Watch Your Back Orpheus

Boston has had a conductorless chamber orchestra since 2007 who, at this point, are easily a serious rival to the more famous (hopefully for not too long) Orpheus Ensemble.  They are known as A Far Cry.  They’re primarily a string ensemble of 18 members (who refer to themselves as “Criers”) who call upon other instrumentalists as required by the chosen repertoire. More can be learnt at http://afarcry.org.  Saturday night’s (8/IX/2018) season opener at Calderwood Hall inside the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of  Art proved my point beyond a doubt in a resplendently played programme of, let’s say, interesting repertoire partially unknown or of otherwise borderline recognition.

Unfortunately, before the concert the audience had to forbear the blather of music curator George Steele, who not only chose to prattle on duplicately about what was already in the programme notes for over five minutes; but, chose to wait ten minutes after the concert was supposed to start.  ISGM already has had problems with concerts starting on time; this simply made things worse.  If Mr. Steele can’t resist the compulsion to palaver redundant information I suggest he do it BEFORE the appointed concert time.  Notwithstanding, the concert proceeded generally quite nicely after his departure.

The first such piece was the slow movement “Agathon” from Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade for violin solo, strings, harp & percussion with the prodigiously gifted Tai Murray as soloist.  Starting the programme off with this was a stroke of genius. It gave the strings (as led this time by Jesse Irons) a golden opportunity to show off not only their lovely tone, but the breadth of their dynamics.  We all know that strings have considerable dynamic range; however, the tightness of ensemble control, the ability to “sing” as one, especially in extremely soft passages is what separates the children from the adults; and adults they are.  As a result Ms. Murray was able give us a singularly perceptual and sensitive performance of one of Bernstein’s finest works.  I would love to hear the whole Serenade with Ms. Murray and A Far Cry sometime.  Let’s hope.

I love the idea of rotating “leaders” in what is essentially a conductorless ensemble because each leader still manages to put his or her individual stamp on the piece performed.  Robyn Bollinger gave a justly aggressive approach to the one highly recognisable work on the programme: Mussorgsky’s ubiquitous Pictures at an Exhibition. The difference, this time was a arrangement by British composer Jacques Cohen for string orchestra.  I must say, I am generally very tired of this piece: orchestras and classical radio stations constantly overplay the Ravel orchestration; moreover, it’s a miserable piano solo piece which obviously cries out to be orchestrated.  So, yes it was the piece that made me think twice about coming to this concert.  Notwithstanding, Mr. Cohen’s string orchestra version is not only ingenious, but actually surprisingly effective.  The secret, I believe, is not only the discriminating implementation of various string “effects,” but, ironically, the homogeneity of sound of a string ensemble avoids the tempering of dissonances that you get with and orchestra.  As a result you get even more of the “crunch” of the original piano version but heightened by the sustained tones of the strings: not unlike the organ, which, by the way, was a most effective causatum for the “The Great Gate of Kiev.”  Cohen’s arrangement uses the whole gamut of string techniques (sul ponticello, harmonics, snap pizzicato, etc.) to inspired coruscating effect.  Moreover, I especially like the highlighting of the violas, who, as with the entire ensemble, played like angels throughout the whole work.  

As with most concerts of this nature there always seems to be the compulsory, specially commissioned “world premier.”  And this was concert was no exception.  And, as in countless other “premiers” the audience was privileged to endure yet another one of the countless unremarkable pieces which fall into the category of ho-hum contemporary banality.  Such was Jessica Meyer’s meandering excessively ernest Grasping for Light.  Unfortunately, Ms. Meyers felt compelled (or was compelled) to tell us all about her inspiration; essentially repeating what was already in the programme notes.  Where do I begin?  First, having the composer come out ahead of time to tell us about the piece is the equivalent of the usually inane “Artist’s Statement” associated with gratuitously inferior works in galleries.  A musical composition should need no explanation; it either communicates to the listener or it doesn’t.  Let’s just say Ms Meyer’s depression laden exegesis was not only redundant to the programme notes, but completely useless in determining the quality of the piece.  Jae Cosmos Lee was offered the unfortunate opportunity of leading this time.  At first I was heartened by the lyrical opening viola solo; but then, it quickly descended into a mass of special effects by the larger group.  From there it was downhill.  The composer’s ardour for description simply resulted in commonplace, directionless, aleatoric sounding piles of notes crescendoing to unison violins over rambling lower strings. The piece finally diminished to a single pianissimo high note conclusion on Mr. Lee’s violin.  All in all, I’ve heard this piece countless times; i.e., it’s cliché.  This is the type of writing that became all the rage in the 50’s through the 70’s; and, unfortunately, so many composers (customarily academics) today still consider as their ticket to immortality.  The one saving grace Grasping for Light gave us was that it was only about five minutes long.  I’m certain that the ensemble played it masterfully as they did with the rest of the programme; but, who knows and who cares?

