MAMA MIA – Here We Sing Along Again

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Escapism for the New Great Depression

I slid the “Mamma Mia” disk into the blu-ray player.  I asked Ed whether it we should activate the sing-along function this time?  Ed hesitated, then demurred.  But I knew he wanted it.  So I asked again as the option presented itself on screen.  This time he bellowed “Yes!”

So two grey haired men with facial hair sang along with Meryl and Pierce and Colin as they warbled all those fabulous ABBA songs.

And I cried.

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A Busby Berkeley extravaganza

Over forty years ago, I was a child watching one of those 1930s Busby Berkeley musical extravaganzas on TV and my father made a comment about movie escapism during the Great Depression.  I asked him what he meant, and he explained that the Great Depression of the 1930s was such a terrible time, people’s lives were hard and miserable with economic hardship.  But the movies gave them musical extravaganzas and happy endings.  I remember thinking it was wrong to go to the movies to watch shiny lies when the world is full of wrongs.  This was the 1970s after all, where so many movies eschewed happy endings for gritty downbeat realism.  My father explained when the whole world is going to hell, people need escapism to comfort them.  It still felt like a poor option to me, even morally dubious, and something that we had fortunately culturally outgrown.  A few years later I would see Preston Sturgess’ “Sullivan’s Travels”, which combines gritty depression era honesty with the balm of escapist comedy brilliantly.  But even then I didn’t quite buy the message.

I do now.

Because boy is the world going to shit.

We don’t have the economic disaster of the Great Depression (yet).  We do have the rise of dangerous populism and fascism.  Not like the 1930’s, yet, but rising, world wide.  Yet in the United States, which in the 1930’s elected one of its greatest presidents to show a better way, we now are saddled with the worst of the worst our nation has ever seen, dragging us down with a litany of pussygrabbing horrors: dishonesty, greed, corruption, injustice, narcissism, chauvinism, xenophobia, racism, child kidnapping, environmental destruction, the flirtation with fascism now graduated to a shake and shimmy with fascism; oh the list of the crimes is endless as is the constant trampling of any and every sort of decency.

I go on and on.  But Seth Meyers last night put it most pithily: “irredeemably awful”.

And the dispiriting fact that much too large a section of the country’s population, not a majority but not nearly a small enough minority, supports this monstrosity continuously through thick glop and thicker gruel with Dear Leader cult-like far-right-signalling blinkers…  Deplorable doesn’t really cover it anymore.

Screen Shot 2018-07-16 at 7.21.18 PMAnd then today, the obvious betrayal of the country.  The unmistakable beholdenness, obsequiousness, to a murderous dictator, a smiling villain, the puppet master.

The aiding and abetting of a hostile foreign power.

The Kafkaesque nightmare that just won’t end but only reaches ever greater lows of sickening awfulness.

The Great Depression this time around isn’t economic.  It is psychological.  And it is bringing down whole populations in existential despair.  In deep moral exhaustion.

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MOONLIGHT EVOCATION

 

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Moonlight Serenade – Glenn Miller and His Orchestra

It’s my husband Ed’s birthday today.  And among his wrapped birthday presents he will find another viola piano duet, another Evocation.  We’ve been together 25 years, so this year it’s Evocation XXV.  (Read stories about some of the other Evocations here, here, here and here.)  Yet there will be something different about this particular Evocation, something unlike all the others.

For one, it isn’t completely my own composition but a collaboration, or rather a variation on a classic composition.  By none other than Glenn Miller.  For another, it is a composition that came to me in a dream.

I’ve heard of artists, especially writers or composers, tell of ideas coming to them in their dreams, yet I don’t recall this ever happening to me before.  But several weeks ago I dreamed of the melody of Glenn Miller’s 1939 jazz band evergreen “Moonlight Serenade” being played by Ed on the viola, while I was working out the original accompaniment figures on the piano.  I woke up vividly remembering the dream, especially the music (Normally I tend to forget my dreams swiftly upon awakening).  And I thought, well, there is an idea.  I hadn’t yet composed this year’s Evocation.  I had no ideas for it yet.  There were only a few weeks left to compose it before Ed’s birthday, but I don’t think I was feeling the pressure yet.  Perhaps subconsciously I was?  And thus the dream?  Either way, I took heed of the dream, and decided the next Evocation would adapt the main themes of the Moonlight Serenade for viola and piano and then continue the composition with some variations and digressions à la Ashkenasi.

