Monday, October 31, 2016

Spam Roundup October, 2016

There's spam, and then there's spam so oddly written it's somewhat amusing. Here's a roundup of some of the "best" comments I received this month from spambots around the world. 


Relevance optional

 - At which point I was fully healed for a year now cause I can't find any support for the measure. [If you can't find any support, suppose we just table your comment.]

 - What's taking place I'm new to this. I found it absolutely helpful and it has helped me out loads. [Yes, but did it help?]

 - Thank you for some other informative web site. [Um, sure. Give them my regards when you get there.]


Not sure I'd call this "quality contents."
Lumbering along through the comments

It was a small post in an obscure series about vintage Japanese tin toys. And it wasn't even that insightful

But The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along still draws the spambots somehow. Even though Part 22 and Part 24 continue to be ignored.

 - If you are going for most excellent contents like myself, just pay a quick visit to this site every day since it offers quality contents. ["excellent contents like myself?" You impress easily.]

 - Extremely useful information specially the last part :) I deal with such information a lot. [You do? Your life must be very sad, indeed.]

 - WOW just what I was looking for. Came here by searching for comb thru texturizer. [WOW that is the non-est nonsequiter we've had to date.]


The Return of Fastidious Spam

My post on Fastidious Spam continues to draw comments that, being from spambots, are completely unaware of the irony. 

 - I am sure this post as touched all the internet view, its really really fastidious piece of writing [Oh I really, really agree.]

 - fantastic post, very informative. I'm wondering why other specialists of this sector don't realize this. [I never thought of myself as a specialist of the fastidious before.]

 - Hello, this weekend is fastidious in support of me. For the reason that this point in time I am reading this wonderful informative paragraph here at home. [Oh please -- all my paragraphs are wonderful!]

That's all for this month Remember, if you're touching all the internet view, make sure it's not Bad Touching. And if you ever do find some other informative site by visiting here, please let me know. I want a finder's fee for their traffic.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 025 Garden Fence

I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

025 - Garden fence

The garden fence was the most difficult build to date. Setting the dowels in the steel base was easy. But then getting all five to line up and stay lined up to thread through the first one and then a second cross brace was hard.

Those little fiberboard collars don't hold the dowels all that securely,  so working the braces carefully through the dowels one at a time took patience, as well as several attempts.

When it was finished, though, the fence was quite sturdy. If I didn't pick it up. Then the base fell off.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Lessons from York: What We Didn't See: Variety

Dream on, kid. There was no Dorfan
to be found at this show.
Dad and I recently returned from our semi-annual trip to the Train Collectors Association (TCA) Eastern Division toy train meet in York, PA. This is the largest such show in the United States and provides an interesting snapshot of the state of the hobby. 

It can also hint at the current state of collecting in general. As is our tradition, we spent a lot of time discussing what we saw a lot of (and what we didn't) -- and more importantly, the reasons behind them.

An amazing compendium

This particular event has a decades-long history, enjoying continual growth (some years dramatically) up through the early 2000s. When I first started attending, it was a veritable bazaar of all things toy trains. All the major manufacturers have represented -- Lionel, American Flyer, and Marx -- as well as the second tier toy companies that had fallen by the wayside, such as Ives, Dorfan, and Kusan. You could also find toy trains from all eras, from the 1910s up through the present.

Naturally, the very rare and/or very expensive items were not on as many tables as the more commonplace toy trains. But if you went through the entire show, you could pretty much see first-hand an example of pretty much every line offered by every company.

Lionel's top-of-the-line trains and accessories from 1928. Most were
MIA for this show.

A substantial imbalance

The mix was always slightly different, which is what this series has been about -- trying to determine the reasons behind the ebb and flow of an item's availability. This show had its standout items, but as I explained in yesterday's post (What We Saw) there was a serious imbalance. Rather than there being a wide variety of eras and brands with a few things seemingly more plentiful, this time there were eras and brands that were ubiquitous, and some that weren't there at all.

