Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Who knows the stars in the sky by name?

Either the title of this painting is, "Viking Ship," or it is something else that I failed to notice .... but, obviously, it is of a fleet of Viking ships emerging from mist and fog. It is an oil on canvas painted in the 1860s by an expatriate Englishman, Edward Moran of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It currently resides in a private collection in New York and is available through an online auction. It can be your painting if you are the high bidder at an estimated $10,000 to $12,000.

The Vikings have a reputation as explorers and traders and pirates and mercenaries and .... well, a few other things. I think of each new year as a new age of discovery for each and every one of us. Next week, we will embark on a journey into an unknown time moving toward an undiscovered destination. How we utilize what we encounter during our trek and what we to do with those things depends upon the decisions we make along the way. I wish each of you good fortune as you undertake your own voyage of discovery in 2018.

Travel toward the sounds which please you

Troopers in the Marine Corps have a reputation of moving toward the sound of gunfire, not retreating from it. George Armstrong Custer had the same reputation, and it was well known among the cavalry soldiers he commanded.

Do not worry. This is not a post about the Marine Corps or about Custer. Rather, it is about sound and the appeal or the lack of appeal various sounds have to individuals. The sound of gunfire, for instance, is a pleasant sound to my ears. The sound of some music has significant appeal, while the sound of other songs sends me running in the opposite direction. Although I do not like all music in this genre, my preferred music is what I describe as "classic rock" .... conversely, songs marketed as "rap" or "hip-hop" -- as well as some others -- send me rushing for the nearest exit.

My range of musical interests is somewhat limited, but I enjoy an occasional dash of opera and Broadway and -- while loud sounds generally are an abhorrence to me -- I turn the volume up when a piece by Johann Bach or Johann Pachelbel reaches my ears. Despite my religious leanings and questions, I enjoy much spiritual music and nearly all Christmas music. Must be traits left over from childhood ....

There have been studies done on which voices and which languages sound pleasant to the ear and which do not. Hearing Italian spoken, it is said, is mostly a pleasant experience, while hearing French sometimes is and sometimes is not and hearing English or German spoken often is not. I assume we all have preferences in that regard -- I know I do.

Very, very rarely I encounter a woman whose voice is particularly melodious, and I could listen to her speak for hours no matter which language she was using. When I hear a woman with such a voice, I wonder if "she" is descended from the Sirens whose song Odysseus listened to only after having had himself tied to the mast of his ship.

I have a marginal hearing loss which I like to describe as due to "machine gun" ears, meaning overexposure to gunfire. In truth, this loss was first noticed when I was age twelve and the era of gunfire was just getting under way for me. As is my habit with many medical issues, I simply ignored it and learned to live with the deficit. (I could tell you a few stories about that, but some involve the Marine Corps -- like how to cheat to pass a hearing test -- so we will skip those tales for now.)

The question, which probably has no logical or satisfactory answer, is this: Why do some sounds appeal to some people and not to others? I could speculate and I suspect my partial loss of hearing affects my tastes since I do not always hear spoken words the way others hear them .... make sense ???? But, I have no real answers.

Whatever .... I hope the sounds which appeal to you and make you happy and bring you contentment are those you encounter during 2018. To begin the process, here are the sounds of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, composed by Bach and performed by an unknown organist, and Indescribable, written by Laura Story and performed by the Slavic Chorale .... I sure like them and I hope they fit your fancy ....

Sunday, December 24, 2017

T'was the night before ....

Under the category of "ancient history," for part of 2009 and 2010 I took up residency in Warsaw, Poland, in a third-floor apartment I rented across the square from the Royal Castle. A portion of the castle is visible through the window, and a segment of a towering Christmas tree also is visible. It was a sweet view, and I never did tire of looking out from that window. Christmas and New Year in Warsaw were among the most interesting and most enjoyable escapades of my life .... I always will be glad I was there.

Wondering if Christmas is an anachronism

To mark the holiday season, here are three -- absolutely/no doubt about it/for sure -- "traditional" musical selections which focus upon Christmas and its meaning. These selections were among my favorites when I was a boy .... they still are, for that matter. Christmas will never be an anachronism for me: Merry Christmas, guys ....

"Carol of the Bells" .... was composed by Ukrainian Mykola Leontovych in 1914, with lyrics by Peter Wilhousky. The song is based on a Ukrainian folk chant called, "Shchedryk," which in English translates to, "The Little Swallow." It is performed here by the Bel Canto Choir of Vilnius, an independent choir established in Lithuania in 2009.
"O Holy Night" .... was composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem, "Minuit, Chretians," which translates to, "Midnight, Christians," by a wine merchant and poet, Placide Cappeau. It is performed here by London City Voices, a non-religious, non-audition, community London choir.

"O Come, All Ye Faithful" .... was originally written in Latin as, "Adeste Fideles." The earliest manuscript dates to 1751 and bears the name of King John IV of Portugal. An English Catholic priest, Frederick Oakeley, translated it from Latin to English in 1841. It is performed here by choirs from Saint Olaf College in Minnnneeeesssootata.

