Entries in The Food of Love (36)


Music Monday: Variation and Interpretation

Today I'm taking a page out of thrifty Brillig's book and re-posting something I wrote back when I only had a tiny handful of readers. For those of you who have read this before, you have my apologies; I wanted to participate in Music Monday this week, and I didn't have a minute to write something new. The following is from February 2007.

Last Friday night I was driving home from Book Group. It was late and it had been snowing for several hours. I love being alone in a black night with snow; it always reminds me of one of my favorite paragraphs in the world, the last sentences of James Joyce’s The Dead:

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It
had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark,
falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on
his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over
Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless
hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly
falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every
part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay
thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the
little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow
falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of
their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Karen, Melissa, and I had carpooled to Book Group over at Camilla's house in Golden’s Bridge, chatting the entire time. On the way home, after I dropped off my two friends, I turned on the radio. I had for company someone playing the piano. I half-recognized the piece, but there was something so different about what I was hearing that I didn’t make the connection for a minute or two. Then it hit me with a flash: it was Bach’s Goldberg Variations. And played on the piano, not the harpsichord—but it didn’t sound like Glenn Gould.

I find it particularly appropriate to listen to this piece of music when the rest of the world is asleep. Bach wrote the Goldberg Variations for a Count who struggled with insomnia; the Count had asked Bach to write some clavier exercises to be played in the middle of the night, something to soothe and cheer him through long, sleepless hours. The Variations are named after the Count’s talented young harpsichordist, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg; I imagine the poor young man being roused from slumber on any given night to play for his patron, because the Count apparently never tired of hearing them.

The Variations were published in Bach’s lifetime, but for many years afterward were regarded as dry, rather difficult pieces to be played on the harpsichord. In the middle of the 20th century, however, a brilliant young pianist changed popular opinion of Bach’s piece forever.

I know Gould’s landmark 1955 recording of the Goldberg Variations as well as I know any piece of music. I’ve listened to it hundreds, maybe thousands of times. It has been a great friend to me, as the Variations were for the Count who commissioned them. But what I was hearing Friday night was so alien: haunting, personal, almost painful in its execution, where the version I know—lively, technically flawless—evokes a detached, peaceful mood.

Puzzled, I drove on and thought about our Book Group meeting earlier. We had had a intelligent and compassionate dicussion of a modern classic: Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner. Its main character, Susan Burling Ward, has chronic myopia when it comes to the life she has chosen; throughout her life, she compares her situation unfavorably to that of her best friend, Augusta. She doesn’t realize that she has within her grasp all the ingredients for a wonderful existence.

Her interpretation of herself, the reader easily sees, is faulty. She has, in fact, married the better man; her life of ‘exile,’ as she terms it, has defined and refined her work as an artist, not limited it. One woman in our group raised a question: How do you know when to be content? In other words, when you are in the middle of living one of life’s countless challenges, how do you stop looking over the fence at seemingly greener grass? It’s a good question, and an old one, one that has given philosophers pause for centuries.

After a lot of thought on the topic myself, I think the secret lies in our interpretation of what we’ve been given. Happiness is a choice; for some it’s a harder choice than for others, but it is there all the same. One need look no further than Victor Frankl for proof of this truth.

I myself have been given all the components for a perfect life: good health, every temporal comfort, lovely friends and children, meaningful work, and a dear man who loves me. But if I’m not careful, I can take the route Stegner’s heroine takes. I can focus exclusively on what I see as being wrong: my weight; brain chemistry that defaults to a baseline level of melancholia; the current state of our yard; the child who is misbehaving on any given day: the list could go on for quite a while, if I let it. But that interpretation of my life is a sure path to misery; I believe this is one of the points Stegner is making in his beautiful book.

Once home, I sat in my dark car in the driveway for few minutes so that I could discover the identity of my mystery musician. At the stroke of midnight, after the last few notes of the Aria died away, Bill McGlaughlin came on the air and informed me that it was, indeed, Glenn Gould playing the Variations—but that this was a performance recorded shortly before Gould’s death in 1982.

This was the same music played by the same artist I thought I knew so well. But the interpretation was so different that it changed the piece completely. Older, wiser, at the end of his life, Gould let his life inform his art and transform it; he put himself wholly into his work, and both were changed thereby.

