Sunday, December 31, 2023

The pears (and white butterflies and moths) of immortality

. . . But somehow they're there, the essence is there. We just don't understand it, our evolution hasn't taken us far enough yet to glimpse what the word that we stupidly use, soul, can mean.

I think you're right.

You know I'm right. I don't talk like this to everybody, but I talk like this to you because you know what I know.

Are you suggesting that death is unreal?

Oh, it's real, but something goes on--not your name, not your nose, but the you-ness goes on. I will swear that Felicia is with me a lot . . . though not in her shape.

I am frequently visited by a white moth or a white butterfly. Quite amazingly frequently. And I know it's Felicia. I remember that when she died, her coffin was in our living room in East Hampton. . . and just a few of us where there--the family and a rabbi and a priest, because she'd been brought up in a convent in Chile. We were playing the Mozart Requiem on the phonograph. Everyone was absolutely silent. And then this white butterfly flew in from God knows where--it just appeared from under the coffin and flew around, alighting on everybody in the room--on each of the children, on the rabbi, on the priest, on her brother-in-law and two of her sisters, on me . . . and then it was gone . . . though there was nothing open. And this has also happened to me here, sitting outside in my garden . . . White.

[After a long silence, L.B. refills our wine glasses, and his assistant returns to bring us dessert, which turns out to be two baked pears.]

Have a pear, Mr. Goldstone!

The pears of immortality. And these I "should" and will eat! They look delicious.

This is one of my favorite passages from Jonathan Cott's Dinner with Lenny, which I can't recommend highly enough for anyone interesting in knowing Leonard Bernstein. And I will certainly think differently about seeing white moths and white butterflies.

Friday, December 29, 2023


I loved everything about this move. All the music (with the exception of an excerpt from William Walton's Facade) was either written by Leonard Bernstein or performed by him. And Bradley Cooper captured Leonard Bernstein's Gestalt totally. Watching Cooper conduct Mahler's Second Symphony was like watching Leonard Bernstein conduct it. Watching Bradley Cooper's Bernstein teaching a conducting lesson at Tanglewood was like watching Leonard Bernstein teach.

I only have three teeny tiny criticisms. In the script I question the use of the phrase "read the room," which I believe is more of a twenty-first-century phrase than a twentieth-century phrase. (I never heard it until a few years ago, but I do lead a sheltered life). I also noticed that the European orchestra Bernstein performed the Mahler with had a healthy number of women in it, and many of those women were on the first stands of the string sections, and in the wind sections. Unless it was a freelance orchestra in London, I can't imagine that kind of gender equity coming into play in the 1970s. The decision the casting people made (and I believe they must have had good reasons for making it) didn't detract in any way from my enjoyment of the film.

I was pleased with the acting in the scene at Tanglewood with Serge and Olga Koussevitzky, but the actors who played them did not look in any way like the real people. I used to talk to Olga Koussevitzky at Tanglewood. My mother told me that she was a real princess, but I later learned that it wasn't true. In her French/Russian accent she would always ask me about my "bro-THEER." She had the most remarkable cheekbones.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Richard Kogan lecture "The Mind and Music of Leonard Bernstein"

I'll be seening Maestro tomorrow night (with friends who have Netflix). I have heard a great deal (both positive and negative) about the movie, including the fact that it doesn't contain much about Leonard Bernstein the composer, so I'm getting myself ready for the experience by reminding myself of who he was as a musician. If you have arrived here for the same reasons, Richard Kogan's lecture is a great place to start:

I'm also re-reading Jonathan Cott's Dinner with Lenny (here's a post I wrote about it in 2013), and an exerpt from The Infinite Variety of Music that I wrote about in 2005. In 2010 I wrote a post to mark the twentieth anniversary of Leonard Bernstein's death, with a link to a special edition of Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs filled with reminiscences of him by members of his family.

I overheard the movie trailer, and can report that Bradley Cooper captures the nasal quality that came into Leonard Bernstein's voice as he aged, but the pitch is just a semitone or so higher, and the timbre is a little less gravelly. I imagine it was enough for Cooper to fill Leonard Bernstein's shoes, body, and personality during the filming of this movie, but I can't imagine he would have inhaled enough tobacco to capture the gravel in Bernstein's voice. But I recall Bernstein's voice as an older man, and Cooper is portraying him as a younger man.

