Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Straco Layout, Part 24 - A lot of changes

Additional parking now available for our busy station.
The purpose of the Straco Express layout has changed somewhat since I started it (read more about the whole project here). The focus has shifted from just being a layout for some vintage Japanese toy trains to an operating display for Japanese toy vehicles and trains of the early 1960's.

While I'd like to get a few more vehicles to add visual interest, I don't want the roads to get too crowded. There's a fine line between an engaging display and a "kitchen sink" mishmash of clutter.

The open space next to the station seemed ripe for development -- specifically, a parking lot. (click on images to enlarge)

Unfortunately, just as in the real world, any large green
space seems ripe for development.
I originally chose to put the layout on pegboard to enhance the toy aspect, but it turned out to have another advantage. The peg holes make it very easy to do straight line designs. And the spacing just happens to work out perfectly for parking spaces.

I placed three cars on the board, and used painter's tape to make the outline of the lot. I used the same painting techniques as before (see Part 10 - Paving the Pegboard Paradise and Part 13 - White Line Fever), with model paint and paint pen.

One thing: the next time I use tape as a mask for straight lines, I'll be sure to use new tape. We've had the roll I used for years, and the adhesive just didn't do a good job -- paint seeped under it in quite a few places. I had to do some extensive touch-up work on just about every line.
 Outlining the lot was easy. The vehicles fit easily between
the peg holes.

Perhaps because the Testor's paint was thick, it didn't
get underneath the painter's tape, so I had nice clean lines.

It took a lot of work to get those white lines looking this good.
The paint ran under the tape and really made a mess.

Execution might have been  a drag, but the final result was rewarding. I can have a few more vehicles on the layout without making things look cluttered.

So what's next? I have no idea. But from now one additions will be carefully considered as the layout nears completion.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Running the Road to Recovery - 1

As I've outlined in the first post of this series, I'm working my way back to where I was in June -- able to run 3-4 miles at a decent (OK, mediocre) rate of speed. A secondary infection to my knees derailed my training. But only temporarily.

After a final round of tests and blood work, both my GP and specialists agree -- I had something, but it's going away, and we're not quite sure what it was.

So, with a clean (but somewhat puzzled) bill of health, it's time to start running again. Since it's been a while, I'm going back to the beginning of the Men's 4-Miler training program. If it seems too easy, I may skip ahead, but it seems like a good place to start.

Today was 1 minute running, 30 seconds walking for a half mile. Not too bad. It felt good running again, although some leg muscles that hadn't had to work hard in a while complained a little.

Since this is the first time I've added running to the mix, I've renamed the series, and started the chart over again.

Date Time Distance Run/Walk Rate
7/30/12 13:30 .80k 1 min./30 sec. 2.88k/h

Friday, July 27, 2012

CCC 039 - Thomas Oboe Lee

Chinese-American composer Thomas Oboe Lee is our next candidate for the Consonant Classical Challenge. Lee has written almost 150 works, including 8 symphonies, 12 concertos, 12 string quartets as well as a wide variety of vocal, choral and instrumental chamber works.

While Lee uses consonant intervals to build his harmonies, his compositions sound neither dated nor derivative. His harmonies seem suspended in air, and his melodies drift through them in an evocative and deliberate manner. This is music that invites contemplation.

Persephone and the Four Seasons (2006) for oboe and orchestra well-represents Lee's overall compositional style.

Thomas Oboe Lee is deeply interested in jazz. His website has his list of American artistic genius past and present -- included along with Charles Ives are Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Bill Evans, and many other jazz greats. Focus on Grace, Concerto for Jazz Saxophone and Orchestra (2010) demonstrates  how well Lee understands jazz, and how successfully he can incorporate it into his work.

I've heard three of Lee's symphonies, and they are all finely-crafted works that should be readily accessible to even the most hide-bound concert goer. They create their own introspective sonic worlds. Below is the fifth movement of Lee's second symphony . It seems to capture the very essence of serenity.

Thomas Oboe Lee has crafted an impressive catalog of music that's held in great esteem by chamber music performers. Why aren't his orchestral works programmed more often? I have no idea. They don't sound that technically difficult to play (but then, I'm not a conductor). His symphonies are of sufficient complexity and depth to reward the careful listener. Perhaps some adventuresome music director will take a chance. I'll keep hoping.

