Saturday, December 31, 2022

the annual year-end post

I took two out of town trips in 2022, one by plane, one by car, both with B. One was to Mythcon. This is the second time, judged generously, that I've been the Guest of Honor at a convention.

Places stayed, therefore, are:

Albuquerque, NM
Ashland, OR
Woodinville, WA
Grants Pass, OR

I had 21 concert reviews published during the year, which is much more like normal. For scholarly publications, I had one Guest of Honor speech and one short article published in Mythlore. The 2022 annual issue of Tolkien Studies still hasn't come out yet (we are just putting it to bed right now), but it'll have my bibliography and contributions to the "Year's Work in Tolkien Studies" in it. What delayed this issue was work on the supplement, which has been published, and for which I contributed a fair-sized piece for the editorial introduction, and did all the line editing for the massive article, an edition of and commentary on Tolkien's internal Lord of the Rings chronology, and that was a fair accomplishment for a year.

Friday, December 30, 2022


I'd read that Berkeley Rep's production of a stage adaptation of Wuthering Heights (adapted by Emma Rice) was supposed to be good, so I bit the bullet and bought a ticket.

I've never read the book, and this isn't going to encourage me to do so. The story seemed to consist of an endless series of people wildly vacillating between loving each other and hating each other and then back again, with no rhyme nor reason explaining it.

Could have been an artifact of the condensation for the stage, but I've read too many 'fine literature' novels that are just like that.

Nevertheless, the production was extremely imaginative, and the performances vivid and energetic, so it didn't become too tedious.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022


I've been reading of the meltdown of travel on Southwest Airlines, with a thought of "I could have been in that, if I ever flew over the Christmas holidays, which I never do precisely because of things like this." But I do fly Southwest, which I've always thought of as the friendly airline, and which has given me some outstanding customer service in the past.

But on the other hand, Southwest is the airline which produced a giant hiccup in changing planes on our trip to Albuquerque last summer which got us in three hours late - not truly awful but irritating enough, and all because we took a connecting instead of direct flight because hey, it was Southwest, the friendly airline. And certainly their treatment of the passengers in regard to the delay was not unfriendly. They were also very courteous in rescheduling me when my attempt to fly to Chicago in February was socked out by a snowstorm.

Most of the articles are saying that the problem lay with the inability of Southwest's outdated computer system to handle the cancellations and reschedules attendant on the snowstorm, where other airlines could. And I should have realized they had problems of this kind. Several years ago now I headed to the San Jose airport to pick up my friend L. coming in on the one-hour flight from Burbank, having checked the Southwest website that the flight was on its way. And when I got to SJC, the system said that the flight had arrived. But just then I got a phone call. It was L. The flight had been delayed and hadn't left Burbank yet. This led to an interesting conversation with an agent who confessed that they have to call operations to find out where any Southwest plane is; the computer system is quite unreliable.

Then there's this article, the heartwarming - in the circumstances - stories of people waiting futilely in line at the airport who realize they're all going to the same city so they say the heck with it, they'll get a car and carpool there, sharing the expense and the driving: Austin to Birmingham (760 miles), Kansas City to Tampa (1250 miles), Detroit to Orlando (1150 miles).

This reminds me of my friends from western Massachusetts who found themselves in the Chicago area on 9/11. (I'd been there myself, but I flew home the day before.) Rather than wait for the flights to resume, they took their rental car and drove home (900 miles). This proved so relaxing a job that they've done it voluntarily since then. It wasn't only for that reason that we eschewed flying on our recent trip to the Seattle area (860 miles) but that certainly helped.

Other articles are warning us that this was the fault of the corporate system, not of the customer service agents. True, and I absolutely wouldn't blame the agents for the system's fault. But attitude and helpfulness are not dictated by the system. The agents who castigate you for wanting to cut in line when you're merely asking how long it will take, the ones who take it personally when you try to explain you know it's the system's fault, these are the doing of the agents, not the system, and the absence of such things from good customer service is conspicuous, no matter how fouled up the problem at hand is.

Monday, December 26, 2022

away on a tangent

I read that there were some weather problems in other places, but you wouldn't know it here. It was dry and sunny and, for the season, unusually warm as we drove to our niece's home for the family gathering. The only out-of-towners were B's eldest sister and her husband who avoided the snow on the mountains between Reno and here by flying over them.

We had a white elephant gift exchange, which this year was limited to edibles, so for once I participated. I gave a collection of Pepperidge Farm Christmas cookies packages, and got some dried fruit, only some of which I can eat, and that slowly and cautiously. B. got some chocolate and caramel popcorn, which she kept encouraging others to steal (a provision in the rules), but nobody did. I suppose I could have, but it was coming home with us anyway.

Something I wasn't expecting showed up in the household background music, a rock version of "The Little Drummer Boy." I don't know who did it, and on attempting to look for it online later I found there's a lot of them. If it wasn't this one it at least sounded a lot like it.

"Little Drummer Boy" is a much-loathed carol but I actually like it. (Despite not being a Christian, most of the ones I dislike tend to be secular, like "Here Comes Santa Claus.") I even like it in a rocked-up arrangement, though that ought to surprise me, as I spent most of my youth, the age when most of my peers listened to the stuff, utterly loathing rock music. I finally found some that I liked when I heard Steeleye Span's arrangements of English folk songs, which suggests that the real reason I hated rock music is because most of the songs sucked, and what I needed were some good ones.

Which reminds me that another song everybody hates except me is "It's a Small World." That was one of the Sherman brothers' Disney songs, which in turn reminds me that I watched a documentary on the brothers on Disney+. This weirdly overemphasized their differences and disagreements, so that you wouldn't realize that they kept on collaborating on songs even at the time that the documentary would have you believe they weren't speaking to each other.

I like a lot of the Sherman songs, especially those for Mary Poppins, but there are two I do purely hate the way that others hate "Small World." One of them is the Winnie-the-Pooh theme song, which is nauseatingly cutesy, and the other is "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow," which has the demerit of a catchy tune combined with sententious lyrics. "Man has a dream, and that's a start / He follows his dream with mind and heart / And when it becomes a reality / It's a dream come true for you and me." That's disturbingly unspecific. What if that dream is some industrial process which may produce a useful product but destroys the environment? And, uh, what about Hitler? There was a guy who sure had a dream, and unquestionably followed it with mind and heart, so that recipe is not necessarily a good thing, is it?

And a boisterous Boxing Day to you, too.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Christmas Eve = Seventh Night of Hanukkah

Last night for dinner I made basically leftover lemon-butter chicken (well, fresh chicken in leftover sauce), plus veggies, from the previous night's Hanukkah dinner with guests. And tonight I did leftover latkes and matzo ball soup (leftover soup + new matzo balls).

B. played at Mass this evening, choosing that partly so that she can sleep in Sunday morning before we head off to the big family Christmas gathering. And so since she's thus already in Christmas-day mode, I suggested we open presents tonight. That, and also so that she could play one of her presents while cleaning up after dinner, the present being Christine Lavin's Christmas album, which I bought and had autographed at a concert of hers a few months ago. It turns out to be mostly rounds (quite imaginative, some of them) and spoken word stories.

B. also got a wheeled trolley to carry her music stuff around to Mass and orchestral rehearsal (by request, and she'd told me which one she wanted), and she opened the annual household present, the wall calendar. Usually I get one with cats (big or house) or penguins, but this one earned her delight with Addams Family cartoons by Charles Addams himself. In one picture, the family are all reading appropriately weird books. Morticia has Foodless Recipes, Phase IV and Wednesday has The Comfort of Sex. Thing is peeping out from a corner. People don't know that Thing is a person, not a disembodied hand.

My presents included some useful clothing items and a Barnes & Noble gift certificate, so I am quite content.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

hanukkah in the home

We had my brother and 7-year-old nephew over for Hanukkah dinner, and without implying anything against the guests - well, the 7-year-old was 7 years old, but you expect that - it illustrated why we rarely have anyone over. It's just so exhausting: all the preparations, like moving the dining table so that 4 people can sit at it, and getting the catbox, which we keep in the foyer as the only convenient spot where it'll fit, out of the way, and all the other prep work. Then I cook dinner, which includes matzo ball soup and latkes, and this year chicken in lemon butter sauce and broccoli, which required a lot of creative shuttling around among stove burners.

Nephew's favorite food turned out to be the plain matzo we had beforehand. He liked eating it, and he liked playing with it too. It made a satisfying crunch under the toes of his shoes. But what really caught his interest was that, just before he and his dad left, the cats decided to peer down from the upper floor and see what was going on. He was quite taken with them and kept holding out cat toys in hopes they'd come and get them, but we explained it doesn't work that way.

Guests left somewhat over two hours after arriving. We (mostly B.) cleaned up and we (both of us) put things back, and then we (both of us) collapsed in exhaustion. By next year we may be ready to do it again, but not till then. Other family gatherings, it's B's (adult) niece who hosts, and she's an amazing dynamo who takes care of everything.

Monday, December 19, 2022

into the mouth of hell

I was in search of a Hanukkah present for my nephew, aged 7. His dad suggested a t-shirt with stuff he likes depicted on it: maps, or stars or planets. This would have been easily enough found and ordered online, but time for delivery (and assurance that it would arrive when promised, especially at this season) is what was lacking.

