Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ernest Evans is in town

Ernest Evans appeared as a headliner at a famous club in New York City last week. Big deal, right? But what if I were to tell you that Ernest Evans is the real name of...Chubby Checker! Now do I have your attention? Okay, well even if I don't, there he was, all 68 overweight years of him (chubbier than ever), donned from top to toe in blue denim, burdened just a bit by the legacy of all those twistin' songs, but still eager to sing 'em, not to mention such follow-up hits as "Pony Time," "The Hucklebuck," and, back to more familiar territory, "Limbo Rock." I don't know about you, but the Hucklebuck eluded me entirely the first time around, but according to the New York Times, Chubby has now cleverly updated it by illustrating this latest rendition with a "provocative pelvic thrust."

But the real excitement the other night was the twist itself. Chubby's resonant baritone may have lost much of its timbre, but despite his paunch, Chubby still dances a mean twist. This, in turn, inspired the patrons to follow gladly in his footsteps. People were twisting on the dance floor, twisting on the tabletops, twisting atop the bar, even twisting in the bathrooms. Once you start twisting, you know, it's pretty hard to stop. Chubby sang and twisted as long as the people continued to enjoy it, and that meant they pretty much ended up twistin' the night away. There were even a few brave souls who jumped up on stage and twisted right along with the King of Twist himself. I guess you could say the King and his court were at it again, giving everything they had, royally speaking, to that most famous of early 60s dances - the twist!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Beethoven's 9th

The Beethoven Symphony cycle at Lincoln Center concluded on Sunday afternoon, this time in Avery Fisher Hall. It ended, as you might expect, with the 9th Symphony. It is a monumental work, but somehow I wasn't prepared for how it overwhelmed me. There is something intrinsically dramatic about it all. The four soloists who come on the scene at the end of the second movement. The rows of chairs filled up by the great 9th Symphony chorus which numbers more than 100 people. The triangle player and cymbalist who lurk in the back of the stage. All this sort of reminds us of what it is that is about to come. And even the opening of the 4th movement itself prolongs the drama a bit, with the sounding of the three previous themes from the earlier movements and the rejection of these themes by both the conductor and the orchestra. We hear echoes of the Ode to Joy played first by the basses in the back, then picked up by the woodwinds, and finally played softly by the great violin section.

The orchestra now returns to what Wagner called the "Terror Fanfare" which launched the 4th movement and is heard again about 7 minutes into the movement. Abruptly, the first male singer stands and sings out the first strains of the Ode. The enormous chorus sitting almost directly in front us, stands in union, turns toward the audience with surprising synchronization and now sings the ode as well at nearly full volume, echoing the male vocalist. I can feel the shiver down my spine and even a few tears gathering at my eyes. It is all just so beautiful and magnificent. And it's all happening just a few blocks from where we live.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Beethoven's 7th

We heard Beethoven's 4th and 7th Symphonies last night at Alice Tully Hall played by the Budapest Festival Orchestra on modern instruments. Apparently, and this is confusing, the Beethoven Symphony Cycle we are attending is being done by two different orchestras, one group playing on period instruments (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 8th) and the other on modern instruments (4th, 6th, 7th, and 9th), but both conducted by the same man - Ivan Fisher. Anyway, it was very good. Not quite as transcendent as the 5th Symphony performed on period instruments that we heard the night before but still excellent.

Of all the Beethoven symphonies, I have a special affection for the 7th. First, it is a wonderful, life-affirming, consistently glorious work. Sometimes referred to as the Dance, it truly does move and skitter and sway and cavort like an elaborate, highly complex dance. Second, I have a vivid and very fond recollection of seeing the 7th Symphony performed by the Harvard University Orchestra back in around 1981, about the time my brother John was receiving his Ph.D. in physics from Harvard. We went to an evening performance of this symphony and the Harvard students played it beautifully. There was one young woman playing violin near the front of the orchestra who was particularly noteworthy however. Her visible enjoyment of the symphony was striking, and when the very fast and very vigorous 4th movement was reached and she, along with all the other violinists, had to play her instrument with tremendous speed and volume, her face broke into an incredibly broad and infectious smile that continued throughout the whole movement, even as the hairs on her bow began to shred and fray as if being slowly severed. I will never forget her face and her sheer love of playing. What an inspiration! And what a poignant reminder about the power of joy.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

200,000 laps

Alberto Arroyo, an avid Central Park jogger who was dubbed the Mayor of Central Park, died the other day at the age of 94. Regardless of the weather, he went to Central Park every day to jog around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir and to mingle with other running enthusiasts. He greeted visitors eagerly and was even known to provide free foot massages and to counsel troubled athletes. Without fail, over a 50 year period, until he was around 90, Mr. Arroyo ran the 1.6 miles of the reservoir ten times each day. According to his own estimate, this means he ran about 200,000 Central Park Reservoir laps over his lifetime. That's a lot of laps.

According to the New York Times, he lived in an inexpensive hotel room with a phone that could be used only to call 911. He got by on Social Security and a small pension from working as a clerk for Bethlehem Steel. Despite his modest income, he was a highly visible and much celebrated figure in New York City. He hobnobbed with movie stars and politicians and even got to know Mrs. Onassis personally. He was honored in 1985 by Senator Proxmire of Wisconsin for helping to draw attention to the modern fitness movement.

He was a wonderful example of an everyday New Yorker who was positive, upbeat, and stalwart and who gained notoriety by virtue of his persistence and simple good cheer. There are tens of thousands of such people in New York City. It is good to take the time to remember and appreciate one of them.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Beethoven's 5th

From March 25 to March 28 we are at Alice Tully Hall for four days straight to hear all of the Beethoven Symphonies played by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by Ivan Fisher. The "hook," of this concert series, so to speak, is that the musicians play these symphonies on period instruments. Apparently, this remains a rather controversial approach, not attempted by most major orchestras. As the name of this guest orchestra suggests, its very reason for existing is to bring music on period instruments to great concert halls.

We have now heard Beethoven's 2nd and 3rd in the premier concert, and then last night the 1st, 8th, and 5th. The audience has received these performances with tremendous enthusiasm. For me, it wasn't until we got to the 5th last night that I woke up to what a powerful experience this is. Of course, they have all been great, but I didn't feel the need to rise up out of my chair and shout "Bravo!" until I had witnessed their version of the 5th.

