Category Archives: Music

On birthdays, memories, and top 5 lists

This past week I celebrated another birthday.  It was a milestone, being number 55. This year events coincided that made the day just a day.   My wife recently had back surgery and is recovering at home (doing well, but still has pain).  My eldest son is busy with work projects and a new baby.  My youngest son lives elsewhere and had to work (though he did call and we had a great conversation).  Good friends had other family obligations or were traveling.  I worked all day.  In fact, this is one memory of my birthday that will go down as being one of the most unremarkable.  For that alone, I will probably always remember it.

I will count the small kindnesses/gestures along the way:  The balloons shared by coworkers who recently turned 55 this month and like to tease each other about who is older.  We now have a special club – and I will always get used balloons because of it.  The blueberry pie made for me by a family friend who was looking in on my wife as she recuperates.  The phone call from my youngest son to wish me a happy birthday. The adorable phone call from my parents singing “happy birthday” in different keys.  Note:  My parents are career musicians and are never off-key.  Greetings shared on social media (FB) from friends and family – far and wide- hoping that I had the greatest day – the best day.   Yet, it was just a day, and I guess there is nothing wrong with that.

I reflected on past birthdays  and wondered what made a day the best day – the greatest day.  I’m not sure I have the answer, but I did dredge up some good memories of birthdays.

  1.  On my eleventh birthday, I received my first vinyl album as a gift from my parents.  It was Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles.  I had recently been introduced to their non-mop-top music by a school friend, and was immediately smitten with the lyrical genius of John Lennon on I am the Walrus.  It would be the first of many vinyl albums I would receive on my birthdays/Christmases.
  2.  On my 13th birthday, I had a sleepover party with 8 friends. I think this was my first and only sleepover birthday party. We ate hotdogs and hamburgers, played badminton, wiffle-ball and touch football, then roamed around the neighborhood after dark – playing  ghost in the graveyard.
  3. On my 27th birthday, I received my PhD.
  4. For my 40th birthday,  my wife purchased third base line tickets to a AAA baseball game in our city.  We went with some dear friends (one each of our children share a birthday) we had recently reconnected with.
  5.  On my 50th birthday, I was traveling in Germany with my eldest son and my father.  We were in Nuremburg on that day and visited Coburg Castle.  Facebook likes to remind me of that day every year and I smile.

There are memories of other birthdays,  but all the things that make days special are there in that list: meaningful gifts and gestures, landmark events, good food and fellowship, and exciting adventures in new places.

They are still just days – though,  and I hope you have a great one.

 

 

 

Clearing the Cobwebs

I haven’t had much time to write recently, and it’s been gnawing at me. Since I had a day off from work and nothing really pressing this morning, I thought I would do one of these posts just to test the connection between my brain and “the page.” I noticed that other writers/bloggers have been suffering the same issues lately: lack of inspiration, lack of time, low self-esteem. There is a common thread for writers that struggle. All writers struggle.

Someone has written/said that we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves when we can’t write. I agree with that, but it is an integral part of me – that I write. I’ve worked to forgive myself when I can’t write – when there is nothing appealing or I just don’t have time. One thing that still gets me though, is when I work hard and decide to submit something for publication – and I get the “I’m sorry, this is not for me” rejection. I’ve submitted poems 3 times in the last 5 months and all 3 were rejected with that same line. It is disheartening to read that multiple times, especially when you feel strongly about your craft. I hesitate to submit for publication anyway – mainly due to imposter-syndrome reasons, and this just sort of confirms my feelings about it.

Yeah, I’m kind of miffed. But I’ve now complained in writing, so I’ll move on.

Projects I’m planning

I play percussion in a community band.  Our percussion section aspires to do ensembles and things independently of the band itself.  I found instructions on how to make boom-whackers (a set of plastic tubes cut to different lengths that result in different pitches).  You can use any pipe material, but the cheapest thing apparently is to use golf bag tube inserts.  I ordered 28 tubes and will begin cutting them down this weekend.  Should be fun, and I can’t wait to hear the result.  Here’s a link for a boomwhacker performance of Bohemian Rhapsody.

What I’m Reading

I just finished The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber.  It took me a while (~10 months), as the book moves between and first person and third person narration that it is a bit disconcerting, and was difficult to stay focused.  I understand the reasoning – as it conveys the sense of the major plot device – moving between the present and the past via drug-assisted time travel.  I lost interest about half-way through the book and set it down for the better part of last year.  I still found the premise compelling, and picked it back up to finish.  If you’ve seen the Bradley Cooper movie, Limitless – this has similar plot ideas- though it relates to art and counterfeiting.  The art history was interesting, but the counterfeiting sub plot was not as well-mapped.  It also ended a bit too quickly, once I had accepted the premise and worked my way through the different narration styles.