I realized that morning right away that this would end up being a more ambitious, time consuming writing process than most of the more recent Evocations.  But the idea was formed.  And I submitted to it.  In composing, as in life, it’s probably not advisable to deny oneself one’s dreams.

Here is how it turned out, as performed (sigh) by a soulless computer program (Ed and I will likely give it a premiere whirl on actual live instruments later today):

 

Evocation XXV – Moonlight Evocation – Danny Ashkenasi and Glenn Miller

 

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NATARAJA – The Dancing King

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Museum Impressions

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Yesterday at the Brooklyn Museum with an unwitting special focus on the feminine

 

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BROOKLYN PRIDE

Park Slope Comes Out!

Highlights from the June 9 Brooklyn Pride Street Fare and Parade

 

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We are Family – Sisters Sledge

 

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BEWARE THE CON! – a cautionary epistolary tale

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The following emails are actual.  Only certain identifying details have been redacted.

 

Sunday, 7:01pm – Message from D- C- relayed via a service for independent contractors:

Hello,My name is D- ,I want lessons for my Daughter,she is 12 years old, Pls text (XXX) XXX-XXXX me or email to ( h——@gmail.com ) the cost of 1 hour per day total of 10 lessons in a month ?

 

Sunday 11:21 pm – Danny Ashkenasi to h—–@gmail.com 

Dear Mr. C-,
 
I received your message from T———- regarding lessons for your 12 year old daughter and requesting information about the cost of 1 hour per day total of 10 lessons in a month.

 

A one hour lesson at my studio would be $XX.  ($XXX for 10) For 10 lessons in a month, would you be considering a lesson scheduled every 3 or 4 days?

 

I do make house calls as well, for a $5-$10 surcharge, depending on distance traveled.  I am located in Brooklyn, and normally don’t travel as far as the XXXXX zip code you are located.

 

Please contact me directly at dannyashkenasi@gmail.com or XXX XXX-XXXX. 
best,
 

Danny Ashkenasi

 
 

Monday 4:27 am – D- J- to me

 

Thanks for getting back to me, My daughter name is Susan she is coming
for an holiday in your CITY and I want her to be busy in the time of
the day,because i will be in CANADA for business trip for more than a
month that is why i want her to be lesson with you i have Someone that
will always drive her down to your house or lessons center for the
each lessons,the total days of the lesson will only be 10 days in a
month. Just let me know the cost for the 10 days lessons ?

 

 

Monday 4:44 am – D- J- to me

 

Am okay with your price and i also have Someone that will be driven
her down to you for the each lessons,What is your own convenient time
and days that you want my daughter to be coming in a week?

 

 

Monday 8:44 am – Danny Ashkenasi to D- 
 
Mr. C-,
 
What month are we looking at? This June and July I am the most open for scheduling lessons in the early afternoon. 2pm for example would be available most Mondays thru Thursdays and some Fridays. Earlier times are also widely available. Later afternoon or evening times are more booked up but can be arranged during the week as well.

Please let me know between what two dates you would like to schedule the 10 lessons and (if 2pm will work for you) I will schedule out 10 specific dates that maximize the efficacy of the lessons.

Is Susan a beginner player, and if not, how many years has she been playing piano?

best,

Danny

 

Monday 9:08 am – D- C- to me

 

She will be starting the lesson probably this week,  The 2pm time is
better and Mondays through Thursday and Friday will also be fine with
my daughter. I believe my daughter will definitely enjoy lesson under
you, Yes she has been playing piano before now. she’s a humble girl
which always want to learn for her future. she will definitely be a
good student under you…Everything sound good to me and am okay with
you,My mode of payment is check and it will get deliver to your door
step via USPS this week before the lesson will start this week..Kindly
get back to me with your  full name to be on the check and your
address And your direct contact that you want the payment to be
deliver too so that i can forward it to my Secretary to mail out the
payment to you asap..Thanks
 

Monday 9:26 am – Danny Ashkenasi to D- 
 
Very well,

I will write out a schedule (with my address) and an invoice for you. Should we have her start this Wednesday? Or we could start tomorrow (Tuesday) too, if you like. Since we are starting so soon, the check can be brought with your daughter at the first lesson.