Stop looking over the fence and start doing all you can to green up what you’ve got. Take plenty of time to rejoice in its verdure, and take plenty of time pay respects to the Source of all that is good and green. It is advice simpler to write than it is to live, but the secret to happiness is in the interpretation.

For more Music Monday, visit Soccer Mom in Denial!


250 = Random

1) All credit for the blog's new look goes to the über-gifted Kim of Temporary? Insanity. She's got a fun thing going with her Template Tweakings website; go check it out if you are feeling the need for a spring makeover. Thanks, hon! I love it. I'll figure out how to put my blogroll back on the sidebar eventually....

2) Christian got his braces on this week and played his first lacrosse games today. We had to get him some gear this week in preparation. His new cleats? Men's size 13, thank you very much. They look like Jaredite barges, I'm telling you.

Christian is loving lacrosse and looks very manly trotting around the field in all his armor while brandishing the 6-foot-long defensive stick. Ahh, my little boy. I'd better stop before I start crooning "Sunrise, Sunset."

3) All debate over the next presidential candidate should end now. Why? Because Tess has the perfect platform, set forth in a school assignment for Presidents' Day last month:

Here's the transcription, edited for spelling:

"If I were president I would help the poor people and I would give the poor food and I would give the poor children toys. And I would stop the war."

We're still working on spelling and punctuation, but note her correct use of the subjunctive. Now we just need to get an amendment passed changing the minimum age for a presidential candidate from 35 to 6.

4) I've been waiting for two years for iTunes to acquire Wire's 154. I checked today, and they finally had it! What a fantastic album; I'll have to do a "Music Monday" on it at some point.

5) The pregnancy is progressing miraculously well, I'm thrilled to report. Tomorrow marks the end of Week 28; by this time with both Tess and Daniel, I was on bed rest. Not so this time; I'm getting around with no pain, and while I'm tired, I've had enough brain function to write consistently and to make it to Day 81 (and counting) of the Read the Bible in 90 Days study program I started back on January 2nd.

6) I'm still racking up the rejections as I shop The Holly Place and ZF-360 around. In the meantime, I've been writing short stories and sending them out to various genre periodicals. This has been great fun! (The short story part, not the rejection-of-my-novels part; that part is really lame.) For anyone interested in writing sf/fantasy short stories, you simply must check out Ralan's fabulous website. It has been an invaluable resource for me.

I don't think I'll start another novel anytime soon; the short story groove is working well for me (for the first time in my whole life), and I don't want to commit to anything longer until after we settle into some sort of routine with the new baby. So, you know, that could be this time next year (or the year after), for all I can predict.

I guess that's it for now. I missed you all during my bloggy break; I think I'm back on board for the moment. Oh--and the post title? This is post #250 for me. Wow. Happy Easter!


Music Monday: Dylan Covers

Let me just get this out of the way: I don't love Bob Dylan's voice. I appreciate it on classic folk hits such as "Like a Rolling Stone," but his voice doesn't get me all goosebumpy the way Brian Stokes Mitchell's, Bryn Terfel's, and Alan Doyle's do. Dylan purists, feel free to sue me (be warned: I have a fabulous lawyer).

But as a pop songwriter? Bob Dylan is unparalleled in both quality and quantity of output. My respect for him approaches worship. It never fails to amaze me how great his songs are, how outstanding his genius is. I'll give you a couple of examples.

I absolutely adore the bluegrass band Nickel Creek. These kids are amazingly talented writers and performers, hopefully with a very long and successful career in front of them. But when their album Why Should the Fire Die? came out, what was the best song on it? Bob Dylan's "Tomorrow is a Long Time," by a country mile.

Solas? One of my favorite Celtic bands. They write great stuff, and they can jig and reel like nobody's business. But once again, when I first got their album The Edge of Silence, one of the two stand-out tracks was Dylan's "Dignity" (the other was Jesse Colin Young's "Darkness, Darkness").

Plenty of top-tier songwriters seem to agree with me. Joan Baez, June Carter, and Bono aren't exactly slouches when it comes to crafting a great piece of music, yet they've all chosen to record Dylan songs. Fabulous performers like Hugues Aufray, Robyn Hitchcock, Bryan Ferry, and The Hollies have recorded entire albums of Dylan covers. The breadth of Bob's appeal astonishes me: from Echo and the Bunnymen to Earl Scruggs, from The Dubliners to Waylon Jennings, they've all done some Dylan in their time.