So I went down into the mouth of hell, the big regional indoor shopping mall. Arriving at 10:30 AM meant there were still some parking spaces. Thence followed two hours of tromping around inside. Besides the department stores, there are plenty of children's specialty stores. But as far as "graphic t-shirts" (as I learned that ones with pictures are appropriately known as) goes, they're convinced that all boys like dinosaurs, particularly t-rex. A few football players, old cars and planes, stuff like that. I'd hoped a store called "Psycho Bunny" might be a little more creative, and it was full of nothing but t-shirts and sweatshirts, but every one of them had nothing on it but the Psycho Bunny logo.

The first store I'd looked in had a shirt whose t-rex was tramping over a picture of the Earth from orbit. Well, it's sort of like a globe, and a globe is sort of like a map, and I had given up finding anything better and was on my way back when I passed The Gap's children's store. And there I found something a little better: a shirt reading something like "The Universe is yours to explore" underneath a pixelated picture of an astronaut helmet with a galaxy reflected in the visor. That'd do, I thought, if only it wasn't a size too small. I bought it anyway, along with another shirt, in the right size, commemorating Gravity Probe B, which was a satellite testing relativity effects, launched 18 years ago. That's astrophysics more than astronomy, but close enough. What the heck it was doing on a t-shirt, and that so long afterwards, I dunno.

Anyway, I returned home with my finds, numbed by the experience but surviving. In amongst my searching I had lunch, because the mall's food selection is at least as munificent as their t-shirt selection. On the second floor is a row of Asian food counter restaurants. There was a line in front of the Japanese ramen one several hundred yards long. The rest were totally deserted. I wound up with a Vietnamese rice bowl, a bit expensive but not too bad.

I hadn't been to the mall in ... [n] ... years. It's gone way upscale in the interim, filled with high-end shops for one thing or another, including a luxury car dealer. A storefront like any other, open front, and you look inside and there's a car. How they got it inside - it wouldn't fit through the mall's doors - I couldn't say. Maybe there's some hidden cargo doors.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Saturday, December 17, 2022

concert review: Kitka

I'd heard Kitka giving short sets at the Garden of Memory events in Oakland, where they sang mostly Eastern European folk music but once some Meredith Monk, making bracing sounds that I likened more than once to geese honking.

Then I got the notification they were doing a winter seasonal concert in Menlo Park. Apparently they do this every year that there isn't a pandemic on, but I hadn't been aware of it before. This would be my first chance to hear them do a full-length concert. Furthermore, this one had a touch of timeliness to it in that it would be mostly Ukrainian music. Hmm, I thought, I could review it for the Daily Journal. And so I did.

I expect that what I wrote about their repertoire and performing style would apply equally well to any folk concert they gave, so this may be the only time. B., who is a classically trained singer but also likes western folk music, did not care for this at all, in the same way that she doesn't like spicy food. So I was sure to warn in the review that the sound takes some getting used to, though I left out the goose comparison this time. Nevertheless my editor commented that it seemed really interesting, which is not something he often says about my reviews.

Friday, December 16, 2022

things with Christina Ricci in them

Mini-series released all at once and consequently gulped down by me in several big bites. As with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd, Tim Burton turns his source material sour and rancid, eliminating all the joy and wit that I loved in the 1964 Addams Family tv show, not to mention the original cartoons. In 1964, Gomez and Morticia truly loved each other, a rare phenomenon among married couples in tv comedy, and treated only as grotesquery here. So why couldn't there be a show about a teenage girl who doesn't burningly resent her mother, for a change?

Still, Jenna Ortega is outstanding in the premise of "Sheldon Cooper goes to Hogwarts" (as some critic put it). Ortega has said in interviews that she didn't discuss the character with Christina Ricci, but she's much more Ricci's Wednesday than Lisa Loring's, let along Charles Addams's. I found her more than usually relatable: while I don't share Wednesday's taste for the macabre, the complete loner with utter disdain for teenage social activity was entirely me at that age. I was only sorry that they didn't hold to it: Wednesday goes to a school dance and actually dances, which I would never have done; and by the end she's unbent enough to learn to hug. Ycch, what a cop-out.

As the mystery plot takes over the storyline, I found it much less tedious than mystery plots usually are, though the twists, reversals, and fake-outs became excessive in the last couple episodes, as did the sfx. Battles between CGI monsters still suck technically: they shouldn't be made. What I wasn't expecting in the closing episodes were several call-outs to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, including to Buffy's disposal of Gachnar.

As for Christina Ricci, at first one is evidently meant to think she was horribly miscast. By the end, not so much.

2003 movie, based on fact, for which Charlize Theron won an Oscar for playing a scatter-brained prostitute who murders her abusive johns, with Christina Ricci as her lover/sidekick/?. I'm not entirely sure what the character is doing in the movie, and neither is she. Having her complain that the plot is boring and doesn't make sense is no excuse for doing it that way. Evidently, like A Late Quartet, this movie is intended purely to be admired as a showcase for Great Acting, but my inability to distinguish great acting from merely pretty good acting trips me up here.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

ChatGPT can communicate better than a human. Sometimes.

So someone gave me the link to the public interface for the new AI. I decided to ask it a question that had always bugged me: What does E.M. Forster's phrase "only connect" actually mean? I posed this question once on my blog and got numerous replies, but not one gave a comprehensible answer to the question. It took ChatGPT to give me a usable answer.
"Only connect" is a phrase that comes from a novel called "Howards End" by E.M. Forster. The novel is about the relationships between different groups of people in England, and the idea behind the phrase is that people should try to connect with one another and understand each other, rather than remaining isolated and disconnected. In other words, it's about the importance of building relationships and forming connections with others.
OK, I went on, but why only connect? What else besides connect are you not supposed to do? I was even more astonished to get a straight answer to this one.
The phrase "only connect" is actually a bit of a paradox, because it suggests that the only thing that matters is connecting with others, but at the same time, it implies that there are other things that people should not do. In the context of the novel, the phrase is meant to convey the idea that relationships and connections with other people are the most important thing in life, and that everything else is secondary. So while the phrase doesn't specifically say what people should not do, it suggests that anything that doesn't involve building connections with others is less important.
All this must have come from somewhere, but unfortunately ChatGPT has no index to its source material, so I don't know what human was actually capable of explaining this. I got some equally useful answers to other questions of this kind, such as the meaning of the phrases "show me the money" (this was such a common catchphrase for a while that I actually watched the movie Jerry Maguire, from which it comes, for the sole purpose of finding out what the phrase meant, and came away unenlightened) and "off the wall" which I eventually figured out on my own, but which baffled me when I first heard it 45 years ago, and whose users couldn't explain it when I asked.

I decided to try Chat on some technical questions of musical terminology that I've noticed people getting wrong, and this was somewhat less successful. First I asked it if a piano quartet was a work for four pianos, a misapprehension I've encountered once or twice. It said accurately that "A piano quartet is a group of four musicians who play music together on the piano, violin, viola, and cello. It is not four pianos, but rather a combination of four different instruments," but it didn't say that the phrase "piano quartet" is actually shorthand for "quartet for piano and strings." I suggested it say this, and the Chat thanked me for the suggestion in such a way as to imply it already knew this but hadn't prioritized the information.

Then I asked it, "What instruments are in a string quintet?" because this is actually variable. It said correctly that "The most common combination of instruments in a string quintet is two violins, two violas, and a cello," but it didn't say anything about anything else. When I prompted it on that, it acknowledged there were other possibilities: "a string quintet could also include two violins, a viola, a cello, and a double bass," but all it said beyond that was that a combination with a harp or guitar isn't normally called a string quintet. It didn't offer two violins, one viola, and two cellos, which is the combination Schubert used in his String Quintet and is a little less unusual than the double-bass one.

Then I asked it the really tough one, "How many symphonies did Wolfgang Mozart write?" It answered in part, "It is difficult to say exactly how many symphonies he wrote, because some of his early works have been lost and there is some disagreement among scholars about which pieces should be considered symphonies." This is correct, though it didn't elaborate on the reasons for the disagreement (basically that Mozart tended to cobble together miscellaneous overtures and other pieces and use them as symphonies for concerts) or note a couple cases of questionable attributions, or a few past false attributions that have been crossed off the list.

Then it went on to say, "However, most sources agree that Mozart wrote between 41 and 51 symphonies," and this is entirely wrong. People often say 41 because that's the number on the "Jupiter," his last symphony, but what people who say that don't know is that the number was given not by Mozart but by an early 19th-century publisher who had an incomplete and inaccurate list. It's not only wrong, it's a shibboleth: anyone who claims to be a Mozart expert and says he wrote 41 symphonies has thereby revealed themselves to be no Mozart expert. Some omitted early works were later tacked on to the end of the list, and at one point it totaled 51, which must be where Chat got that number from, but that's also inaccurate. Neal Zaslaw's authoritative book Mozart's Symphonies lists 44 purpose-written symphonies, 21 of various cobbled-together kind, and 8 lost ones that we know about, making 73; and that's not counting 25 that have been incorrectly attributed to Mozart, 3 or 4 of which (one of them is uncertain) are among the list of 41. So watch it when it comes to Mozart.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

return to our irregular programming

This morning I found that my computer had updated itself overnight and was ready to reboot, but I had some peculiar trouble getting it started up. When I did, I found that the monitor kept blanking out for short, then increasingly long periods.

Concluding, as you would, that this meant the quite elderly monitor was failing, I had to set out and buy a new one. Using B's computer to search big box stores, I discovered that near-squarish 18 inch (diagonal) monitors like mine aren't being made any more. The smallest are 22 inch and they go up, way up, from there. That would make it a lot easier to be able to see two windows at once, which I often need to do. I settled for a 24-inch Samsung that I could pick up at a store not too distant. I drove there, walked in, found the box on the shelf, and bought it.

