Monday, September 17, 2018

rather busy day

The planning started out with my intention to attend a free Sunday afternoon chamber concert at San Francisco State, because the Alexander and Telegraph Quartets would be collaborating in the Mendelssohn Octet, a work I miss no reasonable opportunity to hear.

Then I noticed that the evening's concert over at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley would be the Tannahill Weavers, a Scottish folk band I remember fondly from my serious folk-record listening days in the 70s.

To which I added the Eat Real food fest in Oakland's Jack London Square around noon, which had intrigued me but had not seemed worth the bother of getting up there by itself.

Could I attend all of these by public transit, driving only to and from the BART line at the start and end of the journey? I could and did. Much web research was involved in making sure it was feasible and learning the necessary bus routes, and the inter-system transit card was essential for covering the large and complex fares. Only the schedule timings proved to be more aspirational than real. It came out like this:

Travel. Car across the Bay to BART. BART to downtown Oakland. Bus down to Jack London Square on the waterfront, about 3/4 of a mile but longer than I care to walk these days. Arrived just before opening, early enough to get in a popular food booth line before it became very long.

Food. There I bought a small bowl of paella (whose main veggie was chard instead of the usual peas, much more to my taste), dished from vast simmering skillets about five feet in diameter, following it up down the way with some Japanese fried chicken, crispy tenders dolloped with spicy bbq sauce, and finishing up with an artisanal watermelon-and-pineapple popsicle.

Travel. Bus back to downtown. BART to Daly City. Search for bus stop, which is always on the other side of the station from where you start looking. Bus to SF State. Walk down through campus to the Creative Arts Building.

Music. The Mendelssohn Octet, led by the Alexander's Zakarias Grafilo, was businesslike in its first movement. The finale, usually brusque and heavy, was as light and airy as the scherzo. I liked that. McKenna Theatre's absurdly dry, almost coarse, acoustics served the inner voices of the Octet well, but was far less appealing in the Alexander's Mozart K. 428. They also played the Penderecki Third, a sort of anthology of modernistic techniques that I did my best to nap through, since I didn't have to review it.

Travel. Rush back up the hill to the trolley stop, catch a trolley leaving just then, 5 minutes before schedule (and the display said the next wouldn't be for 20 minutes instead of the scheduled 12-minute intervals). Transfer to BART line. Transfer to other BART line, both also off schedule. Arrive in Berkeley just in time to grab a quick frank from Top Dog before walking down the street and around the corner to the Freight.

Music. Four varyingly venerable guys take the stage, the Tannahill Weavers. Not even every Scottish folk band includes the Highland bagpipes, but this one does. I like that. Also fiddle, flute, and guitar, occasionally varied with bodhran and tinwhistle. Lots of fast jigs and marches, lots of songs in impenetrable Scots, lots of cracks between songs from the band leader. ("If you don't like the album, mail it back to us, and we'll send you something we don't like.")

Travel. Straight run on BART back to where I parked is quiet until we reach the Oakland Coliseum, which has just come to the end of what I later find was a hip-hop festival. Previously nearly empty car is suddenly packed with people, mostly white, mostly young, mostly loud, some of them smoking, which you're not supposed to do on BART. The seat next to me is occupied by three young women. Three. One on the seat, one on her lap, one on hers. I ask them not to fall over on me, which on BART is not an idle request. They're good, and they let me out at my stop.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

making more music lists

The New York Times got 18 responses from professional musicians and critics to "5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Classical Music". True enough, as Lisa Irontongue has pointed out, that there's no excuse, out of such a group of 18, for only 4 to be women. I'm curious about the premise of the choices: most of the listeners chose pieces that had socked them personally, rather than the more dreary answers of what they thought might most appeal to hoi polloi. (You can see the latter in the comments, which are full of suggestions for Romantic schmaltz. Good pieces, mostly, but boringly obvious as choices for a list.)

These answers were, for the most part, more interesting. Two of the four living composers were unknown to me, but otherwise I was familiar with all the composers, though not necessarily well with the individual pieces. However, the Ravel song and the selection from Der Rosenkavalier are the only pieces I didn't care for (I like these composers, but not these particular works), and some - the Beethoven, the Janacek, Reich's Tehillim - are long-time favorites of mine.

But what would I have chosen? Hmmm, tough. If, like Anthony Tommasini, I went for what thrilled me at age 12, I'd have to name the work that initially sold me on the heavy classics, the ultra-basic choice of the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth. If you've never heard it, which at the time I hadn't, it's a real stunner, and the challenge for a performance today is to try to re-capture a little of that.

But I'm more attracted by Michael Cooper's idea of picking a work that suited one's melancholia in college. Sure, his pick of the Beethoven Seventh allegretto is a good one, and I love that music, but the particular sad music that most kept my sore heart company in those days was the Andantino from Sibelius's Third.

But if I want something that truly thrills me, my choice would have to be the coda from the first movement of Bruckner's Sixth. I don't know how well this works without knowledge of the build-up (you can listen to the whole symphony if you want), but the coda goes like this:

Turning abruptly from music I know to music I don't, there's John Scalzi's list of 20 songs he's enjoyed from the last 20 years. Folks, I'd never heard any of these performances before. I was even familiar with the names of only 4 of the 20 performers, and I didn't know much about them. My brief listening-to-popular-music days ended more than 20 years ago, and while I'm quite aware that good songs have been released since then, apart from a few performers I have a particular fondness for, I just haven't bothered to seek them out. But I listened to these, or began to: those which began or quickly moved into aggressive distortion or feedback I turned off quickly. Even if they were good, and one or two of those were, I can't abide listening to an entire song like that.

The ones I liked were quieter, and the ones I liked best were those that reminded me of other performers I liked. I liked "Cut Your Teeth" by Kyla La Grange because it sounded rather like Tori Amos. I liked "On the Radio" by Regina Spektor because, even though her singing style is very different, after some cogitation I realized that the distinctive instrumentals reminded me of Enya, particularly "Wild Child". I also particularly enjoyed listening to "Something That You Said" by the Bangles (surprise! a group I'd heard of, though only because they were prominent rather more than 20 years ago) and "Won't Give In" by the Finn Brothers. Though I don't think I would have rushed out to buy a recording of any of these even in my most pop-listening days.

The last item on Scalzi's list is a ringer: Petra Haden's cover of "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys. God only knows that this is much, much better than the original – I know this is heresy, but I hold that the Beach Boys could not sing worth a damn. But if Scalzi wants a slam-dunk stunner of a recent cover of a classic 1960s song - and I left a comment telling him so - nothing is going to out-do in power or impact this.

Friday, September 14, 2018

phony call

I was napping, and having a dream in which I was talking on the phone, when my sleep was interrupted by the phone ringing. After a brief moment of cognitive dissonance over this incongruity, I hopped up and found it was some sort of solicitation call for my mother. (Polite, too: the guy just asked for her by name, instead of opening with "How are you today?" which always makes me want to respond, and sometimes actually respond, with, "Wondering who you are and why you're telephoning me.")

That would be my mother who died several years ago, so I informed the man of this and he went away. Possibly not to return, but she does still get calls like this occasionally. She also still gets occasional junk mail, which by this point I just toss. She never lived with us; the reason the mail comes here is because I filed a postal change-of-address for her when we closed her apartment, and apparently advertisers are very good at picking this stuff up, including associated phone numbers.

Possibly I should have marked the CoA form "deceased" instead, but I wanted to get the mail because I didn't know what might be in it. I probably missed much because of a strange glitch. I filed the CoA about a week before we closed the apartment, with that as the starting date, but the clerk told me that CoAs have to filed two weeks before the starting date. I said, "Oh: in that case just start it as soon as you can." When no mail came, I figured the advertisers had already picked up that she was dead, but no: the PO had filed the CoA to begin at the designated starting date one year later, and for a while we got floods. What happened to all the mail that must have come in the meantime I have no idea.

The groups she actually regularly did business with I'd long since communicated with; this mail was mostly mail-order catalogs and contribution solicitations. With most of the latter, the best way of reaching them was via websites, and the most clearcut way of sending a message was usually filling out some CoA form there. I'd put her name in and then fill the word DECEASED in all the other new info fields, in hopes they'd get the message. The most hilarious part was when the form would bounce because the e-mail address wasn't in the correct format. So I'd change that from DECEASED to DECEASED@DECEASED.DECEASED, and it would always go through.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

fricking file formats

Finishing up a stage of work on the library catalog at my job, I prepared a report file of problem records. No problem, I thought: I'd done this before when I created the entire shelf list for the inventory. I set up the parameters in the catalog, generated the file, and saved it to a thumb drive.

Only difference was, the shelf list I had taken to FedEx and printed out. This file was to be e-mailed to the library people who'd need it. So I wasn't worried that the file format was PRNX, which I'd never heard of: I figured my computer could deal with it.

It couldn't. No program I had or could find could read it, and while Googling for "convert .prnx to .pdf" produced a lot of results revealing that PRNX was some sort of proprietary print format, none of the results whose titles said they'd show you how to convert actually did. Not one. I know, you don't believe me. But here, for instance, is one whose Google results title was "PRNX File - How to open or convert PRNX files". Can you see from here how to open or convert them? I sure can't.

So, I thought, I know from previous experience that at least the FedEx printer can print them. I'll print it out and then use their scanner to scan it as a PDF. I've had to do weirder things than that.

