Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Summer Solstice 2017

For Northern Hemisphere folks the sun reaches its highest point in the sky today. It is the longest day of the year.

Summer Solstice Sunrise at Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England                    NASA

Although the sun begins its descent tomorrow, insolation from our star will continue to raise atmospheric temperatures until late July. As this day marks the end of the season of renewal and the beginning of the season of growth and flower, I am reminded of this quote by D. H. Lawrence...

The greatest need of man is the renewal forever of the complete rhythm of life and death, the rhythm of the Sun's year, the body's year.

...and this music by Johann Sebastian Bach:

Shout with joy to God, all the earth!.... Psalm 66

Monday, June 19, 2017

Juneteenth: Remembering Emancipation

Juneteenth as described by the Library of Virginia...

...has grown into a popular event across the country to commemorate emancipation from slavery and celebrate African American culture. Juneteenth refers to June 19, the date in 1865 when the Union Army arrived in Galveston and announced that the Civil War was over and that slaves were free under the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the proclamation had become official more than two years earlier on January 1, 1863, freedmen in Texas adopted June 19th, later known colloquially as Juneteenth, as the date they celebrated emancipation. Juneteenth celebrations continued into the 20th century, and survived a period of declining participation because of the Great Depression and World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s Juneteenth celebrations witnessed a revival as they became catalysts for publicizing civil rights issues of the day. In 1980 the Texas state legislature established June 19 as a state holiday.

Emancipation                                                        Thomas Nast, American, 1865

It's not a federal holiday but there will be official state celebrations of this historic event in forty-three states. 

The idea that Juneteenth was the most fitting day to celebrate emancipation has faced competition from several significant days including September 22: the day Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation Order in 1862;  January 1: the day it took effect in 1863; January 31: the date the 13th Amendment passed Congress in 1865, officially abolishing the institution of slavery; and December 6: the day the 13th Amendment was ratified that year.  The persistence of the day's celebration in Texas embedded it in the social fiber of former slaves and their families who carried it with them in their migrations to all corners of the nation and to urban areas in particular.  Growing wealth among black communities in the 20th century also enabled them to hold lengthier and more elaborate celebrations.  

Despite a near-century of prejudice and racism, both de jure and de facto, Juneteenth survived across the nation. It was revitalized nationally by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (April 4, 1968), in combination with his Poor People's March on Washington (planned for May 12 to June 24, and its early conclusion with the Solidarity March on June 19.  

We extend our best wishes for a joyous day to all those celebrating Juneteenth.   And it's the perfect time for all of us to "honor the countless contributions made by African Americans to our Nation and pledge to support America’s promise as the land of the free."

For more about the history of this significant day in American history visit the Juneteenth World Wide Celebration site.


Photos and Illustrations:
Library of Congress at

Text:, The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross 
"honor the countless" quote,

Sunday, June 18, 2017

"Bring Me My Bow Of Burning Gold!...Bring Me My Chariots Of Fire!"

Seventy-seven years ago today, Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered his most memorable speech during Britain's war against Adolf Hitler. The threat of invasion by German ground forces was high. The British people descended almost nightly into their bomb shelters as waves of Luftwaffe bombers flew overheard dropping their terror on thousands of victims.

Churchill was a master of the English language but even he struggled for the right words to both describe the reality his countrymen faced and rally them to endure what he knew would be their darkest hour:

The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.

Churchill would go on to receive the Nobel Prize in literature in 1953 for his many volumes of history, biography and other works. He possessed a vivid, lively writing style well worth reading for information as well as enjoyment. For more on this remarkable leader, here is a link to his Wikipedia entry.

And here is a link to the "finest hour" speech in its entirety of thirty minutes. All of it is worth hearing but as one would expect the conclusion is remarkably powerful beginning at 26:13


Photos and Illustrations:
public domain photo, Imperial War Museums

title quote, from the short poem, "Jerusalem," in the preface of William Blake's Milton a Poem.
Winston Churchill,


Father's Day 2017

Best wishes to all dads on their special day. Below is a picture of my dad taken in 1917 when he was in the fourth grade. He grew up to be a lot happier than he appears here - maybe it was the Great War or just a bad day.

Dad in fourth grade, 1917-18

His mom and dad were the son and daughter of first generation immigrants from Germany and Wales. He was afflicted with polio in his early years, but that didn't stop him. He graduated from high school in the midst of the Roaring Twenties, went to work to support his aging parents and married the love of his life in the midst of the Great Depression in 1933. 

