Tafelmusik

An Illusory Intertwingling of Reason and Response

Miscellany: I just like the sound of the word. Don’t you? “Mis cel lan e ous.” I could say it a thousand times a day. The miscellany is where anything in life worth having usually spends most of its time: would you like to hunt for something worthwhile among my miscellany?

Tafel :: miscellany

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Review: Augusta Symphony "Masterworks", with Leonard Rowe

Leonard Rowe, baritone, as Porgy in the New York City Opera's 2002 'Porgy and Bess'

Saturday, October 11th, 2008 opened the Augusta Symphony's 2008 season.I'll not go into much depth about the performance of the symphony per se: they were good, but not at the top of their game, in part due to the fact that they were working with a guest conductor — Susan Haig — candidating to take over as Donald Portnoy retires.

The soloist, however, was incredible. Leonard Rowe, a young baritone, took on the well-known and much-butchered "Prologue" from I Pagliacci as his opening number. I was worried that the generally-staid ASO venue would result in a "straight" performance of the piece; my worries were unfounded, though, as the stage-right house door opened and Mr. Rowe's head poked out to see the audience. From this auspicious beginning, his rendition of the "Prologue" far outshone the majority of its performances.

His next piece was "Non piu andrai" from Le Nozze di Figaro. Again, a fairly standard piece (Augusta audiences seem to expect most concerts to be made up of "fairly standard pieces"), but a good one; and again, he did very well by it.

His coup de grâce thus far, though, was "Cortigiani" (Rigoletto). A full operatic performance — sans only period costume — made him an incredibly believable Rigoletto. Yes, it was still the middle of the concert, but this piece deserved the standing ovation it drew from the crowd.

I feel I've not done the previous pieces justice in my brief descriptions. I can only excuse myself by saying "the best is yet to come". Rarely (if ever) have I heard a concert where the encore blew the entirety of the show completely out of the water.

Rewind.

Augusta crowds give standing ovations for nearly every performance. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen a show here — from either side of the footlights — that didn't receive one. When the orchestra finished their final number, the crowd (perhaps bowing to ideas of Southern gentility and politesse) rose. I and most of the people I was with did not. Their performance was good, but that was it.

I kept watching that stage-right door.

Finally, I was rewarded. Ms. Haig exited, and re-entered, followed shortly by Mr. Rowe.

I stood. Everyone I could see that had not been standing for the orchestra was driven to their feet for Mr. Rowe.

He spoke something to Ms. Haig, and somehow she managed to quiet the applause with promise of an encore.

And the orchestra began with the opening chords of "Old Man River".

I don't know that I can explain his performance, but for two things. First, the entire audience was transfixed, and fully invested in the music to a degree they hadn't been the rest of the evening. Second, if I were to see a poster reading, "Leonard Rowe performs 'Old Man River', tickets $25", I would pay, and I would go.

It was worth the price of admission all on its own.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

On the Inanity of Funeral Procession Traffic Customs

Of what value is respect granted pro forma? Worse, of what value is respect granted out of coercion? Such respect is all the custom (still legally enforced in many southern states) of stopping or granting the right-of-way — regardless of en-route traffic signals and signs — to funeral processions out of "respect" for the dead and the mourning.

As an example, here's an excerpt from the Georgia Motor Vehicle and Traffic Code Title 40, §40-6-76:

(b) Funeral processions shall have the right of way at intersections ....

(f) The operator of a vehicle not in a funeral procession shall not attempt to pass vehicles in a funeral procession on a two-lane highway.

(g) Any person violating subsection ... (f) of this Code section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $100.00.

A funeral procession in Georgia needs no permit to claim the above benefits, and need not even travel with police escort (though such escort is often sought and provided). In exception to this, no other private procession for private purposes can claim the right of (b) without a parade permit and posted public notice.

Arguments from safety are generally made: applying normal right-of-way rules in the case of a procession may cause unsafe situations due to procession members attempting to follow cars ahead of them immediately through intersections. As well, one might say that procession members could be unduly inconvenienced if forced to wait for the right-of-way to fall on them in normal course. However, such arguments dissolve if not applied to all private processions.