Fortunately, the audience was cleansed by the beauty of Ottorino Respighi’s Trittico Botticelliano.  This isn’t the Respighi of the Roman Trilogy in which huge resources and often frenzied demands are called upon the orchestra.  This work is more in line with Ancient Airs and Dances or Church Windows. It’s an elegant work of sublime transparent textures and clear melodic polyphony reminiscent of the period which inspired the music.  The piece calls for an expansion of the group with solo winds, harp, celeste, piano and percussion.  It was Annie Rabbat’s good fortune to lead this time; and, not unlike her other colleagues, did a superb job.  The one aspect of this performance was  what can only be described as perfect balance.  It could have been so easy for each of the solo instruments especially the trumpet, keyboards and percussion to overpower during full ensemble; however, everyone got it!  From Bob Schulz’s extremely light touch with the triangle, trumpeter Michael Dobrinski’s exquisite dynamic control, to Hazel Dean Davis’ remarkable breath control in which she is required to play long, very quiet, sustained pedal tones beneath the ongoing counterpoint among the flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and strings.  The subtlety of playing by everyone stood only to heighten what a masterful orchestrator Respighi was.  Quite simply put, an extraordinary performance by the entire group.

No less can be said about the the deliciously sublime Mother and Child of William Grant Still under the admirable leadership of Megumi Lewis.  Still is at last, finally, being recognised for more than just his Afro-American Symphony.  A master at combining spirituals, jazz, blues melodies and harmonies and blending them with late 19th Century-early 20th Century textures and harmony, Still’s larger output has been long overdue for hearing.  Mother and Child is quintessentially WGS.  The melodic writing is graceful, the harmonies absolutely sumptuous.  All I can add is the playing was equally sumptuous and so touching in the delicacy of each line. To get eighteen strings to sound like Eugene Ormandy’s Philadelphia Orchestra strings is the highest compliment I can give. Absolutely gorgeous.

 

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I Don’t Get It (well, actually I do)

What is wrong with America?  My Lord, it’s as if the earth had tilted in a unique way and most of the right-wing screwballs rolled over and ended up here.  I see the polls (God knows where and with whom they take these things) and they continually show Donald Trump (I refuse to call I’m President) at an approximately 40% approval rating.  I have a questions: who are these people who have deluded themselves into believing that this man cares one iota about them?

Brains and Muscle Memory

As some of you might know, I’m back practising the organ with the intention of playing as part of a semi-dedicatory, or a full, recital (something I haven’t done in about 25 years).  Two pieces, the Cantabile by César Franck and Carillon de Westminster Op.54 #6 by Louis Vierne I’ve played before, albeit not since the previous mentioned time: then two other pieces I’ve never played in public, the J. S. Bach Fugue in g BWV 578 (the “Little”) and the Choral #3 in a by Franck.  I saved the Choral until late in life simply because of the life experience it requires to be truly able to play that piece with any integrity and sense of its profundity.  I had planned originally to include the J. S. Bach Prelude & Fugue in a BWV 543, but then I thought for the sake of the audience, and because the piece lends itself to innumerable stop/colour changes, I’ve decided to dust off the Toccata & Fugue in d BWV 565.  This last piece is something I haven’t played since I played it for “big” organ class at WCC in my freshman year.  One of the great pleasures I’ve had is remembering how I made the purists squirm in the pews of the chapel when I used a celeste near the end.

I guess the point I’m circumlocutingly trying to make is that after more than 50 years not even touching the piece since I last played it, after only two weeks of practise it’s all there!  After gradually reacquainting myself occasionally with the score, after a week or so I have it completely restored to my memory.  It’s an interesting phenomenon when practising; it has been a matter of my hands/feet catching up to my mind.  Since then I’ve been concentrating on fixing fingerings and adding new stop changes.  Nevertheless, I find it fascinating how the brain is able reclaim things that have laid dormant for so long.  As a result, I’ve just reclaimed from memory after more than a quarter century the first movement to Louis Vierne’s Deuxième Symphonie in e Op.20.  Again, it’s still a matter of the hands/feet catching up with the mind.

God knows if I’ll ever be able to have these (and anything else I plan to resurrect or learn) good enough for public performance.  I was never as technically proficient as others who started playing earlier than me and who have since managed to continue on a regular basis.  But, who knows.  I would like to be play in public again because most people still need someone to show them that organ doesn’t have to be the  monochromatic, boring, old fogey church instrument with which most people associate it.  We’ll see.

