Monday, September 26, 2016

Words And Music


A busy weekend kept me from acknowledging two significant birthdays in the world of the arts, that of the British composer, John Rutter, and the American writer, William Faulkner. John Rutter, celebrates his 71st birthday Saturday. He is deeply appreciated in the U.S. and Britain for his many choral and other compositions, for his work as a conductor and arranger. and as the founder of The Cambridge Singers. Some classical music critics, mostly in Great Britain, find his compositions to be a bit simple, repetitive, and stylistically confused. Others place him at the top among 20th century composers. I have to side with the latter appraisals. The melodies are generally simple, the harmonies beautiful, and the style affords a perfect balance of music and message. Furthermore, choirs of all sizes and skill levels perform his work to appreciative audiences everywhere. If popularity is any indicator, John Rutter's music will be enjoyed for a long, long time.


John Rutter


Here is the opening canticle, "O All Ye Works of the Lord," from his 2015 composition, The Gift of Life.




Sunday, September 25, marked the birthday (1897) of William Faulkner, the world-famous writer and favorite son of Oxford, Mississippi. He explored the character of the South in a string of novels and stories predominately over a twenty year period beginning around 1920. This work earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949. Later work was recognized with two Pulitzer Prizes. 

Carl Van Vechten - William Faulkner.jpg
William Faulkner in 1954
Faulkner has never been an easy read for this writer. His complexity and detail, along with the run on sentences and page long paragraphs, makes the experience as challenging as the analysis of his characters. Having lived four decades in the Deep South, I can appreciate in my own small way the 20th century Southern personality Faulkner captured. Folks here were different then. Now that regional character continues to change with a changing South. It is an interesting overlay.


Sources

Photos and Illustrations:

Faulkner photo, Carl Van Vecten Collection, United States Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Text:

wikipedia.org

Thursday, September 22, 2016

First Day Of Autumn 2016.




One of the things I most enjoy about living in north Georgia - albeit metro Atlanta - is the seasonal transitions. Granted this is a four season climate even in the southern Appalachian region; however, one is hard pressed to determine exactly what season embraces you if your sole factor is temperature. Today is the first day of autumn but our high temperature reached 90 degrees and the humidity was more like a measure reserved for the Rockies and the central Continental Divide rather than the rolling Appalachian Piedmont a half hour east of the Atlanta Perimeter. In other words it was a stunningly beautiful summer day unless you looked at the calendar.  Our drought may have yellowed the tulip poplars in late August, but those leaves are long gone. Looking in our woods today you'd see nothing but a rich green. It doesn't mean change is far away. The clouds are a give away that cooler fronts are closing in on our woods.  Autumn waits.


To Autumn

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stain'd
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may'st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

'The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust'ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather'd clouds strew flowers round her head.

'The spirits of the air live in the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.'
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat,
Then rose, girded himself, and o'er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

William Blake (1757-1827)



And sometimes Autumn has nothing to do with temperatures and cloudsEarly Autumn was composed in 1949 by Ralph Burns and Woody Herman. Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics. I think Ella Fitzgerald has owned this song for over sixty years.






And if you're somewhat revolutionary perhaps you'll enjoy the season as Vendemiaire, the Grape Harvester, on Grape, the first day of the Napoleonic Fall.

 


Leave it to the French to have a sweeping, violent revolution that would attempt to wipe out all traces of monarchy and replace it with enlightenment and the Age of Reason. One of the features of the revolution was the Napoleonic Calendar. Its ten day weeks, twelve months of thirty days, and assorted extra days to add up to the essential number, 365/6, made it confusing as a time piece. On the other hand, using seasonal events, plant and animal names, and farming implements to label the days and months made the calendar a work of art. And so we have on this day, September 22, not only the autumnal equinox but also the anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic (1792) and the first day of the new Napoleonic Year.