Not all states waive the requirement for police escort like Georgia does, but the principle remains: the only reason for this singling-out of funeral processions as unique is sentimental, and sentiment has no place in law.

If you think that's sentimental, (f) is even more blatantly so. While arguments from safety for yielding the right-of-way appear secondary even to a charitable observer, a no-passing rule appears on the surface to be solely based in safety concerns. Indeed, under normal circumstances, one ought not attempt to pass more than a single vehicle at a time on a two-lane highway. However, to fully understand the law, you must consider "the custom as she is practiced"1.

While not required by law, and not even actually permitted (no minimum-speed exception is given as the right-of-way exception), general practice is for funeral processions to move at somewhere between five and twenty miles per hour, regardless of the established speed limits and minimum-speed laws governing the roadway travelled.

Georgia law states that "no person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation."2 However, funeral procession leaders routinely drive half the posted speed limit (and sometimes far less), which quite objectively impedes "the normal and reasonable movement of traffic" when — again, quite objectively — not "necessary for safe operation".

Where does the sentiment in the enforcement of (f) above come in? By rights, at least the hearse driver — if not the entire procession — ought to be fined for obstruction of traffic: a definitely unsafe situation.

They're not, of course, due to sentiment: can you imagine the reelection campaign a sheriff attempting to actually enforce minimum-speed law on funeral processions would face? This turning of a blind eye to the actual agents of this unsafe situation necessitated the explicit prohibition against passing funeral processions, and in turn further elevated sentiment above reason in state law.

"But," some cry, "we're losing respect for others! We're losing respect for tradition!"

As I asked at the beginning, of what value is pro forma respect? I respect many people, all because of something: whether they're teachers, parents, friends, soldiers, or anyone else, they've all done something to warrant my respect.

Nearly anyone would say he wants to be respected, but what he truly wants is to be worthy of respect: respect garnered undeserving is empty.

Is someone inherently worthy of respect because he's dead? Are mourners inherently more respectable because they know someone who died? Of course not: to claim that would be absurd. Yet tantamount to such a claim are the cries for "respect for the dead" and "respect for the bereft".

From a discussion on the opinion section of The Chattanoogan:

... it suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea who was in that hearse being carried to the cemetery.

For all I knew, it could have been a man who beat his wife and children, an adulterer, a drunk, a drug pusher, a gang leader with all his gang buddies riding behind him, or even a murderer.

Can you imagine — and this could have happened — pulling off to the side of the road while paying your respects to those in a funeral procession and later learning that it was the funeral of Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer?

I have no problem showing respect to someone who is truly worthy of it, but I'm doing no one favours by doling out empty, unknowing respect.

The emptiness of pro forma respect would not be a reason not to stop for a funeral procession: it's simply means that "respect" is not a reason to stop. I mention it to point out what is being put forward as more important than safety: namely vain respect.

Southern funeral procession custom does not result in safer roadways: indeed, it results in unsafe situations due to unclear right-of-way and obstruction of traffic. It does not result in true respect being shown, but rather a devaluation of the concept of respect. I'm willing to be inconvenienced if objective reasons can be brought forth to demonstrate the value of my inconvenience; but an objective look reveals Southern funeral procession custom to be damaging both physically and philosophically.


1. "English as She Is Taught", from _[What Is Man? and Other Essays][3]_, by Mark Twain.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Drowsy Poet Coffee Company, Pensacola, FL

The Drowsy Poet Coffee Company, Pensacola, FL
Photo: Lacey McLaughlin

Shakespeare greets me over cafe tables and the music of a player piano.The place is packed — like one would expect from a coffee shop settled between a college and a high school. They know their target audience.

"Sixteen-ounce cappuccino, non-fat, extra shot."

Clatter of register. Thank you. Passing of receipt. I slide across from the clerk to the barista, who looks at the shorthand scrawl on my cup.

