Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On Vacation: Return in August

I am taking some time off from this blog to devote myself to a number of  other writing projects, notably my novel, Jack Miller's Story. I will return in August with new essays, articles and musical posts. If you have any ideas for articles, or would like to submit something, please drop me a line.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Monkees: Daydream Believer



The Monkees official video for Daydream Believer.
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Written by: John Stewart
Recorded: June 14, 1967 & August 9, 1967
Released: October 30, 1967
Album: The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees
Label: Colgems Records

John Stewart wrote the song just before he left The Kingston Trio, an American pop and folk group. The single reached the number one spot on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in December 1967, remaining at that position for four weeks, and peaked at number five in the UK Singles chart. It was The Monkees' last number one hit in the U.S. As for the song's meaning, it's chiefly about the struggles of life common to humanity. One often has regrets and unmet expectations from youth, a time full of dreams and promise. Yet maturity calls for eventually coming to an understanding and acceptance of how life eventually turns out after the prom ends.


The Monkees: Cover of 45 rpm single with Daydream Believer & Goin' Down on the flip side, 1967.
Source: Wikipedia



Daydream Believer
by John Stewart

Oh, I could hide 'neath the wings of the bluebird as she sings
The six o'clock alarm would never ring
But it rings and I rise wipe the sleep out of my eyes
The shavin' razor's cold, and it stings

Cheer up, sleepy Jean, oh what can it mean
To a daydream believer and a homecoming queen?

You once thought of me as a white knight on his steed
Now you know how happy I can be
Oh, and our good times start and end without dollar one to spend
But how much baby do we really need?

Cheer up, sleepy Jean, oh what can it mean
To a daydream believer and a homecoming queen?
Cheer up, sleepy Jean, oh what can it mean
To a daydream believer and a homecoming queen?

Cheer up, sleepy Jean, oh what can it mean
To a daydream believer and a homecoming queen?
Cheer up, sleepy Jean, oh what can it mean
To a daydream believer and a homecoming queen?

Cheer up, sleepy Jean, oh what can it mean
To a daydream believer and a homecoming queen?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Yehudi Menuhin: Bach Sonata No. 3 for Solo Violin



Yehudi Menuhin plays Bach Sonata No.3 for Solo Violin in C (BWV1005) at Gewandhaus, a concert hall in Leipzig Germany, in 1983.

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Johann Sebastien Bach [1685-1750] composed the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin (BWV 1001–1006) as a set of six works, and completed them in 1720. They consist of three sonatas da chiesa (church sonata), in four movements, and three partitas (an instrumental suite), in dance-form movements.

Although completed in 1720, it was only some 80 years later, in 1802, that Nicolaus Simrock had them published in Bonn, Germany. And even then, they remained largely ignored. That is, until the celebrated Hungarian violinist Josef Joachim [1831-1907] started performing these works. Today, Bach's sonatas and partitas are a standard of the violin repertoire and are performed and recorded often.

Sammy Davis, Jr: The Candy Man



Sammy Davis, Jr. performs at the Hohensyburg Casino in Dortmund, Germany, in 1985.

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Written by: Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley
Recorded: 1971
Released: 1972
Single: The Candy Man/I Want to be Happy
Label: MGM Records

This song was commissioned for Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, a 1971 film musical starring Gene Wilder (Willy Wonka), Jack Albertson (Grandpa Joe) and Peter Ostrum (Charlie Bucket), and directed by Mel Stuart. It was based on the book by Ronald Dahl, who also wrote the screenplay. It is a modern morality tale.

Along with Mr Bojangles, this became Sammy Davis, Jr's signature song.

Sammy Davis, Jr: Single with The Candy Man and I Want to be Happy on the flip side.
Source: Wikipedia
The Candy Man
by Leslie Bricusse &Anthony Newley

Who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it with dew
Cover it with choc'late and a miracle or two
The Candy Man, oh the Candy Man can
The Candy Man can 'cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good

Who can take a rainbow, wrap it in a sigh
Soak it in the sun and make a groovy lemon pie
The Candy Man, the Candy Man can
The Candy Man can 'cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good

The Candy Man makes everything he bakes satisfying and delicious
Now you talk about your childhood wishes, you can even eat the dishes

Oh, who can take tomorrow, dip it in a dream
Separate the sorrow and collect up all the cream
The Candy Man, oh the Candy Man can
The Candy Man can 'cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good

The Candy Man makes everything he bakes satisfying and delicious
Talk about your childhood wishes, you can even eat the dishes

Yeah, yeah, yeah
Who can take tomorrow, dip it in a dream
Separate the sorrow and collect up all the cream
The Candy Man, the Candy Man can
The Candy Man can 'cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good
Yes, the Candy Man can 'cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good
a-Candy Man, a-Candy Man, a-Candy Man
Candy Man, a-Candy Man, a-Candy Man
Candy Man, a-Candy Man, a-Candy Man

Friday, June 24, 2011

Pavarotti: La Traviata's Brindisi



This is from the 1993 concert My Heart's Delight from Modena, Italy, Pavarotti's hometown, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The soprano is Nuccia Focile.

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This video clip is taken from the First Act of Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata, an opera in three acts set to an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, and based on La dame aux Camélias (1852), a play adapted from the 1848 novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils, son of the famous novelist. The title La Traviata means The Fallen Woman. 

The first performance of the opera was on March  6, 1853 at the La Fenice opera house in Venice, which Verdi declared a "fiasco." After changing the setting to the 1700s, rather than the contemporary times of the original production, and rewriting parts of the first two acts, Verdi's opera was ready for its audience's religious sensibilities. The first performance of the new version at another Venetian theatre, Teatro San Benedetto, in 1854, was a tremendous success, and the opera was quickly taken up by opera houses worldwide. It has since then become a standard of opera houses around the world and is one of the most popular operas performed on the stage.

This duet is one of the most famous from Verdi`s La Traviata, and one of the most well-known operatic fragments in the world. A brindisi is a song in which company is exhorted to drink, thus this is in essence an Italian drinking song. Here are the words, as supplied from Wikipedia.

Old Italian
(spoken by the upper social class of the 1850s)
Translation to Modern English
[Alfredo] [Alfredo]
Libiamo, libiamo ne'lieti calici Let's drink, let's drink from this merry chalice
che la bellezza infiora. that beauty so truly enhances
E la fuggevol ora s'inebrii And the brief moment will be happily inebriated
a voluttà with voluptuousness
Libiam ne'dolci fremiti Let's drink for the ecstatic feeling
che suscita l'amore, that love arouses
poiché quell'ochio al core onnipotente va. Because this eye aims straight to the almighty heart
Libiamo, amore, amor fra i calici Let's drink, my love, and the love among the chalices
più caldi baci avrà will make the kisses hotter
[Coro] [Chorus]
Ah! Libiam, amor, fra' calici più caldi baci avrà The chalices will make the kisses hotter
[Violetta] [Violetta]
Tra voi tra voi saprò dividere With you all, I can share
il tempo mio giocondo; my happiest times
Tutto è follia, follia nel mondo Everything in life
ciò che non è piacer which is not pleasure is foolish
Godiam, fugace e rapido Let's enjoy ourselves
e'il gaudio dell'amore, for the delight of love is fleeting and quick
e'un fior che nasce e muore, It's like a flower that blooms and dies
ne più si può goder And we can no longer enjoy it
Godiamo, c'invita, c'invita un fervido So enjoy; A keen and flattering
accento lusinghier. voice invites us!
[Coro] [Chorus]
Godiamo, la tazza, la tazza e il cantico, Be happy; The wine and singing
la notte abbella e il riso; beautify both the night and the laughter
in questo paradiso ne scopra il nuovo dì Let the new day find us in this paradise
[Violetta] [Violetta]
La vita è nel tripudio Life means celebration
[Alfredo] [Alfredo]
Quando non s'ami ancora Only if one hasn't known love
[Violetta] [Violetta]
Nol dite a chi l'ignora, Don't tell someone who doesn't know
[Alfredo] [Alfredo]
E'il mio destin così... But this is my fate...
[Tutti] [All]
Godiamo, la tazza, la tazza e il cantico, Be happy; The wine and singing
la notte abbella e il riso; beautify both the night and the laughter
in questo paradiso ne scopra il nuovo dì. Let the new day find us in this paradise

