Also read Lewis's final testimony, an op-ed that ran in the New York Times just today.
Thursday, July 30, 2020
Tuesday, July 28, 2020
You may remember a hilarious sketch comedy show from the 2000s called Key and Peele; and if you do, then you likely know that Jordan Peele, one half of the comedy duo from that show, has gone on to an impressive career in filmmaking, mostly in the horror genre. He even won an Oscar for one of his screenplays a couple of years ago.
Peele, like many directors, seems to have established a partnership with a particular composer for his filmscores: a man named Michael Abels, who in addition to his film work has composed a number of meaningful works for the concert hall and who has worked hard to increase the visibility of composers of color. This particular piece dates back to 1990, and its title--"Global Warming"--refers not to the ecological challenge of our time, but the specific feeling of international goodwill that was emergent in the handful of years immediately following the end of the Cold War.
The piece opens with a coldly stark sound that gives way to exuberant dance which blends a number of elements from national music all over the world. One might expect that character of music, given this theme...but at the end it returns to that coldly stark sound, as if to express skepticism and a return to wariness even as old enmities were seemingly falling by the wayside. In this Abels may well have been prescient.
Monday, July 27, 2020
True, the pandemic has put the kibosh on a lot of things we normally do this time of year: no trip to the Sterlink Renaissance Festival for us, nor will there be an Erie County Fair. But we still eat like it's summer, though! Every year when the ripe tomatoes start showing up at the Farmers Market, it's BLT time.
Sweet corn can't be far behind!
Friday, July 24, 2020
Yeah, the usual disclaimer: a busy week full of activity has led to a day's delay. I don't have a great deal to say about this song, so just listen to it. This is one of those songs that takes you places, which is fitting given its title and lyrics. Here is "Midnight Train to Georgia", by Gladys Knight and the Pips.
Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Every Pizza Hut restaurant in Western New York has permanently closed.
I'm not going to pretend that this is a loss, except in the sense that this is a few hundred jobs down the drain. I worked for Pizza Hut back in the 1990s, when we lived in Olean, NY, and I posted years ago what that was like. It wasn't a horrible place to work back then, but it sure wasn't great, either; pay was a joke, and for all the lip service paid to the idea that Pizza Hut was supposed to be a step above fast food, it was clear that even then the higher-ups had no idea what they were doing with respect to the shifting restaurant scene.
I have no idea how long it's been since I've even eaten at a Pizza Hut, and it's something of a long-running joke in this region that the number of buildings that used to be Pizza Huts far outnumbers those that house actual Pizza Huts.
Oh well. Support your local pizza joint, folks. Let the chains figure it out on their own.
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
Ulysses Kay was a Black composer who lived from 1917 to 1995. Born in Tucson to parents who encouraged music-making in the home, Kay went on to study music at the University of Arizona and the Eastman School of Music, working with such musical luminaries as William Grant Still and Howard Hanson. Kay's music is (so I've read, having not heard much of it at all!) mostly written in the neoclassical style, which makes sense from my hearing of today's piece. I don't hear a great deal of jazz or African influence here. This work has an almost academic kind of feel to it, which may be simply because the piece is called "Fantasy Variations" and does not seem to have any programmatic content at all, which puts it in a different category, more of an "absolute music" kind of piece, than a lot of what I've been featuring over the last few weeks.
This work rewards several listens, I have found. It opens with a lyrical passage that quickly gives way to stark modernism, and then the mood alternates several times before arriving on an almost hymnlike conclusion. The piece stands in much the same kind of musical tradition as a great deal of American 20th century music, and I am entirely unsurprised to read that Kay studied with Still and Hanson.
Here is Fantasy Variations by Ulysses Simpson Kay.
Monday, July 20, 2020
This has turned into a hot, dry summer in Buffalo Niagara. Even the streams at Chestnut Ridge, up in the wooded hills, are beginning to dry up.
I'm not nearly as bad about hot weather as I once was, ten or fifteen years ago, but even so, too much time north of ninety degrees still makes me grumpy and/or lethargic. The week before last, we endured something like eight consecutive days above the ninety degree mark. That is highly unusual for this region.
