was! Even if she managed to rip her toenail out two days into the trip, thus requiring me to push her around in a wheelchair the whole time after that.

40. She had long hair when we started dating, and I had short hair. Now we've reversed that.

41. Before we started dating, I had a beard. When I became interested in her, I shaved it so I'd look better. Then, I learned that she likes facial hair. So I grew the beard back a while later.

42. Foods I've tried because of her: asparagus, squash, rhubarb, grapefruit, and more that I don't recall.

43. She loves George Carlin.

44. She bought me my first cell phone, and my second cell phone.

45. When we were at the Erie County Fair in 2001, she wandered off to look at the Bernina sewing machines. When I came by ten minutes or so later, she was in the process of buying a Bernina sewing machine. I didn't complain; I just stood there, kind of looking shell-shocked.

46. Leading up to our wedding, she rigidly adhered to the notion that the groom should not see the bride in her wedding dress until she comes round the corner to walk down the aisle. So I didn't see her until she came round the corner to walk down the aisle.

47. Starting a family was her idea. Not that I was against it; I figured we'd get there eventually. She just picked the "eventually".

48. She picked The Daughter's first name, so I got to pick her middle name.

48a. And now, this:

Old Photos of Little Quinn

49. Since Thanksgiving Break at college was only a four day weekend, I didn't go home for T-giving my junior year; instead, I spent the weekend with her. We went to see her extended family out in Storm Lake, Iowa, which is on the other side of the state. Since she has family over there on both sides of the family, we ended up having two Thanksgiving dinners that day. Some part of me is still full from those two meals.

50. Iowa delicacies that The Wife and I share are pork tenderloin sandwiches and broasted chicken.

51. Some of our early dates were sufficiently cheap that we had to look for ATM machines that would dispense cash in five dollar denominations.

52. She bought Simba, the above-mentioned red Persian kitten, while we were on a shopping trip to Erie, PA. She fell in love with the kitten as soon as she saw him in the pet store; we then spent the rest of the day walking around the mall with me listening to her as she tried to talk herself out of buying him. (Persian kittens are pricey little buggers.) Finally, while we were at dinner at Red Lobster, she decided to pull the trigger.

53. Before Little Quinn, the most heartbroken I ever saw The Wife was the day we finally had to end Simba's life. His kidneys were in failure.

54. Great gifts she's bought me through the years: my current winter coat, a cupboard-full of drinking vessels of all types, candles, incense burners, the Star Wars original trilogy on DVD, my anniversary edition of The Lord of the Rings with paintings by Alan Lee, my star sapphire ring, my current wristwatch, and many more.

55. The first thing she ever gave me: a stuffed bear, around whose neck she tied a lavender ribbon. I think she doused it with perfume. I named that bear "Bertrand", after philosopher Bertrand Russell.

56. The first thing I bought her: a little two-inch high figurine of a laughing Buddha. I think this confused her a bit.

57. Despite my best efforts for a while, she's never much warmed to baseball. That used to bother me, but these days that doesn't bug me much at all. I'm pretty cool to baseball myself now.

58. For a few years we went to Cedar Point each fall. We haven't been there in a long time, but I always found being there with her in the fall, in the cool air, pretty romantic. I loved riding the Giant Wheel after dark, sitting up there with her hand in mine, looking out over Lake Erie.

59. At Cedar Point, she decided that she liked this one coaster that does loops, so I stayed on the ground while she rode it. I'm terrified of those things.

60. Why don't we play mini golf more often? We both love mini golf. The Daughter loves mini golf. What gives?

61. One day in 1996, we were eating lunch in Buffalo when we had "The Discussion". Any guy who's ever been dating the same girl for a period of time measurable in years will know what "The Discussion" is. So I agreed, it was time for us to take the "next step". Later on, while she was having her eyes examined at LensCrafters, I bopped over to Penney's to buy her a ring. I chose a nice emerald one that looked really pretty. Sadly, they didn't have it in her size, so they had to order it, which would take three weeks. So I figured, OK, I'll get the ring in three weeks and make this thing official. Yay, Me!

