Bad Joke Friday
Our song challenge continues, and this week it's A Song You'd Like Played At Your Wedding. Well, my wedding was twenty-two years ago, so here's a song that was played at my wedding. The Wife and I danced our first dance to this song. Here are the Righteous Brothers with "Unchained Melody".
Tone Poem Tuesday
I heard this work on the radio this past Sunday, and I made a note to look up what it was. Sadly I didn't remember to do that until Monday, when St. Patrick's Day was already over, because it turns out to be In Ireland, a rhapsody for flute, harp, and orchestra by Sir Herbert Hamilton Harty. Harty was an Irish composer who wrote in the post-Romantic vein, but he had the misfortune to live in a time when Romanticism was well and truly a thing of the past, so as Modernism was taking hold, composers like Harty were often forgotten. This is a pity, because his music is dramatic and picturesque. Not everything can be remembered, but not everything deserves to be forgotten, either.Here is In Ireland.
Happy St. Paddy's Day!
It's St. Patrick's Day, y'all! And I'm proudly wearing green:Here's some music:
Bad Joke Friday (Ides of March edition)
I saw this joke on Tumblr. I can't credit it because it's got over 12,000 notes (which means that it's been passed around that many times and tracing it back to the originator is an exercise in futility). I paired the joke with the painting because, hey, neat painting.
Something for Thursday
Back at it with our Song Challenge! This time it's A Song I Like From the 1970s, which is pretty broad, innit? There are a lot of directions I can go here because that's the decade I was born, so a lot of this stuff is familiar to me on a pretty elemental level. I'll try not to go overboard, but here are several 1970s-era songs that I like a great deal, starting with one that as a kid I didn't realize that it's about...what it's about. I figured these folks were having an afternoon snack of a piece of candy or something. It wasn't until I listened to the song anew as a twenty-something (I'm very sure I didn't hear the song at all between the time I was 5 and the time I was 25) that I realized just what kind of delight these folks were discussing in terms of afternoon enjoyment.Here's a wonderful Jim Croce song that has to probably be explained to young listeners hearing it for the first time. Operator? "You can keep the dime"? What's all that about?Let's see...well, we have to have the Bee Gees, and this is my all-time favorite Bee Gees song.And then there's John Denver! I think there was a time when I didn't love John Denver. I think it was however much time elapsed between my birth and the first time I heard John Denver.Ballads about 1970s events? We've got those, too:And I'll leave off with this bit of pep by ELO, "Mr. Blue Sky".
(NOTE: This is a repost of last year's Pi Day post. I didn't get a chance to generate any new content--i.e., shoot a new video in which I get a pie in the face in the midst of a lesson about Pi--this year, but hey, last year's video is still pretty funny, if I do say so myself!)It's Pi Day, everyone!It is also Albert Einstein's birthday and, sadly, this year's edition marks the passing of Stephen Hawking, about which I'll have more to say later. But for now, let's celebrate Pi!Calculate Pi yourself!NASA's Pi in the Sky ChallengeA few videos:(That one's titled "Pi Day" but the video has nothing to do with Pi so far as I can see, but it's a cool video anyway, so there it is.)And finally:Happy Pi Day, everyone!
Tone Poem Tuesday
Time for something of a musical homecoming. I'll be featuring the music of Hector Berlioz a lot over the next few months, as we've just past the 150th anniversary of his passing after a 65-year life of struggle and hardship that was too rarely punctuated by triumph. Nevertheless Berlioz produced some of the most remarkable music of the 19th century, music that took well into the 20th century to find its greatest appreciation. And that appreciation is only growing as Berlioz grows in esteem.Here we have one of the earliest works of his to survive. Berlioz was highly self-critical and thought nothing of destroying early works if he later judged them wanting; thus we actually know little of his most youthful work. This concert overture, based on Sir Walter Scott's novel Waverley, bursts with youthful exuberance and energy, especially in the thrilling allegro section that follows the score's lyric portion. Scott wrote picturesque novels of adventure and intrigue, and Berlioz tries to capture some of that here. He's not entirely successful, and the Waverley overture has its awkward moments like many of Berlioz's works to come. But one can already hear the orchestrally-focused imagination at work, as Berlioz's was a musical mind unfettered by training on the piano. What wonders would come later, once Berlioz had discovered Shakespeare and Byron and Beethoven!
Bad Joke Friday
Picking the low-hanging fruit is always advisable.
Roger Green turns 66 today, and a very happy birthday to him! He also gathers a bit of linkage and factual stuff regarding the number 66, most famously used to identify a once-beloved portion of the United States highway system.I, of course, am a Star Wars fan, while Roger is not...so maybe he's not even aware of the most sinister use of sixty-six!I hope Roger's birthday is a happier occasion than the Sith's purge of the Jedi!