But it couldn't. The FedEx printer didn't recognize the format.

Phone the catalog program vendor. Learn that instead of using the "Save As" command near the left of the tool bar I should have used the "Export" command near the right of the tool bar. That's the one that creates PDFs. Obviously I'd gotten it right when I made the shelf list, but had completely forgotten about it in the two months since then. Gently suggest to the vendor that this is not intuitive. This hadn't occurred to them. Sigh.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

sf novel review

Which I've so headed because I don't read too many of those these days, but I liked this one.

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (Tor, 2017)

This is the other book I had electronically - it came in the Hugo voters packet from earlier this year, though I didn't read (or vote) on anything in it at the time - that I turned to when the MythSoc discussion book bogged down on me. Being wrapped up in the plot of this one kept me occupied during the lonely hours in my hotel room in San Diego, and it was both engrossing - a rare quality in SF these days - and not too long - an almost equally rare quality.

Reviews of this book have, more than once, compared it to Game of Thrones and Dune. Those are not what I'm reminded of. Yes, it's about high-level politics, but the intrigue is of a different flavor, until just before the end it doesn't get too convoluted, it has neither the bloodthirstiness of Martin nor the bizarre mind-games of Herbert, and above all it differs from both in being neither overlong nor tedious.

Instead, what it reminds me of - almost uncannily so, and more so than any other subsequent work I've ever read - is Asimov's Foundation trilogy, especially its first book. And since the Foundation trilogy is the work I was weaned on as an sf reader, I'm primed to like such a work. But in style, it's updated to a 2010s kind of sprightliness, instead of the now-dated 1940s sprightliness of the Asimov. Since Scalzi has been generally touted as a later-day Heinlein, and I vastly prefer Asimov to Heinlein, I consider this a plus.

The similarities with Foundation are impressive. There's a far-future all-human interstellar empire - check - from which Earth has been lost and largely forgotten - check - with a medieval/Renaissance imperial hierarchy imposed on top - check. The empire is threatened with collapse - see the title; check - and a lone scientist is a voice in the wilderness warning of the danger - check. There's a religion imposed on the system - check - which is largely actually a fraud - check. The plot is largely political machinations at a high level - check - with a minimum of violence - check - and a maximum of clever people outwitting each other - check - but without mind games and a minimum of the Arlington Road trick (where you know exactly how your opponent will respond to a stimulus you've deliberately made subtle and obscure so they won't figure out they're being manipulated) - check. And the novel ends exactly the way the first Foundation story ends, with the protagonist having a brilliant brainstorm which isn't revealed to the reader, but it doesn't feel like a cliffhanger because the rest of the plot threads are pretty much wrapped up.

There are some differences. Most notable is the cause of the imperial collapse. In Foundation it was political/sociological. Here it's ecological: the hyperspace-like environment which makes interstellar travel feasible and the empire possible is breaking down, and the inhabited planets are not self-sufficient. Parallels to climate change are obvious, especially in the reactions which include heated denial of the "if we sweep it under the carpet it'll go away" sort, and acknowledgment that it's true combined with delusion that it won't be so bad. But there's no solution offered in this book, and the political situation is different enough that I doubt we'll learn anything useful from the sequel. Any equivalent to the actual Foundation in the Foundation trilogy has yet to be introduced; that's another big difference. The one false note in this story was the protagonist feeling strangely exhilarated by the challenge of dealing with this. This reaction ought to have been drowned out by deep existential despair, though that would have made for less fun of a story.

Though two of the later big stories in the Foundation trilogy were notable in their day for strong female protagonists, it's otherwise a very male series. This book, though, is full of female major characters, though with one major exception they don't feel very female to me. This raises the question, "So what do you expect a female character to be like?" which is a fair question, but I think the best even of male authors can create women who seem like women without loading them down with female stereotypes.

Scalzi's snarky dialogue style, which I enjoyed in Agent to the Stars where it was appropriate, but which was part of what caused me to bounce off the other three subsequent novels by him I've tried to read, seems under control here. It's less relentless, and it's light and appropriate rather than heavy. I had trouble with a couple of the names, though. The Empire is ruled by an Emperox, which I guess is a made up word to avoid having to alternate between Emperor and Empress. I found myself ignoring the "x" and reading the title as Emperor, despite its holder for most of the book being female. The antagonists are a family named Nohamapetan. I quickly gave up on trying to pronounce this, even in my head, and decided to render it mentally as "Northampton", which gives a pleasing Old Imperial British touch to the story.

The plot zipped along, and just as it started to become too heavy and ornate - a second terrorist attack with mass casualties intended to assassinate the Emperor, I mean -ox? One was more than enough - the book ended. Which leaves me less than whetted for the sequel, The Consuming Fire, which comes out next month, but I'll give it a shot and see if Scalzi can hook me again.

Sunday, September 9, 2018


1. Last weekend I heard the medieval/Renaissance/folk band Brocelïande in a house concert not far away. It was a while since I'd heard them and the first time ever at a house concert. Usually when I've been to house concerts, they've been classical or filk and thus usually inside (the former because they usually feature piano, which is not an outdoors instrument, and the latter because filkers are not generally outdoors people). But this was outdoors, in a small backyard tiled patio with 50 chairs set up facing a tented stage area. I'd heard about this from Brocelïande's mailing list, but apparently this house frequently hosts folk concerts. I didn't know anyone else there except the performers, but the folk were friendly, and the band played four of their Tolkien settings, which they don't often do these days unless asked.

2. Yesterday I walked over to our neighborhood park for an announced event: the city arborist was giving a tree walk: a walk around the park describing the quite wide variety of trees planted there: ash, pine, oak, cedar, maple, birch, plum, all of various species, and one called a strawberry tree whose fruit (round, red, and covered in tiny quills) isn't a strawberry but is edible, so we tried some. I learned a lot, not just about botany but about an arborist's view of his demesne: the shifting in and out of trees, as different species go in and out of fashion or prove to be or not to be suitable for the climate or susceptible to disease; the constant search for trees whose root systems won't push up nearby pavement. (It's not the tree's fault, he repeatedly said, as trees just do what they do: it's the fault of whoever put the tree and sidewalk in too close proximity.)

3. And today, Mythopoeic book meeting to discuss The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty, an Arabic-influenced fantasy that some liked extravagantly and others found rather dull. I only got about two chapters into it myself.

4. In broader news, we're grieved to learn that all the outlets of Orchard Supply Hardware, a local chain we've long relied upon, are soon to close. It had been bought by Lowe's, a larger chain which eventually decided not to maintain it. I hope at least some of the locations will be converted, as there's no Lowe's conveniently nearby. Lowe's tends to be a warehouse which carries much but where it's hard to find what you're looking for and, unlike at OSH, there's rarely anyone who can help you very much.

5. Tesla is also local news, since their plant is nearby. The various cavortings of Elon Musk are beginning to remind me of Steve Jobs in the period before he was removed from Apple in 1985. Neither has or had the maturity for the positions of responsibility they held or sought. Jobs needed his testing period in the wilderness before he emerged as the great capitalist of his second act at Apple; what's to become of Musk I can't guess.

6. Slightly further off geographically, but relevant to me as I drive up I-5 to Oregon frequently, is another fire that's closing the freeway. Unlike the previous one a month or so ago, which could be gotten around fairly easily, this one is in a spot without convenient detours. I'm glad I'm not going up there this week, and I fear that checking for fire-related travel advisories is going to be a regular summer thing from here on.

7. And now ... it's Rosh Hashanah. See you on the flip side.

Friday, September 7, 2018

San Diego is a peculiar place

I flew there for a quick business trip. I'm working on programming for next year's Mythcon which will be there, and went down so that I and the chair, who's local, could meet with various sites' conference and sales managers and tour their facilities. We learned a lot and made some firm provisional decisions. Logistics comes next, and we should be able to make a site and date announcement within a few weeks.

Some of our sites are on the trolley line, and so was the hotel I was staying at, so I volunteered to be the guinea pig for getting there from the airport. It turned out to be pretty easy, except that there's no signage for the transfer between the from-airport shuttle bus and the downtown trolley station, so it's tough for a stranger to figure out where to walk.

Odd things about the trolley:
*Senior fares start at age 60. Who does that? Not that I'm complaining.
*The trolley doesn't go "clang, clang, clang," it goes "buzz."
*The trolley lines are named for colors, but they don't mean anything. I rode the Green line. The cars on it are red. I did see some green cars, but they were on another line.
*Some of the lines also have sponsors. There is the "UC San Diego Blue Line." This runs from downtown to San Ysidro, which is the Mexican border station. UC San Diego itself is up way north of downtown, nowhere near the Blue line. You don't think this might be confusing?
*The recorded station announcements on the train are in English, immediately followed by the same in Spanish, except that the station names are pronounced as in English, even if they're Spanish words.
*There is only one underground station on the system. Unlike BART, which has lots of underground stations, they haven't figured out how to turn the lights on. It was like a dungeon in there.

I stayed at a generic business hotel, odd only in an elevator call system new to me. Instead of call buttons, there's a touchscreen with a keypad displaying floor numbers. Touch the one you want, the display changes to tell you which elevator in the bank will be yours, and when you get in, the only buttons are open and close door and alarm. Whoosh and off you go.

