November 2008


November 27, 2008 02:05

In the U.S. we celebrate Thanksgiving today.  I want to say thanks to all my friends at and, especially, to Laurie and Robert Niles, who have created and maintained this fantastic site.

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David Oistrakh and the Flu

November 18, 2008 01:59

The flu is strictly mine. David Oistrakh is beyond that. I’ve got the flu. Last night I felt absolutely awful. I couldn’t even name my symptoms. I just felt awful all over. I decided to do something unusual to relax. I spread out my favorite warm, soft blanket on the sofa, picked up some light reading (“The Haunted Mesa” by Louis L’Amour), and one of my music DVDs, which I seldom watch. I chose David Oistrakh, EMI Classics, which has been discontinued by the manufacturer, so I’m lucky to have it. My plan was to read while listening to music. I thought that I didn’t need to watch the DVD, just listen to it. I certainly was wrong.

The DVD has seven pieces, and I decided to start with the Sibelius Concerto. This piece of music is a new found love for me, and I have listened to recordings of it by both Hilary Hahn and Joshua Bell over and over. The excitement begins with the very first note the violin plays. It reminds me of a thin wire stretched until it is absolutely taut. Oistrakh’s playing fit this description in part, but it had an extra richness not present in the other two recordings. Once I heard this note, I seem to be connected to the performance by a taut wire. Oistrakh’s playing of this concerto was unlike any I had heard before. It was exciting. It held me spellbound to every note. I violated my own intention and watched it closely, too. The first movement alone traversed a wide range of emotions. I looked at the program notes and saw “Allegro moderato – Molto moderato e tranquillo – Allegro molto – Moderato assai – Allegro moderato,” all for the first movement. The second movement took me by surprise. It was so beautifully sweet. I had not heard it played this way before. I had to stop the DVD, go back and listen to the second movement again. The third movement made a distinct impression on me for a completely different reason: the orchestral part. It was strongly rhythmic, almost bouncing, but retaining the taut quality of the piece. Wow! I felt like I had heard a completely new piece of music. I went back to the beginning and listened to the whole piece all over again. This time I watched Oistrakh more carefully. His long, straight bow strokes and the quality of his vibrato, especially in the higher positions, were striking.

After listening to the Sibelius Concerto twice, I looked out the window. The sky was getting light in the east. I thought that I should really get some sleep, but my discomfort had gotten stronger. Reluctantly, I took some medication. Then I settled down on the sofa, wrapped in my blanket, and set the DVD to the Tchaikovsky Concerto. My painkiller started working quickly, and I drifted off to sleep almost immediately. I never got to watch the Tchaikovsky Concerto or the other pieces on the DVD. I will watch that DVD soon. I won’t wait for the flu to push me into it again.

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The World's Financial Mess and Violin Lessons

November 13, 2008 02:08

I fell asleep the other day while listening to the radio.  I awoke with the memory of the newscaster saying, "fear of a global depression."  At least I think that's what he said.  Maybe he said the more commonly used phrase "global recession."

I don't understand economics at all.  At first I heard and believed that the current economic situation was caused by something with moral overtones:  People buying houses with mortgages greater than what they can afford or, alternatively, banks giving mortgages to people who couldn't afford them.  Then I think that I read that the cause was farther back in time than that.     

I remember studying the Great Depression when I was in school and asking whether this could happen again.  I suppose that a lot of people had the same question because the New York Times ran an article about it.  I think that the gist of the article was that laws and regulations have been changed.  It might also have said that times have changed, and the current recession was precipitated by factors which were not present in the Great Depression.

The NY Times carried a different story, one that I could understand because of the big photos.  New houses in a new community had sold at enormous prices, in spite of the fact that the residents would have a two hour commute to jobs in the nearest big city.  Almost everyone in that community could not make their mortgage payments.  As the houses were going to foreclosure, the residents tried to make as much money as they could with giant yard sales.  People put their beds, lamps, other furniture, kids' toys, and even objects of great sentimental value outside for a huge, general auction.  I liked looking at the story and especially the photos because they put human faces on the economic news.      

In the early days of the stock market crash, someone I knew stayed glued to his computer monitor all day, following the value of his considerable investments rise and fall.  I somehow got the idea that if the Dow went up and stayed up, the trouble would be over.  Then I started following the Dow at the days end (not all day) hoping for a great and lasting rise.  Alas, my theory was proven wrong by the facts.  Reporters said that stockholders were behaving irrationally, trying to sell their stocks when there were no good reason to.  They were motivated by fear.  I stopped watching the Dow bounce up and down. 

