August 3, 2015
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August Augmentations

THE EARTH:  RECYCLED

There are two processes that could help solve a great many of the problems we experience everywhere on earth if we can expend the time, money, and creative thought processes to make them practical and available cheaply to all countries:  Desalination and efficiently recycled waste.

Desalination:  All countries on every continent would benefit from pure water for drinking and cooking, agriculture and for solving basic problems of drought and desert conditions wherever they occur.  With this solution everyone, everywhere benefits,  from the rich to the poor. All would benefit economically and culturally with the advantages of plentiful crops, the beauty of plants, trees and flowers, and even ponds and lakes, both natural and artificial.  Water is essential to life, but with climate change occurring throughout the history of the earth, there are times when rainfall and snowfall just don’t fall where they are desperately needed.  However, with three-fourths of the earth’s surface covered with water, there is no reason to have to depend on rainfall or snowpack.  Technologically advanced peoples are capable of learning how to remove salt and other impurities from sea water to make it useable.  But this must first become a priority.

Recycling waste efficiently:  Throughout the history of the earth, humans have deposited their waste back into the earth and its lakes and streams.  This works, but it takes a very long time for the earth itself to accomplish the recycling process.  We technologically advanced peoples with our advanced creative abilities on the other hand should be able to accomplish this in a comparatively short time.  By reducing our waste products to a basic state that can be used again in many areas, it could become the fundamental for new plastics, metals, ceramics, etc, that would make it possible to make new building materials  for housing, new and more efficient machines, and cheaper and more efficient clothing.  All of these would become easier once again to recycle.  This would lessen the need to use natural materials and help to preserve the environment, and this should give nature the opportunity again to replenish and grow naturally.  The jobs that this would open would then be in completely new areas which could grow into new ways of producing materials for space travel, lighter and stronger building materials for space, and new possibilities for society’s needs in vehicles, clothing, food, water and medicines.   And, as new sources of power and drive are discovered, this in turn could facilitate cheaper and more ubiquitous space travel.  The probability then increases of reaching distant planets and galaxies where these same techniques for recycling would apply.

Socially, when everyone has enough to eat and is satisfied, territorial tensions of all sorts tend to decrease.  When you have enough, then the desire to take someone else’s (the grass is always greener tendency) decreases.  War just might become obsolete or at least no longer viable.  At this point a sort of calm could ensue.  Mind altering drugs for escape should no longer be as necessary, at least to the extent and for the reasons we now experience.  Peace of a sort may just be within reach.  (Maybe not perfectly for we are still human).  But in this way, science, religion and free creative thinking could all coexist.  The arts could once again bloom and flower.  And all of this could conceivably occur because of two processes:  desalination and efficient waste recycling.  Is this even possible?  Everything starts as just an idea…

Musically, we are increasingly dealing with recycled notes, forms and patterns.   There is very little that is new or innovative.  Creatively we are stuck in a system that is hundreds of years old.  Long, long ago only melody was necessary to express the ideas of the time.  This lasted through the ancient Greeks and Romans.  At some point 4ths and 5ths became consonant and relaxing to the ear.  Then there was a gradual change to the consonance of 3rds and 6ths which has continued through the present day.  Though there was a brief trial of the 12 tone system, it was still part of the scale system we still use. As with desalination and efficient recycling, the problem we deal with musically is how to get to the next stage of development.  How do we build upon the accomplishments of preceding generations?  It is never easy, but it happens.  The organization of sound, the sounds themselves and the use of language and the human voice will all be recycled into something new that will satisfy the new needs of those humans living on this and other planets.  The possibilities are endless.  There are no limits, only creativity.  Thoughts precede realization.  Think about it…

July 1, 2015
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July 4 Independence

There are people who talk about peace (talk is cheap). There are people who tear things down and pillage and burn (you know them by their actions). There are people who sit back and watch from a distance (armchair critics). There are people who “tough it out” each day and do their jobs no matter how dangerous or unpopular (they “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”).  There are people who lead (contribute), and people who follow (those who criticize, blame, disparage and talk constantly, but show no responsible actions).

