Mercy

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Mercy
by Stephen Dunn

The music was fidgety, arch,
an orchestral version of twang.
Welcome to atonal hell,
welcome to the execution
of a theory, I kept thinking,
thinking, thinking. I hadn’t felt
a thing. Was it old fashioned
of me to want to? Or were feelings,
as usual, part of the problem?
The conductor seemed to flail
more than lead, his baton evidence
of something unresolved,
perhaps recent trouble at home.
And though I liked the cellist—
especially the way
she held her instrument—
unless you had a taste
for unhappiness
you didn’t want to look
at the first violinists face.
My wife whispered to me
This music is better than it sounds.
I reminded myself the world outside
might be a worse place
than where I was now,
though that seemed little reason
to take heart. Instead
I closed my eyes, thought about
a certain mezzo soprano
who could gladden a sad day
anywhere, but one January night
in Milan went a full octave
into the beyond. Sometimes escape
can be an art, or a selfishness,
or just a gift you need
to give yourself. Whichever,
I disappeared for a while,
left my body behind to sit there, nod,
applaud a the appropriate time.

“Mercy” by Stephen Dunn from What Goes On: Selected and New Poems 1995-2009. © W.W. Norton, 2010.

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Flaubert on Creativity

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“Happy are they who don’t doubt themselves and whose pens fly across the page. I myself hesitate, I falter, I become angry and fearful, my drive diminishes as my taste improves, and I brood more over an ill-suited word than I rejoice over a well-proportioned paragraph.”
– Gustave Flaubert 

In 2007, editor J. Peder Zane published a book called The Top Ten, in which he asked 125 contemporary writers to name what they consider “the ten greatest works of fiction of all time,” and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary was number two, after  Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

Flaubert said:

“Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

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A Glimpse into Personal Creativity

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A description of her inner work and creative impulses by best-selling poet Sharon Olds Google ChromeScreenSnapz004:

“I said to free will or the pagan god of making things, or whoever, let me write my own stuff. I’ll give up everything I’ve learned, anything, if you’ll let me write my poems. They don’t have to be any good, but just mine.”

It was in the syntax of her prayer that came an epiphany. She explained:
“What happened was enjambment. Writing over the end of the line and having a noun starting each line — it had some psychological meaning to me, like I was protecting things by hiding them. Poems started pouring out of me and Satan was in a lot of them. Also, toilets.”

She started going to writing workshops at the local YMCA, and eventually she published her first collection of poems, called Satan Says (1980). She later realized that she wrote in the structure of the hymns of her youth, which is what felt comfortable to her, but that she “had to ride over the end of the line” to craft her poems.

When her first book was published, she was a few years shy of 40. Within a decade, she’d released several highly acclaimed, best-selling collections, and she’d also become the director of the Graduate Writing Program at NYU. She was so busy that she decided for one year she would not watch TV, read a newspaper or book, or go hear music, just so that she’d have enough time to do her job and keep writing poetry.

She was poet laureate of New York from 1998 to 2000. She still teaches creative writing at NYU, and she writes poems from her apartment on the Upper West Side, in a rocking chair with a view of the Hudson River. She uses different colored ballpoint pens to compose poems, and sometimes puts stickers on the pages of her drafts, which remind her of the stained glass windows of her religious youth. She said that she loves “odd” or “strange” words. She said:
“By the time I see that it’s a poem, it’s almost written in my head somewhere. It’s as if there’s someone inside of me who perceives order and beauty — and disorder. And who wants to make little copies. Who wants to put together something that will bear some relationship to the vision or memory or experience or story or idea or dream or whatever.”

She once described poetry as coming from her lungs, and said that to her,
“Poetry is so physical, the music of it and the movement of thought.”
She said that over the years, she has noticed that ideas for poems will come to her when she’s dancing or running, and that these ideas seem to come to mind with the act of breathing deeply, with the intake of oxygen. She said,
“Suddenly you’re remembering something that you haven’t thought of for years.”

Her advice to young poets is this:
“Take your vitamins. Exercise. Just work to love yourself as much as you can — not more than the people around you but not so much less.”

She once said:
“I’m not asking a poem to carry a lot of rocks in its pockets. Just being an ordinary observer and liver and feeler and letting the experience get through you onto the notebook with the pen, through the arm, out of the body, onto the page, without distortion.”

