Friday, February 16, 2018

A Window Above: Appalachian Spring

Piece: Appalachian Spring
Composer: Aaron Copland
Premier: October 30, 1944, Washington D.C.

Side 1 of the tape from Grandma - see here.

Even before I got the tape, I was well-acquainted with the piece's main theme, "Simple Gifts", from my quasi-Quaker upbringing at the Tree Farm (see here).  I've always been especially fond of the French horn blast at the piece's climax.  At least, it's a French horn in the recording I first knew.  I've heard it as a trumpet (less effective) in others.  Our daughter recently played part of the piece, Variations on a Shaker Melody, in her youth orchestra.  Once again, the music on Grandma's tape has passed on to a fourth generation.

The piece was originally commissioned by Martha Graham to accompany a ballet of the same name.  The ballet was first performed at the Library of Congress on a set designed by Isamu Noguchi.  Copland won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for the work.

Appalachian Spring was initially scored for a 13-piece chamber orchestra.  Here is a performance with the original instrumentation:

Finally, here is a taste of the ballet:

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Squid Mixes: Cossack

A cossack combines vodka, cognac, lime juice and bar sugar.  My recipe, as usual, came from The New York Barternder's Guide.  The lime flavor predominates.  If I've learned one thing about flavor from all of this drink mixing, it's that few tastes can compete with citrus.

I first learned about the Cossacks of Ukraine and southern Russia in my Russian history class in high school.  I wrote briefly about the class in this post from (gulp!) nearly five years ago.  The teacher was known to all of us as the Tsar.  He was, without a doubt, the best teacher I've ever had - old school, lecture style and thoroughly captivating.  Within the context of the classroom, we were all assigned roles.  We all began as peasants but those who kissed up to him became nobles.  The nobles claimed serfs - I was a serf.  A particularly artful class clown might attain the much coveted title of Village Idiot.  One friend of mine managed to become Village Priest, highly amusing as the student himself was the son of a rabbi.  The Cossack was the class military cop, the very role performed by many Cossacks in Tsarist Russia.

Late last year, the Tsar passed away.  The outpouring of grief on social media from devoted students spanning decades was impressive, though hardly surprising.  Long live the Tsar!

We had a loss in our own home this past month.  The Little Squirt in the photo above is now our only cat.  The Big Lug has passed on - diabetes took a brutal toll in the end.  He entered our family as an impulse purchase.  We walked into a pet store to buy fish food.  Instead, we fell in love with a little grey kitten, buried under a couple of his sleeping crate-mates.  He was not the easiest roommate at first.  He was obnoxious to our two older females and was the toughest sell when our human child entered the mix.  But he was unfailingly loving with us and was the softest cat I've ever known.  He and my wife had a particularly nice bond.  As she said, she always knew exactly what he wanted and to his credit, he was never an especially demanding cat - a man of simple pleasures.

Eventually, the two older cats died and he was clearly unhappy on his own.  After a couple lonely years, we adopted the Little Squirt and the Lug fared much better as an older brother.  The Squirt adored him and he was surprisingly tolerant of her.  All the manifestations of his anxiety disappeared.

Fifteen years is a long time to share a home with someone.  Indeed, I lived with the Lug for nearly as long as I lived with my older sister.   The house isn't the same without him.  There is talk of adding another cat sometime though we may try to get the current resident's weight under control first.  Unfortunately, the Squirt is no longer so little.

Friday, February 9, 2018

A Window Above: Rainbow Connection

Song: "Rainbow Connection"
Writers: Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher
Original Release: June 1979
Performer: Kermit the Frog (voiced by Jim Henson)
Album: The Muppet Movie: Original Soundtrack Recording

This is my second-favorite Muppets song after the one featured in this post, which also explains my lifelong devotion to the felted franchise.  The song opens The Muppet Movie and ranks high among the great musical moments in cinematic history, even drawing comparisons from some with "Over the Rainbow" in The Wizard of Oz.  The song garnered an Oscar nomination for Williams and Ascher, though they lost out to "It Goes Like It Goes" from Norma Rae.  Nope, I've never heard of it either.  Time is the truest judge.

Of course, there are plenty of covers.  Here are two of my favorites:

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Squid Mixes: Rosita

A Rosita combines white tequila, Campari, dry vermouth and sweet vermouth with a lemon twist.  The recipe in The New York Barender's Guide puts the liquors in 4:4:1:1 ratio.  The drink was fun to make if only for the succession of strong smells.  The finished drink is mostly tequila in the nose and Campari on the tongue.  The recipe yields more than the photo would suggest.  We were a few sips in before I remembered to take a picture.

The drink was tasty but a bit too strong for my wife's preference.  She also noted that Campari seems more of a summery liquor.  As such, I shall endeavor to incorporate more wintery spirits in the coming weeks.  Of course, first we have to sort out which ones would qualify...

Friday, February 2, 2018

A Window Above: Rhapsody in Blue

Piece: Rhapsody in Blue
Composer: George Gershwin
Premier: February 12, 1924, New York

One Christmas when I was a boy, my maternal grandmother gave me an audio tape of Appalachian Spring and Rhapsody in Blue performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein conducting (and playing piano).  I was young enough that what I really wanted was toys and this gift was a little disappointing.  Taking note of my reaction, Grandma urged me to look at it as an investment in my future.

She was right, of course.  Over time, I fell in love with both pieces and the tape she gave me became one of my most treasured possessions.  I lent it to a girlfriend once who nearly lost it.  Grr...

When my daughter first started to explore classical music, Rhapsody emerged as her favorite piece.  I suspect the fact that her two main instruments, piano and clarinet, are both prominently featured in Rhapsody is not entirely coincidental.  One year, her maternal grandmother got her a copy of the sheet music for Christmas.  The piano arrangement is beyond her current ability but she still enjoys noodling around with it.

The original setting was for solo piano and jazz band.  Gershwin himself played piano for the premier, a concert at Aeolian Hall entitled An Experiment in Modern Music.  The following is Bernstein, conducting and performing with the New York Philharmonic.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Squid Cooks: Stir-Fried Beef with Basil and Chiles

As cooking goes, stir-fries are in my wheelhouse.  I can't say I learned too much about cooking growing up - nor can I say I pursued the discipline with deliberate intent - but my parents did teach me how to make a stir-fry.  Timing is everything and beef is especially forgiving because it doesn't matter if it's a little underdone.  My recipe for this dish came from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

One thing that's new for me with this recipe, though, is making my own sauce.  In the past, I've always used pre-bottled.  Just as with the meat, timing - in effect, when to add what - is the key.  The recipe suggests but does not require a 30 minute marinade.  I skipped it because I was hungry.  I'll try that next time - of course, I think I may have said the same thing the last time I made it.

The reviews were solid.  Daughter ate it, happily.  She didn't have seconds but I did.  The heat was mild.  Good leftovers for the next day's lunch, too - an important consideration in family meal planning.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: February 2018 Blog List

Greetings to all!  I hope you'll join us for the next installment of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, an online gathering of bloggers who love books.  The next meeting is set for Friday, February 23rd.  If you're interested, please sign on to the link list at the end of this post.

The idea is simple: on the last Friday of each month, post about the best book you've finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same.  In this way, we'll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers.  Please join us: