Archive for May, 2013


The Rite of Spring

Today is the 100th anniversary of the world premier of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring score and ballet, which was originally done  in Paris in 1913 . For a cool visual interpretation of the music, check out this link. It featured Sergey Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky.  The piece forever changed classical music and ballet, in the way that it introduced a new kind of modern music, dance and story.  According to this NPR article:

“In addition to the outrageous costumes, unusual choreography and bizarre story of pagan sacrifice, Stravinsky’s musical innovations tested the patience of the audience to the fullest. When the curtain rose and the dancing began, there appeared a musical theme without a melody, only a loud, pulsating, dissonant chord with jarring, irregular accents. In the introduction, Stravinksy called for a bassoon to play higher in its range than anyone else had ever done. In fact, the instrument was virtually unrecognizable as a bassoon. One of the dancers recalled that Vaslav Nijinsky’s shocking choreography was physically unnatural to perform. ‘With every leap we landed heavily enough to jar every organ in us.’ The music itself was angular, dissonant and totally unpredictable.  The audience responded to the ballet with such a din of hisses and catcalls that the performers could barely hear each other.”

Ballet Russe Dances from The Rite of Spring 

The  ballet and score was seen as scandalous and required the police to come and stop the riot caused by the audience’s reaction. People reacted in the voilent way they did because the ballet and music went totally against other traditional ballet and orchestra pieces of the day. According to this webpage about the riot, “As the ballet progressed, so did the audience’s discomfort. Those in favor of Stravinksy’s work argued with those in opposition.” The composer himself was said to be incredibly angry at the crowd’s response to his music.

I first heard The Rite of Spring score as a kid, though I didn’t know it. It was one of the pieces of music selected for the Disney movie Fantasia. It is shortened by ten minutes instead of having the full 35 minute piece, and is the fourth and longest segment in the film. To be honest, it wasn’t one of my favorites, probably because it is so dark and discordant sounding (although I loved Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by JS Bach, which was also dark). I much preferred the happier sounding Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky, The Pastoral Symphony by Beethoven, or Ponchielli’s La Giaconda: Dance of the Hours. I know the movie gets a lot of complaints about scaring children with The Night on Bald Mountain sequence and all the topless female centaurs in the Pastoral Symphonys section of the film, it has always been one of my favorites and probably at least part of the reason why I still really enjoy listening to classical music today. I’ve never seen the piece live and it is probably one of the few ballets that I would actually love to go see, just to hear the music.

Enterprise-Schematic-star-trek-the-next-generation

Sorry I’ve been MIA lately. Last week got kinda crazy. My boss’s fiance gave birth the week before last so he was out of the office pretty much all of that week and most of this past week. We had just been slammed with work and on top of that, my son and I got either food poisoning or this one-day stomach bug that’s been going around the Phoenix area. Then my hubby got sick and had to see a doctor. Last weekend I got to see the new Star Trek movie, which was awesome. I saw it in 2D but I know it would’ve been pretty cool in 3D as well. I had heard pretty mixed reviews on it, so wasn’t sure it was going to be all that great. I must say though, Benedict Cumberbatch made a very interesting villain, most of all because of his deep gravelly voice (so sexy). Not to mention Chris Pine playing the hero Captain Kirk, with that roguish bad-boy charm, who has to make some incredibly hard choices to get the job done. The movie was full of male and female eye candy, but a good story and a lot of action and adventure to keep everyone entertained as well. I’m hoping they’ll continue making more of these movies. I’ve always been an on-again off-again Star Trek fan, but right now I’m definitely a fan. I grew up watching Star Trek: Next Generation and ST: Deep Space Nine, which I just loved. Probably one of the only reasons I have any idea who Wil Wheaton is today is because of that show. Well that and he now does some of the best teen audiobook narration ever. I watched a bit of Star Trek: Voyagerand think that Janeway was a pretty good captain. I know I’ve watched the movie Star Trek Generations, and the latest Star Trek movie (2009), but I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the other movies. I’m gonna try to watch the original Star Trek series with Kirk, Scotty, Dr. McCoy, Spock et al, but it’s so spectacularly bad (low budget), I’m not sure how long I’ll last. Then I was hoping to tackle 1-6 of the original Star Trek movies.

