Archive for Music

Grace — 2017

 

 

“I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”

            — Ann Lamott

 

 

Click here to download a PDF of this post:  Grace_ConVivio_2017_LITE

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Extending a Tradition of Grace

On Saturday, December 9, 2017, Gretta and I continued our twenty-year tradition by attending an event called “A Cathedral Christmas.” It is an annual Christmas concert of the Men’s and Boy’s Chorus, orchestra, and pipe organ, at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

I have written about this annual event before on ConVivio (notably in 2009 and 2015), and each time my goal was to shine a light on the powerful effect it always has on our experience of the holiday season.  For us, the tradition starts with its magnificent music, having the ongoing effect on the lives of real people of all types that thoughtful art can have.  In addition to the music itself, the venue — Grace Cathedral on California Street in San Francisco — contributes its powerful presence and enduring heritage to our encounter with the holiday season. And last but not least, this event intentionally involves itself in the tenor of the times in which we live — for Grace Cathedral has long served to participate in the life of its broad Bay Area community not only with its Christian Anglican traditions, not only with its music, but also by contributing to the everyday issues and struggles, both diverse and universal, that affect the lives of our society.

The Venue: Grace Cathedral
Grace Cathedral has long committed itself to be a house of prayer for all people and a place where all are welcome — prayerful or not.  I observe that those two commitments set it apart from many other institutions that seem on the surface to be similar.  Over the years I have noticed that the cathedral community provides many gifts, usually without a lot of fanfare, to people of all kinds whether they are part of their faith community or not. I learned, for example, of the hundreds of homeless who have been housed in the cathedral basement over the years.  It also has lived up to a well-earned reputation for welcoming members of society who have not always felt welcome elsewhere in the Bay Area and the nation.

Left: “Ghiberti’s Doors,” copies of the 15th-century originals residing in Florence, reveal a welcoming heritage — the originals started the Italian Renaissance in bringing great art to everyday lives of real people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace Cathedral: inside and out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace Cathedral can get colorful: inside and out

The Music
Usually, the Christmas concert focuses on two principal themes: 1) the joy associated with the birth of The Child — represented by well-known Christmas carols in the first and third segments of the performance — and 2) the peacefulness settling over the ‘Holy Land’ and the world, associated with the hope for peace that The Child would bring – represented by classic choral and orchestral music performed with sweetness and passion throughout the concert.   The signature piece of the Grace Cathedral Music Ministry has always been a tune by Hugh MacKinnon called “Sleeps Judea Fair.”  Gretta and I always look forward to this tune, in the final segment of the concert, as the highlight of the season. The lyrics and the slow, soft harmony of the voices recreate the joy and peace we expect from the season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Settling into our usual seats at the acoustic center of the cathedral — one of America’s premier acoustical rooms — the expressions on the faces of the stained-glass figures of the saints all around the cathedral contributed to the warmth, peace, and harmony that we had come to expect.  I opened the printed program and was pleased to find our favorite piece listed near the end of the program along with a few others I did not recognize.

The first segment of the concert contained the familiar choral pieces we had come to expect – like John Wade’s 18th-century carol “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”  When the Men’s and Boys’ chorus left the altar for an intermission, the organ solo began.  The organist’s right hand began by trying to play the familiar tune of “Christ Is Born Today,” while the left hand alternately ignored and ‘drowned out’ that melody with some deep, dissonant, and unfamiliar chords.  I took this to represent the deep discord that “The Holy Land,” and much of the world, has been experiencing.  We heard in the news that morning of the president’s announcement regarding the status of Jerusalem, which sparked some violent protests there and in Bethlehem itself.

Message received.

The peacefulness that The Child brought to this region centuries ago is not working out so well.  I suppose this concert, to be true to its themes, needed to reflect that unrest and discord alongside the hope for peace and harmony that is the focus of so many of our prayers and greetings during this holiday season.

Then, after applause for the organ soloist, the singers returned for the final segment that traditionally conveys the message of peace and serenity culminating in their signature piece, “Sleeps Judea Fair.”  It was as beautiful, soothing, and peaceful as always, offering a wish for “grace” — to Judea, to the world, and to us:

“Let the Christ Child, meekly smiling, infant wise all woe beguiling
Grant His grace to thee.”

–> Listen to it here — recorded live in Grace Cathedral:

An Acknowledgement of the Times in Which We Live
After we were treated to that reward, the Episcopal Bishop of California, Rev. Marc Andrus, thanked us all for being there and gave us some words of wisdom for the season.  His ministry, consistent with the ongoing mission of Grace Cathedral, is focused on the key issues of our time and place: peace and justice, immigration reform, climate change, civil rights for LGBT persons, and health care.  On this night, he reminded us that these are hard times and drew a remarkable analogy for this season.  He suggested that “our brothers and sisters of the animal kingdom” tend to slow down and prepare to go to sleep as the cold days and nights of winter approach.  We humans, on the other hand, are called to do something different —  it is a time for us to wake up, become more energetic, and do more of the things that need to be done, especially for others.  He then suggested some specific ways we can do that in our own communities.

With that, the concert concluded with its final choral pieces.  The lyrics of one of those, “A Stable Lamp is Lighted,” accompanied by the orchestra and organ, provided the stark reminder that our joy must be tempered with the reality of the hard times yet to come for the child born this day and, perhaps, for us all.  Just before the finale, the voices intoned this piece of reality:

So then, we could celebrate: “Hark! The Herald Angels sing:   Glory to the newborn king.”