The point of this is: Who are you?  Do you support mindlessly those with the biggest mouths who are supported by media with no conscience and the wealthy with slanted ideals? Or do you start with a clear, unbiased conscience and selectively add information to your thinking that is supported with facts?  Are you an individual or do you need to be “led by the nose” by a governing body at any level that decrees and mandates and demands your unquestioning obedience?  Are you a free-standing patriot or simply a “cog in a wheel”  turned by a machine that levels everything to the lowest common level?  We all need to answer these questions while we still can.  You are either self-motivated and think for yourself or unmotivated and consequently let your thinking be controlled by a person or persons who will dictate your very thoughts.

Socialism kills!  It neutralizes your thoughts along with your music, the arts and all creativity.  In socialism, those who think outside the machine must be eliminated so the vast playing field of non-thinkers (cogs) are not disturbed.  At this point the thinker is driven underground, and becomes an outlaw, living a dangerous existence in order to keep some semblance of sanity alive.  All experiments in various types of socialism have ended in major conflict between the creative (thinker) and the cogs (sheep).  We are getting dangerously close to a rift in our own culture, our religions, and our society in general with those who would eliminate all traces of individualism, and civility.  Everything is pointing to this.  And it has all been done before with the same disastrous consequences, for it in fact,  becomes war.  A war between the individual mind and the mindless mass.

All people need to wake up now!  There is no later!  Teach your children to think (well and early) before it becomes impossible, for this is where we either win or lose.  Independence becomes so very dear only when it is eliminated and we at last realize what it is that we have lost. It is then that the battle begins to regain what we have lost, yet again, with the blood of our sons and daughters whose lives are the most dear to us.

For the love of God and our nation, pledge your allegiance again and again  –  and mean it!   With every fiber of your being!  Our forefathers and mothers, after much study,  had it right, not the charlatans who ridicule our worship, our culture, and our society.  Heed their distant call with renewed respect.  Respect our flag, our National Anthem, our Pledge of Allegiance, our Constitution, our Declaration of Independence, our Bill of Rights, and our laws, privileges, and responsibilities.  Respect our officers of law enforcement and first responders who keep us safe, our teachers who lead us to knowledge, and our religious leaders who keep our morals and ethics grounded. Our freedoms and liberties are not free or doled out. They must be worked for responsibly.  Earned and treasured.  Never taken for granted or assumed.

Take the month of July and think about what we have as a nation, and how we must work together to keep it intact.  Patriotism must be instilled in every heart so that it can grow and toughen and demand leaders that represent “We the people.”  At this point, the government in all of its forms works for us, and it will remain that way as long as we can still lustily and all together,  sing “God Bless America!”

 

June 1, 2015
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June Jumble

The beaches in Southern California traditionally make a transition from May gray to June gloom.  The gray stays the same, it’s just the month that changes.  Even though the sun appears in the afternoon, I still enjoy the gray, blanket-like feeling of the cloud cover.  It seems peaceful, even tranquil in the beach communities.  I know it’s just an illusion, but I enjoy the feeling anyway.  At times like this I become pensive, even philosophical, and start looking for the meaning of life and answers to the difficult questions.

The concepts of past and future are illusions of a sort.  The past is composed of memories, sometimes accurate, sometimes faded and idealized or mixed or telescoped together with many other incidents, even dreams.  But the past has already happened.  The future is uncertain, wishful thinking, fear of the unknown, or pasted up with yellow stickies or “To Do” lists.  All of this in the past or future is in a gray area.  It is unreachable and mostly incomprehensible.

Only the present is valid in our day to day living.  Our life styles will not permit daydreaming under normal circumstances.  Our lives are too complicated.  We learn to deal with this as we age, and everyone ages.  We accumulate experiences, ideas, techniques, patterns, and schedules which help us make it through days, weeks, months and years.  We create customs based on the patterns of our parents and grandparents and pass these on to our children and grandchildren.  When we are younger, we weed out the inconsequential and keep what is really important in our lives, and then start to think about what in next in our lives.  As parents we draw upon our experiences, both good and bad to help our own children to mature.  And each next day, the present becomes the past and the future becomes now.