phoenix-comicon-logo

This weekend was the Phoenix Comicon. For those who have never been to a comic convention, it is definitely an interesting experience. This was my third one, and it was definitely the biggest and craziest one I’ve ever been to. I went to my first one totally by accident. I had a friend who was interning at the Museum for Comic Book Art in NYC and they were having one at the museum, and I was visiting, so I got invited to it. I wanna say that was the summer of 2003. Even though it was small, it had some really big name people there. Frank Miller, who created/illustrated the series From Hell, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns300, and Sin City just to name a few. My friend had an art-gasm being that close to a legend and got him to sign his copy of From Hell and he did a little drawing too. I discovered a few really cool things like Edward Einhorn, who did an Oz spin-off book called Paradox in Ozwhich was illustrated by the now pretty famous Eric Shanower, who does Oz comics/graphic novels. I’ve read his 5 volume set Adventures in Oz. I also discovered the series Max Hamm: Fairy Tale Detective by Frank Cammuso. That first comicon really opened my eyes to comics, though I probably didn’t really start reading them till around graduate school. My second comicon was last year in Tempe, and it was a bit bigger. I saw a lot of creators/illustrators I had never heard of and some that I had. It was a fun event.

The one I went to yesterday was similar but about 5 times bigger. It took me three hours just to walk all the way through all the vendors/artists/famous folks. They had actors/actresses from many sci-fi and fantasy shows like Babylon 5 (apparently this year was the 20th Anniversary of the show so they had about 14 cast members plus the shows creator there), The Walking Dead stars Laurie Holden, Chandler Riggs, and Michael Rooker (and I was impressed how friendly the last guy looked, not at all like his TV persona), some anime voice over actors, Wil Wheaton, and John Barrowman (star of Torchlight and a frequent guest of David Tennant’s Doctor Who). I would’ve really liked to have met the last two but everyone was charging a minimum of $20-50 for pictures and signatures, so I just checked them out from a far. One of my current favorite writers was there, Adam Rex, but he just happened to be away from his table when I was over there and wouldn’t be back for a half hour. It’s a good thing I’m not claustrophobic, as I have never seen so many people in one area. There must’ve been more than 1000 people in the giant halls they blended together to have one giant space for all the vendors and creator/illustrators. The Society for Creative Anachronisms was there, along with L.A.R.P. (Live Action Role Play – another friend of mine used to do that). I have never seen people in so many different costumes in my life. There were people dressed up like unicorns, any number of superhero and anime stars, Disney princesses, zombies (even saw a zombie Snow White), Catwoman, and there was a guy dressed up like a Tusken Raider from Star Wars and his son was dressed up like a Jawa. There was one random pair of girls in literally just heels, underwear with something written across the butt and a very short top. There was one whole section just for this Star Wars charity group, but they had Lego Star Wars models (Millenium Falcon, Death Star, Star Destroyer). There was this one guy who did these almost pin-up versions of sci fi girls like Princess Leia and others. They had a lot of steampunk jewelry for sale, which I liked, but most of it was out of my price range. Lots of guys and girls were dressed up like Doctor Who, which I was pretty surprised about, to be honest. I mean I know more and more people know about it, but I didn’t think it was that popular. For some reason, that kid’s cartoon show Adventure Time was also really popular and there were quite a few teenagers dressed up like those characters. From a people-watching perspective, it was a very interesting time. There were a ton of families there with small children, though I’m glad I went by myself as I know my son would not have been a happy camper for that long there. His toddler patience is shorter than mine. I didn’t manage to make to any of the panel discussions even though there were quite a few that I had wanted to attend. I think if I decided to do this again, or even better, go to the San Diego Comicon (my ultimate goal), I would buy a two day or weekend pass far in advance. That way I could hit all the vendors one day and then take another day to do panels.