Not the end, since I still had to crawl around underneath my desk to disconnect the old monitor and connect the new one. The latter was particularly exasperating because it came with a cord that looked like a USB but wasn't, and wouldn't fit in my computer's USB ports, which are all of that kind that I have.

But the monitor did have one of those 15-pin ports that my old monitor had, and that would enable me to use the now-abandoned 15-pin port on my computer. All I needed was a cable. The new monitor didn't come with one. I couldn't use the old one as it was not separable from its monitor. Back to B's computer to locate a cable, order it for pickup, and drive to another, fortunately nearer, outlet to get it.

More struggles under the desk, and finally connection, succeeded by discovering that the monitor didn't know what kind of cable it was using and was reporting no signal on the non-USB cable. Nothing I could find in the online manuals said how to tell the monitor what kind of cable you were using, so I turned to Samsung online chat. After half an hour of wrangling over which of the various numbers stamped on the back of the monitor was the model number - it wasn't the one that said "Model No." next to it, and I'm just the customer, I'm not responsible for how Samsung labels its own numbers on its own products - I learned rather quickly that there's a button you can press that will toggle the input. That worked. One could wish this were more clearly stated somewhere, or that customer support could tell you this doubtlessly standard procedure without fussing over your exact model number.

Then I found that the monitor is still going blank occasionally. Clearly it's not just the monitor. I wondered what would happen if it blanked while I was watching a video - would the video stop during the blankness or keep going, and if the latter what about the sound? - only to discover that it won't go blank while a video is playing. So now, thanks to my wide monitor, I have one of those "ten hours of silence" videos running in a tiny window in the corner, and it's fine. That'll have to do until I take the computer in to the shop for a look, which I'm reluctant to do because you know this problem will never appear in the shop.

So, a day with no work getting done, but at least it egged me into getting a new and superior monitor.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

a little concert

Each academic term - or at least most of them - the Stanford Music Dept. hosts a set of 2 or 3 concerts they call the Chamber Music Showcase. Ensembles of student musicians play a movement each from various works of the chamber repertoire. There's usually at least a dozen groups of 2 to 5 performers, mostly strings and piano with the occasional wind.

These concerts are hosted by the members of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, whose job as the resident ensemble includes being among the coaches who teach the students. One or another of the quartet members will introduce each concert, and collectively they do the gruntwork of setting up the chairs and music stands, occasionally sit in as performers, and apologize when a set of players is late in showing up.

Geoff Nuttall, first violinist of the St. Lawrence, died a couple months ago. The Quartet's immediately upcoming concert was cancelled, and their next one - in January - has been transformed into a memoriam for Geoff. I'm surely going to go. But the Chamber Music Showcase is going on, and last Wednesday I showed up at the tiny Campbell Hall to find the three remaining members of the Quartet huddled and conferring, down in the corner by the stage door.

And the show went on. The second concert was Monday evening. Unusual this time was the absence of anything from the classical period. Most of the pieces were late 19th century, and a few early 20C ones were either holdovers (Faure, early Rachmaninoff) or conservatives (Martinu, Shostakovich). The most unusual offering was Mahler's fragmentary juvenile Piano Quartet, which I've heard in concert before. Best ;performance was of the first movement from the Brahms Op. 25 quartet.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Tár toddler

(spoilers for a number of movies here)

After I saw the movie Tár, I posted regarding what baffled me about it.

And now, here's an answer to at least three of my six questions: the latter part of the film is a hallucination or dream.

Sorry, I don't buy it. I've seen movies with hidden hallucinations or dreams in them before, and they usually worked it better than this. Clearest was Brazil, which - uniquely in this set - openly reveals this at the end. But I'd figured this out earlier, from noticing that the plot had lost all coherence and then deducing at what point this had happened.

Best at this was Mulholland Drive. On first viewing I found it fascinating but completely opaque. Somebody had to tell me that the first part of the movie is the fantasy dream of the character from the second part of the movie, but once they did so, everything in the movie suddenly made sense, which is not only brilliant but is why I put no credence in alternative explanations which don't work as well.

(There is also Fight Club, which I haven't seen and - going by what I've read about it - I doubt I would want to see.)

I also have to include Barton Fink, which I've never read analyzed this way but which I was forced to conclude is a complete hallucination once the story leaves New York, because otherwise I can't make any sense of it at all. I did notice a change of moviemaking style at that point, from naturalism to an eerie "Star Trek at the O.K. Corral" style, which contributed to my theory.

Mulholland Drive also changes style - mostly in its use of color and lens setting - at the critical point, and so does Brazil, mostly in story presentation. But Tár doesn't. It feels the same way all the way through. Maybe the whole movie is a hallucination? But that amounts to no more than saying that the whole movie is fiction, which we knew already. But by denying the viewer even the right to secondary belief, it makes the viewer into a patsy for even trying to watch it at all. So I hope the hallucination theory is false, but that still leaves me with six baffled questions.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

two concerts

After the Reading and Eating Meeting, which was Saturday afternoon, I headed immediately down to San Jose for a concert by their Symphony, because I was reviewing it. Having been out all day, I was a little tired, but not too much to appreciate the distinctiveness of this concert, which did a superb job of putting across Dvořák's Seventh, a work I'm not especially fond of, but was rather dull in Lalo's Cello Concerto, a rarely-heard work which, when it is heard, usually goes like gangbusters. To express this opinion in neutral reviewer language, I wrote, "this was a performance more contemplative than declarative."

Also contemplative, but in a good way because it's supposed to be like this, was a concert by Brocelïande, a seasonal celebration of medieval and Renaissance song, a Christmas concert without the usual overheard carols, instead mostly songs with words like "Wassail" and "Yule" in the titles, consequently a toasty joy to hear, the more so as it was, I think, the band's first live concert in this area since before the pandemic.

That was on Friday, a clear day between rain on both Thursday and Saturday, the first we'd had of that since the opening week of November, and thus a very good thing to have.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Reading and Eating

Our Mythopoeic book discussion group held its first in-person meeting in nearly three years, in the form of our annual Reading and Eating Meeting, which we'd tried to hold online a couple of times without complete success.

Nine people gathered in the spacious living room on top of the hill to partake of the hosts' lasagna and assorted side dishes and desserts. As I usually do, I brought something fairly substantive: a chicken and veggies creamed casserole, which I'd made at home a couple times after searching for a recipe with chicken and spinach in it, as that's what I'd had.

For reading, I brought along something old that had come up in the course of the year. I've been reading Lisa Goldstein's blog, and at one point she mentioned what a big fan she is of Harpo Marx, while reviewing the memoir of Harpo's wife. So I asked Lisa if she knew Allan Sherman's story of Harpo and the unemployment check. She replied "I sure do," so that inspired me to read the story at the REM. It got laughs in some places I wasn't expecting, including when the unemployment clerk says, "Now I know you're a liar! Harpo Marx can't talk!"

I also read the bit I described when reviewing Trevor Noah's memoir, about his friend in South Africa, a display dancer named Hitler. Noah goes on about this guy for a while, as the reader is thinking "Hitler?!", until he deigns to explain, which comes out in the end to: Why is his name Hitler? Because his mother named him Hitler.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

lady what?

A lot of recent news I don't have much to say on. I'm sorry that Christine McVie died, and shouldn't have been as surprised as I was to learn that she was 79. Fleetwood Mac was very popular when I was at university, and I got to recognize a few of their songs, though they never made a big impact on me.

Nor can I make much useful commentary on the late Queen's lady-in-waiting who kept pressing a black guest as to where in Africa she was really from, even after the guest explained that she was a born and bred Londoner. I could sort of understand if it had been asking where her ancestors were from, though even that would be rather tasteless, as it still bears the assumption you're not real: but also because, unless one has a special interest in Africa (don't laugh, some do), such deep background goes far beyond polite conversational inquiry.

But what puzzled me in the news articles is that the lady-in-waiting was sometimes called Lady Susan Hussey, or Lady Susan for short, and sometimes Lady Hussey. Which is it? You can't be both, not at the same time. But even the British news sources, which really ought to be capable of getting this straight, treated them as interchangeable.

It turns out, if Wikipedia is to be trusted (which it isn't, not entirely), that she's the daughter of an earl, so she would have started out as Lady Susan. Then her husband was given a life peerage, so that made her Lady Hussey. Oh god. But no longer "Lady Susan" after that point, is that clear? What she's been since her husband died, I'm not sure. If he'd had a hereditary peerage passed on to the next generation, she'd be the Dowager Lady Hussey, but in the absence of that I'm not sure what she is if anything. Not working at the Palace any more, that's for damn sure.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022


This is but one of several cartoons I've seen over the years joking about the complexity of bath faucets. I never imagined our shower faucet would be among them. I turned it on to test it immediately on first inspecting this place as a possible rental.

But two successive plumbers - the generalist and the specialist - looking for a possible leak in the shower drain (turned out there wasn't one, so we're OK) could not figure out how to turn on the shower faucet.

You pull the handle. Twisting it left or right adjusts the temperature. To turn it on, you pull it. Had they never encountered one like that before, or known this was something you try?

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

not to drink

I see that Diet Coke is in the news again. Occasionally I drink that. Mostly I just drink water. I'll drink apple juice from two vendors: hotel breakfast bar juice machines and airplane drink carts. But once in a while I'm offered a drink where something carbonated is the default choice.