Recommended Recordings:
Lee: Morango... Almost a Tango

Lee: Stabat Mater

Thomas Oboe Lee: The Visconti- Sforza Tarot Cards and Other Works

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Straco Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering along

Three posts about the Straco Express layout project in a row is unprecedented  (read more about the whole project here). And it's not likely to happen again (I promise). It's just that I happened to find three vehicles on eBay all around the same time and all for a good price.

Commerce is picking up on the Straco Express layout. I recently purchased a small lumber truck to add to the display. As with the other vehicles, it was made in Japan in the 1950s’-1960’s. And like the other vehicles, it has some features that I found of interest.

The first was the quality of construction. Although the metal chassis isn’t painted, it still completely encloses the body. It has a friction drive and rubber wheels, so this is a higher-end “penny toy.”

The TN logo indicates this is a Nomura product
(click on image to enlarge)
And why is that significant? Because of the second feature -- the trademark symbol. Clearly marked on the door is a "TN" in a circle.

This is the same logo that appears on my super-cheap bare-bones police car (see The Flat Arm of the Law). So I now know that Nomura offered penny toys at different levels of quality (and I'm assuming for different price points).

The third interesting feature is the location of the friction drive – it’s in the cab. The reason it’s there is that this truck is part of a series of vehicles of similar design.

This version of the truck body explains
why the friction motor's located in th
I’ve seen this body style as a panel van – the back of the truck was simply smoothed out and squared off. I’ve also seen a flatbed version – which has no room in the back for the friction drive. Which is why it was placed in the front for all models – one size fits all.

This lumber truck a nice little piece, and it’s helped me piece together a little more background on the Nomura company.
What’s next for the project? If traffic gets any thicker, we might have to do some more paving.

Total cost for the project:

Layout construction:

  • Pegboard: $4.95
  • Flathead Screws: $0.40
  • Molding: $2.49
  • SilClear: borrowed from a friend
  • Green Paint: left over from another project
  • Wood Screws: $3.60
  • Felt Pads: $1.99
Power Pack: $5.90
Small Houses: $3.00
Testor's Gray Paint for road: $1.29
Bandai Areo Station: $8.99

  • Two Japanese toy cars: $2.00
  • A.W. Livestock truck: $4.99
  • Taxi: $2.99
  • Ambulance: $2.99
  • Two Japanese patriotic cars: $6.99
  • Namura Police Car $2.52
  • Haji three-wheel sedan $3.00
  • Namura lumber truck $3.48
Total Cost: $61.57

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Straco Layout, Part 22 - Tri something new

You can't tell from this photo, but that green and yellow
sedan isn't quite what it appears to be.
Last installment in this series (The Flat Arm of the Law) I talked about being surprised by an eBay purchase. Close on the heels of that purchase I bid on another vehicle for the Straco Express layout (read more about the whole project here). And because there was only one photo posted for the item, I received another surprise.

The car looks great, and it’s serving its purpose on the layout. I wanted to balance the colors of the vehicles (which tend to favor red and blue), so a green sedan – at a modest price – was exactly what I wanted.

When I received the vehicle, though, I saw something that didn’t show in the photo. The car only has three wheels.

Only three wheels -- and that front wheel looks a little
sketchy to me.
It’s a well-made vehicle overall. The bottom is completely enclosed, with a friction drive motor and rubber tires. The single front wheel, however, is pretty cheaply made (apparently out of recycled metal).

But no matter. Unless you’re looking at eye level, the missing wheel isn’t obvious at all. I wonder how much stability the car would have with the friction drive revved up and spinning. Since the drive mechanism’s frozen, I can’t try it out to see what would happen. As a display piece, though, this little sedan works just fine.

So overall, I’m happy – but in the future, I’ll be sure to ask the seller for a wheel count. I won’t take that for granted again!

Total cost for the project:

Layout construction:
  • Pegboard: $4.95
  • Flathead Screws: $0.40
  • Molding: $2.49
  • SilClear: borrowed from a friend
  • Green Paint: left over from another project
  • Wood Screws: $3.60
  • Felt Pads: $1.99
Power Pack: $5.90
Small Houses: $3.00
Testor's Gray Paint for road: $1.29
Bandai Areo Station: $8.99

  • Two Japanese toy cars: $2.00
  • A.W. Livestock truck: $4.99
  • Taxi: $2.99
  • Ambulance: $2.99
  • Two Japanese patriotic cars: $6.99
  • Namura Police Car $2.52
  • Haji three-wheel sedan $3.00
Total Cost: $58.09

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Straco Layout, Part 21 - The Flat Arm of the Law

That police car looks pretty good in this shot.
But looks can be deceiving.
I recently added two more vehicles to the Straco Express layout (read more about the whole project here).  In both cases I had a specific reason for the purchase. And in both cases, I had an unexpected surprise. This post I'll talk about one of the pair, the second merits its own post.