There is always an exception.  Those among us who are able to live in the past, present and future.  They include the creative:  the thinkers, seers, innovators, writers, composers, inventors, artists, sculptors, designers, researchers, scientists, mathematicians, etc, who daily live to some extent in the gray area of life.  Some of these people deal with processes and some deal with values, some with history past and some with history extrapolated into the future.  All are valuable to us for the broadening of our thinking.  Our task is to temper the ideas and values presented to us with our own common sense.

Our own common sense is based on our own experiences and perspectives which have worked for a period of time in our own lives.  There are many changes that we face every day.  These changes eventually begin to coalesce into common sense values from which we can assimilate and then pass on to our own children . Think of the style changes in music from the beginning of the twentieth century until now.  These and the other arts and sciences tend to illustrate the above points.

From the 1900’s and into the 1950’s, music was acoustic.  There was nothing electric until the microphone and recording took over.  This affected what music was written and how it was performed.  Within these restrictions music reflected to moods and changes in society at that time.  When electricity took over in the mid 50’s, music took over, but there was a symbiotic relationship with music and society. Who was influencing who?  We are getting close to another change in music which brings it even closer to us.  Maybe this is good. This is a gray area for the moment, but style changes are more and more frequent.

This brings us back to values and common sense.  It is easy for us and our children to get lost in abundance.  What used to keep us grounded now floats in virtual reality.  Our society is reflecting this.  We must look to the past before we let ourselves be pulled into the future.  We need to make sure that the new and compelling songs we hear are not sirens whisking us to a place we would rather not be. Listen to the present and sing of the present before venturing into the unknown.  Let us be grounded in common sense.

May 1, 2015
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May Mind Noodling

Sometimes in the month of May I ponder too much.  Then I wonder as I ponder, and this usually leads to random “mind noodling.” In this particular May my thinking has been circling and circling, becoming a vortex which has come to rest with the words accountability and supervision.  Or maybe supervision and then accountability.  Whatever the sequence, a lot of the problems that we face daily are caused by a “lack” of accountability and a lack of adequate supervision. And these are two sides of the same coin. The structure of our society is based on these two terms, and when they break down we face serious problems.

In education, roughly speaking, this sequence is: parent-student-teacher-principal-school board-superintendent, etc.  In our cities and towns: citizens-police dept.-fire dept.-city council-mayor, and on to the state and national governments.  Each of these structures, and many more,  includes supervision and accountability, and problems begin when they are interrupted or lost.  Parent to child or teacher, worker to boss, boss to manager or owner, elected officials to their superiors or constituents, all are vital to our very existence. Without the structure and supervision and accountability, we face chaos, anarchy and returning to the law of the jungle with its  survival of the mentally and physically fittest.  And living day to day without a strong infrastructure doesn’t last very long.  In this situation the only accountability left when all else fails is to our God, in whatever form we choose to believe, as our ultimate supervisor.

Many societies have risen and fallen in the past on this same earth that we are inhabiting.  Small cracks started appearing, unrecognizable except to a very few voices lost in the din of daily living.  And who even listened to them?  Some of the signs were the break-up of the family, mores loosened, perversions accepted, and day to day living over regulated to the point of claustrophobia.  Everything was being done for the individual, leaving no room for self-reliance, self-management, creativity or free-thinking.  Then the cracks widened into religions and customs and government, leaving no room for either supervision or accountability.  Who benefited?  Only those at the very top of the food chain where the accountability stopped.  At this point absolute rule of some kind takes over.  A dictator or a king or a despot rides in to rescue the society.  Religion and education have to be controlled or eliminated.  And that is the end of individuality.