In that case, I usually ask for a Diet Coke. I have no brief for or particular fondness for Diet Coke. I ask for one because I want something that
1) is without sugar;
2) has a taste I can tolerate, particularly in regards to undelectable sugar substitutes, and Coke's machine-oil flavor is strong enough to obliterate any obnoxious sugar substitute;
3) they're likely to have in stock, which is why I don't ask for diet root beer, which might be my preference depending on which brand was available if any.

Monday, November 28, 2022

tv show themes

Uh-oh, Rolling Stone has named The 100 Greatest TV Theme Songs of All Time, and there's plenty to disagree with here. (Starting, no doubt, with their all being American.) I went through the whole thing, and ignoring that there were a few for which they had the wrong video, or there was no video, or it's been taken down already, I found I only recognized 30 of the 100 (101, actually). Of course that's largely due to how little television I've watched, though there are a couple shows (Cheers, All in the Family) that I recognize the songs even though I didn't watch the show. I know the Olympics fanfare solely from having heard it played on kazoo at Golfimbul awards ceremonies at Mythcons. On the other hand there are some shows I know I've seen at least a few episodes of that the song made no impact on my memory.

But what strikes me mostly is how bad or simply nugatory some of the listed items are. True, Seinfeld and Star Trek (among those I do remember) are iconic shows and their themes consequently historically important, but musically they're pretty worthless. Of the 70 themes I didn't know there were exactly two that I liked on first hearing: Terriers and Game of Thrones (yes, that's right, I have never seen this show: not one clip, until the opening credits just now).

Of the comedies I watched as a kid, I'm pleased they got in the two best musically: The Addams Family and I Dream of Jeannie, as well as several others which weren't quite so good (but not Get Smart?)

Turning to dramas, I see they also have two of the best songs from shows I watched, Mission: Impossible and Hawaii Five-O (an incredibly dull police procedural show, Hawaii Five-O was worth watching only for the theme song, and in those days watching the show was the only way to hear it). But for exciting and memorable drama show theme songs, nothing beats a British show which is probably thereby off their radar even though it played in the US, The Prisoner.

Another thing that astonished me is their inclusion of some anemic theme for the 1970s version of one game show, The Match Game, when the 1960s version of the same show had the catchiest song ever given to a game show, which was this. Somehow, unlike the songs for other shows I'd watched, this one had completely faded out of my memory until I heard the song without identification about 20 years later, at which point I started climbing the walls in frustration until I established what it was and where I had heard it before.

Well, we could go on.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

two memoirs

Trevor Noah, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Spiegel & Grau, 2016)
I once remarked that, at the time of his birth, Barack Obama would have been illegal in half the U.S. states, and got a pedantic response to the effect that it was his parents' marriage, not his existence, that was illegal. That was before Trevor Noah's book was published with its bold and, it turns out, accurate title. There was a classification in apartheid law for mixed-race people, but they were assumed to have been that way for many generations. If the authorities had learned that Noah was the first generation of his mixed-race line, he as well as his parents would have been in big trouble.
Nor were his parents married. His mother, whom he depicts throughout this book as a truly remarkable woman, just decided to pick a white man of foreign origin and (with his permission, I assume) have a baby. Then she had to pretend she was just caretaking him whenever they went out in public.
Life in the black precincts of South Africa is a very strange thing to a white Western reader, but Noah is very good at explaining what's going on in a clear and light, amusing fashion even when the contents are dire. I had none of the "huh? I can't picture this; I don't get what's going on here" that I did on reading Kipling's Kim. Noah's most brilliant piece of explanation comes when he gets to his first local fame, as a DJ at dance parties in the ghetto. (Which he built up to out of previous success as a music bootlegger - another long story.) At these parties, he tells us, there'd often be a popular display dancer whom the audience would cheer on by his name. His name was Hitler.
Noah lets this surreal, actually goofy, scene of people cheering on the dancing Hitler go on for a while before he explains. South African blacks often give their children two names, one in their native language and one that white people can pronounce. The latter is often the name of a famous person, and to South African blacks, Hitler is just another famous person. He doesn't carry the charge that he does for whites. If a black could go back in time and kill one evil person, Noah says, it'd probably be Cecil Rhodes. It wouldn't be Adolf Hitler. And so, Hitler's namesake dances at DJ parties. Amazing stuff.

Tammy Duckworth, Every Day Is a Gift: A Memoir (Twelve, 2021)
I read somewhere that Duckworth was inspired by Noah's memoir into writing her own. Even if so, they're very different. Duckworth, if you need the reminder, is the half-white half-Thai Army helicopter pilot who lost both legs in Iraq and is now a Senator from Illinois.
But that's about all I knew about her. She doesn't say a lot about her mother, who's actually Chinese by ancestry but was born in Thailand and considers herself Thai. Tammy (a nickname: her birth name is the Thai Ladda) says a lot more about her father, a scion of old but poor Virginia stock who made his career in southeast Asia because, his daughter tells us frankly, he could be a bigger shot there than at home. For a while. Eventually his career sputters out, hope springs eternal but he can't get another job on the level he's had, and he's too proud to become whatever the equivalent of Walmart greeters is they have in Indonesia, which is where they're living at the time.
Tammy escapes from this by going back to the US - which she's barely previously visited - for an education and then joins the Army, signing up as a helicopter pilot because that's the closest a woman can get to combat. Eventually she gets too close for comfort, and tells the tale of the day her legs got blown off in a straightforward fashion, emotional only in the sense that you feel she wishes she could go back to Iraq and do it all again.
For if one thing is clear from this book, it's that Duckworth is a real Army grunt, if you can use that term for an officer. All the dirt and smudge and raunchy jokes - she tells a few in this book - are the life for her, even the packages of candy from home that melt in the Iraqi heat and arrive as masses of kludge. It's the details like that that make this a really readable book. For instance, she finds there's only one firm selling women's cotton underwear (you don't want nylon: it'll melt and bond with your skin in a fire) that'll ship to Iraq: Victoria's Secret, so that's what she wears. This becomes of importance when it turns out that, if you're wounded and taken away, everything in your kit is distributed to other soldiers.
After that, her time in the hospital and in physical therapy comes off as a doddle, though she insists that it was nothing of the sort. But she's so strong and determined, she brushes the challenge off.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

after black friday

For years I made it a personal moral principle never to go out and buy anything on Black Friday, the big shopping holiday the day after Thanksgiving. But this must be, though I hadn't noticed it, the second or third year I've given that up, owing to our pandemic-inspired decision to pick up weekly grocery shopping, which we do on Friday. (A day originally chosen because, when B. was working, that was the only weekday she was never at work.)

So I went out on Friday on the usual errand of picking up our groceries and getting myself lunch from the Chinese take-out next door, feeling that I wasn't contributing to shopping madness because, when driving home from Thanksgiving at 5 pm, we hadn't seen anybody camping out in store parking lots as we had in previous years. The frenzy seems to have died down a little.

But then on Saturday morning, the newspapers - as is their wont - chose to attribute this to economic recession.

Thursday, November 24, 2022


I didn't want to write about Thanksgiving until after it was over. We came home, fed the cats, skipped dinner. Then I took the nap I'd managed to avoid during the festivities. Then I placed the weekly online grocery order and extensively cuddled a cat at his insistence: he's probably anxious because I'd been away all day. And now, if he doesn't come back again and occupy both my hands to hold him up, I can write this post.

We were a little nervous about going to niece T.'s house for a gathering of relatives and T.'s friends, some of whom had flown in to be there and weren't too enthusiastic about getting covid tested, and one of whom was anti-vax. (I tried as inconspicuously as possible to stay far away from her.) B. and I were the only people there wearing masks, and of course at a meal we couldn't wear them all the time.

Well, it was a good occasion. T. set out a fine spread, her husband brined the turkey before smoking it and that came out well, though the prime rib was vastly underdone. This time I brought a large casserole dish full of simply plain steamed broccoli, about the only vegetable that wasn't salad, and most of it was taken.

Among the more welcome seldom-seen visitors were T.'s youngest brother and his wife, who've just moved back here from Texas, which they'd decided they'd had quite enough of, and are now living in a house tucked up in a small fog-bound valley on the coast, which is exactly where B. and I would want to live if we were buying a house. We'd need one that didn't require stairs to get in, though.

My own out-of-town brother and his lady were there also, and I'd seen them earlier in the week when we'd taken an outing to the narrow-gauge railroad through the redwoods up in the mountains.

Hiding in the background at the party was the background music, which was Christmas songs. They're coming! But this was a greater variety than usual which made for a refreshing selection: I recognized a song from A Charlie Brown Christmas and a cover version of "You're a Mean One, Mr Grinch."

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

book review: The Eunuch

The Eunuch: A Novel by Charles H. Fischer (Gabbro Head)

The publisher, whom I know and who published an essay of mine in a scholarly anthology a few years ago, sent me an advance copy of this novel and asked me to write something about it when it was formally published, which it now has been. It is very long, about 470 pages, and I confess I have not finished reading it. I took it with me on our drive to Washington state, and read from it assiduously, but I was still less than half done when we got home and other more pressing tasks have swept me away since then, though I was not uninterested in what I was reading.

The book was recommended to me, specifically, because I am a fan of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast and the publisher thought The Eunuch shared a like air of grotesquery. I see the similarity, but I don't think they're really much alike. Peake's grotesquery is Dickensian, while Fischer's is vulgar and lewd (words of description, not condemnation) which Peake's is not. This book is filled with bodily functions, especially both the sexual - for reasons that will be apparent when I describe the setting - and the alimentary. There's much description of strange and repulsive foods, and of toiletry matters - the story is especially loaded with flatulence.