Police cars are a fairly common form for these small Japanese tin cars to come in. Often these “penny toys” (as they’re sometimes referred to) were sold in packs. The cars were identical with different liveries – usually police, fire chief, taxi and ambulance markings. Now that traffic’s picking up on the layout, I thought a police presence might be in order.

Less than 1/2" in height. This car's almost 2-dimensional!
One of the dangers of purchasing on eBay is that you only have the photographs and descriptions of the sellers to go by -- you can't physically examine the item. In this case, the car photographed well (as you can see from the photo at left). Because there was only one photo, it wasn’t readily apparent just how flat this car was!

There’s a wide variety in the construction of these vehicles. Some are fairly sophisticated with friction drives and rubber wheels, while others are free-wheeling made with a bare minimum of materials. This car is an excellent example of the latter. Most of the vehicles on the layout are between 3/4" and 1" tall. The car is less than 1/2” tall –- which makes this a real low rider.

It’s an odd-looking piece, but an interesting example of the low end of the penny toy spectrum. Strangely enough, this car is also one of the few I have with a trademark, the letters "TN." So I might not know where the other vehicles I have came from, but the cheapest of the cheap was made by Nomura! 

Total cost for the project:

Layout construction:
  • Pegboard: $4.95
  • Flathead Screws: $0.40
  • Molding: $2.49
  • SilClear: borrowed from a friend
  • Green Paint: left over from another project
  • Wood Screws: $3.60
  • Felt Pads: $1.99
Power Pack: $5.90
Small Houses: $3.00
Testor's Gray Paint for road: $1.29
Bandai Areo Station: $8.99

  • Two Japanese toy cars: $2.00
  • A.W. Livestock truck: $4.99
  • Taxi: $2.99
  • Ambulance: $2.99
  • Two Japanese patriotic cars: $6.99
  • Namura Police Car $2.52
Total Cost: $55.09

Monday, July 23, 2012

Walking the Road to Recovery - 4

As I've outlined in the first post of this series, I'm working my way back to where I was in June -- able to run 3-4 miles at a decent (OK, mediocre) rate of speed. A secondary infection to my knees derailed my training. But only temporarily.

I'm still just walking, but I'm trying to push the distance and the time.  Because of some storms this week, I didn't get out as much as I wanted to (rain is one thing -- lightning is something else). Still, at this point any improvement is welcome.

This week I'll add some running into the mix and see what happens.

Date Time Distance Rate
7/23/12 26.31 1.35k 2.87k/h
7/16/12 26:32 1.33k 2.88k/h
7/9/12 21:24 1.24k 2.88k/h
7/2/12 21:37 1.04k

Friday, July 20, 2012

CCC 038 - George Walker

Our next entrant in the Consonant Classical Challenge. is Pulitzer prize-winning composer George Walker. Walker is an American composer who studied with Samuel Barber. And you can hear a little of Barber's influence in his music.

Like Barber, Walker's most successful orchestral work started out the slow movement to a string quartet. And not only that, but it's the slow movement. Still, it's easy to understand the popularity of Lyric for Strings. It features dense, rich harmony overlaid with a serene, sinuous melody.

George Walker has composed almost 100 works, mostly solo and chamber music. His orchestral works tend to be small-scale, but that's not to say they're slight compositions. Rather, they're exquisite miniatures.

Icarus in Orbit, written a few years ago, is a good example of Walker's orchestration techniques. It has a very open sound to it that some consider a hallmark of American classical music (ala Copland).

Another interesting work, written in 2009, is Walker's Da Camera for Piano Trio, Harp, Celesta, Strings, and Percussion. Walker uses the contrast between the solo instruments and the string ensemble to great effect. Lanky, loose-limbed melodies alternate with tight string harmonies, combining to great effect.

George Walker is a gifted composer who writes in a very accessible style, while continuing to come up with beautiful melodies that are neither trite nor derivative. Although Lyric for Strings is his best-known work, it's still criminally under-programmed (in my opinion). Walker is a genuine American voice that should be heard, and heard more often.

