Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Music and Memories

While sitting in the old University Auditorium yesterday, listening to a wonderful performance by the Kent State University symphony orchestra, I found myself thinking of all the fine things I have heard and seen there over the years, especially during my time as a student from 1948 - 1951. The program yesterday was of French compositions from the late 19th  century :Faure, Saint-Saen's, Ravel and Chaubrier.  It is rather dreamy stuff, which must be why I started thinking of  the past while the music floated through the air.
One of the first events I remember was the Fred Waring orchestra and his famous chorus. He had a popular radio program, sponsored by Chesterfield cigarettes. His forte was his choral arrangements of popular songs. (He also, it turned out, invented the Waring blender' but that was later.) I believe we were part of his live broadcast, which was exciting in those days, when radio personalities were stars.
 He may have been on a college tour to hold auditions for his famed chorale.
The next even I remember was the appearance of the Cleveland Orchestra. Although George Szell took over in 1946, I think the conductor that night was Joseph Gingold who was the first chair violin in those days. It was such a thrill to have this orchestra right on our campus. I decided  to take my glasses off to see what  the group looked like blurred so I could do an impressionistic watercolor the next day in class. The above illustration, 60 some years old, is my myopic vision of a musical institution which I would come to love many years later.
Perhaps the most memorable events of all was the time that Menotti's opera "The Medium"  was presented by Cleveland's noted Karamu Theater, a part of the Karamu Settlement House, an inter- racial treasure on  the East Side. Karamu offered theater, dance and art classes to the people of the inner city, and it's still going string after almost one hundred years. The medium was played by an African- American singer named Zelma George, who, in real life was a social worker. She was astounding. When Menotti got word of her performance, he invited her to play the role in New York,
and later at one of his Spoleto Festivals. When the performance ended, the audience went wild,
cheering, shouting, and clapping, with a standing ovation that lasted a long time. Students in those days always packed the old auditorium, taking advantage of these free cultural events. In the way out, I ran into a rather snotty English professor, who was just amazed at the students' enthusiastic response, and wondering why they did so. I just stared at him. Of course it had been excellent, but students actually liking an opera?
The famed Juilliard Quartet came and the students packed the theater again. During those years, the radio networks NBC and CBS each had its own symphony orchestra, and presented regular classical music programming, so many people knew groups like this quartet, as well as "stars" of that genre. There was this lid who always sat in the front row. He may have been a facility child for all I know. During the Juilliard's performance, one of the violinist's had string break. When he discarded it and put on a new one, this kid jumped out of his seat, scrambled to the edge of the stage and grabbed it. It may show up on "Antiques Road Show" any day now.
Another favorite of mine was the port Ogden Nash, well known for his wit and word play. I had been a fan in high school, and had a couple of his books. It was fun to hear him, in his dry, mid-Atlantic drawl read his funny, clever take on the catsup bottle and why his Cousin May fell through the parlor floor today.
One somewhat sad thing happened. Jose Iturbi was one of those musicians who was a classical pianist/radio and movie stars. He was in a lot of those really cheesy MGM  musicals with those shrill, reedy sopranos like Jane Powell and Kathryn Grayson. I guess he was too big for Kent State, but we got his sister Ampara, also a pianist. She looked like a female version of Jose -not a good look for a woman.munfortunately, she got lost during Chopin's Fantasy Impromptu, noodled around until she found it, and finished it in good time, a musician's nightmare. Nobody laughed that I know of, especially the music majors.
Now the University Auditorium is called Cartwright Hall, and is one of many performance venues. There is no longer an artist/lecture series, but there are plenty of concerts,  plays and interesting guest speakers through various departments.
Many significant  performances linger for me when I am there.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Lost, Stolen, or Strayed

Once again the Christmas rush is upon us, with the media full if messages to get out and shop. And, of course, Black Thanksgiving  afternoon, so that people don't have to linger around the table being thankful for all the things they've already got. The current holiday season is Hallowe'en and Christmas, with a day in between when the banks and the post offices are closed for some vague reason.
I attribute this to the present day need for instant gratification. You get candy on Hallowe'en and more candy and more stuff you already have more of than anyone really needs on Christmas. On that holiday in between you just get a lousy turkey dinner and a lot of football  games and nothing much to add to your stuff. And then you get to shop!!
When there was life in the slow lane, when we could spend time just appreciating the day. If we  anticipated what was to come, we still savored Thanksgiving as a family holiday, and Christmas was a long  time away.
We did not put up the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, nor did we trim the house with boughs of holly after Thanksgiving dinner.
There's no going back, of course, so one must bear with it, and be thankful for the past and those memories.
The first time I was in London, it was the first week of December, and there was no sign of Christmas yet. Startling! By the second week, the stores  were suddenly bedecked for the holiday and  theChristmas season was on. They don't have Thanksgiving there, of course, so there was no need to rush the holiday season. That was over twenty years ago, so maybe they've caught up with us by now.
On behalf of those Pilgrims and the Native People who helped them put together  a mighty fine feast, I resent the minimizing of Thanksgiving in the name of commercial greed. The day  still matters, and I suspect that most of us still enjoy it with family and friends in spite of the efforts to skim over it by
the lure of discounted "stuff" at the mall.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Snow Falls, Autumn Lingers