There are SO many from which to choose, but after some soul-searching, here are my top ten favorite Dylan covers:

10. Olivia Newton-John: "If Not for You"
9. Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash: "It Ain't Me, Babe"
8. Bryan Ferry: "Positively 4th Street"
7. Buckwheat Zydeco: "On a Night Like This"
6. Felicia and the Hotheads: "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"
5. The Byrds: "Mr. Tambourine Man"
4. Sting: "I Shall Be Released"
3. Solas: "Dignity"
2. Nickel Creek: "Tomorrow is a Long Time"
1. Jimi Hendrix: "All Along the Watchtower"

Here's a Youtube 'response video' with Nickel Creek singing my second favorite. The melody and words are so very lovely; the song is pure joy. See what you think.

Visit Soccer Mom in Denial for more Music Monday!


Music Monday: My BFFP

I love to sing. Rock, opera, euro-synth-pop, bluegrass, and just about everything in between. I sing in the car, the kitchen, and the shower. I sing while weeding, knitting, and rowing.

But I think I love best to sing at church. One of my favorite memories of my mother is her playing the hymns--from the LDS hymnal and Sing With Me, the children's songbook at the time--on the piano for what seemed like hours on end, night after night. Because of her love for those pieces of music, I have a lot of our congregational repertoire memorized. This makes it easy to sing along in our church meetings even without looking at a hymn book, convenient for times when I'm rocking someone, helping with a sticker book, or passing out those cheesy goldfish crackers.

For my non-LDS readers: there's no paid clergy in the LDS/Mormon church. We all take turns serving in various 'callings,' or church service positions. Patrick and I have been married for 18 years as of a few days ago; for all but three of those years, Patrick has served either as a counselor to the Bishop or as Bishop himself, as he is now. Part of the requirements of Bishopric callings is sitting up on the stand, near the pulpit, and presiding over and conducting the worship services.

So I've sat alone for 15 of the last 18 years. Well, not alone for the past 14; I've had the kids with me, which is mostly great. Teaching children to be still for a 70-minute meeting is something of a task; there were a couple of rough years in there. But we've pretty much got the drill down at this point, thanks again to sticker books, paper dolls, and goldfish crackers--and the fact that the three older kids have actually sat and listened now for several years. So I'm not complaining about the way our Sundays are structured; we've made choices that I live with happily.

But I do miss singing with Patrick on Sundays. I'm glad to live in a ward (Mormon lingo for a geographical 'congregation' or 'parish') that sings out loud and strong; this worship through music is often a high point of our services for me. But as much as I love it, twice a year it gets even better: I get to sing with Patrick at my side.

(I have a basic, serviceable, soprano voice with decent intonation; I can also 'switch-hit' and sing alto, if needed. Patrick, however, has a beautiful voice: a clear, rich tenor-to-baritone, with lovely, dark color to it. I remember the first time he sang to me when we were dating; I was pretty sure I'd never get him out of my system, and I was right.)

Twice a year, we have meetings called 'Stake Conference.' (Wards are organized in groups of seven to ten into larger groups called 'stakes.') The designated wards get together for special two-hour meetings; sometimes leaders called 'General Authorities' fly out from Church headquarters in Utah to speak. At Stake Conference, the 'Stake President' presides and conducts, and the Bishoprics of the wards get to sit with their families.

This past weekend was Stake Conference. Joy! His arm around my shoulders, Patrick sat with me and we sang together, trading parts back and forth: melody-alto-tenor. We sing hymns at home with the kids regularly, but singing in a group of 1,000 or so people, with a great organist accompanying and the love of your life at your side? Pretty incredible.

Here's a video of the famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing an arrangement of "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing," one of Patrick's and my favorite hymns. We once sang this arrangement together in a choir for a special meeting in the Kirtland Temple, one of the most treasured LDS historic sites--so this video brings back another great memory of singing with my BFFP.

For more Music Monday, visit Soccer Mom in Denial!


Music Monday: Ella Fitzgerald

In 1984, I don't really know who I am. I'm 17, so maybe that's normal, but I've been out of high school for a year and still have no idea what I want to do with my life. My high school friends are all away at university now; my sense of identity seems to have left with them, and I'm not getting much in the way of new direction in my classes at Modesto Junior College. I'm very, very lonely.