Book Reviews #5

I’ve been kind of slow with book reading the last month. I’ve finally gotten into the swing of working FT again and it leaves me with very little time to read anymore, with the exception of lunch breaks, in between my son’s bathtime and bed, or after he’s in bed and on the weekeends. I hope to try to dedicate more time to it on the weekends. I’ve had some cool things happen bookwise in the past week. I was contacted by an author’s publicist/marketing person to see if I wanted to review her book. An intern of the publicist had seen this blog and liked it so much that they recommended me. So yesterday I received a copy of the book and I’m hoping to tackle it starting this weekend, after I finish my current book The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth (which is what the BBC show Call the Midwife is based off of, at least the first season). The to-be-reviewed book is a historical fiction romance.

I also won a huge Mother’s Day blog giveaway and have been receiving e-book versions of some of the books, but expect a few more books, a bracelet making kit, a $25 King Arthur Flour Gift Certificate and 6 DVDs. I’m also listening to Virgil’s The Aeneid on audiobook, with a very good translation by Robert Fagles, and read by the amazing actor Simon Callow. I am going to look for more books narrated by him as he’s so expressive with all the different male and female voices. I’ve seen him do his impressions of Charles Dickens on film/stage, and I was very impressed by them. I am a little annoyed because I’ve been listening to Michael Scott’s series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel on audiobook and there is a long wait for the last book in the series, so I’ve got a hard copy of it to read once I get through these next two or three books.  On to the book reviews. As always, I rate things from 1 – 5 stars, one being the lowest and 5 being the highest. The Caldecott Challenge, which I started last May, is my attempt to read all of the Caldecott Honors and Award winners from 1938 – the present. This year, I will include some photos of illustrations that I like with the reviews.

Children

Bear in Love by Daniel Pinkwater

A cute story about a bear and a mysterious friend who keeps leaving the bear tasty treats so the bear shares with the friend and discovers that he is a bunny. Very adorable illustrations, though my biggest gripe was that the book went on forever. I know both my son and I were getting bored by the end of it. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 stars.

Nighttime Ninja by Barbara Da Costa, illustrated by Ed Young

 I picked this up for Liam because I thought he might like it. I had no idea that it was illustrated by the awesome Ed Young, whose cut paper, textured cloth, string and colored pictures illustrations were truly amazing. While the book was a little too nuanced for my son, it is a fun look into a young ninja’s mission training, that is until he is interrupted by his mom and sent back to bed. Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.

Caldecott Challenge

Man Selling Baby Elephants from What do you say, Dear

What Do You Say, Dear? by Sesyle Joslin, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

A cute question and answer book about manners, this book won a 1959 Caldecott Honor award. This book is way better than the “A Very Special House” that he illustrated for Ruth Krause, which won the Honor Award in 1954, and the illustrations really made the book awesome and funny. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.

Umbrella by Taro Yashima

This book won a Caldecott Honor, in 1959. And although the story was pretty good, I just did not like the artwork (though it was definitely more colorful than Crow Boy). Momo, whose name means peach, is a little Japanese girl living in NYC. When she turns three, she is given red rubber boots and an umbrella, but it is the wrong season so she can’t use them until the fall. She is so excited once she does use it and the rain makes music on her umbrella (which went on for freaking ever, though my son was amused by the words/sounds). The first time she used her umbrella is also the first time she walks by herself without holding her parent’s hands. I personally liked one of the other Caldecott honor books that year What Do You Say, Dear? way better than this book. Recommended for ages 2-6, 2 stars.

Frog went A Courtin - Cider beetle

Frog Went A-Courtin’ by John Langstaff, illustrated by Feodor Rojankofsky

As they say in the introduction to this book, the story/ballad of “The Frog and the Mouse” was brought from Great Britain to America. I remember hearing it as a kid and could sing along to some of it, but I had never heard the full version. The basic story is that a playboy frog goes to marry a country mouse, but needs the permission of her Uncle Rat first. He consents and everyone is invited, included a tom cat who breaks up the party and chases everyone away. I love the detailed folksy images by the illustrator Feodor Rojankovsky, primarily in green and black, but with splashes of color (yellow, red, blue and brown) every couple of pages. This book won the 1956 Caldecott Award. Recommended for ages 2-7, 3 stars.

