Why Americans Elect Mediocre to Reprehensible Presidents.

Sorry about the inactivity.  I simply have been struggling with what I wish to write.  I generally prefer to write about my art form; but, the past two years have left me in such a funk I can’t think of anything else but the disaster that is occurring within our federal government and our society as a whole.  

My concern is that the United States, constitutionally and culturally is dying.  The fact that after two years approximately 40% of the American electorate, which consists of millions — MILLIONS — of people still think of Donald J. Trump as, not only their preferred president, but actually love this racist, misogynist, narcissistic sociopath.  Ergo, this puts me into an existential dilemma.  You see, Trump with his immorality, pathological lying, pre-pubescent and generally disgusting behaviour, is not the problem:  it’s the gratuitous stupidity and wanton ignorance of the American public.  I know it’s convenient for news commentators on shows like “Morning Joe” to pontificate that “the American people aren’t stupid.  They know what’s going on.  They’ll get it in time, etc. etc., blah, blah blah…  Unfortunately, such is not the case.  The American public, for the most part (that includes those who didn’t vote for Trump), ARE stupid.  And (yes, this does sound conspiratorial, but then again, conspiracies do exist), it cannot be fully dismissed that those who would be most threatened by an highly educated electorate would have a lot to lose. It’s simply a matter that when people are educated sufficiently to think critically they will choose people who have their best interests in mind; i. e., they will vote for those, who like themselves, believe that public office actually means working for the public good.  

Needless to say that has been not been the case for a long time.  Witness the latest Senatorial elections in Mississippi and Florida, and the Georgia governors race. The GOP and those even further to the right (the so-called alt-right, i. e., nut jobs, racists (admitted or otherwise), the fascists (admitted or otherwise), religious fundamentalists (now under the problematic and overly inclusive blanket of “evangelicals”), and all other so-called conservatives,  have had this problem with the public good.  Oh sure, they love to prattle on about how free enterprise and the open, competitive, market, i.e. capitalism,  is supposed to solve the issues of public health, transportation, shelter, insurance, and just about anything else that appertain to those essential aspects of living in a truly civilised society; i. e., as being good for the general public; yet, they know full well that the only people who genuinely benefit from these policies are those who own or have vested interests in the profit margins of these highly monopolised industries — not the public whose interest they are supposed to avail.

The reason and solution to all of this is quite simple, albeit initially expensive, but is what I see to be the only true remedy for a true democracy:  education.  I mean education on a scale never conceived before in this society.  And it’s not just the math and science courses that have simplistically been espoused.  I mean an expansive, heuristic education which teaches children to think critically; which encourages them to read and reach rational conclusions that will better their immediate circumstances and those to follow.  

The current United States system of public education, by virtue of its Federalist beginnings, has become this terrible mish-mash of locally mandated curricula dependent upon the political bent of that local school board.  The end result is, of course those who are in most need of a well developed, intensive, broad education get almost nothing; whereas, others, usually the more affluent, get the benefit of the latest information and learning techniques.  This is why we have the miserable political situation we have.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why a prevaricating misogynistic, sociopath can be elected president of the United States; and then proceed to completely counterman virtually everything and anything that even remotely pertains to constitutional government.  When you have a populous that easily manipulated by virtue of the fact they don’t know how reason, distinguishing between the actual truth and what they are told by those invested with keeping them stupid as true, it comes as no surprise. Such is silage upon which the uneducated feed.

Simply put, you cannot have a truly successful democracy without, at the very least, a well educated electorate.


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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.

 

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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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.

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.

American Music on the Radio on an American Holiday

On this Memorial Day (2016) I thought this was worth a reblog.

Mostly Music and Curmudgeonry

Being the curmudgeon that I am, modern technology doesn’t generally impress me; and on those occasions where it has, such as Facebook, I have ultimately found it wanting (more about that some other time).  Nevertheless, there are those instances in which technological advancements have not only impressed me, but have actually proven to be most useful.  A case in point: internet radio.  Through the glories of digital technology I now can listen to virtually any broadcast radio station, plus any station which is solely designed to be heard on the internet through streaming, much of it via iTunes.  On any Wednesday I could be listening to a Choral Evensong on BBC Radio 3, or  All Night Classics on the ABC (Australia), or L’Air du Temps on RTBF (Belgium), or something on WFMT, VPR, WRTI, WGBH, WQXR, MPR, or any of the exclusive online services such as Organlive, Connoisseur Classics, or RadioIO…

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How did This Happen?

Did you ever have one of those days later in life in which you came to the realisation that, quite literally, everything — and I mean everything — for which you strove, to which you aspired, to which you devoted essentially your entire life, gave you definition as an individual had not even remotely been fulfilled?  Somehow I doubt it.  So far, everyone I know, whether it’s from my childhood, college, to later in life (including Facebook and other social media) has to some extent achieved a level of success in life.  It may not be exactly that for which one originally strove, but it may have been close; or, at least, a not unreasonable approximation.  Then there are those who found a level of success in a completely different field altogether.  You may have started out wanting to be a musician, but somewhere along the line, whether for personal, philosophical or simply practical (i. e., financial) reasons you ventured into a completely different line of work.  Or, as in the case with many, perhaps most, artistic people, you found a way to do both and still manage to attain some satisfaction in your artistic endeavours.