I'm hoping that this doesn't become the norm for summers around here. While we do have our share of hot-and-humid, one selling point of summer in Buffalo is that it doesn't get as sultry as the summers in Philadelphia, New York City, or Boston. Every year we hear anew the fact that since authorities started recording temperatures, Buffalo has never hit one hundred degrees. I suspect that this streak is likely to end one of these years.
I'm ready for August, though!
I spent a bit of time this past weekend making a few changes to Byzantium's Shores, which you may notice if you're particularly eagle-eyed and you're familiar with the old lay of the land here. Some of these changes were long overdue, and given that Blogger has recently updated its interface, I figured I should make some of the obvious (and less-than-obvious) changes.
By way of itemizing the alterations, here's what's up:
:: New masthead image, obviously. I think I did a pretty good job at creating a masthead that reflects my personal branding!
:: I updated the blog tagline, to run beneath the masthead.
:: I moved the menu of Blog Pages up, so now it's the first thing you see on the sidebar. You may notice that the Comments Policy is not there anymore; the page still exists but I want to tweak it a bit. That link will reappear when that's done.
I have also created an information page for my books! As of this writing, the page contains nothing at all, but getting that page done is a priority for the next week or two. It seems weird that this particular blog, which is in many ways my main outpost online, never had direct information about my books and their availability. That changes...well, soon. Stay tuned!
Also note that I have removed the blogroll. This is, sadly, permanent, at least as far as I can foresee. Blogging is more and more of a niche thing, and as I clicked around my blogroll's links a few days ago I discovered a distressing number of links that go to blogs that are, sadly, no more. An on-site blogroll is just not an important resource anymore.
:: I tightened up the wordage in the "Informational" section of the sidebar, which is now titled "Greetings, Programs!" (This is a geek reference to the movie TRON, if you must know.) This includes a link to ForgottenStars.net, as well as a link to my LinkTree. LinkTree is a service that manages links, so links to all of my various social media and other web hangouts are there, instead of taking up lots of sidebar space.
:: There was a section for old blog aggregation services; I've removed this entirely.
:: All that remains is the shifting about of the photo sections and my sidebar quotes.
Does all this mean that I'll be posting more frequently? Ummm...look, over there! [runs away while you're distracted]
Saturday, July 18, 2020
Thursday, July 16, 2020
I have to admit something: it took me years to warm back up to this song, after a college professor ruined it for me. She used a cover of it as the background song to a video she had put together showing photographs of homeless people. I cannot for the life of me remember the point of that video or what she was trying to convey to us, but it was a class about politics or society or...something. The class was called "Person and Society", and I really couldn't tell you what the point of the class was at all, these many years later. It was one of three classes Wartburg College had at the time that were required of every student, summed up under the label "Foundational Studies". This class might have been about political expression...or...hell, I don't know. All I really recall from this class is this godawful video, and the fact that one of our textbooks was a ranty volume by a guy named Dinesh D'Souza. (Yeah...I know.)
So yeah, it took me quite a long time to warm up to this song again, and when I did, it was to the original, by Bill Withers. It really is quite a good song, after all -- too good to be ruined by a weird A/V presentation in a college class.
Here's "Lean On Me" by Bill Withers.
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
We had waffles the other night. I took my waffles outside and ate them on our patio table, because it was a lovely evening.
But one of my family members didn't want me to be lonely, so....
Yes, I shared. I'm not a monster!
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
This may be something of a cheat, since Tone Poem Tuesday has always featured orchestral music, and this week all we have is a solo piano work. But what a work it is, juxtaposing traditional melodies with interesting sound effects, some produced by the piano and some not.
But first, let's meet our composer: Blind Tom Wiggins.
He was born a slave in 1850, but--as one might expect from his name--he was blind. A blind slave might have expected to simply be killed by their owners, since they offer little by way of economic benefit, but for whatever reason, Tom's owners let him live, and he seems to have been allowed to simply wander about the plantation and entertain himself as best he could, which ultimately led to his finding his way to a piano. He played songs from memory upon first hearing, and he had other strange gifts of recall as well: he was able to recite speeches he had heard years before, even aping the speakers' intonations, and he could repeat entire conversations verbatim. But he couldn't communicate his own thoughts or needs beyond grunting.