Free Fall by David Wiesner

Free Fall by David Wiesner

Another awesome wordless picture book from David Wiesner, this one won a 1989 Caldecott Honor award. In this book, a young boy is dreaming about far off places. A chess set comes alive and soon the boy is next to a peaceful dragon and some knights, queens and page boys. The boy becomes a giant, in a scene that looks like it was taken straight out of “Gulliver’s Travels”. My favorite image is of fallen leaves turning into swans and fishes. On the jacket flap is a poem, which I’m guessing the entire book is based off of. As this book reviewer said, “Scenes reminiscent of Raphael, Escher, and Magritte make your mind flip with the use of juxtaposition and other curious twists of truth. While this book is certainly not your traditional picture book and therefore, perhaps, hard for young children to follow, it is delightfully unique, an adventure throughout a realm of oxymorons. With an artist’s watercolors in place of a magician’s wand or a writer’s notebook, this book is just as pleasing as any literary novel.” Recommended for ages 7+, 5 stars.

The Boy of the Three-Year Nap by Diane Snyder, illustrated by Allen Say

This year, 1988, was a particularly good year for picture books.  Mirandy and Brother Wind and Free Fall were two books that also won the Caldecott Honor, which were really well done. This one comes a close second in my opinion. In this story, Taro is always sleeping and never working, which earns him the title, “the boy of the three-year nap”. One day a rich merchant moves into the town and Taro envies all of the merchant’s belongings, including his beautiful daughter. He decides to play a trick on the merchant and dresses up like a god and orders the merchant to marry his daughter to Taro or she will be turned into a pot. When his mother finds out what he has done, she has some tricks up her sleeve too. Cute story, but definitely greatly improved upon by the lovely illustrations by Allen Say. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.

Three Jovial Huntsman: A Mother Goose Rhyme by Susan Jeffers

This short book was based off a Mother Goose rhyme about three huntsmen who are so enjoying the act of going out and talking amongst themselves that they lose track of the prey they are following. They come back home empty-handed. This book won a 1974 Caldecott Honor award. Recommended for ages 3-6, 2 stars.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs retold and illustrated by Wanda Gag

I’ve been waiting forever to get my hands on a copy of this book, which won a 1939 Caldecott Honor award, and the last one I needed to read for that year. Wee Gillis is still my favorite from 1939. This is a good version, with cute little illustrations at the top of the pages, though the dwarves look more like gnomes. It is one of the most accurate versions I’ve seen, i.e. following the real Grimm Brothers story instead of the Disney-fied happy ending version. It was a bit too long to hold most preschoolers attention span, but the older kids would probably like it. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 stars.

Young Adult

The Sorceress (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel #3) by Michael Scott

I think this is the best book in the series so far! It was nonstop action from beginning to end. I will say that everytime Josh complains about snakes (which he hates), I always think of Indian Jones and the “Snakes?! Why did it have to be snakes?!” that he always says. I also think that the author is genius with the way he keeps adding more and more famous/infamous people to be immortals, but it’s always a little surprising as well to find out who. Niccolo Macchiaveli may be my favorite immortal in the series.

Nicholas and the twins have escaped to London, where they meet up with a friend of the Count’s, a Saracen knight named Palamedes. It is at Palamedes’ junkyard that they meet a former pupil of both Flamel and Dee, William Shakespeare. He apologizes to his former master for betraying him to Dee and helps him contact Perry, who is still trapped on Alcatraz. She has been busy there, as she has found the Good Elder Areop-Enap, the Old Spider, and with her help has imprisoned the Morrigan (who was sent to kill her). Palamedes, Shakespeare, Nicholas and the twins are attacked by Dr. Dee and Cernunnos (pronounced Kerninus), the Horned God and ancient leader of the Wild Hunt. Will they escape the wrath of Cernunnos? Will Perry ever get off the island? To find out, read this exciting adddition to the series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. Recommended for ages 10+, 5 stars.

The Necromancer (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel #4) by Michael Scott

I liked this book a lot in the beginning, but it seriously dragged in the middle and was way longer than it needed to be. However, the ending made up for that by being totally exciting and a bit crazy. I loved how the author added more world mythology into the story, including Pre-Columbian, Mesopotamian and Greek gods/Elders. I also liked how they dug into the past of the Witch of Endor and the Arcons.