There's nothing in his music that should scare away the blue-hairs, and plenty there to satisfy listeners craving substance and originality. What's not to like?

Recommended Recording:s

George Walker: Orchestral Works

The Music Of George Walker

Lilacs: The Music of George Walker

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Collecting -- and collecting information

This eBay photo was very helpful. I have the car, but not the
box. There are no company markings on the vehicle, but the
carton indicates it's a Cragstan product.
I've written about some of the concepts of collecting before. (Principles of Collecting, Lessons from York). Recently, I've been thinking about them again.

Dad's a member of a toy car collector's club, and they're pretty serious about their meetings. Each month a member hosts the club at their home, and presents a program on some aspect of collecting. For October, Dad decided he would host and the subject would be Japanese tinplate cars of the 1950's and 1960's.

Now he chose that topic because he already had a fair number of examples. Well, actually, they're my examples. Most of my childhood toys remained with my parents and were incorporated into the family collection.

Since the cars are mine, Dad assumed I could talk about them more knowledgeably than he could -- so I've been volunteered as the speaker!

I have to admit this is not my area of expertise, but I don't mind doing the research. The problem is, there simply aren't that many reliable reference sources for Japanese toy cars 1950-1969.

Part of the issue is that of all the toys produced in Japan during that time period, the robots and space toys are the most popular, so most of the research available focuses just on those type of toys. Another problem is that Japanese companies produces some top-quality car models fashioned out of beautifully-lithographed tinplate. These are the toy cars that command the highest prices, and the attention of collectors. And also the bulk of the research material.

There isn't much information about the mid- to lower-priced toy vehicles, and virtually nothing about the "penny toys" -- the type of Japanese cars I'm using for the Straco Express layout.

Sp how am I going to assemble enough information about our collection to do a decent talk? Well, I'll have to do some forensics. I have a pretty comprehensive list of Japanese toy companies of the era and their logos. I have the cars themselves that I can examine for clues as to manufacturing origins and dates.

And I have eBay. Now I'm not relying on the descriptions of the toys offered for sale -- people make their best guesses as to what they have. Sometimes they're right, often they're not. But some of the vehicles are pictured with their original boxes -- and that's where the most reliable information can be found.

It's a challenge, that's for sure. But it's also fun. I have no intention of becoming a serious collector of Japanese tin toys -- but I like learning them just the same. If I can find the information, that is.

Collecting -- and collecting information

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Lio and Garfield

As I've mentioned in previous posts,  Mark Tatulli's Lio isn't my favorite comic strip. But it's one I've grown to appreciate. This particular sequence struck me because it resonates with my own feelings about Garfield. (click on image to enlarge)

When Jim Davis' strip first came out, it was a fresh take on the subject of man and pet. Garfield wasn't particularly cute or loveable -- he bullied Odie, he was selfish and self-centered, and he didn't think much of his owner, either. Soon, though, the edge softened and what was once cutting edge became comfortable and familiar.

So, yeah. If Garfield disappeared tomorrow (say, in a spider's web), I wouldn't be too upset. And we'd end up with something similar to Garfield Without Garfield, I suppose...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 - A new cycle with Marin Alsop

Prokofiev: Symphony No.5; The Year 1941
Sao Paulo symphony Orchestra 
Marin Alsop, conductor 

One of Prokofiev's most popular symphonies kicks off this first installment of a new symphonic cycle. The Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra and their new principal conductor Marin Alsop provide an interesting program by coupling the work with the symphonic suite "The Year 1941."

"The Year 1941" was written during World War II, and articulates Prokofiev's first-hand impressions of the struggle. The first movement, "In the Struggle," sounded a little too subdued to me. The orchestra hit all the marks, but there didn't seem to be a sense of urgency -- just a bustling of rapid motifs being tossed back and forth. The second movement, "In the Night," and the third, "For the Brotherhood of Man," fared better. Alsop and the orchestra seemed to have a greater affinity for their lyrical (and in the case of the third hymn-like) nature. In fact, the finale sounded rapturous, and almost worth the price of admission alone.

Perhaps its the nature of the music, but to my ears the Symphony No. 5 was a much more successful performance. It's a decidedly more lyrical work, and the smoothness of the slower sections showed off the ensemble to good effect. Alsop's vision of the symphony is a valid one, and she makes the case for it by the way she has the orchestra articulate the various sections and shifting moods. There's a clear sense of direction here, and while my overall impression is that this is a (relatively) mellow reading, it's certainly one that makes musical sense.