62. The next day, she proposed to me.

63. Three weeks later I showed up to get the ring. They had it, but they couldn't find the paperwork, so some poor guy at the pickup counter at Penney's spent his entire lunch hour trying to find the paperwork so I could give my already-fiancee her engagement ring.

64. I don't remember exactly when we picked out her wedding rings, but we each have an Irish wedding band, and each ring is set with the other person's birthstone. So my ring is set with four amethysts, which is her birthstone; hers is set with four sapphires, which is mine.

65. For years I wore my ring incorrectly. Apparently there's one way to wear an Irish wedding band that signifies being married, and another that signifies being single. I was wearing mine the "single" way. I was alerted to this by a guy I worked with at The Store; he said, "Yeah, you're telling all the women that you're available." I replied, "Yeah, and I'm beating them off with a stick."

66. On our honeymoon, it was important to her that she at least get to dip her toes in the Atlantic Ocean. So she did. The water was very cold, though.

66a. She replicated this moment years later when we took a trip to the Jersey Shore.

To the sea!

66b. We returned two years later.

The Wife enjoys a bit of quiet. #CapeMay

67. It always bugged her mother that she saw Niagara Falls before her mother did. Later we took her mother to Niagara when she was out for a visit.

68. During the summer of 1991, when I was at home and she was still in Iowa, she came to spend a week with me. I took her to Buffalo and to Toronto, on the way to which we stopped to see Niagara Falls for her first time.

69. She was really confused the first time a Japanese tourist asked her to take his picture in front of the Falls.

70. At the time our beer of choice was Labatt's. It's pronounced "la-BATS", but we had a family friend at the time who liked to say it "LAB-uhts", which is how I said it at college just for fun and habit. So when she visited me that summer, we went to the bar where this friend hung out, and he was so impressed when she ordered a "LAB-uhts".

71. Our favorite mixed drink in college was the sloe gin fizz. A few years ago I tried making these again, discovering that her tastes had changed and she now found them sickeningly sweet. I like them still, but yeah, they're sugary. (And pink. When I told a friend at work who knows everything about liquor that I'd bought some sloe gin, he laughed and said, "Oh good! Now you can make pink drinks!")

72. She taught me the right way to do laundry.

73. I taught her the right way to crack open crab legs so as to not mangle the meat.

74. Our first major mistake of parenting was taking The Daughter to a fireworks display on the Fourth of July in 1999. The Daughter was all of fifteen days old. This was the big display in Lakewood, NY, which is right on the banks of Lake Chautauqua. The Daughter did not respond well to the fireworks detonating right over our heads; the sounds were bad and for years afterwards The Daughter was very scared of loud sounds.

75. We always say that we should go camping. We never actually do go camping. We need to do more camping.

76. Once for dinner I made some frozen cheese ravioli with sauce, a favorite meal of ours that we hadn't had in a long time. She said that she was looking forward to "eating some cheesy goodness". Unfortunately, the raviolis were a bit on the old and tough side, and the cheese never got nice and melty, so after the meal, she commented, "That wasn't really cheesy goodness."

77. She likes eggs over-easy. I'm not a big fan of those, but I try to make them for her when she's getting over being sick.

78. She makes fun of my over-reliance on boxed mixes in the kitchen.

78a. I'm much better about this now. Her main kitchen complaint about me is that I make way too big a mess when I cook.

79. In 1993, when Cheers aired its final episode, she bought pizza for my roommate and I.

80. She only swears when she's really annoyed.

81. She is not happy that her nine-year-old, fourth-grade daughter is now the same shoe size as she is.

82. A while back she had her hair colored a brighter shade of blond than is her natural color. It was awesome.

83. Before that she experimented with red. I've tried talking her into doing that again, but no dice.

84. When my aunt met her the night before our wedding, she made a comment to the effect that I was to be commended for adding blond hair and blue eyes to our gene pool.