But before I can create the schedule I need to know by what day should the 10 lessons end?

best,

Danny Ashkenasi

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These Roses are Ready for their Close-Up, Mr. DeMille!

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Another year… another June…

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R4This year the rose garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden had received a “hard cut”, as we heard a passerby explain.  Which made it still lovely but less lush than in years past.  So I’ll focus on the close-up in this post.

 

And of course we’ll include a rosy little musical quiz, answers strewn among the tags below.  (Warm-up question, which 1920’s tune begins with the above quoted lyric “another year, another June…”?)

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Rose petaled question #1:  For which movie did Bette Midler receive her first Academy Award Best Actress nomination?  Bonus question, which movie provided her second?

 

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ARTS-A-POPPIN’

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There’s a new category here at Notes from a Composer: Arts-a-Poppin’.

(This category, like all the others, can be accessed on the right side of every site page, just below the tweet stream.)

After posting a double bill of selections from ART NY 2018 (after showcasing the 2016 and 2017 ART NY editions), it has become obvious that a special focus on the visual arts has crept into my blog as one more sideline to my shared musings and enthusiasms.  And then too there is my propensity to share some of my artsy fartsy photographic experiences, which often have more than just a touristy angle, if that.

So now there is a blog archive that collects my sporadic enthusiasm for visual arts and visual amateur experimentations.

Where, in addition to the ART NY Extravaganzas, you may spend time with Rodin in Brooklyn.

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Or stumble upon hidden folk art in Brazil.

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SHIFTING PERSPECTIVES at ART NY 2018

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Etienne Garceau

Part 2 of my glimpse into ART NY 2018.  Some more “celebrity sightings” in artist and subject just as in Part 1.  Even more “shifting perspectives”, featuring videos of art work that show how they change, either because they include video imagery in motion, or because they alter depending on the perspective of their viewing.  For example the changing colors of Zhang Hang Yi’s Flowerbed:

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Or the far off / up close changes in Nemo Jantzen’s “Vogue”:

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And as before, I’ll throw in a few more Art Song Puzzlers, the answers for which may be found tucked within the tags at the bottom of the post.

 

ART SONG QUERY #4

Which singer asked us to come away with her to sing about painting?

 

Hendrik Kerstas

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Roberto Fabelo

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Frederico Uribe

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Sinatra and Einstein by Will Kurtz

 

 

Florian Eymann

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Leonor Anthony

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Oliver Czarnetta

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(Note the suspicious look I get from the minder at the end of this video:)

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Celebrity Sightings at ART NY 2018

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The large Yigal Ozeri portrait of Whoopi Goldberg behind the information desk by the entrance into ART NY 2018 was a hint that this year’s exhibition would have more than its fair share of celebrity sightings.  Not only celebrities being depicted in the art.  Also celebrities exhibiting.  And by that I mean both famous artists like Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall as well as famous actor Adrien Brody and famous quarterback Joe Namath.

We’ll get to those and much more intriguing art.  And just as in my previous two blog posts on Art NY there will be another guessing game of “art” songs (with the answers hidden in the tags at the bottom of the post).  A18-51 (1)But this year for the first time I will also include some cool videos of art that changes over time or with shifting viewer perspectives.

For example Gavin Rain’s painting (with three dimensional candy striped paint cones) of (celebrity) Marilyn Monroe, an icon who would figure in quite a few Art NY 2018 works this year:

 

ART SONG QUERY #1

Which artsy pop diva is stepping into the part previously played by Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland and Janet Gaynor in what movie remake directed by which 4 time Oscar nominee?

(like before on this blog and discussed above, the answers to these queries may be found hidden among the tags below)
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“See no vulva, hear no vulva, speak no vulva”, one might quip.

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Speaking of celebrity artists, Keith Haring (above) must be included in that category, and once again ART NY had some of his work on display, including an example of his subway graffiti art (right), from early in his career when Haring would “deface” black posters which used to cover temporarily unrented subway station wall ad space.  Yesterday’s illegal agitprop graffiti art had been roughly torn off the subway wall and is now today’s glass framed, expensive gallery offering.

 

Kenny Sharf:

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Cartoon sensibilities and celebrity cartoons come into play in a lot of pieces, like this one by Ron English:

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A18-6 (1)Or you can purchase an oil painting of a tv cartoon still of Bart Simpson and Joe Namath.  Just one option of many on display at the Joe Namath Foundation Exhibition.