The 5th was to be played after the intermission of the 2nd concert, and I was immediately intrigued when stagehands dragged three music stands onto the stage, two at the same height and one somewhat lower and just left them there off to the side in a neat, slightly diagonal row. When the symphony began with its characteristic Da, da, da, daaaah! Da, da, da, doooo! those music stands seemed like superfluous ornaments - no human stood behind them.

Right from the beginning of the 5th, I was taken with the fantastic sound made by those old French horns (that seem need to be emptied of saliva even more often than contemporary ones) and by the flutes and clarinets made out of wood. There was something rawer, more jarring about the sound made by this orchestra - less perfect but more magnetic and tension-filled. Just as an aside, we have been listening to the suites for unaccompanied cello by Bach that have been recorded by many musicians, including Yo-Yo Ma and Pablo Casals. Now I love Yo-Yo Ma, but his version of the suites is bit too tidy at times, too letter perfect, whereas Casals plays these suites with such passion and abandon, you feel there might be some missed notes but the effect is emotionally overwhelming. Roughly, the same thing with this orchestra. The period instruments are strained to the limit at times, resulting in occasional squeaks or squawks, but the result in the end has an edge and a verve that is irresistible.

Cut to the music stands, still without human accompaniment. As the symphony moves into its triumphant finale, two men and one women take their places at these stands, holding these long period trombones. Without hesitation, they lift these horns to their lips and began to sing out the last parts of the 5th symphony. At the same time, the conductor is rousing the entire orchestra to this incomparable, completely uninhibited conclusion. I could feel the excitement growing inside me, and when it was over, I couldn't wait to show my appreciation. What a magnificent performance of one of the greatest of all musical compositions.

Just as a final note, you might say that the 5th Symphony, when it is played with such brilliance, is so superb that it cannot be topped. Only one person was capable of something greater. And, of course, that person was Beethoven himself.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Breaking into Song

So there I am once again sitting in the front seat of the shuttle that takes us back and forth between the ferry and Wagner College. Two women behind me are speaking very amiably and jovially in French. I can't see them or understand them, but I can tell from the tone in their voices that they are thoroughly enjoying their conversation together. Our driver, who often displays with pride his ipod full of classic rock, starts to play Pink Floyd's "The Wall." You know, the part that goes:

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the class room
Teachers leave those kids alone
(yells) Hey, teachers! Leave those kids alone!

Suddenly, these girls who just a moment before were speaking only in French burst into song, calling out the above words in perfect English and singing the monotone melody just a bit louder than is appropriate. I can't tell if others are annoyed, but I find myself smiling broadly. Something so simple and yet so exhilarating is happening. Two enthusiastic people are singing a tune they know well with a kind of "full-throated ease." For me, somehow, this fundamental reaction is an affirmation of life. Always welcome. And a reminder of how much joy everyday life brings when you're open to it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Go See Next Fall

"Next Fall," a new and powerful play on Broadway about a gay couple and the tension that results from their contrasting religious beliefs, will close prematurely if it fails to attract an audience sufficient to pay for its modest production costs. Straight plays have always been a tough sell on Broadway, but things have gotten tougher as most ticket buyers are increasingly drawn to stories that feature big name stars, which Next Fall assuredly lacks. It will be a theatrical shame if this happens to Next Fall, too, as it really is a moving, entertaining, and thought provoking show.

Next Fall is a simple story about two gay men who have a loving and playful relationship. One is younger, good looking, and a fundamentalist Christian. The other is older, curmudgeonly, not particularly attractive, and a bit of an agnostic. In the second scene of the play, we see the younger man overtly flirting with the older man and in later scenes we see them living together, quite happily, though their heated discussions about religion periodically test their commitment. These differences result in some marvelous exchanges in which the fundamentalist gently tries to explain why he worries about his partner's impending damnation and the agnostic impatiently interrogates his lover about a set of beliefs that strike him as absolutely irrational. They also have very different attitudes about their homosexuality. On the surface, both seem to be at ease, but it turns out that the younger man has not come out to his parents and when his father arrives for a surprise visit, they must "degay" the apartment by removing various pictures, including a Robert Mapplethorpe portrait, and a biography of Truman Capote. The older man is outraged by this charade but eventually goes along, not sure they have fooled the younger man's rather macho and southern fundamentalist father named Butch.

All of these scenes of the two men living together are flashbacks, as the play's primary action takes place in the waiting room of a hospital where the younger man's life hangs in the balance owing to a terrible accident. His various relatives and friends are there in a kind of despairing vigil and what happens between them, especially the older gay man and the younger gay man's father, seems to tie all the loose ends of the play together.

What I can't begin to capture here is the humor and cleverness of this play and how well it demonstrates that the things that seem to keep us apart are, in the end, nothing compared to the far more important stuff that brings us together. We just need to be reminded of what those things are now and then, and, unfortunately, that it sometimes takes a terrible tragedy to bring us back to our senses once again.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

American Musicals Project

We went to our last concert sponsored by the N-Y Historical Society and the City's American Musicals Project on Monday night. It was a tribute to the 1927 smash musical "Showboat" and the show's lyricist and librettist - Oscar Hammerstein II. Of course, that remarkable Hammerstein would go on to many other even greater triumphs (?), but in terms of its place in American musical history, "Showboat" remains a truly epoch-making production. With music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Hammerstein, and book by Edna Ferber, it was a star-struck show, made even more so by its legendary producer and bank-roller - Florenz Ziegfeld. In part because of unanticipated delays and in part because they were such perfectionists, Kern and Hammerstein labored over the songs and overall production for years, revising everything many times over until it was about as good as it could be.

Frankly, I don't think it is that great a show in terms of its music. Doesn't come close to Oklahoma, for instance. But it does have some very beautiful songs - especially "Make Believe," "Cotton Blossom," "After the Ball," and "Can't help lovin' dat man." And, need I add, that it also has "Ol' Man River," one of the greatest, most iconic songs ever written. The people who were on hand to sing these songs at N-Y performed them to perfection. I don't really expect to enjoy the music from this show any more than I did just the other night. Indeed, all of the musical performances that were staged at N-Y over the last four weeks have been superb.