Big, beautiful Lionel postwar 0-gauge sets. Those F3s were
everywhere a few years ago --almost non-existant at this show. 

Where's the good stuff?

I think the same theory explains what we saw and what we didn't. The graying of the toy train collector population means more estate liquidations and more downsizing. Most collections that are part of estates are handled by auction houses. And that makes sense. Heirs with no knowledge or interest in toy trains can simply let the auction house collect it all and liquidate it. If the heirs do their homework, they'll place the items with a house specializing in vintage toys. And notices from those houses I see with increasing frequency, announcing the sale of another "legendary" collection.

Those super-collections don't show up at the dealer tables at York. But what does show up are the results of gradual downsizing -- particularly for said dealers. When anyone downsizes, they discard the least valuable and desirable, and just keep a few valuable items.

At York, we didn't see many valuable items. No top-of-the-line standard gauge sets, desirable both for the quality of their craftsmanship and their rarity; no "girl's train," Lionel's Edsel; very few postwar Lionel GG1s, Santa Fe streamliners, Trainmasters, and other extremely popular trains and accessories; nothing above mid-level products. And usually, the more desirable a piece was in the overall hierarchy, the worse it's condition.

Lionel's Girl's Train (top) was a really bad idea that didn't sell well.
It's rarity and kitsch appeal makes it valuable today -- but a no-show at this show.

Conclusion

Most of what we saw were trains in the low to mid-range of collectability -- the very part of a collection that's easiest to let go. And the more collectible pieces we saw were in average or below average condition. If you've upgraded, then you'd want to get rid of those pieces. My personal theory is that if you have extremely limited display room, you're not going to waste it on scratched or rusty toys. So even if they're of higher collectability, if you don't have the shelf space, they've got to go.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Lessons from York: What We Saw: Low-end unloading

Dad and I recently returned from our semi-annual trip to the Train Collectors Association (TCA) Eastern Division toy train meet in York, PA. This is the largest such show in the United States and provides an interesting snapshot of the state of the hobby. 

It can also hint at the current state of collecting in general. As is our tradition, we spent a lot of time discussing what we saw a lot of (and what we didn't) -- and more importantly, the reasons behind them.

A question of imbalance

In the past, this series has talked about what we saw a lot of and what we saw almost none of -- but it was set against the context that of a wide variety of choices. So even if everyone had Madison cars (as they did in 2011), or Lionel diesels from the 1950s (2015), if you looked long enough, you could find an early 1900s Ives piece, or a 1950s Kusan train. Big-ticket items such as a 1929 Lionel State Set wouldn't be on every table, but there would two or three (or a few more) scattered throughout the halls.

This time, though, the variety was missing. We saw a lot of two things, and only a smattering of anything else.

Price matters

With rare exceptions, for toy trains desirability pretty much follows original pricing. Top of the line train sets tends to remain the most desirable and command the highest prices. Mid-priced trains tend to be common in collections -- they were made in greater quantities than the high-end trains, and remain more affordable and therefore easy to acquire.

Low-end trains usually sold the best, and so were made in the largest quantities. Their lower quality, though, meant that they don't hold up as well as mid-level trains. Top tier sets, because of their expense, were usually handled very carefully (many only run under the Christmas tree once yearly). If you wanted to play train wreck, it was the low-price trains you did it with.

We saw a lot of these Lionel ten series standard gauge freight cars.
None were in as good a condition as these -- and priced accordingly.

So many low-end trains didn't survive. Those that did usually have condition issues. That makes mint examples of these entry-level trains somewhat desirable. But they're still low-end trains with a limited appeal so that extra value isn't very high.

Low-end Prewar

There were a lot of prewar (before WWII) trains available. We saw O-gauge trains and the larger-scale standard gauge trains from the major toy companies. And they all had one thing in common -- they were all from the lower end of the collecting scale. We saw the bottom-of-the-line sets from Lionel and American Flyer, as well as some others. There were lots of locomotives and rolling stock, but not a lot of accessories (such as stations, signal posts, and lights).