Graduation, Class of 1925

He was an entrepreneur at heart who was self-employed in the insurance and utilities industries and owned his own business by the early '50's. He left the Rust Belt in 1956 for even better careers in hospitality management, a field he loved dearly because of his commitment to quality service and customer satisfaction. He was "old school:" through and through and never met a stranger.

At home in 1928

Nancy and I have raised three fine children to successful adulthood. Though neither of our dads was present during virtually all of our children's "shaping" we know that their values played a major role in teaching our kids to be responsible, caring, and loving individuals. Such continuity is essential if we are to have community and commonwealth in these and future times. 

Dressed for community theater in 1928

Not a day passes without a wish to have our dads and their guidance with us once more. How fortunate we were to have such beacons in our lives. And how wonderful it would be to see the reverence and respect for fatherhood restored in our nation today.

Having expressed that wish for the future, we are left with this wish for today: Happy Father's Day and a big "Thank You" to our dads, Bill and Vergil, and to fathers everywhere.

Dad and Mom at her family's farm in 1936

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Igor Stravinsky: He Put The "New" In New Music

Igor Stravinsky, popularly recognized as a leading founder of Modern music in the 20th century, was born in Russia on this day in 1882. He lived in Switzerland and France before immigrating to the United States after World War II. Over his lifetime he composed in a variety of styles but is best remembered for his dazzling, rhythmic music in the early years - 1910 to 1914 - of the Ballets Russes produced by Sergei Diaghilev in Paris.

 Portrait of Stravinsky                                  Robert Delaunay, 1917

His work during that brief period included The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1913). One could say they are all signature pieces - experimental and revolutionary - that dazzled and in some cases infuriated their audiences. Regardless, the three compositions as well as other sounds from Stravinsky's imagination had a huge impact on music and the arts.  He was 27 when audiences first heard The Firebird. For a taste of that music here is the finale. While you listen, keep in mind that Henry Ford sold 10,000 cars that year, the U.S. had 1000 miles of paved road, half the American population lived on farms or towns with fewer than 2500 people, and the flying machine was a very rare and thrilling sight. 

In the century since the premiere of The Firebird, its innovative sounds have been re-patterned by the likes of Aaron Copeland, Leonard Bernstein, John Williams and others including Philip Glass who has perhaps carried rhythm as art to its farthest horizon to date. In the view of Tom Service writing in The Guardian in 2011,

Stravinsky is the only common influence that composers from Steve Reich to Thomas Ad├Ęs, from Judith Weir to John Adams, from Elliott Carter to Louis Andriessen, can all agree on. Without Stravinsky, there would be no minimalism, not much neo-classicism, not enough rhythmic energy, and not nearly enough compositional freedom in the 20th and 21st centuries. Four decades on, the Stravinsky that's proved most popular with audiences, orchestras and concert halls is the colouristic brilliance of the three early ballets, Firebird, Petrushka, and the Rite.

Although Stravinsky left this world almost a half century ago he indeed remains as the title of Service's article describes him, "Stravinsky Our Contemporary."


Photos and Illustrations:
portrait, public domain, Robert Delaunay, New Art Gallery Walsall, West Midlands, England

Igor Stravinsky entry,
quotation, Tom Service, "Stravinsky Our Contemporary,, April 6, 2011

Friday, June 16, 2017

Ulysses At 95: "Hold To The Now, The Here, Through Which All Future Plunges To The Past."

In the world of Western literature June 16 is far from an ordinary day. It isn't that a number of significant events occurred or that any event occurred that day. Instead, June 16 (1904) is the setting for a several hundred page descriptive stream of happenings in the life of Leopold Bloom, the protagonist in the James Joyce novel, Ulysses. The Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, said this about the book:

What is so staggering about Ulysses is the fact that behind a thousand veils nothing lies hidden; that it turns neither toward the mind nor toward the world, but, as cold as the moon looking on from cosmic space, allows the drama of growth, being, and decay to pursue its course.

First edition copy (1922) "unread except for the racy bits

To say the least, Ulysses is an adventure. For some it may be merely pornographic or a huge word puzzle or a unique work of art in its truest form. However you chose to view the novel keep in mind that people are celebrating this work and its author across the world today on what has become known as Bloomsday. And even those who know nothing about Bloomsday, never read the book or know little about the author have likely encountered bits and pieces of Joyce's skill in school and through popular culture. Here is one of those most often quoted pieces:

I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

I came to appreciate that quote so much I used it for several years in a descriptive writing course. Others could have been useful but their playfulness simply made them enjoyable:

Meditations of evolution increasingly vaster: of the moon invisible in incipient lunation, approaching perigee: of the infinite lattiginous scintillating uncondensed milky way, discernible by daylight by an observer placed at the lower end of a cylindrical vertical shaft 5000 ft deep sunk from the surface towards the centre of the earth: of Sirius (alpha in Canis Maior) 10 lightyears (57,000,000,000,000 miles) distant and in volume 900 times the dimension of our planet: of Arcturus: of the precession of equinoxes: of Orion with belt and sextuple sun theta and nebula in which 100 of our solar systems could be contained: of moribund and of nascent new stars such as Nova in 1901: of our system plunging towards the constellation of Hercules: of the parallax or parallactic drift of socalled fixed stars, in reality evermoving wanderers from immeasurably remote eons to infinitely remote futures in comparison with which the years, threescore and ten, of allotted human life formed a parenthesis of infinitesimal brevity.

Rest assured there is more there than the racy bits.

If you want to learn more about the day, the book, and the author, visit these sites: Bloomsday, Ulysses, and James Joyce.


Photo and Illustrations:, June 4, 2009, photo by Martin Argles

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Magna Carta: Origins Of Royal Accountability

By all accounts he was a rather nasty king who habitually squeezed money from his subjects to fund his quest for territory.  He was so land hungry that he was nicknamed "Lackland" because his father gave all his sons territory except for him. By the early 1200's England's King John had lost Normandy and virtually all of Avignon to France. He also quarreled with Pope Innocent III over a nominee for the post of Archbishop of Canterbury. By 1215, the king found himself face to face with opposition from influential, learned, and powerful members of English society.

On June 15, 1215, the opposition demanded certain liberties from the English crown throughout the kingdom. King John had no alternative but to sign the document, the Magna Carta, if he wished to remain on the throne. The document had several demands but three of them were most significant. They were: the Church had authority to select its staff, money beyond set payments were to be collect by the King from his tenants without their approval, and all punishment of freeman was to be carried out according to the law of the land.

Articles of the Barons (Magna Carta), 1215            British Library

Here is a summation of the significance of the document for English people written by Michael Wood in his  book, The Story of England, a companion volume to the BBC documentary of the same name:

In the Magna Carta in 1215 King John had acceded to the barons' demands made in response to his wholesale abuses of power. In essence it was a charter for the ruling class but it embodied the crucial principle that the king was bound by the law. Immediately after John's death Magna Carta was reissued in the name of his successor, and there were several versions up to 1225. Since then it has come to be regarded by English people, and by all who have adopted English law, as the chief constitutional defense against arbitrary or unjust rule. Its most famous clauses express some of the English people's most deeply held political beliefs, and pertain to both rich and poor:
No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed, or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals, or by the law of the land . . . To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.
Later lawyers found here the basis for fundamental English rights: equality before the law and freedom from arbitrary arrest . . . .

Stephen Hayward provides more information in this fine Instapundit tribute to today's historic moment in Western history.


Kings and Queens of England and Great Britain, Eric R. Delderfield, David & Charles Publishers, Devon, 1977

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

On Flag Day 2017: You're A Grand Old Flag

Today is Flag Day, a day for commemorating the adoption of  a design by Francis Hopkinson as the official Flag of the United States on this date in 1777.

Francis Hopkinson Flag                                                                                    1777

Here are some words about the Hopkinson flag from the link above:

Hopkinson is recognized as the designer of the official "first flag" of the United States. Although he sought compensation from Congress, the letter was somewhat comical. He asked for a quarter cask of wine in payment for the flag, the Great Seal, and various other contributions. Congress used the usual bureaucratic tactics of asking for an itemized bill. After some back and forth, Congress eventually refused on the pretext that Hopkinson was already paid as a public servant. The letter also mentioned that Hopkinson collaborated with others on his designs because he was one of many contributing to the Great Seal. [6][7]
While there is no known Hopkinson flag in existence today, we do know from his rough sketch that it had thirteen stars and thirteen stripes. It is believed that his flag used red and white stripes and white stars on a field of blue. Because the original stars used in the Great Seal had six points, we might also assume that Hopkinson's flag intended the use of a 6-pointed star. This is bolstered by his original sketch that showed asterisks with six points.
The legend of Betsy Ross as the designer of the first flag entered into American consciousness about the time of the 1876 centennial celebrations. See Betsy Ross Flag. This flag with its circle of 13 stars came into popular use as a flag commemorating our nation's birth. Many Americans today still cling to the Betsy Ross legend that she designed the flag and most are unaware of Hopkinson's legacy.

There are any number of song written about our national flag. Among the best of them is George M. Cohan's 1906 rouser, "Your A Grand Old Flag," written in 1906 for his musical, George Washington, Jr. It's performed by Billy Murray, a leading American entertainer in the first decades of the century.


