Social media has always treated its users as its product. I have heard it said, in effect, “when something online is free, you’re the product that’s for sale.”

But it’s worse. You’re also an “experimental rat.”

Chalk that up as reason 1,000,950 to delete your Facebook account. I did back in September, and I’m feeling good about it.

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In all my life, I never saw a bluebird till this morning.

(Let’s be clear: I mean an eastern bluebird, in Latin Sialia sialis; not a bird that’s blue.  I just told someone who replied that she saw “blue birds” all the time–it took a while to make her realize what I meant.  I mean the real “bluebird of happiness,” once in danger of extinction.)

Growing up in the city, I was intimately familiar with pigeons.  As I moved to other places, and began to see other avian life, I wondered about the bluebird.  I eventually learned that its numbers had critically declined since the 1920s.  I wondered if I’d ever see one.

Today I saw a pair.  They are exactly true to the Eastern Bluebird form:  the male has a vivid blue back and a reddish breast–as someone once said, wings to heaven and breast to earth!

The female is slenderer and has lighter colors; she is less dramatic, as is true in so many species.

I hope she lays many eggs and I hope the next generation flourishes!

At my window, a community of goldfinches is monopolizing the feeder.  A red-morph eastern screech owl has been seen recently as well, probably close to motherhood.  The resident obnoxious blue jay has begun threatening all and sundry, including making swoops at the owl.  But the eastern bluebirds–Sialia sialis, the first binomial assigned by Carolus Linnaeus–take the prize.  What a great thing to check off the bucket list.  I couldn’t be happier.

It’s shaping up to be a great bird season.

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Well, That’s That

The Humanity Star is crashing to earth, long ahead of schedule. It’s oddly fitting.

The “disco ball” was launched into orbit in January and was supposed to orbit the earth for nine months.  It was fleetingly visible from the Northeast, but so rarely that I gave up.  Its orbit heavily favored Africa and Antarctica.  I’m sure the penguins were deeply gratified by this Symbol of Humanity Something Something…ditto Africans hoping for running water.

The whole project was pretentious.

The hipsters who wanted to “draw our gaze skyward” could take a fresh look at the steeple of my church, for example.  That’s already a sunk cost, and it points to wonders that the eye can’t see, and that don’t fail!  (Plus, it has a clock, and we could use the money.)

Or they could get a simple telescope, as I’ve done, and learn a few things about the night sky.

Also, they shouldn’t complain about the cost of military parades in Washington if they can spend milk-and-rice money on a frigging disco ball.

Ersatz evangelists.

This post was drafted in March, 2018, and published May 16, back-dated to 3/23.

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Harpsichord Check-in

It’s been a busy time, musically speaking.  The concert given by the Tower Trio last Sunday, in Goshen, NY, was a big success.  The audience responded generously with a free-will offering that will cover some necessary organ work.  Wonderful!

The organ needs a full-scale restoration, and we hope to advance that cause in the coming months.

Also, I’m now involved in a concert with the Classic Choral Society (or the Orange County Classic Choral Society), headquartered in Blooming Grove.  The upcoming concerts feature music by Ola Gjeilo, and I am one of two pianists involved.

Meantime, two longer-term projects are underway, both involving harpsichord.

My harpsichord made an excellent account of itself at Sunday’s Tower Trio concert.  We opened with “Music for a While” by Henry Purcell.  I did my own realization of the bass line (unfigured in the original).  Purcell’s sense of harmony is absolutely wonderful, and I loved working through this song for myself.

Also, I played part of the Zipoli B-minor suite, published in 1716.  The 2007 Bennett 1×8 Italian, while optimal for continuo, was more than adequate to realize the piece in sparkling tones.  The instrument is small but mighty, bright and responsive; analogous to an Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce.  It looks like a late-17th century “inner” missing its “outer,” but it is nothing other than a complete musical instrument, thoroughly suitable to a professional.

I had an appreciative crowd gathered around the harpsichord after the program, eager to hear more of it, and to have an explanation of how it works.

The complete bottom octave is what sold me on this particular instrument (besides size, which is a major issue).  I can play the Well-Tempered Clavier and a substantial chunk of the repertoire besides.  The Dretzel piece fits on it.  I have taken to putting check marks by the individual movements and entire works that fit it.  It comes to a tidy stack; and every note is a gem on this harpsichord.

Of course, I want another harpsichord.  And a clavichord is on my bucket list.