Lionel Junior was created to compete with Marx (see below) at the same
price point. We saw a lot of this at the show.


It was the type of items I'd choose to get rid of if I was downsizing a prewar toy train collection. Remember, most toy collecting is nostalgic -- we want the toys of our youth. Collectors who were youths in the 1930s are in their 80s. If you can only keep some of your collection, you'll want to hold on the best of the best. And what we saw at York was the rest.

All very reasonably priced, and most of it in fair to good condition. Even low-end trains have their fans -- but they're probably holding on the near-mint examples. If you wanted to start a prewar collection, this would have been the show for you -- most every table had some entry-level items.

When Santa couldn't afford Lionel, he went with Marx.
Postwar Marx

Louis Marx and Co. were always the low-price alternatives in the toy train field. They mimicked the offerings of Lionel and American Flyer with the product sold at a fraction of the price. Marx trains have a certain appeal -- they're elaborately lithographed with bright, bold colors and plenty of detail. They're fun toy trains, but they're still cheaply made, and still run third in popularity behind Lionel and American Flyer. You dreamed of Lionel -- but often Marx was what you got instead.

This show we saw a lot of Marx postwar trains. And I think it was also a symptom of downsizing and liquidation. None of it is very valuable, and all of it takes up space. Even if you were a dedicated Marx collector, these were the items you could live without. We saw table after table of the most commonplace engines and freight cars.

Again, if you were just starting out collecting Marx, this would have been a great show. But I wonder. It seems to me that prewar toy trains and postwar Marx are areas of the hobby more people are transitioning out of rather than into. And that makes me wonder how many of the things we saw this year were packed up and taken back home unsold.

Tomorrow: What we didn't' see

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Pearls Before Swine Grief Counselling

This Pearls Before Swine strip ran May 15, 2016.  Since the humor in this sequence depends on the element of surprise,


I reserved my comments until after the reveal because that's where the payoff is. All the information we get beforehand - cruel treatment, depression, lost love -- pop into place once we see that it's Charlie Brown.

The last panel has all the comedic gold.

"Good grief, Charlie Brown" in the Peanuts strip is an expression of exasparation (as in, "Good grief, Charlie Brown, you're such a blockhead!") Goat's delivery would have been different, as he was stating a discovery. "Good grief, [it's] Charlie Brown."

Charlie Brown's comment about middle age is an understatement. Peanuts started in 1950, with the apparent age of the characters being 6. So in 2016, Charlie Brown would either be 70 (his presumed real age), or 64 (from the start of the strip). "Middle age," indeed!

As a coda, Rat brings in an old Peanuts trope in keeping with his cruel nature (and perhaps in the process pointing out the inherent cruelty in the original running gag). Another masterwork from Stephan Pastis.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Diabelli Project 131 - Duet for Violin and Percussion, Mvt. 2

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme, these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

Last week I expanded the scope of the Diabelli Project a little bit. The basic rules are still the same -- create a flash composition in ten minutes. But, at least for the immediate future, I'm going to be working with the same grouping - violin and percussion. Last week, my sketch made a credible opening movement (as far as I completed it).

This week, rather than just sit down and write the first thing that popped into my head, I started with the assumption that this would be the second movement. Still violin and percussion, but something slower and more lyrical. The nice thing about percussion is that it encompasses many different instruments and timbres. So the two movements have some dramatic contrasts in sound.



As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

The Duet for Violin and Percussion:
Movement 1 - Allegro
Movement 2 - Adagio
Movement 3 - Vivace
Movement 4 - Adagio

Friday, October 21, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 024 Hammer, handle, and rake

I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

024 - Hammer, handle, and rake

This is an interesting set of tools. In the instruction sheet, the three were grouped together the same way the stamper, wind wheel and fork (Nos. 21-23) were. Those three tools were each assigned a number  -- these three received a single number. There's a practical reason. You can't make the stamper, wind wheel, and fork at the same time -- there are only two wooden collars for the three handles.

For this set, the provided pieces can assemble all three. So I'm assuming that's why they're grouped.

The hammer reminded me somewhat of Thor's (as drawn by Jack Kirby). I didn't know quite what to make of the middle toy, called the handle. Handle for what? To me, it looked more like some type of martial arts training staff.

Construction of the three tools was mostly easy. Joining the two dowels with the wooden sleeve was a little tricky, but otherwise, it was smooth sailing. And the finished toys held together pretty well.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Discoveries

Ralph Vaughan Williams is one of my favorite composers. For me, then, Discoveries is a delight -- and an aptly named one. The works on this album all emerge from the obscure corners of Vaughan Williams' catalog.

Though there's very little "pure" RVW here (almost every work is either an arrangement or orchestration), it all rings true. The origins of the works on Discoveries are fascinating, and much too convoluted to recount here -- be sure to read the liner notes if you purchase the album.

The Three Nocturnes date from RVW's orchestration studies with Ravel, and are settings of one of his favorite poets, Walt Whitman. The rich, rounded tones of Roderick Williams' baritone fit beautifully in the transparent framework of the orchestrations. I was reminded of Flos Campi or Pilgrim's Progress as I listened.

The Four Last Songs (1954) were settings of his wife's Ursula's poetry. Though parts of two uncompleted song cycles for voice and piano, Anthony Payne (who also orchestrated the Nocturnes) masterfully turned them into a grouping for mezzo-soprano and orchestra that hangs together beautifully. Jennifer Johnston's warm, creamy voice gives the songs a poignant, bittersweet quality appropriate to these autumnal works.

Adrian Williams' arrangement of music from RVW's 1927 opera The Poisoned Kiss does the world of music a service. This symphonic rhapsody, entitled A Road All Paved with Stars is 27 minutes of lush, lyrical RVW at his pastoral finest. The Poisoned Kiss is seldom performed -- this rhapsody could well rescue the music from complete obscurity.

Also included is a suite from Stricken Peninsula, a war department film. With the score missing, Philip Lane had to reconstruct the music by transcribing it from the film. As expected, the music's somewhat patriotic and inspirational in tone, but not over the top. It's simply Vaughan Williams.

An ideal lineup of forces were assembled for this recording. The BBC Symphony Orchestra and Martyn Brabbins are old hands at interpreting the music of their native son. If you're an admirer of RVW, or even English music in general, this album is worth getting.

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Discoveries
Three Nocturnes for Baritone and Orchestra (1 & III orchestrated by Anthony Payne); A Road All Paved with Stars - A Symphonic Rhapsody from the Opera "The Poisoned Kiss" (arranged by Adrian Williams); Stricken Peninsula - An Italian Rhapsody for Orchestra (reconstructed from the film by Philip Lane); Four Last Songs for Mezzo-Soprano and Orchestra (orchestrated by Anthony Payne)
Roderick Williams, baritone; Jennifer Johnston, mezzo-soprano; BBC Symphony Orchestra; Martyn Brabbins, conductor
Albion Records ALBCD028


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

William Byrd: Pescodd Time - a welcome re-issue from Alpha Classics

Pescodd Time is part of Alpha Classic's ongoing reissue series of significant early music recordings. The disc was the first recorded by harpsichordist and conductor Bertrand Cuiller and showcases his love of English renaissance music -- particularly that of William Byrd.

I don't have the original release, so I can't say if it's been remastered. But the sound quality of this 2005 release is quite good. The instruments are close-mic'd, but not overly so. I could hear the action, but rather than detract from the music, it simply added to the authenticity of the performance.

Cuiller's program includes a variety of keyboard works by Byrd. Works like the Fantasia in D minor and the In nomine IX (basically theme and variations) show the richness of Byrd's musical imagination as the melodies transform from the very simple to the beautifully ornate.