The Message — More than hope for “Grace” during hard times
As we walked out of the cathedral on that beautiful December night, our world remains a place of suffering and danger, walking right alongside an enduring hope and optimism for which we Americans are famous.  The message: we are right to be optimistic and hope for peace, harmony, and relief from suffering; but it is not enough to merely admire the problem and hope for the best.  Rev. Andrus suggested that we must wake up and become active.  We can start in our own families, neighborhoods, and towns, giving each other what we need, when we can, and contributing to organizations that do the work we can’t do on our own — some examples: Planned Parenthood, Reach Out and Read, Boys and Girls Clubs, Sierra Club, Valley Humane Society, American Civil Liberties Union, KQED, The Kidney Foundation, Grace Cathedral, and so many others.  All are hopeful, optimistic efforts. We can make a difference, starting right here.

“The Summer of Love” — 1967

 

“The Summer of Love” — 1967:
More Than A Summer

 

“Do you believe in Rock & Roll?
Can music save your mortal soul?
Can you teach me how to dance real slow?”
   — Don McLean (from “American Pie”)

 

Click here to download a PDF of this post: ConVivio_Summer_1967_V2

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The Music of My Generation

The great music of my generation reached a climax in 1967.  That historic musical moment — widely recognized as the pinnacle of the music of my generation — “warmed up” around 1962-5, reached its peak in the “Summer of Love” of 1967, and culminated in the last few years of the sixties leading to the grand finale: “Woodstock” in August of 1969.

Since most of my generation was in high school at the time, we tend to think of “1967” as the school year that began in the fall of 1966 and ended late in 1967, when my friends and I settled into our senior year.  Of course, nothing of cultural importance begins and ends that abruptly and crisply, so we will consider those dates to be approximate.  For most of you “of a certain age,” these details may not be new, just reminders of a time in your own life.

It Started With Something New: Buying Records

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I began buying vinyl records in 1964, starting with the purchase of my first Beatle album, “Introducing the Beatles,” in January (I still have it) followed a couple of weeks later by “Meet the Beatles” (my son Ben has it).  This was an important milestone in my teenage life and the act of buying records quickly became a four-step ritual for me. Here was the pattern:


Step 1. I would hear something exiting on the radio played by one of the two important disc jockeys in the bay area on KYA:

“Emperor” Gene Nelson was “The Emperor” because his loyal following carried “Royal Commando” cards, he issued his own royal currency (accepted only within “The Empire”), and counted down the “Top Thirty” every Saturday morning.
— “Big Daddy” Tom Donohue advertised acne creams and opened his show with the line: “This is your Big Daddy Tom Donohue. I’m here to clear up your face and mess up your mind.”  He co-produced the Beatles last public appearance at Candlestick Park August 29, 1966. About this time, a friend turned me on to something new: FM Radio!  KSJO in San Jose played music and said things that could not be heard on AM radio.  Tom Donohue pioneered “album-oriented” radio at KMPX FM.  We called these FM stations “underground radio.”  (Our parents did not listen to these stations.)

Step 2. I would walk uptown to the record store (Don McLean later called it “The Sacred Store” in his classic song “American Pie”).  I would ask the lady behind the counter if I could listen to a particular song.  She would play it on a turntable if it was on a 45-RPM single (99 cents); but she wouldn’t play an album.  In the case of an album, I would inspect the album cover and put it back in the rack for later consideration (albums cost more — initially, a dozen songs for $2.99.

Step 3. After due consideration (usually a day or so), I would walk back to the record store and buy the album (except in the case of a Beatle album — in that case I would have bought it immediately, without question, the first day it was released.

Step 4. As soon as I got home, I would play the entire album from beginning to end without delay or interruption, making judgments about which songs were “hits” and deciding if I preferred one side over the other.  Sometimes a friend joined in this part of the ritual. In many cases (again, except for the Beatles) I ended up playing the preferred side almost exclusively after making that judgement.

My Dad encouraged me to buy records, as he had done.  I still have his 78-RPM recordings of Cole Porter, Dale Carnegie (“How To Win Friends and Influence People”), and Red Motley (“Nothing Happens Until Somebody Sells Something”), and the soundtracks I heard growing up: “Carousel,” “My Fair Lady,” “Camelot,” and a little classical and opera.  I don’t think he really understood my music, but I think he figured that it didn’t do any harm.

Most popular songs, especially in the early sixties, were released on 45-RPM “singles,” with a “hit” song on one side — the “A” side — and usually a throw-away song on the “B” side that would seldom be heard on the radio.  The Beatles broke that mold by releasing singles with great songs on both sides.  These were almost uniformly three minutes long until July of 1965 when Bob Dylan released “Like a Rolling Stone,” which was more than six minutes long.  At first, radio stations played a truncated version; but it quickly became a world-wide hit, broke through that constraint, and we heard it on the radio in its entirety.  Why was it such a big deal?  Even though it wasn’t particularly ‘musical,’ its “street poetry” described some of the familiar experiences of many young people of my generation and then asked:
“How does it feel?
To be on your own,
with no direction home,
a complete unknown,
like a rolling stone.”
It seemed to touch something deep in the hearts of young people experiencing in the strangeness of growing up in the second half of the 1960s.  There would be more to come.

So, What Records Did I Buy?

I bought a few singles; but, after a while, I stopped buying singles and stuck with albums.  This change coincided with the trend among popular musicians starting around 1965-66 to record an entire album of their best songs, several of which were “hits” that might have been played on the radio.  So, albums contained a lot more storytelling and developed more important themes than songwriters could convey in one three-minute song.  Many of the songs of the time reflect the ideas and feelings that mattered to so many of us during that period.