Something for Thursday
Returning to the Song Challenge, it's a song from my pre-teen years! I wasn't sure how to define this--after all, a song from 1972, when I was pushing one year old, was definitely "pre-teen", strictly speaking. But I think they're referring to the "tweener" category, when you're 11 or 12. As my tweener period coincides very nicely with the arrival on the scene of MTV, here's one of the very first songs I ever encountered in "music video" form. (Although we didn't even have MTV at our house until several years later, because it took our town that long to run cable out that far on the road where we lived. For several years my sole exposure to MTV came during visits and sleepovers at a friend's house.)Anyway, here's the sublimely goofy early 80s icon Adam Ant, with "Goody Two Shoes".
Most Sundays start with The Dee-oh-gee and I going on a walk in a nature-based location--usually one of the local state or county parks. Unfortunately we haven't been able to do as much of that of late because this winter's climate has been unconducive to such adventures. But this past Sunday we made our way at last to Knox Farm State Park, where we walked amongst the trees once more. Even though the trees are still asleep, they make the best companions, don't they?
Tone Poem Tuesday
An old favorite returns. This work is the kind of thing I return to when I need the world to slow down, when I need to recall that there is room in this world we've built for quiet moments and serene thoughts.Here is Ralph Vaughan Williams's The Lark Ascending. Vaughan Williams called the work a "romance", and that fits. What always captivates me about this piece is the way it doesn't so much begin as arise. A sequence of soft chords sounds in the orchestra before the solo violin begins to emerge with a series of figures that seem almost to flutter. The Lark Ascending is a meditative song that returns the world to a better speed.
Something for Thursday
I was all set to move along in the ongoing Song Challenge, but events in the musical world today compel me to push A Song from my Preteen Years to next week.Andre Previn has died at age 89.Previn was one of the great musicians of the latter half of the 20th century, accomplished as a conductor and as a pianist and in both classical and in jazz. He did important film work (he conducts the musical arrangements in My Fair Lady, a film of which I'll have much more to say in a forthcoming essay), and he did a lot of important work in the concert hall and on recording. Previn is partly responsible for the re-emergence of the complete score of Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2, a work which prior to Previn's adopting it in the early 1970s was almost always performed with extensive cuts. (Why, I have never been able to figure out. A complete performance of the work runs no longer than the Berlioz Fantastique or the Mahler 1st or the Beethoven 3rd.) Previn's 1973 recording of that symphony (with the London SO) is the one I heard first, and though Vladimir Ashkenazy's Concertgebouw recording has since overtaken Previn's as my favorite, I almost certainly would not have heard Ashkenazy if not for Previn's wonderful recording.That's not my selection here, though. Here I'll go with a selection from one of the finest recordings I've ever heard in any genre. This is Previn playing the piano and conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in George Gershwin's Concerto in F. There is so much vitality to this performance, so much verve and excitement, ripe with the energy of pre-WWII American urban society.Bravo, Maestro Previn! You'll not be forgotten soon, if ever.
Travels Along the Yellow Brick Road
I suppose I am hardly unique among Americans in that The Wizard of Oz has been a part of my life almost as long as I can remember. I grew up during that hazy prehistory when the only way to watch Wizard was to wait an entire year for one of CBS’s annual airings of the movie—usually in springtime, as I recall. When you’re a kid that wait is so long that you’re barely aware of it. Suddenly one day it’s spring again, and one day you’re in front of the teevee to watch The Wizard of Oz.I don’t remember much about those viewings of the movie when I was very young; just a few images here and there. I remember the early moment when Dorothy falls into the pig pen. I remember the Scarecrow pointing in both directions, and the Tin Man’s oil can, and the crown the Lion wore for his big song number, a crown made from a shattered flower pot. I remember the Wicked Witch melting, and Dorothy’s farewells to her friends. I always cried at those, and I’ve had a terrible time with “forever farewells” in stories ever since. The worst, though? I remember one year—maybe this was when we lived in Oregon, when I would have been a preschooler—that I burst into tears when the words “The End” appeared on the screen.The Land of Oz, as shown in The Wizard of Oz, was my earliest fantasy world, and certainly the first one that I didn’t want to leave when it was time. More of those would come. I’ve always thought of Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain as my proto-fantasy world, but in truth, two came earlier: Middle Earth, via the animated version of The Hobbit, and the kingdom of Oz.Nowadays, of course, I find that as a writer I too can be “that man behind the curtain.” In the end, after Dorothy’s adventures with her wonderful friends (who, I am sorry to admit, took me adulthood before I realized their strong resemblance to the farmhands of Dorothy’s Kansas home), the character with whom I identify most may well be the Wizard, that kindly and wise man who is still something of a charlatan.Of course, experiencing The Wizard of Oz as a fleeting, once-a-year thing is long a thing of the past. First there was VHS and then DVD and then Ted Turner bought the rights so the movie showed up on TBS only a little less often than The Beastmaster. Now, you can pretty much watch The Wizard of Oz whenever you want. I don’t much pine for the “old