The story is a first-person narrative by a eunuch named Nergal, who is court harem-master to the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II. He wrote it all down in wedges on clay tablets, and this is the translation, though a (fictional) introduction suggests that the translator was rather free with the material. Which I have to wonder about: 470 pages of clay tablets? Fischer, or the fictional translator, is pretty good about using the words wedge or wedging instead of write or writing, and the result can be pretty funny, though occasionally he slips.

It's actually the complexity and intricate weaving of the governmental operations which are more like Gormenghast than the grotesquery, though in the manner of presentation rather than the specific content. The main plot concerns the king's responsibility to mate regularly with the inhabitants of his harem and sire lots of bastards. This will foster the health of his kingdom and make the rains come. Unfortunately this king is getting on in years and is rather impotent, and Nergal, who has to keep track of all this, is spending more time than he wants covering up the problem. Then, one day while he is trying to guide the king's member into doing its duty - yes, he's responsible for that too - the concubine absently caresses Nergal, which causes him to fall in love with her. He's a eunuch, but as has been made clear earlier, he's not entirely devoid of romantic or sexual feelings.

Oh boy. It was soon after that little plot crunch that I had to stop, but things do not look good for anyone concerned, and remember that, though some years after Nebuchadnezzar's death, Babylon fell.

The prose is fairly clear, and the storyline flows, though there's nothing slim or taut about it. It's a rather comic story in its particularly grotesque way. I think there are readers who will really enjoy this novel.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022


There was an article in the Washington Post - probably you can't see this without a subscription, sorry - about the disappearance of encores. This was among pop music groups, most of which appear to be hard rock or punk groups, who say that they dislike the ritual or performative aspects of pretending they're done and then coming back, or that the process wastes time in which they could be playing another song or just leaving and letting everyone get home sooner.

The only pop music I attend is folk concerts at the Freight, and there the encore is always expected and entirely performative. You announce that what's next is your last song, there's a big final applause after it and you walk offstage during this, leaving your instruments, and then you come right back out and play another one. Then you're done. It's ritual, it's really rather silly, but the going off and coming back doesn't waste much time. I don't see that changing.

In classical, the encore occupies a different position. In non-pops concerts the final work is usually a big and heavy one, so the encore occupies the position of a light dessert, quite different from a pop concert where it's usually another song like all the others. (Though sometimes pop bands do something different: Steeleye Span used to do encores of acappella pop-song numbers after their concerts of electric folk.) Nor are encores entirely obligatory in classical but seem to be affected by the reception: I've rarely experienced an encore when the applause wasn't highly enthusiastic, and a performer doing a series of concerts on successive evenings may play an encore one night but not the next.

There are also unwritten rules in classical as to who performs an encore. Soloists in concertos with orchestra: sometimes. Whether the evening's schedule can afford the added time seems to be a factor here. Visiting soloists giving recitals: often. Visiting ensembles, from chamber groups to orchestras: usually. Ensembles playing in their home auditoriums: almost never.

Encores are traditionally rousing and lively, but in recent decades I've noticed a tendency towards slow and quiet encores, if only to calm the audience down and make them stop applauding so the orchestra can leave. Classical custom is that conductors, and soloists if any, go on and off stage ("curtain calls" it's still called though there is no curtain). The orchestra, which had stood up at the conductor's motion to share in the applause, sits down again when the conductor walks off, and by established custom can't leave until the applause ends. I've seen conductors short-circuit this by grabbing the concertmaster by the hand and dragging him or her off with them; then the rest of the orchestra can follow.

Sometimes the conductor or soloist announces the encore. Sometimes you can't hear what they're saying. Once I was reviewing and misheard what they were saying; that was embarrassing. Sometimes when reviewing I have to contact the concert management afterwards and ask. Sometimes they don't know but think they do: that, too, can be embarrassing. Rarely when a piece sounds distinctive or familiar but I don't know what it is, I hum it into a voice mail to myself and then look it up when I get home, usually in Barlow & Morgenstern's theme index.

Monday, November 21, 2022

assaulted by battery

The nearly four-week saga of our nonfunctioning garage door opener is over.

It was back in the last week of October that this automated device, which we'd had installed three years ago to replace a rattling old one, started to beep, persistently and annoyingly.

Step 1. Find message on the wall-mounted control that says the battery needs to be replaced.

Step 2. Fail to find a manual.

Step 3. Online queries reveal where the battery is to be found in the device.

Step 4. Remove the battery. This is no pocket-sized 9-volt or D-cell. No, it's a huge honking four-inch cube of a lead battery which must weigh at least 30 pounds. Two metal tabs stick out of the top, around which slip plastic cuffs at the ends of wires that come out of the battery compartment, and therein lies the rub. At least removing it causes the beeping to stop.

Step 5. Phone various door installers in hopes they will sell me a battery. They don't keep them in stock.

Step 6. Fail to find batteries listed in the manufacturer's online parts catalog.

Step 7. Phone the manufacturer. Uninformed fellow there can't tell me which kind of battery I have, as the model number on the battery isn't the parts number in their catalog, but he does tell me where on the website to find the right box to fill in the word "battery."

Step 8. Order what looks like a likely battery. It arrives in 2 days. Alas, wrong kind of connector, wires with plastic cuffs on this part instead of the other part.

Step 9. Phone up the manufacturer again. Better-informed fellow tells me how to ship the wrong battery back (I haven't yet learned if I'm getting a refund), a little saga of its own because FedEx, even though they shipped the thing to me, is afraid of batteries; manufacturer fellow also confirms that some other battery in their catalog is the right one, which I couldn't tell because the photo on the web site doesn't show the tabs. But he also tells me the same battery may be had for less expense at Home Depot.

Taking this advice is a mistake that costs me nearly three weeks.

Step 10. Visit Home Depot, only to find they don't have the batteries in stock. They have to be shipped to the store. Actually they don't have the same battery but one listed as "compatible" with it. I should have stopped there, but I order it. This is a Monday. It's supposed to arrive on Wednesday of the following week.

Step 11. On the Thursday, having had no word, I phone the store. A voice-activated message tree takes me to the wrong department, but the guy there is willing to look up my order. It's arrived but has to be "prepared," he says. How long will that take? For that, he has to transfer me to the right department, whose person declares that no, the battery has not arrived, no further explanation available.

Step 12. Phone Home Depot corporate customer service. They find a notification that it had arrived the previous week! But they can't reach anyone at the store to explain this, so they offer to re-order the battery at no extra cost. I roll my eyes at this but agree. (After this call I get an automated satisfaction survey. I was pretty satisfied with this person, but fortunately there's a question about whether you would shop at Home Depot again and I gave the strongest NO available.)

Step 13. Wait another week for the re-order. This time the battery arrives and I drive to Home Depot to pick it up. And when opened it ... has little plastic cuffs sticking out of the top. Doesn't fit onto the cuffs on my machine's wires. Not "compatible."

Step 14. Back to the manufacturer's web site. Order what the second guy had told me was the right battery. It arrives in 3 days. It has tabs. They fit in the plastic cuffs. Stuff the heavy battery back in the compartment, wait a day for it to charge (as advised by the web site instructions). Door now opens. Success.

So next time the battery fails - which may be in only another three years, because this model has lots of online reviews complaining about its short lifespan - I can hop from step 4 directly to step 14 and skip all the others.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

three concerts

1. It seemed to me that, of the Music at Kohl Mansion concerts this season, the one most worthy of reviewing should be the 40th anniversary celebration, so I covered that. In addition to commissioning a new work for the occasion, they revived selected movements from two previous commissions.

I once got some reader feedback for describing the Kohl audience as "mostly elderly Hillsborough gentry," Hillsborough being an exceedingly wealthy nearby suburb, but my impression of them as very conservative in their musical tastes was confirmed by the program book's story of how the first commission, in 1987, was made to Ernst Bacon because he was a fairly conservative composer who wouldn't disturb an audience that "was comfortable with Beethoven and Brahms, and only ventured hesitantly into Bartok."

Nevertheless, as basically tonal as the Bacon work was, and far more so than the querulously academic David Carlson commission that followed, it was as nothing to the placidly agreeable, though well constructed and crafted, piece by Shinji Eshima premiered tonight. The audience loved it.

It was written, without any clogging or congestion in the ensemble, for a quintet of assorted instruments including a marimba. The one previous occasion Kohl had featured a marimba was by the same composer. This time they didn't try to lift the marimba intact onto the performing platform (when they did that before, all the mallets and sheet music piled on top fell off), but assembled and disassembled it on stage.

2. Last fall, MTT canceled half of the second week of his two-week return visit to SFS, due to being weak from still recovering from brain surgery. This year he is in much better health - he looked healthier - and did the whole two weeks. I attended the second one, an all-Brahms program featuring the Serenade No. 1, a rarely-heard huge expanse of gentle tranquility. And then they played the Piano Concerto No. 1, which is supposed to be stormy, in the same gently tranquil, extended way. It was supposed to be 40 minutes but lasted closer to an hour.

Emanuel Ax was soloist, and for an encore MTT, announcing a theme of "Old Jews play the old masters," sat down at the piano next to Ax and they played a four-hand rondo by Schubert. I'm sure Brahms would not have objected.

