matissepiano_lesson “When I was a boy, the bestselling books were often the books that were on your piano teacher’s shelf. I mean, Steinbeck, Hemingway, some Faulkner. Faulkner actually had, considering how hard he is to read and how drastic the experiments are, quite a middle-class readership. But certainly someone like Steinbeck was a bestseller as well as a Nobel Prize-winning author of high intent. You don’t feel that now. I don’t feel that we have the merger of serious and pop — it’s gone, dissolving. Tastes have coarsened. People read less, they’re less comfortable with the written word. They’re less comfortable with novels. They don’t have a backward frame of reference that would enable them to appreciate things like irony and allusions. It’s sad. It’s momentarily uphill, I would say.

“And who’s to blame? Well, everything’s to blame. Movies are to blame, for stealing a lot of the novel’s thunder. Why read a novel when in two hours you can just go passively sit and be dazzled and amazed and terrified? Television is to blame, especially because it’s come into the home. It’s brought the fascination of the flickering image right into the house; like turning on a faucet, you can have it whenever you want. I was a movie addict, but you could only see so many movies in the course of a week. I still had a lot of time to read, and so did other people. But I think television would take all your day if you let it. Now we have these cultural developments on the Internet, and online, and the computer offering itself as a cultural tool, as a tool of distributing not just information but arts — and who knows what inroads will be made there into the world of the book.” – John Updike

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4c_1_bthumbnail200px-langstonhughe_251 In all of today’s excitement, I almost forgot that today is the first anniversary of this Web site. In my first post, there was reflection on the significance of this date in our national life. Little could I have imagined then what would happen on this date in 2009. The national mood is so much different from what it was then.

As someone whose view of American history is very much centered on the Virginia origins of our best founding traditions, I nevertheless today cherish the kind of testimony that could hardly have occurred to Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, George Mason, and the Lees, but which I’m convinced they would have appreciated by using the same wisdom that produced their far-seeing founding documents. It comes from a man between their time and ours, who was both of African descent and politically and sexually suspect — but was a poet of authentically American voice:

I, Too, Sing America

by Langston Hughes

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–

I, too, am America.

Inauguration Music

January 20, 2009

20ceremony_600 While it is not, strictly speaking, a musical observation, can one forbear to be moved by the sight of an Israeli-American, an African-American, a man born in France of Chinese parents, and a woman who is a product of Venezuela’s great Sistema that has brought art from poverty, all playing John Williams’s new composition in unprecedented national circumstances? Surely not.

As Andrew Sullivan has already written a few minutes ago, it looks like the America we love.

Brava diva!

Beginning with the first thing I ever heard her sing, with her eminent colleague Dame Joan Sutherland — her cultivated ability for ensemble-singing being among her many memorable accomplishments:

And you can see and hear much more of this great artist and dear lady here.

Neither my best friends nor my worst enemies expect me to keep up with the Hit Parade. But this mashup of Billboard‘s top hits from 2008 is pretty amazing. (At the very least, they must have used digital transposition to get all the pieces in the same key?)

Who can predict the future of music with possibilities like this? (I especially like the person who commented on YouTube that he/she hated all the songs involved but loved the amalgam. Hmm.)

It’s About Time

January 3, 2009

sundialcompass We’re always being surprised by time.

“It seems like only yesterday.”

“Where has the time gone?”

“It seemed like an eternity.”

Science has recently been wrestling with the complicated fact that half an hour spent in the dentist’s chair is actually not the same amount of time as a half hour in a lover’s arms. Einstein’s theories thus seem to have a more homely equivalent.

Since time is the water that music swims in, you may find particularly interesting these meditations on music and time by one of our more thoughtful performers.

The Food of Love?

January 2, 2009

465723674_2153c23090 Evolutionary biologists have gone so far as to say that music is a necessity for humans, since no human society has been without it. Some (Darwin among them) have said that it’s important to life, but only for reproductive purposes, since — as everyone knows — musicians are the sexiest of mortals.

But some say it meets a need that it has itself created — like cheesecake.

Read up on the state of thought on this, in an article in The Economist.