days”, but there was a certain charm back then of going to school the next day knowing that you and all your friends would be equally basking in the post-Oz afterglow.Several weeks ago, The Wife, The Kid, and I attended a screening of Wizard as part of its 80th Anniversary Celebration at one of the Fathom Events. (These are special screenings of many artistic presentations—classic films, live operas, and more—shown digitally at certain movie theaters.) Eighty years of The Wizard of Oz astonishes me on many levels. The movie came out in 1939, the year my father was born. I have a solid chance of seeing Wizard hit 100. The theater was packed on the day we attended, which for some reason we found surprising. We’ve been attending Fathom Event films off and on for a couple years now, and we’ve never seen the theater sold out. There were even families with children in costume, little girls in blue gingham dresses and “ruby slippers”.This was the second time The Wife and I saw Wizard on the big screen, with the last time coming twenty years ago for the film’s 60th jubilee. Like any great film, the experience of seeing it on a big screen in a darkened theater crowded with people who are sharing the same journey is deeply different from watching it on the finest teevee or computer screen. The crowd laughs, hisses, and tears up at all the right moments. I found myself fearing a little that some of the film’s moments that have become so ingrained in popular culture as to become cliché might be met with laughter, but not so. No one sniggered at the Wicked Witch’s cackling threat: “I’ll get you, my pretty—and your little dog, too!”I was struck at how funny this movie is, too. When Dorothy, running away from home early on in order to save her poor Toto’s life, encounters a man who is clearly a charlatan, he puts on a display of cold-reading that is dead-on, and the scene is intelligent and full of wit. This goes on throughout the movie, with laughs both famous and laughs that are only remembered when one encounters them, like a forgotten acquaintance for whom we once felt a particular fondness. Wizard’s opening act is so engrossing that the famous moment when Dorothy enters Oz and steps into a Technicolor world, the enchantment is as spellbinding as ever. I do wonder what that moment must have felt like to the movie’s first audiences, back in 1939. Surely those audiences gasped loudly, because today’s audiences still do, even when they know it’s coming.From that moment on The Wizard of Oz marches on, building its world quickly and confidently. It weaves its magic so completely that we never really stop for a moment to consider what we’re not being told: What’s so amazing about those Ruby Slippers, anyway? Why does the Wicked Witch want them so badly? What will she do when she gets them? And...do we care about any of that? Of course not. It’s fine. And when Dorothy meets the Scarecrow it’s at a fork in the Yellow Brick Road, so how do they know which way to go? Who cares! None of these things are lapses in the storytelling, just things left unexplained because they don’t need explanation. And so it goes.(I do, though, wonder just where Scarecrow got the gun he’s holding in one scene. Once you realize the Scarecrow is walking around with a pistol, you can’t unsee it.)I also rediscovered the delight of the music of The Wizard of Oz. Obviously “Over the Rainbow” is the film’s most iconic song (and how stunning that the producers briefly thought to cut it!), but every song in this movie is distinctive and cleverly written. The Munchkins’ “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” segues perfectly into “We’re Off To See the Wizard”, which becomes a recurring anthem as Dorothy progresses through Oz. And the introduction of the Munchkins themselves contains some incredibly witty wordplay, from the representatives of the Lollipop Guild to the Munchkin Coroner:As Coroner I must aver,I’ve thoroughly examined her;And she’s not only merely dead:She’s most sincerely dead!A more cheerfully morbid lyric might exist, but as of this writing I’ve no idea what it might be.The film’s songs and musical styles shift throughout the film, too. The Munchkins have their childlike sound, contrasted with the good cheer of the denizens of Emerald City as they welcome Dorothy and company to the “Merry Old Land of Oz”. Surprisingly, after the Cowardly Lion’s “If I Were King of the Forest,” the movie stops being a musical: there are no more numbers at that. I wonder why that might be the case. Maybe the producers didn’t feel the need for any, or maybe they felt that any songs past that point might slow down the narrative. I don’t know that any other songs might have worked. Maybe a reprise of “Over the Rainbow” as Dorothy sits captive in the Wicked Witch’s tower, which might be when she seems to really start to learn the film’s central message that “There’s no place like home.” I don’t know if that would have worked, but it is interesting that Dorothy’s initial dream of going “Over the Rainbow” is not bookended in song with her learning that she doesn’t really need to go over the rainbow at all.This screening was also the first time I’ve seen The Wizard of Oz after we saw the Broadway show Wicked, which tells the story of the Wicked Witch, whom we learn is named Elphaba. The movie is, of course, very much its own thing, and I found that at no point was I envisioning the events of Wizard in light of the events of Wicked. The Wizard of Oz is such a classic as to maintain its own storytelling heft, which stands alone, unshared by such follow-ups as The Wiz, or Wicked, or the 1980s movie The Return to Oz. Ultimately The Wizard of Oz remains what it always was, what it always has been: a grand fantasy, a touching story, a thrilling adventure, a witty and sophisticated tale, a wonderfully tuneful musical, and ultimately a sublimely well-made film that is a constant touchstone for the youth in all of us. And why shouldn’t it be that? It is, after all, dedicated on screen to the “young in heart.”