85. The Daughter has blond hair and blue eyes. So did Little Quinn.

86. I'm not sure there's a variety of seafood she dislikes.

87. I love the way she looks when she's just come home from work and changed into her PJ's.

88. Adopting Lester and Julio was her idea, but she claims the upper hand on that anyway because she was helping out my mother.

89. For some reason, The Daughter and I like to bring up at the dinner table the fact that The Wife, as a kid, had to help the family out on Chicken Butchering Day. I don't know why.

90. She thinks Orlando Bloom is really attractive. I don't see it, myself, but you can't argue these things.

91. For my birthday in 1992 she drove me to Dyersville, IA so I could see the Field of Dreams.

92. If I want to spoil her, all I have to do is buy her blush wine, cashews, olives and chocolate. Cake helps, too.

93. She spoils me by looking the other way when I go to Borders; by making me waffles or French toast or Spanish rice; by cleaning the kitchen after I've messed it up; by indulging my love of pie; and a thousand other ways.

94. I'm always game for a pie in the face, but I'm pretty sure nobody pies me like she does. Or better.

If you can't be ridiculously silly with the person you love, you're doing it wrong! Happy Valentine's Day, everybody!! #ValentinesDay #pieintheface #overalls #splat #SillinessIsAwesome

Splat! The meeting of Pie and Face

Patrick Starfish is surprised by my fate. #PatrickStarfish #pieintheface #overalls #splat

95. I know I've found the perfect girl for me when she describes our Thanksgiving in 2006 as being perfect because, after dinner, we went to see Casino Royale. In her words: "We had a big turkey dinner, and then we watched James Bond kill people."

96. We both love laughing at David Caruso on CSI Miami.

96a. Sadly, CSI Miami is long gone, but now we thrill to the adventures of Team Machine on Person of Interest, of Castle and Beckett on Castle, and we enjoy Alton Brown's delicious brand of pure evil on Cutthroat Kitchen.

97. One time last year we were at the Y, and she got so engrossed in what she was doing that when I approached her, she didn't recognize me at first.

97a. She loves lilacs.

Rochester Lilac Festival. #LilacFestival #Rochester

98. Maybe this is a personal failing on my part, but I can't bear it when she cries. It kills me inside. But I'm trying to get better at this, since as Gandalf said, "Not all tears are an evil."

99. I wish we were living lives that didn't include so many tears.

100. I love her more than I did last week at this time.

101. Number 100 on this list will be equally true next week at this time. And the week after. And so on.

102. She makes me happier than I thought possible.

103. She...oh, I guess that's where I need to stop. I love you, honey!

Chilly morning at the Farmers Market. I had to buy The Wife a coffee. #wife #EastAurora #wny

Day 65: Tried taking a photo of my Beautiful Wife looking at Taughannock Falls, but she turned her head toward me at the last second! #100DaysOfHappiness

The Wife, with horse. #eriecountyfair #Wife

Pumpkinville: Happy wife, irritated Daughter

Erie County Fair: A couple

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Behold the Hunter!

I bought a new camera prior to our trip to New York City last year, and I've spent a bit of time exploring its various shooting modes, including a nifty Moon mode, which basically keeps the shutter open for a few seconds to gather extra light. I've been wondering if the camera could thus capture stars, too, so I waited for a clear night (which, in February in Western New York, can be a bit of a wait indeed), and I finally got one tonight.! Here, folks, is Orion the Hunter (my favorite constellation) in the sky above Casa Jaquandor! Off to the left, the bright star is Sirius, and of course, the Moon oversees all.

Next up: A clear night with no moon! That's a few weeks off, though....