It is now thought that Blind Tom Wiggins was an autistic savant, in a time when such individuals were unheard of. He traveled extensively, performing concerts where he would entertain "audience challenges": someone would play for him a new, unheard composition, challenging him to reproduce it by ear, and he would. Wiggins also composed a lot of music of his own, little of which has been heard since his day.
One of his best-known pieces is this week's feature. It is called The Battle of Manassas, and it begins with rolling piano chords possibly signifying the drums of an army on the march. Then comes a series of familiar tunes from the Civil War era, some of which come as a surprise. As the piece goes on, the drumming in the bass gives way to pounded dissonant chords, possibly signifying gun and cannon fire. At one point the performer is to whistle a single note over the entire proceedings, while in another the performer makes a "Ch-ch-ch" sound.
It's a bizarre and fascinatingly modern piece, written by a man who was enslaved, misunderstood, and exploited. Here is The Battle of Manassas, by Blind Tom Wiggins.
Sunday, July 12, 2020
So, among everything else, 2020 has become The Year We All Wear Masks.
Or it should be that, but an awful lot of people are proving wildly resistant to the idea, on various bases. There are the always-entertaining libertarian types who are loath to follow any governmental guideline, no matter how wise or just or sensible, because it's from the government. There are the fact-challenged skeptics who refuse to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is real, or they accept that it's real but overblown, or they simply believe themselves to be relatively bullet-proof and take a "Let's just roll the dice!" attitude, without considering that with a disease like this, you're not just rolling your dice but the dice of people around you, some of whom are likely loved-ones.
As for me? Well, I've largely been fine with wearing the mask, though I honestly can't say I would have adopted the mask as quickly and readily as I did had my job at The Store not made them a requirement (which they did, in turn, based on an executive order by Governor Cuomo). I like to think that I would have heeded the strong recommendations from the CDC and other officials, but I have my pig-headed moments too, so maybe I wouldn't have been as wise on this as I would like to imagine. Luckily for me, I'm not going to find out.
I never liked Halloween costumes that involved masks when I was a kid, and the first day I had to wear one at work, I had similar difficulty. It took a couple of days for me to figure out the ins-and-outs of the masks, which started out as the disposable paper ones. My glasses were a problem, of course! I realized that if I kept moving, the force air circulation would keep my glasses from fogging up. As soon as I stopped, though, then I'd fog up instantly. This also happened with the washable and reusable masks my company soon provided. I started carrying my glasses case with me, because I could just take the glasses off when I was working on something close, like doing a repair on a piece of equipment or...writing.
The bigger problem I had with those masks was that the elastic cords and bands that went around my ears made them ache something awful. I could wear the mask for about an hour before I had to take it off to give my poor ears a break. There are workarounds for this, of course, but right about this time an online friend named Zace Myers, who is an artisanal clothing maker in Ohio who makes, among other things, really amazing bib overalls (and I am years overdue in blogging about his overalls!), decided to apply his skills to mask design. After a couple trials and refinements, he settled on the design I'm wearing in the photo above.
The elastic bands go around the head, and not the ears, which is the main thing! And the brass nose-piece is great because you can easily bend it to properly shape your particular nose. The upshot is that now my glasses never fog up! There is a small tradeoff here: the mask does push my glasses up on my face just slightly, so they're a tiny bit north of where I usually position them. In most cases that wouldn't be a problem, but my glasses are transition lenses, so the mask pushing them up results in the glasses not quite lining up with where I best look through them. This is not a big deal, just a tiny, minor thing. My poor ear cartilage not feeling like it's on fire is the major thing. (Here's where to buy them, if you're so inclined!)
As for breathing, I find that after wearing masks for most of the day, every day I'm at work, I'm actually getting used to them. The extra heat inside them doesn't faze me much (and I might even like that aspect come winter, if we're still masking as I assume we will be), and I have zero difficulty breathing in them. The act of breathing feels slightly different, obviously, and I think that a lot of people are so used to completely unencumbered breathing that they assume difficulty where there is none. I know that my pulse-oxygen levels have not suffered one bit from wearing the mask, and in truth I am at the point where I even forget I have it on.