Below is a link to a PDF list of the record albums released during this time that I bought then or over years that followed.  It turns out to be a pretty good indicator of what was popular among teenagers, at least in my high school at the time.   AND it serves as the musical content that led to the “Summer of Love” in 1967 and other major music events of 1968-9.  I bet many of you had these same records or at least remember hearing many of them, either at that time or later –>–>–> AND I’d love to hear from you about the music that was important to you during this time, whether you were alive then or not — since many of you grew up listening to your parents’ records of these songs that they continued to play in later years (as I did).

Records I bought from 1964, with release dates (underlined titles are links):
Click here:  Dans_Records_1964-1968.pdf

What actually happened during 1967?

The term “Summer of Love” originated with the formation of the “Council for the Summer of Love” in the spring of 1967 as a response to the convergence of young people on the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco. The Council was composed of The Family Dog, The Straight Theatre, The Diggers, The San Francisco Oracle, and approximately twenty-five other people, who wanted to plan for the influx. The Council also assisted the Free Clinic and organized housing, food, sanitation, music and arts, and coordinated with local churches and other social groups. So, there was some preparation.

  • January 14 The Human Be-In takes place in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco; setting the stage for the “Summer of Love.”
  • January 28 – The Mantra-Rock Dance, called by some the “ultimate high” of the hippie era, takes place in San Francisco, featuring Swami Bhaktivedanta, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, and Allen Ginsberg.
  • June 16-18 – Most consider the three-day Monterey Pop Festival at the Monterey County Fairgrounds to be the focus of “The Summer.”  That event — fifty years ago this week (celebrated last Sunday) — brought together thousands of people to see and hear many of the most well-known rock & roll musicians of the era — notably, The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, David Cosby, The Who, The Association, The Doors, Hugh Masekela, Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, Janis Joplin (Big Brother and the Holding Company), Eric Burden (Animals), Otis Redding, Simon & Garfunkel, and The Mamas & the Papas. The event essentially launched careers of some performers who had not yet achieved national recognition — Janis Joplin, Laura Nyro, Canned Heat, Otis Redding, Ravi Shankar, and Steve Miller are examples.

Some notables intended to perform . . . but:
— The Beatles decided that their music had become too complex to perform live and did not perform (and never toured again).
— The Beach Boys, although Brian Wilson was a leader in the planning of the event, decided not to perform — perhaps their music came out of a different mindset (surfing and fast cars) and didn’t quite fit into this particular “Summer.”
— Donovan, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, among others, couldn’t get visas to enter the US because of drug arrests.
— Dionne Warwick had a conflicting gig at The Fairmont in San Francisco.
— Bob Dylan declined because he was still recovering from his motorcycle accident. (Hendrix paid tribute to him by performing “Like a Rolling Stone.”
— Frank Zappa (Mothers of Invention) refused to share the stage with SF performers he considered to be inferior. (Huh?)
— Organizers rejected some who asked to perform, like The Monkees (thanks); and some (like Cream) backed out hoping to perform in a venue that would provide “more exposure” (ooops!).

Other cultural/musical events took place around the world in places like New York, London, and elsewhere; and — related — on October 17, the musical Hair opened off-Broadway on October 17 and moved to Broadway the following April.  But “That Summer” also featured a number of distressing public events.  It was a difficult time in America: several large and violent anti-war demonstrations did serious damage that summer and several multi-day race riots erupted in Tampa, Buffalo, Newark, Plainfield, Minneapolis, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Washington DC, leading to more than 100 deaths and significant disruptions in communities and colleges across America.  So, there was more going on than just the music.

Was It Just the Prelude?

Most would say that “The Summer of Love” was the focal point of the development of the music of the time; BUT, as an event, most say it was just the prelude leading up to the central musical event of my generation. “Woodstock” took place August 15-18, 1969, on at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm near New York and was attended by over 400,000 people and millions of us will claim “I was there.”  (I was, uh, there.) BUT, if you look at the music that was performed at Woodstock and the musicians who performed, I think you’ll agree that the music emanated from the inspiration of 1967.  We can save THAT topic for another time.  The cultural event had its own significance. For the purpose of remembering “The Summer of Love,” it was all about the music.

And, Yes, It Had a “Funeral”

 

 

After many people left at the end of summer to resume their college studies, those remaining in The Haight wanted to commemorate the conclusion of the event. A mock funeral entitled   “The Death of Hippie” was staged on October 6, 1967. Organizer Mary Kasper explained the message:
We wanted to signal that this was the end of it, to stay home, bring the revolution to where you live, and don’t come here because it’s over and done with.”


Mock Funeral Notice

But the Music Didn’t Die
Life got tougher in America: the Vietnam War became more intense, as did protests against it, a cultural divide opened between generations, and the assassination of Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sparked riots across America. BUT —  the music didn’t die.  We bought the records, listed on the radio, our children heard those records growing up in our homes, and — after these fifty years have passed, the songs of that era continue to be popular landmarks in music, culture, and literature.

 

Decades We Have Known

(and one we’re still getting to know)

postcard_dec-ades_sep2016

“Yes, here we are
right in the middle of it;
but what should we call it?”

 

 

 

 

 

 


Those of us who went to school around the middle of the 20th century were taught to understand the passing of time in distinct eras, each having its own character and name. For example, the thousand-year period called “The Middle Ages” was a characterized principally by ignorance and short life spans. Following that, it seems, the focus of history narrowed to individual centuries. The 15th century (roughly, 1450 to 1550) is remembered for its intellectual and artistic awakening and discovery and thus called “The Renaissance.”  Today, our understanding of distinct definable time periods comes down roughly to decades, both in our education and in popular culture.

