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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What's in a Name?

From the Vault Dept.: Dipping back into the Metroland archives, I found another of the utility pieces I cranked out so steadily. This is from 1984. Amazing what they let me get away with.


THE NAME MUST HAVE SOMETHING to do with it. How many guys named Beethoven do you know? You associate it with music, that name, just as Shakespeare is the fellow who wrote those plays. (There was a Bill Shakespeare who played in the Ray Noble Orchestra during the ‘30s, but I’m convinced that he kept the name so he could have fun with phone operators and the like.)

Ruth Laredo
Photo by Christian Steiner
Beethoven’s achievements were so phenomenal that he has been given a godlike status in the classical music world, which in some ways is a shame. You lose sight of the Beethoven who hung around the streets of Vienna; the Beethoven who partied, who hustled concerts, who wrote mash notes to his attractive female students.

His music never will let you down – even his garbage is interesting – so it would be a shame to let snobby canonization of the man drive you away. Here, then, is all you need to know about him – at least to get you started.

He was born in Bonn in 1770. His dad was a musician at the court of a local prince, where young Ludwig got his first gigs as an organist. When he was 17, Beethoven played for Mozart, who was impressed: “Keep an eye on him,” the older composer told whomever it was who writes down such things. “He will make a noise some day.”

Monday, July 24, 2017

Notable Notation

From the Computer Vault Dept.: I learned music engraving in the pre-computer days when you needed compass and ruler and an excellent lettering hand. So I was happy to be invited to beta-test a computer-based engraving program, a massive, ambitious beast called Finale. I spent hours going through its tutorial and then throwing different challenges at the program, so I was well placed to write about the program after it was released in 1988. Below is my piece about Finale 1.1, which amusingly compares it to the long-defunct DTP program Ventura Publisher. My review of Finale 2.0 is here. The program has seen many an upgrade since, and there’s information about it here. And Coda Music is now MakeMusic, Inc., in Boulder, Colorado.


FINALE COULD BE TO MUSIC ENGRAVING what Ventura Publisher is to writing. It’s designed for a much more specialized audience, true, but music copyists have a more demanding task even than typesetters.

Screenshot from Version 2.0. It's the earliest
version I could find for a graphic.
And, while Ventura is the program of choice for many desktop publishers, it’s not the only worthy runner in the field. Finale is also one of many available programs, but it happens to pack enough power to satisfy – and delight – many users.

The job of putting notes on paper has rules that require a knowledge of rhythm and harmony along with the mechanics of page design. It’s so specialized and ultimately subjective that there’s an art to effective engraving.

Satisfying the mechanics is easy with Finale – once you’ve gotten the hang of a challenging program. Using its MIDI interface, you can go from keyboard to page pretty quickly and enjoy acceptable output.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Cuban Treat

From the Pantry Dept.: Enjoy this recent piece about Carmen’s Café in Troy, NY – but, even better, enjoy a meal there soon. As an update to this piece, Carmen and Jim were just married.


WHEN CARMEN’S CAFÉ opened in 2005, it had a happy, haphazard look. A diner counter, a handful of tables, arresting artwork on the walls. The Cuban-inspired food was fairly simple, with a pork-and-pickles sandwich, the Cubano, a star of the lunches.

Carmen Gonzalez
Now that counter is made from carved slabs of ailanthus and there is flooring of birch and cherry and cedar, the handiwork of Jim Lewis of Springwood Studios. But only because he insisted.

The restaurant closed abruptly in 2009, after owner Carmen Gonzalez leased it to a chef who wasn’t able to keep up with the business and fled. “Jim and I were on a vacation,” says Carmen. “We came back and found the place closed. I said to Jim, ‘Let’s patch up the place and sell it,’ and he said, ‘No. We’re going to fix it up and make it an amazing place. It took six months to renovate, and we reopened in 2010.”