Thursday, June 23, 2011

NY Philharmonic: Beethoven's Egmont Overture



The New York Philharmonic, conducted by Lorin Maazal, performs Beethoven's Egmont Overture, Op 84, at the Seoul Arts Center in Seoul, Korea, on Feb, 28, 2008.  Two days, earlier, Maazel  had conducted the New York Philharmonic on their landmark visit to Pyongyang, North Korea, on February 26, 2008.
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Egmont was composed by Ludwig van Beethoven, a set of incidental music pieces based on the 1787 play of the same name by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and premiered on June 15, 1810. The overture is followed by nine additional pieces for soprano, male narrator and full symphony orchestra. Here are some background notes to the Egmont, from Wikipedia:
The subject of the music and dramatic narrative is the life and heroism of a 16th-century Dutch nobleman, the Count of Egmont. It was composed during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, at a time when the French Empire had extended its domination over most of Europe. Beethoven had famously expressed his great outrage over Napoleon Bonaparte's decision to crown himself Emperor in 1804, furiously scratching out his name in the dedication of the Eroica Symphony. In the music for Egmont, Beethoven expressed his own political concerns through the exaltation of the heroic sacrifice of a man condemned to death for having taken a valiant stand against oppression. The Ouverture would later become an unofficial anthem of the 1956 Hungarian revolution.
Lorin Maazal was musical director of the New York Philharmonic from 2002 to 2009. In March 2010, Maazel, who is now 81, was named the next chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, which will take effect in the 2012-13 season.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Beatles: I Want to Hold Your Hand



The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show on  February 23, 1964.

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Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Recorded: October 17, 1963: EMI Studios, London
Released: November 29, 1963 (UK); December 26, 1963 (US)
Label: Parlophone (UK); Capitol Records (US)

I was six when I first viewed The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in the winter of 1964. Needless to say I liked them and their upbeat music instantly. It was pure pop music and an invitation to enter a happy time when not everything around us was happy or uplifting. For example, The Beatles came to America a few months after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the nation was still in mourning. Their music undoubtedly help set a new mood of  optimism. Their music, and this song, is still relevant today.

"I Want to Hold Your Hand" is listed in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. In addition, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) have named it as one of the Songs of the Century. Rolling Stone magazine has also ranked the song no. 16 on its 2004 list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The Beatles: Cover of the 45 rpm single, which has on the flip side, I Saw Her Standing There.
Source: Wikipedia
You can listen to another version of the song here, with a brief introduction to it by George Martin, the esteemed record producer. It is from The Beatles Anthology, a documentary that was originally broadcast in 1995 and has since been released on DVD.

I Want to Hold Your Hand
by Lennon & McCartney

Oh yeah, I´ll tell you something
I think you´ll understand
When I say that something
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

Oh, please, say to me
You´ll let me be your man
and please, say to me

You´ll let me hold your hand
Now let me hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

And when I touch you i feel happy, inside
It´s such a feeling
That my love
I can't hide
I can't hide
I can't hide

Yeah you, got that something
I think you´ll understand
When I say that something
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand

And when I touch you I feel happy, inside
It´s such a feeling
That my love
I can't hide
I can't hide
I can't hide

Yeah you, got that something
I think you´ll understand
When I feel that something
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand.



Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Vivian Maier: On the Streets of Chicago

Great Artists

Vivian Maier with Rolleiflex:  Self-portrait taken in New York City in 1955. While employed as a nanny, Maier took more than 100,000 photos of the streets of Chicago during the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. After her death in 2009, her work has been gaining attention.
Photo Credit: Vivian Maier
Source: Wikipedia Commons

I have never heard of Vivian Maier until I happened to land on an article about her in Mother Jones, while researching an article on a more well-known photographer, Robert Frank. Her photographic oeuvre, showing mainly the streets of Chicago during the 1950s, '60s and '70s, is captivating, stunning, and was never published in her lifetime. She took photographs for herself, many of children and many of the disenfranchised and the poor. Vivian Maier died on April 23, 2009. She was 83. (See the short obituary in the Chicago Tribune.)

Like many others, the photos compelled me to know about this woman, this skillful photographer of people. In "Vivian Maier: the nanny with a flair for photograph," an article that Kate Salter wrote for The Telegraph in its April 15, 2011 edition, we learn:
Maier was born in New York in 1926 to a French mother and Austrian father. After her father left, Maier and her mother returned to France, where they lived until 1951 when the 25-year-old Maier left on her own for New York. In 1956 she answered the Gensburgs’ advert for a nanny, although Nancy Gensburg, the boys’ mother, said, 'She really wasn’t interested in being a nanny at all, but she didn’t know how to do anything else.’ 
Maier was a nanny for three boys of the Gensburg family in Chicago, and for other wealthy families. All told, she spent forty years working for Chicago families of the wealthy North Shore enclave as a nanny and caregiver. In spare time, she loved shooting pictures, more than 100,000 photos, the great majority laying dormant, not privy to anyone, in  undeveloped rolls of film.

Maier's photos were unknown and mostly undeveloped until they were bought at an  estate auction for $400 by John Maloof in 2007 who  thought the photos would be useful for a history book he was writing on Chicago's Northwest Side. Since he acquired the negatives, Maloof has spent the time finding out more about Maier and making her work better known. Part of the story is that Maier was living on the streets of Chicago for a while before one of her former "children" paid for more comfortable accommodations.

Her story has engendered interest, and Maier has been written about by many major newspapers around the world. Vivian Maier might have found the interest in her and her work amusing, or perhaps might have expressed surprise at all the fuss, I am not sure. In the age of the Internet and social-networking, where instant gratification is the norm, Maier's lack of self-glorification or self-promotion seems quaint if not anachronistic today. That might appeal to many. The fascination that her pictures have generated might be in large part due to both the interest of the subjects and the times when the pictures were taken.

Equally important, Maier was not a professional photographer, but a liberated woman who focused her lens on whom and what interested her. She took pictures, as is common with street photography, in an uncensored fashion, free from conventional rules and norms.And yet the photos have universal appeal. It might be said that Vivian Maier's photographs speak of a freedom that many today lack.
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You can see some of her photographic work at: http://vivianmaier.blogspot.com and read more of her bio at http://www.vivianmaier.com/about-vivian-maier/

Elvis Presley: Hound Dog (1956)


Elvis Presley sings Hound Dog on the Milton Berle Show, on June 5, 1956, the first time he performed the song to a nationwide audience estimated at 40-million people. Presley's gyrating body movements led to protests from some self-appointed guardians of public morality and him gaining the nickname “Elvis the Pelvis.”

****************************
Written by: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Recorded: July 2, 1956:  New York City
Released: July 13, 1956
Label: RCA Victor
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Hound Dog is a twelve-bar blues song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, originally recorded by Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton in 1952. The song was subsequently rewritten by Bernie Lowe and Feddie Bell of Feddie Bell and the Bellboys, with the aim of appealing to a broad teenage audience, and released in 1955.