So, as I read the news and listen to the pundits of our day, as they attempt to identify the trends of our times, I am driven to ask:

  • given the pattern of the decades we have come to know best, what name would a thoughtful person give to the decade in which we live today? How will the 2010-2020 decade be remembered in the years to come?

Of course, since this decade is not finished, our judgments must be preliminary.  But let’s give it a try.  As a start, let’s review the decades of the most accomplished and truly “American” century of them all, the 20th century.

1900 to 1910 — “The Good Years”

During the first ten years of the 20th century, from an American point of view, the world was mostly at peace.  Shirts cost 23¢, but the children who made them earned a mere $3.54 a week.  Teddy Roosevelt proposed to strengthen the U.S economy with his Square Deal and sent the U.S. Navy around the globe to introduce the world to the idea of American power. My grandparents, like 3 million other immigrants escaping a crushing depression in Southern Italy, sailed in the belly of big ships from Naples to New York. Last but not least, my father rounded out the decade by being born in Red Jacket, West Virginia on October 10, 1910.

For many Americans, according to a commentator of that time (John Clark), “The future was simple; rewards would go to the virtuous” and Americans perceived themselves to have “the personal material out of which a millennium would grow.” Historians have called this decade “The Good Years”  (see Walter Lord’s “The Good Years,” Harper and Row, 1960).

1910 to 1920 — “The End of Empire, War in Europe”

A powerful worldwide upheaval began. In America, much of the population moved to cities and there was a dramatic reduction in immigrants from Europe compared to the mass migration of the previous decade. The world began to see the end of a long-established world order, disintegrated into World War I, and suffered the historically unprecedented destruction and loss of life that went with it.  A “new world order” was established once “the war to end all wars” finally …  well, so we claimed  …  ended war itself and, in America, ushering in …

1920 to 1930  — “The Jazz Age” (or “The Roaring Twenties”)

This decade began, inauspiciously, on January 16, 1920 with the onset of Prohibition. It is hard to accept that the alcohol-marinated events of “The Jazz Age” could possibly have begun with a national decision to prohibit alcohol consumption; but as Will Rogers famously said, “Prohibition is better than no alcohol at all.”

Songwriter and philosopher Jacques Brel summed up ‘The Twenties’ this way:
“We must dance because the Twenties roar,
The Twenties roar because there’s bathtub gin,
Vo-de-oh-do and the road to sin,
The road to whoopee and a whole lot more.
Charles A Lindberg, tons of confetti,
Dempsey, Tunney, Sacco and Vanzetti
Black, Black Monday and the market drops
But we keep on dancing, dancing, we can’t stop.”

For many Americans, the party didn’t stop, until …

1930 to 1940 — “The Great Depression”

On the day the Jazz Age ended, the Thirties began: October 29, 1929, with the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression.  Unemployment and bread lines became the dominant images.  Across the Atlantic, the world darkened further with the growing power of Fascism and Nazism in Europe and the pervasive fear that all of Europe would plunge into war again.  The lights went out, virtually worldwide, for the better part of the decade, until …

1940 to 1950 — “World War II, Victory, The Seeds of Prosperity”

The Forties arguably began on September 1, 1939 with Hitler’s invasion of Poland, formally starting World War II.  Many Americans, led by Charles Lindberg and other vocal isolationists, insisted that America should stay out of the troubles in Europe and focus on our own economic challenges.  While most remember December 7, 1941, as the day that got America into the war, it was actually December 11 – the day that Hitler declared war on the U.S. and Russia.  That gave President Roosevelt the clear justification to actively enter the war.  The disastrous unemployment of The Great Depression was “solved” with the massive ramp-up of industrial production to support the war effort, which put Americans back to work (although the war killed 60-80 million people worldwide.

1950 to 1960 — “Stability, The Cold War, and Prosperity … for Most of Us

Looking back as someone born in 1950 into a middle-class community, the Fifties was a period of stability and order, a large-scale expansion of the American middle class, and the re-establishment of a calm and mostly prosperous domestic life for much of America that hadn’t really been seen since the start of the century.  A new brand of celebrities like Allen Ginsberg and Maynard G. Krebs introduced Americans to the new vocabulary of “The Beat Generation.”  But …

The Cold War started. It began with the Berlin blockade on June 24, 1948, or maybe with the establishment of NATO on April 4, 1950, or perhaps with Joseph McCarthy’s “Wheeling” speech on February 9, 1950.   Domestically, the uneven (mostly white) prosperity of the Fifties, coupled with the return to ghettos of many returning U.S. soldiers, the Fifties surely germinated the seeds of the turmoil that burst forth in the next decade.

1960 to 1970 — “The Age of Aquarius”

The Sixties began with a sense of optimism and inspiration epitomized by the election of an eloquent and youthful president, but those hopes were dashed dramatically on November 22, 1963. While the polarization, cynicism, and youth rebellion often associated with the Sixties is traced back by many to the Kennedy assassination, the Era of Rock and Roll as well as much of the colorful wildness and anti-establishment post-Woodstock psychedelia and self-actualization associated with the the Sixties really didn’t come into full flower until the early 1970s.  In the middle of the decade, discontent among those who did not benefit from the prosperous “normal” of the Fifties (i.e., African Americans) erupted violently in cities all across America as a reaction against brutal racism and income inequality.  Others marched in the streets to protest a war that those who grew up in the Fifties did not understand; once they did understand it, they liked it even less.  THAT Sixties was not colorful, prosperous, or peaceful (and 50,000 U.S. soldiers did not come home from that new war).