Photos and Illustrations:
Hopkinson Flag, public domain image,

Francis Hopkinson, entry,
"You're A Grand Old Flag," entry,

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It's Not The Crime, It's The Cover-Up

We're hearing a lot these days about political lies, deception, and cover-ups after eight years of political lies, deception, and cover-ups that hardly raised an eyebrow in the American "press." When the truth hits a nerve among the populous the consequences can be cleansing as well as painful. Forty-six years ago today the American public finally began to read some truth about their country's involvement in the political struggle of Vietnam from 1945 through mid-1968. It wasn't pretty. In fact, the outrage it, the Kent State murders the year before, and the Watergate scandal in June of 1972 generated, would heighten revolutionary fervor from coast to coast and consume Nixon's presidency in 1974. 

Here is a fine summary of the Pentagon Papers story from
The New York Times begins to publish sections of the so-called “Pentagon Papers,” a top-secret Department of Defense study of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The papers indicated that the American government had been lying to the people for years about the Vietnam War and the papers seriously damaged the credibility of America’s Cold War foreign policy.
In 1967, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered his department to prepare an in-depth history of American involvement in the Vietnam War. McNamara had already begun to harbor serious doubts about U.S. policy in Vietnam, and the study–which came to be known as the “Pentagon Papers”–substantiated his misgivings. Top-secret memorandums, reports, and papers indicated that the U.S. government had systematically lied to the American people, deceiving them about American goals and progress in the war in Vietnam. The devastating multi-volume study remained locked away in a Pentagon safe for years. In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, a Defense Department employee who had turned completely against the war, began to smuggle portions of the papers out of the Pentagon. These papers made their way to the New York Times, and on June 13, 1971, the American public read them in stunned amazement. The publication of the papers added further fuel to the already powerful antiwar movement and drove the administration of President Richard Nixon into a frenzy of paranoia about information “leaks.” Nixon attempted to stop further publication of the papers, but the Supreme Court refused to issue an injunction. 
The “Pentagon Papers” further eroded the American public’s confidence in their nation’s Cold War foreign policy. The brutal, costly, and seemingly endless Vietnam War had already damaged the government’s credibility, and the publication of the “Pentagon Papers” showed people the true extent to which the government had manipulated and lied to them. Some of the most dramatic examples were documents indicating that the Kennedy administration had openly encouraged and participated in the overthrow of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963; that the CIA believed that the “domino theory” did not actually apply to Asia; and that the heavy American bombing of North Vietnam, contrary to U.S. government pronouncements about its success, was having absolutely no impact on the communists’ will to continue the fight.

There is more at the site here. And thanks to the National Archives and Records Administration you can read the complete report without redactions here.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Full Strawberry Moon 2017

Tonight – June 8, 2017 – the Strawberry Moon will look plenty full as it groups up with the star Antares and the planet Saturn in the southeastern sky at nightfall. As our Earth turns underneath the heavens, the full-looking moon, Antares and Saturn will move westward across the nighttime sky. The celestial threesome will climb highest up tonight around midnight, and will sit low in the west at dawn June 9. In North America, we commonly call the June full moon the Strawberry Moon.

File:Moon and red blue haze.jpg
Moonrise, August 2005                                                        Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

It's rising right now on the East Coast! Such a treat with Antares and Saturn as companions. Among other details it is the smallest full moon of the year. For more on the Full Strawberry Moon check out this post at


Photos and Illustrations:
Full Moon entry,

quote, Strawberry Moon article, June 8, 2017,

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Invasion Of Normandy, June 6, 1944

A great invasion force stood off the Normandy coast of France as dawn broke on 6 June 1944: 9 battleships, 23 cruisers, 104 destroyers, and 71 large landing craft of various descriptions as well as troop transports, mine sweepers, and merchantmen-in all, nearly 5,000 ships of every type, the largest armada ever assembled. The naval bombardment that began at 0550 that morning detonated large minefields along the shoreline and destroyed a number of the enemy's defensive positions. To one correspondent, reporting from the deck of the cruiser HMS Hillary, it sounded like "the rhythmic beating of a gigantic drum" all along the coast. In the hours following the bombardment, more than 100,000 fighting men swept ashore to begin one of the epic assaults of history, a "mighty endeavor," as President Franklin D. Roosevelt described it to the American people, "to preserve . our civilization and to set free a suffering humanity."

The attack had been long in coming. From the moment British forces had been forced to withdraw from France in 1940 in the face of an overwhelming German onslaught, planners had plotted a return to the Continent. Only in that way would the Allies be able to confront the enemy's power on the ground, liberate northwestern Europe, and put an end to the Nazi regime.

