Thursday, March 28, 2013

Morning Music

At quite a number (I can't remember exactly) of grade schools on Cape Cod the morning begins with the principal  on the PA system saying good morning, giving the weather prediction (maybe the Red Sox stats) and then saying, "This morning's music is ..." and then playing five minutes of classical music, having given name of composer (maybe Mozart, as in the photo here), name of the composition and opus number.  The children sit quietly listening to the music, then the day continues as usual in grade schools.  This is an innovation initiated by the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra's supporters.  Teachers report that during this year, since it has become routine, they feel the children are able to concentrate longer and more effectively on their lessons.

A charming, cheery bass trombone player named George Scharr gave to the adults at the Academy for Lifelong Learning, the lecture he has prepared, with video, to take to many schools during the remainder of the school year. The theme of his talk is that music, like many other things in our world, can be reduced, reused and recycled. I am not at all sure that this kind of exposure to classical music will make concert (classical not rock) goers of young people.  If listening to five minute of Mozart's or Bach's music in the morning is a calming transition from a hurried home and noisy bus ride, wonderful!  From the years when I had school age children I've seen this kind of effort by intelligent adults who want to "expose" children to culture.  Such a small taste of classical music can't hurt but I don't imagine it having a long lasting impact.  For most children it's a part of "school", not a part of "real" life, and will be a mere residue like the lines they learn from a poem by Robert Frost, or the date of a Civil War battle.

Mr. Scharr's talk also referred to ecology, global warming, recycling and reusing everyday items; it seemed a politically correct amalgam of current themes in society.  I very much enjoyed the man's presentation but I am bothered by the element of fantasy about it's potential effect. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Nostalgia is not my thing

I was a teenage wallflower.  I sat at dances, usually dateless, sometimes accompanied by my younger brother  -- oh! the ignominy of going to a prom with one's brother -- that surely is enough to tell anyone that nostalgia for high school is nonexistent in my emotional kitbag.

I went, with some coercion, to a '50s-'60s dance for the Academy of Lifelong Learning yesterday afternoon.  The "excusion down memory lane" was not a happy trip, although the pizza they served was good (but back in those days pizza had not made it Boondock, Indiana.

Several people, some of whom were couples married for over 50 years, danced up a storm, just the joyous body movements I always wished I knew how to make and had a partner to do it with.  I watched with as much envy as ever.  A couple of guys tried to get me to dance well with them, I could not.  Still stiff and uncertain and locked in a time warp I would have loved to break out of but was firmly chained, never, probably, to be unlocked..

Wallflower-hood (even without the shyness about talking to all the other people wandering around) is just as lousy at 70-plus as it was at 17.  And they didn't even play slow dances, not that there was anyone I wanted to slow dance with although that might have taken the edge off the dissatisfaction.
Lesson learned; but I'm a bit grumpy about it today.

Friday, March 22, 2013

People, Alan Bennett

British playwrights never get tired of telling us about the eccentrities and problems of the nobility in the big houses.  Alan Bennett began this recent play, People, with Lady Stackepoole and her companion, Iris, in a freezing old stately house, trying to maintain a wee bit of dignity while fending off the National Trust and then listening to an auctioneer who has a conglomerate on the side wishing to buy the house and move it to a warmer part of England.  Now and then Lady Stackepoole and Iris burst into song, we don't quite know why since the lady was once a fashion model but supposedly could not act and never mentions singing. The plot thickens, there is a sister who is now a deaconess in the Anglican church, a film maker scouting a location -- for a porno film -- and we're off and running into greater flights of wit and  madness.  I laughed, I enjoyed the performances, I left thinking -- so what?  I was entertained for a couple of hours and that is that. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wanted Women, by Deborah Scroggins

Wanted Women, Fair Lies - the War on Terror: The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali - Aafia Sidiqui by Deborah Scroggins was the subject of yet another lecture series from the 25th Anniversary Celebrations of the Academy of Lifelong Learning here  -- where I take courses and teach a writing class.  As it happens, Ms. Scroggins now lives on Cape Cod.  This is her second book on Arab women. She now serves on a government advistory board.  Her talk was highly informative, well delivered and, happily, very well attended.

These two women are at opposite poles of the current political situation.  Both were highly educated, in English, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, in America, in fact.  She became an Islamist and then a terrorist, a friend of Al Queida  members and is currently serving a 86 year prison sentence here in the US.  She is considered a heroine among the Islamist movement.  On the other hand Aafia Siddiqui was raised in Africa and has become militantly anti-Islamist.  She worked with the murdered Theo Van Gogh on the movie, Infidel, lives for a while in the Netherlands where she elected to a political office.  She is considered a heroine by those who are totally anti-Islamist.