1970 to 1980 — “The Me Decade”

The Seventies really began on June 17, 1973, even though few people noticed at the time. Five associates of the Committee to Re-Elect the President (yes, known as CREEP) were apprehended while breaking into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in the Watergate office complex in Washington D.C.  In spite of efforts by the president to “make one thing perfectly clear,” one thing led to another and introduced some enduring phrases into the American lexicon: “The Plumbers Unit,” “The people need to know that their president is not a crook,” articles of impeachment, a resignation, and, perhaps most lastingly, the suffix “-gate.”  Some would argue that American politics would never be the same.  Others argued that “the same” was exactly what it was … and continued to be.

1980 to 1990 — “The Beginning of Fact-Free American Politics”

The Eighties began on January 20, 1981, minutes after the presidency had passed from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan and Iran released the 52 Americans who had been held hostage for 444 days. The decade that followed featured the distortion of American conservatism, from a moderate notion of limited government (actually practiced by Republicans from the 1950s through the era of Watergate) to the excessive expansion of government under the Reagan administration. (Surprised? Look up the numbers – highest Federal budgets per GDP, most Federal employees in history, widespread international intervention, etc.). And all of this took place amid the simultaneous “Small-Government” rhetoric of…well…Ronald Reagan.

1990 to 2000 — “The Best Decade Ever” (so reported by the WSJ and the NYT)

The Nineties were characterized by the rise of multiculturalism, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the spread of capitalism in that vacuum. In American politics, the Nineties were dominated by a battle between the centrism of the Clinton administration and the politics of personal destruction perfected by the other party, later named RINO by the fictional Will McAvoy of Newsnight (for “Republican In Name Only”). The American economy grew at a strong 4%, median household income rose by 10%, the poverty rate fell from 15% to 11%, the U.S. murder rate declined by 41%, the federal government ended the decade with a budget surplus, the Stock Market quadrupled in value, and the wearing of neckties in offices began to diminish.  But,

On the world stage, wars broke out in the Congo, the Persian Gulf, Chechnya (twice), Kashmir, Kosovo, Yugoslavia, Croatia, and Bosnia, to name only a few, and a host of civil wars redrew maps on at least two continents.  However, apartheid in South Africa came to an end.  The Nineties also featured an unprecedented explosion of the Internet and computer technology (although these advances were soon to be dwarfed by a greater explosion of the Internet and computer technology just around the corner).

2000 to 2010 — “The Rise of Terrorism and The Great Recession ”

The Oughts, the first decade of the 21st century was initiated by the arrival of large-scale terrorism on American soil. This heinous crime was followed by a panicked attempt to combat terrorism through the dismantlement of civil liberties at home and a misdirected military response against a country and a dictator who had nothing to do with 9/11.

Oh, yes, the U.S. had a historic period of anti-intellectualism, manifest in the depletion of education budgets and leadership of a president “misunderestimated” for his lack of interest in intellect, let alone possession of it (stimulating an all-but-forgotten quote from Garrison Keillor: “Who needs a fifty-dollar haircut on a fifty-cent head?”).

The housing finance and stock market investment disaster during the Dubya era sent the U.S. economy into a tailspin.  Recession and unemployment were stopped just short of a Depression by an infusion of fiscal stimulus and government regulation (who wouldda thunk it?).

2010 to 2020 — “Whah?”

Well, that brings us to the present decade, of which we stand approximately in the middle and the question that I started with:
•  What should we name this decade?  More precisely, what are we likely to call it when this decade is done? So, let’s explore what we know about this current decade, so far.

The ?????   

  • The West’s war against terrorism becomes terrorism’s war against The West.
  • The end of “carefree” in America and the avoidance of crowds.
  • A generalized paranoia, growing gun ownership, and gun violence.
  • A gradual, but dramatically uneven increase in prosperity.
  • A decline in the power of labor unions and a decrease in the size of the middle class.
  • The re-emergence of racial tension, especially between minorities and law enforcement.
  • The maturing of “Fact-Free Politics” and the trend toward “voting against” in which nobody believes fully in the available choices.

•  I invite you, dear reader, to send us your suggestions.  What should we call this decade we inhabit today?  I am interested in your ideas.  DS_logo

Download a PDF of this post:  convivio_decades_sept2016_final

For fun, below is an added bonus for those who, like me, identify decades with music …

The Soundtracks of the Decades
(The most popular songs listed on U.S. Billboard)

The Tens:
When You Were Sweet Sixteen (1900)
Stars & Stripes Forever (1901)
Bill Bailey (Won’t You Please Come Home) (1902)
In the Good Old Summer Time (1903)
Sweet Adeline (1904)
Give My Regards to Broadway (1905)
Yankee Doodle (1905)
Auld Lang Syne (1907)
My Gal Sal (1907)
Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1908)
I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now (1909)
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (1909)

The Teens:
Let Me Call You Sweetheart (1910)
By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1910)
Alexander’s Ragtime band (1911)
When Irish Eyes Are Smiling (1913)
By the Beautiful Sea (1914)
Carry Me Back to Old Virginney (1915)
I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier (1915)
O Sole Mio (My Sunshine) (1916, Enrico Caruso
Over There (1917)
For Me and My Gal (1917)
Rock-A-Bye Your Baby (With a Dixie Melody) (1918)
I’m Always Chasing Rainbows (1918)