When Elvis Presley saw Feddie Bell and the Bellboys perform in Las Vegas in May 1956, he loved the reworked version of it, seeing in it a type of vaudevillian performance and comic relief, notably the exaggerated gyrations of the pelvis. Accordingly, Elvis added it to his repertoire on May 16, 1956, a few weeks before performing the song to a national audience on The Milton Berle Show on June 5, 1956, Wikipedia says:
By this time, Scotty Moore had added a guitar solo, and D.J. Fontana had added a hot drum roll between verses of the song. Presley appeared for the first time on national television sans guitar. Before his death, Berle told an interviewer that he had told Elvis to leave his guitar backstage. “Let 'em see you, son,” advised Uncle Miltie.[21]
An upbeat version ended abruptly as Presley threw his arm back, then began to vamp at half tempo, “You ain't-a nuthin’ but a hound dog, cuh-crying all the time. You ain't never caught a rabbit...” A final wave signaled the band to stop. Elvis pointed threateningly at the audience, and belted out, “You ain't no friend of mine.”[22] Presley's movements during the performance were energetic and exaggerated. The reactions of young women in the studio audience were enthusiastic, as shown on the broadcast.[23][24]
Over 40,000,000 people saw the performance and the next day controversy exploded. Berle's network received many letters of protest. The various self appointed guardians of public morality attacked Elvis in the press.[25] TV critics began a merciless campaign against Elvis, making statements that he had a “caterwauling voice and nonsense lyrics” and was an “influence on juvenile delinquency,” and began using the nickname, “Elvis the Pelvis”.
A recording of the song was done in July 1956, where it sold over 4 million copies in the United States on its first release. It was Presley's best-selling single, and starting in July 1956 it spent a record eleven weeks at no. 1. It stayed in the no.1 spot until it was replaced by “Love Me Tender,” also recorded by Elvis.

Hound Dog: Rolling Stone magazine has ranked Elvis’ version of the song no. 19 on its 2004 list of 500 Greatest Songs of all Time.
Source: Wikipedia


Hound Dog
by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

You ain't nothin' but a hound dog
Cryin' all the time
You ain't nothin' but a hound dog
Cryin' all the time
Well, you ain't never caught a rabbit
And you ain't no friend of mine

Well they said you was high-classed
Well, that was just a lie
Yeah they said you was high-classed
Well, that was just a lie
Well, you ain't never caught a rabbit
And you ain't no friend of mine

You ain't nothin' but a hound dog
Cryin' all the time
You ain't nothin' but a hound dog
Cryin' all the time
Well, you ain't never caught a rabbit
And you ain't no friend of mine

Well they said you was high-classed
Well, that was just a lie
Yeah they said you was high-classed
Well, that was just a lie
Well, you ain't never caught a rabbit
And you ain't no friend of mine

Well they said you was high-classed
Well, that was just a lie
Ya know they said you was high-classed
Well, that was just a lie
Well, you ain't never caught a rabbit
And you ain't no friend of mine

You ain't nothin' but a hound dog
Cryin' all the time
You ain't nothin' but a hound dog
Cryin' all the time
Well, you ain't never caught a rabbit
You ain't no friend of mine

Monday, June 20, 2011

Plato by George Jochnowitz

Guest Voices

For today's Guest Voice we are pleased to welcome back Prof George Jochnowitz, who looks at Plato's Republic and its prescient description of totalitarian societies. A striking feature common to totalitarian states is the banning of most musical performances, a sharp contrast to the freedoms enjoyed in western democracies.

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I was a child when I first heard the name Plato. I can’t remember precisely when it was, or what I heard, but I learned when I was quite young that Plato was a very wise man who had lived in ancient Greece.

I never made an attempt to find a copy of any of Plato’s works, although I thought I might one day. Then when I was in Columbia College, I took Humanities A1, as it was called then. I took it in my sophomore year, since I was an engineering major during my first two years in college, and that’s what engineering majors did back in the 1950s. The core courses at the college excited me no end. I found them stimulating, delightful, and enriching. I looked forward to reading Plato at last, and enjoyed the first few works that were assigned. Then came the Republic. As I was reading through Book III: 398-400, I read about banning the flute and other instruments “capable of modulation into all the modes.” I was startled. I am a music lover and often play the piano, and I know that most pieces have accidentals or modulate from one key to another — or both. What would Mozart sonatas be like without the possibility of changing keys? And why on earth should any society ban instruments that can modulate from key to key?

At the time, I had no idea that Chairman Mao would place limitations on what sorts of music could be performed. Ayatollah Khomeini had not yet come to power, so I couldn’t possibly have known that he would one day place limits on the performance of music. On the other hand, I was told by my late classmate, Bernard Einbond, a disk jockey on WKCR, that rock’n’roll music couldn’t be played on the college radio station — a ban that I considered ridiculous and snobbish. Rock’n’roll was the only kind of popular music I had ever liked.

Reading about banning the flute made me look at Plato with a more critical eye. Plato also called for the Noble Lie, a contradiction in terms if ever there was one. In Book III: 414, he said that one should be taught that Rulers were made with gold, Auxiliaries with silver, and craftsmen with iron and brass.

When the time came to write a term paper, I wrote that Plato had described totalitarian society millennia before it came into existence. My Humanities teacher, Dr. Benario, gave me a C+ on the paper. He did not comment on my writing or my data, but wrote on my paper that it was wrong of me to judge Plato by the standards of my own time.

Years later, I was an exchange professor at Hebei University in Baoding, China. I taught linguistics there to English majors during the spring semester of 1984. That’s when I learned that Chairman Mao and his wife, Jiang Qing, had forbidden the performance of most western music. Traditional Chinese operas were banned as well, and only eight model operas could be performed. I immediately thought of Plato. And then I realized that the three categories of Rulers (gold), Auxiliaries (silver), and craftsmen (iron and brass) had come to be realized in Mao, the Party, and the laobaixing (the ordinary people, literally, the “old 100 surnames”).

Five years later, during the spring semester of 1989, I was once again teaching at Hebei University. Then Beijing Spring began, and everybody started talking about politics all the time. Strangers approached me on the street and asked me to explain separation of powers. Sometimes people who could speak only Chinese approached me as well. My Chinese is not very good, but I could occasionally manage to talk a bit.

One man came up to me and asked in Chinese if I had heard of someone whose name sounded like Bailatuo. I said no. The man was very patient and explained to me that Bailatuo had lived more than 2000 years ago in Greece and was a wise man who wrote about politics. I then understood that Bailatuo was Plato. The man asked me whether, if Plato were alive today, he would consider Chairman Mao as an example of the Philosopher King. Since I disapprove of the politics of both Plato and Chairman Mao, I said yes. I don’t know whether or not the man understood what I meant by saying that. My knowledge of Chinese was inadequate to deal with the situation.

Today I know that totalitarian rulers typically ban or limit music. Today I know that Plato and Mao divided humanity into three categories. Today the grade of C+ is much less common than it was in 1955. But I wonder how an instructor teaching Humanities today would react to the same paper. Plato described and called for totalitarianism more than two millennia before it appeared on earth. Today we know better than we did in 1955 just how bad totalitarianism is, but I think Plato is as honored today as he always was.

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George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937.  He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY.  His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects.  As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at george@jochnowitz.net.
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Copyright ©2011. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This post can be found on George Jochnowitz.  It is  republished here with the author's permission.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Boy's Story: Man on the Moon

Fiction Sunday

This excerpt is part of a novel, Jack Miller's Story, which I started writing more than fifteen years ago. It has undergone many changes since then, but now is in a form that I find suitable for publication. It contains biographical elements, no doubt, but it is not biographical by any means. Memory, unlike mathematical operations, does not always produce the same result.

******************

In Part 7, Jack heard some news that would change the way he viewed the world. Now, he would watch on TV an event of such historic significance that it would increase his interest in science and the exploration of the unknown. The manned missions to the moon were the spark that fueled that interest, that curiosity to know.


****************

On the Moon: Buzz Aldrin is about to step on the moon, the second man in history to achieve that honour, joining Neil Armstrong who is already on the moon. surface. The Apollo 11 crew consisted of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.
Source & Credit: NASA


Sunday July 20, 1969

It was a beautiful summer day on Sunday. Like all nice Sundays, Jack and his family went to the mountain that afternoon, to a spot in front of Beaver Lake, armed with picnic basket full of sandwiches, fruits, juices and salads. They also took with them a large checkered blanket, which they would place near a large maple tree, supplying enough shade.