3. I also ventured up to the Freight for a band called Altan, because I felt it was time for a little more Irish folk music in my life. Four-to-five piece group - fiddle(s) and accordion, guitar and bouzouki - gave a typical mix of fast dances and slow songs, with a reedy vocalist. Enjoyable, which is what I was there for.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Garth speaks

John Garth gave a talk at Marquette University today in connection with the Tolkien manuscript exhibit. I listened in via Zoom.

At one point he quoted from The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf musing how he'd like to be able to wrest a palantír to his control, "to look across the wide seas of water and of time to Tirion the Fair, and perceive the unimaginable hand and mind of Fëanor at their work." (Doing what? Creating the palantíri, among other things.)

And John said how much he'd like to be able to perceive the unimaginable hand and mind of Tolkien at their work - creating The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, among other things.

Yes. Sigh.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

on beyond zebra

Back in late July, I visited my doctor for a check-up, and while I was there, a couple nurses' aides came in and jabbed me with a pair of vaccines I needed, one in each shoulder. (This had nothing to do with either covid or the flu, both of which were handled separately at other times.)

One of those was for shingles, and I was told that this would require a second shot in 3-4 months. The aide sat at the exam room computer to make an appointment for my second shot, stopped, made a phone call, then told me it was not possible to make an appointment that far in the future. That's 3-4 months. I thought I'd had appointments longer out than that in the past, but that's what they said. So I made a note in my calendar to contact them in October about this.

Before I could contact them, they called me. This is mid-October now. Ah, yes, you need your second shingles shot. Let's see, our earliest available appointment is ... in March.

March? That's in five months! Back in July, you couldn't make an appointment as far off as 3 months. And quite unsuitable for the shingles shot, being 8 months after my previous one when it should be 3-4.

So they offered to look up others of their locations and found a medical office building some ten miles away where I could get one in a few weeks. Much less of a backup.

So thither I drove yesterday and had no trouble, beyond discovering that afternoon commuter traffic was already heavy at 3 pm - I don't often go that way in the afternoon - so I ducked off the freeway and took obscure back roads that I knew about offhand because I've been absorbed by street maps of the area since I was four years old.

The vocational nurse who gave me this one told me that I'd definitely suffer some cold- or flu-like side effects from this jab by the evening, but so far I haven't, just the usual sore arm.

Bizarre as the scheduling process here has been, it's much less complex than the saga of replacing our garage door opener's battery, which is approaching three weeks and still ongoing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

concert review: Meta4

A rather painfully elaborate name for a string quartet. My editors sent me to review them because it seemed like one of the more intriguing things that Stanford would be putting on this term.

The concert was in the Studio, a small cube in Bing's basement. Ostensibly the reason to put concerts here is for more intimate, smaller-scale performances, and I repeated the party line in the review, but regardless of the unusual repertoire this was just a string quartet concert, the kind which Bing's acoustically excellent main space can handle just fine. I suspect the real reason for putting concerts in the cube, as has been when I've been there before, has been their narrow audience appeal. It would be too dismaying to face a sea of empty seats in the main space. Even the cube was far from full.

But it was an enriching artistic experience, not least because I finally heard a piece by Kaija Saariaho that I really like, and one by Amy Beach that isn't all wet. For once I knew beforehand for sure that I'd have two tickets, so I invited an athenais along and she was also enriched. The only problem was chairs not made for concentrated sitting. Now I'll associate Sibelius's string quartet with having a sore butt.

Friday, November 11, 2022

one thrilling play

I've been to the Tabard Theatre in downtown San Jose before, most recently for The Odd Couple, which was well done, but a small audience meant for rather anemic laughter. I thought maybe a serious thriller might work better if it were a good enough play, and this one looked promising: Wait Until Dark by Frederick Knott and Jeffrey Hatcher.

It's set in a basement apartment in New York some time probably in the 1950s or maybe 60s. It's got a complicated plot but it ends up with the woman who lives there being menaced by a psychopathic criminal who is sure she has the valuable missing MacGuffin. The gimmick is ... she's blind, so she turns the lights out on him.

Only a small part of the play actually takes place in total darkness, and there's another small part where it's just light enough to see shapes; the rest there is a light on somewhere, even if it's only coming from an open fridge. (But why, if she's pulled all the fuses, is there power to the fridge at all?)

The principals, Jaime Wolf (who is not blind) as the blind woman and Brandon Silberstein as the psychopath, are Tabard veterans and were excellent, but so was the rest of the cast who are mostly new to the company. Despite the rather confusing, dumped-in-at-the-deep-end opening, the plot proceeds apace, and our heroine's preparations for the confrontation which she knows is coming contribute to the suspense.

It turned out to be a good show and well worth the effort everyone put into it. It started out as a Halloween show, but it's still playing through this Sunday, so I'd recommend it to locals.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

the Butler did it

It has been brought to my attention, by someone who actually follows Twitter, that "Sir David Butler, the father of psephology, or election science, died [on Tuesday] at the age of 98."

The person posting this was Michael Crick, who published a biography of Sir David a few years ago. I read that book and wrote here about it and the acknowledgment therein of my small contribution to it.

Crick writes in his tweets that Butler "promoted the word 'psephology' to describe the new study of election science." He writes carefully. Butler promoted the word, he didn't invent it. My contribution was to assist Crick's researchers in discovering who did invent it.

It was C.S. Lewis and the Inklings.

concert review: CaIifornia Symphony

Last weekend I also got up to Lesher for the California Symphony, a professional ensemble that's worth the hour-plus drive to get there, for not only good performances but appealing programming, the latter being a quality that Symphony San Jose seems to be opting out of.

This concert was all music for strings, and except for Dvorak's Serenade for same, which came out a little gruff, they were all intriguing back-burner items. The Introduction and Allegro by Elgar, and the Concerto for String Orchestra by Grazyna Bacewicz (Poland's greatest woman composer: I wrote about her before when Bard Music West devoted a small festival to her work) both had a seasoned texture to them which suited the works very well. It brought out the Brahms in Elgar and the Bartok in Bacewicz.

The last item was even more unusual, the Eclogue by Gerald Finzi, which is the slow movement from an otherwise incomplete concerto for piano and strings. The pianist, Elizabeth Dorman, got mostly soft unaccompanied passages and a little rumination with the strings. The music exuded Finzi's native quality, best describable as Vaughan Williams and water. Oh, come on: it was pleasant enough.

The rest of their season will feature the most amazing selection of symphonies: the now-neglected Franck Symphony (I don't have a ticket for that one: maybe I should go anyway, despite it also featuring a Chopin piano concerto, snore), Walton's First, and the Symphony by Hans Rott, something I never thought I'd hear live in this lifetime. The Walton either, actually. This is the kind of stuff I'd drive to Fresno to hear if Kuchar were still there, and Walnut Creek isn't nearly so far away.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

concerts review: Israel Philharmonic

The Israel Philharmonic made a rare local appearance, under its new music director Lahav Shani, so I decided to hear this noted ensemble. They gave two concerts - that I knew about - one at Davies, an auditorium so large only a massive orchestra can sonically fill it, and one the next day at Bing, an auditorium almost too small for a full orchestra, though it managed to contain the full blast this time, which hasn't always been true in the past.

Repertoire the first night was Mahler's First, the only one of his symphonies I really like, and a curiosity, the First of Paul Ben-Haim, most distinguished of the generation of Israeli composers active in the mid-20C. I'd heard some of his music before, but not this one. It was a well-argued symphony of weight and power, especially notable for a march segment at the end of the first movement. For the second night, an all-Prokofiev program, all well-known stuff: his Classical and Fifth Symphonies and excerpts from Romeo and Juliet.

This is an orchestra of crispness and sparkle rather than power or drive. Not that their flow was listless, but it didn't reach the status of awesomely compelling that you'd expect of an ensemble this good. The pinpoint exactitude of the sound, however, was amazingly vivid, and they kept it up for two whole concerts. Fast figurations came like hardened crystal of extreme detail and complexity. Shani is an impressionistic conductor who waves his arms around in general phrases rather than beating time or giving cues. Usually in a top ensemble this is a sign that the conductor has already done his job in rehearsal, the players know how to do the music, and the conductor is still there mostly for show.

At Davies but not at Bing there were protesters in front of the hall (which fortunately is soundproofed). In the absence of Gergiev-like endorsements of atrocities, which so far as I know there haven't been in this case, I don't hold cultural groups responsible for their government's misdeeds. And if I did, I'd start with the U.S.: I note that the protesters held the U.S. complicit in Israel's actions. But I'm not going to boycott all U.S. orchestras so I won't an Israeli one either.

Both concerts began with the playing of both the U.S. and Israeli national anthems. I stood up for both, out of respect. I don't approve of various things done by governments of either nation, but I believe firmly in both countries' right to exist and I want to acknowledge that.

Monday, November 7, 2022

didn't know that

I know about Shostakovich's 1934 opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. That's the one that Stalin disliked so much he caused an editorial to be published in Pravda titled "Muddle Instead of Music." Its threatening tone - no idle thing in an autocracy - supposedly kept Shostakovich, though loaded with honors, nervous for the rest of his life.

I also knew that the opera was based on a story, which on looking it up I see was written by Nikolai Leskov and published in 1865. And I presumed the title reflected the idea that here was a woman like Lady Macbeth except she lived in this place in Russia.

What was new to me came when I borrowed an obscure library book I needed for an article on Tolkien. It also had an article on Turgenev, whom I've never read and know almost nothing about. And from browsing through this I learned that Leskov's story was part of a trend, because Turgenev had some years earlier written a story called "Hamlet of the Shchigrovsky District." And he also wrote one called "King Lear of the Steppes," though that one (undated in the article) may have come later.