"Excellent choice."

Scoop. Grind. Bubble. Whish.

"Would you like that a little drier, or a little wetter?" Milk poured into a frothing pitcher. Skim, of course. I like to taste my coffee. None of this Starbucks-esque, "I'm sorry, we only have whole right now. Would you like soy?"

"Dry, please."

Nod.

Froth. Whish. Distracted, I take in the tile, wallpaper, sparkling black upright ensconced in one wall, aroma.

"Here you are, sir. Is that dry enough for you?"

I take the cover from my cup and swirl it a bit. The layer of foam hardly budges.

"Perfect."

"I ended up making a second pitcher. I didn't like how the first one turned out."

Now that's someone who knows what to do with a coffee bean!


The Drowsy Poet Coffee Company recently opened in Pensacola, Florida. Situated on Brent Lane between Pensacola Christian College and Pensacola Christian Academy, they draw plenty of business from the older high-schoolers — and of course from the college students. Of course, Pensacola has been without much choice in coffee (Do you count Starbucks? I don't.), so espresso-lovers from across the city make pilgrimages daily, twice-daily, thrice-daily — you begin to understand?

Open from five AM to ten PM weekdays, and eight AM to ten PM on Saturdays (closed Sunday), the Poet would do well with even mediocre coffee. But it's not mediocre. It's not even good. Beyond all superlatives, it's real coffee. From me, that's high praise indeed.

The Drowsy Poet Coffee Company

86 Brent Lane
Pensacola, FL 32503
850-434-POET (850-434-7638)

5am–10pm M-F
8am–10pm Sat
Drive-through service available

Monday, March 26, 2007

Review: Augusta Choral Society, Spring 2007 Mozart

The Augusta Choral Society presented their fifty-sixth spring concert, a full Mozart program, March twenty-fourth, 2007, at the Sacred Heart Cultural Center in Augusta, GA. Offered were "Regina Coeli" (K.276), "Vesperae Solemnes de Confessore" (K.339), "Venite, populi" (K.260), "Missa in C — 'Krönungsmesse'" ("Coronation Mass") (K.317), and "Ave Verum Corpus" (K.618). The Mozart concert deviated in one major way from their past performances, however: rather than drawing on professional solo talent, Director J. Porter Stokes II contacted music departments at four area universities offering them the opportunity to send a student to sing with the Chorus.

Presbyterian College (Clinton, SC) selected a soprano, Augusta State University (Augusta, GA) an alto, Georgia Southern University (Statesboro, GA) a tenor, and the University of South Carolina (Columbia, SC) a baritone. Ali Titus, the soprano, is in her junior year of a Psychology program, minoring in music and history. LoLita Pierre (alto), Jonathan Murphy (tenor), and Joseph Timms (baritone) are all majoring in vocal performance.

Miss Titus, rather slight of build, is possessed of a surprisingly powerful and enchatingly clear, expressive voice. Her long solo lines captivated the audience, and her melodies united beautifully with the other soloists. Mr. Timms is an impressive lyric baritone. The clarity of his tone and emotional quality easily convey both wonder and joy: Latin is anything but a dead tongue as he sings it. Mr. Murphy was easily the best tenor soloist hosted by the ACS in its past few seasons. As a group, these three melded so well that it was difficult to believe that not only was this their first joint performance, but that, attending different schools, they had never sung together before.

Miss Pierre was a contrast to the other three soloists. Her voice carried an aesthetic strikingly at odds with the stylistic nature of Mozart's ecclesiastic work. She seemed to lack the energy and joi de vivre that characterized their performances, and was unable to contribute effectively to the ensemble. Apparently as a result of being underprepared for the performance, she rarely connected with the audience and jarred with an orchestra underlining her part.

On the whole, the concert was well-recieved by the audience, and satisfied the musicians. It would certainly be enjoyable to hear such young talent again: concert after concert hosting professionals of one stripe or another has not provided so satisfying a group of performers. It is to be hoped that Miss Titus, Mr. Murphy, and Mr. Timms make further appearances in Augusta's rather thin Classical circuit: their performances tonight (and if I may be slightly biased, especially that of Miss Titus) were a welcome change from what so often ends up being a stilted and colourless recital of vaguely-Latinate syllabary.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Review: Oni Buchanan's "Poetry in Piano" Tour

Oni Buchanan, pianist and poet, is an artist: that is certain. Beyond this, little is clear, given her varied background. Having begin college life in the sciences, she soon moved to the arts, shifting her studies to music — the piano she'd forsaken during high school — and English. Eventually garnering an impressive series of credentials, which include a Master's in piano and a Master's of Fine Arts in poetry, she developed a artistic sense which deftly compounds a trained literacy with a natural musicality. It is this combination of music and letters that is her calling card: she can turn a rather formal recital into an enjoyable lecture on musicology as related to literature without either destroying the atmosphere or abridging the discussion.

Oni Buchanan at piano, cutting animals out of a score

© 2005 Oni Buchanan

Her performance on February 18th, 2007, "Poetry in Piano", part of the "Music at the Morris" series (The Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, GA) was evidence of the deep connection between the literary and musical in her art. She designed the program particularly as a musical exposition of poetry, and succeeded in providing something between an advanced European Literature course, a coffee-house poetry discussion, and a classical piano recital — all three thoroughly enjoyable.

First were three Preludes from Book I, by Claude Debussy.

She introduces "Le vent dans la plaine" (No. III, "The wind over the plain"), almost unsure of herself — almost, mind you: not quite. It's as if her fingers are much more used to speaking than are her lips. Although, perhaps she fears for the ability of her audience to grasp the emotion and sensation which can only be conveyed in music — which she is just now trying to put to words. Bah! If they miss the message of the song, their blood be on their own hands.

No. IV, "Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir" ("Sounds and odours turn in the evening air") she tells us is an interpretation of "Harmonie du soir" ("Evening harmony"), from Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil). I've never read Baudelaire, but this inspires me.

Of course, from my initial cursory reading of the program, I've been awaiting No. XI, "La danse de Puck" ("Puck's Dance"). Need I say more? The Shakespearean imp (well, "little person", at the very most charitable) has inspired music, poem, and allusion — and interpretation of such works is generally horrid and un-Puckish. However, given Buchanan's evocative rendering of "Les sons et les parfums", I have high hopes. I'm not disappointed.

Watching her, I swear she is a very Puck sitting there on the bench, plucking out bewitching snatches and bewildering melodies from between the keys; and then, eyes glinting with mischief (I should've sat closer to centre), jumps away, leaving us to land heavily on the floor as our stool disappears from beneath us.

Brahms' Four Ballades, Op. 10, follows. The first of the four is a retelling of a Scottish murder-tale. Buchanan drops her stage persona, and settles comfortably into her new role as storyteller:

Why does your sword so drip wi' blood, Edward, Edward,
Why does your sword so drip wi' blood?
And why are ye so sad, O?

Of course, I'll not retell it here: you can find it in innumerable places, such as this article from American Music Teacher. Buchanan led us through both story and song, explaining how various aspects of the music expressed portions of the story and described its characters.

Then she played it.

While anyone else would have shattered the recital-hall atmosphere with this discussion seemingly better-suited to take place over a cup of coffee at a little cafe, it brought the story through her music in specifics, rather than generalities, and lost nothing to the literary hiatus in the performance.

The recital's apogee, though, was Buchanan's rendering of Villa-Lobos's "Rudepoêma": it garnered a standing ovation as the last chord (well, I use the term "chord" somewhat loosely — the piece ends with a fading series of despairing blows to the lower registers) disappeared.

The "Rudepoêma" is a devilish piece both to perform and to experience. Despite Buchanan's warnings, I was taken aback by its nearly animal intensity (the title translates literally as "Savage Poem"). It was an emotional journey probing all those depths of psyche that are so disparaged today: anger, hatred, sorrow, despair — the softened "modern American" is ill-equipped to use such feelings. Even Buchanan appeared exhausted when she finally finished. I know — if I can speak for my fellow audience-members — that we, at least, were.

