18 September 2011

The notes are the same...

As I'm looking at the RSS feed of NYTimes' music section, I can't help but think that music is just music. When Philip Glass and Blink-182 can be mentioned in the same column, it really makes one sit back and think a bit. What makes one different from the other, when you boil down their respective works into the same mold of classical or even modern theory? Recurring themes, connected styles, rhythm, harmony, melody are all component parts of each. And yet one is respected in the fine concert halls of the world (if just barely), the other is revered in arenas and clubs. If music is just music, why can't the bass guitar sing with the basso profundo? the synthesizer sing with the oboe? What makes one taboo to one and not the other? The notes are the same. The banjo, the sitar, the gamelan, the balalaika, the trumpet—they are all instruments to produce that universal language.

16 June 2011

The Resurgence of the Gentleman

As some of you may know, I lived for a short time in a place idyllically called "The Gentleman's Lodge," a phrase coined by fellow Five Townsians. It was very lodge-like in quality and appearance, and we were, for the most part, gentlemen inhabiting it. I look upon those halcyon days with great pride. Now, I find myself trying to relocate my gentlemanliness. Perhaps it slipped beneath my coat rack, or wasn't unpacked in the last move. In any case, there are two blogs I have been following to help me through the rougher times.

The first is the Year of the Gentleman, a blog by a friend of a friend. He hasn't written much of late, but there is certainly something to be gleaned from his compact, well-written posts.

And only recently has this blog been pointed out to me: the Art of Manliness. Herein lies a compendium of gentlemanly knowledge unrivaled in the history of Internetdom. Its articles are particularly well-researched, and the free e-books that come with an e-mail subscription ("Guide to Being a Gentleman in 2008" and "Man Cookbook") are informative, evocative, and, in many cases, downright tasty.

So if you, too, are on a quest for perfect gentlemanliness, or are trying to get back that suavté you used to have, these must definitely be on your "to read" list.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to find a bear to wrestle. Don't worry; I'll roll up my shirt-sleeves.

06 April 2011

On nakedness

BBC News: Gauguin painting...attacked by woman

There is some kind of extremely repressedness that lives in many americans, I'm sure largely due to the puritan nature of America's founding and expansion. Why are we so anti-nakedness? People are naturally naked. We started wearing clothes to keep warm, or to keep the sun off our skin, or to protect ourselves. Now we mostly wear clothing to hide our nakedness.

There are cultures of the world that don't care. The Himba in Africa, for example, developed a sunscreen-type ointment to protect their skin from the sun, rather than clothing which might overheat the wearer. In Europe, at least partial-nakedness in beach settings and on television (at times) is permitted without a blink of an eye. (There is a movement in the U.S. called Topfreedom whose goal is to further bridge the gender gap by allowing women the same amount of exposure wherever a man is allowed to go barechested. This is seen as part of the wider feminist movement.)

If we were culturally more exposed to this, well, exposure, people might be a little more accepting of it. I mean, we're all naked under there. Sometimes nakedness is beauty; sometimes it is grotesque. But it is something we all share. Nakedness is not in itself lewd, or crass; those are attitudes of those who use nakedness in those ways. Nakedness by itself is innocent. This is why we don't care if young children go naked. We have no reason to be ashamed of our nakedness.

Set a good example. Wear clothing for the right reasons: to protect, to warm, to shade; not to hide.

28 February 2011


When we die, where do we go? Does it matter? Does the soul persist though the body has failed?

Yes, as a Christian, I clearly have a certain core of beliefs regarding death. But Christianity is less clear about the survivors. Some believe in spirits, ghosts. Some believe you can still talk to the dead, wherever they may be. Some believe you must pray for their souls to ensure their entrance into heaven's great country. Some revere the dead as if they themselves could still hear, and speak, and act. Some believe it's just over and there's nothing more to it.

Do I believe the dead live on amongst the living? Yes. But not in the traditional ways, perhaps. The dead live on in each of us that carries their memories. Their stories. Their traditions and hopes. The dead live on genetically, in the people fathered and mothered. A piece of every ancestor lies in us all, and they live on. I call that the spirit, not some floating, vague other-body. The spirit lives in us, in much the way the Holy Spirit can live and act in us, move us, shape us, blow through us.

What do births and deaths have in common? They should both be celebrations of life! Life is fragile, ephemeral, precious; but lives are meant to be lived! And thank God we can live them together, with family and friends, with people we love, who can carry on a flame and pass it on to the next and so on.

Death is part of life. We know this; we should accept this. We should count each everyday blessing. And we should raise up the dead, remembering them, and letting their spirits live on in and through us.

15 February 2011

The swans

Today I finally had a chance to go for a walk. I know, it was colder than yesterday, and what was snow was now a solid, foot-thick pavement of ice, but I had to get back to nature. It had been too long. And the nature I went to was not much of a departure, just a duck pond with some man-made improvements around it, and the highway buzzing just beyond the trees, but at least there were trees.

I walked around to the north side of the pond, where there's a bridge over a little creek. The ducks were gathered at the far end, a whole mess of them trying to scrounge for food in this winter wasteland. Among them were two swans, blaring in white from the brown mob. I wrote in my book, "The swan is the pond king." When I looked up, the swans, which had been over a hundred yards away, were floating towards me with some purpose. I felt like the royal entourage was going to have a look at me, and indeed they were. They came right up to where I was standing and gave me a good once-over. Maybe they thought I had food, but I know not to feed the animals, including myself, so I had none. They quickly lost interest, but poked around looking for any good eats at this end of the pond.