Normandy was the largest amphibious invasion in history. Nine thousand Allied soldiers were killed or wounded that day. We are unlikely to ever see an invasion of this scale again. For more on the significance of this day visit the U.S. Army Center of Military History's Normandy page.


Photos and Illustrations
Map, Department of History, United States Military Academy

Quote. U.S. Army Center of Military History

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Walt Whitman: "I Hear America Singing"

The American poet and essayist, Walt Whitman, was born on this day in 1819 in West Hills, Long Island, New York. His formal education ended after six years but his insatiable desire to learn immersed him in libraries, museums, lectures, salons, and landscapes in and around New York.  His life as a poet, essayist, journalist and humanitarian would take him to New Orleans, Washington, Boston, and Camden, New Jersey, but his associations in New York would make the great metropolitan area the hub of career.

File:Walt Whitman - George Collins Cox.jpg
Whitman in 1887

A free spirit easily recognized as the most extraordinary poet of his time, Whitman bridged the American experience from the early Romantic period in literature to the advent of hard realism as the end of the century approached. I'm not sure what presence he has these days in the public school systems across the country but baby boomers - born between 1946 and 1964 - had a full dose of his poetry beginning in elementary school. For more information on Whitman, including an extensive biography, visit the outstanding resources at the Walt Whitman Archive.

For an example of his work here is "One's-Self I Sing," the introductory poem to the third and last section of his collection, Leaves of Grass, as published in 1867.

ONE’S-SELF I sing—a simple, separate Person; 
Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-masse. 

Of Physiology from top to toe I sing; 
Not physiognomy alone, nor brain alone, is worthy for the muse—I say the
Form complete is worthier far; 
The Female equally with the male I sing.

Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power, 
Cheerful—for freest action form’d, under the laws divine, 
The Modern Man I sing.

Much of Whitman's poetry has been set to music. Sometimes the blend of music and existing poetry has limited success and authors often do no think favorably of such adaptations. I think Whitman would have approved especially with the music coming from fellow a impressionist, in this case Frederick Delius. This composition has been a personal favorite for forty years. This recording features the superb Welsh baritone, Bryn Terfel and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under the baton of Richard Hickox.


Photos and Illustrations:
public domain photo, George Collins Cox, restored by Adam Cuerden, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Walt Whitman entry,
One's Self I Sing,
title quote from the poem of the same name 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Benny Goodman: "Creativity Grows Out Of Two Things: Curiosity And Imagination."

On a cold night in January 1938, Benny Goodman and his band, along with select members of the Count Basie and Duke Ellington bands, performed a concert at Carnegie Hall. No jazz bandleader had ever performed there. The concert was a sensation, reaffirming Goodman as the "King of Swing," and jazz as serious American music. In the eyes of many music critics and historians, this concert remains the single most important event in popular music history in the United States. Superlatives aside, the concert was a study in swing music history and jazz improvisation. 

Publicity style candid photo of Goodman ca. 1970
So who was Benny Goodman. He grew up poor in Chicago, but received quality musical instruction there. Before long, he was playing "professionally" with many bands. The Chicago music scene also gave him an affinity for New Orleans style jazz. At 20, he left for New York and world fame brought about not only by practice and persistence but also by a most unusual turn of events.

In 1935, his orchestra performed regularly in New York on an NBC Radio program entitled, "Let's Dance." It was broadcast live across the country after midnight, Eastern Time. Young people in the East were fast asleep when his orchestra hit the airways, but it was perfect timing for the West Coast. A strike ended the broadcasts after a few months and the band decided on a coast to coast tour. In the interior states, the tour was a disaster because people didn't care for "upbeat" jazz arranged for orchestra. The band was looking forward to the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles as the last stop and an end to the pain. When they arrived, thousands of young fans who had heard them on the radio were waiting to hear them in person. What was to be a welcome end to a disastrous tour turned into the beginning of the Swing Era.

Eighteen months later Goodman and his band found themselves on stage at that Carnegie Hall concert. After several curtain calls at the end of the concert, Goodman announced to the screaming fans that an encore would follow. Sing, Sing, Sing was the last song in that set. It already was a popular piece for the band, but this performance lifted it to holy status in the swing jazz genre. Featured players included Gene Kruppa on drums, Babe Russin on saxophone, Harry James on trumpet, Goodman on clarinet, and Jess Stacy in a masterpiece of improvisation on piano. Here is thirteen minutes and six seconds of invention that transformed swing jazz into mainstream American music.