The Sao Paulo Symphony has a very warm ensemble sound, yet they can be strident and spiky when they need to be. I'm looking forward to the other volumes in this series.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Walking the Road to Recovery - 3

As I've outlined in the first post of this series, I'm working my way back to where I was in June-- able to run 3-4 miles at a decent rate of speed. A secondary infection to my knees derailed my training. But only temporarily.

This week I continue to push the distance -- and the time. It would be great to get up to a full hour of activity. In the meantime, my knees continue to heal from whatever it was that infected them in the first place (another round of doctor visits this week to work on the vanishing mystery). I'm going to stick to walking until I'm confident I won't be doing any damage by running.

So for the next week or so, time and distance may keep climbing, but the rate probably won't improve much.

Date Time Distance Rate
7/16/12 26:32 1.33k 2.88k/h
7/9/12 21:24 1.24k 2.88k/h
7/2/12 21:37 1.04k

Friday, July 13, 2012

CCC 037 - Judith Lang Zaimont

American composer Judith Lang Zaimont has written over 100 compositions, including three symphonies. Her works are full of emotion and harmonies in motion -- similar, I think, to the tone poems of Richard Strauss. Not that Zaimont is writing in such broad strokes. But her compositions seem to just sort of flow from one idea to the next in a logical and yet not totally predictable fashion. And it's her use of familiar musical concepts in unfamiliar ways that make her part of our Consonant Classical Challenge.

A child prodigy on the piano, it's little wonder that Zaimont has composed extensively for her chosen instrument. Serenade provides a good introduction to her compositional style. On the surface, the music has an immediate appeal. But it's the underlying texture that gives the work its depth and substance.

Beasts is an exciting work that shows how imaginative Zaimont can be as an orchestrator. Her use of percussion is particularly effective.


 At first blush, Borealis may not seem like a very tonal work. The opening motifs are somewhat angular and disjunct. But listen closely as the work develops. Disparate elements come together and blend, generating warm, triadic harmonies that should appeal to anyone who's comfortable with post-Romanticism.


Judith Lang Zaimont is well-regarded in professional music circles for the quality of the compositions. Her music (at least to my ears) has a refreshing directness about it, and an authenticity of emotion. It's music I'd like to see programmed more often (and hear live).

Recommended Recordings 

Art Fire Soul: Piano Works of Judith Lang Zaimont

Pure Colors - Music By Judith Lang Zaimont

Zaimont: Eternal Evolution

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Pearls Before the FC 2

Yesterday, (Pearls Before the FC) I cited an extreme example of the "feud" between Stephen Pastis (Pearls Before Swine) and Jeff Keane ( Family Circus). Shortly after that sequence was published, Pastis again used his friend's comic as the punchline for a joke. This time, though, the humor was a little more good-natured. But still (depending on how becoming the reader thinks the hairstyle is), it's a punchline with a potential edge... (click on image to enlarge)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pearls Before the FC

It's important to remember that in real life, Stephen Pastis (creator of Pearls Before Swine) and Jeff Keane (the current creator of Family Circus) are good friends. Characters from the Family Circus have shown up more than once in Pastis' strip, and -- according to the mythos of the strip -- there's a bitter rivalry between the two comics. Just keep in mind my first sentence.

This past Sunday Pastis not only managed to move the "war" forward, but also created a sequence that relies on the very nature of comic strips for its humor. (click on image to enlarge)

First, there's the disrupted sequence. Pastis provides clues as to how the strip should be reassembled (look at the surviving borders of the panels). Meta-humor indeed.

Second, note that a Family Circus panel is included (it's not the one run that Sunday, BTW. That would have been awesome). To the world, Bill Keane is still the creator of the strip, and sometimes hands off the Sunday strip to young Billy, who creates child-like cartoons and puns. Although Bill modeled the characters after his children, it was Jeffery, not Billy, who actually took over the creative duties after his father's passing.

So it's significant that Jeffery's the one who destroys Pearls Before Swine. Because that's the cartoon avatar of the real artist.

Humor working on multiple levels? That's what keeps me turning to comics page first every Sunday.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Gorecki: Concerto-Cantata - A welcome addition to the catalog

Gortecki: Concerto-Cantata
Anna Gorecka, piano
Carol Wincenc, flute
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra; Antoni Wit, conductor

For many, Henryk Gorecki is a one-hit wonder. The Polish composer’s 3rd Symphony, the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs became an international sensation. But as well-crafted as the work is, it’s not fully representative of the composer’s style.