I finally got a clear night to try my new camera's star photos! Here's Orion, Sirius, and the Moon! 😍😍😍 #stars #orion #moon #sirius #astronomy

Something for Thursday

Remember the other day, when you said that you needed some more Rachmaninov in your life? Well, I live to serve!

The Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini is one of Rachmaninov's most enduring works, and it's easy to hear why, with its masterful piano writing and its amazing invention on wringing a great deal of originality from a single tune. The work is a mainstay on concert programs throughout the world, and just about everybody has heard the amazing 18th Variation, which is actually an inversion of the main Paganini tune: Rachmaninov literally turns the melody upside down, and so doing, gives us one of the enduring lyric passages in all classical music.

But there's so much more to this amazing work than just that 18th Variation! So here it is, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

You're not fooling anybody, Canada!

I've long suspected curling of not being a real thing, and now Cal goes and confirms it, with this bit of "commentary" on Facebook (in response to this photo of what we're told is the outcome of a curling match, but we know better, don't we):


I always ask the same questions when I see one of these pictures.

How the hell did the other team miss your rocks EIGHT FUCKING TIMES because they ALSO get eight rocks to throw. You got all your eight rocks to count but they did nothing to prevent that from happening. It's like humans playing against squirrels when a eight ender occurs. They never show the other team who allowed EIGHT FUCKING POINTS to get scored against them because the shame is so great that their images will not even register on film.

An eight ender? This is about the worst real thing I can imagine happening. Four people with two rocks each on the other team couldn't prevent this insult from occurring. How do you numnuts miss EVERYTHING in the house? Are you infirmed? Did none of your rocks even cross the hog line? I have to know. I HAVE TO KNOW!!

Yeah, there's no way that's a real sport! We're on to you, Canada!

Monday, February 15, 2016

My Favorite Fictional Presidents

Let's rank some Presidents Who Never Were!

5. Thomas Beck

President Beck's record might seem spotty, given the amount of destruction due to natural disaster during his term, but his stoic leadership helped keep a seemingly doomed nation calm in the face of extinction-level calamity. And he pledged to rebuild, which was nice.

4. President Widmark

His first name is unknown, and he appears to have spent a good deal of his Presidency in traction due to back trouble. He is also known for being lazy, given his use of the "Declaration of War (the short form)". Still, his term saw some gonzo stuff happen, most notably the attempted exodus of Red Lectroids to Planet Ten.

3. President Bill Mitchell

This President was a deeply odd man. He was cold and calculating, and was eventually proven to have been a crook as well...but then he had a very odd turn of heart and become something like a handsome FDR. In a creepy turn, after his death from some kind of cerebral hemorrhage or something, his wife ended up dating a guy who looked just like him. Very strange.

2. President Josiah Bartlet

One little-known aspect of President Bartlet's term is the number of steps his staffers walked on a daily basis. One prominent observer once said, "Why do these folks have desks? They do all their major policy-making while walking in circles around the White House." Bartlet is also noted for having lied about MS and having embroiled the United States in foreign policy crises (and gotten his own daughter kidnapped) when he decided to assassinate a leader of a fictional nation. Also oddly, he only served seven years and cited Rizzo from Grease as his favorite fictional character of all time.

1. President Thomas Whitmore

Apparently a crappy political leader, President Whitmore earns top marks for strapping into a fighter jet and helping blow up an alien spaceship. If Herbert Hoover had done that, he'd be on Mount F***ing Rushmore. Oh, and Whitmore gets special marks for becoming President and doing all that after being embarrassingly dumped by Meg Ryan in favor of complete stranger Tom Hanks.

Honorable Mentions: The President, unnamed, who pinned his hopes to Superman when three other people from Krypton showed up who were a lot less nice than Kal-El; President Allison Taylor, who resigned in disgrace after tearfully wishing that she could help disgraced agent Jack Bauer (apparently forgetting that she could just pardon him); President Andrew Shepherd, who fell in love with a lobbyist and had very nervous sex with her in the White House before giving a speech in which he literally promised to go door-to-door if he had to in order to confiscate Americans' guns; President Richard Nixon, and not that one but the one who looked a little like that Hannibal Lecter fellow.

