Saturday, April 25, 2015

Little Science, A Little heart - That Is All

One doesn't have to be a connoisseur of classical music literature to have at least a minimal exposure to the works of Gioacchino Rossini. He wrote 39 operas in his life. Through one opera alone, he provided Looney Tunes with a generation of sound cues. Of course, when you're hit over the head with a giant wooden mallet, there are birds zinging around your head as you come to, and the flute music from "after the storm" is heard. Who can forget Sylvester the Cat singing ""Feeeee-ga-ro Figaro Figaro!" as bricks and garbage are hurled at him? Others were inspired by Rossini's music as well. Popeye the Sailor couldn't weather a storm at sea without hearing "The Storm" from William Tell. And, of course, there's The Lone Ranger Theme. All Rossini.

He lived from 1792 - 1868. By his 70s, Gioaccino had turned opera into the Marx Brothers of the times, making the audience laugh, and cry at the same time. He was adored by his audiences, but he wondered if his frivolity had upset his Maker. Rossini decided to turn his talents to sacred music. He composed an entire mass "Petite Messe Solennelle" (Little Solemn Mass), which Napoleon declared was "neither solemn, nor little" (it runs 70 minutes). Le Si├Ęcle (a music critic of the time) stated that "it was a good thing that the mass was scored for a small choir, piano, and harmonium, because, had it been scored for full chorus and orchestra, it would have enough fire to melt a marble cathedral".

Rossini, in the dedication of the mass, declared, humbly:

"Good God – behold completed this poor little Mass – is it indeed music for the blest that I have just written, or is it just some blessed music? Thou knowest well, I was born for comic opera. Little science, a little heart, that is all. So bless Thee Lord, and grant me Paradise!" (1863)
So, picture Rossini and God, face to face at the time of judgement. An awful and complete silence. God is reviewing the life that was Rossini, especially the Missa Solemnis. God shakes his almighty head.

"Gioaccino, Gioaccino. Here in Heaven, we have all of the works of the greatest composers who have come before you. Haven't you ever heard the great Toccatas and Masses of Bach? The St. Matthew Passion? Handel and the Messiah? The hymns of Martin Luther? And here you come, Gioaccino, with people smiling as they are singing, and rhythm, and the lilting ---"

Rossini hangs his head. It is hopeless, now. How could he have expected the Almighty to accept such a humble and rustic thing as this mass.

" . . . and what's that in the first row, there, Gioaccino? An ACCORDION?"

"We called them harmoniums in my time on earth, my Lord." Rossini replies very softly and dejectedly. "reinforces the harmony of the chorus ..."

God rises from his throne, Rossini cringes, as the hand of the Almighty sweeps toward him. With a mighty roar, God proclaims "Gioaccino Rossini - - - - "

The heavens are silent, as Rossini hears his name echoing back to him from the clouds. God puts his hand on Rossini's shoulder, no longer able to suppress a smile. "Gioaccino, my son, come home. Come in, my son, we'll show them how the joy comes into the music."

 

Little science, a little heart.  That is all

Sunday, April 12, 2015

To See the Simple Pleasure We Once Knew

All these years I've been  "going to and fro in the Earth, and walking up and down  in it." (Now, who said that?  It's in the Book of Job, King James Version).  Some things you pick up along the way, bits of insight and advice.  You carry these fragments around, they bump into one another in your head for years, re-configure, refine themselves, and then one day you realize that these little nuggets have refined themselves into the greatest pieces of wisdom that you'll ever encounter.

Notice, I've updated the Excelsior subtitle above, to include one of these - perhaps the greatest of the realizations I've come across in this life.

Happiness?  To be living in the good old days, and realize it at the time - it doesn't get much better than that!

And what if you could go re-visit one of these golden salient time of bliss in your life.  A moment when everything, just everything was harmonious and perfect.  What if you could go back for even for a few moments and re-experience that simple joy?

Here's a song about that very phenomenon.  It's been sitting in my various basements since the 1970s on a reel-to-reel recording I made from the radio. The song has been haunting me ever since I brought it out of the archives.  I feel compelled to share it.  So here ya' go!  Enjoy.





Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hooked on a Khachaturian

The other day at work, I was asked to fill in at the front reception desk.  While the front desk doesn't have the stunning 13th floor view of Lake Michigan that my regular desk has, it does have the computer network, so my indexing of top-secret documents can continue unabated.  The front desk is the first place visitors see when they arrive at our company, so there's a lot of "Show Biz" involved.  I sign visitors in, direct calls on the switchboard, schedule meetings, and coordinate countless pizza and sub deliveries to the employees.  