We had our first snowfall today here in Northeastern Ohio. It didn't stick, just a dusting. I was at a meeting late this morning, on the second floor of the library, so I couldn't see the ground, and the snow was coming down in thick flakes, looking as if it was the middle of January. I expected to see a white world when I left, but instead the streets were just wet and bare, and the grass was hardly covered.
November is not too early for snow here. I can remember heavy snow in October in years past. When my children were small, it seems as though I was booting, mittening, hatting and scarfing them all from October until May, the sort of task that usually ended up with at least one of them having to go to bathroom and my having to unpeel everything and then put the kid back together. Winter always lasts longer than the other seasons, and preparing children for outdoors makes it even longer. Makes me tired just thinking about it. (But I wasn't in my eighties then.)
In spite of the snow, while my maple and oak trees are bare now, the trees in Dix's Woods across the street still gleam with gold. Some are bare, but others seem to be reluctant to she'd. It's nice to see them, even on a gray day, and especially on a sunny one. This has been a glorious autumn, warm, sunny and brilliantly colorful. I've been treated to lovely rides through the countyside by Sally and John. I still miss driving alone, listening to Mahler and Mozart and James Taylor while trying to get list, but I can't complain. I can still enjoy gawking at the scenery, especially this year.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

When to Rake

The chief raker at this house is son John. His custom is not to rake until the last leaf has fallen. We have three large trees in front of the house: one pin oak, which sheds leaves and numerous acorns, two large maple trees, which provide the golden aura during late October. There  is also Dix's Woods cater-cornered across the street from the yard. That's a lotta trees. The yard gets completely covered, several inches deep, tracked into the house along with the odd acorn, the one that the black squirrels somehow missed. The rain gutters are stuffed with the colorful detritus, and sometimes if they are not cleaned out in a timely manner, small trees appear along the eaves.
This year, Sally decided to get some exercise, grabbed a leaf rake the other afternoon and started raking up the leaves while there were STILL LEAVES ON THE TREES! One of the visitors from abroad, not having any leaves back in Deutschland to rake (that's taken care of by management of the apartment)', found another rake and amused himself by clearing away another patch of ground.
By the time, Sally was running out of steam,  and the chief raker returned from work. What could he do? Leave the yard half- raked? Shake the trees until all the leaves were gone? In spite of his system being undermined, he pitched in and piles of leaves were soon placed along the curb, ready for the city's service department to suck them up with their giant vacuum cleaner.
There will, unfortunately, be more leaves to rake and a person does not wish to appear ungrateful for the raking done (too soon),  but the years long chain of waiting for the last leaf to fall has been broken.
(I speak  for the chief raker, even though personally I like having the yard cleared early.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Out My Window-Autumn


The fall colors arrived with visitors from Germany, which was one of the reasons they ( the visitors) chose this time of year to come to Northeastern Ohio. While there is beautiful scenery in Germany - the Alps, castles, lakes and rivers -  there are no bright leaves to gawk at in the fall. Last year Emily came in mid-October, the usual time for the color, but nothing happened until she left, when everything burst into color the first week of November. This time the weather and the leaves have been perfect.

This time, too, Chris is here, my darling Australian son- in- law. It's been a long time since he's been here. To add to his pleasure, the World  Series is on. When they lived in San Francisco, Chris became an ardent Giants fan. Since I am not watching the games, I don't know how they are faring so far.

We have taken some rides up to Geauga County, and shown off the "new" Kent. It's a happenin' town these days. People from other places come to gawk, eat and shop. The restaurants seem to be doing well, but  the retail shops keep changing. Most of them are aimed at students and people  with disposable income. A couple remind me of the ill-fated mall Scotch-tape shop from an early SNL skit. One just sells those cloth hand bags made by some woman whose name escapes me. It may have gone by now, as people rush after the NEXT BIG THING. The pop- corn shop thrives, of course, adding salt and sugar to the diets of its devotees, who are encouraged to walk it off on the Esplanade, an expensive walkway connecting town and gown. The little bake/shop restaurant where I meet the ladies who lunch seems to be suffering these days, with fewer people coming in for take-out. There is a lot of competition for those who have been around and survived the tatoo par lord and bars thatproliferated in Kent for many years. Many of the new businesses have benefitted from tax breaks not available to the old timers.  This seems to be the norm for cities looking for development. Money rules.

But I digress. The picture is today's view from my window, enhanced by having been thoroughly cleaned inside and out by the man from Oz.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Autumn Leaves

In spite of continuous rains, we are having a lovely autumn. Last week Sally drove me through the golden tunnel, and then continued on Infirmary Road up to a little piece of New England in Ohio, Mantua Center. All along  the road there was a blaze of color.
Mantua Center is a little village of century buildings, a couple of houses that were once stage coach stops, a town hall, a church and some kind of meeting house, and a cemetery with a dry stone wall around it. I've never seen any people about, but when I was working, I used to go to the village school to do programs. The school is in an impressive building, much younger than the rest of the structures. It is red brick with white pillars and a domed cupula. It sat empty for a number of years, but has been saved by the locals to be used as a community center. The population is scattered quite a bit, but they seem to have a lot of community spirit. The little village is a perfect place any time of year, but spectacular in the fall.
On the way home, we stopped at Beckwith's orchard to pick  up some of their excellent cider, the best in the county.
It was a full autumn experience.