The Essays (and other stuff)
Webster defines "essay" as "A literary composition usually dealing with a subject from a limited or personal point of view.
The first thirteen essays on this section were originally written in the mid-1990s for a church newsletter. Those in the section titled "The Listening Library" were begun in the mid- to late-2000s for Facebook.
I hope you find them enjoyable and informative.
The Early Essays
The Listening Library
I've had people who are not Classical Music fans but would like to know more about CM ask me to recommend works. I'm going to focus on pieces that I particularly like, which means: you'll be getting a lot of well-known works, and more than a few lesser known ones; you'll be getting stuff written mostly since about 1870 with a smattering of earlier compositions; and you'll be getting a wide mixture of lengths and genres.
But before we get into that, just what makes me an expert on this stuff?”
Well, I’m hardly an expert, but the question’s a fair one. So let me give you a brief musical autobiography.
My mom was musically inclined from a young age herself, having sung the role of Katisha in a Purdue University production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Mikado". She never took formal lessons, but played piano well by ear, ultimately inheriting her own parents' baby grand. When I showed an interest in music at around 6 or so, my parents bought a small upright piano for me to take lessons. I wasn't disciplined enough at that age to practice, but they kept the piano and let my three younger siblings have a crack at it.
We didn’t have a whole lot of classical records in the house, but what we did have I soon all but wore out. I remember, particularly, a recording of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” and another of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, and I remember receiving a recording of Menotti’s opera, “Amahl and the Night Visitors”, on several 45 rpm records (it would be years before I heard the entire opera straight through without a pause every four or five minutes to change records).
By the age of about 10, I decided I wanted to play an instrument other than piano. Our local high school band had performed a concert for our middle school, and I was inspired. I wanted to play oboe, but the band director said my mouth, teeth and lips weren’t shaped right for that, and suggested instead that I take up what was popularly, but incorrectly, called the French horn. (The instrument is actually just called the horn. It is a descendant of the simple, straight horns that you usually see in medieval dramas with banners hanging from them. The French were the first to coil the brass tubes, resulting in the classic "hunting horn" silhouette; the Germans added valves, resulting in the horns used in modern bands and orchestras. So the "French Horn" is really German. Don't get me started on the "English Horn".)
I fell in love with the sound of the horn, a versatile instrument that could sing beautiful love songs as easily as it could evoke nobility and call the troops to battle. It also found its way into popular music, such as The Who’s rock opera, “Tommy” (bassist John Entwhistle was originally trained as a horn player), the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, The Beatles’ “For No One”, and the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows", among other pieces. I applied myself to practicing like I never had with the piano, and by the time I got to high school, I was quickly able to work my way into the first chair position in the band. (In many bands and orchestras, up to four of the same instrument will play different lines for more richness. The better players will achieve “first chair” status, meaning they often get the higher, more difficult lines and most of the solos.)
I was never athletic, so when, in my freshman year of high school, I learned that a student in two or more performing organizations didn’t have to take gym, I also joined orchestra, where I also eventually made first chair (that loophole, by the way, was long ago closed).
The Glenbard West band and orchestra in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, had very good players and very good directors. As a result, we played several challenging pieces that introduced me to many of the classics. That, in turn, encouraged us to become good enough players that many of us were urged to try out for other organizations. I started playing fourth chair horn in the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra under Gordon Peters, principle percussionist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I was accepted to the Hull House Art and Music Camp in East Troy, Wisconsin, where I spent three consecutive summers in intensive music training and where I first became serious about writing prose. And, at the end of my senior year, I auditioned for and was accepted into the All American Youth Honor Band, a group of high school and college students under the direction of Frederick Fennell, founder of the Eastman Wind Ensemble. After a few days of intensive rehearsal, we performed at Disneyland in California, then flew to Osaka, Japan, where we performed at that year’s world’s fair, Expo ’70.
In 1970 I entered Illinois State University, where I continued to pursue music as my major, focusing on composition. I studied under Panamanian composer Roque Cordero and graduated with a degree in music composition. While there, I was encouraged to change my embouchure – the position of the mouthpiece on my lips – if I were to get better as a performer. Apparently, my lips were not really the “right” shape for the horn, either (this is when I suspected that the high school band director may have guided me toward the horn because he needed horn players more than he needed oboe players). This would have meant starting from scratch, so I switched to trombone. I really should have switched to vocal music – I had been in choirs in both the church in which I grew up and at Hull House, and a folk-rock group in college, and had a voice that could have been quite decent had it been properly trained. Ah, the beauty of hindsight. I tried entering a piano class, but had to audition to determine where I would be placed. I couldn’t play any scales very well, but then they asked me to play Chopin’s Prelude in e-minor, Op. 28, No. 4. I had loved that beautifully melancholic piece and had taught myself how to play it, which I explained to them. They told me to go ahead anyway. At the conclusion, they couldn’t decide whether I should be in the intermediate class on the strength of the Chopin, or in the beginning class on the weakness of my scales, so I didn’t bother at all – another decision I have since regretted.