I have now written about this a few times, but I think I've been a bit vague about what it's all about. The American Musicals Project is a special curriculum written for 7th and 8th grade social studies students to make historical subjects more accessible and interesting by teaching them through American musicals. So Showboat teaches about slavery and life in the South. Oklahoma and Paint Your Wagon teaches about westward expansion. West Side Story teaches about immigration and South Pacific about World War II. The project has enlisted dozens of musicals to make history come alive for young students and now apparently has been used by something like 3000 teachers to teach over 50,000 students. It is a fascinating idea that according to an interesting video that was shown the other night really has made a considerable difference in engaging the interest of middle school students in history and in musical theater.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Adagio Dance Company at Brandeis

Last Saturday night, I witnessed the Adagio Dance Company - Brandeis University's largest student-run dance group - perform its annual spring dance review. It was sensational! I say this both as an objective observer and lover of dance and as the uncle of Micaela Preskill, choreographer of 2 of the show's most exciting numbers, dancer in 5 of its most intricate pieces, and one of the lead organizers and coordinators of the entire program. Remarkably, Adagio is open to any Brandeis student who wants to dance. Very professional dancers, like Micaela, participate in the same program as much less accomplished but still dedicated performers. The result is a beautiful and democratic mix of precise, polished movement and somewhat more tentative but highly energetic expression. The wonderful thing is that anyone can take part and contribute impressively to a genuinely entertaining show.

Micaela Preskill herself is a beautiful dancer. Her long, graceful body sweeps lithely across the stage, moving effortlessly from one dance form to another. In one scene, she holds a balletic-like pose; in another, she struts to a hip hop beat; in still another, she gyrates robot-like to the strains of Dr. Dre; in still another, she portrays Tony from West Side Story stretching her whole self to the sky in anticipation of something coming. In all of these moments, as well as so many others, she smiles genuinely, holds her line perfectly, and inhabits the character she is portraying convincingly, even as she glows with passion for the dance. Her love of dance is reflected in her luminous face and her smooth movements, and we, too, smile irresistibly seeing how ebulliently she revels in this opportunity to perform before a large audience.

Of course, though, Micaela, is not only a dancer; she is a choreographer and a leader, too. The two dances she choreographed were very different, one for the Dance Ensemble, a highly skilled dance company, and one for a much larger group of less proficient dancers. In both cases, though, the power of dance to tell a story are strongly in evidence, as are Micaela's commitment to making dance as fun and as exhilarating as possible. The variety of movement that she requires of her dancers is striking and the manner in which they execute her designs is nothing short of phenomenal.

In the end, though, what impressed me most was Micaela's ability to bring the whole show together. To coordinate everyone's contributions and to make sure that it all worked so well. What Adagio did the other night was amazing, and what leaders like Micaela did to bring it to fruition reminds me of what it takes to be an effective leader. Leaders must be committed, passionate, disciplined, persistent, and in love with what they doing. Micaela showed all those things and so much more. Hats off to Adagio and Micaela Preskill!

P.S. For those wondering what this post has to do with New York City, I have two things to say about that. One, what we saw verged on New York quality and two, it turns out many of the dancers in the show hail from New York.

Monday, March 22, 2010

New York City Garbage

At our particular co-op, special deliveries are strictly prohibited on the weekend. In fact, no unnecessary noise or fuss of any kind is permitted. Even if you use a hammer to put up a picture, somebody might complain. They're pretty strict about this. So why is it on Saturday morning, even before 8 AM, we must put up with the prolonged racket of garbage trucks grinding up our building's waste? There can be only one explanation for a building that is so insistent on weekend peace and quiet. The garbage can't wait. And the reason it can't is because there is so much of it.

Exactly how much garbage is there? Well, the residents of New York City generate about 40,000 tons of garbage everyday - that's 80,000,000 pounds of the stuff - every day of the week without exception. Which translates to 560,000,000 pounds every week, or about 29,120,000,000 pounds every year. That's a whole lot of garbage and that, of course, accounts for only New York City by itself, a city that does pretty well when it comes to recycling and conserving.

And where does all this refuse go? I don't know. I only know that back in 2001 the last city dump, Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island, was finally closed, which means that all New York garbage is now exported to locations entirely outside the City limits. I guess it goes to a variety of landfills away from the City that are part of the tri-state area. But here's the thing. Most of those landfills are just about at capacity as well. A strategy for getting rid of all this stuff is one of the big issues we face in the next decade. It isn't clear how it's going to be done, but it does need to top some city planner's priority list, or we could find ourselves drowning in all this garbage, even before we're drowning literally as a result of the rise in the sea level triggered by global warming.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Fess Parker is Dead

Fess Parker, the modern, Disneyfied, television-driven incarnation of Davy Crockett, the man who made the raccoon-skin cap one of the most priceless articles of clothing a small boy could acquire, died on Thursday at the age of 85. Playing Davy Crockett in just three hour-long episodes of the Disneyland television program back in 1954-55, Fess Parker became the idol of millions primarily because he was tall and soft-spoken and looked great in a hat made out of raccoon skins. He was lucky as well to be starring in a show that featured a theme song - The Ballad of Davy Crockett - that sold millions of records. Some of you may remember how it went:

Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee
Greenest state in the land of the free
Raised in the woods so he knew every tree
Kilt him a b'ar when he was only 3
Davy, Davy Crockett
King of the wild frontier.

And as the New York Times recalls, those raccoon-skin caps just started flying out of the stores once the shows were aired. "Children wore coonskin caps to school and wore them to bed. They wore them with their Davy Crockett plastic fringe frontier costumes while they played with their Crockett trading cards, their Crockett board games and puzzles, their Crockett color slide sets and their Crockett power horns. They pestered their parents for Crockett toy muskets and Crockett bubble gum and Crockett rings and comic books."

I personally adored my own coonskin cap and it was with great reluctance that I allowed my mother to lend it to a neighbor for a costume party. I was sure it would get hopelessly lost and that my beloved hat would never be seen again. I was right. The hat was misplaced and those hats were so popular, the stores started running out of them. I never owned another one and I never forgave my mother for this terrible transgression. She, in turn, never forgave our neighbor.

Such was the power of Fess Parker as Davy Crockett.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Subway Reading

The other day I saw a guy reading "The Federalist Papers" on the subway. You see a lot of people reading a lot of things on the subway, but reading The Federalist Papers is about as erudite as subway reading gets. You all remember the Federalist Papers, of course. Written jointly by Hamilton, Madison and John Jay, they were collectively the argument put forward to advocate for the new constitution that had emerged from the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Apparently, Hamilton wrote the majority of them, but a few of Madison's are probably the most famous.