Byrd's settings of pavanes, galliards, allemandes, and courantes have a certain elegance to them. As Cuiller notes, "they don’t seem intended to be actually danced," but rather "invites us to dance and sing inwardly."

No question -- this recording was worthy of a re-release. I'm glad it's available again.

William Byrd: Pescodd Time
Bertrand Cuiller, harpsichord
Alpha Classics ALPHA 319

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Hagar's Horrible Cameo

When one comic strip character appears in another comic, it can be a lot of fun. Some artists use the cameo to comment on the source strip, some to use the cameo character as a shorthand for the punchline, and sometimes it's just to show that the characters live the world of comics.

The appearance of Hagar the Horrible in Beetle Bailey May 5, 2016, counts as a cameo.


But it was one that disappointed me. 

Having Hagar appear in Beetle Bailey makes a certain amount of sense -- there are strong connections between the strips. Mort Walker created Beetle Bailey, and later co-created Hi and Lois with Dik Browne -- who would create Hagar the Horrible. Beetle Bailey is now primarily in the hands of Greg Walker, Mort's son. Chris Browne inherited Harga from his father. Greg Walker (along with his brother Brian) and Chance Browne (another of Dik's sons) are the current Hi and Lois team. 

OK, given all the connections between the strips, a cameo seems natural. But what do they do with Hagar? Basically nothing. Corporal Yo, as a stand-in for the reader, asks "What's he doing here?" The hilarious response? "He wants to learn new fighting techniques for the Vikings!" 

Really? It's such an unimaginative gag. Hagar's a Viking likes to fight. He comes to an Army base (while traveling centuries into the future) to learn to fight better. The literalness of it all seems flat to me.

I think it would have been better had the creators played more with Hagar's character. For example, a disappointed-looking Hagar stands with sword and sack in hand. Yo asks Sarge "What's his problem?" Sarge responds, "Hagar just found out this is boot camp, not loot camp." 

I admit it's not great. But I still think it's an improvement.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Diabelli Project 130 - Duet for Violin and Percussion, Mvt. 1

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme, these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

This week I decided to stretch the goals of the Diabelli Project a bit. It's still a 10-minute flash composition piece. But rather than have each week's project be a stand-alone sketch, I'm going to see if I can think in larger terms. This week is the first movement of a duet for violin and percussion.

Next week, I'll tackle a slow second movement, and the week after that, a brisk finale. Should be fun!




As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

The Duet for Violin and Percussion:
Movement 1 - Allegro
Movement 2 - Adagio
Movement 3 - Vivace
Movement 4 - Adagio

Friday, October 14, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 023 Fork

The fork is at the far right.
I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

023 Fork

I'm guessing this is more of a pitchfork. I don't think it makes a very convincing eating utensil.

The construction as similar to that of the 022 Wind Wheel and 021 Stamper. This time, the two dowels joined by the wooden collar also held the steel crosspiece.

The outer tines are secured with collars underneath the crosspiece, as is the center tine. It allowed me to take the picture. However, if you tried to play with this fork, it would quickly fall apart. I speak from experience.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

"Up in the Air" makes Mantan Moreland fall flat

It's been a while since I've written about 1940s film star Mantan Moreland -- but I've been watching his films all along. I've always been impressed with not only how good his performances are, but how much they played against the racial stereotypes of the day.

In many films for poverty row studio Monogram Pictures, he was teamed with Frank Darro. Like Abbott and Costello, or Laurel and Hardy, the two played the same basic characters time and again. Frank was the young man always full of energy and ambition, impetuously plunging head-long into trouble (or sometimes danger).

Mantan Moreland was the level-headed one, always expressing misgivings about Frankie's ideas, and only participating reluctantly and when forced. Often such African-American characters were portrayed as lazy -- but Moreland never gave that impression. His character wasn't lazy -- he just wanted to avoid trouble. And often Frankie's hare-brained schemes worsened rather than improved his character's situations.