It was a journey that Jack and his brothers knew well, walking from their house on Park Avenue, crossing Mont-Royal Boulevard, and then upward to the spot his parents favoured. It was always the same spot, and the same routine. After a twenty-minute walk, during which Jack and one of his brothers, Benny, would alternately ask every few minutes if they were there yet. His father would ignore their questions, yet his mother would say patiently if not slightly irritated, "Almost there. It's the same place we always go to. We're almost there."

Once they got to the right spot in front of Beaver Lake, his father took off his shirt and started relaxing, while his mother unrolled the blanket and started getting out the food. "Do you want a salami sandwich," she would say to Jack's father, using the Yiddish word, wurst. His father nodded his head, and he ate the sandwich with gusto. His father enjoyed eating, and Jack understood that was in some part due to him being deprived of food during the War. For Jack, food wasn't as important as play and observation. He was now eleven and entering Grade 7, taking more interest in nature and the world around him.

After his father ate another sandwich, he started peeling an apple, a skill which fascinated Jack, in that his father was able to make one continuous peel, an unbroken chain of apple skin, thinly sliced. And then with an equal skill, he would slice the apple into even smaller pieces, and enjoy them one by one. It seemed as if even eating an apple was important to his father, when it was less so for Jack and his brothers.

Benny and Jack threw the baseball for a while, after which Jack felt that he had somewhere else he had to be. "What time is it, Dad? Jack asked, running over breathlessly to his father, baseball glove and ball in his hand. "A little after three fifteen," his father said in Yiddish.

"Oh, no," Jack said. "Yosef told me the moon landing is going to take place at 3:30, less than 15 minutes. I have to go home and watch it on TV. I have to go. I can't miss it. All my friends will be watching it."

Jack's father looked at his mother and asked in Yiddish what was so important.  After explaining in some detail about the manned space mission to the moon, and the race between the Soviet Union and the Americans, his father better understood that this was an important day for history. At least for Jack and his friends.

"Do you remember the way home, Jackaleh? his mother asked.

Jack was already running, when he shouted "yeah" and then stopped. "Benny, are you coming or staying?"

"Staying here with mom and dad."

Jack ran down the mountain as if his life depended upon it. He had to make it back to the house in time. When he got to his front door, he rang the bell impatiently, breathing hard. After what seemed like minutes, but was more likely 30 seconds, his oldest brother, Yosef, opened the door.

"Did they land yet?

"I made a mistake about the time. It's on TV now, and I think they said they are scheduled to land in about 30 minutes."

"That gives me enough time to go to the bathroom."

After making a sandwich and a pouring a glass of coke, Jack and his older brother sat in front of their black-and-white TV in their living-room, as many millions of others were doing around the world. They spoke little and heard the voices of the broadcasters and, more important, Houston's mission control and the astronauts themselves.

Jack and Yosef had been following all the Apollo missions since the first fateful mission of Apollo 1, when Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward H. White, Roger B. Chaffee died from a mishap on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on January 27, 1967. The two had read the speech that U.S. President John F. Kennedy made in 1961 about his goal for humans in space: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth."

President Kennedy never lived to see that dream, but it was about to be achieved now, Jack thought. Neil Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin left the Apollo 11 command module, which was piloted by Michael Collins, in orbit and piloted the lunar module Eagle on the Sea of Tranquility. At 4:18 p.m. EDT, Armstrong announced to a watching and waiting world, "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

Jack looked at his brother. His brother looked at him, and said, "They did it. They it. The American landed on the moon. Wow, what an accomplishment. It's hard to believe it's happening." They danced around the room screaming in excitement. they heard many of their neighbours doing the same, screams of jubilation and excitement coming from the open windows of Park Avenue.

They then both  sat down and looked at the TV screen in silence. Something big was happening. It was a sign of hope, of progress, of conquest, bigger than Christopher Columbus' discovery of America.Or at least of the Europeans' discovery of America. "If man can land on the moon, imagine what else man can do?" Jack thought. "The possibilities are endless."

When his parents came home with  his brother, Benny, Jack excitedly told them the news. Even his father seemed to get caught up in the news and excitement. The family ate their supper in front of the TV, something they rarely did.  Almost seven hours after touching down on the lunar surface, Neil Armstrong carefully walked down the nine rungs of the lunar module's ladder, and at 10:56 p.m.stepped onto the powdery surface with the words:
That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
These would later become one of the most famous words in modern times, analysed for their meaning. He didn't understand the fuss. For Jack it was clear. It was the dawn of a new and hopeful era for humanity. Buzz Aldrin soon followed Armstrong down the ladder to become the second man to stand on the moon. It was then and there that Jack knew that he wanted to become an astronaut. He would be able to explore space, to go into the great unknown. To become a pioneer. It was all new and exciting and full of possibilities. Jack Millerman could hardly sleep that night; as he looked up at the moon he realized that man was on it.

********************************
To be continued.
Copyright ©2011. Perry J. Greenbaum. All Rights Reserved.

Publisher's Note: This is a work of fiction. While the author might have been inspired by some true-life events, names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Jascha Heifetz: Wieniawski Polonaise No. 1

c

Jascha Heifetz plays Wieniawski Polonaise No. 1 in D Major, Op. 4, and is accompanied on piano by Emanuel Bay.
********************

Henryk Wieniawski [1835– 1880] was a Polish violinist and composer. The first violin competition named after Wieniawski took place in Warsaw in 1935, where Ginette Neveu took first prize, David Oistrakh second, and Henri Temianka third.

The International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition has been held every five years since 1952. As it writes on its website:
In 1935, to commemorate our patron’s 100th birthday, his nephew Adam, himself a composer, started international meetings of young violin players in Warsaw. The honour of opening the list of laureates fell to the Frenchwoman Ginette Neveu (First Prize), whose career was to end so tragically in an air accident, the Russian David Oistrakh (Second Prize), whose subsequent role in the world of the violin would be tactless to remind, and the Englishman Henry Temianka (Third Prize). The list of laureates also featured Ida Haendel, Bronisław Gimpel, Grażyna Bacewicz and several others, whose artistic plans were thwarted by the war; as was the course of the event which had just had such a fine opening.
 This year marks its fourteenth competition, October 8-23, 2011, in Poznań, Poland.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bill Haley: Rock Around The Clock



Bill Haley & His Comets playing on Ted Steele's Bandstand (1955) on WOR-TV (Channel 9), in New York City. Ted Steele's Bandstand was New York's initial venture into popularizing music on TV, paving the way for American Bandstand with Dick Clark.
***************
Written by: Max Freedman & James E Myrers [as Jimmy DeKnight]
Recorded: April 12, 1954: Pythian Temple Studios, 135 West 70th Street, New York City
Released: May 20, 1954: New York City
Label: Decca Records

It is one of the most influential songs in rock and roll history. Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" (1954) became the first rock and roll song to top Billboard magazine's charts for sales and airplay.  It wasn't an immediate hit, but after it became the theme song for the film, Blackboard Jungle (1955), it became hugely popular, and defined a cultural shift where rock 'n roll became a mainstay in America. The song has been described as the anthem of rebellious youth of the 1950s. Rebellious youth still has a pejorative sense, but it all depends, of course, what they were rebelling against.

Variations of the term "rock 'n roll" were used by black culture as early as the 1920s in America. It took another thirty years before it became part of the American mainstream lexicon. The popularizing of term rock 'n roll is credited to Alan Freed, a disc jockey from Cleveland, says The Straight Dope:
In 1952 Alan Freed visited a Cleveland record store and learned that R&B records were being snapped up by white teenagers. Sensing the makings of something big, he changed the name of his popular music show on radio station WJW from "Record Rendezvous" to "Moon Dog's Rock 'n' Roll House Party" and began playing R&B tunes. Freed apparently used the term "rock 'n' roll" to describe the music because he thought the racial connotation of "rhythm and blues" might turn off the white audience. In any case, the term stuck.