The guy I saw reading happened to be perusing Madison's essay - Federalist 41 - which argues that the new federal government had certain classes of powers that could not be usurped by the states, including things like the power to tax and coin money, interstate commerce, maintaining protection against foreign powers, regulating intercourse with other nations, restraining states when they act against their own or national interests, etc. I was intrigued, so I asked him why he was reading that particular essay.

He was pretty immersed in his reading, so he didn't respond at first. Then he looked up slowly and said that he has always liked Madison and that this particular paper is relevant right now because of all this recent talk about the states having the power to override the federal government - a much maligned but surprisingly enduring doctrine known as nullification. Nullification is ridiculous and clearly unconstitutional, he said, even this Supreme Court would agree, even this ONE he repeated, but every few decades when states don't like the way things are going for them, they try to resuscitate the old, worn out idea of nullification as a way to challenge the feds. It's stupid and dangerous.

I nodded, impressed with his passion and his knowledge. I asked him what his favorite essay from the Federalist was and he said he really didn't have one, though, like so many others, he was fond of what Madison said in Federalist 10 about the value of factions and how power needs to get distributed in a republican society. He also likes 51 where Madison makes the case for checks and balances. And then he looked at me and asked do you see a pattern here? And I, a bit startled, didn't know what to say. I recalled all those times being called on by a teacher in school and having to wait out the silence of not knowing and not responding until she moved on to someone else. And then he said, don't you see? These are all essays about ensuring that power is shared, distributed, limited, dispersed. Only by preventing any one entity from having too much power can a truly democratic society flourish.

Wow! I said. Thanks for sharing that. I've really learning something. He turned back to Federalist 41 and I turned back to the contours of my own mind to contemplate the wisdom of James Madison. He'd be proud, don't you think, to know that he is still being read so avidly, even on the New York City subway!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Common Courtesy?

Lately, whenever I get on the subway it is pretty jammed. Just as it arrives, before boarding, I sigh slightly with dismay as I gaze at the standees beginning to swell the aisle, and I wonder whether there is enough room for me to get on or am I better off waiting for the next train. For me, anyway, the pressure to be on time is building, as my subway ride arrival needs to be in sync with the next available ferry. Depending on the time of day, missing the ferry could add anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to my commute.

When the already crowded train comes into my station, I try to position myself in the best place for successful boarding. That means getting fairly close to the edge of the platform and recalling about where the train stops, so that I am near an opening door. Everyone moves in slowly. There is surprisingly little pushing or jostling. People are really quite polite, a definite plus.

But here's my gripe. Even on a crowded train, people tend to congregate near the door. You may be straining to board, only to see that actually the aisle is not completely filled, and that if people would move down away from the doors, quite a few more people could board. I have started to follow others' lead on this. If I see people blocking the aisle, preventing more riders from getting on, I will ask in a loud but respectful voice: "Would you please move down so that the rest of us can get on." I have seen others do this, too, but it always seems to startle everyone a bit, as if you're not supposed to make such public demands of others in New York City. Standing there, you get his queasy feeling that maybe you shouldn't have spoken up. Too bad we have to do it at all. What is it, anyway, about subways that prompts people to herd so habitually at the entrances? Below are five possible reasons:

1. I need to be near the door because, after all, I don't want to be stuck in the middle of the aisle when it's time to get off.
2. The farther I get from the door, the more congested it feels.
3. Sheer obliviousness. There is a fair amount of that in New York.
4. Why should I move down. No one else is doing it.
5. As long as I'm on, that's all that matters. Let those other poor schmoes wait for the next train.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Quiet of the City

The myth of the city, especially a bustling one like New York, is its incessant noisiness. The myth says that no matter where you go you cannot get away from the cacophony of the city. Whether you are walking on the street, traveling through the subway, eating at a corner diner, or just sitting in your apartment, there is no let up in that noise. As with most myths, there is more than a little truth to this. And sometimes when the construction site right outside your window always seems to be working overtime, you realize that part of how you experience the city connects to timing and luck.

To be honest, though, what made me think of all this is how quiet, particularly at night, our little studio apartment remains. Now, admittedly it does sit in a kind of residential park that is set back from Amsterdam Avenue. In fact, this is one of the reasons we chose it. But it does pleasantly surprise me nevertheless how protected from excessive noise that location has turned out to be.

This experience with our apartment prompted me to start thinking about zones of peace in Manhattan, places where those searching for quiet and even tranquility can be restored and regain some of the energy needed to face the city's very real and very constant racket, such as: automobile horns, large gear shifting trucks, anything with a jackhammer, building construction, the subway.

My favorite places for finding peace and quiet in the city are:

1. Central Park
2. The Main Public Library
3. Most Art Museums, but especially on weekdays when they first open
4. Almost any movie theater
5. The Staten Island Ferry toward Staten Island in the Morning
6. The contours of my own mind when I am deeply and happily immersed in a good book or an interesting piece of writing

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Pain in My Arm

I've got a pain in my right arm that won't go away. In the morning, when I open my front door and reach down to pick up the New York Times, I sometimes feel this shooting pain running up and down my elbow and forearm. When I am showering and reach across my chest to my left armpit to scrub away the grime and smell, I can feel a sore muscle or tendon in my right shoulder painfully resisting my movement. As I am slipping my belt into my pant loops and reach behind my back to make sure I'm not missing any loops, I occasionally feel the oppressive ache of a limb being pushed too far. And every now and then when I simply reach for a shirt on a hanger that is just a little higher than expected, I experience the burning sensation of nerves or muscles that feel convulsive and cramped. It never lasts for very long, but I can only go for a few hours without being reminded once again that I have a pain in my arm.

I don't know how you all feel about such things, but considering that none of this pain lasts, that it comes and goes quite quickly and under quite predictable circumstances, I am not inclined to have it checked. It's way too much of a hassle and they are unlikely to find anything in any case. But there is another reason that I'm probably not going to have a doctor look at it, you know, unless it gets a lot worse, and that secret reason is I'm beginning to like it. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a masochist or anything; I don't enjoy the onset of pain. But what I do enjoy thoroughly and appreciatively is the absence of pain. And there is nothing like a pain in your arm to remind you of all those times when you are not experiencing any pain at all. I'm in pain, what, at most, 10% of my day. Which is just enough to keep me focused on those ecstatic no-pain moments. When that burning sensation rolls through my arm it hurts a fair amount, occasionally, enough to make me wince. But it happens so rarely and for such a transitory period, that it's really sort of worth it, allowing me to savor all those wonderful pain-free moments so much more than I otherwise would.