I meet a new crowd; they're not the deepest dishes in the drawer, but they are fun and different. I reinvent my external self in their image. Why not? I've done the preppy thing, I've been a punk; now it's time to try the vintage/mod look. For everyday wear, I comb through thrift stores for boxy cashmere cardigans, muslin shirtwaists, and moleskin capri pants. But I can't resist also buying dupioni silk suits hand-tailored for well-off women a quarter century before. And hats: a friend's mother gives me some gorgeous pillboxes--one completely covered in ostrich feathers--that would have met with even Holly Golightly's discerning approval. I soon add to this collection, courtesy the local Salvation Army and Goodwill outlets.

But where does one wear such finery when one lives in the Central Valley of California, America's Apricot/Sugar Beet/Almond Basket? Conveniently for Anj (not my sister), Deb, Lily, Don, Kasey, Mike, and me, a new slice of heaven has opened up in downtown Modesto: The Café Decadence.

It's much more innocent than it sounds. A couple of guys create a little restaurant that is open in the evenings only. There's a garden out back that they string with copious amounts of tiny white lights and fill with mismatched patio furniture. Foodwise, they focus on one thing: excellent desserts.

My favorite is Cake of Joy. Thin layers of chocolate butter cake and crispy, light, hazelnut meringue alternate with generous amounts of mocha buttercream and creamy, dark ganache. Every bit of it is homemade by one of the partners, and it is fresh, rich, and perfect. (I've been dreaming of recreating it for years.) But the Carrot Cake is also excellent, as are the Linzer Tarts, the Berry Crumbles, and the Sour Cream Lemon Pie.

To drink, of course there's coffee, but that's not my thing. I either have the iced Ruby Mist tea or the Hot Buttered Milk. That last I have recreated: warm milk with cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, and brown sugar stirred in. Delish; don't knock it till you've tried it.

The other mods and I aren't really welcome at "The Dec" during prime-time hours; hordes of real adults with real jobs (and who can leave real tips) show up perhaps before or after a movie, enjoy something fabulous to eat, and go home to their real lives. But after 9:30 or so, the place empties out, and we mods arrive in full regalia. The guys wear thin-lapeled suits with skinny ties and mismatched cufflinks, acting natty backdrops to us girls. We do our best to be Audrey or Marilyn, Doris or Sofia, and as we sit under the fairy lights, making our orders last and chatting for hours on end, we imagine we're in San Francisco or New York, or the ultimate: Paris.

The music, wafting out of speakers wired to the sycamore trees, helps us along. It's stuff I haven't really heard before, but I fall head over heels for it. The owners favor Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald. I enjoy Lady Day and the Divine One, but sometimes the tragedy that wells up out of the voices of these first two is too much for me; it reminds me of how alone I really am with this sparkling but shallow group. Ella, on the other hand, becomes my my friend and secret ally.

Even when she's singing the blues, there is a warmth and wit to Ella's lithe, pure voice that lifts my spirit and makes me smile. I can't decide which is more marvelous: her technical perfection, or the way she pours every drop of her glorious soul into her music. Often, when one of her songs comes on, I drop out of the conversation, close my eyes, and just listen.

And it's a good thing I do, because it turns out that Ella has messages intended only for my ears. You're stuck, she whispers. I was stuck once, too. Everything around you is just a shadow of something bigger and better, but you're in danger of falling for the mirage. You can get out, though, if you want.

Really? I ask silently, night after night. How? Where? Show me the way out.

Wait and watch, girl, she answers.

Filled with a new, restless energy, I do as she counsels, and when I get offered a job in the Bay Area not long afterwards, I gather my courage, leave the mods behind, and go. I'm fairly certain they don't really notice I've gone. But no matter: though there are plenty more mirages and mistakes on my journey, I'm starting to get a sense of direction at last.

It's 1994. I'm sitting in a lovely Manhattan apartment with Patrick and our close friends D&S. I've been to the real Paris, and it is worlds better than even Ella describes. Sweet Baby Christian is asleep in another room, and we four linger for hours over fabulous dessert and talk. The conversation sparkles, but it has depth. Our friends are beautiful and stylish, but they have minds and hearts even more attractive than their clothes. I feel loved and treasured, warm, safe, and understood.

Ella comes on the stereo, soft in the background. Suddenly, she's speaking to me again, whereas I've heard only her songs for most of the last decade. Look around, girl, she whispers. You did it; you got unstuck and found the reality behind the pretty shadow. You made it out.

I look around with a sudden lump in my throat and realize she's right.

For more Music Monday, visit Soccer Mom in Denial.

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