Freed was the original high-energy, shout-along-with-the-record AM screamer, and his show, along with rock 'n' roll music, attracted a huge following. A rock 'n' roll show Freed promoted at Cleveland Stadium had to be canceled when the place was mobbed by thousands of fans. By 1954 Freed had moved to a late-night show on WINS in New York City, where he duplicated his earlier success.
On July 8, 1955, Rock Around the Clock became the first rock and roll recording to hit the top number one spot of Billboard's Pop charts, a position it held for eight weeks. Since its release more than 50 years ago, the song has sold an astounding 20 million copies, ranking it among the top three singles of all time. Rolling Stone magazine has ranked the song no. 158 on its 2004 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Rock Around the Clock: Bill Haley and His Comets (1954)
Source: Wikipedia


Rock Around the Clock
by Max C. Freedman
& James E. Myers [using pseudonym Jimmy DeKnight]

One, two, three o'clock, four o'clock rock
Five, six, seven o'clock, eight o'clock rock
Nine, ten, eleven o'clock, twelve o'clock rock
We're gonna rock around the clock tonight

Put your glad rags on, join me, Hon
We'll have some fun when the clock strikes one

We're gonna rock around the clock tonight
We're gonna rock, rock, rock, 'til broad daylight
We're gonna rock, gonna rock around the clock tonight

When the clock strikes two, three and four

If the band slows down we'll yell for more

We're gonna rock around the clock tonight
We're gonna rock, rock, rock, 'til broad daylight
We're gonna rock, gonna rock around the clock tonight

When the chimes ring five, six, and seven
We'll be right in seventh heaven

We're gonna rock around the clock tonight
We're gonna rock, rock, rock, 'til broad daylight
We're gonna rock, gonna rock around the clock tonight

When it's eight, nine, ten, eleven too
I'll be goin' strong and so will you

We're gonna rock around the clock tonight
We're gonna rock, rock, rock, 'til broad daylight
We're gonna rock, gonna rock around the clock tonight

When the clock strikes twelve, we'll cool off then
Start a'rockin' round the clock again

We're gonna rock around the clock tonight
We're gonna rock, rock, rock, 'til broad daylight
We're gonna rock, gonna rock around the clock tonight

Friday, June 17, 2011

Colony Collapse Disorder: Scientific Update

Science & Nature


Starting the Honey-Making Process: A European honey bee (Apis mellifera) extracts nectar from an Aster flower using its proboscis. Tiny hairs covering the bee's body maintain a slight electrostatic charge, causing pollen from the flower's anthers to stick to the bee, allowing for pollination when the bee moves on to another flower.
Photo Credit: John Severns, 2007
Source: Wikipedia
I have written a couple of blog posts on what is ailing the bees, whose absence affects the agricultural sector and our food supply. (See Where Have the Bees Gone? and The Honeybee: Working for Humanity's Sake).  
   In 2006, beekeepers took note of a disturbing finding, the death of bee colonies, which has been called colony collapse disorder, or CCD, where worker bees from a beehive disappear and don't return. To date, millions of bee colonies, equating to billions of bees,  have vanished.
   Root causes put forward have ranged from environmental factors to pathogens and pesticides to cell-phone radiation. As of yet, there is no scientifically verifiable explanation. Here is the latest scientific finding.

**********************
In a 10-month study, scientists at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) have identified four new viruses that infect bees, providing another clue in the as-yet unexplained phenomena known as colony collapse disorder.

The study followed 20 colonies of a commercial beekeeping operation that contains more than 70,000 hives, and followed the bees as they were transported from Mississippi to South Dakota and then to California pollinating crops. The chief question that the study was trying to answer was what viruses and bacteria exist in a normal colony throughout the year. This would establish a baseline standard, crucial for further research.

"We brought a quantitative view of what real migrating populations look like in terms of disease,” Joseph DeRisi, one of the paper’s authors and a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, said. “You can’t begin to understand colony die-off without understanding what normal is.” 

The study tracked 27 viruses that affect honeybees, including four new viruses that were previously unknown, says msbc.com
During the survey of the hives' "microbiome," they discovered four new viruses and a trypasnosome, a type of single-celled parasite, which had never been identified before. One new viruses, the Lake Sinai 2 virus, was found in very high concentrations, up to 1 hundred billion copies of the virus per bee in some hives. [10 Most Diabolical and Disgusting Parasites]
Since these viruses were found in healthy hives, they can now be ruled out as the leading causes of colony collapse disorder. The research team's findings have been published in an online journal, Public Library of Science, PLoS ONE (June 7): "Temporal Analysis of the Honey Bee Microbiome Reveals Four Novel Viruses and Seasonal Prevalence of Known Viruses, Nosema, and Crithidia." The scientific detective work continues. I will keep you posted.

******************************
 Here is some more information from some news sites:
A 10-month study of healthy honey bees by University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) scientists has identified four new viruses that infect bees, while revealing that each of the viruses or bacteria previously linked to colony collapse is present in healthy hives as well. More UCSF

Researchers have identified four new viruses that infect healthy honeybees, potential clues that may help them better understand why colonies are dying.  More Bloomberg

During a ten-month study of healthy honey bees, scientists identified four new viruses and established a baseline for studying bee colony collapse, revealing that all the bacteria and viruses previously linked to the disorder also live in normal colonies. More Digital Journal

Even healthy bee colonies are constantly under attack from viruses, bacteria, fungi and other parasites. New research finds that these pathogen levels are constantly in flux in colonies, information that could help rule out the prime suspects in colony collapse disorder. More: msnbc.com


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mahler: Symphony No. 5's Adagietto



September 1987: Alte Oper, Frankfurt, Germany


******************
Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra), Leonard Bernstein conducting, is here performing Gustav Mahler's Adagietto from the Fourth Movement of Symphony No. 5. The Adagietto is typically around 10 minutes, but in some recordings it has approached 12 minutes.

Mahler [1860-1902] composed  the piece in 1901 and 1902 in Maiernigg, Austria, on the shores of the Wörthersee in the state of Carinthia. He conducted the first performances of the Fifth Symphony at Cologne, Germany, on October 18, 1904. (This video clip is taken from the recording of 1990.)

Leonard Bernstein was instrumental in making Mahler popular with North American audiences. This piece in particular later became an orchestral standard. The composition is actually a happy one, notes Manfred Honeck, musical director with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, in an article in The Toronto Star:
Mahler wrote the Fifth Symphony at one of the happiest times of his life. He had just married Alma Schindler and he had just become director of the opera in Vienna. The symphony is actually a love poem to Alma. And yet, thanks to its use in Luchino Visconti's famous film (Death in Venice) people think the famous ‘Adagietto' movement is tragic.
Perhaps this false sense of tragedy also comes from its connection to a sad event. Leonard Bernstein conducted  "The Adagietto" at the mass for Robert Kennedy at Saint Patrick's Cathedral, in New York City, on June 8, 1968, the day he was laid to rest.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Moral Life

Moses Holding The Ten Commandments: In the Mosaic Code, of which the Decalogue forms the central core, "there is no distinction between the religious and the secular—all are one—or between civil, criminal and moral law," notes Paul Johnson in A History of the Jews.
Credit: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn [1606-1669]; Painted in 1659. Held at Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, Germany.
Source: Wikipedia Commons
One of the most profound questions asked in philosophy and in biblical narratives is "Why do evil people prosper?" That question is as profound as it is difficult to answer satisfactorily. Many religions, including my own, grapple with that question, and provide some answers. As have the philosophers throughout the ages. What is equally interesting and important is the question and the reason the person asks it.

That question presupposes that evil actually exists, not an idea that everyone or every religion easily endorses. That thorny question also presupposes that there is some pre-existing idea of morality, at least when it comes to defining good and evil. Which raises more questions, such as Does morality matter anymore? What is a moral life? Is there such a thing as universal morality? Among observant Jews, the belief is that our moral code was handed down at Mount Sinai, by God, first to Moses and then to all the Jews. More than three million souls standing at the foot of the mountain.

That takes some faith. Others believe that morality has been encoded into our DNA. That also takes some faith. Others argue that morality isn't real and doesn't exist. And then others look at morality as a quaint notion or abstract idea that gives us some idea of an an overarching ideal, one that is, for all intents and purposes, too difficult, too constraining, and too unrealistic for humans in modern society to practice.

In civilized society, however, we like the idea of morality. Even so, we resist the practicing of it in too concentrated of a form. We call people who are overly moral moralists or overly pious as practicing pietism. We are embarrassed, sometimes offended, by displays of exceptional piety and morality. We think it impossible, improbable, inhuman, hypocritical. The solution is to "get the dirt" on such a person, to expose them. Sully their reputation. Puncture their (bloated) image of goodness. Mock them.  Why?

It might be that the acceptable standard of goodness and morality is so low now that anyone daring to aim higher is considered a fraud, a phony, a cheat. Or a dreamer, perhaps. Consider what Michelangelo once said: "The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark."

We want to believe in good and goodness, but our faith is weak and we've been fooled so many times. Superheroes don't exist, even in the movies.  That's the view of the world if you watch TV, read the newspapers, the magazines, scientific journals, the web, and assorted online media. It's mostly a sad, horrible, frightening presentation of the world where evil prospers, the good guys lose, and the bad guys win. With such a diet of news, I am not surprised if people want to pull the covers over their heads and hide.

No doubt, bad things happen to people. Evil exists and people are harmed by it. Such is not to be easily dismissed or ignored. But that is not the full and complete story. Persons triumph and overcome personal tragedies. Doing good is an overt action against evil; and good things happen every day. But good news is not news, so it's rarely reported. One of the reasons put forward is that our brains are hard-wired to be aware of incoming threats (re: Bad or negative news). Another reason is the underlying unsaid assumption in all news reportage: Strangely enough, negative news is news because it is an event that disorders the universe, so to speak. Good is the natural order and as such is expected. Yet, good happens every day, at unexpected moments, in unexpected situations.

I point this out, because we all need reminding. Most of us do the best we can under the conditions with which we live. We have a sense of morality, of right and wrong, whether it's encoded in our DNA or passed on from parent to child by lesson and example. Morality and our moral codes underpin human civilization. Even so, there are times in history when these ancient moral codes are forgotten or put aside by some of those holding the levers of power. Yet they eventually reveal themselves before civilization become too intolerable. It sounds mystical, but it's not. It's life. It might just be that living the good life, the moral life, is its own reward.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

More Money for Vaccines

 
Polio Vaccine: Child receiving oral polio vaccine in India.
Source:Wikipedia
As they say, here's some good news for a change. I have written many postings on the importance of vaccines, particularly in saving the lives of children (E.g., Informed Parents & A Matter of Life).

Well, yesterday in London aid donors pledged more than $4.3 billion to vaccinate the world's children, thereby potentially saving up to four million lives from premature death. The bulk of the money will be spent on vaccinating more than 250 million of the poorest children in 72 countries by 2015. Canada has pledged $15 million, the United States $450 million and the United Kingdom $1.3 billion.

In terms of private organizations, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation alone has pledged $1-billion. In addition, Big Pharma has agreed to lower the prices of some vaccinations, including the pentavalent, pneumococcus, and rotavirus vaccines, to a price that poorer nations can afford, reportedly at cost price. That's good news, indeed, as the BBC reports:
Two million under-fives die from pneumonia alone each year despite the existence of a vaccine to protect them. It is estimated that three times as many children aged under five die from pneumonia and diarrhoea than from malaria and HIV/Aids combined, despite new vaccines being available to help prevent such deaths. However, many developing countries cannot afford them.
The money will be well-spent, noted Bill Gates: "For the first time in history, children in developing countries will receive the same vaccines against diarrhea and pneumonia as children in rich countries." Bill and Melinda Gates have been working tirelessly to vaccinate the world's children.

Here is some more detailed reporting from the world's media's on this story:
Major public and private donors have pledged more than U.S.$4.3 billion to immunize at least 250 million of the world's poorest children against life-threatening diseases over the next five years and prevent more than four million premature deaths.
More AllAfrica.com

Over $4.3 billion was pledged by major public and private donors at a conference in London on Monday to aid projects vaccinating children in developing countries.
More CNN

Public and private donors have pledged $4.3 billion toward vaccinating children against a variety of diseases, according to the GAVI Alliance, which held its first fund-raising conference for vaccines in London on Monday.
More NY Times
The world's top aid donors gathered in London on Monday to pledge support and hard cash to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi) – a global public-private partnership to help the world's poorest countries access vital vaccines and reduce child mortality.
More The Guardian
When the media writes about vaccines in the U.S. and Europe, usually we're reporting on the endless controversy over whether some vaccines cause autism. (Short answer: they don't.)
More Time

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Jazz Singer Redux: Frummin' Out in America



Cantor Yosef "Yossele" Rosenblatt appears as himself in The Jazz Singer (1927), the first talking motion picture. The film looks at the struggles between tradition and modernity. In this case, Jakie Rabinowitz (Al Jolson), the son of a Jewish cantor goes against five generations of family tradition to pursue a dream of becoming a jazz singer and join the modern age. In this scene, where Cantor Rosenblatt sings a secular Yiddish song, Yahrtzeit Licht, Jakie's emotions are stirred to the point of raising a few uneasy feelings of doubt and conflict, if not guilt. To wit, whether he's making the right choice.

But it is a transitory feeling. Jakie Rabinowitz, who has fitted himself with a more American-sounding last name, and calls himself Jack Robin, has found his place in the modern world with all its promises, comforts and glories. In reality, the cantor's song is a fitting reminder of his father's dead world, says an article by Irv Saposnik in Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought:
The song "Yahrzeit Licht," sung by Yosselle Rosenblatt in concert, is typical of the Jewish music in the film. Both words and music form an elegy for a lost world, the Yiddish world of Eastern Europe, transplanted to the Lower East Side and now bypassed by the fast-paced American generation. On a visit to Chicago, Jack Robin is drawn to the sentimental Yiddishkeit that both song and singer evoke, and also to memories of his father. But he is as out of place in that concert hall as he is in his old neighborhood, and as he will be later in his father's kittel. Even as Jack muses on what he has left behind, Cantor Rosenblatt chants the kaddish for his father's dead world.
When Jack chooses the world of Irving Berlin's America, thus leaving the ghettos of New York City's Lower East Side and its traditions of Eastern Europe, he makes a choice that seems right for him. Countless number of first-generation American-born immigrants follow suit. The modern songs that Jack Robin sings are the songs of ascendance for the sons and daughters of immigrants who make their way nicely, if not comfortably, in the new world shockingly foreign to their parents. Such is how the conflict is portrayed in 1920s America. And the film's producers surely had that message in mind.

Such conflicts, chiefly internal and sometimes external, have played out for decades in the Jewish community, as its leaders fight against assimilation, secularization and all the other forces of modernity that appeal to the young. On the front lines is Orthodox Judaism in its fight to keep alight the flame of tradition. Its argument, simply put, is that traditional Judaism is the root from which all forms of Judaism and Yiddishkeit grow and thrive.If you cut off the roots of Jewish tradition, namely, Torah, Tanakh and Talmud, you are left with a culture that has for want of a better word become déraciné, or uprooted.

I don't say this lightly or without understanding. As someone who grew up with only a small amount of religious tradition and a lot of Yiddishkeit, I can well understand the fears of the leaders of the Jewish community. My wife and I, too, are slowly making our way back to traditional Judaism. And so are many others. In a strange twist of fate, four generations after The Jazz Singer was shown in movie theatres as a paean to modernity, our children and children's children are becoming more religious, much in the same way we and our fathers became less so.

The younger generation, in search of deeper meaning beyond the culture of the mall, is turning once again to religion for answers and as a way of living. In doing so, they are turning away from "the fleshpots of Egypt" —a fitting description of modern-day America—and frummin' out.

Vladimir Ashkenazy: Beethoven's Emperor Concerto



Vladimir Ashkenazy plays the third movement "Rondo" from Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73, also called the  "Emperor Concerto, at London's Royal Festival Hall in 1974. The London Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Bernard Haitink, who was principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra from 1967 to 1979. The continuation of the Rondo can be found here.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Evgeny Kissin: Beethoven's Turkish March



This is from a performance at London's Royal Albert Hall on August 10, 1997, part of a summer concert series called the BBC Proms. Here Evgeny Kissin, then 25, plays Beethoven's Turkish March, the first of seven encores he played that sweltering afternoon in August.

The documentary Evgeny Kissin at the Royal Albert Hall sets the scene: "It was a Sunday afternoon in the second hottest August since records began, but Kissin nevertheless drew the biggest Prom audience in all of those 103 years. As if that were not enough, Kissin ended his recital with the longest succession of encores in the entire history of the Proms."

Kissin's performance, the documentary says, "was the first Prom in the 103-year history of the Promenade Concerts to be given by a solo recitalist. . . . A leading London manager described it as having generated more enthusiasm than any other London recital during the past fifty years."

******************

The Turkish March, the first encore of that hot Sunday in August, has its own interesting history, reports Wikipedia:
The theme was first used in Beethoven's "6 Variations on an Original Theme", Op. 76, of 1809. In 1811 Beethoven wrote an overture and incidental music to a play by August von Kotzebue called The Ruins of Athens (Op. 113), which premiered in Pest in 1812. The Turkish March appears as item No. 4 of the incidental music. Many music lovers associate the theme with The Ruins of Athens, although that was not its original appearance.
Even so, that is the chief association of this piece. Anton Rubinstein [1829-1894] arranged a popular piano version of the march in B flat major, tempo allegretto in 1868, with further arrangement by Sergei Rachmaninoff. The score notes as its source, The Ruins of Athens.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Marvin Gaye: What's Going On



Marvin Gaye [1939-1984] sings What's Going On followed by What's Happening Brother. This video is an excerpt from the DVD, "Real Thing: In Performance 1964-1981," released in 2006, which shows some of Marvin Gaye's greatest live performances on TV and film. The clips shown here are from Save The Children, a 1973 film, starring in addition to Marvin Gaye, Sammy Davis Jr, Roberta Flack, Isaac Hayes and The Jackson 5.

I will comment here on the first and more popular of the two songs, What's Going On.

**************************
Written by: By Renaldo "Obie" Benson, Al Cleveland,
& Marvin Gaye
Recorded: June 10, 1970:  Detroit. Michigan: Hitsville, USA (Studio A)
Released: January 20, 1971
Album: What's Going On
Label: Tamla Records

Rolling Stone magazine has ranked the song number 4 on its list of 500 greatest songs of all time in its 2004 compilation. The song is a look at the social and political problems that have plagued the U.S., and which, to a great degree, still plague it today. Although Gaye had his vision set on his own nation, his questioning words are relevant for many of the industrialized nations that still have too much poverty, social unrest, high unemployment, and inequalities. Not to mention constant wars, which tend to normalize the message of death and destruction to society-at-large, to communities, to families, and to individuals.

No doubt, all these are great problems that hamper societal harmony, happiness and its betterment. Each day, such problems grind away at human dignity and undermine the human spirit, leaving society all the poorer, despite evidence of material wealth. A society operating with such a muted spirit will always bring increasing suffering to the greatest number of people. If war is not the answer, and it never is for long, Gaye's unsaid message of the need of universal redemption is as relevant as it is difficult for most to understand and accept.

Still, that does not make it less important. Quite the contrary. The way to redemption requires on our part, of course, acts of repentance (or teshuvah) and love. Talked about. Analyzed. Sought after. For only love can conquer hate. Sadly, this message is resisted by too many in power for a multitude of reasons as well known and ancient as humanity itself. Many others have said as much, either in song or in speeches, which only proves the need is great. Against this need, humanity continues on somehow.

Marvin Gaye died a violent death on April 1, 1984, shot by his father, after intervening in a domestic argument between his parents. Marvin Gaye was 44.

What's Going On: Album Cover, 1971.
Source: Wikipedia


What's Going On
By Renaldo "Obie" Benson, Al Cleveland,
& Marvin Gaye

Mother, mother
There's too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There's far too many of you dying
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today - Ya

Father, father
We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today

Picket lines and picket signs
Don't punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what's going on
What's going on
Ya, what's going on
Ah, what's going on

In the mean time
Right on, baby
Right on
Right on

Father, father, everybody thinks we're wrong
Oh, but who are they to judge us
Simply because our hair is long
Oh, you know we've got to find a way
To bring some understanding here today
Oh

Picket lines and picket signs
Don't punish me with brutality
Talk to me
So you can see
What's going on
Ya, what's going on
Tell me what's going on
I'll tell you what's going on - Uh
Right on baby
Right on baby

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Simon & Garfunkel: Mrs Robinson



From a performance in 1968, the year the song was released.
********************
Written by: Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel
Recorded: September 1966, January 1967, June 1967, October 1967–February 1968
Released: April 3, 1968
Album: Bookends
Label: Columbia Records

******************
An early version of the song appeared in the motion picture The Graduate (1967), a coming of age classic,  starring Dustin Hoffman (Benjamin Braddock) and Anne Bancroft (Mrs Robinson), and directed by Mike Nichols.

The songwriting duo split up in 1970, and Simon and Garfunkel reunited again for a free concert in New York City's Central Park on September 19, 1981, where they played a number of crowd favourites, including Mrs Robinson here.

The song's references to Mrs Robinson (First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt) and Joe DiMaggio, the New York Yankees athlete, look back to a time, in the 1930s and '40s, of unpretentious heroics and national duty. Our culture looks for heroes. In 1999, after baseball player Joe DiMaggio died, Paul Simon wrote about the song's reference to him in a New York Times article:
In these days of Presidential transgressions and apologies and prime-time interviews about private sexual matters, we grieve for Joe DiMaggio and mourn the loss of his grace and dignity, his fierce sense of privacy, his fidelity to the memory of his wife and the power of his silence.
 Such might explain its resonance today.


Bookends: Bookends is the fourth studio album by Simon & Garfunkel, released on April 3, 1968. Mrs Robinson is the third track on side two.
Source: Wikipedia Commons


Mrs Robinson
by Simon & Garfunkel

And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)
God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
(Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

We'd like to know a little bit about you for our files
We'd like to help you learn to help yourself
Look around you, all you see are sympathetic eyes
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home

And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)
God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
(Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

Hide it in a hiding place where no one ever goes
Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes
It's a little secret, just the Robinsons' affair
Most of all, you've got to hide it from the kids

Coo, coo, ca-choo, Mrs Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)
God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
(Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon
Going to the candidates debate
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you've got to choose
Ev'ry way you look at it, you lose

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio
A nation turns it's lonely eyes to you (Woo, woo, woo)
What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson
Joltin' Joe has left and gone away
(Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Neil Young: Old Man



From a 1971 performance. Neil Young (born November 12, 1945) is originally from Toronto, Ontario.
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We share many things in common, notwithstanding differences in age, if we want to view them. Such is the sense of this classic Neil Young song, says Wikipedia:
"Old Man" is a song written and performed by Neil Young on his 1972 album Harvest. The song was written for the caretaker of the Northern California Broken Arrow Ranch, which Young purchased for $350,000 in 1970. The song compares a young man's life to an old man's and shows that the young man has, to some extent, the same needs as the old one. James Taylor played six-string banjo (tuned like a guitar) and sang on the song, and Linda Ronstadt also contributed vocals. In the movie Heart of Gold, Young introduces the song as follows:
About that time when I wrote (Heart of Gold), and I was touring, I had also -- just, you know, being a rich hippie for the first time -- I had purchased a ranch, and I still live there today. And there was a couple living on it that were the caretakers, an old gentleman named Louis Avala and his wife Clara. And there was this old blue Jeep there, and Louis took me for a ride in this blue Jeep. He gets me up there on the top side of the place, and there's this lake up there that fed all the pastures, and he says, "Well, tell me, how does a young man like yourself have enough money to buy a place like this?" And I said, "Well, just lucky, Louie, just real lucky." And he said, "Well, that's the darndest thing I ever heard." And I wrote this song for him.
We all age, despite our best efforts to stay young looking. Neil Young, 65, has now become that old man.

Old Man
By Neil Young

Old man look at my life,
I'm a lot like you were.
Old man look at my life,
I'm a lot like you were.

Old man look at my life,
Twenty four
and there's so much more
Live alone in a paradise
That makes me think of two.

Love lost, such a cost,
Give me things
that don't get lost.
Like a coin that won't get tossed
Rolling home to you.

Old man take a look at my life
I'm a lot like you
I need someone to love me
the whole day through
Ah, one look in my eyes
and you can tell that's true.

Lullabies, look in your eyes,
Run around the same old town.
Doesn't mean that much to me
To mean that much to you.

I've been first and last
Look at how the time goes past.
But I'm all alone at last.
Rolling home to you.

Old man take a look at my life
I'm a lot like you
I need someone to love me
the whole day through
Ah, one look in my eyes
and you can tell that's true.

Old man look at my life,
I'm a lot like you were.
Old man look at my life,
I'm a lot like you were.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Boy's Story: That Day in June 1968

Fiction Sunday

This excerpt is part of a novel, Jack Miller's Story, which I started writing more than fifteen years ago. It has undergone many changes since then, but now is in a form that I find suitable for publication. It contains biographical elements, no doubt, but it is not biographical by any means. Memory, unlike mathematical operations, does not always produce the same result.

******************

In Part 6, Jack's father bought him a transistor radio. Music became an important part of his life. On the radio of June 5, 1968, Jack heard some news that would change the way he viewed the world.

***********************
June 5, 1968

It was a Wednesday, two days after the celebration of Shavout, the giving of the Torah to the Jews on Mount Sinai, where the laws deciding every facet of life, religious, civil and ceremonial, were handed down to the Jewish People for eternity. Jack was getting ready for school. Ten years old and in Grade 5. As usual, as he did every morning, he put on his red transistor radio. The music stopped, and the 7 a.m. news came on the air. "Senator Robert Kennedy, the U.S. Democratic presidential candidate, was shot three times earlier today at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after winning the California primary. At 12.15am, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was making his way from the ballroom .... " Jack ran for his parents and his two brothers, screaming "Robert Kennedy has been shot. Kennedy has been shot."

Jack, his two brothers, Benny and Yosef, his mother and father all gathered around the radio in the kitchen listening to the details. "Robert Kennedy is at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles where he has undergone emergency surgery to remove bullet fragments from his brain. Apprehended at the scene was Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian Arab of Jordanian descent."

His mother shut off the radio, and prepared breakfast of cold cereal and toast with butter. He and his brothers ate breakfast in silence, his mother at the table. His father got dressed in the other room, ready to go to work at the factory. The food would not go down easily. But he had to eat; life had to continue on, move forward. "Can Robert Kennedy survive being shot in the brain? he asked his mother.

"I am sure that the doctors are doing all they can for him," Mama said.

"Why would someone try to shoot him?

"Jackaleh, that's a good question," Mama said, wiping her hands on her apron "I don't know for sure. I'm no scholar or professor. But there are always meshuganehs out there who want to destroy what someone is building. To take away the good that people do. Such people, what can I say, are trouble-makers and troubled people. This young man who shot Kennedy must be one of them. Now, get ready for school. You don't want to be late."

Jack got up and gave his mama a kiss, gathered his books into his schoolbag, and ran out the door. What's happening to world? he thought. "Two months ago, in April, Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. And now Robert Kennedy is shot. Why do all the good guys get shot? he asked his friend James, who shook his head and said he didn't know. "Perhaps because they are good."

When Jack got home from school, he quickly ate a snack and told his mom he was going upstairs to visit the tenants upstairs to help them strip some old furniture. "Be home for supper," his mom said as he ran out the door and up the stairs to the house next door where a group of twenty-year-old long-haired hippies lived.  Jack liked being with them, and liked working on their projects. He asked one of them why he thought evil happens. Vance looked at him thoughtfully, took a drag on a cigarette, and said. "Kennedy being shot is a bad scene, man. Not cool at all. It might just be that you need evil to happen, man, so that you could better understand the good around us."

Jack didn't understand, but he worked hard on stripping the furniture, removing the old paint layer by layer with a scraper and stripping liquid. It was hard work, yet Jack enjoyed it, seeing that his efforts were being slowly rewarded. He worked at it for a couple of hours, mostly in silence, Vance working near him, stopping every so often for a smoke. He flipped on the radio to catch Simon & Garfunkel's Mrs Robinson:
Look around you, all you see are sympathetic eyes
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home
And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know
God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
The next day, Robert Kennedy died, succumbing to his wounds. "Kennedy was a good man," his mother said. "A friend of freedom; a friend to the Jews."

During the Shavuot service at the shul, the rabbi had said that tradition held that all the Jews—more than two million people — stood at the foot of Mount Sinai to hear Moses recite the Ten Commandments, That shalt honour your parents, Thou shalt not murder, Thou shalt not bear false witness.... In shul, Jack and his family had heard the reading of the Ten Commandments, it an affirmation of the importance of the event and of the everlasting covenant that God established with the Jewish People.

A year earlier, his parents were nervous about a war going on in the Middle East. Israel, a country that he didn't know much about, but knew it was important for the Jews, a Jewish homeland, notably after the Holocaust. The Shoah. Memories of it pervaded the present, the scars still in full view. The war was between Israel and its neighboring Arab states. A massive effort with tanks, fighter jets and soldiers on both sides fighting pitched battles for land. It seemed both exciting and frightening to many who spoke about it when visiting his house, gathered in front of the TV.   

Never again will Jews die as lambs in the slaughter. We will defend ourselves. It is our moral right. A moral imperative. Never again.

By June 11, 1967, fears turned to victorious sighs of relief around the world. The Jews have survived another attack, saved from possible annihilation. Still, there were thousands of deaths, and many more wounded and families torn apart. Both sides suffer. "Could anyone really be happy about that?" Jack thought."Is that man's lot."

When visiting his father's friends a few days later, a committed Zionist, he heard him say: "A victory for Israel is a victory for Jews worldwide." They were sitting in his well-appointed living-room, drinking tea with lemon and munching on some tea biscuits. In the background, Chopin's A major Polonaise, Héroique, was playing on the stereo, an older recording of Artur Rubinstein. His parents listened quietly, and said little. They spoke little about Israel or the war afterward.

A few weeks later Jack had his red transistor radio. Jack would find his own means of victory and escape, through music. It might have been the music that defined his generation. But like all great music, of all generations, it spoke the universal language of freedom, dignity and humanity. For all people. It was a dream.

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To be continued.
Copyright ©2011. Perry J. Greenbaum. All Rights Reserved.

Publisher's Note: This is a work of fiction. While the author might have been inspired by some true-life events, names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or locales is entirely coincidental.