Which do you prefer, the yellow googly-eyed Joe or the shirtless hairy-chested Joe?

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Right next to Joe Namath was Adrien Brody:

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The Views from THE VIEW

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Ed and I were treated to dinner at The View restaurant on the top of the Marriott Hotel in Times Square.  48 stories high, the whole restaurant is perched on a circular platform that, like a very slowly rotating record, turns on an axis over the course of a little over an hour to present the patron with 360 degrees of high perched Manhattan city views.

Ed and I couldn’t help ourselves.  We took a lot of photos.

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And as is my wont in this kind of post, to make this a bit of a guessing game, I will sprinkle high flying city songs throughout, whose titles and artists shall remain a secret (easily sussed out via the tags at the bottom of the post).

High Flying City Song #1

(Sounds like she would have preferred to stay in merry old England)

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The food, by the way, was OK.  But not nearly commensurate with the rich prices.  I’d say there is at least a 100% mark up for the views, which, depending on your perspective, may still make it worth the expense.

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High Flying City Song #2

(These city high fliers are promising a whole new song, after over 35 years.)

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High Flying City Song #3

(This song was inspired by the NYC financial crisis of the 1970s, specifically the newspaper headline: “Ford to NY: Drop Dead”.)

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High Flying City Song #4

(How can you feel blue with such a view?)

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Oh look, the moon:

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Can you guess the show being advertised on the screen below? (The tags at the bottom include the answer.)

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High Flying City Song #5

(I doubt the little tramp would have been able to afford this restaurant.)

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Do you recognize a particularly famous building (above) by its silhouette? (Again, the tags include the answer.)

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ELEGANT PRIMITIVISM or ELEGIAC ENERGY – On the Conclusion of the Public Vote in the Carl Orff Competition

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The public voting phase of the Carl Orff Competition concluded yesterday.  Now I guess the public ratings of the 115 entries are being weighted and tabulated to determine five finalists.  Five more finalists will be chosen by a select jury.  Sometime in June, we are told, the ten finalists will be announced.

Also yesterday I received this email from a friend, Kevin Jillette, which I thought included some astute and well formulated comments about the competition and Rilke (the bold facing and underlining is Kevin’s):

Hey Danny,

Just wanted to let you know that I managed to hear and vote for your Orff Competition entry, along with about 19 others. The whole thing is pretty compelling: I’m fascinated not only by the range of inspiration and imagination on display, but also by the fact of the competition having so many entries! I found myself wondering about these composers’ back-stories — beyond what the brief bios revealed — and wanting to know why they decided to enter the competition.

And then there’s the music, of course. In the pile of entries I heard there were some attractive, precious and semi-precious stones; a handful of handsome and perfectly acceptable paste numbers; a couple of clinkers; and a few real gems. Your composition is in that last category.

One aspect of Rilke that I’ve always enjoyed — even when at his most inscrutable — is the distinctive mood/breath his poetry exhales. It’s like the atmosphere of a peculiar world from which his works have arrived, wherein one encounters seeming paradoxes like elegant primitivism or elegiac energy. Your song is a inspired setting of Rilke’s text, and (IMHO) it makes marvelous, imaginative use of the stipulated materials. But beyond that, through some kind of alchemy, you’ve also managed to capture and convey that mood. Which is why — to me — your piece wins.

 

Thanks Kevin, and thank you for permitting me sharing your thoughts.

You can listen to and follow the score of “Orpheus. Eurydike. Hermes” below:

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WEDDING MUSIC – 25 Years Together, 20 Years Married

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April 25, 1998, oh how young we once were…

“So, where did the two of you meet?” we are often asked.

“In the back of a Greyhound bus,” we respond by rote, and await the inevitable follow up question.

It was exactly 25 years ago, April 25, 1993, on the way back to NYC from the big Gay and Lesbian March on Washington we had individually attended that weekend (back then Bi and Transgender were yet to be added to codify LGBTQ).  I tell that story, and how our marriage exactly 5 years later made us out-law marrieds until the final federal seal of approval in 2015, in my “Our Time Has Come” blog post.