This process is so slow that it is almost unrecognizable in day to day living. It has happened many times before in the history of our earth, and it is happening now.  There are cracks appearing and occasional breakdowns not only in our own society, but globally.  Families are being restructured to fit any situation.  Christianity, and religion in general, is being systematically erased from public view (forced to go figuratively underground), every little thing is being legislated, but penalties for large offenses are being diluted so that accountability is also being relaxed.  In other words, both supervision and accountability are being lost for the individual.  We are being forced into the law of the herd where we mindlessly follow whatever leadership is the loudest or the most compelling.  And the question becomes:  Is this process preventable?  Can it be reversed?  Individually, yes.  Collectively, maybe.  As long as the majority of people in a society are content to be passive recipients of life’s necessities, the collective “maybe” will change to “no.”

Common sense is the foundation of any solution, based on facts, not emotions.  Accountability and supervision and a willingness to recognize self control and self motivation are vital.  Read a book entitled “The Death of Common Sense” (How Law is Suffocating America) by Philip K. Howard, pub. 1994 by Warner Books.  For over twenty years we have ignored warnings which are now becoming part of our existence.  That’s long enough.  Now we need to get serious.

Musically speaking it’s time to D.S. (Dal Segno), or go back to the sign which indicates where we have been and the firm foundations which once permeated our society.  We need to get rid of “political correctness.”  It has only been used by those with questionable agendas to blackmail and intimidate, and anything that has these for their mission statement must be stopped.  Bringing back supervision and accountability will help all facets of out society to re-adjust our thinking and our actions.  And we need these in order to survive.

Also in music, when there is a conductor there is supervision, and all of the musicians are accountable to all of the various sections in the group and also to the conductor.  Beautiful harmonies and musical structures are possible.  The same is possible in our lives.

April 1, 2015
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April Accidentals

April 1st is called April Fool’s Day for a reason.  I have proved this many times over.  And it’s not just April 1st.  It’s the whole month.  For example, the common stove.  This can be a very dangerous machine, if you haven’t noticed.  Recently I was in my normal (daily) cooking mode when strange things began to happen.  I took a tray of buns out of the oven and happened to reach for a thinner hot pad, rather than the usual thicker one.  Consequently, the heat transferred immediately to my right (grabber) hand which then tilted to the left.  My left hand (no pad) then, reflexively, steadied the pan to prevent a spill and lift the pan to the top of the stove which, I had forgotten, was almost covered with uneven pots and pans busily cooking various foods.  So, while toasting my left hand, I turned and dropped the buns on the only small space open on the counter top.  Simultaneously, one of the other pans on top of the stove started boiling over, so I scooted it to the back burner, which caused the hairs on my right hand to be burnt, causing that unpleasant smell that should never be in a kitchen.  Unfortunately, as I scooted the one pan, it nudged another pan, causing it to spill some of its contents on the top of the stove and onto the floor. This caused another unpleasant burning smell not uncommon to kitchens, but still unwelcome. All of this was compounded when one of our cats nonchalantly brushed by my legs and distracted me from the smells and the spills.  This caused me to move enough to step into the spill on the floor, and while slipping… I sneezed.

None of this is possible under normal circumstances, but, it was an April Fool’s Day, and, you guessed it… I was “it.”  I was the the fool or the joker or the butt of some kind of cosmic joke.  I didn’t know what hit me!  Cooking is not supposed to be “life threatening!”  And this is just the stove we are talking about.  What if you were playing in a symphony orchestra, or dancing on a stage, or driving on a freeway, or on a roller coaster or a waterslide, or on a boat to Catalina, or just taking a nap?  The possibilities boggle the mind.  And this is normal everyday living, not an earthquake or a tornado.  Things like this are not supposed to happen under normal circumstances.  But, April, obviously, is not a normal month.

I suppose we all can look to the other eleven months for normalcy if we must, but we are probably still fooling ourselves into another false belief.  That life is normal.

Life is NOT normal under any set of circumstances.  We go to great lengths to prove that it is, but we are just wasting our time.  It will never be.  We all make plans.  We map out routes, schedules, routines, and projections, but there is always something little that gets in the way.  Roadwork, sickness (ours or someone else’s), and at least a zillion other possibilities that are lurking in the shadows, to appear when you least expect them.  What April teaches us is to embrace these unexpected circumstances.  To expect them and even try to enjoy them, or at least to see the humor that is usually present if you look for it.