There was one corner of the reception area that I found particularly annoying, though.  There is a television feed, usually set to CNN or Fox News.  Since other parts of the screen run local welcome messages and weather conditions, it is necessary that the television feed be ON all the time.  The news was what you'd expect - rehashing over and over the celebrity gossip, terrorist activities, terrifying weather reports (hey, there's always going to be a tornado somewhere). But what gets to you first is the repetitious ads.  Smug old farts with golf clubs selling reverse mortgages, gold investments, class action suits, insurance, and on and on...

Then I discovered a music channel.  We don't have any of the Sirius or Warner channels, but there are two channels run by public television channels, one is jazz and one is classical.  The classical channel plays a wonderful variety of music spanning five centuries, and I was able to hear many familiar favorites as well as some new discoveries. 

One song grabbed my attention so completely that I had to find out all about it.  An Adagio movement from a score by Aram Khachaturian, written in the 1950s for a production (movie or ballet?) of Spartacus.  This familiar passage (about 50 seconds into the example below) was the basis from the song "Hooked on a Feeling" that had been on the soundtrack of my life in at least three different versions in the 1960s and 1970s.  The most infamous version was the Blue Swede version that was popular in the early 1970s, featuring a chorus of about six people chanting "Hooka Chokka Hooka Chokka".  

I decided to research the connection - and, amazingly, nobody else had discovered the unmistakable link between these two pieces. 

Am I the only one on the Internet who ever noticed this similarity?

Khachaturian Adagio from Spartacus:


And here's the Blue Swede version from the 1970s.  Imagine, this song is 40 years old!  A new generation is discovering the song, now, as it was used in a film "Guardians of the Galaxy" which I have not yet seen.  If you've never heard the version, crank up your woofers and tweeters, and let 'er rip!

And if you're interested in further research, use this link for the complete history of Hooga Chokka:
http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/music/2014/08/22/the_origins_of_the_ooga_chaka.html

Monday, February 2, 2015

More Random Notes - Livin' the Dream!

Yes it's been awhile, and I missed all of my loyal readers, all three of you. Clearing up some random items that have been piling up in the Draft box.

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Yvonne and Kay near the end of the day, work's all done, just waitin those last few minutes for the nine-to-five thing to be over.  Yvonne flipping through photos on the internet for a Halloween costume ideas.  She comes up with a photo of an ugly green-face witch leering at the camera, brandishing her broom.  Something looks familiar.  To herself "Who is  that?" Then she calls across the room: "Kay, can you drive a stick?" . . .

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It's an almost-late-for-work morning.  On the way to work, I'm just locking up my front door, and see the bus already arriving at the corner.  I frantically head out, waving and running, hoping that the bus sees me.  Luckily, it was Al at the wheel.  Al, as you recall, is the driver that stopped and attempted to pick me up mid-block on my day off.  Al waited as I ran cross-corner through the traffic of the five-corner intersection. 

I stomp up the stairs of the bus panting.  Physical fitness is not one of the things I'm known for. Panting out my apologies:  "Sorry.  Had to get that extra twenty seconds of sleep."

Al replies:  "Well, good thing you didn't decide to stay in bed for an extra twenty-five seconds!  Take it easy, Old Guy - don't get a heart attack.  Cuz there's NO WAY I'm giving you mouth-to-mouth."

=======================

So, this "work"  I'm talking about - it's my job!  A full-time job.  I'm not a temp, any more.  The place I'm working at hired me full-time. Try before you buy.  When they said "full-time" they meant, that I could go home once in awhile to sleep for a few hours, but otherwise, there was a major project in-house, and we had to keep at it until it was done for the day.  (The project is secret, but it involves huge vats of incoming mail each and every day, and this includes Sundays).  The project is now complete.  When it was all over, we were all happy to have a heap o'gold in our bank accounts from all the overtime, and we did get the project out by Christmas.  Getting up at 4:30 am, and getting home aroung 8:00 pm became the norm.  The sunrise over Lake Michigan is beautiful - all those folks home in bed don't get to see such beauty.

So, now, I'm catching up on everything else, clearing up backlogs everywhere, and re-discovering things that haven't been looked at since September, when it all started. Spent a lot of time this weekend on the business end of a snow shovel.  And today the ground hog ran back into his dark little hole, so there will be lots more wintry snowed-in days to catch up on things. How does that work, anyway? 

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I am now informed that I work less than four blocks from a facility that makes Life-Changing Bacon Topped Maple Donuts...  Each day brings its own little bit of wisdom.  http://holeymoleydoughnuts.com/

 
 


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

a low voice in the basement

Adventures in Building Management, Part LXVIII

Last Saturday. A memorable day, but not in a good way.  The phone line was not working. I was verifying the connection, because no phone company kid under the age of 70 could understand the old Bell System cable bundles that deliver the Internet and Phone service in our 1925 bank building.  There are numerous logical breaches, undocumented splices which undermine the original Bell Telephone order of things - a blue wire goes into a wall, for example, and emerges red with white stripes.  So, I was crawling around on the floor of my office like the serpent, trying to make sense of it all through the copper boiler pipes, other cables, holes in the walls, lighting, sound, and other studio cables.  It's like trying to trace a single thread of linguini through the Alfredo sauce. 

All together, now:  What Could Possibly Go Wrong? 

In squeezing behind the console, I jostled an already-stressed wooden shelf system, and now it began a low, relentless, painful groan.  Wrenching myself out from under the console, I stood up just in time to see an entire 6 ft section of shelving weaving over, starting to lean into its final descent - a kamikaze dive to oblivion.  It's all my equipment!  My babies!  Two ancient 75 lb. reel-to-reel tape decks, an amplifier, cassette drives, and a vintage pre-amp.  I managed to swing the shelf upright again, but as soon as I let go, gravity had its way, and my moral support was the only thing keeping my beloved tape decks from crashing themselves into sad little heaps of irreparable scrap metal.  I frantically one-handedly disconnected all the power and audio cords in anticipation of rescue.  I wedged a ceramic tile shim into the shelf. First one deck and then the other. After the weight was alleviated, I left the shelf on its own, and great was the fall of it

And that probably contributed to why the phones were sounding so weird that day.

The phone rang - it's one of those modern beige table models with a lucite rotary dial.  A voice came through the crackling, a lady's high voice with a heavy foreign accent. All I could make out was:
"I have a low voice in the basement".
I thought it was a telemarketer, but although I couldn't understand what she was talking about, this lady knew too much to be a telemarketer.  So I didn't hang up.  
"Is this Gaddy, maddy to Joss Barka?"
Well, yes, I'll admit that was close enough for me: Gary married Joyce. 
"There's a low voice in the basement."   
So, I shout through the static  "Who is this really?
 " the Petting Saloon" 
"The WHAT?"
"The Petting Saloon, not Chinese restaurant, but the next store after on the end"
"Oh, the Eyebrow Studio!"  I don't see what's a Petting Saloon, whatever that is. Jani is OK at English, really, but with the crackling phone lines, she sounded like an entirely different person.  We got down to the problem at hand:
"A low voice in the basement". 
OK.  ENOUGH ALREADY! This I gotta see. Who ya gonna call?  Voice Busters!
"I'll be right over".  
I entered the heavily-incensed salon. Jani pointed calmly to the basement stairs. "There."
As I descended the stairs, I could indeed hear the low voice - an eerie groaning, much like the leaning shelf I had just left. The sound modulated and ululated - as if someone is working in the next room with a floor sander.  But there was no next room in the basement, and no floors to sand. The noise was emanating from the water pipes, and the low voice was vibrating the whole building. And with nobody using any water, how was this possible?  I finally traced it to a Chicago faucet with a failing washer - the miniscule water leakage slipping through the washers was enough to set up a resonance. Shut off the water supply valve to the sink, and the small voice was stilled.

Friday, August 8, 2014

A Tale of the Desert

A tale of 1001 nights.  Somewhere in the vast Arabian desert.

The travelers were crossing the vast desert.  After laboriously laborng through the shifting burning sands in the dazzling sun all day, they found that they had not reached their destination. They had taken the wrong way, and were lost.  The moonless night was an inky black and silent, and the lost travelers, their water supply exhausted, sat down to rest, dreading the coming of the dawn of what would surely be their last day on earth.

"I can take you where you wish to go"  The voice of a stranger startled them from their weary reverie. A mysterious slender figure in a robe the color of the sand had suddenly appeared before them.

"Follow Me" the new guide ordered in a soft voice like the falling of sand through the fingers. Still stunned from the weary trek of the day, the travelers stood up, and followed him.  The night was so dark, the guide's robe was barely visible to them. The followed closely, lest they lose him. The desert was eerily silent. The party came to a small hidden oasis.  Water issued from a small heap of rocks.

"Drink", the guide commanded.The travelers drank gratefully, and fully of the black waters.

Their thirst satisfied, they all sat in the darkness, resting.

"Now, I bid you,

fill your pockets with the rocks of this spring. As many as you can carry - take them with you.  My promise to you: In the morning you will be both joyful and sorrowful."  The travelers did as they were bid, filling the pockets of their garments, and their travel sacks, with the smooth stones.  The group resumed the desert journey, following the guide, afraid that he would disappear and leave them in darkness.

The stones were very heavy. Some of the travelers grew weary, and could no longer carry the stones. They slipped some rocks out of their pockets, and cast the rocks aside, leaving the stones behind along the way.

Finally, the party reached the edge of the desert in a familiar place, with no idea how they had ever made it through the desert night.  When they travelers turned to thank their guide for deliverance, he had vanished.

Weary, the travelers made camp, and slept deeply and peacefully until morning.  Awakening in the dawn of grace, they looked around them.  As they looked in their pockets and sacks, they were indeed both joyful and sorrowful. For the rocks that they had blindly filled their pockets with in the darkness were in reality nuggets of purest gold.  Joyful at the beautiful treasure they had acquired, and sorrowful that so much, so very much,  had been left behind along the way.

And, so it is with me, and my Flowering Cacti.  When I planted the seeds, at first they would not come up, and then when they did finally germinate, they grew into little furry-leafed weed-looking things. And then yesterday, they started to bloom - beautiful delicate yellow flowers. Now I wish I had planted more of them.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

goodbye eleanor

Norm and I have been friends since the first day of first grade. August.  School out. Almost every day, we'd go swimming.  And sometimes we'd go all the way to one another's houses.  Norm lived on a six-acre mini-farm on the Rock River.  I had a large family (5 kids), but Norm had an even larger family (5 kids, uncle, and some grandparents, numerous cats and chickens).

Norm's family lived in a two-story farmhouse in which every square inch of space was utilized. There was so much always going on at Norm's place.  Much of Norm's family's subsistence was self-generated. There were gardens, berry bushes, apple trees, chickens, and lots of work to do. The kids were expected to help out with the family survival.  They all pitched in on the weeding, vegetable processing, gathering eggs, and canning.

But, when the chores were done, in all fairness, the kids were free to, well, to be kids.  Doing what kids would do given the endless frontier of a six-acre plot full of buildings there was a hatchery, chicken coops, sheds, cats, fishing worms, and mysterious piles of things. We'd invent things, build things, pull nails from old boards in a fallen-down shed, explore along the river, go fishing.  Once we built a wooden sailboat, and sent it out.

Besides his main job, Norm's father had various part-time jobs he did for people, sometimes for barter. He had been a cook in the Army. So he knew a lot about bulk foods, and how to make meals for hungry masses.   I remember once he came home with a covered pail full of freshly-squeezed milk, cream floating on top.

And Eleanor made sense of it all.  I called her Mrs. L---, Norm called her Mom.

Eleanor would oversee everything to do with the home. With the daily melange coming in to her pantry, she made every meal into a feast.  Green beans, fresh tomatoes, huge chunks of baloney, blocks of cheese, buckets of milk, freshly caught fish, fresh eggs, chickens.  She baked bread - her bread was out-of-this-world good, and would hold its own even in the 21st century where "everybody's a gourmet chef". And her cookies - "Now THAT'S a cookie!"  "Have another one!" You never left her table hungry.

Eleanor Lorenz (1920-2014)
The kids in Norm's family were brought up right, with strong work ethic, and valuable skills, aptitudes, and an attitude of cooperation. Together they made it all work.

In the late 1960s the upbringing was put to the test when the farmhouse was almost destroyed by fire. The brothers pitched right in and re-built the farmhouse, better than ever.  Two of the brothers went on to become building contractors. The sisters became teachers. Norm became a TV producer in Madison.
Me, Norm's sister Pauline, and Norm
serenading at the skilled-care center - 2003
The family, now grown, stayed very close, and would come together for the numerous family rites of passage, marriages, children, baptisms confirmations, graduations.  And when Norman's mother and father could no longer keep up the place, the kids were right there to aid the passage to a new life, retirement community, and finally, a nursing home.  Norm's mother became one of the most remarkable patients at Marquardt Manor in Watertown, and the staff all loved her.  Even when she could no longer talk, she communicated goodwill to the staff and family.

Eleanor always liked music. Church music, secular music.  Back in the farmhouse days, they'd gather around the piano. She loved it when Norm sang "You Load 16 Tons" for her. And "Mairzy Doats". The family would gather in her room in Skilled Care and sing for her.  Even when she couldn't give voice to her feelings, you could always tell she appreciated the music, because she was tapping her toe in time. The family gathered in her room over the past few weeks, as they always have, they sang together, they held her hand. Now, Eleanor has left us. But in some ways, she will never leave us.