"It really is kind of accosting," Buchanan said sweetly, immediately before sitting to begin. "I hope you like it."

"These last ones are pretty," she said, introducing us to the final four pieces, which provided a welcome relief from the mental and emotional avalanche immediately preceding. Two sets of Poèmes (Opi 32 and 44) by Scriabin finished the performance — light, elegant, and even, one might say, "perky". Calculated, shamelessly, but felicitously, to leave the audience in a better mood than Villa-Lobos would have permitted.

To find out more about Oni Buchanan, and to read some of her poetry, visit her site at onibuchanan.com. Her current tour, "Poetry in Piano", is in the States through the end of April, 2007.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Pork Chops Pan-Fried with Kelp

Pork Chops Pan
Fred with Kelp

Serves one as written

  • 1 3 oz pork chop
  • 2 tbsp diced green bell pepper
  • 1 sliced green onion base
  • 1 1/2-inch diameter bunch of enokitake
  • 1 tbsp dried kelp, leek, and mushroom mix
  • 1 egg
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • fresh-ground black pepper
  • crushed red pepper
  • salt
  • 1/4 cu couscous
  • 1/6 cu thick kefir
  • 1/4 cu water
  • 1/4 tsp molasses
  1. Baste pork chop in full-strength balsamic vinegar.
  2. Drain, reserving liquid.
  3. Add salt and fresh-ground black pepper to chop to taste.
  4. Start frying pork chop, onion, enokitake, and bell pepper in olive oil over low heat. Stir continuously, flipping chop often.
  5. Reconstitute dried kelp mixture by simmering in a minimal amount of liquid, including vinegar drained from chop after basting.
  6. Add kelp mixture to frying pan.
  7. Prepare couscous with kefir and water.
  8. Top couscous with vegetables (well-drained back into the frying pan) and chop.
  9. Add molasses and crushed red pepper to remaining liquid and simmer. Pour glaze on chop.
  10. Crack an egg into frying pan (off heat) and beat it as evenly as possible.
  11. Ensure egg covers entire bottom of pan, and make the thinnest omlette you can.
  12. Garnish dish with quarter-folded omlette.

Couscous actually may be better prepared in a microwave than over a stovetop. When allowed to cook undisturbed, kefir will form a creamy froth in the center of each individually-cooked bowl of couscous.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Sauteed Kale with a Boiled Egg

I made this for dinner tonight, and was pleasantly taken aback by the strong and "big" flavour. This is one side dish that can definitely hold its own as an entree.

  • 1 cu water
  • balsamic and red wine vinegars
  • 6 kale leaves, chopped, midvein removed
  • olive oil
  • 1/4 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 large green onion, sliced very thin
  • crushed red pepper
  • fresh-ground black pepper
  • salt
  1. In a small saucepan, combine several tablespoons of each balsamic and red wine vinegars with water, salt to taste, and bring to a boil.
  2. Blanch kale in boiling vinegar for no longer than thirty seconds, stirring constantly.
  3. In a large frying pan, sautee kale, and onions in olive oil. Season to red and black pepper and salt prior to sauteeing.
  4. Bring vinegar to a light boil again, and crack an egg into it.
  5. When yolk is still liquid, but all the white has been cooked, remove egg.
  6. Serve kale in a wide, shallow bowl, topped with the egg, yolk cracked.

Strawberry Frappe

Had this for "dessert" tonight. However, it would make a great beverage near the end of a meal, I think. I didn't sweeten it, so it wasn't "dessert-y," really. It was still wonderful, though!

Serves two

  • 6-1/2 oz milk
  • 5-6 ice cubes, or 1/2 cu chipped ice
  • 1-1/2 tbsp powdered malted milk
  • 4-5 very ripe strawberries, tops removed
  1. Combine milk, ice, and malt in blender and blend intermittently until ice is ground. Some "hailstones" will probably remain, depending on your blender, if you use ice cubes.
  2. Add strawberries and blend at the highest setting until frothed.
  3. Serve in chilled glasses with straws, perhaps garnished with fresh mint.