I did have enough free time to take the city bus up to the Hillcrest/North Park area to visit used-book stores and admire the selection of ethnic restaurants, mostly Asian. Waiting for the first bookstore to open in the morning, I lounged in a nearby Starbucks where I bought a cookie, the first time in over 35 years of acquaintance that I've ever actually bought something in a Starbucks. ("You don't want coffee?" said the clerk in a stunned voice.)

At that bookstore, the one which had more books I wanted to read than I could possibly have hauled home, so I bought three and wrote a lot of titles down, the owner/clerk was commiserating with a customer who was complaining about the slow pace of the Game of Thrones sequels ("You might as well just watch the show"). On fire with the novel I'd just finished reading on my Nook, I said, "You shouldn't be reading that; you should be reading ..." and I'll tell you in my next post.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

possibly obsolete

Encouraged by a rave comment we saw online, B. and I rented the DVD of Peter Hall's 1968 RSC production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The cast was studded with young names destined to be great thespians: Ian Richardson and Judi Dench as Oberon and Titania, Ian Holm as Puck, Helen Mirren and Diana Rigg (!) as Hermia and Helena, and David Warner as Lysander.

But despite this great cast, it was strangely uninvolving, though not nearly as bad as the acclaimed 1964 Richard Burton Hamlet. I think the reason was a now out-of-favor Shakespearean acting style. Though they didn't shout as if they were on stage, the actors had a way of declaiming all their speeches, addressing the air between them instead of each other. I know they could do better than that: Diana Rigg didn't talk at all like that in The Avengers, which she was making at the same time; on the other hand, I once saw a dreadful early modern-setting Helen Mirren film that she declaims her way all through. But they evolved greatly in later years: we're a long way from the Ian Richardson who says "You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment," or the Judi Dench who says, "Have a care with my name, Mr. Tilney: you will wear it out."

Thinking back over my Shakespeare stage experience, I think one was just used to this style back then. It began to melt away in the 1980s, I think, and a supremely naturalistic way of speaking Shakespeare, as if his ornate phrasing were common language, came into vogue. You can see it on film in Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing, in which the actors, though none of them trained Shakespeareans, all show that they've absorbed as well as understood the words they speak, and spilling it out as if it was so much crepe-paper roll is right out.

On the other hand ... a sure way to irk me is to declare something I still do obsolete. Here's a condescending list of "forgotten websites you can't believe are still around." I can believe they're still around: I use some of them. My principal e-mail is still Earthlink, and as you can probably see, I run my blog on LiveJournal and Blogger.

Why am I using these things? Because I signed up for them when I needed them and they were the hot new things, and I've found no compelling reason to leave. It'd be disruptive and a nuisance and I like what I have. I'm not tempted to run away after shiny new gadgets. That's also why I still read Tolkien and still belong to the Mythopoeic Society, and why I still listen to the same old music, and why I haven't moved house. It's also not unconnected to why I'm still married to the same woman I met 32 years ago. Not to criticize those whose lives have moved in other directions - and we were forced to move house not much more than a decade ago, though we didn't want to - but in my case the desire to keep a good thing, the impulse for stability and contentment, is the same, no matter how old and creaky I, or my websites, get.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

early movie review

Finding myself at loose ends at the end of the afternoon quite near a theater that was the only one showing a movie being released today that I had some interest in, I decided to go see it.

Operation Finale (2018)

The immediately preceding trailer was for the re-release of Schindler's List, in which Ben Kingsley plays the Jewish clerk who helps Schindler compile the list. In this movie, Ben Kingsley plays Adolf Eichmann. It's a change.

This is a movie about the Israeli operation to abduct Eichmann in Buenos Aires in 1960. Oscar Isaac plays the impossibly noble chief Israeli agent, a composite character. I didn't know much about the details of the operation, and after seeing the movie I still doubt that I do. The abduction itself occurs about halfway through; the agents then have to hide Eichmann in a safe house for over a week because of some bureaucratic snafu regarding scheduling the departure of their airplane (which is on a cover mission).

I don't know if this happened in reality or not. According to Wikipedia the delay in transporting Eichmann was spent confirming his identity. In the movie Eichmann steadfastly denies being Eichmann until he suddenly caves and admits it, and this doesn't have much to do with the delay. Also in the movie, but perhaps not in reality, the Israelis twice narrowly escape being captured by a posse of Argentine police who are after them. And as I watched those scenes, what was inevitably running through my head was this.

Kingsley speaks in something of the same odd sing-songy accent he used for the role of Dmitri Shostakovich in Testimony.

Conclusion: Not as boring as Bridge of Spies, but not as exciting as an undercover spy movie ought to be, either.

Monday, August 27, 2018

book found in the worldcon dealer's room

Where Memory Hides: A Writer's Life by Richard A. Lupoff (Bold Venture Press, 2016)

When I was a young sf fan in Berkeley, among the older people I met and got to hang out with a bit were Dick and Pat Lupoff. (Not the only fannish couple I've met named Dick and Pat, none of whom were in any other way like the Nixons.) They were known for having once published a Hugo-winning fanzine called Xero, an anthology of which was subsequently published by Tachyon, and Dick under his formal byline had become a professional fiction writer of note.

In that capacity he was protean, capable of everything from homages to pulpsters like ERB and HPL to the most esoteric New Wave style science fiction or exotically Japanese-influenced epic fantasy. Perhaps because he didn't have a single definable authorial personality, Lupoff's sf/fantasy career never gained traction, and he subsequently sailed off into the friendlier waters of detective/mystery fiction.

With a few small exceptions, I found that I bounced off most of his fiction, or it went into areas I just wasn't interested in following, but I really enjoyed Dick and Pat themselves and their company. I was consequently a good audience for a book Dick wrote a couple decades ago called Writer At Large, a collection of essays about various experiences, in particular his stint teaching writing to inmates at San Quentin. It was highly illuminating and worth reading for anyone with an interest in inmate life or indeed in adult education.

There's a bit more about that in this memoir, which I think was compiled by stitching together various autobiographical writings. It rambles around with little regard to chronological order and repeats the same anecdotes in different places, even acknowledging that it does so. It talks about his sf and fantasy, his mysteries, how an old white male writer created a young black female detective character (by observing the black women he'd known over his life, he says), his dealings with editors and publishers, his fanzines, his childhood, his time in the army and as a bureaucrat in a soulless government department, teaching at Q and working as a radio personality and in a fabulous independent bookstore. It also contains a chapter attempting to argue, by use of selected quotes, that there is absolutely no difference in literary quality between high literature and pulp fiction, which I find hard to credit from a writer with such sensitivity to differences in style, but let that pass.

I doubt this book would be of much interest to anyone not as fond of Dick Lupoff the man as I am, unless they were really powerfully interested in his fiction. So why am I writing about it? Because I find from its pages that today - this very day! - is Dick and Pat's 60th wedding anniversary. I haven't seen either of them in several years, but I hope they're doing OK, and I wish them a very merry anniversary.

Sunday, August 26, 2018


Having been released from hospital duty by the successful discharge of the patient, I had the time for a couple of artistic outings.

First to Stanford, for a concert by a series of student pianists who played Louis Andriessen, Frederic Rzewski, and a whole big wad of Schubert. A rather peculiar combination.

Then to the Livermore Performing Arts Center for the latest Lamplighters production of The Pirates of Penzance. I liked the theater, which I hadn't been to before. Though likewise arena-sliced, it's smaller and more focused than Lesher in Walnut Creek, and consequently sounds better. Nor is it any farther from here to drive to. Excellent singing, especially from Michael Desnoyers as Frederic and Erin O'Meally as Mabel. But the innovations in staging, largely intended to update the Stanley daughters to 1890s "new women," sat incoherently with the plot.

A missed turn on the drive home sent me zooming off towards Pleasanton, which at least is not far out of the way, so I decided to take the opportunity to stop off at the Inklings coffee & tea shop there, just because of the name. If you order your strawberry-mint lemonade, which is just about the only thing they had that wasn't either coffee or tea, from the side of the counter with the menu on it, they'll direct you over to the other side where the computer is, then direct you back again to the original spot to pick up the drink. Confusing.

There were lots of small tables and comfy chairs around. The walls were lined with bookshelves, but a close look suggested something a bit of the poseur quality to it, as despite a few Lewis and Williams volumes scattered about, most of the contents were yard goods: a volume of Winston Churchill's war history here, Zane Grey and Tom Clancy novels there, a bunch of law textbooks over there, and lots and lots of Readers Digest Condensed Books. In one spot by some branded t-shirts and coasters and the like is a sign indicating two books are for sale. One is by Lewis, Perelandra, and the other isn't. The hand-lettered sign gives the title as Voyage to Articus. Jiminy Cricket and all the little fishes, it's supposed to be Arcturus.

Also on the walls are some nicely-done pencil portraits of the four principal Inklings (Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, and Barfield) and on the opposite wall some framed quotations, one real one from Tolkien and two ones falsely attributed to Lewis that are actually spoken by his character in the Shadowlands movie or play. Tsk.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

it's Bernstein's centenary

As you'll know if you've seen today's Google doodle, it's the centenary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein, who grew up in the Boston area and attended Harvard before going off to New York and making his name as a young composer and conductor.