I’ve moved on other novels:  The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett (which I like and am making real headway through) and still working on The Alienist by Caleb Carr (which I thought I would like better than I have so far, but not willing to give up on it yet).  I recently bought Sarum: The Novel of England, by Edward Rutherfurd.  I’ve read other books by Rutherfurd and liked them.

What I’m writing

Nothing much these days.  I’m collecting snippets of phrases and words, and hopefully something will get written soon.  As it stands now, I guess I’m on hiatus.

Thanks for reading.

A Winter Song (A Cento)

In silence, they dissolve before dawn-
the words my heart was calling.
They are not in the sun,

I can hear the noiseless sound raining down.
Nothing but the white vowels of the wind,
a perfect song is loveless.
The snow is beautiful on the ground.

For still the night through will they come and go,
unerringly toward the same trysting-place,
making beauty
with iced and darkened flow
on every road I wandered by.

Music, I’ll call it music,
she must have a song at any cost
again and again out of the world’s cold deafness.

*****
This Cento is comprised of lines from the following poets:
Mo H Saidi, Sara Teasdale, Avot Yeshurun, AE Stallings, Miguel Hernandez, Kenneth Patchen, DH Lawrence, Tony Hoagland, Thom Gunn, Philip Levine, Margaret Julia Marks, Graham Foust, Carolyn Wells, AE Houseman, Dabney Stuart

Listen

I’ve spent the week listening to songs
and paying tribute to old movie stars.
Ol’ Gator and the Crewe are gone,
the coffee pot is growling on.

The songs I heard are old and true,
yet still they sound like yesterday.
I send them out from me to you.
The coffee pot is growling on.

Ol’ Gator fought the crooked law
and justice served the Crewe at last.
Even bandits fight against their flaws.
The coffee pot goes growling on.

What could happen, which is worse?
Posed a voice I recognize.
Are our leaders so accursed?
the coffee pot goes growling on.

Where did all our heroes go?
I ask aloud – inside my head.
The lonely people – they all know
the coffee pot’s still droning on.

Songs and stories will often tell
us who we are to be:
Poet, lover, bootlegger rebel.
The growling pot has stopped, it’s done.

Dispatching the Doldrums

It is time to clear the cobwebs and write about anything.  Blog writing for me is  a way for me to exercise my creative skills and (bravely) share what I’m writing.  Every now and again, I like to share what I’m thinking/doing/reading/listening to/watching.

Watching

A week ago, I just finished watching Band of Brothers on Amazon, which was based on the book of similar name by Stephen E. Ambrose.   I  know I’m a little behind ( it first aired on HBO in 2001).  But, I didn’t subscribe to HBO then, and never invested in DVDs of the miniseries.  Wow.  An incredibly well-done set of vignettes from the history of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne during WWII in Europe.  It was produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks – it has much the same feel as Saving Private Ryan.  Each episode centers around a different event and focuses on a different character’s perspective.  My favorite episode involved the Battle of Bastogne, and told the story from the perspective of Doc Roe, the company’s medic.  He displayed courage and a singular ability to keep going in bone chilling cold under relentless bombardment, while keeping the men is his company in fighting shape and providing care to the wounded.  The scenes are graphic and the emotion is raw.  The miniseries drives home the point, that in war- there is no rest.  Even when you think you may get a weekend leave, something happens to call the company back into the fray.  After battles, you move on to the next line.

Reading

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a slow reader and one who is prone to start multiple books to find one that captures my interest.  Right now, I think have five books in various stages of reading.  Most recently, I started reading Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, by Richard Grant. It is a true tale, a collection of tales actually, of a British travel writer (Grant) and his girlfriend after they decide to buy an old plantation home in heart of the Mississippi Delta.  Stories of Southern tradition, along with the tenuous combination of gentility, race and class, are told without judgement – but with a keen perception of the relationships involved.  This book is a great look into this forgotten region of the country.  Truth be told – I am related to people who grew up in this area of Mississippi, and am very familiar with the themes of this book.  The Delta is a both a wasteland and a land of riches.