By this time, I was getting more personal messages of bad news.  One of my friends has been told that 30% of the staff in her department will be laid off, and she has good reason to believe that she will be among that 30%.  Another friend told me that half of the staff at his company had been laid off.  I saw him a few days ago and now he, too,has been laid off.  He is an immigrant who has been in this country for 25 years, and we both agree that he is much better off here than in his country of origin.  He asked me, "What happened to the American dream?  America land of opportunity?"

I know the story.  In fact, I'm living it.  I was laid off from my job as a scientific reviewer seven years ago and have not found a permanent job, although I have had a few -- very few -- temp and freelance jobs.  I know where to find the lowest prices of every thing, and I enjoy shopping at second hand stores.  My biggest problem now is not having health insurance.  I have several chronic or chronic intermittent ailments.  Asthma and migraines are the worst.  Asthma medicines are incredibly expensive.  I just can't afford them.

A few years ago I changed careers and became a violin teacher.  I love my work, but I'll never get rich.  Right now, my teaching roster is lower than it's ever been, and some people take lessons every other week.  I know that financial stress is the cause for some students.  The parents of one of my former students are divorcing, and the mother has primary custody of the daughter.  The mother was doing quite well financially until recently.  She was a realtor.  Now the boom has fallen.  The mother and daughter had to move out of their home with only a few days notice.  The mother is looking desperately for a more stable job.  Meanwhile, there are no more violin lessons.  Another student is quite talented and loves playing the violin.  Another student is quite talented and loves playing the violin.  Her mother told me that she would have to stop taking lessons because the family-owned business was not doing well.  I could not let this student go, so I suggested that she come for a lesson every other week.  The parents discussed it and agreed to it.  I suppose that other students who have dropped out or did not start lessons did so because of financial needs.

Somehow, I believe that things will get better, if not for me, then for many others.  However, I believe that things will get worse before they get better.

I've been vacillating between two sentences to end with:  "Frankly, I'm scared." and "We always have hope for change."  I'll leave it to my readers to decide for themselves.

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The Promise Fulfilled

November 8, 2008 15:06

A few months ago, a neighbor asked me about my views on the upcoming Presidential election. I told him that I just could not believe that a black man could be elected President of this country.

I'm just old enough to have participated, in a small way, in the Civil Rights movement. When I was 15, my father took me to the National Mall for a big civil rights rally, and I heard Martin Luther King give his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Its effects on me were profound and lasting.


I got very excited a few years ago when a black man was elected Governor of Virginia. (Incidentally, I'm white and I don't live in Virginia.) Years ago, many counties in Virginia closed their public schools rather than comply with the Supreme Court's decision on school desegregation. When the people of Virginia elected a black man as Governor, I was astonished and thrilled.

This year, as the Presidential election drew near, news reporters and poll casters said that Obama had enough votes to win the election. As Nov. 4, voting day, approached, their predictions got stronger and stronger. Finally, I had to believe them. On election day, I voted in the morning and watched the results on TV at night. I enjoyed seeing the large crowds celebrating at Times Square in New York and Hyde Park in Chicago even before a winner could be declared. I focused on a little blue box on the TV screen showing how many votes Obama had in the Electoral College. He needed 270 to win. When he passed the mark, I jumped up and down, clapped, and shouted for joy. I had no one with me to join in the celebration, and people were not dancing in the streets outside of my home, so I made a long distance call to a friend who is very pro-Democratic and pro-Obama, and we cheered and applauded together.

They said it couldn't be done. I said it couldn't be done. But the American people had elected a black man as President. Aside from his race, I thought he was the best qualified candidate in the election.

The election is only the beginning. Obama will have his hands full of crises, in part due to eight years of power of the Bush administration. However, I'm optimistic. Changes really do happen.

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Leon Fleisher Playing Schubert

November 5, 2008 17:55

Here is a video of Leon Fleisher playing a Schubert sonata.  This goes with my review of six new CDs of Leon Fleisher, dated Oct. 30, 2008.  When I wrote my review, was undergoing revisions, and I couldn't post the clip from youtube.  I hope it works this time.


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