Saturday, December 30, 2006

Smash Hit Musical Turns Historical Irony?

We were watching "Final Jeopardy" last night when the Network broke in with "Breaking News". We were rather frustrated because we thought we knew the answer.(question) "It is the longest running Musical in History based on a novel written in 1911." We thought it was "Cats" and the literary work was t.s. elliot's. We later found out that that was wrong. It was "Les Miserables" based on Victor Hugo's book by the same name. That struck me then as being rather ironic, historically. The "Breaking News" was the confirmation of the hanging of Saddam Hussein in Bagdad. I know, you think I'm reaching here...but hear me out.

More than 100 years ago, The French Revolution bitterly raged. Innocent peasants were starving in the streets while the Royal Government was oblivious ie. "Let them eat cake." They rose up, following in our country's footsteps and revolted. Many were killed, and guillotine then. (Iraq uses hanging) This was a "Class War" and not a "Religious War". It was not "Sectarian Violence" is was hunger. There was no oil wealth but there were distinct classes of the "haves and have nots".

All over the media today there is speculation that this execution might signal or cause some kind of change in the near-civil-war violence. (by the way, death in 3's...Brown, Ford and Saddam) So far no great reactions or retaliations have been seen. And yet, the steady rate of suicide bombings continues...and the U.S. death toll is the greatest at 108 for December alone. When are we going to see that...again...History Repeats Itself!

I know, I had promised myself that this blog would not get into politics and/or religion but how can one ignore what is happening? Even President Ford, who we honor, as being true and loyal made a tape, not to be released until after his death, saying that going into Iraq was/is a mistake. It begs the question, would we be so involved, even after 911, if Gore had been elected? We'd probably be working more on the "Global Warming" (see previous blog/notes) which seems just as hopeless. The difference would be that our "best and brightest young men and women" wouldn't be dying at record rates in a land and for a cause that seems not to be our own. Oh yes, War on Terror, fight them "over there" so we won't have to here...hah! In this modern society, it is already everywhere. And yet there is no real "exit strategy" no real "victory" and forget about forcing "Democracy and Freedom" on a Culture that hasn't/won't take the "baby-steps" necessary to grow into even wanting it. Then you've got the neighboring countries and their policies of allowing radical groups to form and go into Iraq and continue the mayhem.

If it didn't truly look like the "Latter Days" to in heading to "Armagedon" I'd be willing to bet that in 100 years or so there would be a Smash Hit Musical on the Broadways of the World entitled: "Les Innocentes" Yes, it would be "a novel" but it would have lots of "truthiness" ie.
100's of thousands being blown up, fanatical dictators being hanged, sectarian battles of Shite brother against Sunni brother (just like "Kite Runner" see previous blog/post) with the same historic father, Abraham/Ebrahim and oblivious government leaders who are more concerned with saving face, saving oil and bringing Democracy and Freedom to all the "down-trodden" of the world. It would get rave reviews because it was so true to life and true to history. ie. "Man's inhumanity to MAN." ...barely able to...Bob!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Aged Brains?

No. This is not an advertisement for a "new gourmet organ food" promoted by Anthony Bourdaine on his TV show "No Reservations" or his latest book "Nasty Bits". He must have quite a iron-clad stomach by now. Nor is it a promotion similar to the ones we've been seeing on the TV lately for "Aged Beef"...can you imagine? People actually want to eat meat that is right next to "putrid or rancid"? Just to say that it is "aged"...maybe they mean "marinated" in some sauce like beer. I suppose it makes it softer and easier to digest, as in it doesn't sit in your intestines for a week and putrify there. Nor is it a recognition of the new "cloned meat" that is "aged" by whole life spans and "reincarnation"...Nope!

This is acceptance and promotion of the new (to me) electronic software for my new Nintendo DS. It is called "Brain Age" My brilliant daughter-in-law introduced it to me awhile back. I also got "Club House Fun" from my Son and Grandchildren for it. There is also "Big Brain Academy".(it weighs brains, heavier the better) They are all to help me in a desperate attempt to forestall my "aging brain" from slipping into senility and altzheimers. It is all quite fascinating to me. My initial "brain age" as measured by the instruments/games it has on Arithmetic, Reading, Analysis etc. was 64. Then it slipped to 80. Then it went back to 49 and today it is 51. Shocking, isn't it? Developed by a "Dr. Ryuta Kawashima", who appears through out with helpful hints and "engaging conversation and motivation", is the inventor and devisor of the "mental scale". It makes the assumption that a younger, more agile brain is better and to be desired. So the faster and more accurately you do the little tasks he gives, the better. Some of the tasks are "voice activated" but need a quiet room. Most are written with a stylus on the adjacent screen. I find that so far it is challenging and my wife and I are having fun doing it and comparing results. So this is one electronic game that I can do and improve in....and it doesn't involve shooting and blowing up things.