The tension between those professions defined Bernstein's professional life. He wanted to buckle down to serious work as a composer, but even though he resigned his position as music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1969, kept finding that conducting - and his related need to educate, both in mentoring younger conductors and performers (many of whom are at the top of the profession today) and in giving public, often televised, talks in music education - kept distracting him.

As a conductor, Bernstein was highly emotional and a bit eccentric. He liked to exaggerate the structural joins in large compositions, which actually made him a good choice for a young enthusiast learning his way around the standard repertoire, which is what I was in the 1970s when Bernstein's recordings of it - just about all of it; he was insanely prolific - dominated the record-store shelves.

I also weaned on Bernstein's musical education programs and writings, particularly those geared to children. I later came to disagree with some of his views, but there's no question he was gifted as an educator and imaginative as a pedagogue as well as learned in musical theory and history. But not all of it was that simple. I'd like to direct your attention to this video from a Harvard lecture, a virtuoso five-minute whirlwind summary of the development of tonal harmony. It's perfectly clear technically though historically oversimplified, but I wonder if it makes sense to those uneducated in musical theory or does it fly over your heads?

As a composer, Bernstein was most at home in musical theater or other works with at least a whiff of the stage about them. He made his name with stage shows in the 40s and reached his pinnacle in that form in the 50s with West Side Story (which was a hit in its first production) and Candide (which was not - largely due to the book, the spoken-word part, which was later replaced and the show's done better in revivals). After that, Bernstein tended to feel he wasn't devoting enough time and thought to his compositions and wished he had more to give, but he was too busy and too distracted.

Nevertheless he did get some fine works done, although his magnum opus as a composer, Mass of 1971, received some scathing reviews for its "vulgar" populism, which damaged the composer's self-confidence you may be sure. It's not really until since Bernstein's death in 1990 that Mass has come to be accepted as the giant achievement in early postmodern art that it really is, and one of the few truly great spiritual choral-orchestral masterpieces of its century.

A good introduction to Bernstein's work as a composer is this little summary here. I like its choice of clips, though the sound quality of the one from Mass is poor, and I'm not sure how well an excerpt works out of context, as Mass is very much a work of its cumulative power.

If you're ready for some first-rate full-length performances of Bernstein's staged masterpieces, I have two of them online here: an impressive Mass from the BBC Proms, conducted by Kristjan Järvi,

and an utterly delightful Candide from the NY Philharmonic (the one from which Kristin Chenoweth's "Glitter and Be Gay" is excerpted in the introduction piece linked above), conducted by Marin Alsop (a Bernstein protege).

Thursday, August 23, 2018

buzzer in my pocket

Those who read closely a certain blog may be able to deduce that much of my time since the Worldcon has been spent in aid of a friend from out of town who was taken from that convention to a hospital and is now at a different hospital, recuperating from surgery. I've run errands and spent time on cheering bedside visits. Others helped from the convention end, but then they had to go home; my particular virtue is being local.

Both this, and keeping in touch with B. during the con itself, have put a lot of usage on my cell phone, particularly the messaging function. I count myself fortunate that the Great Disappearing Act of July which disposed of a newish phone I didn't much like enabled me to replace it by reverting to the previous model which is much easier to use. For one thing, I didn't have to use any absurd or complex Bluetooth to add my preferred ringtone. All I needed was to open the browser and type in the file's URL. The phone downloaded the file automatically and then asked if I wanted to set this as my ringtone. Why, yes I do, and that took care of that.

But I haven't actually used the ringtone much, and not just because most of my calls are texts, which use a different, pre-set sound. Experience at the convention rapidly convinced me that it makes more sense to most of the time leave the phone on vibrate mode. I can feel that in my pocket better than I can hear the ringtone in a noisy room, and I don't have to constantly be turning it on and off as program items end and begin. The only catch is that it buzzes the same way regardless of whether I've received a call or a text, and I'm still training myself to look properly to determine which it is.

I'm also still getting used to typing messages by the system by which you type in a word's numerical equivalent and the phone guesses what matching word you want. No, I want 7378464 to mean "resting," not "serving." That sort of thing. The challenge is ignoring the phone's various guesses on the screen as you type digit after digit and try to remember where in a long or messy word you are.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Worldcon panels with Tolkien in them

The two best panels I attended at Worldcon 76 were both relatively sparsely attended, perhaps because they lacked famous names at the table. Instead, the panelists were young writers unfamiliar to me, representing a variety of ethnicities and gender/sexual identities. They were as articulate and interesting as any more famous names would have been, probably more so. The topics were intriguing, which is why I was there.

And both panels discussed Tolkien, in rather different contexts.

The panel on "Fantasy Canon from the Margins" had originally been titled "Tolkien from the Margins" (actually "Tolkein from the Margins," so it's a good thing it was changed). But this attempt to broaden the remit wasn't broad enough, as the works discussed represented pop culture in general, not specifically an established fantasy canon. And the margins considered were just ethnic/racial ones; sexual or gender issues were barely mentioned.

The theme of the panel was dealing with works you personally love, or which you respect as superbly crafted, but which perpetuate negative stereotypes. Suzanne Walker (Lebanese-American) told of how as a child she loved Disney's Aladdin because it had a princess who "looked like me," but she came to realize that it's full of unfortunate stereotypes. It's two things at once. SL Huang (Chinese-American) agreed that it was the same for her with Mulan. And that summed up the panelists' dilemma: They weren't going to drop these works that they loved, but they couldn't avoid acknowledging the glaring problems.

Tolkien came in with Walker discussing the Jackson Lord of the Rings movies. She liked the first one, but the second dismayed her. Nor was she familiar with just the movies, but compared them with the book. Jackson could have made different choices, she said, but instead elevated the stereotypes that were already there.

Note the assumption that the source material, Tolkien's novel, is fundamentally racist. Libia Brenda (Mexican) was explicit on this point, describing herself as "heartbroken" by the racism in Tolkien, Harry Potter, Star Wars. Though she also emphasized that these were good works with admirable qualities that should not be avoided. Just acknowledge the flaws and be critical: don't stop reading the canon, but expand upon it.

Fine, but I wondered just what Walker and Brenda found so racist in Tolkien. They didn't elaborate on the point. Is it just that the bad guys are described as swarthy? Is it the hierarchy of ethnic groups? The entire book is a demonstration that this hierarchy in no way dictates virtue or nobility of character. Does Tolkien's depiction of the good guys as ethnically diverse bear no weight here? Do the fact that he's not lecturing you on ethnic virtue, and his personal opposition to racist policies, at least place him in a different category than authors who use fantasy as a tool to advocate racism? There was no way this question could be asked on the panel, so I let it go, at least for now.

A panel asking "What Does a Nontoxic Masculinity Look Like?" intrigued because it's a question often avoided in discussions of the toxic kind. But there was no evasion on this panel, which featured four persons of a wide variety, not fully expounded in the introductions, of gender identities. The best I can say is that three seemed to fall somewhere in the female realm and the fourth in the male.

What I was not expecting was for Tolkien to make an appearance in the discussion.

To the panel's topic question, Reuben Baron immediately responded, "Mr. Rogers," and was rewarded with a burst of audience applause. "He's the bingo free space in discussion of non-toxic masculinity," said Baron.

But Leigh Ann Hildebrand had an objection. The problem with all these Sensitive New Age Guys, she said (not that Mr. Rogers was in any way New Age, but it was clear what she meant), is that - at least to her taste - they're not sexually attractive. She wants a tough guy with sensuality who yet avoids misogyny. Her examples were men from her personal life, but she found a well-known example later.

All of these were real-life. The question was posed: what about in fiction? and Reuben Baron immediately slapped the buzzer down again with Sam Gamgee. He's emotionally expressive, but a fighter. As for his relationship with Frodo, Baron said, "If you think it's gay, write your fan fiction. But it's still a positive role model for platonic male friendship."

Others added more examples from Tolkien or elsewhere. Foz Meadows mentioned characters in The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) and the Books of the Raksura by Martha Wells, among others, in this context, and then brought in Tolkien's Faramir, "a man who is trying to do the right thing," in contrast with his father Denethor. Baron mentioned Legolas and Gimli as characters who overcome their mutually hostile racism and become friends. And Hildebrand added the winning entry by describing Gandalf in his fight with the Balrog as a great moment of "dynamic masculinity" (her term), the quality that she's looking for. To which moderator Vanessa Rose Phin added, from Tolkien's posthumously-published material, that Gandalf also has the estimable ability to listen, as shown by his having learned patience and pity from the female Vala Nienna.

Good panels.

Monday, August 20, 2018

76th World Science Fiction Convention

Informally only "Worldcon 76" - the traditional city-name-inspired titles by which the previous San José Worldcon was called "ConJosé" seem to be on the way out. Because it was so local I was inevitably drawn into its orbit and attended, although my interest in these events has been rapidly decreasing, and this is the first Worldcon I've been to since the last one within reasonable driving distance, Reno seven years ago. I'm not expecting another in my time.

Like its local predecessor, the con was held at the city's convention center, a corridor extending along a long city block, anchored by attachments to major high-rise hotels at each end, with programming rooms - most of them far too small for the numbers who wanted to attend items - at either end and a giant ballroom and an even vaster concrete exhibit hall in the middle. The latter had art show at one end, dealers at the other, and miscellaneous exhibits and lounges in between.