I have decided to keep the instrument in a mildly irregular temperament (It strikes me as missing the point to have a sliding 415/440 keyboard and then use meantone).  I have settled, for the time being, on Neidhardt’s 1724 Große Stadt temperament.  This temperament contains three just fifths, three sixth-comma fifths, and six twelfth-comma  fifths.  Perhaps oddly, the sixth-comma fifths are C-G, G-D, and D-A, the “home” fifths.  Playing C and G as a twelfth is a little challenging.

I’ve been tempted to stick with equal temperament, despite the disdain.  It was the cynosure of all eyes, the holy grail of tunings, theorized and attempted for many years before it gradually took over for excellent reasons.  I could call it something posh like “Neidhardt 1724/1732 Hof Temperament.”  Or “Twelfth-comma meantone.”  Or “Werckmeister 1707 gleich-schwebende.”

Having a historic temperament on the instrument that still accommodates the energetic development of solo and concerted music in the “long eighteenth century” is fine by me.  I can play anything I want on this temperament, and at least I have a prom date.


Playing Buxtehude in quarter-comma meantone is just wrong.  I will more to say on this as my thinking develops. His “landscape” was meantone? Were squirrellier words ever spoken?

Posted in Baroque Music, Dretzel Project, Harpsichord, Music, Music History, Music Theory, Recitals | Comments Off on Harpsichord Check-in

Told Ya So

So Mark Zuckerberg, college dropout and wearer of boring T-shirts, is in deep trouble for a massive, deliberate, for-profit data breach at his famous Facebook.  Fifty million subscribers had all of their personal data snuffled up, along with that of their friends, in aid of Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012.  (Yes, for profit: you pay to put ads on F-book.)

Why do I doubt that Zuckerberg will pay any meaningful price for his malfeasance, let alone face a prosecutorial fishing expedition for the next two or three years?

Ditto, ditto, the beneficiary of his malfeasance.  (I thought if you benefited from oppression, you were equally guilty? No?)

The media has tried to pin this on Donald Trump, after having lauded Obama for his “genius” in doing it first.  However, the current president did not use this information after the primaries, and not too surprisingly regards the RNC data as better.

Facebook is a place to post kitty pictures, say LOL and ZOMG, share game scores, and have your every move and comment analyzed, non-anonymously, for purposes of marketing and propaganda.  Did I mention the kitty pictures? Did I mention the surveillance?

And you are upset at the screening devices at the airport?  If you use Facebook, you are completely naked to the corporate gaze 24/7.

Everything I read convinces me anew that deleting my Facebook presence was a smart idea and a big act of self-care.  Why not join me?

Posted in Americana, Famous Bastards, Nutters and Such, The Agonies of Art, The Journey, The Lapping Shore of Psycholand | Comments Off on Told Ya So

Concert on Sunday

This Sunday, the Tower Trio will perform at the First Presbyterian Church in Goshen, New York. Program is at 3 PM and is free, though offerings are gladly received. A simple reception follows.

The Tower Trio consists of the founders of the Powers and Hall Duo, Jonathan Hall and Bill Powers, and Mary Lee Farris, a noted mezzo-soprano.

Program features not only vocal repertoire but music for organ, piano, harpsichord, saxophone, and flute. Three keyboards, two woodwinds, one diva. Perfect!

Ample parking.

Enjoy the spectacular Tiffany windows and 19th century ambience as you enjoy classics from Henry Purcell (“Musick for a While”)  to Ernest Charles (“When I Have Sung My Songs”).

Before you leave Goshen, have a look at the trotting racetrack–the cradle of this sport–and learn about the great Hambletonian, foaled in Sugar Loaf and sire of most of the nation’s trotting horses.

Posted in Baroque Music, Church, Harpsichord, Music, Piano Music, Pipe Organ | Comments Off on Concert on Sunday

Stephen Hawking–A Reminiscence

Stephen Hawking is dead at 76.

I vividly remember his visit to the University of Chicago in 1986.  His lecture, given via a graduate student to a packed Mandel Hall, was titled “Why Time Moves Forward” or something like that.

I won’t recap the details, and the talk was calculated for an intelligent audience comprising physicists and non-physicists, so any summary would be tricky.  However, to this day I feel I have a sense of why time moves forward, and what would happen if it didn’t.

At that time, Hawking could not speak audibly, so he whispered to his graduate assistant, an articulate young man who spoke very clearly and, I thought, without editing.

One funny moment: he asked the audience something simple and obvious, like whether time moves forward or whether teacups break when they fall to the floor.  Every hand in the house went up.  Hawking quipped:  “Proof that democracy works.”