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Georgia O’Keeffe

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97s/46/hgmp/9675/bw173 OKeeffe

 

 

It’s the birthday of American artist Georgia O’Keeffe, born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin (1887). She studied art in college and then supported herself teaching art at various colleges, but she found that teaching left her no time for her own work, and the turpentine smell of the art classrooms made her sick. She went for months and years on end without painting anything, only to start over again and try something new.

On a trip to Taos, New Mexico, O’Keeffe fell in love with the desert. She felt that the thin, dry air helped her to see better, and she devoted the rest of her career to painting desert mountains, flowers, stones, and skulls.

Georgia O’Keeffe said:

“Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.”

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some fast quotes for composers

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“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”
Mark Twain

“You never know what you’ll want to write until it starts writing itself in your head.”
Jill Ker Conway

“There’s a whole language out there, and one’s role as a writer is to stumble around in it.”
Ciarán Carson

“I like good company, but I like hard work still better.”
Camille Saint-Saëns

“The imagination is not a state: it is the human existence itself.”
William Blake

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An Interesting Day – Michaelmas Sept 29

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michaelmasMichaelmas Daisies

 

In the Christian world, today is Michaelmas, feast day of the archangel Michael, which was a very important day in times past, falling near the equinox and so marking the fast darkening of the days in the northern world — the boundary of what was and what is to be. Today was the end of the harvest and the time for rurals and farmers to calculate how many animals they could afford to feed through the winter and which would be sold or slaughtered. It was the end of the fishing season, the beginning of hunting, the time to pick apples and make cider.

Today was a day for settling rents and accounts, which farmers often paid for with a brace of birds from the flocks hatched that spring. Geese were given to the poor and their plucked down sold for the filling of mattresses and pillows.

Michaelmas was the time of the traditional printer’s celebration, the wayzgoose, the day on which printers broke from their work to form the last of their pulp into paper with which to cover their open windows against the coming cold — the original solution for those who could not afford glass yet had more than nothing — and the advent of days spent working by candlelight.

In the past, the traditional Michaelmas meal would have been a roast stubble goose — the large gray geese that many of us only get to admire at our local state and county fairs. Today, when most poultry comes from the grocery store in parts and wrapped in plastic, a roast goose can be a difficult luxury to obtain, but any homey, unfussy meal is a fine substitute — especially with a posy of Michaelmas daisies or purple asters on the table.

In folklore, it is said that when Michael cast the Devil from Heaven, the fallen angel landed on a patch of blackberry brambles and so returns this day every year to spit upon the plant that tortured him. For this reason, blackberries would not be eaten after today, and so folks would gather them in masses on Michaelmas to put into pies and crumbles and preserves. And they would bake St. Michael’s bannocks, a large, flat scone of oats and barley and rye, baked on a hot griddle and then eaten with butter or honey or a pot of blackberry preserves.

Whether you recognize Michaelmas or not, you can still greet what comes with the symbols of today: gloves, for openhandedness and generosity, and ginger to keep you warm and well in the coming cold.

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The Last Steinway

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It was on this day in 1853 that Henry Steinway, who had come here from Hamburg in 1849, sold his first American-made piano. He introduced the first cast-iron frame, which allowed a piano to be strung with greater tension on the strings and with the bass strings crossing above the treble strings so they could be longer and make a grander sound.

Henry Z. Steinway, in the picture, the last Steinway to run the piano-making company his family started in 1853, died 2008 at his home in Manhattan. He was 93.

Mr. Steinway once said that he had taken countless piano lessons but never knew “which is Beethoven’s this or Beethoven’s that.” He remained proficient on a typewriter’s keys, however; long after the world had adopted personal computers, he was still pounding away on his Smith-Corona manual.

Henry Ziegler Steinway — named for an uncle, and not to be confused with a cousin, Henry Steinway Ziegler — was the great-grandson of Heinrich Engelhard Steinway, the illiterate German immigrant before the ampersand in Steinway & Sons. Henry was born on Aug. 23, 1915, in his parents’ apartment on Park Avenue, between East 52nd and 53rd Streets.

The location was important to his tradition-minded father, Theodore E. Steinway. The Steinways’ factory, the largest piano plant in New York City when it opened, had occupied that site from just before the Civil War until about 1910. Theodore rented an apartment in the building that took the factory’s place. (The apartment house was demolished in the 1950s to make way for Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building.)