My principal interest was in the dealers' room, into which I immediately disappeared and emerged with eight books, to which I added four more later. Most of them were single-author short-story collections, my favorite kind of box to consume science fiction from, though one of late only much available from small-press publishers.

Saturday's costume presentation in the giant ballroom was mostly notable for the number of times that tech failed to play the presenter's chosen music, and for the on-stage nervous breakdowns these glitches gave the emcee.

The Hugo Awards, Sunday, same venue, went smoother. The winners were inspiring, especially N.K. Jemisin with her unprecedented third consecutive Best Novel win. She's the big cheese in SF writing now, no question. But despite noble intentions I hadn't read any of the nominees or voted, so I viewed it from a figurative as well as literal distance.

Of the other evenings' ballroom events, Friday's series of concert sets - mostly songs with guitar - by the convention's various musically-enabled Guests of Honor was very pleasant. But of Thursday's original stage musical inspired by Snow White, the less said the mercifully better. Perhaps I should have gone to that night's alternative programming, a reception presenting the 1943 Retro Hugos, even though it was to be immediately followed by the truly shudder-inducing prospect of an 80s dance. (Why not a 40s dance? Bring on the Andrews Sisters!)

I didn't attend a lot of programming, and indeed was prevented from a few by lack of seating. Not all were worth attending.

1. A talk by the author of a forthcoming biography of famous old-time SF editor John W. Campbell featured his explaining how his publisher had persuaded him to focus on some of Campbell's authors as well, and he'd picked Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard as both important and central to Campbell's own story. This was followed by cluelessly name-collecting audience members asking why not Poul Anderson, Henry Kuttner, Eric Frank Russell? To all of which the author gave the same reply, which he'd already given before they asked.

2. A panel on the future of libraries, at which I'd hoped to learn something, was half-filled by the panelists giving detailed accounts of their vitas, and didn't say anything of note in the other half either.

3. A memorial panel for Harlan Ellison ran with the accepted mixed view of his legacy. I wrote down some of the quips. "Harlan never met a deadline he really liked"--Christine Valada. "I knew Harlan for about fifty years. I think we were friends for about thirty of those years"--David Gerrold. "When he was good he was very good. You know the next line"--Robert Silverberg.

A couple panels that actually discussed Tolkien were more intellectually productive, and I'll write about those in a subsequent post.

Fortunately I had something else to occupy a lot of otherwise dead time. I attended the Business Meeting, something I don't often do. Last year's Hugo Administrator, Nicholas Whyte, had proposed a technical constitutional amendment in the Hugo rules, and not planning to be present this year had sought out co-sponsors. As a former Hugo Administrator myself, I liked his proposal and volunteered. Of the three co-sponsors, one wasn't present at the meeting when it was considered (though he was at the con) and one was the sergeant-at-arms, so I was the principal speaker in its favor at the brief schedule-setting session. The motion was rejected from full consideration by a vote of 59-26, which is closer than it looks because it requires 2/3ds of those voting to do so. This continues my unbroken string of being on the losing side of any Worldcon Business Meeting motion I speak on, but besides being based on only 5 or 6 data points over many years, it's neither bad luck nor malevolence, as I am not a skilled parliamentarian and only speak when the arguments I support are not being presented more ably by someone else. Which means they're probably going down.

SF cons are famous for their room parties, but I only attended one such party during the entire con, hosted by my friend and former editing/publishing colleague Lisa Harrigan in memory of her late husband (also a friend, and a mighty mentor in computer hardware) Harold. It was quiet, mostly people who knew Harold. I spent most of it in detailed conversation on reading-reception issues with the erudite John Hertz.

One other perception enlivened Worldcon, best conveyed in a quick exchange I had with a passing personage on Thursday, the first afternoon of the convention.
ME: So far, sir, I have been mistaken for you twice.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

concert review: Cabrillo Festival

Every few years, I'm sent over the hills to Santa Cruz to review a concert in the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. This year I got one with two composers I'd heard there before, John Corigliano and Anna Clyne, the latter of whom I'd actually first discovered at Cabrillo, five years ago to the day.

It's kind of tough to cram in five new works into a short space, but I found some recurrent themes, and the result is here. I'm not kidding when I speak of "the accomplishment and powerful assurance" in Clyne's music: the weight and force in the music was palpable from the start, even in the quiet first movement. So if you ever see any ads for her music with the blurb
One of the great composers of our time - San Francisco Classical Voice
you'll know where it comes from.

About the Corigliano work I felt a little unsure. It's an early work, sounding not at all like the later ones I'm more familiar with. I could tell what it sounded like to me, but I wanted to triangulate that against what he thought he was writing like. I was anticipating having to go to the library to find detailed discussion of his origins as a composer, but I didn't have to: I was able to buttonhole the man himself after the concert. After saying I liked his piece (which I did) and noting his change of style, I asked what were his inspirations and influences when he was starting out. He replied by naming Copland, Stravinsky, Bernstein. I said, "OK. I'm reviewing this concert, and was was thinking of saying the concerto had an American populist style with a harder edge, and it looks like I was on the right track." So that's what I wrote.

Stopped on the way down at the grocery in Boulder Creek that carries sour cream & chive Pasta Roni, a flavor I've never seen anywhere else. Once in Santa Cruz, had dinner around the corner at a Thai place whose lamb dish turned out to be mostly green beans with what tasted more like beef than lamb. Wasn't bad, though. Encounter on the way back with a maniac who didn't like me changing lanes to get to my exit. Sorry, fella, but there's only a limited amount of space in which I can get over, and I did have my turn signal on: what do you think it means?

Monday, August 13, 2018

queuing up

or "getting in line," the more usual expression over here.

Urgent need for DMV visit. Appointments not available for two months, and non-appointment lines infamously long. What to do?

On checking website for hours, find that, while most offices open at 8 AM, there's a few that open at 7. And one is down in the San Jose industrial warehouse district, between the zoo and the county fairgrounds.

So I go there and arrive at 6:15 AM. There are 14 people already lined up. This turns out to be not too many, though the line soon becomes much longer. I spend 45 minutes reading, and then am in and have completed my business by 7:35.

It's the recent move to TSA-compliant ID (which they call "Real ID" as if others weren't real) that's causing the backups. At the DMV, you visit first a front desk, which is where they give you the customer number that you then wait to be called for being helped at one of the windows where your business will really be done.

But just to get everything ready so you don't waste time at the windows, it's at the front desk that they go through and make sure you have all the documentation necessary, line it up, and put a paper clip around it. This, as you can imagine, takes time, and makes the front desk line build up dramatically.

While you were still in the outside line, clerks went down giving out copies of the list of acceptable documents. It looks like this (PDF). Many of the people around me look as if they've never seen it before. I have; I copied it from the web site. In fact everything they say is news to some people but I already had it from the web site. It's an informative website.

What I wasn't sure was whether some of my old original documents would satisfy the 21st century sense of security. My original birth certificate - this is the same negative photostat copy my parents were given when it was filed a month after I was born, and which they solemnly handed over to me at a tender age - states authoritatively, in the frame section around the photostat, that it is only certified if it has the official seal affixed. The official seal was affixed in the form of a rubber stamp with blue ink. That piece of 1950s security, relievingly, turns out to be good enough.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Henry Clay Work: a great American songwriter

While listening to a performance of Four Australian Folksongs yesterday, it seemed to me that one of the songs I didn't know, "Click Go the Shears," had a particularly catchy tune. On investigation, I found that that tune had been lifted directly from "Ring the Bell, Watchman," a Civil War-era song that was one of the lesser known hits of Henry Clay Work.

Work has somehow been forgotten while his similar contemporary, Stephen Foster, is remembered, and that's a shame, because Work was just as good a songwriter and has had a deeper cultural impact than is realized. He was born to an anti-slavery Connecticut family in 1832, while his namesake was running for President against Andrew Jackson (he lost). That made Work 6 years younger than Foster, and he lived 20 years longer, until 1884. I'm here today to pay tribute to him. Here's some of the best of Work's works, mostly as sung by performers of note:

Johnny Cash sings My Grandfather's Clock:

This is the one Work song that may be considered to have lasted the course in American popular culture, at least as far as my own childhood, when I was familiar with it, though not with the composer's name attached. Allan Sherman wrote a parody version.

Tennessee Ernie Ford sings Marching Through Georgia:

This Civil War boast ballad was Work's biggest hit during his own lifetime, to the extent that General Sherman grew sick of it, because it was played at every public appearance he made. The tune is incredibly catchy, and I'm stunned that I never heard it until, curious about frequent references to the song in books about the war, I looked it up.

Doc Watson sings The Ship That Never Returned:

Does this sound vaguely like "The Wreck of the Old 97" or even more vaguely like the Kingston Trio's "MTA"? It should. This is the original from which those more famous spinoffs were altered.

Ken Burns Civil War documentary soundtrack version of Kingdom Coming:

Yep, this piece of Burns background music is a Work song. You don't want to hear the lyrics to this one, because it's in "darkie" dialect. Stephen Foster did some of these too. Oh dear.

Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band sing Ring the Bell, Watchman

Or, since this grouping specializes in nonconformist hymn tunes, you might prefer a less dirge-like rendition, like this one:

This is the song whose tune (and some of the words, actually) were lifted for the Australian sheep-shearing ballad "Click Go the Shears," which you may hear sung by the Australian national child-molesting balladeer, Rolf Harris, here. Sorry, but it is the best version I found online.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

rather like a concert

Since B. has switched the bulk of her music-making from vocal to instrumental (violin and viola, mostly), she's been looking for others to make music with. For a while she considered founding the world's worst string quartet, but eventually she found an existing volunteer group that rejoices in the name of the Terrible Adult Chamber Orchestra. There are no audition standards except enthusiasm, and no limitations on membership. At a given rehearsal there might be seven flutes and no oboes, or whatever. B. decided to play second violin, as there were enough violists and most of the other violinists want to be firsts, and immediately became a leading member of the section.

TACO, as it prefers to call itself, allows friends and family to attend rehearsals, but states frankly that it can't imagine why anyone would want to listen. It does, however, also play occasional concerts, and there was one yesterday eve in a pop-up park on a closed-off side street in downtown Los Altos. I drove us, because I knew how to find a very nearby parking place, even though the proper entrance to the parking plaza was from the closed-off street.

By far the best performance of the day was of a set of Four Australian Folk Songs, arranged by Stephen Chin. Though B. reported the accompaniment not very interesting to play, it was colorful and performed mostly on point, and the singer, a San Jose State student named Marisol De Anda, was entirely competent, although her soprano was more of an oratorio voice than a folk-song one.

Of course there's lots this orchestra would need to do if it wished to outgrow its name, but if there's one thing I'd ask the players to do that's within their capacity, it'd be to pay more attention to the conductor, and to the conductor, Cathy Humphers Smith, to be bolder and firmer in what you ask for. The echo effects as some players got a bar behind everyone else, the occasional complete breakdowns, the time the conductor forgot the last page of the piece and had to interrupt the MC and hop back on the podium to add it, and the really weird effect the time the conductor signaled a fermata and half the players just kept going, made for a memorable performance.

Some of the pieces were taken very slowly, like what I'd have to call Tchaikovsky's Adagio cantabile (I bet you thought that was Andante cantabile, but not this time) or the Funeral March of the Valkyries. But the finale of Dvorak's Symphony from the New World, though hacked to pieces by the arranger who cut it down to size, was played at full speed and developed real power. All the big final chords came together and right on cue. It became actually satisfying.

Friday, August 10, 2018


The wildfires in California have been getting much news coverage, and I fear we in for conflagrations like these on a regular basis from now on. But this particular batch are, so far, curiously unaffecting us. It's rather hazy out, and the mountains are reduced to distant shadows, but the amount of smoke arriving here is little, and, unlike many previous fires, these are not threatening the homes of anyone we know. The Mendocino fire has burned to the shoreline of the lake where I once went fishing for trout when I was a child living in the back country for a summer, but that's about it. The earlier fire that closed I-5 in Siskiyou County for a while alarmed me: what if we'd been trying to get home from Ashland at that time? It would have been a long drive around, but at least I'd have known where to go.

But aside from that, this could be a lot further away: still alarming, but not personally affecting. The people whose houses have burnt are certainly having a far harder time of it than my personal logistical troubles are giving me, but that's no comfort.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

getting scores

So I reported yesterday that San Jose State, which is my default academic library and the only one I have borrowing privileges at - owing to its joint venture with San Jose Public, which they have recently begun to dismantle and I fear for its long-term prospects - has decided to declare its entire musical score collection non-circulating.

This is a burden on me, because I often borrow scores for study prior to reviewing a complex or unfamiliar piece, and, if it's a pocket-sized score, taking it with me to the concert to follow along. I trust I don't have to explain how tremendously useful this can be for a reviewer or other student.

I mentioned this to several people I talked with at the Menlo festival, who shared my dismay. Why did they do this? I don't know and I'm not planning on finding out. Past attempts to talk to SJ library administration on other matters have been so frustrating and useless that I'm not tempted to try again. Also, at most I would satisfy casual curiosity for the reason (which is likely to be specious anyway and hence frustrating to learn), and it certainly wouldn't reverse the decision. Not if the college music department isn't up in arms about it.

One person suggested an alternative. San Francisco Public has lots of scores and is on the user-accessible inter-library loan system that San Jose Public is on. I could borrow from there.

True, but that requires time for the loan to arrive, which I don't always have after being assigned a review. Many's the time I've dashed down to the library for the score of a work I've just been assigned to review the next day.

Also, I found this. The inter-library loan search page does not allow searches to be limited by type of material. That means any search for a musical work will have the scores drowned by results for recordings.

The only thing I could think of to do is to go first to SFPL's own web catalog and find an item, copy down its exact title-page title, and search for that on the ILL page (which is where I'd have to go to get it by ILL). That produced fewer false drops on the test search I made, but I also found the SFPL's pocket score of this work is incorrectly called a set of parts (which I don't want), and is grouped with another library's holding, which might be the one I get if I make an ILL request.

At least for chamber music works, which tend to be few enough pages to copy, it's probably less trouble to do what I did for the pieces I needed for Menlo, which is to download the score from IMSLP (an excellent online score library) if it's available there, or scan a library copy - probably at Stanford, which has a bigger music library than SJSU and whose scanner is more likely to be operational, when they feel like letting non-affiliates use it - and then print out a photocopy. IMSLP's are full-sized, so I printed them out and then copied that copy at 2-page-to-1 reduced size to make a pocket score. What a nuisance, and it cost about $10 and took half an hour, but it's what I had to do.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

lost and found

One big event I mentioned to several people at Menlo to their shock, but haven't yet mentioned here, affected my reviewing. I'd gone to the San Jose State library to check out a bunch of scores I'd need for upcoming concerts, tough things like the Bartók Fifth Quartet and Verklärte Nacht, which I'd never attempt to review without a score in hand during the performance.

Only to find that the library had just declared their entire score collection non-circulating. Even the circulation counter folks had been taken unawares when that was announced.

This is a major hassle. I need those scores. I took the entire Bartók set with me to Banff, for instance. So now, unless I can get some of them by interlibrary loan - which requires advance notice I don't always have - I have to rely on scanning and photocopies, which take time. And really only work for chamber music, as orchestral scores are ridiculously large. I recently happily paged through the score of Elgar's Cello Concerto during a performance of that I was reviewing. Won't be able to do that any more.

(PDFs, you say? Not on, and not just because the print is too small. Not only do I currently not have a tablet - see "Atlanta, bag lost in" - but they glow in the dark, which is not on at a classical concert.)

Meantime I've replaced my computer keyboard. The ergonomic one I'd been using died, and my repair shop handed me the only wired keyboard they had handy, which was not ergo and had none of the special keys I like.

So I bought one. Online, because I doubt stores have much of a selection of wired keyboards any more. I'm still getting used to typing on it, but at least the space bar works consistently. And it has a number of those special keys that save a lot of trouble manipulating things on screen: keys for turning the speaker on and off and adjusting the volume, keys that bring up the calculator or your e-mail client (which is great, because mine frequently closes itself without my say-so), keys for going forward and backward on web searches. But there are a number of keys I can't figure out, and there's no manual. There's a key with a star on it. I'd have thought that meant "bookmark web page," but it doesn't do that. There's another, prominently placed between the left and right halves of the keyboard, that's in the form of a slider. I'd have thought that would scroll up and down, but it doesn't do that either.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Music at Menlo, week 3

The Menlo festival is over now, which is both sad because I got to hear a lot of good music, and a relief because it occupied most of my time for three weeks and I had to write six reviews.

Indeed, I probably couldn't have lost my pocket calendar (which went with my bag in the Atlanta airport) at a less disruptive time, since the Menlo calendar is so detailed I was keeping, as I usually do, a timeline in a printout from a computer file, so all I had to do was print out another copy when I got home, and then remember my very few non-Menlo appointments of the period, like the dentist.

As for six reviews, two of them came in the final week, of the Budapest concert and the Vienna one.

The Budapest one I approached with some trepidation. I wasn't that familiar with the music, as I mentioned last week, and I was a late substitute for a colleague who couldn't go. On top of which it was the third review I had to write within 7 days. I never intended to be so prolific when I took up reviewing, and I approached the concert with a sense of mental exhaustion, feeling my creative juices squeezed dry. I jotted down various hopelessly random phrases between movements, but somehow it turned into a review. I count it one of my better efforts at conveying the character of what I heard, especially in the Bartók. I only wish I'd had DGK there to hear it with me. He would have been as gobsmacked as I.

I got to just one of the three master classes held during the final week, but there was also a "Café Conversation" held in the same noon-hour time slot on Tuesday. This was an interview with the Calidore Quartet, who went on to play that Bartók that evening, conducted by festival co-director David Finckel. Finckel doesn't speak much at Menlo, for instance never giving the introduction that precedes each mainstage concert, but he was unstoppable here, talking more than all four quartet members combined, and interrupting the interview to give a spontaneous and lucid 15-minute lecture on the history of the string quartet. When the quartet did speak, they were lucid too. I've long been irked at the movie A Late Quartet, in which Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a second violinist who's disgruntled because he can't explain what a second violinist does. Any real second violinist, I thought, wouldn't have any trouble with that question, and this one didn't. (He likes the variety of roles he plays in the music, and being part of the glue that holds the sound together.)