Today marks the birthday of Benny Goodman (1909-1986). Eighty years after his landmark appearance in Carnegie Hall the world still enjoys the music and legacy of the "King of Swing.  In fact,  recordings of that famous concert have remained in print as best sellers since 1950 when masters were found in Goodman's home. There isn't much more to be said. Go listen to the music!


Photos and Illustrations:
public domain publicity portrait

title quote,
Benny Goodman entry,

Monday, May 29, 2017

Stravinsky's The Rite Of Spring As Genius And Madness

On this day 104 years ago the young composer, Igor Stravinsky, made music history in Paris. The event was the premiere of the ballet The Rite of Spring. Like his earlier work for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, it was experimental and revolutionary. When combined with primitive choreography and a human sacrifice theme audiences were either dazzled or infuriated.

Photo from 1913 showing original costumes 

In the early 1980's the original choreography was meticulously reconstructed after being lost for almost six decades. A few years after its completion it was presented by the Joffre Ballet. There is no better representation around of what that 1913 audience both heard and saw. Here is Part 1 - all three available on YouTube - of their performance.

Stravinsky's imaginative compositions went on to  have a huge impact on music and the arts. At the forefront stands The Rite of Spring  as one of the most widely recorded and performed symphonic works in the world. It remains as fresh in 2017 as it was in 1913. In that century its innovative energy in sound and rhythm has been re-patterned by the likes of Aaron Copeland, Leonard Bernstein, John Williams, Philip Glass and many others. 

Some say the most productive experiments often make the biggest messes. The genius and madman in Stravinsky would be pleased. 


Photos and Illustrations:
public domain photo from First Nights: Five Musical Premieres by Thomas F. Kelly. Yale University Press, New Haven 2000. 

Igor Stravinsky entry,

Memorial Day 2017

Today we honor men and women who made the supreme sacrifice in service to their country. They gave their lives that we might live out our own in an experiment of community called the United States. Take some moments today to think of them and what they have given you and your family.

Many of us grew up knowing this day as Decoration Day, but now it is best known as Memorial Day. Though both its date and scope have changed over time, its central meaning remains strong. At virtually every crossroad town from sea to sea, there will be old soldiers, flags, a speech or two, and prayers. These events will take place at memorial walls bearing the names of the honored dead. Invariably, the audiences will be small, but firmly dedicated to the idea that the nation will always remember the cost of freedom.

The American composer, Charles Ives, captured much of the historic character of this day in his composition, Holiday Symphony.  Section II, "Decoration Day," has a number of familiar tunes, but you may not recognize them without a guide. Like the holiday itself, Ives gives us rich, complex, and contemplative moments in time and space. 

Here in words and images, the contemplative moments continue...

From the silence of sorrowful hours,
The desolate mourners go,
Lovingly laden with flowers,
Alike for the friend and the foe:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment day.
Under the roses the Blue,
Under the lilies the Gray

A Soldier's Burial
by General George S. Patton (1943)

Not midst the chanting of the Requiem Hymn,
Nor with the solemn ritual of prayer,
Neath misty shadows from the oriel glass,
And dreamy perfume of the incensed air
Was he interred;
But in the subtle stillness after fight,
And the half light between the night and the day,
We dragged his body all besmeared with mud,
And dropped it, clod-like, back into the clay.

Yet who shall say that he was not content,
Or missed the prayers, or drone of chanting choir,
He who had heard all day the Battle Hymn
Sung on all sides by a thousand throats of fire.

What painted glass can lovelier shadows cast,
Than those the evening sky shall ever shed,
While, mingled with their light, Red Battle's Sun
Completes in magic colors o'er our dead,
The flag for which they died.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Peggy Lee: "Music Is My Life's Breath."

Peggy Lee 1950.JPG
Peggy Lee in 1950

The American entertainer, Peggy Lee (1920-2002), always had a serious independent streak in both her life and career. While most singers chose to go loud she went rich, seductive, and stylish. Her method caught the eye and ear of bandleader Benny Goodman in 1941 and for the next five decades she wrapped songs in her personality, warmth, and intimacy for millions of fans. Here is the song that made her famous:

She not only sang songs but also wrote them. Here she is singing her biggest hit, Manana; words by Lee and music by Dave Barbour:

Lee had her last big hit in 1969 with Is That All There Is?. The songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote the song based on a story by Thomas Mann. Its perfect for Lee's treatment.

With that sophisticated style and renown singing, writing lyrics, composing, and acting, it's easy to see why Lee was always introduced to audiences as "Miss Peggy Lee." And it's no wonder that such an "in charge" personality could become the model for one of the most beloved characters in television history.  That the character is none other than a Muppet may surprise you. It is a story of caricature, humor, reverence, and unexpected fame. Read about it here in this brief Smithsonian Magazine interview. 

