Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Reminder of the Import of This Date, 75 years Ago...

As is the case from time to time in my blog, which now approaches some 660 entries since I began back in 2007, I divert the usual issue of Man's Art, with a thought concerning certain dates of great historical import:
In this instance, June 22 of 1941 shaped the specific form of human history right up to this very day.
June 22, 1941 was the day that Adolf Hitler's Operation Barbarossa, the greatest land invasion in history, began with close to 3000,000 German troops invading the Soviet Union; causing unparalleled carnage, with as many as some 10,000 humans dying daily at times, with many results of watershed significance, such as the reshaping of  Europe; the emergence of two superpowers; the so-called Cold War (which, from my humble view, began early during World War II by the detaining or imprisonment of American troops by the Soviets, with this issue to this day not fully resolved); the Cuban Missile Crisis; Vietnam;   Operation "Paper Clip" etc., this being only a partial list.
How one day can shape our future has always  been a source of fascination to me...


Friday, June 17, 2016

In the World of the Arts, It's Never Too Late...

At age 65, Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of England. At a time when most men have either retired from a lifetime of work, or are preparing to retire, Churchill was asked by his King to assume his most important task.
And for a fleeting moment about eleven months ago, I felt like another Churchill (well -  perhaps not...) by my being asked to consider doing a bit of radio work on  a nearby university radio station.
Having been retired from my dual tasks at both high school and college teaching for a bundle of years, I thought that it might be fun to resume being useful once again.
Well, looking back at these past months, I'm reasonably confident of   at least one result of my latest escapade; and that is, I may well be the civilized world's oldest disc jockey.
Happily, audience reaction to the programs I have done up to the present time has been positive, and the manager of the station has given me carte blanche to choose whatever subjects I want to put on the air.
From the beginning, I was expected, of course, to project subjects dealing with classical music. However, I suggested that I start with subjects dealing with popular music, and then gradually wean the audience, less painfully, over to the classics -seems to have worked, as I have just during these past months gone over to subjects such as   the transcriptions of Vladimir Horowitz.
At the beginning, I did short histories, followed by recordings of such great, but perhaps lesser known  pop vocalists as Diane Schuur, doing her magic with trumpeter Maynard Ferguson,   and Dame Cleo Laine of England with her arranger/husband Sir John Dankworth performing their legendary version of the Mozart Turkish Rondo, which includes almost unbelievable scat singing of  Dame  Laine.
Another program demonstrated the wonderful fusion of pop and classical by way of George Shearing and his epic arrangement of Richard Rogers' "My Funny Valentine" in the styles of composers ranging from Bach to Delius. More recently I shared some of the wonders of Art Tatum by way of the legendary recordings of 1953  organized  and financed  by recording impresario Norman Granz.
Some weeks ago  I did a program on the three most unusual pianos extant; namely, the Vorsetzer, the double- keyboard piano at the University of Wisconsin, and the Siena piano.
So you can see, I am indeed moving over to the classical aspect.
And reaction has been gratifying; for instance, one listener called in and stated that  his wife would be happy just listening to my reading of the local telephone book - and this call came into the station while I was on the air.
Future plans may include such diversions as bioacoustics , with a recording of an orchestra devoid of any human performer, produced by the  bioacoustician Bernie Krause.
Also, in future perhaps, the art of circular breathing, as exampled by the Paganini Moto Perpetuo  for violin,  done on saxophone and trumpet. A recording by the legendary trumpeter from Mexico, Rafael Mendez, will be included, if I do this program.
And so, you will have noticed that I am having great fun in my latest career. It brings back a rather derisive comment made by a critic after a recital by Artur Rubinstein, then in his eighties - "nice to see an old man on his way up."...
As the great comedian Stan Laurel once sighed, "life isn't short enough."


Friday, June 10, 2016

Strange Music, At the Same Lovely Pond - Chapter Two...