I’m not sure where to begin.  I guess the best point is now, near the end.  As I meander through the twilight of my life I wish I was better at dealing with coming  to   terms with  my life and what I’ve done with it in relation to the potential I obviously  squandered or (more accurately) failed to realise, I find myself trying desperately to make up for lost time  — at least as an organist.  I realise any ambitions I had as a conductor are virtually road kill.  After all, I’m not an established conductor, and don’t have, at this late stage in my life, the résume to be able to prove myself.

So, I’ve returned to the instrument of my first love — the organ.  I want to play a recital on the wonderful instrument upon which I’m blessed to have been given permission to practise.  But, then I figure:  who am I kidding?   I think of all the music I used to play — 20-50 years ago and, even though my memory has managed to restore the five pieces I want to play, so what?  The technical struggle (my manual technique was never all that great) and the memory slips make me wonder, am I up to this?

As I see it I have a good fifteen, maybe twenty, years left.  At seventy years old I’m not going to become the next Virgil Fox or Leonard Bernstein (as I once dreamed); or even a moderately recognised composer – or recognised at all.  So, what do I do? I would like to go back to composing; but, then I realise I’m completely wasting my time.  Do you have any idea, ANY IDEA, how that affects the creative process?  The very thought that you feel that you are completely wasting your time:  that nobody, NOBODY will EVER get to experience the beauty of your creations, even long after you’re dead, might — just might have an affect on your desire to create; do ya think?

I’m tired.  As I’ve said before, music is a very unforgiving mistress.  If you haven’t sacrificed everything for her, she not only abandons you, she shuns you, by ensuring that anybody with whom you are not intimately connected (and even some that are) completely dismiss you and — worse — your work.  I wish I had a dime for everybody (as tempting as it is I won’t name them) who gave me assurances that they loved my work and would do it and then disappeared.

So, I garden, I mow the lawn, I vacuum the pool, I drink Belgian beer, I cook dinner, I walk Blaze (one of the few true pleasures in my life.  The best dog EVER), and I practise the organ (vainly, as mentioned above); but compose?  Why?  I keep telling myself I need to get back to that which, even before the organ and conducting, was what fate had determined I was supposed to do (I almost said God; but, like everything else I believed in, is obviously a fallacy).  I figure with the few years I have left it’s not worth it to try and make up for lost time.  Music, to whom I will always be her slave, will simply laugh at me at my naïvety.

Impatience with the Impatient

Mostly Music and Curmudgeonry

When I was writing about my feelings about Boston area after we moved here, I got to thinking about why it was taking me so long to get through it, which in turn, got me to thinking about the impatience of those who have don’t have to struggle, or have little trouble expressing ideas or performing tasks, or learning things quickly with those of us who are more deliberate, or seem “slower.”  I usually find those who are impatient with people who don’t get it the first time — or even the second — to be a generally intolerant and non-empathetic group as a whole.  There’s an arrogance, and a smugness which accompanies impatient people:  they feel they “must” explain things twice to others when they (of course) understood or learnt the first time.  They simply can’t understand why others have to be so stupid or dense — or so…

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Dismayed: As Hope Dims

Sometimes I truly feel that this “great experiment” on which our democratic republic is based has finally, like so many other noble experiments, long surpassed its apogee — if one wishes to consider that there was such an high point at all. As Oscar Wilde supposedly said: “American is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilisation in between.”

I guess what dismays me the most is that so many of the American public are so gullible and easily manipulated by demagoguery that they are willing to turn a blind eye — no, go completely blind — to the unconscionable, morally and ethically bankrupt, sociopathic behaviour of Donald J.Trump and his toadies in the GOP. I don’t get it. Okay, I realise that he was not elected in true democratic fashion (i.e. by the public), but by the unmitigatedly antiquated system of the Electoral College; notwithstanding, that merely underpins the problem of why this man is not only unqualified, but completely and unapologetically corrupt. What disturbs me most of all is that he has blatantly lied to the people who have put the most faith in him and they refuse to see it. Instead they revel in conspiracy theories about the media (expect for Fox News of course). That in spite of what is figuratively slapping them in the face regarding employment, health care, taxes, fraud, misogyny, education, veterans rights, the “Wall,” immigration, his distain for the leaders of our democratic allies and adoration for dictators, his hatred for and attempts, if not to dismantle, at least discredit our criminal justice system, his “base” continues to worship this morally bankrupt sociopath.

Most noisome about all of this is:  these people, these fools, these lemmings, number, not in thousands, but in the millions! Approximately 40 (+ or- 2-3%) percent of the American public think he’s a good president! They ignore the constant inconsistencies, the compete and total lack of historical education, that his vaunted tax law is a sham: a tax law that throws a few crumbs to middle class Americans and small business, virtually nothing to working class/working poor Americans; but almost literally throws money at the extremely wealthy and the major corporations. He chooses a woman to head up the Department of Education who has summarily expressed her distain for our public school system and has done her very best (even before DE) to lobby for, not only charter and private school businesses but the for profit college industry. The public be damned. Then there’s Scott Pruitt, Ben Carson, Steve Mnuchin, Wilber Ross, and the overtly racist Jeff Sessions; all of whom are surrounded by criminality or some form of impropriety. And those are only the ones still employed! Trump has had largest turnover in White House personnel in history — 49 and counting; and that’s only after less than a year and a half.