Lee was born on May 25, 1920 in Jamestown, North Dakota. Her recording still sell well fifteen years after her death and can be heard regularly on jazz and popular music stations and channels around the world. That's all there is.


Photos and Illustrations:
public domain publicity photo

Peggy Lee,

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Bob Dylan At 76

Bob Dylan was only 21 on July 9, 1962 when he walked into the Columbia Recording Studios in New York to record a song to be included on his second album. The song, Blowin' in the Wind, brought him fame and recognition as one of the nation's leading folk poets in the twentieth century. The lyrics and Dylan's comments on the song were published in June 1962 in the folk journal, Sing Out. He said this:

Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is but oh I won’t believe that. I still say it’s in the wind and just like a restless piece of paper it’s got to come down some ...But the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down so not too many people get to see and know . . . and then it flies away.

The music critic, Andy Gill, said this about the song in his book, Classic Bob Dylan, 1962-1969: My Back Pages:

Blowin' in the Wind marked a huge jump in Dylan's songwriting. Prior to this, efforts like The Ballad of Donald White and The Death of Emmett Till had been fairly simplistic bouts of reportage songwriting. Blowin' in the Wind was different: for the first time, Dylan discovered the effectiveness of moving from the particular to the general. Whereas The Ballad of Donald White would become completely redundant as soon as the eponymous criminal was executed, a song as vague as Blowin' in the Wind could be applied to just about any freedom issue. It remains the song with which Dylan's name is most inextricably linked, and safeguarded his reputation as a civil libertarian through any number of changes in style and attitude.

The song remains a poem for our times, perhaps all times.

At the political blog, Powerline, Scott Johnson has made a number of observations on Dylan's impact on the American musical experience.  Here are his posts from 2016, the first, Not Dark Yet, discussing the man and his significance in the world of music and beyond, and the second, devoted to Dylan the songwriter. Both posts feature any number of links for fans who want to explore Dylan in depth as well as hear several likely unfamiliar covers of the master's work. 


Photos and Illustrations:
public domain photo, 1964 Yearbook, St. Lawrence University, New York

Bob Dylan entry,

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Artie Shaw: "It's The Sound Of The Horn - What You Do With The Instrument."

The famous jazz clarinetist, Artie Shaw, was born on this day in 1910. When he passes away in 2004 at the age of 94, Entertainment Weekly said this about him in his obituary:

Artie Shaw, one of the most popular bandleaders of the big-band era and the choice of many critics and musicians as the best clarinet player in jazz history, died on Thursday at his home outside Los Angeles. The ”Begin the Beguine” hit maker was 94 and apparently died of natural causes.

As a swing bandleader in the 1930s and ’40s, Shaw aspired to be considered a high-minded composer of art music, but his popularity kept getting in the way, with fans always clamoring to hear such monster hits as ”Begin the Beguine” and ”Frenesi.” Though he loathed the comparison, he was inevitably likened to Benny Goodman. Both were immensely popular, clarinet-playing big-band leaders, both were children of Jewish immigrants (Shaw’s given name was Arshawsky), and both had been among the earliest white ensemble leaders to integrate their groups racially (Goodman with players like Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton, Shaw with Billie Holiday and Roy Eldridge). During World War II, he joined the Navy and formed a band that crisscrossed the globe playing for U.S. troops; the band literally toured to exhaustion, leading to Shaw’s medical discharge.

Artie Shaw performing his Concerto for Clarinet, 1940

To say that Shaw was complex and difficult would be an understatement. He was married eight times, greatly disliked fame, and resented the conflict between creativity and the music industry so much that he virtually abandoned music in the early 1950s. Perhaps his life illustrated a never ending search for perfection by a man who could have approached it in any number of fields. When he died in December 2004 at the age of 94, he was recognized as one of the century's finest jazz clarinetists and a principal force in the development of the fusion of jazz and classical music that would become known as "Third Stream Music." Technically, I think he was at the top. 

Readers interested in a more thorough examination of even more facets in the life of this restless musical genius can visit this link at Swing Music Net for his obituary and this entry for his Wikipedia biography.

For a sample of "the sound of the horn" in the hands of Shaw, here he is with his orchestra performing the two "monster hits" mentioned in the Entertainment Weekly post above:

We've enjoyed the wonderful sounds of Shaw and his orchestra for over eight years now.  Le the music go on!