By the way, the one thing that Leonard Bernstein couldn't do musically was sing. Stephen Sondheim said that he had a voice like a frog.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Somebody, somewhere?

The shepherds of the internets, the people who write the software that gets unsuspecting humans to feel that they have connections with others through this or that social media platform, have really outdone themselves with “threads.” And in outdoing themselves they have gotten people like me (if there are any people really like me) to become totally uninterested with “connecting” by way of "threads."

The account, which I am about to remove from my phone, is full of posts from people offering lists of people they are interested in having “follow” them: musicians, artists, people who own dogs, people who like rice, photographers, film producers, foodies, etc., and they trust the trusty threads algorithm to do the work of connecting for them. They even address their posts, “Dear Algorithm.” But in reality these lists give a lot of easy information to Meta so that they can target threaders and their followers for ads in other Meta platforms. By making these lists, innocent people interested in finding people who share their interests are simply feeding the hungry algorithm. 

I admit that I have found some interesting people who post on threads, but I have other ways of reading what they have to say. And their work, which has nothing to do with my potential interactions with them, can go on without me.

The promise of finding people just like me is really not for me. In the decades of my life before using the internet, I managed to find people who shared my interests, concerns, and struggles. The common ground I found had a lot to do with circumstances: living in a particular place, working in a particular place (or field), being an outsider in a country or a culture, being single, being part of a couple, having small children, having not-so-small children, having aging parents, participating in particular activities, and not participating in particular activies.

I have learned over the years that I prefer to engage in activities and friendships with people who do not share ALL of my interests. One or two shared interests is enough. By interacting with people who are different from me I gain perspective about life and about the world.

I do appreciate the  “power” of social media mainly because I can use it to share, and I love the ease that the internet offers for me to answer zillions of questions and access music by way of the IMSLP. I also really appreciate the ability to connect with groups of people who need music to play by way of Facebook. And my blogs add a huge amount of value to my life.

I have nothing to sell (work I have done that is sold is the property of one or another publisher), so I view my (non-commercial) corners of the internets as a way of offering something to somebody somewhere who might need it in order to make their life easier, more interesting, or more enjoyable.

It's too bad that most of the messages that I find in my email inbox are put there by people I do not know who want to sell me something. I know that there are people online (like me) who are not selling something. I guess that selling is the main reason for the internets, and without that “marketplace,” blogs like this one wouldn't exist. 

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Hodie Cookies (Holiday Oatmeal Cookies)

I made these cookies on a whim this morning before playing a consort concert that was organized around several settings of the Hodie, so I'm calling them "Hodie Cookies." Hodie (pronouced ho-dee-ay) is Latin for "today." I really wasn't sure how they would come out (I was in full improvisation mode--but I did manage to measure and to write things down). I REALLY liked the result. They have a holiday "look" to them, and a taste that suggests gingerbread, but only very quietly.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit

Cream together:

1 stick softened unsalted butter and
1 cup granulated cane sugar


1 tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup chopped walnuts


1.5 cups white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground (powdered) ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Mix the dry ingredients into the wet, and then add

1.5 cups lightly-sweetened whole cranberry sauce (lightly sweetened if you make it yourself, out of the can without extra sugar if you use canned cranberry sauce).
1/2 cup raisins
3 cups quick-cooking oats

Mix together, and then drop by tablespoons onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silicone mats. Top each cookie with a little bit of cane sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Cool and eat.

This recipe made around 50 small cookies.

I imagine that you could use fresh ginger. If you do make sure to grate it finely, and mix it in with the wet ingredients so that the flavor distributes.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

In Praise of the Day

I wish I knew who made this little gem:

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Three Christmas pieces arranged for flute, viola (violin), and cello

'Tis the season for Christmas parties, so for your (and my) Christmas party pleasure I'm sharing a set of three transcriptions of ever-popular pieces that I made for a party that I am playing next week.

The viola parts do not extend beyond the violin range, so there is a treble clef part in the set for people who play violin and are not used to reading the alto clef. The flute parts can also be played on the violin.

For wind trios the cello parts can work on the bassoon, and the treble clef violin part could be transposed and played on the clarinet.

Here's the link.