Thursday, October 29, 2020

Halloween music

You know the Danse macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns? Spooky music for orchestra with a prominent solo violin part?

How about scratching the soloist and filling the work up with (more) xylophone, marimba, vibraphone, and orchestral bells? This is a wild arrangement, and perfect for the season.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

nothing has changed

On July 12 [1967], after John Smith, a black taxi driver in Newark, was seen being physically dragged into a police station after a minor traffic violation, two hundred protesters gathered outside the precinct; the assembly dissolved into an unruly ramble in which store windows were broken and a few Molotov cocktails were thrown. Two days later, state troopers and National Guardsmen moved into the city, an overreaction that was met with escalating violence. By July 17, 1,200 people had been jailed, 600 injured, and 23 killed. H. Rap Brown became famous that week when he called for "guerrilla war on the honkie white man." The following weekend, Detroit exploded into riots and looting after a raid on illegal gambling dens; another 1,200 people were arrested, and four thousand fires were set. Again, federal troops rolled into the city. Even as President Johnson was increasing the number of American soldiers in Vietnam to nearly a half million, worries about the war were temporarily overshadowed by stories about "the fire this time," hugely exaggerated reports of property damage (the $25 million of wreckage caused in Detroit was widely reported as $500 million) and a storm of "Who says it can't happen here?" editorials.
The poor, angry black man from the ghetto, ready to loot, shoot, and kill, became as much of a focus for the fears of Middle America - and of Middle American media - as the acid-tripping hippies and runaways pouring into San Francisco had been a month or two earlier, and Sidney Poitier, on a press tour for In the Heat of the Night, found himself asked again and again to denounce the rioters or ally with them, to identify himself politically at a moment when the ground was constantly shifting.

- Mark Harris, Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood

Tuesday, October 27, 2020


1. Cat report. Tybalt is over 2 1/2 now, and he's starting to slow down a little more. He's not quite so frantic and demanding for playing, and he cuddles more. When I find him sleeping on my pillow - which he does a lot (Who's been sleeping in my bed??) - I nudge him over and he will snuggle next to me. Of course that does mean little claws digging into me, and sometimes if I stroke his head he wants to snap his teeth at it, but that's because he's Tybalt.

Maia continues to be all-suffering. She comes into my office to demand attention, which ideally consists of walking over to the bedroom and petting her on the bed. But if Tybalt is anywhere in the vicinity, she demurs. He's poked his head into her affairs too often. One time we were walking towards the bedroom and Tybalt was sitting in the hallway. Impasse. Nobody moved, until I gave up and went back to work. Another time Maia jumped up onto the bed to find Tybalt already there. She then jumped down to the hamper and huddled. Mind you, he wasn't doing anything, but she wasn't having it in case he did.

2. Pandemic report. So the administration has given up on fighting the virus because, to quote the spokesman, "it's contagious." Was it any less contagious when they were claiming to fight it? All the more reason we should take strong measures. But we won't. The virus is related to the flu and in some respects behaves like it. (This is why DT, taking the parallel too far, was convinced it would disappear come spring.) So we're in for a grim winter, especially in states where winter weather is heavy.

Here it's not so heavy, and the rates are not going up, but I'm redoubling my vigilance. In-person grocery shopping now only in the early mornings. I was up today before 6, which is when the markets open, so I went out for a supplementary shopping. For some reason most markets aren't selling eggs by the 6 any more, so they have to be bought by the 12. The only dinner dish I make that uses eggs up fast enough for such a rate is vegetable quiche, so I have to redouble on the veggies (and cheese). There were only about two other customers in the entire store, and it wasn't easy to find a checkout clerk either.

3. Literary report. A correspondent, reading my obituary of Dick Lupoff, writes, "I didn't know that 12:01 pm was written by Lupoff. When I saw it, I thought it was far superior to Groundhog Day which I saw later and which was just boring." Dick certainly thought he'd written a high-caliber story (no arguments from me), and he'd be very pleased at this testimony that the movie made directly from it is superior to the commercial imitation. Now I regret that I can't write him and pass along the compliment.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Pachelbel's greatest hit

According to this (can everybody read this, or do you have to be a member?), the first recording of Pachelbel's Canon was by Arthur Fiedler in 1940. This is not the Pachelbel you probably expect; it's fast and astringent and sounds like the contrapuntal exercise that it really is.

Here's a recent historically-informed arrangement of a similar interpretation.

So from whence came the sad and weepy reading we're more used to hearing? From Jean-François Paillard, who slowed down the tempo and added those arpeggiated pizzicatos that really makes it what it's become.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Dick Lupoff

Here's the news that he's died at the age of 85.

I guess that most of what I had to say about him was in my review of his memoirs. To me, he wasn't so much Richard A. Lupoff, author of science fiction, fantasy, and detective fiction, as he was this guy I knew called Dick. He was always friendly and welcoming, and I found we could talk together easily despite the disparity of our interests.

I didn't read much of his fiction, except for the famous "12:01 P.M.", which he and others felt was ripped off for the movie Groundhog Day. We talked about that once; I regret that I never took him up on the vaguely proffered offer to come over to his house and watch tapes of the two filmed adaptations of "12:01 P.M." and see what I thought of them in contrast with Groundhog Day.

Well, that's among the many things we leave undone. Farewell, Dick. You and Pat will rest easily among our warm memories.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

a little day music

A couple pleasant pieces of online music that e-mail links have sent my way recently.

The suite from Copland's Appalachian Spring in the original chamber ensemble instrumentation. If you haven't heard it this way before, prepare to be invigorated.