Additionally, the thing about this pain, too, is that's it not migraine headache pain or stomach cancer pain or even stub your toe pain. It can be fairly intense, but it's always bearable, always within manageable limits. That is the best kind of pain to have, by far, as you get all the benefits of said pain with very few of the disadvantages. You can accept the moments of pain that come your way while growing inordinately fond of all the rest of the moments when you feel not only good, but hyper-consciously good that the pain you experience is an infrequent but persistent visitor who never overstays his welcome and always leaves your house in a much better condition than he found it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What we talk about when we talk about race

This weekend, despite the terrible winds and torrential rains, we enjoyed an ear and eyeful of theater that began on Friday night with Sam Shepard's acclaimed "Lie of the Mind," continued with a Saturday matinee of Shepard's most recent work - "Ages of the Moon," led straight on Saturday evening to the incomparable Judith Ivey as Amanda Wingfield in "Glass Menagerie" (Steve's candidate for greatest American play), and concluded on Sunday with "Clybourne Park." All of these were remarkable, but the one I want to talk about here, at least a little, is the last - Clybourne Park, because it is a fascinating study of how little progress we have made confronting race and racism between 1959 (a period of overt racism and the topic of the first act) and 2009 (a period of somewhat more covert politically correct racism and the focus of the second act).

In the first act, the play tells the story of a white family that has been shattered by the suicide death of their Korean War veteran son and has decided to leave the all-white Clybourne section of Chicago for an outlying suburb. Unknowingly, because they have left the details of the sale to a realtor, they have sold their house at a bargain to a black family. This causes an uproar in the neighborhood to which the departing family is deaf. This scene portrays the surface politeness of some middle class whites of the time, while also emphasizing their racist assumptions and economic self-interest.

Cut to the second act and now gentrification has set in and an affluent white couple are eager to purchase the same house but with plans for major renovations that will alter the character of the neighborhood. They are met at the house by a black couple who live in the area and are concerned about the white couple's intentions. What begins as an ordinary meeting among the couples and their various representatives descends first into bitter political correctness and then out and out chaos as all the pent up emotions about racism and gentrification and white entitlement come to a boil. It is a wild, hilarious, often intimidating scene, but it reminds us with all the power of good theater how far we are from being a post-racial society, and how utterly dependent our very identities are on embedded ideas about race. The key characters are the white couple buying the house, who seem outwardly proud about their liberal attitudes toward race but are very quick to spew racist stereotypes when pushed even a little by the black couple who represent the neighborhood's preservation interests. What this play makes clear is the reason we have so much difficulty talking about race and racism is that in reality we haven't come very far at all, and the more overt racism of 1959 still clings to us despite all our posturing to the contrary.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Umbrella graveyard

When the rain is coming down in torrents and the wind is stirring up everything in sight, then the conditions are right, as they have been in the last day or two here in New York City, for an umbrella graveyard. I am referring, of course, to the sidewalks of New York when they are strewn with the sorry remnants of broken, disabled, shattered umbrellas. You know how it is when it seems that everywhere you turn, you see used up umbrellas tossed into garbage cans or just plain surrendered to the side of the road. Thrown up against subway walls at rakish angles or completely flattened as if all the life has been squeezed out of them, these umbrellas have simply stopped operating as useful devices for keeping the moisture off your face and clothing. And there is nothing quite as useless or unsatisfying as an umbrella that has expired. I guess that's what makes the umbrella graveyard such a sad and discouraging sight. Those snapped off canes and splintered umbrella ribs, those ripped canvases and jammed spring action handles, all abandoned in heaps ready to be carted away, but for now so mangled, so untidy, so unwieldy. We all wait patiently for the city to be restored to its former order where cigarette butts roam free and yesterday's newspapers embrace fire hydrants but umbrellas are seen properly and only occasionally atop people's heads.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Are you really, really good with God?

Well, are you? Are you really, really good with God? This is the question that is being asked on billboards all across the City. I can't seem to go anywhere without seeing these signs, and after a while, it gets a bit tiresome. Particularly the "really, really" part, but I guess I need to give these folks some slack. But exactly who are these people that are participating in this promotion? And how would you know anyway whether you were really, really good with God? What would be the telltale signs? Does it have anything to do with living a morally upright life? Or is just a feeling you have?

Well, it turns out that this campaign is being sponsored by evangelical Christians, some of whom are on Staten Island, and it is, at least in part, a reaction against a campaign that I somehow missed that was launched by a group of atheists that asked the question: "A million New Yorkers Are Good Without God. Are you?" Now, these evangelicals are hoping to outdo the atheists, with their slick billboards and attractive website and their emphatic, repetitive use of the adverb "really."

So how do you know if you're really, really good with God? Well, of course, God or the Almighty, not named on the billboards, does have a name when you go to the website and that name is Jesus Christ. And being good with Him has nothing to do with how you behave on earth and there is no "elect" whose status as saved ones can be discerned through visible indicators. Nope, for fundamentalists, there is no mystery. As long as you accept Christ as your personal savior, you are not only okay, you are, in fact, really, really good with God.

I can't really quarrel with all that, I guess, though I wish there were a little more emphasis on doing good works; we'd all be slightly better off if there were. What I want to quarrel with is the need for promotion. Wouldn't you think that a major religion could get along just fine without being advertised like a 4 wheel drive SUV or a mink coat? And wouldn't you think that such advertising would be regarded as a kind of a sacrilege, especially when the product you are pushing includes fine print (in this case about Jesus) that you discover only upon visiting the website? Why not put the whole message out there? Is there something they're afraid of? Must they lure jaded New Yorkers with a covert message? If you must advertise, don't hide anything; put the full message on the billboards and let the people respond who are genuinely curious.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Wagner's Special Strength

Now that I have been at Wagner College for almost two years, I can see pretty clearly that Wagner is a good and getting better liberal arts college, thanks to some excellent leadership. It also enjoys one special advantage. It has one of the best theater programs in the country. This is most noticeable to me, surprisingly enough, as an all-ears rider on the shuttle that goes back and forth between the college and the Staten Island Ferry.

First, I notice the theater majors the most because they tend to be the ones who ride the shuttle consistently, apparently because they are eager to get to Manhattan to see what professional theater has to offer. But even more intriguing is what they talk about as we make the 12 minute trip to and from and the ferry. For me, anyway, the conversations these students have convey passion and excitement.