When you really think of it, MUSIC itself is not normal.  Frequencies happily flow at certain levels and rates without interruption until something gets in their way.  And that something, or someone, is usually the musician.  We have taken frequencies and divided them into arbitrary increments.  We have then made them do weird and unnatural things to reflect our own moods.  We collect batches of them and isolate them into tracks, and the tracks into various sized collections.  The infinite possibilities built into these frequencies have now been pared down and squished into a fraction of what they were just so we can understand them and deal with them on a daily basis.  This has become normal for us.

We have done the same thing with our universe, both macro and micro.  Everything is compared to our earth, which is not even a quantum of a fraction of the known universe just so we can try to understand it and also manipulate it.  We also do the same thing with our Creator (but I refuse to go there)…!  So what is our conclusion?  That we are constantly “April Fooling” ourselves just to get a handle on enough things to be able to make it through our lives.  Not bad!  It seems to work.  But is it normal…?

March 4, 2015
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March Musicale

March is supposed to come in “like a lion,” and go out “like a lamb,” or come in “Like a lamb,” and go out “like a lion.”  I’m not sure that any of this applies any more.  March is both winter and spring and summer, depending where you are in the country,  and everything in between.  At the very least, it seems to begin a calming trend in the weather, even if there is a last blast of winter toward the end of the month.  Not being sure about what to expect next brings an element of excitement to this transitional month.

My experience in playing night  clubs in the sixties was very similar.  Playing in the house band meant being ready for almost anything, musically speaking.  Monday’s rehearsal meant becoming familiar with the music of one or two or even three different acts which could be a singer, or singers, dancers, animal acts, comedians, magicians, hypnotists, etc.  Like the month of March, this became its own brand of excitement.

In Kentucky, just across the Ohio river, there were two clubs that were really nice and classy:  the “Lookout House,” and the “Beverly Hills.”  Both of these were beautiful venues which brought in acts like Rosemary Clooney, Mel Torme, Frankie Laine, etc. They were fun to play, and made me feel like I was connecting to a bit of music history.  Eventually, both of these clubs burnt down under mysterious circumstances.  I’m sure that economics played a large part in their demise.  Unfortunately.

In Cincinnati, the main venue was Cincinnati Gardens.  There I played acts like Sonny & Cher, James Brown, Engelbert Humperdink, and several different companies of Ice Shows like Ice Capades and Holiday on Ice.  Also circuses and rodeos, both of which, in my opinion are better played outside.  Inside, the air gets rather “close.”

In Dayton, I played at a German dinner/restaurant called Suttmiller’s.  This was a large club, seating 500 people for dinner and a show.  I never figured out how they transitioned from one dinner/show to the next, moving that many people.  Also, this was in the sixties when smoking was still ubiquitous and it could get difficult to see the music because of the indoor clouds.  Thankfully, things are much healthier now, but then, most of these clubs are now gone.  A lot of the acts that came to Dayton were there to break in their songs, routines, etc, before opening in New York or Las Vegas or Los Angeles.  I was proud to be in a house band that could read anything that was written down, and a lot of things that were not.  We were constantly proofing.  It has become a lifelong habit.  This club featured act like: Lou Rawls, Carol Lawrence, George Carlin, Joan Rivers, Professor Irwin Corey, Johnny Desmond, The Diamonds, etc, etc.  Too numerous to list.

This too is almost gone.  There are very few clubs left now that have live name singers, comic, dancers, etc, in an intimate setting with good food and a safe, smokeless atmosphere.  Catalina’s in Hollywood is one of the few left.  We are in the habit of seeing Steve Tyrell one or two times a year when he is in town.  To me it’s a lot like going back in time.  Check it out sometime.  And if you are lucky enough to be near a place that features good entertainment, all I can say is: Rejoice!  And consider yourself very fortunate.  Music that has melody is not dead, it’s just temporarily dormant, or maybe in hibernation.  We can always count on one constant in music taste and style: it will change!  Not always to what we would prefer, but change nevertheless.  So, “Don’t worry, be happy!”