Other concerts I got to included the final blowout Prelude concerts by the International Program students - a delightful menu of the Franck Violin Sonata, Brahms' Piano Quartet No. 3, and the Schubert String Quintet - a Young Performers concert (the 10-to-18-year-olds) that featured two movements of an early and rather uncharacteristic Piano Quintet by Bartók, and an innovation at Menlo, what they're calling "Overture" concerts, collaborations between mainstage artists and International Program ones, who continually prove themselves ready for prime time. The Calidore players mixed it up with four of the I.P. folks in the Mendelssohn Octet, one of four or five 19C chamber music pieces I never miss any opportunity to hear.

Now I get to catch my breath a little before going down to Santa Cruz next weekend for the Cabrillo new music festival for my next assignment.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

making a better music list

So Terry Teachout, who likes to pull out links to his own older writings in his blog, tagged one I must have missed at the time, ten years ago: a list of classical pieces composed since 1950 that he "finds interesting."

I'm at least vaguely familiar with all the composers he names, though I don't know all the specific works, and some of those I do know I would not rate highly. But they're all at least interesting composers, and an enquirer who's not necessarily expecting more than "interesting" probably won't go wrong here.

Teachout's goal here, as explained in the column linked to (behind a paywall), is to respond to a complaint by Joe Queenan, who'd suffered through an opera by Harrison Birtwistle, that nothing popular has been written in classical music since Verklärte Nacht. Teachout demurs, and so do I (I don't even like Verklärte Nacht).

But I'm more intrigued by Teachout's style limitations. He doesn't like "crunch and thump" music, which is his description of Birtwistle. I yield to no-one in my distaste for the work of Birtwistle, but I don't find that a good description. Even less do I accept his complaint about "the over-and-over-and-over-again minimalism of John Adams and Philip Glass." Glass hasn't written like that since the 1970s, and Adams never did. Criticism of minimalism by painting crude and false caricatures of the music is a common phenomenon, but from me it only earns scorn.

But I think I can create a better list of newer music that's more than just interesting. Rules:
1. Beginning date of 1970, not 1950. Otherwise I'd fill it up already with 1950s symphonies.
2. No composers whom Teachout lists. It's already a handicap on me to eliminate Shostakovich, Bernstein, and Arnold.
3. If Teachout hates Glass and Adams so much, none of them either, though otherwise they'd both surely make my list. No Steve Reich or Terry Riley, the other canonical minimalists, either, though there will be some music here by other hands that's definitely minimalist.
4. Nothing that's just "interesting." It has to have delighted or amazed or moved me.
5. 12 pieces, not 10.
6. And Teachout didn't have any women. I have three. It would have been four if I could have found an online recording of Wintersong by Stefania de Kenessey, and it could have been more had I included more composers I know primarily from concert encounters.

Here they are, with links to YouTube recordings when I could find them. A couple of these pieces I have introduced you to before. I don't expect anyone to like all of these except me.

William Bolcom, Three Ghost Rags (1970)
Henryk Górecki, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (1976)
Arvo Pärt, Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten (1977)
Alfred Schnittke, Polyphonic Tango (1979)
Michael Nyman, Water Dances (1984)
Paul Schoenfeld, Café Music (1985)
Michael Torke, Ash (1989)
Arturo Márquez, Danzón No. 2 (1994)
Belinda Reynolds, Circa (1996)
Jennifer Higdon, Blue Cathedral (1999)
Osvaldo Golijov, Ayre (2004)
Caroline Shaw, Partita for 8 Voices (2012)

Saturday, August 4, 2018

midsummer night's play and other items

1. In a break from concert-going at Menlo, B. took me to see the SF Shakespeare Festival in Midsummer in the park in Cupertino. Excellent rendition. Dark-fay fairies. Enthusiastic comic turns by the lovers in the mixup scene. A Bottom who faintly carried the air of Robin Williams. A Hippolyta/Titania who somehow found dignity in both her roles. Best of all: Puck was double-cast as the sober Philostrate, Theseus' master of the revels. After escorting the mechanicals off at the end after their play, he shed his outer garments and turned back into Puck on stage for the epilogue. Magical.

2. Worldcon has posted its revised schedule. There are memorial sessions for Harlan Ellison, Gardner Dozois, and Karen K. Anderson, but not Ursula K. Le Guin. Interesting. Did not enough people there know her personally? There's also a panel called "Fantasy canon from the margins." When the schedule first went up, this was "Tolkein from the margins." Ah, yes, Tolkein: that oft-cited but non-existent author.

3. Warning: very long and very grim. But at the end, this article on how both scientists and politicians tried to address global warming back in the 1980s, when it was still possible to head it off, explains why it failed. The person who torpedoed the efforts and will consequently be responsible for the death of our ecosystem is: John Sununu. A credentialed mechanical engineer who was sure he knew more of how the machine of our planet worked than those fancy-pants scientists did.

4. Less apocalyptic warning: Goat alert, or what about the goats rampaging through Boise and why the professionals don't do it that way.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Music at Menlo, week 2

During roughly the second week of the Menlo festival, I reviewed two more concerts: the "Leipzig" concert, which I found relatively easy to do - mostly familiar music, and pretty straightforward - and a viola recital, which was a bit more challenging, involving as it did close consideration of an instrument I couldn't even begin to play in some pretty abstruse repertoire. I wound up treating the violist's playing entirely separately from describing the works played, and in the process of drafting cut a lot of explanatory sentences about the playing which might have been useful to less knowledgeable readers, but which I thought looked too naive and elementary in context. At one point I added and then immediately cut a sentence explaining that I was not a viola player.

I've also been to a couple of prelude concerts, a couple of master classes, one of the student marathon concerts (at which a crisp version of the first movement of Dvorak's "American" Quartet was the highlight), and the last one of the year of what Menlo calls its Encounter sessions. These are lectures, usually by visiting experts, on topics related to the theme of the annual festival. They're ticketed and fairly expensive, and since I'm not reviewing them directly, and thus don't feel eligible for a comp ticket, I rarely go.

But I was added as a late substitute reviewer for the third week's Budapest concert, in place of my fellow reviewer who's actually Hungarian but can't make it, and I know little about Budapest, so I hoped the Encounter on Budapest and Vienna (which I'm also reviewing) would be enlightening.

It wasn't. The touted expert turned out to be an expert on prehistoric archaeology, and while he was very interesting on what we know of the cultural life of the Stone Age Danubian peoples, once we jumped to the 18th century his knowledge was much thinner and no more than mine, in truth. He also said a few things I wished to query factually, but my attempt to wait to catch his attention after the talk was pre-empted by the arrival of the festival directors, who wished to whisk him away for a late dinner, so I missed my chance.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Mythcon in Atlanta: programming

So yes, I was going to get to this.

The theme was "On the Shoulders of Giants," how work has been built on the foundations of our predecessors. Both our Guests of Honor gave their plenary talks on this theme. Robin Anne Reid, the scholar who is one of the contributors to my "Year's Work in Tolkien Studies" consortium and who penned a useful Year's Work-like historical survey for the Mythsoc Press's recent collection of essays on Tolkien and women (including his female characters), talked about scholarship in the context of one's predecessors. Donato Giancola, who's painted a number of covers for recent Tolkien book editions, gave a slide talk illustrating his development as an artist in the context of the artists he most admires. While I don't much personally care for Giancola's "muscular realism" style, it's an honorable tradition in Western art history and he carries it on worthily.

My own talk, more than an academic paper, and which I delivered entirely off the cuff due to the disappearance of all my notes (see previous entry), was on the development of the "Year's Work": what goals I'm trying to accomplish by doing it and how both the individual entries and the complete annual report are put together. All that was missing was some of the more pungent entries I was planning to quote.

Other papers I attended discussed:

The moral dynamics of Frodo's journey to Mordor, with the vital roles of Sam and Gollum;

The sense of fate, that's both in a sense foredoomed and something you have to work to achieve (or avoid), that Tolkien got from Beowulf;

Frodo as a Faustus character, an interesting and unprecedented comparison from a high-school student who happened to be reading both works at once;

A stout recovery of Edith Tolkien, JRR's wife, from the calumnies the presenter perceived that biography Humphrey Carpenter poured on her;

How Tolkien may have (might have?) used the theme of music in his works to reflect his own relationship with his mother;

A close biographical and personality analysis of Sam Gamgee as a person in Tolkien's fiction;

A comparison of how C.S. Lewis and H.P. Lovecraft reacted to World War I;

An analysis of characters in Orphan Black as Parsifal figures (OK, that may sound like stretching it, but the argument was coherent);

A moderated group discussion session on thoughtful quotes from the essays of Ursula K. Le Guin;

A talk describing Mythlore's new online archives, by the editor and the archivist;

A description by its creator of a cross-edition Lord of the Rings citation system, which would be more useful if it included more editions and (if copyright allowed) more pull quotes (he actually wants us to adopt his system of numbering all the book's paragraphs - I don't think so); and his also not-very-complete index to Tolkien's published art.

Mythopoeic Awards: neither winner of the Scholarship Awards got my first-place votes, but both I consider worthy books. On the other hand, I know at least two members of the Fantasy Awards committee who disliked the Adult winner so much they refused to give it any points at all.

My personal choice for the winner of the most ingenious food sculpture at the banquet is the same young man who gave the paper on Faustus, who arranged some bits of pork loin on a plate in the shape of a large letter "S", explaining that it was the Worm Ouroboros: a worm, or a boar "S".

Thursday, July 26, 2018

This must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays.

