Wednesday, September 26, 2012

what is music?

It might seem like a silly question to some folk but it does get rolled around in some of my circles and can generate significant heat.  There is a generation of guitar players out there with amazing technique who, as often as not, build compositions around that technique.  The pieces may have very little in terms of melody and could never be performed on another instrument so some folk have questioned whether they are really music or not.

A recent discussion/argument on a guitar forum got me remembering...  In Jr. High one year, I had a student teacher in music who was a flautist.  One day she performed for us, playing a piece by Varese called Density 21.5.  I had never heard anything like it.  It certainly didn't fit any definition of music I knew, all formed by listening to folk music and the Mills Brothers at home and James Brown on the radio.  It opened my ears, my imagination, and my future and likely played a significant role in my development as a musician.

Here's a video of a performance of the piece by Laura Pou.  As I understand it, she takes some liberties with the rhythm of the piece and "sings" it a bit more than Varese intended.   I find it a wonderful performance - I love watching her body language - and the piece still makes me perk up and listen.

What do you think of the piece?  And does the performance move you?  Finally, is it music?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Apples & Fall

We have amazing produce in our area of California.  A few weeks ago, some friends were visiting and we stopped at a local farmer's market.  One of the friends remarked, "This is overwhelming."  She was correct.  There is just such a variety of incredible produce that it can be overwhelming.  Cheryl and I rarely shop at the farmer's markets because the decisions are so difficult to make.  When 10 different booths are all selling amazing strawberries at the same price, how do you pick?  There are often vegetables that I don't recognize.  Flowers, organic meats, fresh fish, nuts, honey, and amazing fruit...
Stayman Winesap apple

Apples are another thing altogether.  There are a few orchards that grow good apples but most of the apples here are too sweet for my taste and don't have the snap I look for in a good fresh apple.  The season also seems to be compressed for the apples I prefer.  Cider, often made from apples that have fallen to the ground, is illegal to make in Santa Barbara county.   So, the things I yearn for in the fall are difficult to find.

Today, I heard an interview on NPR about apples.  I think I heard the interviewee say that there are some 15000 varieties of apples!  However many there are, Cheryl and I have found an orchard that we like to visit -  Gopher Glen Orchards.  They grow some 50 different varieties of apples including some we know and love from the northeast like Stayman Winesaps.  And, because they are in a different county, they're allowed to make and sell real cider. It is about a 60 mile drive from our house and travel costs make the apples and cider ridiculously expensive... but they are APPLES and it is REAL CIDER and that means fall.

So we bought some cider and some Spitzenberg apples, reportedly Thomas Jefferson's favorite variety... and they are good!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Go Steelers... or maybe not

I have to admit, I'm a Steelers fan.  Growing up in Pittsburgh, football is religion and the Steelers are at the top of the Pantheon with the Pitt Panthers and high school football teams trailing behind.  When other boys wanted to grow up to be fire fighters or police officers, I wanted to be a defensive lineman.  When my nephew played on the AAA State High School championship team, I was soooo proud.  I have my Steelers jersey and my Terrible Towel.

In 9th grade my son was recruited to play high school football.  He was big and strong and quick.  I was a little nervous.  I knew the possibility of injury but he was the stuff of a serious football player.  The coach decided to make him a center and he began to learn the position.  They had a scrimmage on the final day of practice before the season was to start and down he went.  When I got to him, lying on the field, I could see that his knee cap was on the side of his leg.  Off to the hospital and his football career ended, but not the recruiting.  He got bigger, stronger and faster and is built like a stereotypical defensive lineman.  He went to city college and his first day on campus was seen by the football coach.  "Wouldn't you like to play on the football team?  You'd make a perfect nose guard."  John said, "No" and all of my Pittsburgh formation sighed.  He often worked out in the weight room with the football team and the pressure went up.  "You know, if you worked hard, you could probably play division one football after two years at City College... and get a serious scholarship."  John remembered his knee and a statement from the orthopedic surgeon, "Next time, and there will be a next time if you play football, it will be worse."  John said, "no."  Two years later, he walked onto Allan Hancock College campus and the football coach saw him walking across the lawn... "wouldn't you like to be on the football team?"  He sometimes works out at a gym owned by two retired NFL players... "John, you should be playing football."  We were visiting Pittsburgh and walking down Penn Ave. in the Strip District, the crowds parted like Moses parted the seas and you could read their minds - "What team does he play for?"  My very attractive daughter mused as we ate in a little diner - "The guys here don't know whether to look at John or at me."

I still have fantasies of him on the gridiron with me living my childhood dream vicariously but I'm glad John was smart enough and strong enough to keep saying, "no."  Of course, there is no telling that he actually would have been a good player as it takes more than size, speed, and strength.  There has to be a kind of aggression that I'm not sure he has.  I'm glad I never found out. 

I heard that during the opening week of the NFL, there were 120 players injured.  It is no wonder.  I look at my 300+ pound, 6'3" baby and imagine him running at someone full tilt and I can feel the bones cracking.  The thought of two of him colliding at a full run makes me shudder.  That happens in virtually every play in every game.  Even as a senior in high school he wrestled at 285 and there were guys on the football team at least as big.   Players are bigger, faster, and stronger than they ever were before and the likelihood of serious injury seems to go up every year.  When I read of brain injuries of retired players, I have to wonder what will become of the current generation of players who get hit harder every week.  And the injuries are not limited to pro players.  A running back on John's high school team had a significant brain injury and his life and the lives of those who love him will never be the same again.