Verbatim from Wikipedia: "St. Olaf College is a coeducational, residential, four-year, private liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota, United States. It was founded in 1874 by a group of Norwegian-American immigrant pastors and farmers, led by Pastor Bernt Julius Muus. The college is named after the King and the Patron Saint Olaf II of Norway and is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America."
To this I would add Saint Olaf is thirty miles from my current residence. My high school class consisted of twenty-nine students, of which five later graduated from Saint Olaf. Of those five, two went on to become Lutheran ministers, one an university English professor, one a public high school teacher and the other a taxi cab driver in Washington, D.C. .... hmmmm .... strange brew, so it would seem .... 

Friday, December 15, 2017

"And the hunter home from the hill"

The hunter who is home, of course, is me. I am back for a while, not counting a few very quick excursions I will be engaged in related to the Christmas and the New Year holidays. The photograph is one from the internet of two musicians from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) performing high above the audience. Interaction between performers and audience members is more and more becoming part of concerts, it would seem, and this is one technique to achieve it. Looks like fun to me .... and, by the way, the title of this post is the last line of the poem, "Requiem," the first draft of which was written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1880.
Use it or lose it ....
In the past, I have praised David Bowie and his 1987 Glass Spider Tour as being the ultimate rock concert. For whatever reason, I never have seen or even thought about the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) and its series of annual Christmas concerts -- which consistently draw rave reviews for its music, its lighting displays, its overall performances. This crew might well replace Bowie as the top concert event on my list.
The orchestra will stage two concerts in Saint Paul on Saturday, December 30, and I have a ticket for the evening performance. No way do I intend to miss it.
While I believe I have attended more concerts than the typical guy, among my greatest complaints about myself is the number of great bands/great musicians/great performances I have not seen ­live on stage -- usually because I felt I was "too busy" to attend -- and now, due to fate and circumstances, never will have the opportunity to see and to hear.
The band Boston, with front man Brad Delp, is among the "losses" I feel in that sense. Delp killed himself in 2007. No way to see him and to hear him on stage now. Already death is cutting into the TSO legacy: Founder Paul O'Neill died of a drug overdose in April and bass player David Z was killed in a traffic accident in July.
How much their absences will affect the show is something I cannot gauge, since I never have been to a TSO concert and since cast members frequently change anyway. David Z, incidentally, and his two brothers grew up here in the Twin Cities and have collaborated with Prince over the years.
I will note that one of the songs played here is, "Christmas Canon Rock," which is the music of Johann Pachelbel's, "Canon in D Major," with lyrics for it written by O'Neill. I absolutely love this rendition of the song, and I believe Pachelbel would have approved of it, as well. The show this year is a repeat of, "The Ghosts of Christmas Eve," but includes some new music.
The long and the short of it is that I no longer will skip those concerts which I very much would enjoy attending using an artificial excuse such as there will be other times to see the act in the future .... there may be, but this particular time might be the one and the only time it is here for me .... use it or lose it, baby ....


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Coming up for a breath of air

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose ...

Two days of infamy distant in time

Where were you on the morning of September 11, 2001?
I was asleep in a motel room far, far from home when the telephone rang to awaken me.

"Are you watching television?" the voice on the other end asked?

"No, I am sort of asleep," I replied. "At least I was before you woke me up."

"Turn it on .... a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center."

The conversation went on for a while longer and I did turn on the television and I watched the screen in rapt fascination for the next few hours.

Where were you on the morning of December 7, 1941?

Unless reincarnation is real and I was in another body, I have no idea where I was because it was well before my arrival on planet earth.

I was an adult man, alive and well, in 2001. It is easy to remember where I was and what I was doing when Islamic terrorists hijacked four passenger jetliners and used them as weapons of mass destruction. The attacks killed 2,996 people and injured more than 6,000 others.

Since I was not yet here in 1941, I have to rely on history books and the memories of others to know what happened when Japan attacked United States military bases in the Hawaiian Islands and elsewhere.
Today, the anniversary of that attack, is recognized as Pearl Harbor Day. According to statistical data, 1,998 U.S. Navy personnel, 109 Marines, 233 Army personnel and 48 civilians were killed when Japanese military forces attacked a number of U.S. military bases at and near Pearl Harbor. On the other side of the international dateline, Japan also struck American bases in the Philippine Islands. Many deaths .... many, many, many ....

I hope you will spend a few moments reflecting on life and death today and thinking of those who died both on December 7 in 1941 and on September 11 in 2001 .... as William Shakespeare said through the voice of Macbeth:

"Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow ....

The best laid plans of mice and men ....

Some excursions go exactly as planned; some do not. Mine did not this time. I am not home yet, and I really am not certain when I will be .... hopefully, before Christmas. I guess I am what might be called "coming up for a breath of air" with this post.

Now, I will fade away into the shadows for a while once more .... take care and stay safe until our paths cross again ....


Something special ....