Oh, and The President of the United Federation of Planets who helped negotiate peace with the Klingons at Camp Khitomer, without calling anyone a "dumbass".

Finally, make sure to check out this summary of the most dangerous period in Presidential history.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Symphony Saturday

One thing I’m greatly enjoying about doing these Saturday Symphony posts is that in addition to re-exploring music I’ve known and loved for years, I’m exploring music that has been unjustly forgotten as the decades and then the centuries have passed since these composers worked. In some cases, I haven’t even heard of the composers. Such is the case today, with British composer William Sterndale Bennett.

Britain isn’t much known for its classical music during the nineteenth century, for one reason or another. I’m not entirely sure why that’s the case, but aside from Sir Arthur Sullivan’s work, you don’t much hear the work of British composers between Handel and the arrival of Sir Edward Elgar. I don’t know to what degree William Sterndale Bennett’s work is representative, but if it is a good illustration of where British music was in the mid-1800s, then perhaps Britain’s music culture was too conservative to really blossom into what is considered “greatness”. There’s a commonly held perception, I think, that real greatness can most be found in those artists who move art forward, which seems to me to often result in artists being left behind when their work tends to look more back than forward. Such is the case with Bennett.

Of course, there were likely other forces at work. The development of the “classical canon” during the 19th century certainly reflects national attitudes of the time, and the Germanic dominance of classical music history can’t really be taken as a separate phenomenon, divorced from the politics of the day.

But no matter; what’s up for consideration is Bennett’s music. As I listen to this symphony (G-minor, op. 43, written in 1864), I hear echoes of Mozart and early Beethoven, and Bennett wrote this work seventy years after the former’s death and nearly forty after the latter’s. Bennett’s style apparently never developed beyond his early devotion to Classicism, and in looking up some things, quotes of Bennett’s seem to bear this out. One need only look at what he had to say about Richard Wagner to see it:

I have no intention of treating him disrespectfully; that I entirely misunderstand him and his musical opinions may be my fault and not his. At any rate he possesses an influence at this moment over musical life, which it would be impossible to overlook.

Basically he’s saying, “I dunno, maybe he’s good, but I sure don’t get it.” There isn’t a hint of any idea in this symphony more advanced than anything you might hear in Schubert. This music was considered old-fashioned in its day, so of course it would languish in obscurity. Bennett’s work is apparently enjoying what little resurgence it can (especially with 2016 being his bicentennary), but I suspect that William Sterndale Bennett will always fall into that category of composers who aren’t good enough to be frequently heard, but who are too good to be heard as rarely as they are. Anyway, it’s interesting to me to consider that as the 19th century marched on toward its final decades, as Romanticism was pushing music – incuding the venerable symphony – to larger and larger scales, here was this Britishman still happily writing full, four-movement symphonies that were only about 25 minutes long.

Here is William Sterndale Bennett’s Symphony in G-minor, op. 43.

Next week? I’m not sure. I gotta get to that wonderful Czech one of these weeks, though....

Friday, February 12, 2016

Bad Joke Friday

So, not once but TWICE this week, I wrote posts in advance and then hit 'publish' without scheduling a future date first. This post actually went live on Tuesday, and then I did the same thing again with 'Something For Thursday'. But while I let that one go, figuring it was already late on Wednesday so the hell with it, I reverted this one to draft status and then forgot to schedule it or post it or anything. So here it is. Sorry. I'll strive to do better!

Seen on Facebook this week:

William Tell and his family were avid bowlers. Sadly though, a fire broke out at the alleys destroying everything including all the league records.

