Some days I find I’m too sad to even breath. Today is such a day. Paco de Lucia is dead and although in impossibly beautiful circumstance, playing with his grandchildren on a sun-kissed beach, this had to be too soon. Why had his music touched me so deeply? Perhaps my own Spanish roots and a father called Paco, and my genuine love of Flamenco, perhaps his revolutionary approach to the music and my rebellious side. Perhaps the stories of his admirable, self-determined, daily practice in spite of the calls from his friends to come join the ball game. No doubt also his long-term association with another all-time favourite guitarist of mine, John McLaughlin. Their acoustic duos and trios were as fiery and electric as the hardest rock. “Passion, Grace, Fire”, indeed. I had envisioned future collaborations far into their dotage as well as solo albums drawing upon their decades of learning and experience. These guys seem superhuman once beyond the apparently, life-threatening, younger years in the music industry. We have been robbed this future, and our world is a less musical place for losing Paco.
A quien Dios ama, le llama.
PLEASE TAKE SOME TIME TO DISCOVER THIS GUITAR GENIUS. HERE ARE THREE SNAPSHOTS TAKEN FROM DISTINCT PERIODS IN PACO’S CAREER:
Accompanying Camarón de la Isla
His collaborations with John McLaughlin
I’ve just posted a new blog piece in my Unbound shed. To access it all you have to do is pledge on The Dissent of Man, which can be as little as £10, although the rewards for pledging more are worth checking out.
The shed post is here: Ghosts and Guardian Angels
The book home page is here: The Dissent of Man
I’ve been researching and writing about American, avant-garde composer Morton Feldman for the last couple of years: this is an excerpt of a recent piece from December 2013.
Morton “Morty” Feldman was born in New York on 12 January 1926 to Irving and Francis Feldman, who had emigrated to America from Kiev via Warsaw when young. Morty’s father, grandfather and uncles all worked in clothing companies in Manhattan.
His mother encouraged an early interest in music, “”My earliest recollection of music – I couldn’t have been more than five – is my mother holding one of my fingers and picking out “Eli Eli” with it on the piano” (Feldman 1962). Early music lessons were at the Third Street Settlement School on the Lower East Side, and by age 9, Morty had started composing.
Following a run of substandard piano tutors, in 1938, Morty counted himself lucky to be taken on by Madame Vera Maurina-Press, exiled Russian aristocracy and daughter of a wealthy attorney, turned piano tutor-performer, at the Chatham Square Music School on the Lower East Side.
No disciplinarian, she nurtured in Morty a sense of “vibrant musicality rather than musicianship” (Feldman 1962). Exploiting her libertarianism, he neglected her itinerary, but instead further dabbled in composition. As would be seen later in life, it was not coercion but encouragement that would best suit his temperament.
Equally important, Maurina-Press brought with her a connection with an exotic past. Having grown up with Alexander Scriabin, and studied with Ferruccio Busoni in his Vienna master class (Stuckenschmidt 1970), Morty was set Scriabin pieces and Busoni transcriptions of Bach to play.
At the same time Morty attended the High School of Music and Art on the Upper West Side, and played double bass, alongside Seymour Shifrin on bassoon and violinist Allen Blank, in the “Composers Workshop”, founded and conducted by Meyer Kupferman (Kozinn 2003) who saw himself as employing “aesthetic leadership” to cultivate a creative community, “Painters, sculptors, writers, choreographers and philosophers attended our sessions. We continued our artistic probes later on at New York’s Automat, usually to 3 in the morning. Looking back at this now, I believe a curious musical energy emerged from these bohemian gatherings that generated an unusual set of fresh identities like a spark we would be destined to carry for the rest of our lives” (Bowles 2001).
Morty wallowed in the highbrow company, immersing himself in music and obsessive reading, often half-a-dozen books simultaneously, to which he attributed his atrocious eyesight in later life. It is through this network where Morty met cellist Daniel Stern, who would go on to immortalise him as Henry Crown, “”Henry Crown filled the doorway, eyebrows like bushes, face like a moon. … He stood marshaling all his fat grace, feet spread delicately apart, his pudgy forefinger pressing 20/200 eyeglasses nearer to his nose for a better look at me. … Crown shook his massive head. Hair flopped over myopic eyes. … smoke swirling around him” (Stern 1971).
Unlike his mother and maternal grandmother, Morty’s father was not supportive of his intellectuality, likely exacerbating a domestic rift. Even though money was tight, it was somehow made possible for the 14-year old Morty to replace their old piano with a Steinway, which he had hand-selected without help, for its “absolutely singular tone”.
Even so, practise ultimately bored him, so he chose instead to turn his hand to writing “little Scriabin-esque pieces” which eventually led him, to a few years of composition lessons with Wallingford Riegger, a pioneering exponent of Schoenberg’s 12-tone serialism, but an “equally lax” authoritarian (Feldman 1985).
By 1944 Morty felt he wasn’t progressing sufficiently, so gave up his other lessons in the hope of better direction under Webern’s ex-student, Stefan Wolpe. Frustratingly, these sessions mostly degenerated into heated arguments.
Wolpe did however introduce Morty to Edgar Varèse, who offered to informally comment on his work each week, and again, supplied encouragement, “You know, Feldman, you will survive. I am not worried about you”. In Varèse, Morty recognised the life he wanted, that of a professional composer. If they had never met, “I would probably not have become a composer”. At this point in his life, Varèse symbolised all his romantic boyhood aspirations, seeded by his formative years, ”The greatest influence in my life, the most decisive turning, this was Varèse. He fascinated me. And then, he had this extraordinary availability (that so many artists don’t have). He came to my concerts, I saw him and spoke with him. He was marvellous. He remained available right up until his death” (Cadieu 1969).