Last Thursday was the most personally distressing day I've had in a while; and if the succeeding days have also been bad, it's because of that Thursday. And the full story is here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Mythcon in Atlanta

The Mythopoeic Conference was at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Atlanta this year, and therein marks a landmark: not merely only the second time it's been in the South (Nashville, 2003). Traditionally on college campuses or in conference centers - and still was last year - in recent years Mythcon has been moving more to hotels. But this was the first time that hotel was central city, and therein marks a significant shift in functioning.

The group cafeteria meals at traditional campus Mythcons are the making of its social cohesion. You get your food from the counter and can sit down at a table with anyone, newcomers and old-timers alike. We meet each other and can discuss programming and other events.

While at hotel-oriented SF cons, while it's possible for a newcomer who knows no-one to hook on to a dinner expedition, it's not that common or easy. It requires both boldness and luck to find one.

Consequently, at previous hotel Mythcons, which have mostly been out in the suburbs where a car is necessary for much of a choice of restaurants, we've had the hotel cater all our meals. But this is much more expensive at a hotel than on a campus, and adds logistical hurdles not a concern at campuses which were going to serve cafeteria meals already.

This year we had just two catered meals in the hotel's ballroom (obscurely located downstairs from the lobby: the meeting rooms where we held programming were easily findable on the 3d floor), bumped up from one (the Sunday banquet) when we found we weren't meeting their catered minimum. The hotel had a restaurant, which so far as I know nobody used (its menu didn't appeal to me), so all our other meals had to be out.

The committee did several intelligent things to mitigate the disruptiveness of this to the Mythcon atmosphere, although several of those things could have been executed better:

1. Downtown locale. Lots of restaurants in easy walking distance, at least a dozen within 2 blocks. However, only 7 of them plus a mall food court, not all of them that close, made it into the list buried inside the program book. This should have been much more extensive.

2. Full two-hour break from programming for lunch (and no formal programming at all on the unplanned dinner night). I was hoping they'd know you can't gather and execute a convention meal expedition in less time than that, and they did.

3. Reservation for Saturday lunch at the Irish pub across the street. We had their back room, so it was easy to chat freely across the table. On Saturday we packed at least 35 people in that room. And not only was the food as good as at any other restaurant I ate at in Atlanta, but the service was awesomely efficient. Drinks, food, and bills all handled at top speed with absolutely no errors in who got what or standing around asking, "Who had the fish?" About a dozen of us went back the next day (the program listing said we had a reservation then too, but the pub didn't know it: this didn't prevent them from giving us the same room or sending latecomers trickling in to find us).

It was a brilliant success; the only problem was that only by carefully reading the restaurant listings buried in the program book could one learn about the reservation. It only got mentioned at a plenary session because I asked about it from the audience.

4. The "buddy system", an innovation whereby old-timers and newcomers could sign up to give the latter ready-made acquaintances to talk with and show them around. B. and I signed up, had a pleasant conversation with our "buddy" (a college student giving an excellent paper on Beowulf) and coaxed her along to the big Saturday lunch. After that we didn't see her much; I trust that she made enough other friends. The problem with this system is that, though the committee had been considering it for some time, it was only announced at the last minute. I have no idea how much it was actually used.

It seemed to me, as an old-time Mythcon programmer, that all these were good ideas. But we heard at the members' meeting from people who still found themselves isolated, friendless and without meal expeditions. So it didn't work perfectly, and I think lack of publicity and explanation was the cause of the problem. On the other hand, I've met people who attended campus Mythcons and didn't feel part of the community either, so the problem may not be completely solvable.

Oddest was the case of the two finalists for the Mythopoeic Awards who were at our table at the banquet, with no indication from the committee to the general membership that they were there. There might have been more finalists at other tables, and I'd have no idea of it, as none of the actual winners were present. It was astonishing to me that they'd come and the con would have no programming with them. But while Mythcon programming is mostly academic papers, there's usually some discussion panels and readings, and there were none this year. Available space and time-slots were tight, but it would have been easy enough to squeeze more events in.

I learned from one of the finalists that she'd actually been offered a comp membership. This hadn't been done for finalists when I was running Mythcon: we told them about the con and said they'd be welcome, but we strictly limit comps and didn't offer them any. I think changing that policy could be a good idea, but only if you then put them on programming. The final ballot comes out 3 months before Mythcon, and you then have to hear back from the ones who are coming, but that still leaves time to fit them into the program. As programmer on any Mythcon I've run, I would have signed both of these two up in a flash.

As it was, this finalist told me she had heard nothing back from the committee, had no idea what to do at the con (though she'd been to Mythcons before) and spent most of the time in her hotel room. I think that's sad, and while one could be a little more proactive in wandering downstairs and seeing what's going on (and I know she found the hospitality suite the previous evening), they shouldn't be entirely dependent on having to do that.

Mythcon committees are small and sketchy and overworked and, of course, all volunteer, and things get missed, but this is how we learn to do better. In both cases, not grasping what it is that people don't already know may be the insidious culprit.

As for programming events, and the searing (non-con-related) experience that made this Mythcon regrettably memorable for me, those'll come in later posts. See you on the flip side.

Monday, July 23, 2018

concert reviews: Music @ Menlo

I'm just back from Mythcon in Atlanta, and while it's too early (or too late, in the evening that is) to report on the conference, at least I can tell you what I was doing much of the previous week, which was attending the first week of the annual Menlo chamber music festival, and reviewing same.

Reviews of the week covered the first two of the festival's seven keynote concerts inspired by the output from various notable European cities: London for the Daily Journal and Paris for SFCV.

The original set of press photos for the London concert included one of facially expressive violinist Angelo Xiang Yu in mid-grimace. It was a great photo, but the authorities must have decided it was too grim, so they deleted it before I could pass it on to my editors.

The allusion to Paris being a hard sell is no exaggeration either. I was surprised at the number of people otherwise available who declined my offer of my companion ticket to this concert because they just didn't find the repertoire appealing.

At least ... well, let's save that up too.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Tolkien exhibit

The Bodleian Library's Tolkien exhibit, which I got to at its opening at the beginning of June, runs through October 28, and I hope many will be able to attend.

What I hadn't seen until now is the exhibit's promotional video.

This is good, featuring several intelligent experts, although I question one sequence with the people from the local Tolkien society: I don't know the source for claiming that Tolkien and Lewis would commune at Merton's stone table (which they could only have done long after their most productive collaborating years), still less that it's the inspiration for the one in Narnia, to which it bears no resemblance other than being stone and a table. (And as for reading aloud in the Black Speech to honor Tolkien, that's just inconsiderate.)

But the other news is that the Morgan Library in New York has now officially announced that the exhibit is coming there next year, January 25-May 12. Although a few pieces that the Bodleian only borrowed from other Oxford institutions aren't coming along, it should still be a grand exhibit when transplanted, and I'm thinking of going again.

Friday, July 13, 2018

orphaned in black

B. rented the fifth and final (I hope) series of Orphan Black, and I've been sort of playing catch-up given that only sometimes am I home when she's watching an episode, and I can't always figure out time to watch one when I am.

Anyway, I think I caught them all, in some order, and the first thing that occurs to me is that I don't think of a show like this as having "episodes" at all, just hour-long chunks of a continuing storyline without much to differentiate them except which pieces of plot occur when. With half a dozen major characters, each usually in different places doing different things, all being followed at once, no episode has a distinct individual plot, and nothing ever ends. This makes it hard to nominate or vote for episodes of shows like this for the Hugo, and with their dominance I'd favor just eliminating the rule that divides them up for voting.

Yet, I find on dipping into the extra features (which thankfully do not consist of unnecessary promos for the show - you've just watched the DVD of the whole thing, what would you need that for? - but interviews with the cast and crew, but my do they blither on), that the writers and directors do think of each episode as a distinct entity with an individual character and style, as in a traditional show. That surprises me.

Having given up any hope of believable plot or character motivation by the end of the second season, by this point I'm just watching it to get to the end of the story, which at least it does, and to admire the acting, which despite everything remains good. But in the meantime we're treated to endless scenes of characters being abruptly bumped off, other characters whom you thought had been bumped off coming back to life, then getting bumped off again, and far too much of characters being told to sit tight and not do anything while we wait for the rest of the plot to catch up. In particular, it's been clear since near the start that Alison, though a great character, is absolutely useless for the main storyline, and is good for nothing except to sit around fretting with an occasional irrelevant domestic drama to distract her. Sarah is mostly shunted off to a corner to suffer physically,* and Felix, once the bulwark of the show's emotional support, is now used only to schlep little pieces of the plot around. I will give them credit, however, for having hit on, in Rachel, the rare knack for creating a character who's simultaneously sympathetic and a nasty villain.

*She goes through hell to rescue Cosima, who, when she finally finds her, says basically, "I'm good." Then she goes through hell to save Kira from Rachel, until Kira changes her mind. Then Rachel changes her mind.

Usually a show's cast and crew hold a party to honor the ending of the show's run. In this case, the characters hold the party, probably because this way, multiple Tatiana Maslanys can show up. During it, Helena (probably the most interesting character overall, and I've already heard one good Mythcon paper about her) says that she's going to write up their story - presumably as the show we've been watching five seasons of - and she's going to call it "Orphan Black." And everybody says that's a good idea, but why black, anyway?