It amazes me how swans float so majestically, how they effortlessly slide their legs to glide across the water, and how they stand on their heads, basically, to try to find something at the bottom of the pond. I can only imagine things might be just out of reach for them; they can't go any lower than their neck will allow, being, I suppose, too buoyant to go under completely. One came up with a bit of pond muck on its beak. The other scraped at some bark from a fallen branch. Then they left to go back to their subjects. I left to find my own supper.

11 February 2011


On my drive home from a show this morning, "The Chairman Dances" came on, a "foxtrot for orchestra" by the composer John Adams, responsible for such operas as Nixon in China and Doctor Atomic. For the first time, I listened to every note of the mostly minimalist piece, loving every bit of subtle melody and nuance of harmonic structure. The driving rhythm and the repetitive undertow created a silky mood of floating, racing, light shifting all over, while the bits of melody and sometimes jarring other notes fabricated the scene, the chairman dancing before my eyes. When I got home, only five minutes into the piece, I ran upstairs and blew past April to turn on the radio. I had to listen to the whole piece. I haven't had a reaction like that in years. Maybe ever.

Why should this particular minimalist piece engage me in such a visceral way? My mouth hanged open at the end, when the piano and percussion are all that remain, and even the piano fades away as the record seemingly reaches the end of its track. I don't think April knew what to do with me. I didn't know what to do with me. I wanted to cry and shout and laugh. I wanted to something. But I have no idea what; that part of me has never been shaped, molded, chipped away, refined, or even thumbed over. I compose these days out of necessity and sometimes urge, but I don't feel like I really know what I'm doing. I'm playing with tools I barely know how to use. I know the materials, and I know how I feel. I can put notes on a page, and people seem to like how I do that. But the textures that Mr Adams can create. I want an orchestra to sound like that when I write.

But what orchestra? My fingers aren't as good as my mind wants them to be, and I can't really put a group together to sound good making my music. I find such discouragement wherever I turn. If only Dr Cornell had taken time to talk with me before dismissing my application to study composition at Boston University. If only I'd gotten up the nerve to say five words to the late Lukas Foss, whose office I passed three or four times a week. If only I could write everything I think in one burst instead of little bursts and getting distracted by this and that only to forget what it was I was originally writing. I'm still amazed I finished a full orchestral piece. But there it sits, languishing on my hard drive, a huge undertaking that I think would scare even Seiji if I put it in front of him.

Anyway, these are fine musings for a friday night, but I have writing to do, I'm sure. If only I could remember which story I was working on today...

01 February 2011

the magic of live theatre

we use the phrase "the magic of live theatre" often to explain those odd, unexpected moments we have on stage sometimes. today, however, was not an odd, unexpected moment; it was an odd, unexpected show.

with Theatre Three's touring company, we go from school to school offering shows about bullying, safe driving, and the Holocaust. today we went to Southold Jr/Sr High School to do our bullying show, CLASS DISMISSED: THE BULLYING PROJECT, in which i play a bevy of characters: tom's dad, victor's dad, mr marivell (english teacher), game show host, sports announcer, referee, mr wheelwright (bus driver), 3 reporters, tv safari guide, mr bytwiller (computer teacher), a neutral character, and a cartoon character. it's somewhat exhausting sometimes, but well worth it because (1) i'm acting and (2) the kids respond to our show.

today, however, things were a bit different. a while ago, when we had a massive rainstorm and there was some flooding, we made a contingency plan in case one of our members (a woman who, like me, plays 12 or 13 roles in the show) couldn't get to the show. today we had to remember what that plan was and use it because, for one reason or another, she couldn't get to the show. luckily, no one panicked (at least to my knowledge), and we were able to perform the show to the best of our ability, the stage manager reading some sections from the sound console, some sections being turned into one-sided phone conversations, and some parts (gulp) being covered by yours truly. and besides my being called MRS lamb once, it all went rather smoothly.

by the end of it my stomach was in a complete knot. trying to remember to do my own things while trying to search my mind to see if i remembered someone else's was complicated. i had segments of script for the one character i had to cover, the guidance counselor MR lamb (who i played as a very mild-mannered, somewhat absent-minded social worker), hidden neatly in a folder, and i had the principal's speech on a clipboard which mr marivell read. (i thought it worked rather well, actually; he was a little nervous to be addressing his co-workers, but he got through it fine and made his point: "see it, say it, stop it.") mr lamb also got to sing the solo at the end; the portrayor of MRS lamb has a wonderful alto voice with a very real quality, while this MR lamb had a trained high tenor. so i sang it in her octave and it came out very... gospel-y. (by the way, for those familiar with the show, the kids fidgeted when i sang it, too, so it's not the actor's fault. just the way the show is.) at the end, when we hold hands and sing the final chorus of "get a voice" out to the audience, the girl next to me squeezed my hand a few times, equal to a pat on the back, i believe. i needed it; the whole show was a blur, and it was nice to know what i did worked. the train was running and there was no way to turn back. one kid after the show, during the Q&A, asked how many roles i played. i laughed and had to explain the situation, but all in all we combined 25 roles (and i mean "we," including the help of our stage manager) into one person.

the thing is, one person can't do it unless the others around them are ready to support. (thanks, guys!) and in this case, i provided all the supporting characters for the lead actors. i don't want to have to do it again (although now i know what i'm doing if it does happen again), but i'm glad to have had the experience, to be able to say i did it, and that it all went as smoothly as possible. and i can't help but think that great director in the sky has something to do with it.