Gorecki continually developed and grew as a composer over the course of his fifty-year career, and the 3rd Symphony was just a milepost along the way. This current collection from Naxos helps fill in some of the gaps, and does so quite effectively.

The earliest work on the album, Three Dances, sounds something like a very conservative Stravinsky. And as they were written in 1973, that makes them practically mainstream. Simple scales and repeated patterns drive these dances forward.

Also presented are two concertos. The Cantata-Concerto for flute was commissioned by flutist Carol Wincenc, who performs the work on this recording. As the name implies, the work isn’t so much a showcase for the flute, as a lyrical work that often uses the flute as a solo singer. The second is Gorecki’s harpsichord concerto from 1980. In this recording, the composer’s daughter performs the solo part on the piano, and keeps the energy level high on this short-but-sweet concerto.

Included is the Little Requiem for a Certain Polka (1993). It’s a work for a chamber ensemble that moves between slow, meandering melodies and large, static blocks of sound.

Antoni Wit leads the Warsaw Philharmonic with authority, and provides sympathetic readings for these works. For anyone wanting to know more about Gorecki and his music, I highly recommend this recording.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Walking the Road to Recovery - 2

As I've outlined in the first post of this series, I'm working my way back to where I was a month ago -- able to run 3-4 miles at a decent (OK, mediocre) rate of speed. A secondary infection to my knees derailed my training. But only temporarily.

Last week I began a walking regimen to get some flexibility, and it seems to be working. If I continue to improve at the same rate, I might try some limited running next week.

Date Time Distance Rate
7/9/12 21:24 1.24k 2.88k/h
7/2/12 21:37 1.04k

Friday, July 06, 2012

CCC 036 - William Duckworth

For this installment of the Consonant Classical Challenge, we feature American composer William Duckworth. Although his music is basically tonal, Duckworth is interested in incorporating other musical traditions into what's considered "classical" music. The results are fresh, interesting, and surprisingly very accessible to most audiences.

One of his most important works is a collection of piano preludes known as the Time Curve Preludes. These works also serve as a good introduction to Duckworth's compositional voice.

Duckworth has composed over 200 works, mostly for small ensembles. He has written some important orchestral music, though. This is "Always changing, moving ahead" from his composition "Mysterious Numbers."

Duckworth is interested in synthesis -- the blending of musics and traditions and even technology. One of his more interesting projects has been an iPod opera, which combines podcasting with spontaneous playback from multiple devices to create and recreate something new from the same basic materials.

But he's also interested in the past. His "Meditations on Satie" demonstrates that. And I suspect that Duckworth felt an affinity to Satie, who was also interested with infusing classical music with new influences.

William Duckworth is one of those composers who can be a bridge between traditional and new classical music audiences. His music is well-constructed and is clearly tied to classical music traditions. Yet his works also speak in the vernacular of modern non-classical music, which is a language most twenty- and thirty-somethings will find very familiar. And really -- shouldn't that make him an ideal choice for concert programmers?

Recommended Recordings

William Duckworth: The Time Curve Preludes

Southern Harmony

New American Scene III

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Pearls Before Valiant

My admiration for Stephan Pastis, creator of "Pearls Before Swine" continues to grow. Although his normal drawing style is deliberately simple, he's adept at mimicking other cartoonists when he needs to. I've cited other examples, but the best one (to date) happened in a recent sequence. (click on image to enlarge)

His drawing of Prince Valiant is very good, indeed. And Pastis knows his comic strips. For those not familiar with the strip, Prince Valiant is presented like an illustrated storybook. Each panel has text, with an accompanying drawing. There are never any word balloons. And note that when Prince Valiant appears here, his thoughts aren't contained in a word balloon. They're simply a text block -- just as they would be in the original strip.

That fine attention to detail is appreciated (at least with this reader).

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Real American Music for the 4th - The Program

Yesterday I outlined my thoughts about American music, and what I might be airing for my 4th of July radio program this morning. Here's a rundown of what I actually aired -- and why.

If you missed the program, you can replay it anytime during the next two weeks -- it's currently available at the WTJU website (http://wtju.net/vault).