The Twenties:
Swanee (1920, Al Jolson)
My Man (1922, Fannie Brice)
Yes! We Have No Bananas (1923)
Rhapsody in Blue (1924. George Gerschwin)
California, Here I Come (1924, Al Jolson)
Sweet Georgia Brown (1925)
Ain’t She Sweet? (1927)
Stardust (1927, Hoagy Carmicheal)
Ol’ Man River (1928)
Mack the Knife (1928)
Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1929)
Tip Toe Thru’ The Tulips With Me (1929)

The Thirties:
Happy Days Are Here Again (1930)
Dream a Little Dream of Me (1931)
It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) (1932, Duke Ellington)
Stormy Weather (Keeps Rainin’ All the Time) (1933)
Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? (1932, Bing Crosby, others)
On The Good Ship Lollipop (1935, Shirley Temple)
Summertime (1936, Billie Holiday)
They Can’t Take That Away From Me 1937, Fred Astair)
Blue Moon (1935)
Sing, Sing, Sing (With A Swing) (1937, Benny Goodman)
September in the Rain (1937)
Thanks For the Memory (1938, Bob Hope and Shirley Ross)
Over the Rainbow  (1939, Judy Garland)
God Bless America (1939, Kate Smith)
Back in the Saddle Again (1939, Gene Autry)

The Forties:
When You Wish Upon a Star (1940)
In the Mood (1940, Glenn Miller)
Blues in the Night (1942)
White Christmas (1942, Bing Crosby)
As Time Goes By (1943)
Don’t Fence Me In (1944, Bing Crosby)
This Land is Your Land (1944, Woodie Guthrie)
The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) (1946, Nat King Cole)
Some Enchanted Evening (1949, {Perry Como)
All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth (1949 Spike Jones)
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1949, Gene Autry)
La Vie En Rose (1949, Edith Piaf)

The Fifties:
How Much Is That Doggie in the Window (1953, Patti Page)
Mister Sandman (1954, The Chordettes)
Sh-Boom (Life Could Be a Dream) (1954, The Crew-Cuts)
Three Coins in the Fountain (1954, Four Aces)
Mambo Italiano (1954, Rosemary Clooney, yep George’s mom)
Stranger in Paradise (1954, Tony Bennett)
Sixteen Tons (1955, Tennessee Ernie Ford)
Rock Around the Clock
(1955)
Heartbreak Hotel, All Shook Up, Hound Dog, Don’t Be Cruel (1956, Elvis Presley)
Que sera sera (Whatever will be will be) (1956, Doris Day)
At the Hop (1957)
It’s All in the Game (1958, Tommy Edwards)
Johnny B Goode (1958, Chuck Berry)
All I Have to Do is Dream (1958, Everly Brothers)
Venus (1959, Frankie Avalon)

The Sixties, Seventies, Eighties, Nineties, Oughts, etc
YOU KNOW THESE, DON’T YOU?

For a these songs and more – check out: http://tsort.info/music/ds1930.htm

Click here to download a PDF of this post:    ConVivio_Decades_SEPT2016_FINAL

 

Grace

Postcard_Grace_2015

I do not understand the mystery of grace
— only that it meets us where we are
but does not leave us where it found us.”

                                                      — Ann Lamott


Seeking Harmony in a Tradition of Grace

On Saturday, December 12, Gretta and I continued our nineteen-year tradition by attending “A Cathedral Christmas.”  It is an annual Christmas concert of the Men’s and Boy’s Chorus, orchestra, and pipe organ, at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

For us, the tradition is in the music — for the music is truly magnificent. Usually, the concert focuses on two principal themes:
1) the joy associated with the birth of The Child — represented by well-known Christmas carols in the first and third segments of the performance — and
2) the peacefulness settling over the ‘Holy Land’ and the world, associated with the hope for peace that The Child would bring – represented by classic choral and orchestral music performed with sweetness and passion in the concert’s middle segment.
The signature piece of the Grace Cathedral Music Ministry has always been a tune called “Sleeps Judea Fair,” by Hugh MacKinnon.  Gretta and I always look forward to this tune, in the middle segment of the concert, as the highlight of the season. The lyrics and the slow, soft harmony of the voices recreate the joy and peace associated with the season.

Sleeps_Judea_Fair_lyrics

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Settling into our usual seats on the aisle of Row S, at the acoustic center of the cathedral — one of America’s premier acoustical rooms — the stained-glass figures of the saints all around the cathedral, contributed to the warmth, peace, and harmony that we, and they expected. I opened the printed program to read the list of musical pieces.  I had to study it several times before I realized that “Sleeps Judea Fair” was NOT listed.

It was NOT listed!

“What’s that about?!” I said out loud. As the choir emerged to begin the concert, I said to Gretta, “I’m surprised just how distressed I feel that it’s missing.”

“Me, too” she said.

The first segment of the concert contained the familiar choral pieces we had come to expect – like John Rutter’s The Holly and the Ivy — and others we all recognize. When the Men’s and Boys’ chorus left the altar for an intermission, a lively string quartet created a clever medley of carols interspersed within Bach’s Brandenberg Concerto #3.

Then, after applause for the quartet, the singers and the organist returned for the middle portion of the program, the segment that traditionally conveys the message of peace and serenity culminating in their signature piece, “Sleeps Judea Fair.”  But, since that piece was not listed in the program, we weren’t sure what to expect.