Now if they could just come up with "software" that develops the opposite skills of "depth of insight" and "caring concern in actions" they'd have someting. Our society seems to be slipping away from these values as measured goals: ie. respect for aged experience and advice, dialectic decision-making, responsible and considerate living. Sage suggestions are ignored or laughed at. Then there is the possiblity that the "Brain Age" can be "frozen" at that young and inexperienced age without a care for the consequences and results of that uninsightful thinking. "Oh well, we'll muddle through." "Why am I having all this bad luck?" are often heard. Is it possible that all our electronic inventions will eventually be responsible for our demise as a culture? Oh, we'll be ever so quick and agile on the surface but the real thinking and decision-making will be left to wither and die...or the electronic robots will do it for us. Brave New World...count me out...pass me by. I'll be just bobbing along. Bob!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Grown Up Christmas List

Every year at this time I'm asked, "What do you want for Christmas?" "Make us a list." "Put it on Amazon." I confess, I've done it too. It is a way to show you are thinking of each other with love and want to do something special for that person. Each year it has gotten harder and harder to respond to that or come up with "gifts" and "ideas" that those loved ones might like or ones they can afford, or I can afford. I really don't need a "thing". I'm trying to get free of "the wants" too. We've been given so much. We still have our health, a comfortable and secure home, family who loves us. What more could we want?
I now enjoy this time of the year through the eyes of my grandchildren. I enjoy the sweet memories we have of our Christmas' with our four boys. Yes, we still think of them as "boys" even though they are our "men" now and two are fathers themselves. I'm sure they have gotten lists from their kids but we haven't felt the need to. We like to surprise grandkids and try to get them things that they won't probably be asking for or getting from their parents. ie. electronic things. I think back to my favorite holidays with my parents. One definitely involved a new bike with "riser handlebars" and one involved the "new stereo" with records by Robert Shaw. Mostly they are all clumped together in "how to decorate the tree",ie. one piece of tinsel at a time, memorizing "The Night Before Xmas" and the motions to "12 Days of Xmas" and eating "Lutfisk" and other Scandinavian "Treats". It definitely involved church services going on and on and the music of the choir and organ. These now would be on my "grown up list" and be unrecoverable.
Traditions, I still think are so important in growing up in a family. ie. things you do every year just because you do. They must involve those closest to you, those you love and hope the best for. They are non-judgemental but they have a "yearning for what could be" or "could've been"...yes, they are bitter-sweet. Life just doesn't turn out like a "Norman Rockwell Painting" and especially not a "Thomas Kincaid Painting".
Yes, top of my "grown up list" would be the health and happiness of those I love, yes even those I won't be allowed to see. More time becomes a "list topper" too. Time to do the things I've always wanted to do with them and with ourselves and friends. There are still many places on this Earth I'd like to experience. I used to have "a list" of those too. ie. I, at one time, wanted to hike the length of the John Muir Trail through the Sierras. I wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail from end to end. Don't think I'm going to make those. I wanted to sing in Carneigie Hall in New York City but my one chance had to be passed because it was right after "911" and there was "fear" in the family. I also gave up the Olympics back there for similar reasons. Yes, there are regrets, but they pale in comparison to importance of the security and integrity of my family and loved ones. At one time I wanted to get my pilot's license. What a dreamer I was. I can only hope that my sons and grandchildren will have such dreams and more...and achieve them.
My Christmas List is for them and their happiness. I would hope that they would find faith in their lives and in their loved ones. Bob!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Jazzy Christmas

Here it is, the seventeenth already. Eight day until Xmas. It doesn't look like I'm going to get to any of my traditional concerts this year. I've been sick...still am. It seems like it takes me longer and longer to recover from even a small bout with a Cold or aCough. I had the flu shot and now I'm taking some expensive, non-generic antibiotic for seven days just to make sure my "compromised immune system doesn't let me get something worse. It doesn't help the sore throat, post nasal drip, cough etc. These all don't really let me sing or even go to concerts. I had to give up and donate my L.A.M.C. ticket to their annual Xmas Concert at the to which I look forward. I'm also missing my beloved Mountainside Master Chorale's second performance today. Sad. I would've like to have heard/seen how they are doing with their new conductor. ie. "the Post Bruce Era". Oh well, maybe next time.
I did honor my commitments to my Mixed Chorus Group at Crafton Hills even though I was not in my best form, voice-wise. Above you see the front cover of the printed program for the event. According to the director, Bruce, it was the best group/performance he has had there. I did have fun with it. I was also asked to participate in the Caroler's Octet. We did all right even though we got the wrong pitches on one song and had to start over. We had originally practiced and planned to do the "Soul Version" of "The Hallelujah Chorus" from the "Messiah" which was too tricky, rhythm-wise for us and the accompaniest, so we dropped it. We also didn't even try to do the "Frosty the Snowman Hand Jive" choreographers/dancers in the group. The songs I liked best were: "Silent Night", "One Candle Lights the Way", "Jazz Gloria" and "The Twelve Days After Xmas" (quite funny) My sister sent me some other "Comic Christmas Carols" that I intend to pass on to Bruce. ie. "Throw the Yule Log on, Uncle John", "Good King Kong Looked Out", "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch", "J.B.M.C.A. (YMCA?) "Jingle Bells, Merry Christmas to All" & "Fruitcake"...maybe next year.
One of the most enjoyable parts of doing this singing is meeting and working with such great young people of "like-mind" ie. they love to sing too. Who can forget the nutty girl from Kentucky and her drawl pronunciations and daring suggestions to Bruce. ie. daring Bruce to turn around at the end of "A Groovy Twelve Days" (70's Style) and strike a "John Travolta pose"...he did it! I enjoyed his sense of humor and the way he handled challenges and disappointments that are bound to appear. Then there was the father and son, bass and tenor in the Octet who just seemed to love to sing together and practice all the time. Nice bond to have with a son. Then there was the fellow tenor, standing next to me, very shy and quiet who confided that his dad or friend was in the Inland Master Chorale. He made great strides in learning to sing some tricky tenor parts. There was the fellow senior singer and bell-ringer. She sings in 3 different choirs locally. Invited me to join. She also helped Bruce with the "logistics" of running the group, music library, bookkeeping etc. Very nice. All in all, a worthwhile endeavor. I'd do it is just...the "handwriting on the wall", yes, health issues connected with being out at night, and leaving Betty alone. Our days and nights with each other are getting shorter/fewer and I just hate to miss any of them...even for singing. We went "dancing" last night at the clubhouse. Our annual Xmas Dinner was fun...even though we both felt "under the weather". It is such a "short drive" home before 10P.M. Yes, I know, happens to all of us here in "God's Waiting Room". Bob!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Word of the Day: Inkhorn

I subscribe to's Word of the Day. Today's word is "Inkhorn", a new one for me. It means: 1. Affectedly or ostentatiously learned; pedantic. 2. A small bottle or horn or other material used for holding ink. It derives from the name for the container formerly used (beginning in the 14th century) for holding ink, originally made from a real cow's horn. Hence it came to refer to words that were being used by learned writers and scholars, using ink, but which were unknown or rare in ordinary speech. It probably has nothing to do with "Greenhorn" or "Lena Horne" or "Horn of Plenty"(cornucopia) or an "alpine horn" and I could go on...but that would be rather "inkhornian" don't you think? Now, at least, I have a name for what I like to do, or seem to do ie. play with words/meanings. I really don't mean to be pedantic or pedgogical but, after almost 40 years in the classroom, I just can't help it.

I just finished my Music Theory Final. Wow! I hadn't realized all the things I had learned. A ton of terms for musical stuff I usually just did or assumed were right without any reason. I think I now know what a cadence is and the different types. I know that I love phrases and progressions and even modulations (although none were on the test). I was also prepared with notes on the history of music but that wasn't called for either. I don't think I ACED it ("ace" being notes in a triad) but I felt that I showed I had learned something. I had a fine professor; very open to suggestion, witty and I hope to take him again ie. Music Theory Part 2. (maybe next year) I also enjoyed performing once again at the "Jazzy Christmas Concert" we had. It went well and I was surprised at the turn out. I enjoyed the director and have a new respect for what he is trying to do there. I have had a sore throat for more than a week now and I was still able to reach all my notes, sometimes using falsetto. I sound like a bass now when I talk. I have also come to appreciate all those years of singing with Mountainside Master Chorale and the Barbarshop groups. I have gotten a practical music (theory) education just by the years of experience. Hopefully, I can share that now with fellow students, those I tutor and even my grandchildren.

Friday is my last final...Art History. I'm really "inkhorned" in that subject. I've learned so many new terms, styles, etc. and now the challenging part is knowing the relative dating of all those objects of Art. Here again, I have really enjoyed my professor. She had quite a sense of humor and perspective for her young age. ie. Her dog has the given name of "Gieselbertus" who was a Romanesque Sculptor of the "Last Judgement" St.- Lazare, Autun, France. He knew how to sculpt those demons in hell weighing the "lost souls". Probably some deserving "inkhorns" in the lot. Best not to be too ostentatious and pedantic...unless you like to Bob!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Art Imitating Life?

In the long History of Art, one of the pinnacles of human expression is found in the exquisite statuary standing in the portals of Gothic Cathedrals. Two exemplary groupings that still exist can be found in the jamb of the central doorway of the Royal Portal at Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France. They are representations of Old Testament Kings and Queens. They were sculpted between 1145 and 1155 A.D. The other grouping of jamb statues is in the central doorway of the west facade portal at Reims Cathedral in Reims, France. They were wrought almost 100 years later in 1230 A.D. It is called "The Visitation" because it celebrates the "Annunciation" by St. Elizabeth and Mary, mother and daughter. It is part of a series of statues illustrating the Life of the Virgin Mary in that Portal. (see above photos)
Both groupings represent ancestors of Christ. The Kings and Queens may be distant, Biblical relatives, while Elizabeth and Mary were quite close, mother and grandmother. The Kings and Queens were dressed in 12th Century garment and could also be thought of as present-day royalty (hence the name, Royal Portal). It was this modern identification that put them in jeopardy during the French Revolution when statues of secular Kings and Queen were being vandalized ie. Saint-Denis Cathedral. They were easily accessible being almost at eye-level in the jambs or sides of the doorways. This was thought to be done to show the kindly faces of these figures and not the mask-like visages of the Romanesque Style portraits. Mary and Elizabeth were more approachable and meant to inspire love. Mary became central to Gothic Iconography.
The Kings and Queens were actually statue-columns and, from a distance, looked like vertical decorative accents holding up the lintels under the massive tympanums of statuary. They were rigid, upright and elongated with elbows close to their sides under the very linear folds of their robes. However, unlike the classically styled Caryatids of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis in Rome, these Old Testament Patriarchs did not literally support the New Testament Saints above; only by appearance, figuratively. They stood out three-dimensionally but not as much as the Visitation Grouping. Mary and Elizabeth appear to be completely detached from their background. Their columns are shrunken and don't restrict their free and easy allusion to movement. They are portraits of specific individuals in the fully-ripened High Gothic Style. These classicized figures hadn't been seen since Roman times and they even were posed in the Greek contra postal posture with one foot forward and a right bent knee under their loosened garments. Swaying, child-bearing hips can even be imagined. It is thought that the master sculptor might have borrowed actual Roman sculpted heads for patterns ie. Younger Mary could easily be Faustina, the Younger, Marcus Aurelius' wife. These were the first signs of a New Naturalism in Gothic Style and progress can be seen over this 100 years from characterizations of Kings and Queens to the actual individuals of Elizabeth and Mary having a conversation in a Biblical narrative. Their faces are turned towards each other and there remains some evidence of paint.
The Catholic Church commissioned these works of Art and placed them at the entrances to their cathedrals for definite reasons of worship and proselytizing converts. They believed they were "imitating" the True Life of the Saints, Kings and Queens. Their belief in Mary and the Virgin Birth became so strong that much of the Art, statues, paintings, icons and relics took on "lives" of their own becoming the objects of worship and devotion. "Life" might have begun to "imitate Art"; especially in the hearts and imaginations of the True Believers. Yes, in the long History of Religious Arts, it is quite easy to see how this might happen even today, in the Modern Era; with the popular fascination for the "DaVinci Code" novel about another Mary. Bob!