And yes, here it's explicit: Turgenev considered Shakespeare's characters to be basic human types, so he wrote about those types recurring. In his "Hamlet," the narrator meets a man whose real name he never learns, and who considers himself an ineffectual nebbish. Just like Hamlet! Or at least one view of Hamlet.

Interesting that there should have been this trend, but I'd never seen it mentioned in connection with the opera.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

changing the frickin' clocks

I got home late last night, with a preassigned duty of changing those clocks that B. couldn't reach or that she didn't want to deal with.

The challenge was the time display on our new stove. There's nothing in the manual on how to change it, but I know I managed to do it back in April or whenever that was. I found that I'd written an instructional note down in the margin of the manual. It said:

"To change clock: Push buttons at random until display changes to '----'. Then you can enter the new time."

This time I figured out how to handle the buttons, and changed the note.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

a drip of news

1. According to a news article, only 17% of the voters in our state have voted so far. But I am one of them. I dropped my ballot off at the deposit box at the city library on Wednesday (the little statue out front of a man reading was still dressed up in Halloween costume) and got the e-mail from the state on Friday saying it had been counted.

2. There's been a little rain this week.

3. Best obit for Geoff Nuttall, best because it really captures his character. "inspiring and infectious energy that radiated on stage" ... "charming and ebullient manner, boundless enthusiasm, and a disarming sense of humor" ... "energetic and physical musical performances, jumping out of his chair, bouncing around on stage, and enthusiastically moving his whole body" ... "playing with such visceral intensity, exuberant joy, incredible sweetness, and depth of sorrow." Yes.

Friday, November 4, 2022

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

I had just gone to a concert featuring Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto and Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances; why (by pure coincidence, I trust) another one? I thought about not bothering to go, but I realized why I went after I got there. Because a volunteer orchestra managing to play at professional level is one thing, but a truly world-class orchestra is quite another. And it's because SFS is such an orchestra that I go to the trouble of going up there.

Juraj Valčuha (native of Slovakia, newly appointed music director in Houston) conducted like a flowing stream of water in human form. Behzod Abduraimov (from Uzbekistan) played the Prokofiev piano part; the integration of this with the orchestra was the striking feature, quite different from the bold separation I heard before.

Although the Rachmaninoff's program note writer has been dead for over a decade, it was news to me that one briefly-appearing melody is a serene transformation of a stormy theme from the composer's First Symphony, a work he'd withdrawn and which was therefore unknown at the time the Dances were new. I'd never noticed this before. But I paid attention when it came up here, and sure enough, it is. (Much of the time I find I don't believe such offered equations.)

The difference in the program was that, instead of a Mendelssohn march for wind band, this concert had a recently-composed opener, The Spark Catchers by Hannah Kendall, a Black British composer in her 30s. It sounded a lot like John Adams's Short Ride in a Fast Machine: jangly, abrupt, and bumpy.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

cat daddies

Terrible title, but a great movie if you like cats. B. found a blurb for this online, and forwarded it to me, and when I found it was playing in the City, a block from one of my favorite BART stations (the one next to the great burrito place, where I of course stopped for food on the way in), I decided to go.

It's a series of documentary interviews with about ten men who have cats. With plenty of footage of the cats, of course. Men from around the US, mostly men with pretty traditionally masculine lives, some of whom were a bit surprised to find themselves cat people. A truck driver who's taken his cat to 45 states. An outdoorsman who takes his cat hiking. An entire fire station full of men who've adopted a cat they found behind the station. It lives in the bay with the fire engines - doesn't like to come inside - but knows enough to get out of the way when the engines head out. A shaved-head bruiser of a stunt man whose girlfriend, a fellow stunt performer, fell for him when he sent her a photo of him cradling his cat, a 25-pound Maine Coon. (That men having cats will impress women is a minor but continuing theme in this movie. Don't hold your breath waiting for incels to notice this.) The founder and CEO of a cat neuter-and-release nonprofit in Brooklyn, who got the idea from walking the streets and seeing all these feral cats around, and who gives most of the film's narration about the virtues of cat ownership.

But the most touching part is a series of segments tracing events in the life of a homeless man in Manhattan who rescued a dying kitten he found and nursed it back to health, and has become utterly devoted to this cat. Then he had to go in the hospital for several months for a series of operations; fortunately he'd befriended a woman, a secretary who worked in the area he hung out, who volunteered to take the cat in while he was hospitalized. I hope their friendship survived the scratches from her cat that he's tsking over on his cat when we last see them.

Most of the cats are disconcertingly placid. But some like to ride on their humans' shoulders or lick their faces, things that Tybalt does to me. So I know I'm not alone in having a cat who does that.

Monday, October 31, 2022

domestic news

It's Halloween e'en, and I am not down in the living room waiting for trick-or-treaters to show up. We haven't had any for several years. Our outside lights are off, and I'm upstairs at my computer listening to a livestream concert from the SF Conservatory of Music: Ravel, Shostakovich, and Brahms.

I have nothing to add to the news which others have not said, except to note that the party of DT is now rapidly seizing the opportunity to become the party of Alex Jones.

My auto registration renewal came today, which is a relief considering that, though I submitted the renewal request over a month ago, they still haven't deposited the check.

A bubble of irregularity has appeared in the ceiling of our foyer. An insect specialist came by appointment today and found no droppings, so he doesn't think it's insects. It must be water, and there is a bathroom directly above the foyer, but no fixtures directly over the spot, so if it's water it must be a pipe leak. There may be much tearing apart in our future.

Meanwhile, the automated garage door opener we had installed three years ago began to beep continually. This proved to be a sign that the battery had gone dead. Rather soon, I'd think. After some research, figured out how to find the battery compartment and pulled out the battery, a cube of about 4 inches and very heavy. Unplugged it and the beeping stopped.
Now to replace the battery. Manufacturer's web site was hard to navigate, person on the phone was of no help whatever and led me to order what turned out when it arrived to be the wrong battery: right shape and voltage and all, but wrong connector. Armed with that info I was able to figure out what must be the right battery, and a much more helpful person told me how to return the wrong one. Also told me I could purchase the right battery at Lowe's, Home Despot, etc. Turned out to be true - at least an equivalent knockoff - but it wasn't in stock, I still had to order it. At least it's less expensive than the manufacturer's, and maybe it will have fewer customer reviews complaining about its short lifespan. Fortunately we don't use our garage door much - garage is for storage, not a car - because the door's going to remain closed for a while.

Friday, October 28, 2022

two concerts and a play

1. I reviewed the Peninsula Symphony last week playing Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto and Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances. Next week I'll be hearing the San Francisco Symphony playing Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto and Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances. Good thing there's more to classical music than repetition. (FKB fans: "But not much!")

2. The Danish String Quartet, less intensely bearded than they were the last time I saw them, came to Herbst for my first quartet concert of the season. Mozart's K. 138 Divertimento permits more individual expression when played for quartet than for orchestra. Britten's Divertimenti leaned over to the light and perky end of the spectrum. Mozart's K. 428 was altogether more serious, and Schumann's Third was epically Beethovenian. But the best moment was their encore, a Haydn adagio played in memory of Geoff Nuttall.

3. I don't normally go out of my way to see plays that are being signed. I don't know ASL so I don't need the distraction. But Why Not Theatre's Hamlet, at Bing, was supposed to be transformatively imaginative. Mostly I didn't find it so: small cast, no sets, gender fluid casting (Hamlet, Horatio, and Polonius were women, Ophelia was a man), racially fluid casting also. Nor was having one character - in this case Horatio - be Deaf and communicate only in ASL unprecedented in my experience. But I stuck through the rather dully-played opening because Hamlet always gathers energy as it goes along. Later, dirt was spread over the stage, and in the mad scene Ophelia threw clots of it at the others - who flinch - to represent the flowers, which was striking in more than one sense, and even more arresting was the duel scene, narrated by Horatio in ASL as the other actors recited their lines while sitting on the floor mostly motionless facing her. The epilogue was completely silent, but you don't have to know ASL to figure out when she's signing "Now cracks a noble heart." Was this stuff worth sitting through the whole thing for? Uh, maybe.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Tár baby

I found the film Tár frequently baffling, and I'm putting these notes out here in hopes that somebody else who's seen it who's more attuned to this filmmaking style can enlighten me. Semi-spoilers.

1. Some movies can establish location clearly without title cards. This is not one of them. At one point Sharon implies that Lydia is keeping another apartment in Berlin besides the one they live in. Is that where Lydia is seen sleeping on a couch?

2. If, as Lydia avers at the film's climax, Eliot has her Mahler 5 score, does that mean that he's the person who snuck into her home and stole it earlier? And if so, is he also the person who, even earlier than that, snuck in and turned on her metronome in the middle of the night, and made her refrigerator hum? If so, why? And what is he doing in Berlin all this time? I thought he was in New York. (See, I told you this film needed title cards.)

3. Lydia says she's bruised because she was attacked. It looked to me as if she just tripped and fell while running up the stairs. Did I miss something, or is Lydia lying? If so, why?

4. Lydia invites Olga, the orchestra's probationary cellist, to an introductory lunch, where Olga tells of playing the Elgar cello concerto at the age of 13. I thought Lydia was going to summarily fire her for her horrendous table manners. Is ignoring these supposed to be a sign of how obsessed Lydia is by Olga?

5. Why is Olga living in what looks like a building untouched since it was bombed out in WW2?

6. Is it actually believable that a conducting student would disdain Bach's music because he was a white male with 20 children?