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Ed and I, closer in time to today…

 

Today, on our 25th anniversary of togetherness, and 20th anniversary of marriage, let me share some little bits from our wedding, specifically the music of our wedding.

Ed is a Quaker with a capital Q, and so our wedding was a Quaker ceremony in the 15th Street Meeting House, with all the traditional Quaker trappings, including the marriage certificate with our vows written out in beautiful calligraphy, signed and witnessed by all assembled wedding guests.  I like the Quaker wedding traditions, but call myself “spiritually unaffiliated”; if I have a religion, it is Music.  So we found ways that music would be as much a part of our wedding as Quakerism.

But before I show how we accomplished that, let me start with the musical tradition that features in pretty much every wedding, the married couple’s first dance.  We chose a double feature of songs, starting slow and then going full swing.

Heirat (Married) – Greta Keller – from Cabaret

Oh wie wunderbar, nichts ist so wie’s war, durch ein winziges Wort: Heirat

Aus dem Erdgeschoß wird ein Märchenschloß durch ein winziges Wort: Heirat

In the movie version of “Cabaret”, my all time favorite movie musical, only the German version of “Married” is heard playing on the phonograph.  I’ve always found this recording awfully lovely, and it being from “Cabaret” and me having been born and raised in Germany, this “marriage” song felt just too appropriate.  Besides, Ed and I do live in a ground floor apartment (Erdgeschoß) we’ve turned into our dream castle (Märchenschloß).  Ed wanted to dance to something more upbeat too though.  So after slow dancing to “Heirat”, we swung out to Ella Fitzgerald belting out Cole Porter’s “From This Moment On”.

From This Moment On – Ella Fitzgerald

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Wedding photos and our Quaker marriage certificate

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STILLES ENTSETZEN – AWESTRUCK, AWFUL REGRET – One More Week of the Carl Orff Competition’s Public Voting

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“Orpheus. Eurydike. Hermes” evokes the lead-up to Orpheus’ fateful turn to glance at Eurydice, the awestruck, awful regret at that moment and its terrible aftermath.

“Orpheus. Eurydike. Hermes” beginnt kurz vor den fatalen Rückblick Orpheus zur Eurydike, welches stilles Entsetzen und bewegte Reue auslöst, sowie den endgültigen Schicksalsfall.

Above you can read my description of the piece “Orpheus. Eurydike. Hermes” on my entry page for the Carl Orff Competition (you can also listen to my piece and rate it).  When I submitted my entry and filled out the on-line forms, the text box provided for the composers to describe their piece was so small, I assumed there would be, like there usually is in these things, a strict, low word limit.  Knowing I wanted to describe my piece in both English and German and worrying about how little text space I might be allowed, I wound up writing descriptions that are nearly haikus.

 

Orpheus’ fateful turn to glance at Eurydice

the awestruck, awful regret at that moment

its terrible aftermath

Der fatale Rückblick Orpheus zur Eurydike

welches stilles Entsetzen und bewegte Reue auslöst

sowie den endgültigen Schicksalsfall.

 

Well maybe not great poetry; I probably do a better job with my musical composition.  But I did work hard to find just the right words in the right formulations.  Yet the German and English descriptions are not really literal translations of each other, but the kind of freer reflections one finds when poetry is carefully translated, where the right dictionary definition may be better substituted by words or phrases with the right cultural and emotional connotations.

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Which brings us to the differences between Rilke’s original German text and the English translation (both of which I reprint here, along with the score and recording of my interpretation).  I set the original German text because it is the original Rilke, but also because it is superior to the English translation (a Spanish translation was also made available).  There are many reasons why I think that, but I’ll share one example with just one word.  In the English translation, Eurydice is said to no longer be Orpheus’ “property”.  The word used in the original German is “Eigentum”.  That is a direct, literally true translation.  Eigentum means property.  But Eigentum in German contains the word “Eigen”, which means “what is one’s own”.  So “Eigentum” literally means “that which is one’s own”.  Which is what “property” means too, but not in the way that includes a spoken reference to one’s sense of self.  Also, the word “Eigentum” is full of lovely long held vowel sounds and soft consonants, whereas “property” boasts the opposite in all, only short, curt vowels and explosive consonants.  In the English version I can only feel the ugly, mercantile, possessive aspects to describing Eurydice as belonging to Orpheus.  In the original German I can also feel the loving, soulful connection.