These are films of their times, however. Darro always addresses Mantan's character by his first name (usually Jeff, short for Jefferson). Mantan always addresses Darro as "Mister Frankie." Their characters may be friends, but they're not equals.

Mantan Moreland had been active in vaudeville before moving to pictures. He and his vaudeville partner Ben Carter brought one of their routines to the screen. Since many B pictures (such as virtually all of Monogram's output) was only screened once, popular routines could be recycled. As was the case with "Incomplete Sentences." This running gag relies on split-second timing and delivery to pull it off.


It appears in a few of Mantan's 1940s films, almost always in dialog with Carter. But then there's "Up in the Air."

This 1940 film, a murder mystery set at a radio station, is on par with other Moreland/Darro pix. The plot moves along briskly, the competent cast of character actors is doing a credible job. Moreland and Darro are playing their respective roles.

And then comes the unfortunate -- and unnecessary -- scene at 31:41. That's when Darro and Moreland audition for a spot as a comedy duo for a radio show. It's Mister Frankie's idea, of course. They do the "Incomplete Sentences" routine, with Frankie Darro speaking in "dialect." And worse yet, in blackface (so effective on the radio).



Of course, it's horribly racist, and incredibly insulting to Mantan as a performer. But it's also illuminating. Because to me, the skit falls flat. Darro just doesn't have the comedic chops to hold up his part. The timing's off, and I get the sense that the actor had to concentrate so much on delivering his lines in "dialect" that his attention to timing slipped.

I still enjoy watching Mantan Moreland perform in these old movies. But this film really brought home just how little say black actors had in Hollywood in the 1940s -- even with their own material. I can only hope things are different now.

Barney and Clyde and Lio

Meta humor in a newspaper comic strip is a rare thing. One example can brighten an entire comics page for me. So imagine my pleasure when two comic strips went meta on the same day -- August 21, 2016.

Both strips have a long history of playing with the concept of comics. I've cited Mark Tatulli's Lio in many posts. Tatulli's well established the fact that Lio knows he's living in a comic strip.



So it's not surprising that when thing go really badly, he'd op out.

Note how Tatulli treats the sequence. The biggest panel sets up the situation. The middle panel shows Lio's father looking for his missing son. The smaller panel size suggests what's to come. Tatulli's drawn the father's eyes to point us in the direction of the final panel (and payoff).

Lio does not want to go to school and does not want to be in the strip anymore. His panel is the smallest of the three, suggesting minimal participation. Even the gutter between his panel and the previous one is wider than that of the first two.

The second example is from Barney and Clyde by Gene Weingarten, Dan Weingarten & David Clark. In this case, the team uses character cameos to make their point. Frank and Ernest by Bob Thaves (now drawn and written by his son, Tom Thaves) has always been an unpretentious and unabashedly corny gag-a-day strip.


Commonplace wordplay is the norm for Frank and Ernest -- but not Barney and Clyde. Making the gag about a misplaced script allowed the Barney and Clyde team to get by with awful pun -- and stretch the gag from three panels to eight (nicely filling up a Sunday spread).

Sometimes  cameos are used for one strip to comment on another. In this case, I don't think it was a criticism of Thaves' work -- rather, just way to fill up a page, with a wink to the reader.

Two gems in one Sunday! That's why I keep subscribing.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Mohammed Fairouz - Zabur a modern masterwork

In my opinion, "Zabur" is the Britten "War Requiem" for our time. Zabur is an oratorio about war. But it doesn't focus on the politics of conflict, but rather the impact to the innocents caught in the crossfire. Its protagonist is Dawoūd (David), a poet and blogger in a clearly Middle Eastern setting.

But the work is universal in its expression. Fairouz begins the oratorio with an inarticulate wail of terror from the assembled choirs. They represent the men, women, and children huddled with Dawoūd, trying to survive an artillery barrage. Who's shelling their city is never made clear because it doesn't matter. Whether friend or foe, the explosions still kill and maim.

