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May 2009

Memorial Day, 2009

May 25, 2009 00:57

In the U.S., we celebrate Memorial Day today, May 25, 2009. The holiday means different things to different people: the first three day weekend from work since February, a backyard barbecue shared with friends and family, the opening of the local swimming pool. The original meaning of the holiday, however, was the commemoration of American men and women who died while in the military service. The following puts a human face on the meaning of the holiday.

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Wandering around Youtube

May 19, 2009 21:03

I've enjoyed reading about Buri's meanderings through Youtube so much that I've decided to share some of my own.  There's plenty to share.  I waste spend many hours on Youtube.

This particular trip has its origins many years ago, when I learned to play the Bach Gounod Ave Maria from a book on classical music favorites for beginning violin students.  I loved it then, and I've loved it ever since.  I am not religious and I don't know what the words mean, but the song always gives me a great feeling of peace.  With no conscious effort, my breathing gets deep and slow, following the phrasing of the song.  During that time, I am part of the song, and the song is part of me.

The piece is a pairing of Bach's Prelude #1 in C major from The Well Tempered Clavier Book 1 with Gounod's Ave Maria, as explained and performed in an unusual way by Bobby McFerrin.

I love the following recording of Dame Janet Baker singing the Gounod Ave Maria because she uses her beautiful, rich voice to great effect, mainly by large crescendos and decrescendos.  The organ part (the Bach Prelude) is relegated to a subordinate role.  At times it is nearly inaudible, overpowered by her voice.


In contrast is the performance by Christopher Parkening and Kathleen Battle.  Parkening plays his own inspired transcription of the Bach Prelude on classical guitar.  It is so beautiful that it could easily stand on its own as a work of art.  In the Battle/Parkening version of this piece, the guitar and vocal parts  are featured almost equally.  This is true in both the live performance at the Grammy Awards ceremony and the recording which won the award. 

Of course, I wanted to listen to the Gounod Ave Maria played by some great violinists, and I found recordings by Jascha Heifetz and Fritz Kreisler.  There are striking similarities in these recordings.  While the sopranos used crescendos and decrescendos to make the music ebb and flow, both violinists used mainly vibrato and glissando to create similar effects.  In each case, the song was performed twice, first with the violin playing the melody and then with a chorus or soloist singing the melody and the violin playing accompaniment.  Near the end of the recordings, each violinist did something very tricky:  playing in a higher register than the singers.  This makes the violin part stand out strongly, so it has be good, and it has to fit in well with vocal part.  Kreisler ended by playing the melody with the singers but in a higher register, and he did it beautifully.    

Kreisler was a master of transcribing and playing short pieces on the violin.  This clip dates back to 1914 and has the usual background hiss of old phonograph recordings, but it boasts the singing of John McCormack, legendary tenor.


This is a live recording of Heifetz playing with the Bell Telephone Orchestra and Chorus in 1951.  It is not commercially available. 

I spend a lot of time on Youtube, but I learn a lot about music while I'm there.



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No news, bad news

May 7, 2009 21:40

I got some bad news about an ex-boyfriend today.

I had lost touch with him and our mutual friends since we broke up.  Then, about two years ago, I got a frantic phone call from one of his friends. She said that he had gone absolutely crazy, had been in the psychiatric ward of the hospital a few times, and was bedeviling her. She was considering sending him a note saying not to come by and visit her any more. This was serious business. He had told me that she had been his best friend (no dating), and sometimes his only friend, for the last 15 years. I tried to follow up with her, but she did not respond to me. In retrospect, I can see that he had had intermittent bouts of moderate to severe depression.

Today she mentioned him on Facebook, so I wrote to her and asked for details. She told me that he had been living in Texas with his girlfriend for a few years. He had just come to town to see his family before going into the hospital in Texas for surgery for lung cancer. He has three cancerous lumps in his lungs. This was not surprising, since he had smoked 3 packs a day for years, but it was upsetting. I don't know the details. There are some kinds of lung cancer which kill fast, and others which do it more slowly. I asked our friend about his psychiatric problems. She told me that he was still crazy, but his girlfriend keeps it under wraps pretty well. I told her that I'd like to send him a card, and she said that she'd get his address for me.

Former boyfriends are in a class by themselves. This one was a dedicated amateur musician, and we spent many happy hours playing music together. That's one of the things that made him special. Our relationship was intense, but brief and rocky. I miss the good times we had together, but we had too many bad times. I have never wanted to resume a dating relationship with him, and I really don't envy his girlfriend now. However, I still care about him as an old friend -- and a little more. There is a soft spot in my heart for my old beaux.

The days ahead will be hard for him, and all I can do is wish him peace.

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