By the end of his schooling and the inevitable enrolment into the family business, Morty could at least boast a reasonable grounding in music, and significantly, a sense of belonging to a lineage of composers that he revered, “With Mme. Press at twelve, I was in touch with Scriabin, and thus with Chopin. With Busoni, and thus with Liszt. With Varèse, and thus with Debussy, and Ives and Cowell, and Schoenberg. … They are not dead. They are with me. … I have the feeling that I cannot betray this continuity, this thing I carry with me. The burden of history” (Feldman 1973).
Bowles, J. (2001) Electronic Dialogues/10: Meyer Kupferman. Available http://www.sequenza21.com/meyer.html
Cadieu, M. (1969) “Morton Feldman – Waiting” in A l’écoute des compositeurs. Paris: Minerve, 1992. pp. 202-205.
Feldman, M. (1962) “Liner Notes”, in Give My Regard to Eighth Street: Collected Writings of Morton Feldman. B. H. Friedman (ed.), Cambridge MA, Exact Change, 2000, pp. 3-7.
Feldman, M. (1973) “I Met Heine on the Rue Fürstemberg”, in Give My Regard to Eighth Street: Collected Writings of Morton Feldman. B. H. Friedman (ed.), Cambridge MA, Exact Change, 2000, pp. 112-21.
Feldman, M. (1985) “Autobiography” in Morton Feldman Essays. Zimmermann, W. (ed.). Beginner, Kerpen. p. 36.
Kozinn, A. (2003) Meyer Kupferman, Composer In Many Forms, Is Dead at 77. New York Times, Dec. 03.
Stern, D. (1971) The Rose Rabbi. McGraw-Hill, NY.
Stuckenschmidt, H.H. (1970) Ferruccio Busoni: chronicle of a European. Calder & Boyars. p. 188.
A new year’s resolution of mine is to be more industrious on this blog. The lack of posts has been partly due to work commitments, illness, getting attacked (see previous post), and a general dearth of alternatively interesting subjects on which to write. However, a couple of new projects are under way (a biography of Morton Feldman (pictured), and a book about the WWI Composers, e.g., Cecil Coles, Ernest Farrar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Ivor Gurney, etc.), plus The Dissent of Man, to complete as soon as possible.
Updates on progress with these projects will appear here whenever possible. Meanwhile, Happy New Year everybody, and I hope it’s a good one.
Attacked on way home on Tuesday night. Repeatedly hit around head. Unprovoked. Not a nice experience. Faith in humanity severely dented, again.
As seems to be the habit of late, here is an open letter …
To my attacker,
I apologised at the time for nearly bumping into you as I turned the corner. That’s what people do when their paths accidentally coincide, apologise. We didn’t collide, there was no reason for further issue. That should have been the end of it.
Instead, you thought an apology insufficient, pursuing me as I returned to my walk home. Did I affront your sense of propriety? Is that why you pushed me over from behind?
Getting up, I put my hand out to ward off further attack which you then took as a sign of aggression, inviting me to, “Come on then!” and pushing me further until you had me turned, enabling a punch* to my face.
Understandably, I fled.
As I ran, you pursued me further, and hit me on my body and to the back of my head, repeatedly.
I outran you, or perhaps you just got bored. I suspect the latter because, even though you acted like an adolescent, I would estimate you to be in your early- to mid-twenties. I am twice your age.
Despite your best efforts, I hope to disappoint you by reporting nothing broken, only a few grazes, and a slightly bruised pride. That, and a momentary doubt about human nature.
Undoubtedly, you could have broken my arm or caused some internal injury, but nothing would have hurt as much as the dint you might have caused in my trust of people. That would have been my main loss, in all of this: my humanity.
So, you know what attacker? I’m not going to let you win. I defy your brutish bullying. I pity your pathetic show of strength and your clear lack of respect for your fellow human. The majority of people are good and well meaning, content to live and let live. You are amongst an insignificant minority. You must inhabit a horrible, lonely place.
I will remain open minded, open eyed and open armed to the rest of humanity. I am not reduced as was your wish; I am invigorated by our encounter. Sod the bullies and haters and thugs. You’re going to have to do better than that, because the majority of people don’t abide by your rules. You lose.
Not Your Victim.
*I have since realised this was a headbutt.
I am so lucky to “know” some people. I say “know”, rather than know, because they are online friends (essentially via Twitter), and I have never had the pleasure of meeting them in person. However, their friendship has overwhelmed me at times, and this case is no different. Once again, the incumbent genius over at Kerosene101 has worked their magic once again on another of my poems. They previously metamorphosed The Music of the Words, Down, Follow / Your / Heart and Relief Work out of recognition. This time Repetition gets the treatment, and in the spirit of the piece, it gets it more than once! Once by Kerosene101, and once by the equally brilliant and lovely Chee Chee-A-Nam. I am indeed lucky, and truly humbled, and love both interpretations. Thank you x
One of my favourite literary devices is repetition.
Repetition gives a rhythm.
Repetition gives a pulse.
Repetition can appear at the beginning of a sentence, or repetition can appear near its middle.
The end of a sentence is also a good place to place repetition.
Repetition is one of my favourite literary devices.
One of my favourite literary devices is repetition.
© JFDerry / Kerosene101 2011
© JFDerry /Chee Chee-A-Nam 2013