Shostakovich's Waltz No. 2, the one from Eyes Wide Shut, with accordion:

Sunday, October 18, 2020

funny colonoscopy stories

It's 1962. USAF Major Frank Borman (later commander of Apollo 8, the first human flight around the Moon) is taking the medical tests attending on his application to become an astronaut, and this includes a colonoscopy:
Mine revealed a polyp the size of a BB shot; they took it out and, although a biopsy showed it to be non-malignant, they insisted on my staying over for additional GI tests.
I got the usual barium enema, followed by a session with some kind of X-ray machine hooked up to a small screen. They laid me on one side and started looking at the feature presentation on the screen.
One doctor exclaimed, "My God, look at that!"
Another said in the tone of a hanging judge, "You've got a mass in your belly, Major - it's a tumor. Very serious. You'll have to go into surgery this afternoon."
"You're nuts!" I retorted. "There isn't a damned thing wrong with me."
The four internists clustered around the table clucked disaprovingly at this amateur diagnosis. "Take a look at what's on the screen," the principal voice of doom advised ominously.
I looked and broke into a cold sweat. Sure enough, there was a white mass in my intestines. They were still conferring over the telltale X ray when a radiologist, a Dr. Randall, happened to come in and immediately asked what all the fuss was about. A definite tumor, possibly malignant, he was told. He looked at the screen and shook his head.
"Turn him over," he ordered.
They did. The white mass disappeared. Randall stared unbelievingly at his colleagues, as if they were a quartet of medical students about to flunk out.
"You've been looking at a pool of barium," he murmured.

- Frank Borman, with Robert J. Serling, Countdown: An Autobiography (1988)

Saturday, October 17, 2020

household duties

1) We're having another heat wave, which among other things means further exasperation with our ancient oven, whose temperature control is slightly broken and never turns entirely off, which of course results in radiant heat. This time I had an idea. (No, not replace the range: it's not ours, it's the landlord's, and as long as it works properly when asked to, which it mostly does, I'd rather not deal with the question, especially as the complex controls on new devices intimidate me.) My new idea was, turn off the circuit breaker when I'm not using the range.

Took me only two tries to locate the right one, and yes indeed, it handles just the range and nothing else, not even the refrigerator (also aging badly) which is next to it.

So, new step in housekeeping. So far I've only once turned on the burner and wondered briefly why it wasn't working.

2) And there's the busted swivel chair which we've been trying to discard since, oh, February. You can pay to have extra things hauled away with the garbage, but the city usually holds free dumping days every three months or so at the recycling center. But the virus has cancelled that. Hoping they'd come back, we've held on to the chair. And what should we get but a neighborhood dumping day, when dumpsters were to be placed at various spots around the neighborhood. The publicity for this failed to say exactly where the dumpsters would be, an omission the organizers didn't notice until I pointed it out, but I did get the info eventually.

Finding that the chair wouldn't fit into my car's trunk but would into the back seat, I drove it over to find the dumpster unattended, which we were told it would not be. Despite age and general infirmity, I managed to lift the chair the six feet over the dumpster sides and tip it in, so it's gone now, and the replacement, a solid armchair we bought at Pier One last fall, reigns in splendor in the living room.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

musical and literary activities

1-2) I didn't watch either of the competing town hall meetings; my evening was too busy. First was the regular Zoom meeting with my fellow wizards, just about the only easeful socializing I get to do these days; then a rush out to get my dinner, while B. claimed the camera and microphone attachments for her theology class, so that I could be back at the computer in time for an online concert from the San Francisco Conservatory with their resident ensemble, the Telegraph Quartet.

Most of the online concerts I've attended have been somewhat abbreviated, maybe an hour long without intermission. This was a full two-hour concert with intermission, with an intriguing heavy-duty repertoire: Korngold's Third Quartet, the first of his remarkable run of post-WW2 concert works; the Second Quartet of Eleanor Alberga, a contemporary composer from the UK; and Beethoven's Op. 131, a piece I can't claim to make any sense of without the score, which I dug up to follow along. The Beethoven was somewhat fragmented, pieces that didn't quite add up, but the playing was impressive, and even more so in the two modernist works, both of which sat somewhere between Bartok and mid-Schoenberg in their general ambiance. Performance and compositions both caught the attention despite neither being easy, and I felt as if I'd had a real workout.

3) A stranger and more challenging musical activity came up when I noticed in my calendar that it's getting close to the first concert date on my subscription to the chamber music provider up in the city. I'd received no notification of whether it was on or off, and on checking I found that I hadn't received my season's tickets either. Looking up old e-mails found that the last notification was that tickets were to be mailed in August; and a lookup on their web site showed that the concert date had disappeared without any indication of where it had gone, though other dates were marked as cancelled or rescheduled.

So I phoned them and found that, yes, the concert had been moved out, and no, they hadn't sent tickets, but they'd elected not to inform their subscribers about any of these things. Because, working from home, they thought they weren't equipped to handle the flood of inquiries they'd get if they did. Of course I pointed out that, if they had informed me, I wouldn't have been talking with them on the phone right now, but that argument made no impression.

Contrast this hopeless behavior with that of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which has been forced through about five complete revampings of their plans over the course of the year, and for each one they sent out a mass e-mail to subscribers clearly and succinctly explaining what was going on, with links to their website for more detail.

4) Physical copies of Tolkien Studies 17 have made their appearance, so my next job is to mail out the overseas comp copies, as some odd postal regulation prevents the publishers from doing that. Some of my fellow wizards confirmed they'd received theirs.