I see some snarking online here and there about masks, and one that especially irritates me is "You don't have to wear one when you're driving by yourself, Sheeple!" I've responded several times, with varying degrees of politeness (I was, I'll admit, not at all polite in responding to some MAGA-Republican running for Congress someplace), that if I'm making multiple stops I don't want to be putting on the mask, taking it off again, putting it on again, taking it off again, lather rinse repeat, everywhere I go. What I don't get is people who rip the mask off the second they exit a place, whether it's a store or whatever, and make this show of gasping for air. Come on, folks. Let's get a grip.
Well, this has gone on long enough, I guess. Mainly my take on masks boils down to: I wasn't thrilled to have to do it, but now that I do, well...could be worse. It's an easy thing to do, it's not at all a major imposition on my life, and it's a perfectly valid means of helping to protect others. This last point is what gets me about all this: The resistance to mask-wearing has really provided a fascinatingly specific case study--not that we needed yet another one, but here we are--in the ever-depressingly American resistance to thinking in terms of collective benefit. Our centuries of mythology about "rugged individualism" is either going to be set aside and soon, or it's going to lead us to erasing ourselves from the march of human history. I've believed this for years. I just never thought that something like "Wear masks for a while, or millions will die" would be the thing that would prove it.
Wear your masks, people.
Tuesday, July 07, 2020
I've featured the music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) before, and with good reason: he was a fine composer whose work deserves to be better known. Coleridge-Taylor was a British composer of mixed race (a white mother and a Creole father). As a British composer living when he did, Coleridge-Taylor composed in the style of late Romanticism, and his work--full of dense orchestrations and dramatic mood-shifts--anticipates greater English masters like Edward Elgar and Arthur Bax. Coleridge-Taylor unfortunately died of pneumonia when he was only 37, yet another voice whose works of comparative youth tantalize at the depths that might have been plumbed in later years if not for illness.
This work, the Ballade in A minor for orchestra, was commissioned for a choral festival at the urging of none other than Elgar himself, who saw the young composer's talent. The Ballade is an energetic and lyrical work of late Romantic warmth.
Monday, July 06, 2020
Ennio Morricone, one of the greatest of all film composers, has died. He was 91. His music was often expansive and melodic, evocative and emotional. I often find his work hard to characterize, to be honest, but his finest work is often meditative and introspective. He often took a non-intuitive approach to scoring certain films, like his famous work on the "Spaghetti Westerns" of Sergio Leone. He wasn't about to strive for the Americana-west sound of an Elmer Bernstein or a Dmitri Tiomkin
One of the finest albums of film music I know is a collaboration album he did years ago with Yo Yo Ma, performing selections from his film scores. I cannot recommend this album highly enough, especially if you're new to Morricone and you have no idea where to start. That can happen with composers as prolific as Morricone was.
Farewell, Maestro. Your music will linger!
Saturday, July 04, 2020
Of all Independence Days, this one is something else, isn't it? I personally find it hard to celebrate this year, for oh so many reasons. About the most positive feeling I can muster this year is a grim resolve, the vow that no, this ain't over, not by a damn longshot. I'm not giving up on my country forever, but it's hard right now to see it ever becoming the land to which it aspires (and, for a certain population, believes it always was until something went awry, hint hint wink wink nudge nudge as to what that might be).
Anyway. Happy birthday, America.
America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours." You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.
--The American President, written by Aaron Sorkin
Friday, July 03, 2020
Yesterday was a pretty busy day in my world, as I was getting ready for a nice long weekend. Ahhhhhh!!!
It's Independence Day Weekend, when we're supposed to be celebrating America. In 2020 that's...well, frankly, it's a pretty tall order. The American brand is not having one of its best years, but it can at least be hoped that perhaps this year is something of an acceleration year as the country starts to again pivot toward the country it should be.
Anyway, here's something purely American: Wynton Marsalis playing some jazz. It's a piece called "Perdido". Written by trombonist Juan Tizol, it's a jazz standard that goes all the way back to Duke Ellington. I'm not always the best jazz listener, but the big band stuff from that era usually makes me happy, and Wynton Marsalis is, of course, a genius.