What followed was a shock. The three pieces in this segment featured, from beginning to end, harsh spasmodic cascades of unresolved dissonance, typical of the more unsettling 20th century compositions.  The last of these, clearly difficult to perform, included a few moments that sounded like small eruptions of harmony attempting to make themselves heard above the all-encompassing harshness, only to be musically shouted down and drowned out by the grating dissonance, ending without resolution. The faces of the saints in the stained-glass windows seemed to show the strain, their colors pale in the fading light. Then, in the final segment, the sing-along tunes like “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” completed the program, as always.  As Gretta and I attempted to sing along after the jarring experience of the middle segment, I realized what they had done.  I said to Gretta, “I get it.”

It was a harsh message: there is no peace and harmony this Christmas season — not in the city, not in America, not across the world, and certainly not in Judea and the countries that surround it in the Middle East. The choir could not sing their signature piece, “Sleeps Judea Fair,” because the message would have been a false one.

I get it.  I don’t like it, but I get it.  We are being instructed to look harder for peace and harmony — and, finding none, create some ourselves.

Looking for Moments of Grace in a Grim Year

As we walked out of the cathedral on that beautiful December evening, humanity being what it is, our world remained a place of suffering and danger. I certainly didn’t have to look far to find many sources of harshness and struggle.

  • Suffering and terror emanate from in the Middle East (yes, even ancient Judea) and have spread across the world in the form of war and poverty.
  • The US continues to be plagued by gunfire — gunfire enabled by American leaders, local and national, determined to keep as many guns in the hands of as many people as possible.
  • Our “tough-guy” politics is demonstrating its penchant for keeping us fearful and divided and promises to get louder and cruder in the heat of a presidential race.
  • While unemployment has declined, under-employment and low wages are increasing across a shrinking middle class in America.
  • Individuals with dark skin or who speak with foreign accents or in foreign languages are made to feel increasingly unwelcome or, worse, in danger in their own neighborhoods.
  • In our cities, an increasing number of homeless individuals and families, who have dropped out of the middle class, are no longer looking for work, just struggling to find help — some sitting on street corners here on Nob Hill hoping for a few bills dropped in their basket by people emerging from expensive holiday concerts.

Looking around at all of this, we can find plenty of reasons to be discouraged. But Americans have often defied logic and looked around for moments of grace during hard times.

Christmas_Full_Moon_2015

 

Looking at the sky on Christmas Eve, while some were hoping for a glimpse of Santa Claus, a rare Christmas full moon provided me with moments of willful optimism. I asked myself, “Can I  look up at the brightness, tune out the rancor, and find reasons to believe in humanity’s better attributes: humility, conciliation, kindness, dignity, reason?

 

 

 

But, you know, if we look, there are hopeful signs everywhere, right down here on the surface:

  • World leaders met in Paris this past month to reach an agreement that may yet stop our steady march toward an uninhabitable planet. The agreement offers our “last best hope” for meaningful global action to avert catastrophic climate change; and 195 countries promised to grab it. Can we succeed with so many industrial-strength forces working against us?
    Can we?
  • Pope Francis, naming himself after an Italian saint with a message of humility and peace, chose to visit the Americas and shine a mass-media spotlight on that message. He challenged the wealthy and powerful (including Congress) in the name of the poor and the weak.
    Pope_Little_Girl

    He prayed at ground zero and hugged a little girl who jumped a fence to approach his motorcade in Washington. Francis set a very public example of welcome for children, immigrants, the forgotten — asking us to follow.
    Can we?

  • Tens of thousands of refugees who fled their homes to escape the catastrophe in Syria found open doors and hearts in Germany and elsewhere. The response from some other nations continues to be fearful and inadequate, but the Germans sent a message to all of us that rebukes nationalist bigotry, defends human rights, and reminds countries like the US how to confront a humanitarian emergency. How long can they sustain it?  In our own neighborhood, Canada has begun to follow the German example and may be teaching us how to respond as fellow humans. Is the challenge too big? Can we care for others on such a large scale?
    Can we?
  • This year, the US Supreme Court affirmed the marriage rights of same-sex couples who had been denied equal treatment under the law. Can our society accept them?
    Can we?
  • A bipartisan movement for criminal justice reform advanced in small steps, despite our ugly politics, asking “Can we find alternatives to mass incarceration and reduce the forces that sent so many Americans to prison?”
    Can we?
  • In neighborhoods long scarred by discrimination and police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement spread a message of peaceable resistance. It is the method of that resistance that offers hope. Those small moments of progress are encouraging a similar struggle for a living wage for the lowest-paid workers in our prosperous land in a campaign for a $15 minimum wage.  Small successes are emerging. Can we broaden those efforts across our workforce?
    Can we?
  • Dozens of states and cities, resisting vocal opposition, passed laws expanding rights and inclusion for undocumented immigrants, through driver’s licenses, legal services, and health care. Here in January, California has become the first state to forbid discrimination based on immigration status, language, or citizenship.  Can we expand these moments of progress?
    Can we?

In addition to these more visible, public efforts, some individuals led by example, opposing hatred and fear with compassion and courage in their own neighborhoods.

  • Some Parisians opened their homes to strangers on the night of terrifying slaughter there.
  • After a gunman’s rampage at an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., victims’ families publicly forgave the killer. The mayor said “A hateful person came to this community with some crazy idea he’d be able to divide us, but all he did was unite us and make us love each other even more.” President Obama sang a song (not among his core skills) at that South Carolina church — Amazing Grace. The congregation stood up and joined him and, a few days later, the Confederate battle flag came down at the South Carolina State Capitol. It was a symbol of a distinct piece of our American character that we cannot deny. Can we bring down more than just the symbols?
    Can we?