His “believers” are so incredibly blind and stupid that, unfortunately, Trump was very likely right in assuming that “[he] could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and not lose any followers.” Unlike what a lot of folks have concluded:  thinking that Trump’s devotees are ignorant (although that may also be the case in a substantial proportion of them), the vast majority are simply stupid. You see, an ignorant person can be educated because they simply don’t know; stupid people choose to close their minds: it doesn’t matter what the reasons are. Ignorance is unintended, stupidity is a decision. In the case of Donald Trump his appeal to the sordid, vulgar, jejune, even reptilian aspects of the human psyche has made it easy for people to find him compelling. Marginally educated, even relatively well educated people who live in and associate in primarily homogenous environments, essentially want simple answers to the complicated, sometimes inscrutable issues they see beyond their limited spheres.  If those answers happen to be racist, misogynistic, insulting to anyone who isn’t as simple minded as they, or just merely disgusting and vulgar to any civilised person, all the better.

One can show, prove over and over, without qualification how Trump has lied and consistently turned his back on his supporters, that he has impudently — in your face, as it were — not “drained the swamp” but, has deepened and promulgated it “beyond the dreams of avarice,” to no avail. There’s nothing more closed minded than a zealot.

So, my fellow Americans, I seriously doubt that even with a sea change in either or both houses of Congress, the damage perpetrated on our precious dream of an eventual economically and socially egalitarian democracy is most likely all but lost. Sorry, John, Jim, Alex, Tom, etc.

Update Since August 2017

Well, some things have changed, in most cases fortunately, since my last writing. In December I found a lovely Episcopal (remember that folks, Episcopal — Anglican Community) church who welcomed me with open arms to allow me (encourage me!) to practise on their new 3 manual Allen “Bravura” organ.  Rev. Clifford Brown was and has been more than gracious in his letting me play there.  It was almost kismet that after only one week of practising he approached me to substitute on 31 December, at which I was more pleased to offer my services.  The only caveat was that I hadn’t played the organ in almost five years, and warned him that I may not be as interesting as I would normally be.  Believe me, it was hard to restrain myself with having this wonderful instrument suddenly at my disposal; but, I was a good boy and kept things at a lower volume.  But, Oh, how much fun it was to introduce to the congregation “Mendelssohn” with the full Swell & Choir, “boxes” closed, then gradually opening up to just a foundation chorus when the congregation came in.  And then the “Engelberg:”  full smothered reeds and mixtures with 32′ in the manuals, up an octave, “boxes” closed, then opening up full right at the Dominant, then switching to pure foundations when the congregation comes in.  I managed to keep the “boxes” about half closed so as not to overpower the congregation when they were singing (it was the Sunday after Christmas after all); but, the effect was still the same.  Moreover, I got to read the Epistle lesson (I love reading Paul aloud; he’s so wonderfully intense and dramatic).  After the service Rev. Cliff thanked me and offered me a check which I, of course, refused telling him that giving me the opportunity to practise and become an organist again was more than enough payment, so he gave me a key to the church instead!

So, now I’m in the process of dusting off repertoire starting with the J. S. Bach Prelude & Fugue in a  BWV 543, the Fugue in g  BWV 578 (the “Little”), the Vierne Carillon de Westminster Op. 54 #6, the Franck Choral in a, a piece of cardinal significance for me especially at this time in my life, and the Cantabile from “Trois Piéces”.  It feels good to be practising again and I hope to play a recital in the not too distant future (keeping in mind it’s been over twenty years since I’ve played a recital).  It should be interesting.

Why Bother Music?

It’s been almost two years since moving to Houghs Neck; and it’s been a tumultuous year and a half in some ways.  I’m sure a lot has to do with adjusting to home ownership after spending the greater part of my life as a tenant.  Tending to matters such as mowing the lawn, tending to (treating, backwashing, vacuuming) a swimming pool, gardening, fixing/installing various appliances and equipment (as well as buying such things), taking Blaze for walks or to the dog park not to mention a general ennui about my continued, and constant external reinforcement regarding my dubiousness as a musician — particularly as a composer.  Nowadays, I even find it difficult to listen to classical music and even harder to attend a concert or recital.