Photos and Illustrations:
public domain screen shot from the film, Second Chorus, 1940

Title quote, Tom Nolan, Artie Shaw, King of the Clarinet: His Life and Times, W.W. Norton & Company, 2010.
Artie Shaw entry,

Friday, May 19, 2017

Tybee Island: When Summer Comes

For the past week we have watched wave after wave of puffy clouds sweep out of the southeast across our patch of Piedmont east of Atlanta. Today there was a big difference. The clouds brought some serious humidity with them, so much so that iced tea and the ceiling fan on the porch lost out to air conditioning and the Florida room. It was a sure sign that the trade winds have resumed for another year. It also reminded me of my years on the Georgia coast.

South Beach, Tybee Island, Georgia

There, the trades usually creep in softly most likely because humidity is ever present. They bring in the high cirrus and horsetails as well as the puffy fair-weather cumulus clouds that race over the beach so beautifully at sunrise. Later in the day, the clouds sweep inland twenty miles or so where they meet the uplifts of daily heating enhanced by the incentives of the onshore flow. Often, the result is a brisk and exciting line of thunderstorms sometimes extending from the city-state of Charleston to the Players Club fairways at Ponte Vedra Beach. In Savannah, the 3:00 pm summer showers are so predictable you can almost set a watch by them. When residents advised me an umbrella was a summer essential they weren't fooling. The city's collapsing thunderstorms can produce inches of rainfall that compete very nicely with frog strangling storms I've experienced on the Southern Plains.  

For eleven years I worked at the mouth of the Savannah River and watched the light show over Savannah arcing north and east toward Hilton Head Island. Occasionally storms moved to my location when the land breezes swept in early and pushed the activity to the southeast. Almost always it was a magnificent show that ended with warm, comfortable land breezes lasting well into the evening. After a few hours of stillness in the early morning hours a quiet southeasterly breeze soon embraced the island in salt-saturated humidity and a haze that turned golden with a full sunrise. The Boat-tailed Grackles skirmishing in the oleanders nearby served as a natural alarm clock during the eight years we lived on Tybee Island. I do miss the birds, but not their role as nature's alarm clock.

The trade wind days last into September to be replaced by weeks of spectacular warm, dry, cloudless days, cool nights and warm water lingering into November. Of course, the occasional tropical storm can interrupt the coastal idyll that is the norm on the sea islands. It is to be expected and respected by those who share the fragile boundary of life at the ocean's edge. In Atlanta we'll sometimes enjoy the remnant sea breezes that survive the 200 mile journey from the Atlantic. It is a welcome reminder of the joy of coastal living.


Photos and Illustrations:

Monday, May 15, 2017

Katherine Ann Porter: "I Was Always Restless, Always A Roving Spirit."

Katherine Anne Porter, an American writer, journalist and activist, was born on this day in 1890 in the west-central Texas town of Indian Creek. She led an often troubled yet exciting and eccentric life. By the age of forty she was an acclaimed and widely read author but it took another thirty years and the publication of her novel, Ship of Fools (1962), before she found financial security in her craft. 

She moved to Washington, D.C., in 1959 to finish the novel and while there developed an association with the University of Maryland in nearby College Park. In 1966 her great success with the novel as well as her receipt of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for her Collected Stories published in 1965 moved the university to award Porter an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. At the same time she announced her desire to donate a lifetime of treasured personal possessions and papers to the school to be housed in the Katherine Anne Porter Room, at that time located in McKeldin Library. Porter eventually moved the few miles from her Washington home to College Park where she could be even closer to her collection and the university's resources. 

Readers interested in Porter as a writer will enjoy this 1963 Paris Review interview conducted as part of their Art of Fiction series.

For a biographical sketch illustrating her place in American literary history go here.

On a personal note: Back in 1968 I spent about two weeks doing research in special collections on the top floor of McKeldin Library at Maryland. At the elevator and in the hallways I kept meeting this small, friendly, elderly, white-haired woman with a jovial smile that invited conversation. She seemed far too helpful to be a typical university librarian. Years later I read how much Porter loved the academic setting and interacting with students, learning about them, their studies, and their plans for the future. She was, in fact, a near constant visitor to her room on the library's fifth floor. It wasn't long before the realization hit that my "little old librarian" was none other than Katherine Anne Porter. Oh to have those two weeks back. This time I'd ask the questions.

There's an interesting back story to my discovery of Porter. It involves the Mexican Leftists of the 1920's, film making, fractal theory, systems of creative design, and the study of pandemics. In other words, it is a story best told over pitchers of craft beer enjoyed with live jazz, overstuffed club chairs, and soft light. Perhaps pure chance will give rise to the opportunity. Porter would like that.


Photos and Illustrations:

Title quotation, "Katherine Anne Porter, The Art of Fiction No. 29, Paris Review
Katherine Anne Porter,