Najla Saïd's libretto tells how people live as best they can in the midst of constant warfare and the ever-present threat of sudden death. But this isn't an oratorio of despair. Rather, as the music unfolds, we hear the hero Dawoūd express hope and even wonder. Amidst the tragedy, he discovers beauty and grace.

Gramophone called Fairouz "a post-millennial Schubert," and with good reason. His melodies spin out effortlessly, illuminating the text and teasing out the underlying emotions in the words. Fairouz writes in what I might call a post-tonal style. Sparingly used Middle Eastern modes give the work a sense of place, but there are passages that would not be out of place in Bernstein's "Mass," or Philip Glass' "Akhnaten." And yet the voice is always uniquely that of Fairouz.

"Zabur" was commissioned by the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, performing here with the premiering forces -- the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and Indianapolis Children's Choir. The ensembles are in fine form, playing and singing with conviction and power. Michael Kelly clear, rich baritone gives Dawoūd's role the emotive power it needs. Tenor Dann Coakwell sang with equal expressiveness.

For those who want classical music be an expression of its time, "Zabur" is a work for them. And for those who prefer classical music that is timeless and universal in its expression, "Zabur" is the work for them, too. This is not pretty background music. Zabur is a work of great emotional power -- and one that needs to be heard.

Mohammed Fairouz: Zabur
Dann Cockwell, tenor; Michael Kelly, baritone
Indianapolis Symphonic Choir; Indianapolis Children's Choir; Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra; Eric Stark, conductor
Naxos 8.559803

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Lio's Diamond Mind

The characters in Lio know they live in a comic strip. Creator Mark Tatulli has shown them breaking through the panel borders many times, escaping into neighboring comic strips (or having those characters wonder into Lio). The sequence published 4/27/16 is a little different, though.



The power of this sequence comes from its ambiguity. The first panel's plain enough -- Lio paints a diamond on a wall.

But that second panel.

Tatulli regularly depicts the outdoors as he does in that second panel -- a grassy foreground strip across the bottom of the panel, and then a big white space for the sky.

So is Lio holding a string attached to a diamond painted on a wall, or between panels has that wall vanished the diamond become a kite? The simplicity of the illustration doesn't provide enough information for us to say. And that's the point.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Diabelli Project 129 - String Quartet

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme, these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

Sometimes I can get a lot done in 10 minutes. This week's flash composition lets the second violin shine for a while. What I wanted in the low strings was a rhythmic but indistinct rumble. Why 7/16 instead of 7/8? I wanted to write something that had an urgency to it, and -- at least visually -- this worked for me.






As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 022 Wind Wheel

022 - Wind Wheel
(center)
I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

022 Wind Wheel

This week we're focusing on the center of the three toys pictured at right. As I explained in the last post, separating the three would involve more Photoshop time than I was willing to put in. I think it's easy enough to see which pictured toy the assembled one resembles.

The wind wheel was basically the same as the 021 Stamper. The difference being the steel box (which now had windmill blades). Same construction, same problem. Even though I had some practice, getting the wooden collar centered between the two dowels was only marginally easier than before.



Thursday, October 06, 2016

Trio Solisti make Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff their own

Someone needs to talk to Bridge Records. It doesn't sense for them to offer these two Trio Solisti discs for the price of one. Both discs are strong enough to stand on their own merits -- and Bridge could have realized double the sales. Especially as these are all performances worth owning.

Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio in A minor was the work that let the piano trio take hold in Russia. It's a work that's been recorded many times, of course. The Trio Solisti make it one of deep personal expression. Yet they keep the emotional baggage light. In the hands of the Trio Solisti, the music's emotional, yet calm; beautiful, yet aggressive; delicate, yet forceful.