Now we'll never know for whom the Tells bowled.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Something for Thursday

Well, if I'm going to be such a staggering slacker about posting here, the least I can do is offer exuberant music. So here's one of the most exuberant and cheerful pieces I know: Espana by Emmanuel Chabrier. Few musical works are more cheerful than this, with all that wonderful orchestral color and amazing, intricate rhythm!

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Symphony Saturday

Now a more obscure composer, and a symphony that's not a traditional symphony! Hooray!

Karl Goldmark was a Hungarian composer whose music was quite popular in its day, but not as much since. He's one of those composers who isn't quite good enough to make the "standard repertoire", but he's also too good to deserve being heard as infrequently as he is today. He lived a long life (1830-1915), and he wrote a lot of music, and what little I've heard of it is genial music in the fine Germanic tradition of his day. I suspect that Goldmark's obscurity today results from a usual source: he was a very skilled composer who nevertheless never seems to have really pushed the limits of the art of his day. That all sounds very unfair, to be honest, which is why I'm featuring Goldmark today. I myself only encountered him via the local classical radio station on the drive home one day, when the announcer said something like, "If you're a casual fan of classical music, it's possible you haven't heard of this composer, who was very popular in his day!" I suppose Goldmark might be considered a latter-day Salieri.

Anyway, the Rustic Wedding Symphony consists of five movements, the first of which is a theme-and-variations rather than a traditional sonata-allegro movement. The five movements are titled March, Bridal Song, Serenade, In the Garden, and Dance. The structure is reminiscent of Berlioz's approach to the symphony, but there are no supernatural demonic forces at play here, just good, jovial Hungarian music.

This particular recording is an older one, but it's vibrant and fun to hear. So go check out some Goldmark! He's waiting.

Next week...I don't know. I haven't decided yet!

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Something for Thursday

I watched the movie High Society over the weekend (it's on Netflix!). I grew up with this film, in some ways, because it is a favorite of my parents'. Oddly, it took years before I saw it all the way through and in correct sequence, because if you grew up with movies on teevee (usually late-night or on independent stations), you typically saw movies chopped up, with entire scenes missing and sometimes out of sequence. It wasn't until home video that I saw High Society as it was made.

How is it? Well, it's good. I like it, but it doesn't hold up as well as I'd hoped. It's a literal remake of The Philadelphia Story, but converted into a musical, featuring Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Louis Armstrong as the main musical attractions. (Grace Kelly sings briefly, and Celeste Holm joins Sinatra in a song, but that's all for "outside" talent.) The songs are all great, and the acting is pretty well top-notch, even if I'm not sure that Crosby and Kelly are really cut out for the types of roles they have here. In fact, I generally tend to the belief that whatever charms Crosby had -- and they were many -- being a romantic lead wasn't totally in his wheelhouse. Plus, the story suffers a bit as key scenes from the original Philadelphia Story script are omitted in favor of songs. And then there's a general whiff of period-realistic sexism. I'm generally good at maintaining my sense of period, but some of this stuff really rankles me (and bugged me as a kid, in all honesty). When Seth Lord says: "What most wives fail to understand is that their husband's philandering has nothing whatever to do with them!", I just want to punch the guy in the kidneys.

But...oh, those songs! Here are a few. First is Bing Crosby with "Samantha". In the movie, Crosby plays a songwriter, and this is apparently one of his tunes:

Then "Now You Has Jazz", as Crosby explains the makings of jazz to the rich folk of Newport, RI:

Earlier in the movie, Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holm have this wonderful comedic song, "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire". They are reporters sent by a gossip magazine to cover Grace Kelly's wedding, and they're getting a big inside look at the lives of the rich.

And finally, my favorite song in the film. Crosby and Sinatra are at a party, both have had too much to drink, and this song happens. From what I read recently, this song actually got put into the film during production when someone pointed out that they had Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra in the same movie and yet they hadn't thought to include a duet for them. I love the last lines here: "Have you heard / it's in the stars! / Next July, we collide with Mars!"

Monday, February 01, 2016