Night Songs

I think it is being out of pain that gives me interesting dreams. Nice ones, actually. I have experienced on more than one recent morning a desire to go live in the dream I just woke up from.

This one was especially vivid. About a week ago I was one of the first donors to a political candidate for a nearby Senate district in my state lege. I have been following this Qasim Rashid fella on Twitter for a while, because he’s articulate and handles assholes with more grace than I could ever muster. In the dream, he and one of his fellow social media activists had arranged a piano concert at a nearby conservatory showcasing two young Muslim music students, and along with some standard repertory, which the boys were running through when I arrived at the dress rehearsal, they were going to take turns playing accompaniment while I premiered a set of my own vocal compositions. We were really at the eleventh hour and hadn’t practiced together whatsoever, and I was on edge, but when I arrived it was hard to feel anxious because the very beautiful, rather intimate venue was soothing merely to exist in. The two pianos were on an only slightly raised parquet dais, and there was a glass wall around about a quarter of the high-ceilinged polygonal hall, admitting late-afternoon light from a wooded area innocent of buildings and providing a direct underwater view into the first two or three feet of a large pond, into which the building extended. Fish and other critters were swimming around, frogs were sunning on boulders outside the glass, watching us curiously, and large butterflies were living dangerously by flying in close to them.

I don’t remember which of my songs we were going to do. I composed a handful in my twenties, including settings of Donne’s “Lecture Upon The Shadow,” a pair of cantrips from Peter S. Beagle’s “Last Unicorn,” and the entirety of T. S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” for literally vindictive reasons which are too silly to go into. I still have the pipes but I’m glad the dream provided the pianists. I couldn’t stumble through the keyboard part now if you had a beanshooter to my head.

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Just Leaving This Here

We are now at Day 8 of rehab, if you count the promenades I did around the hospital, and an unfortunate side effect is that I spend way way too much time scrolling through Twitter on my phone, resulting in a barrage of the daily news that is probably socially responsible but goddam exhausting.

This gem, surfed up by the Engineer, encapsulates my state of mind. Impressive upper range, too, even if he needs a little work on containing the tone of the high notes.

The English Bach

This is not actually a post about music.

What happened was, Sebastian, my faithful handbuilt desktop of ten years (my Engineer spec-d it out, I passed screwdrivers and told him what I needed it to do) started crashing a couple of weeks ago. Repeatedly. The mail program, the browser, the whole damn OS. It accelerated over a period of 48 hours to the point I would have been frantic without a laptop in the house. A client who gets paid to understand computers all day (and very probably emulate Russian hackers as a security geek, for the military) said it sounded like a hard drive problem to him, with an explanation that matched the observed gyrations.

(I named him Sebastian because the case is a Bach VX, even though I lean more to late Romantic than Baroque. It seemed only natural.)

So we tottered out to Micro Center and bought a new hard drive, even though the old one was not even two years old — I’ve had a defective hard drive before — and the Windows 10 OS for the heck of it, since one thing Sebastian had apparently not been able to do for months was update Windows 7. Some of this is chargeable against tax. This is the excuse I use.

A few hours later, we had everything installed, restored, activated and updated, and I set to work. It was nice. Windows 10 was fast and so was the new drive. I used it through Monday, annoyed only to note that every time the computer slept, it woke up thinking it was September. All those site certificates out of date. I got really tired of resetting the clock.

Then Thunderbird started crashing again. Then everything. Three blue screens in a row. I haven’t seen a blue screen since Windows XP.

“I think it’s the motherboard,” I said, pointing out the clock issues. We reflected that the motherboard was ten years old.

Newegg ships in a day if you pay a modest fee. We got a new motherboard and a power supply, considering there were possible power issues in some of the crap we saw.

Everything went together fairly well, and because I am anal-retentive about things like this, we had all the manuals for the remaining hardware, and it powered up and today we loaded everything back on it. It was so new by this time that I named it after Sebastian Bach’s son, Johann Christian, also known as the “English Bach” from his main stomping grounds (he is buried in England, and the royal family endowed his widow). I decided to start this post by searching up a music video of one of his concertos, which Mozart admired.

The audio burred. The browser crashed. The system blue-screened.

  1. The audio card may be poorly seated.
  2. The MEMORY_MANAGEMENT crash makes me wonder about the RAM. The memory sticks are one of the few pieces of hardware not updated so far.
  3. If it is about a couple of sticks of RAM, despite the fact I love the new OS and zippy startup, that percussive sound you hear will be me rhythmically and repeatedly slamming my forehead into the especially stout and unyielding plaster walls of my 1940’s-built residence.

In the meanwhile, enjoy some music.

America

It’s the Fourth of July and I can’t, I just can’t. My neighbor across the street, who two elections ago had a big orange “DEFEAT OBAMA” sign in his shrubbery, and during the last election interestingly displayed no sign at all, has a honking big American flag hanging in his porch entry, as sort of a flyscreen I guess. I ought to tell him it doesn’t work that way.

My country is taking kids away from their parents and giving them back, if they’re given back, broken, and I can’t do a lot more about it than write kiddygarten postcards to voters begging people to vote for anyone who will act to stop this insanity. I don’t even like kids, but you don’t do this. You don’t.

There’s a link there at the word “broken.” Read as much as you can stand. Goddammit.

Nonetheless, I’m an American — not a Brit, though I almost did that once (and they have their own problems), not a Canadian or anything else. When I was born Eisenhower, aka the Last Honest Republican, was President. My father played in the Army Band, Pershing’s Own, and I learned first hand how full of shit the rah-rah-red-white-and-blue could be, but still, here I am. I have to find something that I can still love.

I reverted to Arthur Foote. A Unitarian kapellmeister, who studied in Europe and channeled Dvorak, Brahms and Mendelssohn, he is the only American composer I can entirely embrace. Fuck your folksy Aaron Copland first grade orchestral settings and your Charles Ives cacophony. Here is a beating heart.

Unitarianism is an interesting faith, if it is one. I don’t really understand it much. I think it basically follows the rubric “be a good person.” We could use that.

Here is the Foote piece that I always come back to. Tell me if the world isn’t redeemed at about 1:24 when the B section kicks in, or if not there when the melody comes back dancing on the roof of Creation at 7:35. An American did that. So we’re not all damned to the outer dark.

Sorry, but those are the thoughts I think these days.

The World Sucks And Yet

This was a very depressing week to be an American. There are people, of a rather Ralph Naderish persuasion (purportedly he never broke for rest and relaxation and slept on a cot in his office) who suggest that if you’re not using the Internet for anything but organizing to fight back,  you are part of the problem.

Well we all know how it worked out with Ralph Nader.

So I must share the thing that helped get me through this weekend: vintage Sondheim with Simon Russell Beale,  Daniel Evans, and Julian Ovenden plus, wait for it, the operatic bad boy of my heart-throb dreams, Bryn Terfel. Just blundered across it. Totally incorrect in these days of #Metoo but I would tidy up the dishes for Bryn any time, if he would sing.

Nadia

This was a weird one. A little while back I resumed using a thing called Sleep Wizard which is a speedball of nutriceuticals that accelerates your progress into deep stage sleep. I’d used it for years, then tried some other things that kinda sorta did the trick but seemed to leave me with an unrelieved calendar of anxiety/futility dreams, the kind where you’re trying to dial a phone but it doesn’t work, or you can’t find a restroom anywhere that isn’t too disgusting to even exist. Fortuitously, the company that sells the Sleep Wizard got its operation smoothed out, one of the reasons I’d looked elsewhere. It’s been about a month. I have interesting dreams.  Some of them are almost good.

Last night, I was at some sort of public performance or event, a fairly informal one that seemed to be taking place in a big open room or sheltered outdoor venue, with no seats, just people on the floor. Maybe blankets. Not sure. I am not even sure what music was being performed, but at a pause, famous people in attendance were to be brought forward.

The emcee produced a slender, ethereal woman, clearly old but not hag-like — in fact her features were hard to distinguish, her hair and eyes seemed dark — wrapped in a sort of sari or swaddling so closely you could not really discern arms and legs, and introduced her as Nadia Boulanger. For those who aren’t classical buffs, Boulanger was one of the Grey Eminences of twentieth-century music, composing little in her later life but teaching and directing copiously, mentoring most of the “modern” composers you possibly have heard of: Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, Virgil Thomson, to name a few. When I was young and trying to channel all my mental energy (including melodies that hit me at all hours of the day and night) I asked my father, the hornplayer, if women had ever been composers — you wouldn’t know it from the playlists of the time. He brought up Nadia Boulanger. As far as I know, that’s the only conversation I ever had about her.

But in the dream I was stunned to discover that she was, though aged, still alive (she actually died in 1979), and appearing in public for unclear reasons, other than that it was a musical occasion, at least in part. And suddenly I stood up from my place on the blanket at stepped forward and sank to one knee in front of her, welling over with reverence and joy.

I have no idea what this means. Should I start practicing the piano again? The guitar? Terrifying the cats with my singing? Or found a religion?