They don't just talk about the theater in general terms - what's playing, what they like, which theater teachers they admire. They recite their favorite scenes, make a case for the most dramatic speeches from Shakespeare, talk in some depth about why some student actors are better than others. In other words, they can't seem to get enough of theater. Such sensibilities, I would argue, are a huge plus to any institution, especially a college. When students love what they are doing, when they talk about it in depth outside of class, when they see what they are studying as part of their emerging identities, all of these attitudes have an impact, lending to an outwardly staid institution, a heart and a soul that it would not otherwise have. We at Wagner have a lot to be thankful for, but in all honesty I don't think we show enough gratitude for a theater program that brings students to us whose love for what they do make us a better institution academically, but even more important, help us to become a more committed and spirited college as well.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Riding the Public Bus on Staten Island

In order to get to a few of the schools on Staten Island where I observe, help out, and occasionally supervise student teachers I must take the public bus directly from the Staten Island Ferry. I enjoy these rides, because they allow me to see those parts of the Island that I haven't gotten to know well. A few of the sections we pass through are relatively prosperous middle class, suburban type areas, but most are working class at best, and quite a few are really suffering, with block after block of boarded up buildings. In a number of these neighborhoods, including one called Port Richmond which is often my destination, there may only be a half dozen operating storefronts. There is real poverty here, but it is pretty scattered and spread out, so not as noticeable as in some parts of the other boroughs.

When I climb the steps of the S46 bus that goes toward Port Richmond from the Ferry, there are only a few of us who get on, which is nice, because I have no problem getting a seat. Gradually, though, as we make our way across the northwest part of Staten Island, more and more people board. They often have small children in tow, large backpacks strapped to their shoulders, or groceries and other purchases held in both arms. Within 15 minutes, when I am still 20 minutes from my destination, but securely ensconced in one of the middle seats by the window, all the seats are not only taken but the aisle is just stuffed with people. Of course, I'm used to such congestion which we experience all the time on the subway, but buses aren't really designed for people to get on and off easily when they are jammed. So it takes a very long time to get everyone aboard at some stops, as a few people squeeze toward the exits, while those still stranded in the aisle attempt to make room for the new riders.

There is no other accessible public transportation on Staten Island, so if you don't have a car or if it's too far to walk, this is how you get around. And, of course, budgets have been cut and routes have been reduced, even as ridership goes up. This is one of the ways in which it is especially hard to be a Staten Islander. Without that personal vehicle, you are at the mercy of a system that strains to accommodate you, but in terms of convenience, comfort, and timeliness falls short again and again and again.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

N-Y Oklahoma and Paint Your Wagon

Boy, did we have fun on Tuesday night going to the New York Historical Society (N-Y) to hear four quite talented singers cover just about all the songs from the musical comedies Oklahoma! and Paint Your Wagon. Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! is, of course, the great groundbreaking musical. It opened in 1943 to tremendous acclaim and proceeded to run for 2212 performances. Lerner and Loewe's Paint Your Wagon, which opened in 1951, received only tepid reviews and closed after 289 performances. Oklahoma! was Rodgers and Hammerstein's first collaboration, though they each had enjoyed enormous success with other partners. Lerner and Loewe, on the other hand, hit it big previously only with Brigadoon in 1947. Interestingly, both of these shows, whatever other virtues they possessed, were choreographed by the great Agnes De Mille. The reason they were paired the other night at N-Y is that they are two of the musicals used by the American Musicals Project, a public school curriculum that teaches American history through musical theater, to help middle school students gain a better understanding of the history of America's Westward Movement. As always, the songs were interspersed with commentary regarding these productions' librettos as well as a few behind the scenes stories about how these shows came to fruition.

Now, just about everyone knows how magnificent the songs from Oklahoma! are, and so it was easy to please the audience when these songs were performed. I must add, though, that the two talented people who did Surrey with the Fringe on Top were especially delightful. Gordon and Shirley didn't do it any better! But the songs from Paint Your Wagon are also pretty good. You probably know They Call the Wind Maria and I Talk to the Trees, because they both achieved notoriety outside the show. But are you aware of the very beautiful "Another Autumn?" Or of "Carino Mio?" Or of the clever and funny "In Between?"

Don't get me wrong, Oklahoma! is, by far, the superior show. It has everything. The commentator at N-Y called Oklahoma! a triumph and Paint Your Wagon a "near miss." Which seems about right, though with the right staging and some prudent trimming of a few of Paint's more grating songs, it could be terrific. By the way, give yourself a treat sometime and listen to how natural and perfect those Oscar Hammerstein lyrics are. I found myself really tuning into them the other night and marveling at their combination of impossible cleverness and unobtrusive naturalness. How DID he DO that?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Pride

We saw a play called The Pride on Sunday night down in the West Village. It is one of those still relatively rare pieces that tries hard to take the measure of gay identity at two different times in history, 50 years ago when gay men were hopelessly closeted and now, when they can be far more open yet still do not enjoy full acceptability. It takes place in England and apparently when it opened in the West End last year, it took the London theater by storm. The production here in the States is probably not as good, but there remains much to think about.

For me, anyway, I'm especially intrigued by the title and the concept of the Pride. It is not hard to spot it in the play. One of the gay men from 1958 falls in love with another man, who is utterly unable, at least at first, to acknowledge his own homosexuality, but the man who does openly declare his love realizes that the profound affection he is experiencing also transforms his attitude about being gay. His love for this other man suddenly makes his position as a gay man feel "honest and pure and good," and for the first time, he can say with conviction that "I now have a kind of pride for the person I am, not just the sexual part, but for myself as a whole being." These lines have been criticized for their sentimentality and artificiality. People don't talk like this, the critics scold, and even if they did, why would anyone want to listen to them drone on so boringly. But the thing is, I, for one, do want to listen to these words and do find it moving to hear them said with such sincerity and meaning.

The play as a whole is too long and drags too much in the second half, but those lines about the pride of being gay struck me as somehow honest and pure and good. My feeling is they needed to be said on that stage last night and on many stages for many nights to come until millions can hear them and begin to understand with the kind of compassion that can alter feeling and change behavior and finally allow us as a society to escape, as I sense we are slowly starting to do, from the terrible darkness that has oppressed us for far too long.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

That Slice

We arrived early in the heart of the West Village for the fine play we saw last night, and so wandered down Hudson Street to grab a bite to eat and to catch a glimpse of the pre-Oscar buzz on TV. We had only strolled a few blocks when we slipped into a very small place called Slice, the Perfect Food (I think they like to use the whole name). We ordered an Ithaca Brown Ale (brewed in Ithaca, New York!) and a slice of some version of their pesto pizza. We sat happily sipping our beer and a chardonnay that Karen opted for over the beer and watched the people sashay down the red carpet.

Then our pizza arrived - one piece divided into four pieces. It was delicious and although admittedly we weren't that hungry at that time, surprisingly filling, too. That one slice goes a long way. Everything tasted so, well, tasty and fresh and spring-like and organic. And, as it turns out, all the ingredients are, in fact, organic and natural and gluten-free and antibiotic-free and even Spelt. In essence, spelt is a higher quality wheat, just chock full of all this stuff that is really good for you.

This experience at Slice, the Perfect Food has led us to the following vow. From now on all our dinners, when we are not away or working late, will be eaten at Slice. Each night we will savor a different version of their pizza. We will follow the pesto tonight with the advanced mushroom and then follow that up with the intermediate goat cheese and then really tie one on with the skilled eggplant and finish out the week with the master sausage. The following week we'll mix and match all our favorites and come up with our own secret recipe for a Slice, the Perfect Food that will definitively satisfy ourselves and startle and delight all our friends as well.

To Slice, the Perfect Food!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Top Secret

We went to the New York Theater Workshop the other day to see and hear what is being called a radio play about the 1971 decision of the New York Times and the Washington Post to print the Pentagon Papers, a series of supposedly top secret documents about American's involvement in Vietnam. The focus of this particular play is on the Washington Post under the leadership of Ben Bradlee, editor, and Katherine Graham, publisher, to continue printing the papers after the New York Times was prevented from doing so. The Post at that point was still trying to establish itself as a national newspaper, similar to the Times, and so there was considerable pressure to show that they had the courage to stand up to a government that may have been trying to cover up its mistakes as much as it was trying to protect national security.

Yet, there was a lot uncertainty about this and real concern that the Post might be printing papers that were genuinely sensitive and that could jeopardize American lives. As the play clearly demonstrates, however, thanks to the defense experts that the Post relied upon, especially one named George Wilson who had tremendous knowledge of foreign policy and preternatural power of recall, there was virtually nothing in the Papers, however sensitive some of the documents might have seemed, that had not been already been publicly revealed. Interestingly, the case became one of a government eager to protect its right to classify documents, even when those documents had virtually no national security value. The Post and the Times, in turn, while trying to show they were protecting first amendment rights, were never put to the most difficult of tests in the end, as their case rested on the persuasive claim that what was in the Pentagon Papers wasn't even mildly sensitive from a security point of view after all.

To relive Katherine Graham's courageous decision to approve the publishing of the Papers is rousing theater, as is the reenactment of the Court transcripts in which Nixon's assistant attorney general goes to great lengths to prove the extreme sensitivity of one document, in particular, that the brilliant George Wilson is, in turn, able to show to be in the public domain. There is some disappointment in realizing the first amendment is not put to its ultimate test in this case, but there is, at the same time, great satisfaction in learning about a democratically elected government that thought it could act with absolute impunity, only to learn that better informed citizens have a right, and even a duty, to call that very government into question when it oversteps its bounds.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


It's 50 degrees in New York City today, the first time, I would say, since early November, and it is a great pleasure to enjoy such spring-like weather again. A walk through Central Park is called for with a side trip to the Whole Foods at 97th and Columbus. Lugging home two boxes of red wine, along with a nice supply of vegetables, fruit, and other assorted goodies, keeps us hardy.

Since New York is made for walking, the opportunity to travel by foot without the burdens of heavy jackets and clumsy boots is a big plus. And it's always a delight, too, to see all the people coming out of their houses to absorb the comparative warmth.

When the sun shines and the weather is mild and you haven't been able to enjoy such things for a while, you sort of feel like you can go anywhere in the City. Two hours of steady walking will take you all the way to the tip of the island and part way back up again. Sure, you can slip into the subway or board a passing bus, but even without them, all of Manhattan is in reach. And as I have said before, this is a little like having the whole world readily available to you. A very heady feeling, indeed!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Blonde Bombshell

Film Forum is showing the 1933 Jean Harlow movie "Bombshell" this weekend. It tells the story of a movie star played by Harlow who just wants to live a normal life and flees Hollywood to be a normal person. In the end, though, being ordinary doesn't work quite out for Jean and so she returns to Hollywood delighted once again to be treated like the glamorous screen idol that has always suited her best.

This film apparently led to the pairing of the words "blonde" and "bombshell." In fact, the British version of the film was reportedly renamed "Blonde Bombshell." After that Harlow became well known as the blonde bombshell, as did a number of Hollywood stars after her. But why? What was going on at the time that made this an apt metaphor for a glamorous movie star? One meaning might be that such women were regarded as disarming, as even mightier than the sword, so to speak. Or, I suppose, it also fits that they have an explosive impact on others and their surroundings. Or perhaps, as one internet explanation suggests, they are like a great and sudden surprise, as in a sudden and alarming revelation. There always was something a bit alarming about Harlow, kind of threatening almost. Which, too, leads to the idea that no man is safe around such overwhelming females. They are as dangerous as a bombshell.

In the end, though, such analogies feel pretty offensive and still one more sign of our tendency to adopt violent images and metaphors that may initially strike us as harmless enough but probably do more damage than we realize.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Defamation of Character

Philip Roth is suing me for defamation of character. He claims I wrote patently false comments about him that exposed him to hatred, ridicule and contempt, and that these statements were disseminated publicly via my blog, though considering how many people actually read the blog, you'd really have to characterize it as, at best, a semi-public disclosure. But apparently all it takes to demonstrate libel or slander is that the comments were communicated to a third party. In any case, there it is, my first lawsuit.

Perhaps you recall the 4 posts about the seats at Alice Tully Hall and my being thrown out of Lincoln Center and having to go to jail and all that. Well, it turns out most of what I described wasn't entirely true. Come to think of it, not one part of it was true. Actually, here's the one part that was true: Philip Roth does show up at ALL the same concerts we go to. I always look for him and he's always there. Maybe once or twice, he wasn't there, but it's very close to always. That's the only part that's true. Now, I did seriously consider going up to him to offer him our seats in place of his, but I never even did that. Everything was fabricated.