Evil is everywhere; and anger and hatred are loud.  The shouting and the dissonance can drown out the quiet voices and the moments of harmony, even in Grace Cathedral. Tragedy and disaster can block our view of goodness. Yes, it can. And yet, there are signs of progress toward a better future. We need to look carefully for those signs, or we may miss them.  Better yet, can we create more of those signs of progress for others to see?

Can We?

After seven years, I haven’t forgotten the words, “Yes, we can.”

But, as I look at the state of the nation and the world here at the start of 2016, it is clear that the “We” in that optimistic phrase has not been enough.  Could it be that the era of reliance on “We” is coming to an end?  Perhaps it must begin with “Yes, I can.”

Can I?

What can I do, as an individual, to make a difference?  Since “grace” does not seem to be emerging from the “We” of national and international institutions, I suppose it is going to have to begin with me.

But How?  I suppose there are lots of options. What do I need to do?

Maybe I can start by contributing to organizations that do the work I can’t do on my own — some of our favorites: Planned Parenthood, Reach Out and Read, Boys and Girls Clubs, Sierra Club, Yosemite Conservancy, Valley Humane Society, American Civil Liberties Union, KQED, The Kidney Foundation, Hillary for America.   All are hopeful efforts.

It’s not enough; but it’s a start.

Download a PDF of this post:   Grace_Dec15_ConVivio_Jan9_2016_v2

Music: Greatest Songs of All Time — A Challenge

Postcard_Abbey_Road

Abbey Road, London, UK — Many of us, young and old, associate pieces of music with the most important aspects of who we are. A few years ago, some of us tried an exercise that turned out to be very interesting.  It started when I was asked to list my choices for the Top Five GREATEST SONGS OF ALL TIME. As I made my list, I learned a few things right away:

1. I discovered that there were at least 15 songs that I couldn’t drop from my TOP FIVE list
2. I learned that “All Time” is a very long time.
3. I decided that “songs” had to include a few longer pieces of music not normally called songs.

SO, today I am challenging you (yes, YOU) to create your own “All Time” list.  My challenge is to submit a response to this post that answers three questions:

1. What is your list of the twenty GREATEST SONGS OF ALL TIME?
2. What is wrong with your list?
3. What makes your list excellent?

If you will send your answers as a response (click on the link at the end of this post) I will publish them here (with first names or nicknames only). I hope you will accept the challenge. We’ll see what conclusions we can draw from our lists.

I have started the ball rolling with my own.

My Twenty Greatest Songs of All Time

1.  Here Comes the Sun — Beatles
(This whole side of Abbey Road IS this song)
2.  The Perfect Time to Be In Love — T. Jones and H. Schmidt
(from The Fantasticks, 30th Anniversary Tour) *
3.  Me and Bobby McGee — Janis Joplin
4.  Sing! Sing! Sing! — Benny Goodman
5.  Watching the Wheels — John Lennon
6.  Things We Said Today — The Beatles
7.  Sleeps Judea Fair — Hugh McKinnon (as sung by Grace Cathedral’s Men’s/Boy’s Chorus)
8.  (It’s Not That Easy Being) Green — Kermit The Frog and Frank Sinatra
9.  One For My Baby, and One More for the Road — Frank Sinatra
10. Such A Night — Elvis Presley
11. Hope of Deliverance — Paul McCartney
12. Prelude and Fugue in A Minor — Johann Sebastian Bach (as performed by E. Power Biggs)
13. Cantata No. 140: Sleepers Awake (Wachet Auf, choral version) — Johann Sebastian Bach
14. Rhapsody in Blue — George Gershwin
15. Three’s A Crowd — Dave Brubeck
16. Cakewalk Into Town — Taj Mahal
17. Chantily Lace — The Big Bopper
18. When You’re The Best There Is — Chuck Mangione
19. American Pie — Don McLean
20. Maybe I’m Amazed — Paul McCartney

What’s wrong with my list?

  • Only one from Elvis
  • Only two from Sinatra

    DAN_ABBEY_ROAD_CROSSWALK

    Dan Crossing Abbey Road

  • Only one Broadway show tune
  • No Moody Blues (John, can you fix that?)
  • No Bob Dylan (but how many would it take?)
  • No John Mayor and no Pearl Jam (but it’s early and “All Time” is a very long time)
  • No Peter, Paul, and Mary (inexcusable!)
  • Richie Havens is missing!

What makes my list excellent?

  • The Beatles are at the beginning, middle and end (although some claim that the first 126 songs should be Beatles — Jody?)
  • JS Bach is represented with both organ and choral pieces
  • Athletic achievement is well represented with the Mangione piece
  • The Fantasticks is second only to Abbey Road (representing dozens of Broadway tunes that should be listed)
  • American Pie serves as a summary and represents some missing artists (Dylan, Stones, Buddy Holley  . . . )
  • No disco.

What do you think? Please click on “Comments” below and paste in your answers.

I can hardly wait to see YOUR lists.     DS_logo

*   You wonder how these things begin. Well, this begins with a glen. It begins with a season which, for want of a better word we may as well call- September. It begins in a forest where the woodchucks woo, and the leaves wax green, and vines intertwine like lovers; try to see it. not with your eyes, for they are wise, but see it with your ears: the cool green breathing of the leaves. And hear it with the inside of your hand: the soundless sound of shadows flicking light. Celebrate sensation. Recall that secret place. You’ve been there, you remember: That special place where once- Just once- in your crowded sunlit lifetime, you hid away in shadow from the tyranny of time. That spot beside the clover where someone’s hand held your hand and love was sweeter than the berries, or the honey, or the stinging taste of mint. It is September- before a rainfall- a perfect time to be in love.

— El Gallo, The Fantasticks