February 4, 2015
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February Freeze

This February has been especially brutal for those living in the midwest and all the way to the east coast.  The jet stream has forced the cold, arctic blasts more frequently into the whole area.  There has been a lot of snow and resultant power outages, and eventually there will be flooding to look forward to when the snow and ice finally thaws.  A messy and unpleasant situation.  And more to come, if you believe the groundhog’s prediction. In contrast, the western part of the United States has been pleasantly mild so far this winter.  Just thinking of the problems in the east brings back many memories of my life there for twenty some years.

As a professional trombone player, I lived in Middletown, but, in order to work, I had to drive to Dayton, Cincinnati or across the river to Kentucky.  In all weather.  It didn’t matter what the weather report said.  I just got in my car and left for the job, no matter where it was.  Ahhh youth,  when we are immortal  (and, for the most part, clueless).  When I first started driving, my cars were junkers.  Stripped down.  Bald tires.  Temperamental when it came to starting the motor, etc.  You get the picture.  I remember far too many nights after a job, in another city, when everyone else had gone, still trying to get the car to start without flooding it  (at which time there was an even longer wait).  I’m not sure to this day whether it was the curse words or the prayer that finally got the car to start.  (Hallelujah)!

When I started working at a club in Dayton called Suttmiller’s (a theater restaurant that seated about 500 people), I finally, with a little help, was able to get a brand new car that would start when you needed it to start.  With this car, I traveled thousands of miles up and down Route 75 for many years in all kinds of weather without any problems.  And, I never had snow tires or chains.  The car was a Corvair,  which had the motor in the rear of the car, and the trunk in the front.  To balance this, I put a few cement blocks in the front trunk and traveled through ice, snow, black ice, sleet, and freezing rain with never a problem on the road.  Whenever possible, though, I followed salt trucks, especially late at night.  A lot slower, but a lot safer.

The only other difficult part was coming out of a job and finding my car covered with ice or snow, or both, and having to clean it off before being able to think of driving.  Actually, you first start the car, then turn the heat up full blast, and then start cleaning off the ice and snow as they start melting.  The other indispensable item is anti-freeze in your car.  I would usually also contain my own anti-freeze from playing a dance where the booze was flowing freely.  (another dangerous thing about being young and stupid).  But I was lucky, or maybe had an overactive guardian angel.  Whatever it was, it allowed me to be here now.  And I am grateful for that.

Weather and music seem to go together in some weird way.  And music and booze (or whatever) seem also to be linked in some weird way.  These were the days when the music for dances and parties and proms, etc, was “live.”  You didn’t even have to say it then because the music for these things was always live.  The only exception was the “sock hop” in the gymnasium.  A lot of the time a record player with a stack of 45’s was used. Also a lot of fun in those days.  Now I think that this probably was the forerunner of the DJ who would eventually take over and do away with live music altogether.  A very sad state of affairs for all musicians.

I really hope that live music recovers from this downturn, and once again lives to generate excitement in a very personal way as I and many others of my generation enjoyed it.  It could happen…!

 

January 8, 2015
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January Journey

Once again I have conveniently forgotten to make my New Year’s resolutions.  But, I have instead become a bit more introspective.  I tend to do this anyway when I read a newspaper.  So much that is news is depressing and eventually leads to ignoring the news for a while in order to gain back some perspective and sanity.  So instead of resolutions, this year I have collected some observations.

First of all, I have noticed that in the real world as depicted in the newspapers and the media in general, there are good people and there are bad people.  Somewhere in the middle is where most people reside.  Neither all good nor all bad, but slightly tainted by both sides.  Being human will cause this to occur.

There are many forces which will gradually guide us to one side or the other, and these influences, whether strong or weak, determine the direction that our lives take.  They are usually subtle and take hold so gradually that we don’t know we are either hooked or in control of our lives until much later in life.  They keep growing and attaching (bad), or reinforcing and supporting (good), for the rest of our lives.  To offset these influences, we thankfully have choices which we can make, or not.  When we make them, our choices must be very strong and definite in order to hold to one direction or the other, and, if we are to survive, we all need support (by friends), and strength of character (developed by wise choices).