Listening

I have eclectic music tastes.  I will listen to almost any genre, depending on my mood and as long as it is well done.  In recent years, I have become interested in Americana/folk styles.  I like the realness of it and how it can impact you emotionally.  With that in mind, I want to recommend music by a friend.  I met Mark Currey in high school, when we both attended a Gifted/Talented Summer Camp.  We were in the choral program, and were introduced to many different genres of music in the program.  We were encouraged to be creative in our free time, and it was obvious that Mark was a songwriter even then. I wrote in my journal in my free time- ain’t life funny.  We weren’t best friends, but we got along well. After that summer, we parted ways (like most everyone does), only to reconnect many years later via FaceBook.  I found out he had recorded an album, his first, in 2017.  The classic story of the Late Bloomer – I can relate.  His record, Tarrant County, is part Country, part Americana – and I encourage you to give it a listen. Mark has a very warm vocal style (he’s a tenor), and his lyrics are real storytelling.  You can download it at the either of the links above, or you can find it on streaming services.   There are some really nice musical moments, some thought provoking lyrics, but never overdone.  You might find something you like.

Thanks for reading.

***

 

 

 

A Cappella Friday: Choose Something Like a Star

A cappella music (without instrumental accompaniment) is particularly enjoyable for me to listen to. As a poet (and an avocational musician), I am drawn to the similarities that poems and a cappella music have. Lyrical phrasing, meter, rhyming, and onomatopoeia mean so much to a cappella music, because it relies so heavily on the human vocal element.
**************************************

Anyone that has followed me since my origins here with Taps and Ratamacues may recall this as a semiweekly feature for a while, but I haven’t written about specific music/poetry combinations in quite some time. Again, as in other entries, this is not an a cappella piece specifically, but the positive interaction of music with poetry is undeniable.

This entry came about as a result of phone conversation with my mother and father, both life-long musicians – now retired. They both have an impeccable memory for musical anecdotes.

We were discussing the word taciturn, as it described a friend of theirs going through rough time, to which my father said the only other place he ever recalled hearing that word was in a choral setting of Robert Frost’s poem, Choose Something Like a Star.

My curiosity was peaked, and I went searching.

Frost wrote the poem in 1916. It is a remarkable piece that addresses humankind’s need for reassurance from a greater being.  It contains elements of philosophy, religion, and science – the trifecta of sought meaning.  It is one of Frost’s more direct and driven poems.  We seek meaning in life, and can choose things to convey that meaning. We expect these icons to give us direction and explanation.  “To be wholly taciturn is not allowed.”

Frost’s point was that in choosing “something like a star”, something distant and far off, we can be comforted in the fact that it exists and “it burns” despite our desire for clear explanation.

Randall Thompson (1899-1994) wrote a collection of songs using Frost poems as lyrics, entitled Frostiana (Seven Country Songs). In 1959 Thompson was commissioned to write a piece commemorating the bicentennial of the town of Amherst, Massachusetts. It was decided that the piece should include lyrics comprised of Robert Frost’s poetry, as he had lived in Amherst for a number of years. The town originally lobbied for The Gift Outright, which Frost later recited at JFK’s inauguration.  Not believing that poem to be appropriate for this occasion, Thompson gained permission to select poems himself.  He eventually  chose seven texts – including the well-known poems The Road not Taken and Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.  Also chosen was the poem Choose Something Like a Star.

The vocal arrangement starts ethereally, with sopranos singing the ‘O star’ phrasing as if it is a far away object and the other voices of the choir building in the harmony – pushing outward to meet this fairest object in sight.  Thompson is masterful in his use of chord structure and phrasing with Frost’s poem.  There is tension in the unanswered questions, there is calm in the resolution.

Frost and Thompson knew each other and held great mutual respect for each man’s work.  Frost was in attendance at the premiere performance of Frostiana, and was so delighted by the performance that, at the conclusion of the piece, he stood up and shouted, “Sing that again!” In fact, he was so impressed by the composition that he banned any other composers from setting his poems to music.

We seek meaning in the universe, and often we can find it in the beauty and unexplainable mystery of existence itself.

a sense

I’ve opined so to watch the sun recede
and stayed as stars emerged and glint to greet.

I’ve sat for time entranced by waves of foam
on soft white sands, and time, the lull my own.

I’ve pondered over rhyme and reasons why
these wordish things that come and go descry

the foundling sense of who I am to be –
in poet stock or simply my esprit.

A manner like dear Blossom could invoke
as hip, thunderstruck, or just a joke.

And I, with rights to be who as I can,
will write or sing the song like this began.