Liberty Fanfare - John Williams
     Cincinnati Pops Orchestra; Eric Kunzel conductor

John Williams gets played a lot on the 4th -- but it's usually his film scores. I decided to open with a work he specifically wrote for the holiday.

Bunker Hill, a Sapphick Ode - Andrew Laws
Heroism - Supply Belcher
Liberty Tree - Anon. 18th C.
The Sons of Liberty - Anon. 18th C.
  Waverly Consort

This set of tunes all date from around 1780. They're excellent examples of patriotic songs that would have been sung by veterans of the Revolution.

Bold Island Suite - Howard Hanson
   Cincinnati Pops Orchestra; Eric Kunzel, conductor

Howard Hanson was an outstanding American composer, and as a teacher and a conductor was a champion of American music. This evocative work is a good introduction to Hanson's style.

O come, come away - Anon. 19th C.
School hymn - Anon. 19th C.
Gospel Feast - Anon. 19th C.
   Boston Camerata; Joel Cohen, director

These hymn tunes were created during the Second Great Awakening of the 1790's-1830's. The melodic shapes and harmonies of these hymns were distinctively American. Designed to be sung by amateurs with limited vocal range, they're nevertheless powerful and attractive works.

Freedom Fanfare - Tim Rumsey
   Kiev Philharmonic; Robert Ian Winstin, conductor

Not all American composers are dead. Many aren't even middle-aged. This work was written just a few years ago, and is a great occasional piece.

When Johnny Comes Marching Home - Roy Harris
  Louisville Symphony; Jorge Mester, conductor 

In the 1960's, this work was regularly programmed for patriotic events. Many of Roy Harris' works have American themes, or are based on American subjects. It's always been a puzzle to me why he's not performed more frequently in this country.

Overture and Opening Credits to "How the West Was Won" - Alfred Newman
   MGM Orchestra & Chorus; Alfred Newman, conductor 

Many 4th of July programs include movie soundtracks -- and they're almost exclusively John Williams scores. "How the West Was Won" was a sprawling epic chronicling three generations of a family as they move west from Ohio through to California (and being a part of every major historical event between 1840-1890). 

In addition to the rousing original music Alfred Newman wrote for the film, which has more of an American rather than Western character, he also researched the music of the period. The overture features a medley of folk songs and ballads spanning the mid-1800's -- perfect for a day which celebrates all things American.

Two Sketches Based on Indian Themes - Charles Tomlinson Griffes
   Kohen Quartet

Charles Tomlinson Griffes achieved international success in the early 1900's with his tone poems. And while his music does have a cosmopolitan sound to it, he was also looking to American music for inspiration. This string quartet is an interesting experiment, and while today we might not consider the treatment of these themes very authentic, they certainly evoke the romanticized ideal of Native American life.

Battle of San Juan Hill - Albert C. Sweet
   New Columbian Brass Band

In the late 1800's community bands were an important part of many cities and towns. They often played throughout the warmer months, and most definitely on important events like the 4th of July. This tone poem is somewhat literal, with its bugle calls and cannonfire. But if folks like gunshots with their music, why not give them something relating to American history -- instead of the 1812 Overture (which celebrates Russia's victory over Napoleon)?

Singing School - Anon. 19th C.
Thomas-Town - William Billings
Amazing Grace - Anon. 19th C.
   Boston Camerata; Joel Cohen, director

Shape note singing is a distinctively American artform. Developed in the 1790's, this music was written with symbols non-musicians could easily understand. And the rudimentary counterpoint in these tunes -- called fuguing -- is absolutely unique to America. What better music for an absolutely unique American holiday?

Fanfare and Allegro - Clifton Williams
   Eastman Wind Ensemble; Frederick Fennell, conductor

Concert marches are a staple for 4th of July programs. But most concerts seldom venture beyond Sousa. In the latter part of the 20th Century, Clifton Williams was the master of the concert march, many of which entered the band and orchestral repertoire.

American Hymn - Nancy Bloomer Deussen
   Kiev Philharmonic; Robert Ian Winstin, conductor

Another short work written within the past few years. Deussen demonstrates that accessible, well-crafted and tuneful music is still being written in this country.

Dance in Three-Time - Quincy Porter
   Albany Symphony Orchestra; Julius Hegyi, director 

Although seldom played today, Quincy Porter is a quite important American composer. He had a successful career both in America and Europe, and even won the Pulitzer Prize for his second piano concerto. This short orchestral work at least gives the listener a taste of his compositional style.