Rachmaninoff wrote his Trio élégiaque No. 2 in response to Tchaikovsky's death. He drew inspiration directly from Tchaikovski's trio. It's a somewhat somber work. The Trio Solisti play with restraint, but there's a simmering energy that's never far from the surface.

Rachmaninoff's first trio is also included. It's a single-movement student work completed in 1892. It's a piece filled with the fiery passion of youth -- and the Trio Solisti deliver every impassioned gesture with energy and precision.

As always, the Trio Solisti plays with precision and emotion. These performers are at the top of their game, and it makes their readings of these works both thrilling and enlightening to listen to.

Pairing these two discs together doesn't make good economic sense, but it does aesthetically. If you listen to Tchaikovsky's piano trio and follow it with Rachmaninoff's memorial trio, connections become clearer. It seems Bridge knew what it was doing all along.

Trio Solisti: Tchaikovsky & Rachmaninoff
Tchaikovsky: Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50
Rachmaninoff: Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G minor (1892); Trio élégiaque No. 2 in D minor, Op. 9 Bridge Records 9465A/B 2 discs for the price of 1

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

#BachaDay 2016

Are you on Twitter -- and love classical music? Then you should know about the #BachaDay hashtag. For the month of October, we'll be using that hashtag to share the music of Bach -- or rather, Bachs.

Tag JS Bach (at the keyboard), or any of his composer sons with #BachaDay

If you have a favorite work/performance/arrangement of Bach's, then just say so and use the hashtag. If you can also provide a link to the work/performance/arrangement, even better.

Most #BachaDay tweets will be about Johann Sebastian Bach, of course, like this one:

#BachADay The Art of the Fugue. Glenn Gould havin' a good day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uX-5HOx2Wc …@GlennGouldFndn




Personally, I'll be going through the family tree:

For #BachaDay the cantata "Let us cast off the works of darkness" by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach



For #BachaDay I'm enjoying Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach 's Magnificat http://ht.ly/xo8j304SUgI(CPE was JS' 2nd eldest son)





Arrangements of Bach's music count for #BachaDay:

My 1st #BachADay disc is the new @MattHaimovitz Overtures to Bach. http://several-instruments.blogspot.ca/2016/08/bach-terminal-point.html




#BachADay Walt Disney + Leopold Stokowski = great animation + impressive music. This is so much fun!  https://youtu.be/z4MQ7GzE6HY



And even PDQ Bach. In fact, the month started with a riff on Bach initials (which you can find by using the hashtag).

Contribute if you like, or just check your feed once in a while to discover some great suggestions of music to check out.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Straco and the Mystery Train 2

This is a followup post to my 9/6/16 post, Straco and the Mystery Train. Some odds and ends had come up for auction on eBay, and just by comparing the photos, I guessed that they were made by the same Japanese toy company that made the Straco Express. Those particular items were priced too high for me to bid on -- but then another example became available that was within my price range (about $8.99). 

So I can at least make physical comparisons between the box cars. I think the evidence is clear: these box cars were made by the same company. 

The Straco Express box car (top) and the mystery set
box car (bottom). Identical construction and chassis lithography.
Straco Express (left), mystery train (right).
The ends were something of a surprise. There's no real reason
for a graphic redesign. All that was necessary was to change
 the red color plate to blue. Note that the couplers
are also identical. 

And here they are together. A colorful (and patriotic) pair of boxcars!
Some questions remain, of course. Who made these sets? What pieces were in the State of Maine boxcar set? Who was this mystery set made for -- was it also Fred Strauss and Co.? 

Based on this, though, I'm confident the caboose I saw in that auction is also a companion piece to the Straco Express caboose. That locomotive, though...

What's missing from this set?

Monday, October 03, 2016

Diabelli Project 128 - Brass Trio

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme, these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

When I started this week's flash composition sketch, I knew I was going to do a brass trio.  Why? Um, just felt like it. And as soon as I decided on the ensemble forces, I knew I wanted to give the French horn -- rather than the trumpet -- the lead. And ten minutes later, this was what I had.



As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.