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Joseph E Bird

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Classical Music

NPR – Station of Doom

Dear NPR:

A few years ago, you became my radio station of choice. I listen to all the great story-telling shows on Saturday. On Sunday afternoons, the cooking and travel shows fill the time as I drive through the mountains of West Virginia. I even dig most of the classical music shows. We have a local DJ, Matt Jackfert, who is always playing something interesting in the genre.

My job requires a lot of time in the car, and in the mornings, I usually tune to NPR to get news and commentary. I like the seriousness with which the news is presented and the absence of hyperbole from local radio personalities.

But here’s the thing: You’ve become sooo negative.

Nobody can do anything right. It seems like all your stories are about how somebody doesn’t get it, is incompetent, or just plain mean. If only everyone were as enlightened as the good, caring souls at NPR, what a better world we would live in. Yes, we need journalists to fact check and tell us the truth and I appreciate the work you do, but I can’t take it anymore.

I’ve found myself tuning in to the local commercial stations and enduring the screaming car dealers and the bad jokes and the shallow reporting just to get a break from the prophecy of doom that NPR is becoming.

Yeah, the world is a crazy place and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. But I need a break. So NPR, can you lighten up a bit? Please?

In his book, Chronicles, Bob Dylan was looking back at the 60s and all the analysis that went with the events that were changing the world.  He said this:

“All the news was bad. It was good that it didn’t have to be in your face all day.  Twenty-four-hour news coverage would have been a living hell.”

I can relate.

 

And then there was Bach.

I heard a piano playing.

I recognized the hymn, despite the missed note here and there. Probably coming from the gathering place where the residents sit in wheelchairs on Sunday afternoon and listen to the local Church of Christ preacher.

Except I had already passed the gathering place. The piano sounds were coming from down the hall.

She sat in her doorway in her wheelchair, the keyboard resting on the armrests. She kept playing as I approached.

That’s really very good, I said.

She laughed but she didn’t look up. She was unable to raise her head. She looked at the floor as she spoke.

I play by ear, she said. I can’t read music.

Then I noticed the plastic rat sitting on the keyboard. It was so out of place that I couldn’t bring myself to ask about it. I should have. There’s probably a good story to go with it.

This hand doesn’t work very well, she said as she held up her twisted right hand.

Well, you sound great.

And she did. Not that she was going on tour anytime soon, but I’d love to be able to play at her level.

I went on.

While I was visiting, I heard her playing. One hymn after another.

And then there was Bach. Unmistakable.

The rhythms and the patterns of the master composer. And a familiar tune. Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. Another hymn, of sorts.

As I was leaving, she had quit playing but was still sitting in her doorway.

I heard you playing Bach, I said.

Bach? As if she didn’t know who I was talking about.

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, I said

She laughed. That’s Bach?

Yes.

She laughed again. Good old Bach, she said. Good old Bach.

Do you know this guy?

You should. Well, if you care anything about music beyond the Top 40, you should.

Chris Thile (pronounced Theely). Mandolin virtuoso.

Started playing when he was 5. Formed Nickel Creek (not Nickelback) with Sean and Sara Watkins when he was 8. Signed a record deal when he was 12. One of his projects, Punch Brothers, is a real genre bender. He is now the host of A Prarie Home Companion.

A couple of videos won’t do him justice. Unbelievable player and genuine nice guy.

Enjoy.

Here’s one when he was much younger playing at Floydfest.

And for the more sophisticated out there, how about some Bach.

You’re welcome.

jazzing up a classic

Editor’s Note:  I’ve been on a jazz kick lately and I remembered this post from a couple of years ago. In case you missed it the first time.


Dig it.

There’s a club in London called the Troubadour. It was founded in the 1950s and has hosted legendary musicians through the years. It’s also famous as a hangout for writers and artists and coffee-house poetry.

Finger snap.

Picture this: Stanley Kubrick had a favorite table at the Troubadour back in the early 60s. He comes in, sips espresso, takes in a poetry slam, and works on his screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In 1968, his seminal film is released.

“Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Far out.

Featured in the film was the music of Richard Strauss, specifically, Also Sprach Zarathustra, which, interestingly, is a tone poem. Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls (Laugh-In reference).

In 1972, the jazz musician Deodato put out his take on the classic, which was later featured in the Peter Sellers film, Being There.

“As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.”

Heavy, man.

So for all you poets out there, put on your black turtleneck and beret, go back in time, and tap your toes to the groovy, jazzy, coffee-house version of Also Sprach Zarathustra by Deodato.

Dig it.

 

Gorecki

I jumped in my car the other day to head to a meeting and the radio was tuned to NPR, where local classical composer, Matt Jackfert, was hosting his classical music show. I caught the last few minutes of the third movement of Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3, also known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. The music, while aptly named, is captivating. And when you know the story behind it, it’s even more moving.

Here’s Gorecki’s story:  Henryk Gorecki’s life.

Here’s the third movement:

Nothing else to say.

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