You would think that Philip Roth would be too busy turning sentences around to bother with me. In case you don't know this reference, by the way, in one of his best novels "Ghost Writer," Roth's writer-protagonist says: “I turn sentences around. That’s my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning.”

And then, I guess, he goes to a string quartet concert, and I end up the recipient of a lawsuit. Fortunately, I have the perfect defense. When I wrote all of those particular posts, I myself was desperately turning sentences around and became so consumed by the exigencies of syntactical transmutation that I was driven temporarily insane and thereby relinquished all sense of right and wrong. It's true, I am now entirely in my right mind, but really no one should be held accountable for what is written in a blog. It is a maddening endeavor literally and its products must always be taken lightly.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Guest Post: Proposed NY State Food and Beverage Tax

Here is my first guest post by Erik Braunitzer of New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes who argues against a proposed tax in New York State on food and beverages:

The economic downturn has hit many areas hard, including the Empire State. New York state officials continue to have political debates on how to fix the deficit. One proposed “solution” suggests that we implement a food and beverage tax that would charge one penny per ounce of sugar which would potentially increase the total cost of some products, such as soda, by as much as 50 percent. We recognize the need to balance the budget, but taxing the hardworking citizens of the state is not a solution. In fact, it will cause more burden for New York families and businesses already struggling to make ends meet. Additionally, it will put thousands of New York jobs at risk. "Whatever revenue might be generated from this tax could potentially be offset by 6000 jobs being lost in this state. We can't let that happen." - Senator David J. Valesky.

The biggest argument that proponents of the tax have brought to the table is that a food and beverage tax will help curb childhood obesity. In reality, punitive taxes on food and beverages do not teach our children the importance of a good diet or how to live a healthy lifestyle - therefore doing little to improve public health. Comprehensive education, not taxation, is the key to improving public health.

Putting thousands of food and beverage industry jobs at risk and raising taxes on the products that hard working families enjoy is the wrong approach to fix New York's economic problems. Join over 7,000 other New Yorkers by signing our petition and telling Albany you oppose the New York food and beverage tax.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Remember yesterday's quiz question? Musicals that won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in addition to Fiorello!, A Chorus Line, and Of Thee I sing? The answers are: South Pacific, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Sunday in the Park with George, and Rent.

Kind of intriguing don't you think to consider why these musicals get singled out and why, say, Oklahoma, Guys and Dolls, My Fair Lady, West Side Story, Gypsy, and Company don't. Ah, the vagaries of awards. The worthiest entries often get ignored and the momentarily okay get all the glory. Of course, many worthy projects do receive proper appreciation, but there are some striking omissions. Citizen Kane is my favorite overlooked film. Here are some of my other overlooked favorites in a variety of fields:

Nobel Prize for Literature: Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Bishop, Philip Roth

Oscar for Best Film: Wizard of Oz, Grapes of Wrath, Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard

Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama: Glass Menagerie, The Crucible, History Boys

Athlete of the Year: Lou Gehrig, Hank Aaron, Jimmy Brown, Gail Sayers

Car of the Year: Chevy Nova, AMC Pushbutton Transmission Rambler, AMC Gremlin

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Who was Fiorello LaGuardia and why did they write a musical about him? And why am I raising this strange question? Well, last night we went to the New York Historical Society to enjoy the first of four presentations in a series on past American musicals with important historical implications. Last night's featured show was...Fiorello!

First, it should be noted that Fiorello LaGuardia was one of the truly great mayors of New York City who gave people hope at the most difficult of times and somehow actually kept New York City on the move despite the devastation wrought by the Great Depression. Officially, he was mayor from 1933-1945 and before that served bravely and progressively as a New York Congressman. As Mayor, with the expert help of Robert Moses, LaGuardia committed the City to massive public works projects that almost certainly alleviated some of the worst effects of the Depression.

Just as important, LaGuardia was colorful. He seemed to be everywhere in New York City, showing up at five-alarm fires and happily conducting the New York Philharmonic. Moreover, he could speak Italian flawlessly and Yiddish competently (his mother was Jewish), as well as five other languages. He was only 5 foot 2 inches tall, the shortest mayor in New York's history, but he fought organized crime valiantly and publicly challenged any Wall Street patrician whom he feared threatened economic recovery. In other words, he was the perfect subject for an American musical.

But here's an amazing fact about the musical Fiorello! that I bet you didn't know. It was one of only seven musicals to win the Pultizer Prize for drama. Can you name the other six? I'm going to give you "A Chorus Line" and "Of Thee I Sing," because those are the only ones I can think of. The other four are what? (Answers in tomorrow's post).

LaGuardia is probably best known for reading the Sunday comics over the radio during a long newspaper strike in 1945, and sure enough, the first scene in Fiorello! shows the Mayor in his element using a variety of funny, expressive voices to make that most beloved of Sunday features come to life. He was a character to be sure, but more than that, a mayor of great substance and accomplishment who refused to be demoralized by the worst economic crisis in American history.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Carnegie Hall Partial View

The result is in regarding what it is like to listen to symphonies with only a partial view at Carnegie Hall. Pretty darn good. Our partial view was in the uppermost balcony to the far left facing the stage. We could see about half the orchestra (with a particularly good view of the horn section and the lone tuba player) but we had to lean way over to catch a glimpse of the conductor or the soloist for the Chopin Piano Concerto. The work in the second half was a rousing Brahms' Second Symphony. But it's true that the sound is so rich and so beautifully enhanced by the Hall's excellent acoustics that just sitting there and not looking at all at what the musicians are doing is enough. We have had a fair amount of experience in Carnegie Hall's main hall - now called Isaac Stern Auditorium - but only with chamber works that are too small to take full advantage of the hall's sonic possibilities. These symphonic works filled the whole auditorium with great force and left us delighted with what we heard.

One of my favorite parts of the afternoon, though, was watching the lonely tuba player, whom, as I indicated, we were able to make out clearly without any leaning. He raised his magnificent instrument a few times during the Brahms, which must have been very satisfying for him, but when they did Beethoven's Egmont Overture as an encore, he had to sit there motionless with his trusty tuba by his side. Who becomes a tuba player these days anyway? What does he practice? And where? Does he get paid the same amount as the violinists? And how does his instrument affect his travel plans? Does he have to buy an extra seat for it?

At any rate, as I yank myself away from this tuba tangent, I just want to conclude by reiterating we had a fine time mainly hearing and hardly seeing. Keeping the focus on great live audio turned out to be a pleasant change.