I’m in the office this afternoon, copying departmental boilerplate into my syllabus. I’ve been on something of an orchestral music kick for the past couple of days. Friday and yesterday were Henry Kimball Hadley; this afternoon it’s Ralph Vaughan Williams. Should this persist, I’ll likely get back to Bach — I nearly always do.
I think I may have been introduced to the music of RVW when I was in seventh grade. I was the last-chair trombone in the junior high school band, and was there only because there weren’t any lower chairs available. To be fair, I lacked any sort of passion for the instrument. I had been part of a small group of bright kids in fourth grade who were offered a chance to do music. The band director told us our choices were trombone or clarinet. “I’d really like to play drums,” I said.
“Flutes and drums are a dime a dozen. I need clarinets and trombones. Pick one.” After talking to my parents (who found out that trombones and clarinets were about equally expensive), I started trombone, and I soldiered on with it through ninth grade, by which time I had a drum kit and no interest in marching, so that was that. The main things I got from my trombone experience were the ability to read bass clef (which made me the default timpanist in my college wind ensemble) and an appreciation for bass lines — as last chair trombone, I often got to play the simple parts that had been written for electric bass. I value both of those, but still think I would have done better by starting on the instrument I actually wanted to play.
In any case, my junior high band in Nashville did an arrangement of RVW’s Folk Song Suite, and I really liked it. I still couldn’t play it worth a damn, but I liked how it was more interesting than our various pop arrangements of Christmas tunes (in the fall) and MOR Hits of the Seventies (in the spring). In any case, I developed an affection for his work, and it persists to this day. So that’s what I’m listening to this afternoon.
I have to admit that I’m a little jealous of this description of the man, from his biographer, Michael Kennedy: “that extremely English product, the natural nonconformist with a conservative regard for the best tradition”. While I’m very American, that’s otherwise a hat I’m happy to wear.
The semester starts a week from tomorrow, and I’ll be back in the classroom at last. Regrettably, I’ll have to be masked, but I’ll just be happy to be back in front of the kids.
One of the neater things about the Book of Faces is that I get to see my former students developing lives and families of their own. As part of that, I get to see lots of pictures of their kids either beginning their formal educations, or at least marking the beginning of a new school year. Likewise, as Mrs. M teaches first grade, she gets to work some opportunities for cuteness into the daily grind.
I decided that it wasn’t fair for me to miss out on the fun, so I got Mrs. M to print an extra copy of her “getting acquainted” sheet. This was the result:
Among other things, this makes it abundantly clear that the genes my parents had for graphic arts skipped me altogether. Still, it’s posted on my office door, the refrigerator door of my academic career.
I was goofing around a bit the other day, and I decided to see what traces I might find of my late, somewhat lamented band, The Berries. I was delighted to discover that I can now check another item off my bucket list, as we somehow managed to find our way to an (admittedly incomplete) entry at one of my favorite websites, The AllMusic Guide. While it is incomplete, I notice that I did get a composition credit or two, although no doubt (and deservedly) it will be drowned out by the work of this guy.
Still, it gave a smile, and the knowledge that however transient, I left a scratchmark on a wall. With luck, a new project will develop and I can take another shot at nanosignificance.
And speaking of music (as most of this post has done), I’ll wrap this up with a tune that has a connection to RVW. One of the greatest drum performances I’ve ever seen was when I saw Cozy Powell’s one-off project with Keith Emerson and Greg Lake (Carl Palmer being otherwise engaged with Asia). Some of my friends from Nashville came up to Cincinnati, and along with my Cincinnati buddy Dennis, we saw the reconstituted ELP play the local shed amphitheater, Riverbend. I think I can sum it up with a quote from my friend Mike Dearing, who said, “You know something has happened when you see a show with Keith Emerson, but everyone is talking about the drummer.” Cozy was one of the reasons that when it was time for me to buy equipment that was better than I am, I went with a Yamaha kit.
Anyway, this lineup of ELP had a moderate hit with this song in 1986. Emerson was no stranger to cribbing bits of classical music for his own compositions, and this was no exception. The hook for this song comes from the second movement of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on “Greensleeves“, but WIlliams himself nicked it from the English folk song “Lovely Joan,” so there you go. In any case, complete with Cozy’s Prince Valiant haircut and Louisville Slugger-sized sticks, this is “Touch and Go.”
See you soon!