When I allow it, I feel a sense of responsibility.  I support this game that will leave most of its players in pain, possibly crippled, and with a significant chance of brain injury.  I know the argument that the players enter into the game aware of the possibilities... but that doesn't fly.  What 21 year old athlete as big and strong as a horse does not see themselves as being invincible?  The other guy might get hurt, but not me.  Plus they began playing long before that.  And I can't imagine a way to really make the game safer... maybe if they didn't wear helmets they'd be more careful about their heads? 

So I'll watch the Steelers this year but at some point during every game, I'll feel responsible for the bodies of those men and for their futures and for all of the little boys dreaming of being a football player.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

protecting America

Yesterday morning I was having breakfast with my friend Ben and we got talking about where we were and what we were doing when the first plane hit the towers some eleven years ago.  This led to a discussion about the mythologies of the Republican Party, in particular the line "Bush kept us safe..." to which Ben responded, "except that one time."  The reality is that one of the largest attacks on US soil happened under his watch. 

Shortly after the event, there were stories that claimed the Bush administration had intelligence which had been ignored which may have enabled them to stop the attacks.  An op-ed in yesterday's New York Times indicated that the degree of negligence was greater than previously reported.  Of course, the right wing talk radio world has become apoplectic, yelling that liberals are blaming Bush for 9/11. 

Yet, they give Bush praise for no attacks on his watch... other than the one, the only one since Pearl Harbor... but that doesn't count.  It does count.  And worse than that, while there may not have been another attack on US soil after that, the reality is that the Bush administration's policies destroyed any sense of security that we had as a people.  They played on our fears.  They curtailed our rights.  And perhaps worst of all, they destroyed our economy by rushing into two unnecessary wars which consumed incredible resources while at the same time cutting taxes.  They presided over the destruction of our economy, in large degree the results of their policy choices.  Losing one's job, one's home, one's future is anything but being "safe."

The Republicans want us to forget all of that.  They want to go back to the same economic policies that got us into this mess.  They are rattling sabres at Iran and threatening yet another protracted and expensive war while at the same time talking about more tax cuts.  They say that after creating one of the largest messes the country has ever experienced, because a Democratic administration has not cleaned it all up in four years while dealing with a congress that was/is of the least interested in actually solving problems of any congress ever, we should allow them back into power. 

Was Bush responsible for 9/11?  No.  Could he have stopped it?  Maybe.  Are the Republicans responsible for what happened afterwards which led to one of the largest recessions we've known and the slowest recovery, the loss of more lives than have been counted, and the virtual destruction of two countries on top of allowling ours to go down the toilet?  Absolutely.

So, if you want to protect America and to help keep it safe, do not vote for the party that has been working to destroy it since 9/11.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Glide Memorial

Whenever we travel, we always try to attend a church that is doing things differently than we do.  I hope the experience will stretch me and open me to a new way of doing what we do at Cambridge Drive.

Last weekend was our anniversary.  We didn't have time or money to do a real vacation so we drove north to O'town and visited our daughter and son-in-law for a few days.  We decided to cross the bridge and attend Glide Memorial Church on Sunday morning.  It was a unique experience.  I've never been to a church before where the website advised you to arrive at least 1/2 hour early to ensure getting a seat.  Sure enough, the line was over a block long before the doors opened to allow us in.  During the service, the pastor asked the members of the congregation to stand.  Less than 1/3 of the people attending stood.  The group standing were significantly more diverse - all colors, sexual orientations, economic settings, ages - than the mostly white tourists attending.

The service itself was very much a performance.  The band and the choir were killer but rock concert loud in a room with typical lousy church acoustics - making the sound pretty muddy.  Still, the excitement was infectious and much of the time everyone was on their feet clapping along.  There was only one song that was clearly meant for the congregation to join in singing so it felt more like a performance than a worship service.   A group who had recently returned from a work trip to Kenya spoke during the sermon time... they did a very good job, clear, succinct, and meaningful.   There was little prayer, no time of silence, and I don't recall anyone mentioning Jesus.  My daughter Alexis found the experience way too intense and blogged about it here.

I was struck by the difficulties of doing worship in a congregation comprised of folk without shared history or even commitments.  I was reminded of the difficulty of doing ministry in urban areas and the resources that work requires.  I was thrilled with an obvious welcome that was there for all without question or hesitation.  I'm glad that Glide is there.  They provide a version of the gospel that is rarely seen and open doors to folk very few churches would welcome.  Still, it isn't for me... but it doesn't need to be.

So, what did I learn?  There is room for a progressive gospel and a style that is culturally relevant.  Indeed, even tourists want to experience it.  I would expect that at least some of the folk there left with a new hunger to find a church that would actually accept them as they are and speak to them in ways that touched their lives when they returned home.   I learned that I can never take the need for balance in worship for granted.  I learned that I feel pretty good about who we are, what we are doing, and the journey we are on at Cambridge Drive.