By the time Henry was a boy, the name Steinway had become almost synonymous with pianos, famous on concert stages as well as in Tin Pan Alley. Irving Berlin paid homage in “I Love a Piano” with the lyric “I know a fine way to treat a Steinway.”

After shuttering its Manhattan factory, Steinway & Sons moved its manufacturing operations to Queens, and as a child Henry wandered through a labyrinth of sawdust-strewn workrooms. He joined the company after graduating from Harvard in 1937 and began his career by building pianos, just as his father and uncles had.

“I learned a respect for work that is actually done,” Mr. Steinway said years later.

He also discovered that making instruments that have thousands of tiny parts under the lid is not easy. He said it took him a day and a half to do what the workers at the factory did in four hours.

In the 1940s, following the death of a cousin who had been the company’s general manager, Mr. Steinway began overseeing operations at the company’s three factories in Queens. Poor eyesight kept him away from the front lines during World War II; the Army stationed him on Governors Island in New York Harbor.

He became the factory manager after the war and president of the company in 1955, when his father made a surprise announcement that he was stepping down, immediately.

By then the piano business was struggling against changing technologies and tastes. Phonographs and radios had displaced pianos as home entertainment choices, and television was on the rise. As Mr. Steinway recalled in 2003: “People would say: ‘You’re in the piano business? That doesn’t exist anymore.’ ”

So he downsized the company — though he preferred the term “right-sized” — closing two of the plants in Queens. He decided that concert artists to whom the company had lent pianos would have to return them, unless they bought them.

He also arranged to sell Steinway Hall, the company’s building on West 57th Street, to Manhattan Life Insurance Company. He moved most of the company’s offices, including his own, to Queens. But the showroom, with its big front window and arched ceilings, remained.

In 1972 he sold the company itself. “It was the hippie time,” he recalled in 2003. “Nobody in the next generation —”

He left the rest of the sentence unsaid. He said he did not believe that any of his younger relatives could take over, so he proposed a $20.1 million stock swap with the CBS Corporation. The deliberations split the family, with his mother, Ruth, calling the sale “a betrayal,” although she ultimately voted for it.

CBS replaced him as president in 1977, naming him chairman. He gave up that title when he retired at 65, but he never really left. Up until the very end, he went to Steinway Hall most days. He also went to the factory to autograph just-finished pianos, signing the cast-iron plates with felt-tip pens. At times he served as a goodwill ambassador, visiting piano dealers and attending music-industry conventions.

President Bush presented him with the National Medal of Arts, the government’s highest award in the arts. Mr. Steinway was also the founding president of the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad, Calif.

CBS sold Steinway in 1985, and the company changed hands again in 1995. Mr. Steinway recalled worrying about that sale, to what was then Selmer Industries, a band-instrument manufacturer that had been taken over by two investment bankers from Los Angeles.

“I thought, ‘Here we go up the flue for sure,’ ” Mr. Steinway said in 2003. “ ‘Two hotshots who’re not yet 40. This is where we get liquidated for sure.’ ”

But the two investment bankers, Dana D. Messina and Kyle R. Kirkland, changed Selmer Industries’ name to Steinway Musical Instruments. Mr. Steinway liked to recall that when they took the company public in 1998, they used Ludwig van Beethoven’s initials for a stock symbol— LVB — because all possible combinations of S’s and T’s were taken.

 

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Interview with Eric Clapton

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eric-clapton

 

 

From his early days in the Yardbirds and Cream to his current status as guitar icon and bluesman extraordinaire, Eric Clapton has released more than 40 albums over the course of his 50-year career. Here, the legendary rocker pauses to reflect on fishing, his wife and children, and Rupert Murdoch.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Being in the moment.

What is your greatest fear?
Insanity.

Which living person do you most admire?
J. J. Cale.

What is the trait you most despise in yourself?
Arrogance.

What is the trait you most despise in others?
Arrogance.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Wristwatches.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Generosity.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
My eyebrows.

Which living person do you most despise?
Rupert Murdoch.

Which word or phrases do you most overuse?
“Do you know what I mean?”

What is your greatest regret?
Losing my son.

What is the greatest love of your life?
My wife and children.

When and where were you happiest?
On our wedding day.