Note: As the frappe sits, it will separate somewhat into a frothy upper layer and a liquid lower layer.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Couscous with Kale

I made this for a cast party tonight: couscous is just about my favourite thing to eat. (Next, of course, to sushi!) however, I overestimated the appreciation folks around here would have for off-normal food in general, and vegetarian food specifically (not that I'm vegetarian, but I love vegetarian food!), as only three people that I know of actually tried any (though two of those — coincidentally enough, Californians — were very nearly ecstatic that someone had made couscous; which makes it more than worth it).

So now I have a pot of couscous to feed me for the next few days: I'm finding it difficult to be disappointed!

  • 2 cu water
  • 1/2 cu apple sauce
  • 1 large carrot, shredded
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cu kale, cut small and packed
  • 3 tbsp parsley
  • 1/2 cu kefir
  • 2 cu couscous
  • olive oil
  • salt, pepper, and red pepper to taste
  1. Bring water to boil.
  2. Add apple sauce, carrot, onion, kale, parsley, salt, pepper, and red pepper to water.
  3. Simmer until carrots and onions are soft, then remove from heat.
  4. Add kefir to broth. It will coagulate finely when it mixes with the hot broth. (Kefir may be replaced by 1:2 water:sour cream.)
  5. Slowly stir in couscous, and allow to sit covered until all broth has been taken up by the pasta.
  6. Toss couscous with a liberal amount of olive oil.
  • May be served topped with sauteed kale. Kale blanched with a splash of balsamic vinegar and sauteed in olive oil goes nicely with this.
  • This ought to serve six people.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Dandelions and Daisies: Julia Easterlin

Last night I had the most wonderful experience: music. You see, being from California, I'm quite addicted to the availability of music — live bookstore and coffee-shop music. Here in Augusta, Georgia, that sort of thing is rare, if not actually endangered.

Julia Easterlin is a vocalist, guitarist, and pianist — I don't know how she'd classify herself, but I'd say folk. The performance at Borders was two whole hours, with the first hour being her own original music — guitar, piano, cello (her cellist was fantastic as well), and of course her lovely voice and piercing poetry. The second hour was jazz standards sung again by her and Tom (I didn't catch his last name, but his singing and piano work were quite enjoyable). However, as much as I like jazz, there's a depth to new, original music that the standards can't tap . . . the first hour was definitely the most rewarding.

The song that struck me the most was "Dandelions and Daisies": it was my youth encapsulated. I remember when not a whole lot mattered but dandelions and daisies, playing, joyfully existing, running and hiding and exploring unknown secret worlds in the hedges and ravines, and falling down and getting hurt and not having to care too much about it. I remember when my friends started to abandon me: to become teen-agers while I never saw a point in acting dumb or doing drugs or dating around or being quarterback or leaving simplicity behind. I remember when "being little wasn't such a bad thing:" I still know it's not such a bad thing, and rather despise those who think it is.

You see, when my friends thought they were growing up, they were merely trading their young wisdom and experience for a life of new experiences — and their concomitant foolishness. It's kinda funny that refusing to "grow up" so fast can leave one more grown-up than those so hastily fleeing childhood.

I caught myself remembering while she sang: remembering life at eight and eighteen and two months before I graduated from college. And while I listened, I could see the dim canopies of eucalyptus with the thick, rich, fragrant leaf-blanketed floors and cliffs to scale and forts to build and cliffs to jump from into the welcoming softness below.

It's been too long since I was eight years old. Too long since I was ten. And even two long since I was just myself then instead of myself now. Yesterday night I was once again eight, ten, fourteen, simply then. I remembered the importance of just being, and of romping and frolicking occasionally.

And most of all, I remembered that those who decide to grow up are those who remain immature and shallow.

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