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CARL ORFF COMPETITION – Let’s Hear it for the Underdogs

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Dear Danny,
Your Orpheus,  Eurydike,  Hermes​ is a brilliant,  powerful piece,  spellbinding from its first note to the final silence,  tense,  tumultuous between,  each step possessed,  pauses as loud as the notes,  the whole astounding,  overwhelming.

 

Orpheus. Eurydike. Hermes – Danny Ashkenasi (text: Rainer Maria Rilke)

 

O1It’s been four weeks since the public evaluation phase of the Carl Orff Competition went live, with two more weeks to go.  I posted my blog piece about the competition parameters and my entry “Orpheus. Eurydike. Hermes” and put the word out to friends and family.  Among the many kind responses that came my way, Aunt Azzie’s (AKA Alice Leake) succinct and evocative appreciation (reprinted above) is everything I could have wished for and then some.

Thanks, Azzie, your check is in the mail.

In addition to my post, you can listen to and also rate my competition entry here, and check out and rate any of the other 114 entries here.

O10The Carl Orff Competition urges the public to “Please be fair! Vote for at least five entries and look at as many composers as possible.”  In a newsletter they make the same appeal so that “in the end, the best composers win and not the best marketing specialists. ;-)”

Marketing specialists?  Indeed, there are five or six entries that have amassed such a huge amount of page views that they leave all other competitors far behind.  The implication being that even with the competition purveyors hoping to even out the playing field by favoring ratings from those who evaluate multiple entries, a huge “fan base” is likely to overtake all other factors.  (I should add that of the 10 finalists, five will be chosen by the public vote, while the other five will be chosen by a jury.)

With that in mind, I thought I would highlight a half dozen or so entries that perhaps for lack of marketing muscle currently sit among the lowest page view counts in the competition so far, but which I found particularly accomplished, lovely, smart or all three in one.  Caveat, these aren’t the only pieces I really enjoyed, just a few of the ones I have heard so far that deserve a bit more attention.

CO JelleJelle Vansielegham’s composition is, in a word, lovely.  Comfortably residing in the tradition of french impressionists.  A moving, deeply expressive vocal line flows over excitedly murmuring harp arpeggios.

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Like most competition entries, Vansielegham’s recording is computer generated and doesn’t include a sung vocal line.  Instead a natural sounding cello takes its place, and you must read the score to see how well the words are supported by the beautifully rendered melody lines.  The entry page is here.

CO Alessio

 

Alessio Ferrante’s musical language suggests a performance as it might have occurred in ancient Greece itself.   The main descending theme heard in the voice and the harp repeatedly evokes the ultimate descent back in the Underworld that will inevitably follow after the song’s subtle and sad conclusion.  Here is his entry page.

CO alsessio score

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HAPPY SONGS FOR DARK TIMES #1 – A Grand Hotel Extravaganza

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Sometimes the right slice of music can be a sure fire happy picker upper.

These are dark, soul depressing, body wearying times we live in.  More than once I have been hearing people talk about how they feel sick in their guts, their stomachs clenched since November 2016 or thereabouts.

Sleeplessness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, the actual ailments, whether as metaphor or real symptom, can travel the body (politic), but since I find myself home on the couch today with a very real and lingering stomach discombobulation, I will go with the clenched guts.

How to feel better at least for the moment, when you know the real cure for this ailment will take time and diligence (pepto bismol and rest for my body, voter turn out and defending democracy and rule of law and ethics for the body politic)?

Some turn to alcohol or drugs to blast away the blues.  That may work for a while but the side effects tend to be dire.

Safer may be the right comedic movie or book.  Or a nice walk in just the right environment.  That may take a few hours commitment and certain logistical efforts.

I have found one way to get a quick burst of happy, even if only for a few minutes, one that works without fail even on my often habitually melancholy nature.

There are certain songs, certain pieces of music, when they play I can not help but get happy.  My mood will lift with certainty.  I may even start dancing with glee, regardless of how I felt just the moment before.  It’s like an aural Vitamin B shot.

It just happened again 30 minutes ago when my laptop’s music shuffle played the final track from the soundtrack of Wes Anderson’s movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, originally heard during the conclusion of the film’s end credits:

Traditional Arrangement: Moonlight – Alexandre Desplat

GHB2

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