Which talent would you most like to have?
To be able to paint.

What is your current state of mind?
Contented.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Geting sober.

If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?
A Martin OM-45.

What is your most treasured possession?
My health.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Watching English TV.

What is your favorite occupation?
Playing the guitar.

What is your most marked characteristic?
Haste.

What is the quality you most like in a man?
Integrity.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Passion.

What do you most value in your friends?
Tolerance.

How would you like to die?
Fishing.

 

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Hadron’s Birthday

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On this date, September 10, in 2008, at 10 o’clock a.m. local time, engineers flipped the switch to turn on the Large Hadron Collider for the very first time. It’s the centerpiece of the European Organization for Nuclear Research — better known to us as CERN — and its mission is to study “particles,” the fundamental building blocks of matter. Contrary to doomsday scenarios predicted by a number of different groups, firing up the LHC didn’t cause Earth didn’t implode or get sucked into a black hole. In fact, the first test proved rather anticlimactic: it just resulted in two little white blips on a computer screen, which confirmed that the protons had reached their target. Unfortunately, an electrical fault led to the explosion of one of the collider’s helium tanks nine days later. The LHC was shut down for 14 months while repairs were made, and went live again in November 2009.

lhcb_collaboration

The Large Hadron Collider is the world’s largest machine: it’s a ring, 27 kilometers [about 17 miles] around, that’s buried deep below the Swiss and French Alps. It houses a series of superconducting magnets in a variety of sizes. The magnets focus and direct beams of particles around the ring, and these magnets are so powerful, they must be kept chilled to a temperature of -271 degrees Celsius — even colder than outer space — making the LHC the world’s largest fridge as well. Two particle beams no thicker than a human hair make their way around the collider in opposite directions. The magnetic fields coax the beams to go faster and faster, until they approach the speed of light. And then the two beams smash into each other in front of a particle detector. It’s like shooting two needles at each other from a distance of 10 kilometers [six miles] and trying to get them to meet each other exactly in the middle. The particles then break into subparticles, which exist for just a fraction of a second before they stick together or disappear completely. By studying the way the subparticles behave in that split second, particle physicists hope that they can get a glimpse of what happened during the Big Bang. When it’s running at peak speed, the LHC can produce as many as 550 million collisions per second.

The Large Hadron Collider was shut down again this past February so it could undergo an upgrade, including installation of an even more powerful magnet. When the LHC reopens in 2015, scientists will use it to study things like dark matter, dark energy, and supersymmetry — theories that were once viewed as little more than science fiction. And scientists are also hoping to develop new forms of radiation therapy to treat cancer more effectively.

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One of the Best Ways to be an American

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TexasJazzNight

Texas Jazz Night in Chile

Chile ProJazz students perform with TxState music faculty Hank Hehmsoth & Russell Haight – Texas Jazz Night! 8/9/2013

“The Best things in life are not things
but transformative ideas and emotions.”

I have been in Chile 6 weeks, teaching American Studies in Music at the Institut Projazz in Santiago. I have led 4 different seminars:

Session 1: Contemporary Concepts of Composition and Commercial Arranging
Session 2: The Ultimate Finale Experience for Education (Finale is a music publishing software program)
Session 3: Workshop Personal – Professional Website w/Dreamweaver & Photoshop
Session 4: Modern Jazz Improvisation- with Dr. Russell Haight

In each of these, it takes an American sensibility of fresh concept and practical usage to present these topics to an international audience. The creativity, the real use of computers and software to express yourself and promote yourself world-wide, and the freedom inherent in American Jazz, all suggest that in America, anything is possible. No students in Chile really know how to create websites with pictures, audio, videos, and links to promote themselves to the world stage. It is my great pleasure to be the person doing this under a grant from the U.S. State Department and the Fulbright Commission. I am a Fulbright Specialist teaching these specialized skills that few international university degree plans offer to students.

As far as I am concerned, I can think of no better way to spread American goodwill across the world, than in this way. I am proud to be an American in this manner.

Plus, I get to play jazz everywhere!

Here is a Thelonious Monk tune, “Straight, No Chaser” from

Texas Jazz Night!
at Auditorio Bellavista – Santiago, Chile 8/9/2013
with my friend, colleague, and band member Russell Haight,
along with Institut Projazz students
Diego Meneses (drums) and Camilo Lema (bass)

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