Deborah Scroggins worked a  a journalist for many years, spent several years researching this book -- her second on the Islamic world, and has won awards for her work.  Appropriately, a good journalist, she shows that both women are far more complex than their political definitions suggest. Scroggins spoke very well, the audience asked good questions.  Although I can understanding the thinking of the marketing people who chose this book's cover design, I find it totally off-putting.  Now that I've heard the author speak I think it's a book I would enjoy reading but I would never have purchased it in a book store with that jacket design.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Perks of being a gray haired old lady

Last week someone asked how a mutual friend was doing.  The friend had been felled by a two-week long cold, the coughing exacerbated a preexisting back problem.  She was in pain but gamely trying to get around.  "She's walking around like a little old lady," I answered.  "Guess what?" said the friend.  "She is."  "So are we," I responded.  My friend concurred. 

But we weren't in pain, didn't need a cane and weren't as grumpy as this cartoon picture.  In fact, we didn't feel like "little old gray haired ladies" at all.  However there are times when I "play the little old lady card," as I did yesterday when I was mightily frustrated by the modern engineering of my car.  I've been trying to set the car clock ahead an hour.  I managed to make a general mess of the dashboard info.  Instead of changing the time, I changed it to a 24-hour read out -- I don't want to have to subtract 12 from anything from 13 onward.  I had somehow changed the speedometer from MPH to KPH which totally threw me when I saw I was going 55 in a 35 mile zone. And I'd added some fuel consumption rate data I was entirely uninterested in having there.  I needed help because I had no idea what the manual was trying to tell me.

So I stopped in the dealership which is about half a mile away (part of the reason I wanted a Honda) and went to the speedy service desk, said I was embarrassed at my ignorance but could someone help me set the clock.  A man gallantly, and immediately, went out to my car, told me what to do (as if I'll remember next time?) and within two minutes my dashboard was restored to usability.  To tell the truth, I was not embarrassed at all. I've learned that people are nice to helpless white haired ladies, at least where I live.  I never put on the grumpy face and am always very grateful.  I'm grateful, too, when people of all ages and genders open doors for me or are otherwise thoughtful and kind as they might not be to someone they consider an contemporary.  I've tried to be nice  and polite to people all my life and it's very nice to have earned this payback.  A smile help.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Dawns lke snowflakes

Although we had snow most of last week, I decided the snowy header photo had to be replaced.  This one is a picture of "rosy fingered dawn" -- not in the ancient Greek world but right outside my window.  I wrote a tongue-in-cheek poem about dawn for my poetry class.  It's below.

                             Dawns like Snowflakes

Since Homer set Agamemnon, Ulysses, Achilles--
            All the grubby Greek army--asail to mighty Troy
                        In the “rosy fingered dawn” of European civilization
                        To wage a war, not for flighty Helen, but for lapis lazuli,

Sainted Shakespeare put his glorious words in the mouth
            Of the hoodlum, bipolar, teen-age murderer, Romeo,
                        “envious streaks do lace the severing clouds in yonder east
                        and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain top”

I am rendered dumb and mum about the daily phenomenon
The sky displays beyond my window as I breakfast.
                        Often, stunned to silence, I grab my Canon Sure-shot
                        To take yet one more photo of yet another blazing formation

Seasonally changing its horizontal location
            Painting varied clouds and sky in ever-new combinations.
                        Damnit! All I can do is answer the Hagaddah question and say
                        This dawn is different from every other dawn every single day
                                    --like snowflakes, like people.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Play With Your Food

It's a clever title, "Play with your Food" --  series of play readings, mostly new plays, at 7:00 with light food available at 6:30 -- free play, cheap food.  Good idea! -- ?? Is it?

Most theatre companies--and in this case the theatre department of a two year college-- present briefly rehearsed readings of scripts for small audiences.  The pretense is that they are helping playwright's develop his/her work.  I call it pretense because I've been involved in too many of these undertakings and have never found it helpful, whether for me in my own writing or for other writers in their work.

The dirty little secret is that it's a project that impresses grant makers who haven't a clue what might be helpful to a playwright, nor do they know what can educate or entice an audience.  I've known all this for a great many years. So why did I take leave of my senses and submit a set of ten-minute plays to the local drama department for their series?  In short, I wanted to gain some validity with new acquaintances for my literary background.  So last night I heard five short plays read before an audience that was surprisingly large for the kind of wet, cold, awful wintery night that it was.  All the plays were comedies, of a black humor sort with much irony and rather causal deaths at the end of some. None were new.  None will be revised because of this experience.