After graduating, I didn’t pursue music further, except to play recorder and compose a few pieces for my own pleasure, including a full symphony to go along with one of my novels. But I continue to discover pieces that I've grown to love. Now I hope to encourage others to do the same.
In my original writings, I included links to YouTube performances of these pieces. I have deleted these links. Anyone who really wants to hear these pieces can readily find them - with a couple exceptions - on YouTube or any number of music providers.
The first rule of understanding men and women:
"Everything a woman does is carefully calculated to drive a man completely insane."
The second rule of understanding men and women:
"Everything a man does drives a woman completely insane, but for him it comes naturally."
There is nothing so beautiful or so powerful as the tears of a strong man.
Humans need love. This is a fundamental truth. Humans need physical affection. This has been proven time and again, often to great sorrow. Humans need this affection as much from their own sex as from the opposite, especially while growing up. This, too, has been demonstrated in the laboratory of life.
It takes a great deal of trust to allow physical affection; one is most vulnerable physically, emotionally and psychologically during an intimate moment. And since sexuality is the most intimate and vulnerable form of physical affection, it is the highest gift one may give to another.
Given the above, it is only logical that a monogamous relationship is the ideal, and that promiscuity goes against that logic, cheapening the gift. Using the same givens, homosexuality is equally as logical as heterosexuality; and monogamous bisexuality (only one partner of each sex), since it permits the exchange of that gift with each sex, is the most logical of all.
At this point, though, the structure begins to crumble. For if monogamous bisexuality is the ideal in sexual expression, then each man or woman will have two partners. This will result in, at best, a closed system of four (two men and two women), and, at worst, an endlessly interwoven chain. Either way, the potential for infidelity or jealousy can destroy any and all relationships in the system. And, especially in the chain, the preciousness of the gift has again become cheapened, making monogamous bisexuality little better, in the long run, than promiscuity.
Thus, the more one attempts to find a truly fulfilling sexuality on one's own, the more one becomes entangled in confusion and pain. Only the introduction of God into the equation can change the results.
Why do people say "It goes without saying", and then go on to say it?
People talk about a disease-riddled patient's "heroic battle for life" as thought it were based on some courageous decision to live no matter what pain or other cost they may have to face. While this can, certainly, be true, that battle is more often rooted, not in courage, but fear. The patient would rather face the known (or, at least, imaginable) pains of life than the unknown terrors of a death for which most are totally unprepared. There is nothing "heroic" in that.
Anyone who insists "It's the thought that counts" has clearly never told a creditor he's thinking of paying him.
Progress is often perceived as something which should bring immediate joy and prosperity and comfort to all. This is seldom the case. Progress is more often a slow, agonizing journey of suffering and loss.
A child progressing to adulthood takes years to achieve that goal - years of physical pain as muscles stretch and baby teeth drop out and broken bones of youthful clumsiness knit themselves into controlled strength; years of emotional pain as trust is betrayed and rewon and friends and family are forever lost through tragedy or apathy; years of social pain as artificial boundaries of class and race and other arbitrary categories are enforced or tested.
So, too, with progress in industry or art or relationships or any other part of life. Old traditions, like baby teeth, may be clung to only because they are familiar or because they represent pleasant memories - never mind that these traditions are loose in their sockets, unable to grow with their surroundings, incapable of meeting the newer, more strenuous demands placed on them. Weaker systems may sometimes be broken as they attempt to meet new challenges without the necessary skill; their only hope is to grow stronger. Boundaries must be tested, strained, and sometimes broken. And those who cling to the old ways and will not change may have to be left behind.
None of this is pleasant, but though we may have to turn back and repair some damage done foolishly in our zealous quest for maturity, we must also be prepared to suffer growing pains on our way to joy, prosperity, and comfort.
Sometimes a little madness is all that stands between you and insanity.
Herbal Tea: A perfectly decent British custom seized by some American upstart and run through California
Vanity License Plates: A means of defining one's entire identity in seven characters or less
Pedendostomatiasis: A condition in which one's foot is wedged firmly in one's own mouth. Completely incurable, it can often be chronic and will occasionally reach epidemic proportions.