I haven’t liked him as much in recent years.  No one is immune to self-inflation or to confusing a wormhole with a rabbit hole.  Hawking went down a lot of rabbit holes.  His last warning–to leave earth within 200 years–is rubbish, in my humanities-bred opinion.  (And don’t knock it:  we are creatures of language and our language gives us away.)

I’ll close with a couplet I wrote some years ago.  Science is a good heuristic, as are the methods of critical thought and close reading peculiar to the humanities–and as is religious faith.  So:

There’s no dark matter, but poetry makes it right.
What is a galaxy?  A Totentanz of light.

Rest in peace, Dr. Hawking.  Especially for your sake, I hope St. Thomas is right about the glorified body, and I hope you will enjoy yours one day.

Posted in Arthur, Astronomy, Inner Scientist, Literature and Philosophy, Speaking and Writing, The Journey, Theology etc. | Comments Off on Stephen Hawking–A Reminiscence

Volunteer Work

I have always enjoyed volunteer work.  Currently I help out pro bono at a local Catholic church for a weekend Mass.  Money is not abundant there, but the church is a little jewel and the pastor and I get along well.  The organ is old and, let’s face it, tired, but it is a pleasure to bring music to the church.

I have served the American Guild of Organists for many years as well, in a variety of roles from chapter to national.  This work–newsletter, website, chapter officer, dean, committee “adjunct,” full member, and director, and as writer and reviewer–is very fulfilling.

To volunteer, pitch in and fit in.  Don’t exact a moral or spiritual price, because that is no longer truly volunteering.  Yes, you’re unique and can shape the niche you occupy; that’s a given.  But remember: other people get their niches too.  Even yours truly.

Posted in AGO, Church, Pipe Organ, The Agonies of Art, The Journey | Comments Off on Volunteer Work

Harpsichord Diary

I’ve taken down all the previous posts under the “harpsichord” rubric.

I’m sorry to have done so, but it’s for the best.  The intention was good but in the real world it was not realistic.

After all:  to show vulnerability in this scene is a bad idea.  “Vulnerability” includes announcing that you have bought a harpsichord, and that you have loved the process of “coming up to speed” with ownership.

Mind you:  coming up to speed took me approximately a day.  I have impeccable training and a lot of experience, plus a hiatus.  Never mind.  That’s enough for some.

There is music, and there are our preferred ways to make it.  Nothing else is especially significant.

I’m currently working on a project related to harpsichord music, and will post more here when it’s closer to completion.

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Parallel Octaves, Again

I’ve read some internet chatter about BWV565 that makes me shake my head.

An allusion to “parallel octaves” in the opening measures.

Here we go again.

I wrote about this in The American Organist in September, 2011. The organ does not–repeat, does not–automatically play in parallel octaves and fifths. Registering a passage 8-4-2, or (equally) composing a solo line out in octaves, is not the same thing as “parallel,” “consecutive,” or “improperly approached” octaves.

Rather, it is one voice in the counterpoint. The pseudo-parallels are really just part of the harmonic series–the timbral profile of the single line. An orchestral tutti in unison is exactly the same thing: one line. Not twenty or thirty.

By the exact same token, writing a unison line in octaves is orchestrational or registrational–not contrapuntal. Invoking the shibboleth “parallel” is uncalled for.

I don’t know if this is the worst of it. Perhaps worse than judging “faults” where there are none is the underlying narrative: that “the rules” are all “just old stuff put up there to intimidate us.”

Before you say a word, please: look, actually look, at a few orchestral scores.

With any luck, within two minutes you will find passages where the basses double the cellos at the octave below, and where the piccolo doubles the flute at the octave above.

Brahms–Beethoven–to name two–didn’t know as much as you do about the laws of counterpoint? Do you really think that? Do you really think they were just “writing the way they felt” and slyly winking at the “rules”?

To repeat: it’s a unison line, registered and/or composed analogously to orchestration. One line of counterpoint. Not two lines forming parallel octaves.

In the age of cheap photons, it’s more important than ever to evaluate your sources. Be careful with random googly searches that land you on a page that sounds smart.

The lesson I offer you is a good one: timbre and counterpoint are not the same thing, and not all composing in octaves is “parallel” or “consecutive” per the historic (and perennially valid) rules of counterpoint.

Class dismissed!


Posted in AGO, Baroque Music, Music, Music Criticism, Music History, Music Theory, Nutters and Such, Pipe Organ, The Agonies of Art, The Lapping Shore of Psycholand | Comments Off on Parallel Octaves, Again