Here in the next 29 days is a vivid picture of the season:


Safran (Saffron)
Chataignes (Chestnut)
Colchique (Autumn Crocus)
Cheval (Horse)
Balsamine (Yellow Balsam)
Carrotes (Carrots)
Amaranthe (Amaranth)
Panais (Parsnip)
Cuve (Tub)
Pommes de terre (Potatoes)
Immortelle (Strawflower)
Potiron (Giant Pumpkin)
Reseda (Mignonette)
Ane (Donkey)
Belle de nuit (Marvel of Peru)
Citroville (Summer Pumpkin)
Sarrazin (Buckwheat)
Touresol (Sunflower)
Pressoir (Wine-Press)
Chanvre (Hemp)
Peches (Peaches)
Navets (Turnip)
Amarillis (Amaryllis)
Boeuf (Cattle)
Aubegine (Eggplant)
Piment (Chile Pepper)
Tomate (Tomato)
Orge (Barley)
Tonneau (Barrel)


I think Vendemiaire provides us a comforting association with a different time and place, a pre-industrial existence where we can easily recognize ourselves as part of nature and not separate from it. That's as it should be. This is the season to be close to the earth and its harvest that sustains us through the cold and dark months to come. Welcome to Fall and the grape harvest. Let us enjoy it whether it be early or late or whatever it means.




Sources:

Illustration:Wikipedia entry: Vendemiaire, author unknown, National Library and Bureau of Measures,

Text:

Blake poem, Poetical Sketches, 1783
Fondation Napoleon, www.napoleon.org

Monday, September 19, 2016

Mama Cass: The Mamas & The Papas


Eliot in 1972

September 19 marks the birthday of Ellen Naomi Cohen in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1941. If you enjoyed the folk-rock evolution going on the mid-1960's, you know her as Cass Elliot or Mama Cass. It's difficult to imagine that Cass Elliot and the other members of The Mamas & The Papas - Michelle Phillips, John Phillips and Denny Doherty - could produce such a wealth of sound and harmony in the three years they were together. Much of their success must be credited to Elliot's bubbly personality, stage presence, and her marvelous, powerful voice. Her solo career was ascending rapidly in 1974 when she was taken from us far too soon by a heart attack following the completion of a two week run in London.



Friday, September 16, 2016

Harvest Moon 2016



The moon, like a flower in heaven's bower, with silent delight sits and smiles on the night.             
                                                           from William Blake's poem, Night



The full Harvest Moon casts its shadow across the planet tonight. As the moon emerges from the sea, coastal residents can experience the sublime event precisely as it has been viewed by humans for thousands of years. It is no wonder a star-filled dome over land's end and the timeless sound of surf capture and command our consciousness so easily. Add a moon rise and all reason flees.

A Georgia Sea Island moon rise over McQueens Island, east of Savannah, ca 1950



Neil Young, still going strong after fifty years of fine composition and performance, captures the mood perfectly.

Sources

Photos and Illustrations:

National Park Service, Fort Pulaski National Monument handbook

Text:

quotation, William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience, originally published in 1789.



Monday, September 12, 2016

Mencken: A Sage Is Born


Mencken, on the right, celebrating the end of Prohibition in 1933

Henry Louis Mencken, the "Sage of Baltimore," was born on this day in 1880. He was a leading journalist and author on the American scene, humorist, and a student of the American language. Mencken's stature seems to be on the rise over the last few decades. I'd guess it's because we experienced a concurrent rise in many nation-wide opportunities to watch logic, practicality, and skepticism destroy a multitude of political pretenders and their policies regardless of political persuasion.


The Sage of Baltimore at his residence in September 1955


After all these years, the Sage of Baltimore - Henry Louis Mencken - still has so much to tell us about the American experience. In his day he invented the term "booboisie" to refer to the masses who didn't read much, know much or even care much about their lives as citizens of a democratic republic. Today we could easily apply his term to the masses who are well-schooled but not well-educated, who apply emotion rather than reason and logic to their decision making, and who align themselves with coalitions of self-interests wrapped in collectivist totalitarianism. Another term for the modern-day "booboisie" is "moonbat". I think Mencken would have a even more colorful term for them if were still with us. And oh would he have a time with our political and social landscape today.


Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. No one in this world, so far as I know - and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me - has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost office thereby.

As much as I enjoy reading all of Mencken's work, the autobiographical books remain my favorites. His three-part "Days" series, Happy Days(1940), Newspaper Days (19441), and Heathen Days (1943) should be essential reading. They cover life and times from birth through 1936, the most productive and positive time in his life. After the mid-30's, Mencken fell a bit out of fashion as his curmudgeonly persistence began to grind on the American psyche. His perceived sympathy with German nationalism helped undermine his reputation into the 40's.


Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere is having a good time.

Those who want the full story should read Terry Teachout's, The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken (2003). Teachout is a superb writer who treats his subject with objectivity and warmth. I also enjoyed the biography by Marion Elizabeth Rodgers but did not find it as readable.

If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.






Sources

Photos and Illustrations:

H.L. Mencken Collection, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore

Quotations:

Democracy is.... "Notes on Journalism," Chicago Tribune, September 19, 1926;
Puritanism is.... " Sententae," The Citizen and the State, p.624;
If, after I.... "Epitaph," from Smart Set (December 1921)

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Labor And The Celebration Of The American Dream



Labor Day comes Monday, but I figured addressing the theme today would make sense as most of us will be enjoying the day with family and away from the Internet. My most memorable Labor Days occurred in the '50s and '60s when I attended the big day-long picnic sponsored by the paper mill that employed my home town. Three to four thousand people attended those picnics at Burlington, West Virginia, and enjoyed carnival rides, swimming, softball, races, airplane rides, and a playground filled with wonderfully dangerous equipment that could never be built today. It all ended with a movie under the stars at the drive-in theater next door.

Old Tybee Ranger was three when this picture was taken at Burlington, West Virginia

Although many of the kids I played with those days ended up working at the mill, I imagine a number of them went on to college and enjoyed the greater opportunities it afforded. In the long run they made the right decision. Today, the mill employs only a shadow of its former workforce, perhaps fewer than a quarter when compared to its post World War II heyday. The picnic. if it occurs at all these days , must be a shadow of the earlier event. The union wages may still be good, but the jobs are few, the future of the American paper industry remains in question, and the quality of life still wants in a region now entering its sixth decade of stagnation or decline. 

Although it's been forty years since I skipped rocks in Patterson Creek and spent my last weekends at the Burlington campground I feel a strong affinity for the place and for the people who live there. My family's experience began there in the early nineteenth century. Today that family consists of my cousins and Facebook friends who elected to remain in those magnificent ridges and valleys in the shadow of the Allegheny Front. 

In my life, I've always made a point to family, friends, and colleagues that all work is honorable. Every employee, from minimum wage to executive salary, contributes to achieving organizational success and profit in the American dream. To those in the valleys of Georges Creek, New Creek, Patterson Creek and the Potomac River I wish a happy Labor Day. The notable labor history of these valleys in the last century helped bring the nation through two world wars and into the limelight as the greatest economic engine on the planet. Although we may be left only with the memories of the holiday at Burlington and elsewhere we cannot forget the labor that made the celebration possible and the ambitions and achievements of those who choose to call the region "home."  

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Carrington Event, 1859: A World-Wide Electrified Earth



On this day in 1859 a massive wave of energy from the sun - a coronal mass ejection or CME - energized our planet to the point that it literally "turned on the lights." Our friends at spaceweather.com wrote this about the event:

... a billion-ton coronal mass ejection (CME) slammed into Earth's magnetic field. Campers in the Rocky Mountains woke up in the middle of the night, thinking that the glow they saw was sunrise. No, it was the Northern Lights. People in Cuba read their morning paper by the red illumination of aurora borealis. Earth was peppered by particles so energetic, they altered the chemistry of polar ice.
You can link to the rest of this post in the spaceweather.com archives.

Orange dots mark sighting of auroras on the morning of September 2, 1859



The geomagnetic storm that day was so powerful that telegraph keys sparked and caught fire. Even with power lost in the lines, the storm electrified them to the point that messages could still be sent. Given our dependence on technology today, such storms pose a significant threat. From NASA's Science News page:


...a huge solar flare on August 4, 1972, knocked out long-distance telephone communication across Illinois. That event, in fact, caused AT&T to redesign its power system for transatlantic cables. A similar flare on March 13, 1989, provoked geomagnetic storms that disrupted electric power transmission from the Hydro Qu├ębec generating station in Canada, blacking out most of the province and plunging 6 million people into darkness for 9 hours; aurora-induced power surges even melted power transformers in New Jersey. In December 2005, X-rays from another solar storm disrupted satellite-to-ground communications and Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation signals for about 10 minutes.




Read the complete (brief) Science News story here.

Events of this nature, as well as those involving near earth objects, perhaps deserve as much attention as those from anthropogenic climate change.

ShareThis