It’s become an albatross, having come to the realisation that all this time (now that I have come to the sunset of my life) my life’s primary endeavour, all that has defined me (even with those ancillary interests such as art, architecture, poetry, drama, dance) — that blossomed as a result of hearing Virgil Fox’s “Encores” album — has been, for the most part, a total waste of time — of one’s life.  The fine arts are cruel mistresses and music one of the cruelest.  It’s quite evident for all of my passion for music and my love of the greatest of all instruments, and what had been for years a perdurable yearning to compose, my capitulation to others’ concerns and desires, the poor decisions made (both professionally and personally), have left me now with a handful of works that nobody thinks worthy of their time.  I’ve given up trying to ask people to even look at my work.  I’ve grown weary of either the complete non-response or those who have “promised” to perform my music and then I never hear from them again.  I’m not going to go entreating all these people about my music; my determination is: if they like it they’ll play it if they don’t, I’ll never hear from them again, and I’ll not pursue them any further.  Grovelling is beneath even my diminished level of self-respect.

Moreover, the current political/societal situation with this blatant sociopath who has done more damage to our democracy than anyone, ANYONE before including such rabid animals like Joseph McCarthy, fools like Warren G. Harding, Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney and all of Fox News, along with  spineless, sycophants who make up the majority of the House and Senate.  But, that’s another subject altogether.

And yet, now that I’ve just recently (since December 2017) found and have been given open permission to practise on a most suitable organ at nearby Episcopal church, a bit of optimism has strangely entered my psyche. I’ve been dusting off and relearning old repertoire and have resumed collecting my thoughts on the Franck Choral in a, a work of monumental importance to me.  It feels good to be able to spend three to four hours a day 4-5 days a week (with Blaze patiently lying — mostly sleeping — in the nave) reworking music I used play.  Currently I’m practising on: Bach Prelude & Fugue in a BWV 543, Fugue in g (“Little”) BWV 578, the above mentioned Franck as well as the Cantabile from his “Trois Piéces,” the Vierne Carillon de Westminster from the “Pièces de Fantaisie” (third suite) Op. 54, plus one or two pieces from the Orgelbüchlein.  It’s been good for me if nothing else to stimulate my old memorisation synapses. I’d like to bring back the Choral in b and the Grand Pièce Symphonique as well as other works by Vierne that I used to play. I’m hoping that maybe in a year or two I might actually feel good enough to give a recital.

As to composing, maybe, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.  One can only cram so much of 40 plus lost years into the few I may have left.  We’ll see.

No Hope Left for America

I’d been hoping to start writing about music and other art forms again, especially music; but a not-so-funny thing happened last 7 November 2016 that has put me into an emotional malaise that has virtually paralysed me; it put me into a funk from which I just can’t seem to arise: and that, my dear friends, was the election of Donald J. Trump and, since his inauguration the complete spinelessness of the major media, members of both branches of Congress — particularly Republicans, but Democrats as well — in not calling this man out for his flagrant and continued unbridled immaturity and arrant sociopathy (with its constant, insistent, pathological lying and associated narcissism).  Almost everybody skirts around the true issue:  that what we have in the White House is a buffoon, a fool who was (and still is) propped up and manipulated by the crazoids of the far-far (also referred to as the “alt”) right; i.e., racists, bigots and conspiracy nut-jobs who are just as sociopathic he is.  No, I stand corrected: they are  psychopaths.  

My feelings of despair have harboured for a long time; however, there was always the caveat of hope that people of good will would ultimately find a way of prevailing this insidious — perverse — proclivity that the U.S. has manifested over the past generation or two; i. e., since the Reagan administration, of looking backward to a period of time when only white european (including middle/upper class hispanic) culture, “free market,” economics where wealthy, predominantly (though not exclusively) protestants prevailed.  This regression, moreover, has included the dismantling of the governmental (both state and federal) protections and regulations we have since learned to be extremely beneficial to the well-being of the public’s health, safety and security (to name a few), all in the name of economic expediency; what is erroneously referred to as conservatism.

Class warfare has raised its ugly head in the era of Donald Trump in unprecedented ways that are genuinely frightening.  I’m a product of the 60’s and 70’s.  I saw the riots in Watts, Chicago Democratic Convention, Kent State, and so many more.  All of these resulted in promises of change; and gradually change had begun, until Ronald Reagan, unintentionally through his economic policies, emphasising corporate and upper income tax cuts under what has been historically proven to be the fallacious concept of  “trickle down” economics, coupled with a gratuitous increase in military spending over domestic  resurrected a class (and resulting racial) warfare on the the country’s less fortunate.†  But, there’s plenty of blame to go around.  Democrats have this convenient amnesia when it comes to Bill Clinton’s “Welfare Reform Act” which summarily caused millions of people to lose their benefits causing immense pressure on non-profits to try and cover the gap; and his signing away the Glass-Steagall Act paving the way for the recession of 2008.

Class warfare is easy.  All that the wealthy have to do is throw money at Capitol Hill so that they (those who have that kind of huge money) can, and unabashedly, do their bidding on those we — the putative electorate — have supposedly (naively) elected to represent us.  And what is the easiest of the easy ways of creating class warfare?  Bigotry, racism being the most efficacious, followed by (not necessarily in any particular order) sexism, LGBT oppression, anti-intellectual thinking, and free speech suppression (on both the left and the right viz. college/university harassment of conservative speakers); though I’m sure there are more: bigotry covers a lot bases; which is why classicism is such an effective tool.  When you have so many people quibbling and squabbling amongst themselves it’s easy to sit back, watch and exploit.  The exploitation with all of the technological “bells and whistles” at peoples’ disposal has become the modern day equivalent to Juvenal’s “bread and circuses;” as long as the populace is sufficiently distracted with easily accessible toys (smartphones) and their accompanying diversions (games and social media primarily), as well as an educational system (both public and private) that is woefully lacking in teaching the art of critical thinking, and you have a perfect formula for keeping a large segment of the population acutely prone to demagoguery.

Just look at the current political situation.  Contrary to the tendency of most pundits you hear in the media who flatter the American electorate by constantly saying “The American people aren’t stupid,”  that somehow they manage to see through the sham and phoniness and make the right decision.  Well, we’ve seen how well that worked out, and I’m not just referring to election of Trump; rather, I’m referring to how the power brokers — the folks that own the media — have saturated our society with extremely visceral, yet mind numbing distractions under the guise of entertainment.  Entertainment which has insistently lowered the bar literally appealing to the lowest common denominator.  That explains the election of the last two presidents and why so-called conservative Republicans have become the dominate party in our governments, both state and federal.

Elections, especially presidential elections, have become no different than any other form of entertainment; i. e., distractions that focus more on personality — the politician’s “star power” — than on what his or her agenda.  Oh sure, there’s constant blather about focussing on those matters, but let’s face it, that very rarely happens.  After all that’s not the sexy part.

Let’s look at the last two presidential elections.  Why was Barack Obama elected president?  Was it his policies on trade, healthcare, military spending, domestic spending, his experience?  Maybe some of his ideas appealed to some of the more educated voters; but, that was not the reason he was elected: he was elected because he was black, young, photogenic and had the backing of the Kennedys.  Let’s face it he might never have been elected if African-Americans hadn’t come out in droves to vote him strictly because he was of African-American descent and he was a Democrat.  Moreover, he was young (relatively) and appealed to the “youth” vote simply because he was young, dynamic and black which made him very hip.  Then there is the whole inexperience thing; although he had some experience in the Senate, he was only there a few months and had not really garnered the kind of experience one would need to be able to work with members of the opposing party (not that they would anyway, expressing their blatantly racist views to having a person of colour in the White House).

Then there’s Trump.  First let’s consider how stupid the American electorate really is.  After their experience with voting in an inexperienced junior Senator nine years ago one would think (don’t forget many Obama voters voted for Trump) that maybe, JUST MAYBE, they would have learned that voting someone in with not only less experience in government, but WITH NO EXPERIENCE in government, one who was used to running a business as a personal fiefdom wth 1) no concept of history, and 2) absolutely no concept of constitutional government; but, no, they turn around and elect (according to the anti-democratic Electoral College) a sociopath and sexual predator as president.  And yet, this part of the electorate for the most part are still willing to turn a blind eye to what has become an innumerable number of improprieties and abuses of the office, because they continue live under the delusion that he’s going to change things for their betterment.

I watch “Morning Joe” in the morning because it’s good for me to get the perspective of a legitimate conservative thinker like Joe Scarborough; and yet, what I see is this honest-to-God diehard fiscal Reagan Republican having to quit his party (of which he had been a lifelong member) and become an independent because he could no longer identify with the Trump/Bannon idiots and the completely spineless others of the “new” Republican party.  Moreover, George Will, yes GEORGE WILL, that bastion of conservative intellectualism, again a staunch Republican, also felt the need to quit the GOP because he could no longer stomach the direction of his erstwhile party.

The thing that really gets me is the constant talk of “the base;” that 30-35% of the electorate who are more than willing to believe that the lies, deception, jingoism, racism, sexism (to point of predation) and the quintessentially narcissistic inability to take responsibility for any mistakes or any of the aforementioned foibles are perfectly acceptable, because none of these constantly and demonstrably (by his own actions and words) are real:  it’s all “fake news.”  Everybody knows that the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, Boston Globe, the major networks — even NPR/PBS — are all conspiring against him.  It’s only Breitbart, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, the Drudge Report that tell the truth; i. e., only what Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and their supporters say is true, no matter how contradictory or false their statements have been or currently are.  The fact that he has that many people (don’t forget 30-35% means millions) unquestionably supporting him, or least willing to vote for him again is monumentally depressing to me.  How stupid, how blind, how completely oblivious to reality can that many Americans be?

Ignorance is terrible thing for an ostensibly democratic state; but, stupidity is so much worse.  The former is a result of insufficient learning of basic facts as supposedly delivered by our school systems — both public and private; the latter is the result of either a conscious decision on someone’s part to be able, or (more than likely) unwilling to engage in critical thinking, and thus ignore facts and simply go by what one feels is emotionally more satisfying: whether it’s voting for a narcissist/sociopath who will say anything to appeal to the most xenophobic, and base aspects of our species, or for someone, in spite of his/her determined efforts to try and appeal to the those higher elements of the human psyche; i. e., intellectualism, rationalism, open mindedness, will vote for that person because of some tribal or racial predilection; e.g, liberal/progressive, race.  In any event either is deleterious to a democratic state; whether it’s the former, which would be ultimately destructive, or the latter which could possibly be beneficial, because the end was the result of a decision based on the completely wrong premise:  not the qualifications or ability but on strictly emotional, narrow-minded criteria by an infinite amount of life saturating media whose primary purpose is to make extortionate profits by pandering to and sanctioning the public’s over indulgence for as many frivolous and jejune distractions as can be possibly absorbed.  The result is an electorate that is virtually incapable to, or recalcitrant of, making a rational, informed, intelligent political decision.

What depresses me more about all of this is our current social structure, as a result of ultra-conservatives dating back to the Nixon administration, has become virulently anti-intellectual.  The disparagement of scientists, artists, and educators in general has continued to grow as the far right and the financial-powers-to-be have managed to keep people ignorant, politically unaware and naïve; and, have continued to exert their powerful influence on the spending of government.  As a result schools, libraries, and literally every institution and organisation dedicated to the advancement of human intelligence and social enlightenment and the betterment of the planet have been and will continue to be financially, and therefore culturally, starved of the resources they need to educate our nation.  The last thing the GOP, as it stands now as Trump’s errand boys and girls, want is that the American public learn, critically evaluate, understand and ultimate realise how they (the GOP and a few Dems) will do anything to keep the public in the dark about who actually runs things in DC.

Contrary to the pundits and commentators on MSNBC, CNN, and network Sunday morning talk shows, the American electorate is pathetically ignorant and/or stupid politically.  It’s not their fault; and that’s what angers me most of all.  Politicians have done everything they can to cut money for education, particularly in the humanities and the arts.  Not because (as they would lead you to believe) the arts and humanities aren’t important or are frivolous; rather, the humanities teach us the lessons of history and culture, the arts teach us discipline and how to think critically.  These are exactly the qualities that those on the far right in particular do not want the public to possess; that would result in an ACTUAL DEMOCRACY in which the people are truly capable of choosing the representative or senator who not only represents but REFLECTS the people who have elected him/her.

This will NEVER HAPPEN in the United States until we, the people, compel those whom we have elected to do the right thing.  In this case the impeachment and removal of a president who has every single day, during the campaign and since inauguration has (ironically consistently) bespoke not only his incompetence, but total (and uniquely) mental inadequacy for the job.  The latest revelations are from Michael Wolf’s “Fire and Fury” book. I mean what the blazes more do you need?!

So yes, I have no hope.  Even if the Democrats manage to take back the House and the Senate, the damage that has been done by Trump and his fascist zealots will take years, even decades, to undo.  Just look at what the bungling Devin Nunes and the Republican members of the Congressional Intelligence(?) Committee have done to totally and deliberately destroy any credibility to that committee, the GOP, and the concept of representative government.

Then there are the things that Trump has managed to do (about which, of course, he brags as his HUGE accomplishments) by executive order in despoiling generations of protective regulations against health, civil liberties, the environment, you name it , and staffing his cabinet with people who, because of their vested interests in deregulating, who are bound an determined to castrate those organisations of which they are supposed have fiduciary responsibility.  It’s enough to make an intelligent, rational person vomit.

Of then there is the latest in regard to the mass murder in Parkland, Florida.  I mean, seriously, does any sane, rational, moderately intelligent person seriously believe that arming teachers, who are so incredibly overburdened, under paid and disrespected as it is in this country, is a remotely responsible idea?  Unfortunately, there are many people, mostly Republicans, who actually think this is a good idea.

To sum up and reiterate, I am sick and tired of the folks (like Donny Deutsch on Morning Joe, as well as Joe and Mika) who keep saying that the American public isn’t stupid. They supposedly know what going and they’ll change things in November, blah, blah.  NO! Let’s be clear the American public IS STUPID!  Otherwise people like Donald Trump, Devin Nunes, Ron Johnson, and host of other ultra-rightwing nut jobs would never see any part of Washington, D.C. I’m with Bill Maher this one.

 

†This “theory” of economics perpetrated by Milton Friedman’s version of Adam Smith’s school of  laissez faire economics is often referred to as the Chicago [University] School of Economics.

First Disappointment

It shows that I haven’t added anything to this column since the end of May.  I must admit I’ve been a bit of a recluse as of late.  Maintaining a house with a large (12,000 gallon) above ground swimming pool coupled with my natural tendency towards ennui, my increased depression over the state of our once great, now widely disparaged, nation, my preoccupation with my wonderfully loveable, extremely handsome, funny, doggie-dog Blaze, plus my growing disconcertion with social media as a rule, among other matters, I just haven’t had the will to express my thoughts; notwithstanding, I continually wish to do so.

It’s interesting; I haven’t had to mow a lawn since my high school days back in Pitman, NJ.  Then there’s the pool:  skimming, vacuuming, treating the water, backwashing, it’s been a bit of an effort but one well worth it; on a hot day (yes, we do get them up here in New England) there’s nothing like diving into that pool.  I still “pinch myself” realising that I own the bloody thing.

Then there’s Blaze.  What can I say.  He’s not only one of the most beautiful dogs (I’m almost embarrassed by the number of time people tell how pretty he is) I’ve seen, but he’s a total baby.  He has the most even temperament, loving disposition anybody would ever imagine.  When Rosemary comes home from work he’s so excited he wags his tail AND his head!  He has the physique of a runner, and he proves it.  He is the fastest dog I’ve seen and it is (to coin a cliché) poetry in motion to seen him run.  There is a very large dog park in Hingham, MA (about 15 minutes away); it’s the size of any other state park (they call them reservations up here), but it’s primarily an off-lease park for doggies.  I can’t tell you how much Blaze loves this place.  First, it’s on Weymouth Bay so dogs get to swim if they so desire, it’s big with lots of open space to play and run, which are two of Blaze’s favourite things to do (the others are sleep and eat — surprise, surprise).  One of the traits I love about Blaze is he so, so friendly.  He thinks every other dog he meets is his new BFF — big, medium, tiny it doesn’t matter; all he wants to do is play.  As to his speed, he has yet to encounter a dog that’s as fast (much less faster) than him.  He is truly amazing to watch.  And LOVES to run.  So yeah, I spoil Blaze something terrible; but, what am I supposed to do?  He’s such a loveable baby.  And he behaves (for the most part).

Okay, so what’t the problem?  Well, two things:  First is me, I must admit I’ve been having difficulty with motivation:  more importantly prioritisation.  I can’t get my butt in gear until later in the day.  Unfortunately, it’s usually the time I need to think about getting dinner together.  If I could get my “chores” (including walking Blaze) done before noon I’d have at least four hours to what I used to think was important to me — music and art. ADD and low level depression (what used be call Dysthymia) have been, I must admit, an hinderance to my focus.  The problem is I know that I still have much to offer (not that anyone would take me seriously, since I don’t have s PhD or am not an internationally recognised performer).

Then there’s the organ/church thing.  I approached a nearby Congregational church (about two blocks away) about permission to practise on their organ.  It’s not much, a two manual Allen from probably the 80’s; but, it was something on which I felt I could start playing the organ again.  I even offered my services as a substitute — gratis — for the privilege of practising.  So, here were the church’s criteria:

Notwithstanding my resume, etc. they don’t give out keys to the church, so I could only practise there when some one else or other activity was at the church:  in this case it the Boy Scouts, who met in the basement on Monday night (right about our dinner time, but, eh, I figured): i.e., once a week for about 1½ -2 hrs.

If that wasn’t restrictive enough, since I was compelled to only be there (mind you I was up in the sanctuary, the scouts were down in the basement; i.e., I had no [nor did I want any] contact with them; but, since I was in the same building as them, even though they had more than enough adult supervision, they requested that I fill a CORI (Criminal Offence Record Investigation) form!!

Just so I could have access to lousy electronic organ on which to practise at a most inconvenient time for me.  I wanted nothing to do with those kids — or anybody — all I wanted to do was practise the organ; in exchange, I was willing to offer my services as a substitute organ (and as a scripture reader) for free.  Needless to say, after being gratuitously insulted, I’m on the prowl for another organ on which to practise.

Why is it that my first major disappointment with my new home involves a church?  What is it about suburban churches, especially non-liturgical protestant churches, that often manifest those paranoic tendencies which are so contradictory to their so called “Christian Message” of openness and love?  Those signs of “All Are Welcome” outside the doors are such a prevarication of who they really are It’s such a sham.  I’m sick of it.  It’s come to the point I wish, I really do wish at times, that I never, NEVER, became an organist, almost to the point of despising the instrument.

Thank God for ragtime.