Saturday, February 28, 2015

Vienese Waltzes

I used to imagine that in another life I lived in Vienna during the period of the great Strausses, father and son, who composed one wonderful waltz after another. I heard the music and wanted to go whirling around a ball room in a full skirted dress.  The simple rhythm is totally infectious (as are polkas and marches). Dr. Oliver Sacks, as I've mentioned, has written about music affecting a primal part of the brain.  

Thursday it snowed again -- yes, again! When i arrived at my opera class I was told the opera of the day had been change to something light and cheery -- Die Fladermaus.  Oh, my! It was an old DVD of a performance done in Vienna, probably at New Years. The set and costumes were authentically Viennese, the singers were very fine, the comedy was broad - expecially in the final act! -- and the dancing, both waltzes and a breath taking polka, were so much fun I think the rather small turn out for the class totally forget the "weather outside was frightful" because the music inside "was delightful."

Yesterday at my writing class one person read a very short essay about being older and hoping for joy in the midst of his distresses. (His wife died only a few months ago.) In the last few weeks I have enjoyed so much music which has lifted me like helium into areas of joy -- it did not fall in my lap, I went where it was -- one sort of fell in my lap when a friend offered a symphony ticket to see the Annie Moses Band. I could have said no, but, of course I didn't.  One must not sit home and wait for joy to descend like the falling snow, you have to know what makes you happy and go where it is.  Of course it won't always be there. No, I didn't realize my dreams of whirling around with dashing partner.  Only once, in college, there was a polka and a partner and we whirled and stomped until we were so out of breath we couldn't talk. It was summer and we were on the big terrace of the student union building. A long, long way from Vienna. Some joys are short but unforgettable and, for me, many of them have to do with music.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Music is Magnificent

Maybe something about the prolonged cold and mild cabin fever makes me more than usually susceptible to the magic of music.  Dr. Oliver Sacks wrote that music is processed in its own section of the brain. Its effect on the human being is more pervasive and older than speech. Sometimes people who lose their ability to speak due to brain injuries such a strokes, can still sing, including the words.  So soon after the delight of the Anne Moses Band, I had another musical experience that I had been a little reluctant to go to but went and am so glad I did.

The opera class was to see a DVD of Candide. I heard it years ago and read the book even more years ago and was not very interested but was convinced to go by the same person who gave me a ticket to the symphony. Happily the coordinator of the opera class decided not to show the Broadway version but a concert version video taped in London in 1988, just two years before  Leonard Bernstein died. (He looked far older than he does in the picture here.) He had the gaunt face of an old man but it remained marvelously mobile and expressive).  Bernstein had worked on the initially unsuccessful opera (or operetta as Wikipedia calls it) for three or four years and at last had it in the shape that pleased him. He had a wonderful set of singer including Adolph Green (hardly a singer) as Pangloss/Narrator and the beautiful Krista Ludwig as the Old Lady and a cast of younger singers who were all very fine. It was in the Barbican Center in London with a large orchestra and chorus.

L.B.,  always a very dymanic conductor, known for speaking to the audience, did that too at times, he was a part of the event squared.  The video camer a was on his face often, he was involved body and soul, dancing, jiving, singing, he was very happy, he embraced singers many times.  It was a moment of great triumph and joy which was clear in every shot of his face.  Total involvement.  And empathatically I felt the same.

I also thought often of the stone deaf Beethoven trying to conduct his last great works with multiple frustrations and a contentious audience, I thought of impoverished Mozart and young, sick, sad Schubert with their magnificent works but never, as far as is known, the kind of immersion in a successful life achievement that L.B. has in this concert. I was thrilled for him, thrilled an artist can feel achievement so acutely. Search for "Bernstein conducting Candide", there are several video clips. The whole thing is available on DVD.  It's an experience to make your heart sing.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Aftermath- Blizzard(s) of February 2015

Leaving the tiny post office, looking toward the two lane road and my car parked in a cleared space about 25 feet away. Then looking just to my left at the mail box and behind it the narrow street where I usually park when I stop at that Post Office.  My car is nearly dwarfed by a pile of snow about 9 feet high. 

Streets in this residential area are two lane, the lanes are at least six inches narrower than normal due to the piled snow. At any  crossing, easing into the larger or more frequented street is scary. It is impossible to see in either direction if anything is coming. Many people, elated to be on relatively clean streets after a week of blizzards, whiz along at 35 or so (the speed limit) and don't pay attention to the possibility of other cars entering from the side streets.  Visibility is a serious problem.
I was going to look for "pretty" snow pictures, but  I've found none. This wasn't a  pretty week of storms, most of the snow was too heavy to make graceful designs on the trees. What we have are  piles of snow, lumpy, unlovely, and they are getting filthy, of course. Nothing very nice I can say about this blizzard.  And the many people suffering burst water pipes due to the plunge in temperature a couple of days ago have nothing positive to say.  I'm only glad that today was mostly sunny, my parking lot was nicely plowed and I was able to go to a class at A.L.L., see a group of people, chat with others and over come the growing feeling of cabin fever.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Annie Moses Band - Cape Cod Symphony

This is a promotional picture of the Annie Moses band -- a good one because it shows the physicality of their performance.  Annie is the one whose blond hair is swinging in the middle of the picture (she's beautiful but of course you can't see that), and Alex with  a fiddle near her is high stepping which he did frequently. The others are interacting or doing their thing.  This is not my kind of music ... except it was yesterday afternoon. They played a pops concert with the Cape Cod Symphony and I was there thanks to the lousy weather and kindness of a friend. She called and said her husband had to stay home waiting for a plumber because their heat had been out long enough in the night to burst a water pipe. Did I want to go? Why not? The symphony performs in a nearby high school auditorium; if it had been nice weather I would have walked the 6 or 8 blocks but it was in the teens although my car was not blocked by the snow and the sidewalks were (sort of) plowed as they have to be because of kids who walk to school.