I, on the other hand, have failed abysmally.  Mind you, I really don’t blame anyone but myself; and perhaps, the occasional uncontrollable circumstance.  Nevertheless, I fully realise that, as the cliché goes, since I made my bed I must sleep in it.  That doesn’t palliate the remorse or regret, much less the pain.  In fact, it only militates against any assuagement of my despondency.  All it does is remind me of the sequence of bad decisions I have made throughout most of my life, the first and worst of which was wanting to be a musician — an organist in particular.  But, that was only the first of many, many unfortunate, notwithstanding good intentioned, decisions:  most of which were what I had considered at the time to be pragmatic or realistic junctures in light of my relative youth and aspirations, but were actually more survival expediencies than goal directed stratagems.  Some decisions turned out to be just plain stupid; but, stupidity is the special preserve for the young — I guess.  Eventually we’re supposed to grow out of the stupid phase; you know, the “with age comes wisdom” thing.  Unfortunately, wisdom comes a little (or a lot) too late.   

You see, there is this really noisome trait I have — rationalisation.  I can’t tell you the number of times I left a situation — either personally or professionally — and learned very soon how bad a mistake it was.  Now, almost everybody has done this sort of thing at one time or another.  But, it seems there are those of us who have made a career of making decisions later to be regretted.  Not occasionally, not seldom, or sporadically, but steadily, constantly, habitually.  Everyone of these decisions were attempts to get myself into a situation in which I could finally find the time and space to consistently practise my craft and get my musical career back on track (operating under the delusion that it actually was at one time).  Unfortunately, to list these unfortunate decisions is not within the purview of this rant and would be far too numerous much less humiliating.  I have to live with these incomprehensibly obtuse decisions.

And now?  Now I have pretty much abandoned the art form to which I had devoted my life.  The three aspects of music in which I had hoped in some fashion to succeed — conducting, composition, the organ (not necessarily in that order), I now know will never happen.  Conducting I gave up long ago, even though I am an innate conductor: vastly superior, even now at this unpractised stage in my life, to 99% of the boneheads out there;.

As to the organ, since moving to Boston and receiving the decided cold shoulder from “my guild,”  I have pretty much bid my adieus.  This explains my not adding any further installations to my commentary in the “Choral #3 in a” by César Franck.  What the hell good is it to express ideas about how to perform a piece of music if you can’t actually demonstrate those ideas?  At this point I don’t even have the confidence to apply for a church job simply because I don’t feel I could execute a decent audition anymore.  Ultimately, I guess, it’s a good thing.  At least I’ve come to acknowledge the reality of my pathetic station as an erstwhile organist.  Oh, but there’s an additional sad irony:  I masochistically signed up as a volunteer for a number of activities for the AGO convention when it was here in Boston.  How’s that for pathetic?

Composing?  The last and most hurtful failure of all.  As a composer one always has in the back of his/her head the hope that, no matter how remote, someone will eventually perform your music.  Little disgusts me more than the successful composer — or even the “unsuccessful” one who has only had a few pieces performed — who, in responding to the lamentations of his/her completely unperformed brother or sister, pontificates about how one should be doing it only for itself; that composing is an end in and of itself; you do it for the sake of the art, not for the glory, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah.  That’s easy for them to say.  They’ve been performed, no matter how infrequently.  They’ve heard their music performed by someone other than themselves in their studio or living room.  Every composer, I don’t care how artistically virtuous, composes with idea that he or she has something to share with the world, that each and every creation is meant to be heard; i. e., performed.  When that hope, even in the most perfunctory or trifling manner miscarries, that desire, that compulsion to create eventually disintegrates and eventually atrophies.  Why bother?  I don’t expect my “colleagues,” “brother or sister” composers (much less performers) to sympathise, empathise or even remotely understand.  At this point I rightly don’t care.

You see, there’s huge frustration here.  I listen works by people who have absolutely no business calling themselves composers — but, then again considering our current environment —  and yet, their music gets performed.   Even worse, they get paid to write their drivel and even win prizes for it (case in point Libby Larsen’s little ditty she composed for the 2014 AGO Convention in Boston). I don’t need to go into why, We all pretty much know that talent has little to do with winning competitions or receiving commissions.

All of us have experienced failure and disappointment at various times in our lives, some of us more than others, some of us more than most.  And then there are those of us who, in spite of our best efforts to the contrary, persist upon bungling it.  I guess some of us are born to screw up; which brings me back to the rationalisation factor.  Long after it had become clear that I was not going to achieve anything near, or even remote, to my musical aspirations I somehow convinced myself that there was still hope.

Anyway, it’s taken a long time, but I think I may have come to terms with my life of “should-haves”  and failures — noble and ignoble. I realise at this late date that whatever I do from here on out just becomes another facet of the survival mode into which I have fallen.  Oh, there are plenty of excuses, some of them plausible, even valid; but, at this point it really doesn’t make any difference. I just have to content myself with knowing that my knowledge, skill, talent and innate musical acumen notwithstanding, I  will live out my years as the organist without an organ, the conductor without ensemble (vocal or instrumental), the accompanist without partner, the teacher without a student, the writer without a reader, the composer without a performer, the performer without an audience.

Ain’t life grand?