My interest was attracted to this film largely because it's about classical music. But unfortunately I can't evaluate the music in it, as I'm not very familiar with Mahler's Fifth and even less so with the Elgar cello concerto, two works I've never much cared for. I can tell you, however, that it would be most irregular to pair them on a regular concert: the combination would be far too much music, and heavy music at that, at once. I found that much more unbelievable than the moment in the plot that several critics have cited as unbelievable, which though unprecedented seemed to me to fit with Lydia's character.

I can confirm, in addition, that all the performers (conductors and instrumentalists) not directly characters in the story (onscreen or, in a couple cases, offscreen), and all the composers, past and present (except for a couple of the latter I hadn't heard of), are real people. So is the onscreen critic who interviews Lydia at the beginning: he's a real critic. (A fictional one would be unlikely to be so smarmy.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Henry V

Tuesday, as Jacob Rees-Mogg helpfully reminds us, is St. Crispin's Day, the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt and memorable as such for Henry V's famous speech about it in Shakespeare's play. Our online Shakespeare reading group, having crawled through Richard II and Henry IV last spring, and then taking a detour through Windsor with its merry wives, has just finished Henry V, and here's the historic notes I wrote for the first half of the play:

Prince Hal of the H4 plays has succeeded to the throne as King Henry V. Domestic rebellions behind him, he chooses to offer plot excitement to his realm by making an appearance in the French wars. This, according to Shakespeare and his sources, was gingered up by the Church so that they'd have something they could offer to finance the king and distract his attention away from confiscating church lands, which kings were wont to do. But there's a genealogical justification for this too, and in Act 1 Scene 2 the Archbishop of Canterbury offers it at tedious and numbing length.

I believe I can put it simpler. England had been fighting for territory in France since Henry II's time, but the current conflict has a more recent origin. Nearly a century before the time of this play, the direct father-to-son line of French kings had died out. The French had, or invented on the spot, a rule that the throne could only descend in the male line, so the crown was handed over to a cousin, Philip of Valois.

However, the last French king of the old line had had a sister. The English said crowns could descend through the female line, and lucky for them, that sister had married an English king and her son and heir was ... the then-current English king, young Edward III. So Edward declared his claim to the French throne, which his successors kept up. The French, of course, were having none of it. Active fighting, off and on, went on long enough that the conflict became known as the Hundred Years' War. Edward III and his son the Black Prince had won mighty battles in France, but the war fell into abeyance when Richard II tried to make peace, to be revived here by Henry V who takes the field against the current Valois king, Charles VI, who is not known for his mental stability.

The French King is accompanied by his son and heir, Louis the Dauphin, and his daughter Katherine, whom he offers to Henry as dowry. (Slinging daughters around this way was standard practice for centuries to come.) King Henry is accompanied by his brothers, of whom John of Lancaster of the H4 plays is now Duke of Bedford; the others are the Dukes of Gloucester and Clarence. The Duke of Exeter is his uncle who was of illegitimate birth and is not in line for the throne. The Earl of Cambridge, the conspirator against the king, is Henry's cousin, son of that nasty old Duke of York you remember from R2. And that about sums up the royal families.

Monday, October 24, 2022

two concerts

1. Thursday I reviewed the San Francisco Symphony again. I'm not sure why they wanted this concert covered: it was as close to a pops concert as an SFS regular season program will get. I decided to say so boldly at the beginning. I thought about comparing EPS's approach in the Symphonie fantastique to MTT's in a fabulous recording that he made with SFS, but it didn't fit comfortably in the review. Nor did a reference to the fleeting reminiscences of Saint-Saëns that I heard in the Liszt, when, of course, the reminiscence is the other way around. Saint-Saëns was a great admirer of Liszt.

2. Friday B. and I ventured over to Stanford for a song recital by a couple of voice students, Jin-Hee Lee (soprano) and Danny Ritz (billed as a tenor, but he sounded more like a light baritone to us). Is this the first time I've been to Campbell, the Stanford Music Dept's tiny recital hall, since before the pandemic? Maybe so.
We were attracted to this because of the heavy offering of musical theater songs, especially Sondheim and Rodgers-and-Hart. There was also a chunk of French art songs, most of which B. knew. Lee was better on the art songs, Ritz at the musical theater. Most of the songs were on the theme of love. In the duets ("Tonight," "If I Loved You"), the singers' friends who made up most of the audience hooted and cheered whenever the singers ventured to act a little, holding hands or gazing into each other's eyes. You can venture your own view on whether that means they're also a couple offstage or not.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

computer adjustment

I bought my computer a new mouse. The old one had begun to double-click: you press the button once but it clicks twice. Actually it had been doing this for some time, but whap the thing a few times and it'd stop, for a while. But then the whaps stopped working. I opened it up, which I hadn't done before, and took out a wad of cat hair that had become wedged in, but that didn't stop the double-clicking either. It was just the most-used left button, so I was pretty sure it wasn't a software issue, just a very old mouse.

Actually it wasn't a mouse. It was a Logitech wired trackball, and so is the new device replacing it: fortunately they still make them. I've always preferred a trackball; they sit still on the desk and don't require room to move around, or friction to respond to. And wired, despite the nuisance: that means it's always physically attached to the computer and can't wander off, with or without feline assistance.

At about the same time an alarming software issue arose. I lost access to Outlook, which is pretty grim because that's where I keep all my e-mail. I'd quite recently run a backup, but that wouldn't help with subsequent arrivals. I closed the program and restarted it, but that didn't fix the problem. Before considering taking the computer in, I shut down and restarted that. And I noticed, even though I'd closed all the running programs first, that the shutdown said Outlook was still running and the shutdown program would have to close it. I bet that two copies of Outlook had somehow opened and were interfering with each other and that's what caused the problem, I thought. And sure enough, after the restart it worked fine.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Tolkien Studies supplement

Subscribers have begun to receive printed copies of what's labeled as "Volume XIX, 2022, Supplement" of Tolkien Studies. This is the special issue containing Tolkien's "Chronology of The Lord of the Rings" edited and with commentary by William Cloud Hicklin.

And they're wondering, so what about the regular Volume XIX? Fair enough: you deserve an explanation and here it is.

Originally we were planning to have this be a supplement to Volume XVIII, but because it came out in 2022 it was attached to Volume XIX instead. It was delayed because of the complexity of working with it, and Volume XIX, which had to be put off to make time for the Supplement, got put off even more. The contents have been chosen and submitted, but it's still in the editing process.

West Virginia University Press policy for selling journals is on an annual subscription basis. That is, once you pay your annual subscription fee, you will receive any issues that appear that year, for no additional cost. Thus, if we do get out two issues this year - the supplement and the regular - anyone who's purchased the supplement, at the full annual cost, will receive the regular issue as well. That, at any rate, is the plan.

More I can't tell you; I have to get back to editing ...

Thursday, October 20, 2022


So in another most entertaining twist in British politics - and I remember the spasm that ejected Mrs Thatcher; this is even more baroque - Liz Truss is resigning. This time it'll supposedly take only a week to name a successor - if they can find one! - which will leave her at less than two months in office.

To my mind Truss's reign will be summed up by Commons leader Penny Mordaunt stating, in a debate, that "The Prime Minister is not under a desk."

(This was in response to an opposition MP claiming that she was cowering in fear of making decisions, and asking that they get someone else instead. Well now they will.)

Depending on criteria that may be the shortest term as PM ever. George Canning died after 4 months in 1827, but the most elaborate succession crisis in British history was 1834-35, when King William IV fired the Whig government of Lord Melbourne - the last time a monarch tried such a move - and put in the Tories. The Duke of Wellington, the previous Tory leader, insisted he had retired, and had passed the torch to Robert Peel. But Peel, with uncharacteristic bad judgment, had chosen this time to vacation in Italy, and in pre-railroad pre-telegraph days it took 3 weeks to fetch him back, during which time Wellington acted as interim caretaker. If that counts, that's a shorter term. (Wellington had been PM before, for just under 3 years.)

But the Commons was still dominated by the Whigs, so Peel gave up after four months - just a day or two more than Canning's term - and the Whigs came back in. The gradual crystallization of the party system out of the amorphous masses it had been in the 18C is what made the selection of a government a matter of nose-counting and no longer monarchial selection.

Although that was still always tempered by whether Parliament will accept them, which is why the real shortest Prime Ministership - so short it's not always included in the lists - was that of William Earl of Bath in 1746. He formally accepted office but found that gaining support was futile, and gave up after two days.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Geoff Nuttall in memoriam

Startling news, that Geoff Nuttall - violinist (usually first violin) of the St. Lawrence String Quartet - has died, aged only 56, of pancreatic cancer. Memoriam is up on the quartet's web page right now.

I knew his work well; the SLSQ has been the resident ensemble at Stanford for over 20 years now, hosting seminars and workshops as well as putting on their own concerts, and Geoff was usually the front man for this. What they're going to do without him I can't imagine. Two other positions in the quartet have changed hands over the years, and the ensemble has adapted, but without him it will truly be a different group.

He was a notable player, with an expressive curlicue sound particularly well suited for the elaborate first violin parts of the quartets of Haydn, his favorite composer. He moved around expressively, even excessively, while playing, bending over (even while seated), shifting his feet constantly.

And he spoke for the quartet, in a folksy, even twangy, but learned and above all enthusiastic way, keyed to conveying to a general audience what was great about the music he was discussing while neither oversimplifying it nor talking down. He was a great communicator as well as a great chamber violinist. Here, have an example of both: