Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Netanyahu Addresses Congress

This is the speech that Obama should have given: unequivocal, clear-headed, direct, and brave.  Simply awesome.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


I came home this evening to find that we had received a fair amount of hail. What I found at 10PM had dropped before 7PM, and was layered more than one inch thick, consisting of round, marble-sized crystals. Wow!

The dogs were dry when Kathy came home after 7. She didn't notice the hail where she was, a few miles north, so this was highly localized.

Posted by Picasa

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Firebird (Stravinsky)

My first introduction to Stravinsky's Firebird was through Fantasia 2000.  Quite literally, a firebird came out of a volcano in a thunder of brass and percussion and chased down the Spring nymph to her doom.  Fortunately, a single tear revived her from the ashes of the burned forest--the result of the firebird's brief reign of terror--and, helped by her friend the stag, triumphs over the ruined waste with seed and rain.  Instantly, as the music crescendos in triumph, great trees spring up out of the ground, rising to the heights of ancient trees in mere breaths.  The waste fades to memory as the story of renewal is told once more.

Well, that's the way Disney's artists saw it.  And good for them!  The music they selected is just a brief excerpt from the whole piece, so I was in for an experience listing to it again tonight.

Netflix was having an internal error, so I switched my Roku box to the Classical TV channel.  The first item on the list was Valery Gergiev conducting the Vienna Philhamonic in Vienna in 2000.  Three pieces were on the program:  Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1 ("Classical"), an unwatchable modern viola concerto, and Stravinsky's Firebird.  I have a hard time watching Gergiev conduct, because he has a tendency to shake his right hand about as if he has palsy.  (He doesn't, as I was able to observe as he conducted the later pieces in the program.)

The great complexity of the viola concerto and of the Firebird demanded someone who could feel the music as much as memorize it.  Gergiev excelled at this, especially during the Firebird, which is incredibly dynamic and expressive.  By the time the orchestra plays at the concert, the conductor is generally reminding players where to come in.  The task of shaping how they will play is (mostly) complete.  It takes a lot of work, most of which concertgoers never see.  I had the privilege of working with my college orchestra as an assistant for five years, under two directors.  I learned more about composition and performance from those rehearsals than I ever did from listening to albums.

Some orchestras allow you to attend rehearsals.  You may not get to hear the music non-stop, but you get the experience of learning how it is all put together.  I strongly encourage experiencing music up close and personal.  If you're not playing it, go wahow it is played.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Royal Wedding Fever

I am a true Natural Born United States Citizen, but I was born in Australia to American parents, and my father's heritage runs blue-blood from England and Scotland.  I have a soft spot for the marches of Elgar and the magnificent cathedrals and abbeys of London, so it is no surprise that I like royal weddings.

I first watched the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1991, when it was rebroadcast on A&E.  Being a softie for this sort of thing, I taped it.  My wife hasn't watch it, but she did seem to like watching the most recent royal wedding when it was rebroadcast (same-day) on BBC America.  Little does she know that I modeled our own wedding ceremony (but far more spartanly) on Charles' and Diana's.  I so loved the old language of the service, that we based our vows on the old Book of Common Prayer.

I have visited Westminster Abbey, and I wondered so much how they could pull off a wedding there.  With unparalleled photographic access, the BBC showed us how.  I was especially happy to see the trees inside, with their young light green leaves glowing under the bright lights.  St. Paul's Cathedral (the site of Charles' and Diana's wedding) is much larger and better lit by the sun, but Westminster is no less beautiful for a wedding.

We waited until the bridal couple returned from signing the register before we thought about turning off the television.  I wanted to hear the household trumpeters deliver the fanfare--and what a job they did!  That was the best moment for me of the 1981 royal wedding (and I finally found a recording), so I especially wanted to see what they did in 2011.

For me, most weddings are musical.  I helped my mother and her best friend play piano and organ duets at several weddings (I was a page turner), and this has stuck with me.  The 1981 royal wedding was far more musical, with three orchestras, a few choirs, soprano Kiri te Kanawa, and spirited classical music from Clarke, Handel, and Elgar.  I like the Walton march used as the 2011 recessional less than I like Elgar's Pomp & Circumstance March #4, but it was well-played--better in fact than many recordings I have heard.

Next time you go to a wedding, pay attention to the music.  Usually there is a lot of thought that goes into choosing each piece, and certainly there is a lot of effort in performing it.  You might be able to read the bride and groom a little better as a result.

Osama Bin Laden is Dead!

Go Navy!  SEAL Team 6 did the deed, taking out the bad guy in a remarkably resilient operation.  Kudos to former President Bush and current President Obama for supporting the military and intelligence apparatus that finally put this mission success in the history books.

The war is not over--this snake has many heads--but a shiver should now be running through the world of Islamic fanaticism.  We can put the pieces together.  We can kill or capture terrorists and their leaders, before they have a chance to do their worst.  We may be slow to learn, but we are fast and strong once we strike.

This is a proud day for the U.S. and its allies.  It's definitely a morale booster for all of us.

P.S.  I wonder if this is why William and Kate did not go abroad for their honeymoon.  It is reasonable to assume that U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron was informed, since the U.S. knew in mid-March where Osama was living, and that he would have informed the Palace and MI5 of the risks.

Absences from Writing

I've been away since mid-February?!  This has been a tough spring on the business front.  Just when we think we have something finally under control, it busts loose again.

It's also been tough on the family front.  My grandmother passed away two weeks ago, aged 87.  I was able to see her before she went.  I flew standby to Arizona and back, and made all of my flights.

Now it is May.  "Get up, get up for shame!  The blooming morn / Upon her wings presents the god unshorn." [Robert Herrick]  The time has come to get back into writing.  There is a lot going on in the world, and I should not be so passive.