Friday, November 30, 2007

Methinks they doth protest too much

"Kill her!" screamed Islamic protestors in the Sudan, marching and waving machetes and knives, "No mercy!" Her unspeakably heinous offense? Letting Islamic schoolchildren name a teddy bear "Mohammed." Apparently it's okay to name many males after the Prophet, but to name a toy so was taken as an unforgivable insult to Islam and sufficient cause for execution. Only international pressure reduced her punishment to a few days' arrest and deportation.

Good grief. I've noticed that the more wrong and unreasonable people are, the louder they carry on. It's as if notching up their grimaces, their volume, and their violent gestures justifies their position. These protests everywhere in the name of this or that cause--sometimes I think the protesters themselves may not even know what they're shouting against but just like a good communal vent--are beginning to sound to me like a child's tantrum. Like children, they don't seem to know how to advance their position by any reasonable or peaceful means, so they just scream till they get their way. And if people try to ignore them or reason with them or calm them down, they just scream all the louder.

It seems like people make the biggest fuss to defend their position when they're dead wrong. When they're right, they don't have to state it hysterically, for it is usually evident. And I know of no instance when people in general have become convinced of the rightness of a cause just because it's been passionately screamed and menaced at them.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Good Lord, Marvin, Get on the Beat!

We saw Marvin Hamlisch in concert last night at Ft. Lauderdale's Parker Playhouse. We were both excited about the chance to actually watch one of our favorite entertainers live. We'd played his "I Love A Piano" ragtime cd, and the cassette tape before that, going back to the early '80's on all our family vacation travels and often at home as well. Here was the composer of "A Chorus Line," "The Sting," "The Way We Were," and many other hits--an oscar winner and winner of several emmys, composer of over forty film scores.

I didn't know if he would bring a band with him, or at least a bass and drums, but he worked solo onstage at the Steinway and Sons concert grand. He did bring Stephen Lehan, a very fine tenor who sang several numbers for variety.

But the big surprise of the evening for Barb and me was Marvin's piano performance itself. From the first notes to the final ones some ninety minutes later, he rushed through song after song with no rhythm, no discernible beat, no chance to hum along in his crabbed-motion flurries, and it was a challenge to even recognize "Night and Day" and other standards in his frenetic renditions. Only on a few occasions did he fall into any meter--notably when he accompanied Lehan. It would have been impossible for any singer to sing along with the way he murdered everything else. It was a huge disappointment, partly saved only by his extensive and witty comments between the songs.

Why, Marvin, why would anyone with such obvious musical capabilities and talents do such a thing? It was baffling. After ten seconds everyone in the theatre was looking around at others helplessly, nervously, just as confused as we were. I wondered if several who left discreetly at the first chance couldn't take it anymore. It reminded me of the 1913 Paris premiere of Stravinsky's revolutionary ballet, The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps) when the audience, accustomed to traditional tonal melodies, meters and comfortingly predictable harmonic progressions, actually rioted and threw seats and trash, stopping the debut performance, because they felt so assaulted by the polymetric, dissonant strained music they couldn't get ahold of any beat, anything familiar. That's what Marvin's jumble of notes and chords sounded like. Barb looked at me and scowled.

He's a composer, I said. He's not a musician, not a pianist. He's a Juilliard-educated, classically trained composer, and like many composers from Moussorgsky to Irving Berlin, that's how they often play. It's like they have this fabulous store of musical ideas that just spills out faster than they can control. It's the way the late George Burns used to scatter a song lyric at breakneck speed before returning to a puff on his ubiquitous cigars. There's no way anyone could sing along, with Burns or with Hamlisch--unless he deliberately imposed a meter on his musical rant, which he apparently didn't wish to do very often. For the first few bars of "The Way We Were" he actually did, but then sped ahead through the rest of it, leaving us all grasping at wisps of the famous melody he wrote for Streisand in his vortex. He knows how to play to the audience, but prefers not to. Why?

His selections had no titles; the program said he'd annouce them from the stage. They included a "Tribute to Richard Rogers," a "Tribute to Cole Porter," another to Scott Joplin, and music from Chorus Line and The Way we Were, which he composed. I'm wondering if his stylings and quotes, taking swipes at these songs rather than playing them straight, might have been for legal considerations and copyright/royalty performance requirements rather than due to his choice--though I think it unlikely. He did the same treatment to his own compositions as well.

Despite my disillusionment and initial disappointment at the program, however, I was still very glad to see and hear one of my musical idols live, in my lifetime. It in no way diminished the great regard I hold for his talents and works. As a former club keyboard performer myself, one who picks up the melody and harmony of most tunes after only one or two hearings as easily as breathing, I spent quite a bit of time trying to work through the harmonies of "One Singular Sensation" from A Chorus Line. I even bought the cd and marvelled at his virtuoso skills as a composer and librettist. The guy's clearly a genius. But I have to say, as a soloist performing the American Songbook, his renditions are almost unlistenable--extremely eccentric and discomforting. Like most genius, he has some glaring gaps in his musical psyche.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Comfortable with it, thank you

As James Brown sang, "Ifeeeel good/Like Iknew I would." Here it is in the early throes of the holiday crazies already, and we're luvin' it. Just got a call from the Geek Squad, "Saving the universe, one PC at a time," as they bragged. Ha. Well, for a service they're set up pretty well, and they do show up when they say they will. Though they couldn't save me from my PC follies, their suggestions sent me to another solution that worked, which I wouldn't likely have thought of otherwise.

Re: my previous blog, how do I feel about it? [the not knowing]--hey, I'm not Faust. I'm content with my ignorance, if not blissful, and comfortable accepting my limits. It relieves me of the existential responsibility some feel when they sense they must achieve their "destiny." At some point in everyone's life he either accepts constraints or launches mighty battles to do more, be more, have more, know more, etc. As for myself, I made my peace at about age twenty-one when I sensed I probably wasn't going to set the world on fire, despite some talents and aptitudes in my favor. I simply didn't love money that much, or fame, or public admiration, and didn't have the drive it takes to reach great heights as defined by others. So I decided a nice family campfire would generate about the right amount of light and heat for my resume. Don't get me wrong; I still admire those who achieve great things by public definition, but I don't desire to be like them. One of my colleagues told me they thought I was "self-actualized."

My perspective wasn't shaped by accident. I've had a lot of help. Literature, the most formative area of my education, art, music, philosophy, history, and religion have all shaped it dramatically, as have life experiences, love, family, friends, travel, and a wide variety of careers. In a way I actually pity the doctors, lawyers, moguls and movers and shakers who never had the chance to step off their breakneck-speed success tracks and look around. I tend to most enjoy the chance to sit on a rock and think (and join my sons for late-hour bull sessions we call patio parties--did you know a hippopotamus has twenty-four teeth?}
"I've been around the world/From London to the Bay-- ".