It looked charming in its original incarnation, “but now it’s really pretty. Jim did the renovations. It was a complete gut. We did the electrical, we did the plumbing – we did everything. We had a hard time getting people back, but we plugged away at it and we made it work.”

Friday, July 21, 2017

Rise Up Singing

WHEN MUSIC DIRECTOR John DeMain conducted “Porgy and Bess” for Houston Grand Opera in 1976, he presented it in a form as close to its operatic original as could be managed, and in doing so helped right a terrible injustice that had been done to the piece. It was the first major production in a quarter-century, and even before then, poor “Porgy” had been tampered with severely.

Justin Austin and Musa Ngqungwana
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
The Houston production reminded us that George Gershwin had produced a masterpiece, as deserving of a seat in opera’s pantheon as are his musicals entitled to their esteem in theatrical history. And, despite what Diane Paulus would have us believe with her recent Broadway production, the work is an opera, and was written on opera’s grand canvas with the emotional artillery of aria and recitative.

This is brilliantly proven by the Glimmerglass Festival production – the orchestra conducted, appropriately, masterfully, by DeMain – as a top-notch cast brings Catfish Row to life with a sense of honesty and urgency that reminds us of theater’s power to make the artificial seem all too real.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Gastronomic Guile of Simple Simon

Guest Blogger Dept.: We welcome back Guy Wetmore Carryl, light versifier extraordinaire, with a selection from Mother Goose for Grown-Ups.

"Now Simon’s taste was most profuse"
Drawing by Peter Newell
Conveniently near to where
    Young Simple Simon dwelt
There was to be a county fair,
    And Simple Simon felt
That to the fair he ought to go
In all his Sunday clothes, and so,
Determined to behold the show,
    He put them on and went.
(One-half his clothes was borrowed and the other half was lent.)

He heard afar the cheerful sound
    Of horns that people blew,
Saw wooden horses swing around
    A circle, two and two,
Beheld balloons arise, and if
He scented with a gentle sniff
The smells of pies, what is the dif-
    Ference to me or you?
(You cannot say my verse is false, because I know it's true.)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Raw Story

What a Carve-Up! Dept.: Here’s another restaurant review from my brief stint covering such places for The Alt.


THE TRUE DEATH OF CIVILIZATION began when food handlers in restaurants were forced to wear plastic gloves. There’s no question that the unclean walk among us and occasionally get their mitts on our grub, but this was yet another example of fear outstripping reason, with the consequence that a vital tactile component of professional cooking was proscribed. And it may be no more deeply realized than at the sushi-assembly level.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
A serving of nigiri-sushi is a well-chosen, carefully sized strip of seafood laid across a base of vinegar-piquant rice, and there’s a legend that the finest sushi chefs are able to form that rice so deftly that each and every grain is parallel to its neighbor. How can you do that with gloves on? And I won’t even go into our obsessive de-bacteria-izing of ourselves, except to note that it’s gone too far.

One of the beauties (and there are many) about Unagi Sushi, Troy’s four-month-old, much-needed eatery, is the pristine look of its fish, on display behind the counter at which you’re invited to sit. That right there wins my trust.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Hitting the High Notes

KINGSLEY AMIS’S 1976 NOVEL The Alteration imagined a world in which the Reformation never occurred, setting the stage for a boy’s struggle to remain intact as forces within the church seek to maintain his glorious soprano. It was such an obsession, this voice quality, that in the early 18th century there were thousands of boys being thus altered. And in the midst of it all, glorious operas were being written for the best of these singers.

Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
The voice was needed once the Vatican forbid women from singing in church choirs, a ban that went into effect in the 16th century, and the voice was prized for a clarity of tone combined with the vocal strength such singers developed.

By the early 18th century, the London-based George Frederic Handel was at a peak of fame. His opera output was tremendous, with some 40 such pieces to his name. “Xerxes,” first performed in 1738, featured four high voices in its tale of misplaced love and mistaken identity, the title role intended for one of the soprano castrati the composer worked with.