Hymn, Chorale, and Fuguing Tune No. 8 - Henry Cowell
   Northwest Chamber Orchestra; Alun Francis, director

Henry Cowell was an American composer with a distinctively American voice. I thought it appropriate after playing some original fuguing tunes to air one of Cowell's 1947 interpretations of this American genre. 

Fanfare for the Signal Corps - Howard Hanson
   Cincinnati Pops Orchestra; Erich Kunzel, conductor

During the Second World War, many composers were commissioned to write patriotic pieces. Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" might be the best know, but it's not the only example. This short fanfare is another -- and it happened to fit nicely in the two-minute window I had at the end of the show.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Real American Music for the 4th

"I won't just listen to any old thing.
It's unAmerican."
My weekly classical music radio program I host on WTJU, "Gamut," lands on the 4th of July, and I've been thinking quite a lot about programming. I will definitely NOT be airing the 1812 Overture (as I explained in Retiring 1812 for the 4th). And I'd like to stay away from the typical fare: Sousa marches, Bernstein, Gershwin, Copland's "Appalachian Spring," John Williams film scores.

So what does that leave?


Most Americans -- even those who enjoy classical music -- seem unaware of the rich classical music heritage this country has. There really is more to American classical music than Samuel Barber's "Adagio."

Tomorrow morning I'll definitely be airing some shape note selections. In the late 1700's several itinerant and self-taught composers wrote hymns for the burgeoning spiritual revival sweeping through the new country. William Billings, Supply Belcher, and others created fuguing tunes, a uniquely American style of hymnody.

And then there's the Moravian school of the 1700's. Moravian settlers in Pennsylvania and South Carolina brought their love of music with them. Their ensembles regularly performed Mozart, Haydn, and other European composers of the day -- often playing the American premiers of their works. The body of compositions created by American Moravians is based on the early Classical style.

There are also several important American composers of the 1800's, who looked for a balance between American music and European concert traditions. Louis Moreau Gottschalk was a piano virtuoso who rivaled Franz Liszt in popularity, with compositions based on New Orleans folk melodies.

And Edward MacDowell, known today for just a single piano piece, but respected in his day for his orchestral compositions as well. MacDowell was part of the Second New England School, which also included important composers, such as Horatio Parker, George Chadwick, and John Knowles Paine

Moving into the 20th Century, there are the many colleagues of Copland and Barber: William Schuman, Paul Creston, Roy Harris and Howard Hanson -- respected perhaps more in Europe than in their own country.

Virgil Thompson wrote important music based on American themes, as did Randall Thomson. Henry Cowell composed a series of "Hymn and Fuguing Tunes" inspired by William Billings.

I could also go with some distinctively American composers -- Charles Ives, Harry Partch, Carl Ruggles and other unique artists.

Moving to more recent times, there are the minimalists, such as Steve Reich, John Adams, and Philip Glass, who are internationally recognized. And many, many more.

I've got a lot to choose from -- over 200 years of music -- but I know two things. My show tomorrow morning will be made up exclusively of American music that hasn't been overplayed, and that music will be great.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Walking the Road to Recovery - 1

I was training for the Men's 4-Miler when I was derailed by a kidney infection. All of a sudden I went from running 10-12 miles a week, to complete inactivity . And I missed the race.

But that's not  the end of the story. The infection's passed, but not before my body went sepsis. My knees are now swollen and painful to bend. I think it's a secondary infection, but my doctor's not sure. We're ruled out Lyme's Disease, and there's no sign of any residual infection. He thinks it might be rheumatoid arthritis triggered by the infection, but I'm skeptical.

First, rheumatoid arthritis isn't in my family history. Second, it appeared suddenly, and initially the joints were warm to the touch. Well. we've made an appointment with a rheumatologist. The earliest available time? October 11. So this condition I've had since June 14 will go undiagnosed and untreated for another 12 weeks.

I don't think so. I'm not sitting around waiting that long. I've started taking glucosamine, which is s supplement that's supposed to be good for joints. And beginning today, I'm exercising again. For a while I'll just be walking in the mornings, we'll see about running later.

Although the knees hurt, it feels more like a stiffness, so I'm planning to keep them loose through physical activity. I'll be keeping a log of my exercises to monitor my progress.

Will any of this be effective? I don't know. But it's better than just sitting around waiting until October 11.

July 2
Walked 1.44k/21.3 7

Hey- it's a start.