When we look back at any age along our life’s journey, we find that it has been a series of choices (both good and bad) affected by outside influences, and causing us to either change direction or to resist a change of direction.  Changing direction can be either bad or good, and mistakes can be made, but these mistakes can be corrected at any time.  This is what requires the most strength in our character.  Recognizing whether change is good or bad is difficult, but not insurmountable.  Our tendency is to resist change, but a static existence is also bad when it stunts our growth, either physically or spiritually.  Both resting or moving are important, but it is far better to grow and correct our course occasionally than to just float aimlessly with no direction and no goals.

Music has participated in this process for centuries at a time.  In ancient times there was mostly rhythm.  The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, etc, had rhythm and rudimentary strings, brass and woodwinds.  In Europe during the Renaissance and onward, there were traveling actors and musicians, trouveres, troubadours, madrigal groups, and the refinement of the orchestra.  In this country the birth of jazz started the break with European musical traditions which originated in the blues, and became the basis for most of the popular music we now recognize.

And most of this musical tradition was associated with both bad and good.  There had to be music for saloons and bars, speakeasies and brothels, which were associated with outlaws, gangsters and gambling right through the present day.  There were also dance halls, concert halls, hotels, and restaurants which provided a more tame, romantic and melodic type of music.  There were choices for the musician, dancer and listener, including church music which has survived numerous changes of style.

So for this New Year, I will be glad that we all have choices to guide us in our growth and journey through life no matter what our age or situation.  Let us all use them wisely! ………. (and either “Rock on” or “Praise on.).

 

December 2, 2014
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December Dynamics

There is something incongruous about the Christmas season and its various themes when you are living in 80 degree weather.  Nothing really fits, so you have to do a mental transition that will help you to accept the proximity of snow and ice and hot temperatures. We trick our minds so that Santa and his sleigh and the north pole, etc., work.  Decorations help.  The tree with icicles, frosted ornaments, snow scenes, and prints by Currier & Ives all help to cement the illusion. Gradually the mind begins to accept these images, and the Spirit of the Christmas season starts to take over.  Music adds another dimension, talking of snow and winter weather, sleigh rides, snowmen, and frosted window panes.

All of this used to start after Thanksgiving, which was the official start of the Christmas season.  It worked for many decades.  The transition was from Halloween (celebrating fall and a successful harvest), to Thanksgiving (expressing our gratitude for the plenty stored away for the winter), to Christmas (the birth of Christ, and the advent of Santa and gift giving).  All of this used to take place gradually, season to season, with no rush.  Until the growth of the department store and consequently, the birth of advertising.  In the beginning, the theme of each season and its reasons for buying within each theme were presented separately, usually with a slight break between each.  Then, gradually, the seasons started growing together with various sales and enticements to keep up the rhythm of buying and gift giving.  Then the seasons started to overlap, and now we have Halloween transitioning right into Christmas with decorations, music, etc.  Thanksgiving has become a mere blip on the screen of sales, and is almost taken over by shopping mania. First the day after, and now the day “of” with the whole weekend becoming its own shopping holiday.  Why is this?  One reason is that the survival of the retail brick & mortar store is at stake.  Online shopping is taking over with its ease of purchase, and “no hassle” shopping.  It is now a battle of numbers.  Reality shopping versus digital.  Why not let UPS and FedEx do the moving through traffic and deliveries?

The result is beginning to become obvious.  The meaning of our very special holiday season is weakening, waning, if not disappearing.  Spirituality is in real danger of morphing into a cartoon-like existence.  Superficiality and glitz are taking over with instant gratification making it seem like we are actually living in a reality-produced commercial.  There is a smooth, effortless, relentless sliding from Halloween to the New Year.  And, “Is everybody happy?”  Sure, if you don’t mind all that the spiritual reformers have taken away from us:  The manger, angels, Nativity scenes, Wise Men, prayers of thanks, or any kind of prayer, etc.  And the question becomes: Is it possible to retrieve the soul of our holiday season?  Are we willing or even able to do so?