When someone says of a person or group "they rock" it's slang I don't use and don't necessarily understand. But this band rocks! They are fine musicians and they put on a happy, smile filled show.  They started with a new arrangement of "Rhapsody in Blue" - it rocked! I've heard it so often I find it boring -- but not that version. They did many well know folk and traditional songs in their own arrangements. They traded out musical instruments, from fiddle to mandolin, from piano to harp.  All the women sang and so did Alex, the oldest brother -- the one who broke into step dances every so often as he fiddled.

There were songs Papa, the arranger and often pianist wrote and a couple others wrote.  Sentimentality is often at the edge of country music and there was a little too much of that in the second half of the  concert.  Often the symphony orchestra backed up the band, Jung Ho Pak, the conductor is a physical sort of conductor anyway. At time he was jumping up and down as enthusiastically as Alex. The sense of enjoyment was obvious and I had a wonderful time.

I was even happy when I went out into the parking lot where aisles of parking spaces were divided from one another by 10 foot tall walls of snow and I could not remember exactly where my car was. I didn't like wandering about in the very cold evening and then remembered my car key has a panic button. Yes! Soon, about 20 feet away, my car honked for me and flashed its lights. A wonderful tiny bit of electronic innovation!  So a cold, snowy, housebound afternoon turned to much delight indeed.
As I write this morning it's snowing again!  Enough already.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Job Completed, with satisfaction

Pheww! a job completed and it turned our well.  I have finished and launched (at a party Wednesday) the edition of Reflections 2014, the anthology of the Academy of Lifelong Learning.  An attractive book with the  above shell photo on its cover and the name "A rose by another name..." Yes, it's mine. And in the book the found art of this mandala made of shells and horseshoe crab shells that I discovered on the beach one day. The book has approximately 80  pieces of poetry and prose and several photos,  some by A.L.L. members, some copyright free stock photos. It's a true reflection of the thoughts and concerns, creativity and philosophy of this group of students who are all over 55 and many in the area of 70 years old. There is a piece by our oldest student, Nancy, who writes what it's like to be a nonagenarian and ends with "I am not only content, I am happy."  We all wish we could reach her age and say the same thing. As editor I had a committee of women and one man concerned with making the writing grammatically up to snuff wiht any professional publication although many of the writers haven't given a thought to the correct usage of commas or hyphens for some fifty years. Then, we were concerned with arranging the work with a sense of flow, and all the while wanting each page to be attractive and readable. No, it's not quite professional quality but it's pretty close. I'm proud of it and the audience at the launch party were complimentary.

I think back to starting a high school newsletter when I was 16 and had just learned to type. A two-page publication.  I am not a journalist, I am a writer who happens to believe the written word should be should be shared, that groups have something to say to one another and to the broader
community.  I enjoyed this job and I'm happy with the results.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Mr. Turner, bio pic

This biography of the last decades or two of J.W. Turner's life was a difficult movie to watch.  Directed to Mike Leigh (his only historical film, I think) he apparently had to appeal to a wide variety of funding sources that included English, American, French and German. Sets, costumes, speech rhythms and language/accents were convincing whether or not accurate.  (I have no way to judge,) I needed subtitles because I didn't understand many conversations. Turner was not a likeable man, he was entirely self-absorbed, cold to everyone except a widowed inn keeper toward the end. We saw his fascination with light and the sea/sky scapes -- and the one scene  in the film I really liked: when he watched a small train spewing clouds of smoke and then painted the clouds. If this was the London Dickens was writing about, I was ready to believe it. Timothy Spall, who played Turner had some horrible things done to his face, mainly enormous jowls giving Turner a porcine look that was stressed by the grunts, growls, and various nasal and chesty sounds he made.  Spall received a best actor award at Cannes and it was surely deserved. He created a consistently single minded painter who, other than painting and a little bit of feeling for music was an island unto himself with no welcoming inlets or coves.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Truly Winter

"Cold snap" sounds brief, and maybe in the long  run that's how I'll feel about it. Right now I'm not happy about the hard cold and it seems interminable. I got my car dug out and the subsequent precipitation did not block it so I can't complain about that. But when  I'm very chilly I DO complain.  

The phenomenon that I most notice the last few days is the brilliance of the white snow and the light in the sky. When it's truly sunny, I sit here at my computer unable to see the screen (I face the snow outside a big window) without putting on a sun hat (I know, it's ridiculous but sun glasses don't do the trick) to shade my eyes. I'm happy to have the sun -- no complaint there -- sun perks up my mood wonderfully. I move faster, think faster and just feel happier.

I realized the last couple of nights, although the moon is now waning, its light on the snow also is powerful. I usually pull bedroom shades only part way down since there is a forsythia bush just outside and I feel sufficiently private. But at 3:00-ish the last few nights I've woke up amazed how light it is in the bedroom.  I guess I'll try pulling the shades down completely tonight. 

So far we've had dry snow, not the kind to cling to trees and bushes and make wonderful patterns. The bare limbs remain bare. They are not in danger of breaking from the burden but they seem desolate. I stay in, looking out and drinking more hot coffee than usual and craving (and having) soup for lunch. I become very aware the effect of the weather, sky, and temperature on body and mind.