On September 10th, 2oo8, I wrote a blog(which you can 'archive' to, if you'd like) relating to a strange incident revolving around  music, a radio, and a  large family of ducks.
Once again, at the same lovely pond I usually take my walks around, another rather unique experience took place two days ago:
As I was ambling along, thinking of things musical (of course),  the sound of a recorder very gently  came wafting into my consciousness, from a considerable distance. It was, at first, a  melange of various pitches, but as I drew closer to the source, it jelled into an unmistakable  admixture forming the notes of the pentatonic scale. And as I drew even more closely, it formed into a potpourri of -
1.A lovely, tremolant quality as regards the sound itself; along with
2. A positively vacuous example of direction. There was no melody or discernible rhythm emanating from the source - simply a piddling around the octave arena containing the five sounds of the pentatonic configuration. In other words; a really beautiful sound, in search of a reason to exist.
Just then, as I rounded a curve in the path, I came into visual contact with the source - a young fellow, standing under a small shelter used as  a source of shading from the sun for picnicking or reading etc.
At a distance of thirty or so feet stood a small group of the Curious, probably in wonderment as to why this event was taking place.
Which most efficiently replicates my thoughts as well...


Monday, June 6, 2016

On This Date in 1944...

A tiny diversion from the normal pursuits, with your approval, to commemorate  that sixth day of June in 1944; namely, "D"-Day - that fateful morning when the  massive  liberation of a suffering continent began. Nothing like that military operation had ever been formulated before, and in less than a year, the  regime that Hitler had declared would last a thousand years collapsed and died after just twelve.
Of equal import and  significance, in my view,  was an event that occurred during another first week in June, this happening during the year 1942. The Battle of Midway, which lasted just four days (June 4 - 7), signaled the beginning of the end for Imperial Japan, only six months after Pearl Harbor. This battle destroyed the offensive capabilities of the Japanese, and even though the war was not won  until 1945, the Battle of Midway sealed  and certified the inexorable outcome of the conflict in the Pacific.
I am writing this simply as a reminder that the first week in June in the years 1942 and 1944 were, essentially, equally defining, in terms of the eventuality of  history's greatest conflict.


Friday, June 3, 2016

Johann Baptist Cramer and Miklos Schwalb - a Strong Musical Connection In My Formative Years...

During my first few years as both a teacher and performer, I became increasingly interested in the  life and works of  Cramer, especially his Etudes.
I was first attracted to him by way of the open admiration that Beethoven had  held for him as "one of the premier pianists of the day." Born a year or so after Beethoven, Cramer  had become one of Clementi's most renown students, while at the same time Beethoven amassed more of Clementi's piano music for his personal library than the keyboard music of Mozart. And so, there was an assiduously strong mutuality coming out of this trio.
I began, in increasing measure, doling out various etudes of Cramer  to  my more advanced students, and became immersed in learning several of these rather singular works myself, taking care to learn those etudes which were never given to my students (I  felt like Tchaikovsky during his teaching period, he being about only six weeks ahead of some of his own students, as the music education aspect of Russian history was still clambering to its feet).
Miklos Schwalb was a professor at the New England Conservatory of Music ( as well as, I believe, an educator at Northeastern University). He became well-known as a performer, and appeared throughout America and Europe. I never studied piano  with Schwalb, but I sought him out due to his massive knowledge of 16th century counterpoint. He took me on as a student for several months in a 'crash course' in the subject. The lessons were held at his apartment, which I recall was close to the Conservatory. I was dazzled by his teaching style, let alone his depth of knowledge. However, the deepest impact I received from this experience was my first view of his apartment, which was littered with various body-building equipment. Picture a large room with equal amounts of music manuscript and bar bells and ropes  strewn throughout. I DO recall his being, essentially, the healthiest appearing musician in my memory.
Finally, I discovered (I cannot recall how) that he had  a great connection with and open admiration of Johann Baptist Cramer and, especially -  his Etudes!
Schwalb recorded a number of the Cramer  Etudes, which you can hear.
I occasionally feel a tug of sadness upon my never having taken piano lessons with him - he was a terrific pianist, as you can hear...