Yes, we can!  By remembering how special and deep are the roots of our symbols which are based on faith, hope and love.  And by realizing that something as small as a nucleus or a single cell can grow to astronomical proportions and take over the world.  It happened once before in Bethlehem, and it can happen again.  Prayer, whether sung or spoken, unites and builds and binds cohesively.  We have only to remember to use it – regularly and with purpose.  Music has the ability to magnify thoughts and ideas.  It also is the cement that can bind these thoughts and ideas.  Use it  – regularly and wisely and with purpose!

November 4, 2014
by admin
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November Noodles

During each November, for as long as I can remember, I have thought of food, home, family and friends.  Not necessarily in that order.  And all of these seem to connect to the Thanksgiving Holiday.  The situations may change,  place to place or family to family, but the feelings about the holiday itself are much the same.

When I was young, we always went to my maternal grandmother’s house for a Thanksgiving meal of Pennsylvania Dutch style cooking.  Even now the sight and smell of the heavily laden table are very clear to me.  The hustle and bustle of the kitchen, and the organized confusion are still very real.  And the unspoken “either help out or stay out of the way.”  It was and is still fascinating to me.  I’m surprised that I didn’t become a chef.

I don’t remember ever going to my paternal Hungarian grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving, although there were many other times throughout the year that we were invited for dinner.  Chicken Paprikash was a favorite of everyone.  Actually, there were a lot of dishes “paprikash.”  The Hungarian meals were in general fairly spicy.  My grandmother grew  peppers of all kinds which were dried in long rows hanging on the cellar walls.  Then these were ground up into a powder or flakes and used in cooking or as condiments.  Her chicken yard provided a lot of meals with chicken, duck, goose, turkey, etc;  practically anything besides the old tough rooster who doubled as an alarm clock at dawn every morning.  My grandmother’s garden was a good part of an acre lot.  In it were a corn field, and rows of many varieties of vegetables, fruit trees, and vines of berries adorning the fences.  When these ripened and were harvested, she canned a lot of the fruits and vegetables.  These were delicious and convenient in the dead of winter.

Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, on the other hand, being German, was less rustic and more mild, at least in my experience.  The Thanksgiving table then was almost as standard as it is today but with more variety, and much more quantity.  That being the case, I felt that it was my personal duty to cut a large swath through the menu.  I was always the subject of amazement as to the amount of food that I could devour.  Consequently, I was usually the last person sitting at the table, and, astoundingly, this never caused me any of the gastric problems that I would now experience.  While everyone else took a nap or got reacquainted, I would curl up under a table somewhere with a book.  It worked then, and it would probably work now given the opportunity.  After the main meal marathon, I was still ready for the spread of desserts.  And later on when the sun went down I was always ready for a turkey sandwich and some gravy with anything.  It seemed that I was unstoppable.  Or just storing food away for the winter.

There is one similarity between the cooking of both of my grandmothers in their prime in the late 1940’s.  Both of their cooking styles contained a lot of grease.  Chicken or turkey or beef or pork or ham fat was a treat.  Things like “cracklin’s” were  a real treat!  When the fat was rendered from any of the above, it was used for frying almost anything.  It is hard to understand now, but this is where a lot of the delicious taste came from – the grease.  And the reason that we had bread at the table was to soak up the leftover grease from our plates.  Now this is frowned upon, and grease is disappearing….. just like our ancestors whose arteries gradually hardened and shortened their lives.

Our lives are full of choices:  long lives or great tasting meals;  hard labor outside in the healthy sun and air or sitting at a computer all day without any exercise and developing heart disease.  Choices.   Trade-offs.   Life is full of them.   My own heritage gave me a love for cooking.  I have always loved combining different flavors for the taste and smell that can become unique.  This is a lot like composing and orchestrating music, which is combining the different colors and timbres of various instruments into sounds that are pleasing and unique.  Both are based upon the choices that we make.  And, no matter what area these choices are in,  let us all remember to choose wisely…!