The audience laughed at all the right times  For all the wrong reasons.  Eons ago my allegiance moved from community theatre to regional professional theatre and then to simply professional theatre. It's as if one moves from hot dogs to expensive hamburgers to fillet Mignon. You might still have  taste for a hotdog now and then but you know the difference. The performance was hot dogs smothered in mustard, ketsup, relish and onions.  In short badly hammed up.  Well, I have no one but myself to blame, I knew better but my ego needed this ... well, whatever it was.  Writers, be they playwrights, novelists, essayists, journalist, poets or anything in between do a lot of compromising because we don't believe we are communicating if our material doesn't reach a public -- and we're right.  So these days we self-publish, we write blogs, we submit stuff to on-line outlets, whatever. 
 blog is about having hit the Big 7-0 and truly, I'm too old for this.  I learned my lesson, I hope. And I suppose I gained what I wanted to gain, the reputation of being a playwright.  Oh, it's very complicated, intellectually and emotionally, so we'll leave it there.  It won't happen again.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


The movie, Amour, is much talked about, much liked. But not by me.  It's stark "realism" as Anne dies after first one and then a second stroke and George cares for her almost entirely alone, as the caring becomes a greater and greater burden but his love remains strong, seems to me not "real" enough to make sense.  I know there are people who cannot talk about their feelings, and elderly couples who are totally devoted to one another and probably have never been truly close to an only daughter.  But the screenwriter/director Michael Haneke made them educated people, Anne an apparently excellent and talented piano teacher/coach of concert level students and yet without the inner resources to be soothed by music -- or anything at all really?  One very brief scene showed George singing the child's song, ...le pont d'Avigone ... and the crippled Anne trying to sing along, a very touching scene.  But surely such people would find solace in music.  What music there was was Schubert as played by a student of hers but it seemed to give her no pleasure.  I cannot believe such people would not find companionship and some amount of peace in music.  And that they would be so exceptionally cold to their daughter.  I feel the director wanted to paint as dour and depressing a picture of these people as he could. I think a lot of younger people (by younger I mean anyone under 60, I suppose) are so terrified of death they can only see a person's deterioration as utter horror. I do not believe that is usually the case.  I believe most people have more interior resources than this movie suggests. 

The only movie I've seen lately that deals in death from disease truly honestly was the documents, How to Die on Oregon.  It did not pretty up the way cancer devastates a woman and her family, but it showed how the months before death can be lived fully, not despirately.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

They used to be called "talent shows" and were popular long, long before the Bristh "...Got Talent" television show which spawned "American Idol."  The Cape Cod Symphony orchestra is currently sponsoring a talent competition with desirable (not huge, not tiny) cash prizes for young, not yet professional classical musicians.  Yesterday I heard seven finalists: three pianists, a soprano, baritone, a cellist and a clarinetist in "solo" (with piano accompanists, of course).  All were very talented, it was a wonderful concert. And what personality also!  The singers were very expressive and dramatic singing opera arias, it seems to me cellists are the most deeply meditative and expressive of string players, the clarinetist came on in a wheelchair having, as the moderator said, "taken the actor's good wish of 'break a leg' literally."  She played beautifully.

But the piano is the emperor of instruments.  A young man was very fine playing from a Brahm's concerto with an accompanist on a second piano.  A young woman in a blazing red dress played part of a Ravel piano concerto -- jazzy and delightful, she smiled -- reminding me of ballerinas who come on stage executing difficult moves and smiling with the apparent joy they feel and are imparting to the audience -- this is rare for instrumentalists (except when cellist are playing something light and practically bouncing out of their chairs. Watching her introducing her music with perfect glissandos up and down the whole keyboard, five of them I think, I was smiling before the syncopate parts began.

But the first pianist, another young woman, appeared in a magenta gown with a glittering collar (she was willowy and beautiful), then sat down, with her accompanist at the almost hidden piano, to play the last movement of the Saint Saens 3rd piano concerto, opening like the first brilliant fireworks display on the Fourth of July and barely slowing through the moment.  The auditorium vibrated, I believe, more than if there had been a whole orchestra behind her.  She was intent, her hands almost a blur at times.  This was a young woman intent on making an impression and she certainly did.  I strongly suspect she will be the ultimate winner.  It was an unforgettable performance.