The Flamels and the twins return to San Francisco, and for a minute it seems like things are relatively back to normal. But when they see a strange black limo pulled up outside their house, they become suspicious. It turns out that Scathach has a twin sister named Aoife that she hasn’t spoken to in centuries. Aoife (pronounced Ife) is searching for her sister because she felt her leave this world. Meanwhile, Dr. Dee has been declared utlaga (a man who needs to be captured and wanted alive) by the Elders, and is on the run from England. He encounters the immortal Virginia Dare and they join forces. As we saw from the last book, Joan of Arc and Scathach are still trapped in the Pleistocene era, but are quickly joined by Saint-Germain, Shakespeare and Palamedes. A mysterious one-armed man has just showed up as well. Niccolo Machiavelli and Billy the Kid managed to get off Alcatraz, after Perry stranded them there, but are almost immediately sent back by Billy’s Dark Elder Master. They are charged with releasing the monsters on the island onto San Francisco. Will Nicholas, Perry and the twins be able to stop the monsters? Will Scathach, Joan and the others ever escape from the Pleistocene era? Will Aoife find a way to help her sister? To find read the exciting 4th book in this series. Recommended for ages 12+, 4 stars.

The Warlock (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel #5) by Michael Scott

I know a lot of folks have given this book a pretty so-so review, but I really enjoyed it. Although I have to say that it ended with the mother of all cliff-hangers, as you’re trying to figure out just exactly it means to the story and the characters themselves. I think I have figured out just who the one-handed man is in the story, but I can’t quite figure out how he came into existence to do his special task in the first place. Hopefully they will explain everything in the sixth and final book.

One of the first things that happens in the book is that the Witch of Endor finally frees her husband, Mars Ultor from his prison in the catacombs under Paris and sets him on a mission to kill Dr. John Dee. She is joined by Isis and Osiris, two more Elders, who it seems are also after Dee. Meanwhile, the main characters of our story, Sophie and Josh Newman have split up. Sophie has kept with the Flamels and Josh (through manipulation) has joined Dee and Virginia Dare. Niten, Sophie, the Flamels and Prometheus end up at Tsagaglalal’s house, who turns out to be the twin’s “Aunt” Agatha. Meanwhile, Scatty, Palamedes, Shakespeare, Joan of Arc and Saint Germain go with the Hook-handed man to make sure that Danu Talis falls,(the original home of the Elders, from 10,000 years ago) so that the humani can exist afterwards. At the same time, we have Josh, Dee and Virginia Dare at Alcatraz and they are planning to set the monsters free, but Machiavelli and Billy the Kid are feeling confused about what to do. Will someone stop Dr. Dee? Just what is Dee’s plan now that his first plan to get rid of the Elders has failed? Will Sophie ever reunite with her brother? To find out, read this exciting fifth book of the series. 5 stars.

Clockwork Princess (The Infernal Devices #3) by Cassandra Clare

I thought this was a pretty good end to The Infernal Devices series, though goodness it was long (longer than it needed to be in my opinion). I also enjoyed the ending, though I will say that I was particularly surprised by the turn of events. Though I will say that the author may be the biggest tease on the planet, in one particular scene (you will understand once you read it). And I was a little disappointed by the lack of smooches in this book, a topic that the author is pretty awesome at writing about. This book was all about the drama and decisions.

Tessa is engaged to Jem, and she loves him. Unfortunately, she is also in love with Will, who is head over heals for her but won’t do anything because she is engaged to his parabatai (blood brother). Jem has to rely on his supply of yin fen to combat the demon poison in his system, but it is killing him. To make matters worse, the evil Mortmain has seized all of London’s supply of the drug to force the Shadowhunters to give him Tessa, so he can finish his plans of destruction. Will enlists the help of Magnus Bane to find a cure for Jem. Gabriel and Gideon Lightwood’s father has turned into a demon and they have to destroy him at the beginning of the book, leaving Gabriel without a place to live. Cecily, Will’s sister, is learning that she loves being a Shadowhunter. Meanwhile, the Consul of the Shadowhunters is trying to get rid of Charlotte and replace her with a lackey, and he doesn’t believe that Mortmain is where Charlotte claims him to be. Will Will be able to save Jem in time? Will the Shadowhunters be able to defeat Mortmain and his Infernal Devices? Just who will Tessa marry? To find out, read the exciting conclusion to the series. Recommended for ages 15+, 4 stars.

Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School #1) by Gail Carriger

I will admit that I did not want to read this book for awhile due to the description, which just didn’t pique my interest. However, I had seen a review of it somewhere that changed my mind. I had loved Carriger’s The Parasol Protectorate series and it definitely helps to have read these books as some of the same characters pop up in the story, though it is not a prerequisite.

Fourteen year old Sophronia is a tomboy more interested in how things work and improving things than being a lady. Her mother decides to send her to finishing school to correct this, and Sophronia reluctantly agrees to go. On the way to the school, “Madame Geraldine”, another new student named Dimity and her brother Pillover are set upon by Flyawaymen (basically airborn burglars) who want to steal a mysterious prototype. It is only after they arrive at the school that Sophronia figures out the true nature the school. The school teaches, as the title explains, how to behave properly and how to become an intelligencer (spy) or an assassin, so she is picking up all kinds of new things including how to mix poisons and ways to covertly exchange messages. Sophronia gains possession of a mechanimal (mechanical dog), which she names Bumbersnoot and befriends the “sooties”, young boys who help keep the school afloat (it is a massive airship floating above the moors). Will Sophronia be able to find out the true nature of the prototype and where it has been hidden? Will she improve her lady-like qualities? To find out, read this exciting first book of The Finishing School series. Can’t wait to read the second book! Recommended for ages 12+, 5 stars.

Adult

Journeys on the Silk Road: A Desert Explorer, Buddha’s Secret Library, and the Unearthing of the World’s Oldest Printed Book by Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walters

I absolutely loved this book that I randomly picked up in the new nonfiction section at the library! It was a narrative nonfiction about Hungarian/British explorer Sir Aurel Stein and his now famous discovery of the Diamond Sutra (the world’s oldest printed book – a woodblock printed source from the 8th century) and a secret library of Buddhist texts that he discovered in Dunhuang, China in 1911. The story is set in Chinese Turkestan and charts his journey to the Cave of the Thousand Buddhas, and back to India and then London (the British Museum). The colorful cast of characters that accompanied Stein included his Turkish and Indian workers (porters, surveyor, cook and camel-man) and Chinese translator, all of which are carefully documented in the book, along with photographs. I also liked that the authors included their entire extensive bibliographies, so I could get further information on the topic, several of which were also mentioned multiple times in the text. The book was definitely a nice trip to another land and time, an exotic locale to be sure, and one that I would love to hear more about. One of the coolest things mentioned was the creation of this international digital resource for Silk Road manuscripts/scrolls and paintings, The International Dunhuang Project, which has over 400,000 images including the Diamond Sutra itself (which had to be removed from the public eye of the British Library to be completely conserved, and created this project to deal in part with requests to examine it). The information on the British collections relate primarily to the Stein collections. Highly recommended, 5 stars.

Dirt Candy: A Cookbook: Flavor-Forward Food from the Upstart New York City Vegetarian Restaurant by Amanda Cohen and Grady Hendrix, illustrated by Ryan Dunlavey

I picked this up in the New Cookbook section of the library last time I was there. Is it bad to say I loved the comic but was only so-so on the recipes? The chef/author worked with an artist to create this cool history on her career, the restaurant and theory/practice on how to cook vegetables. I found that part fascinating. The recipes were very inventive and definitely different than anything I had ever seen before for vegetarian food, but involved multiple steps and were the kind of recipes I’d rather eat in a restaurant than try to make at home. I marked a couple of them to try later though. 3 stars.

Veggie Burgers Every Which Way: Fresh, Flavorful & Healthy Vegan & Vegetarian Burgers: Plus Toppings, Sides, Buns and More by Lukas Volger

I loved his other cookbook Vegetarian Entrees That Won’t Leave You Hungry, so I figured I could give this one a try. It was a nice guide to easy veggie burgers, literally anything you could think of he had a recipe for and included toppings, sides, and buns. I am very interested to try the Easy Bean Burgers, Quinoa Red Bean and Walnut Burgers, Best Portobello Burgers, Red Cabbage Slaw, and Quick-Pickled Red Onions. 3 stars.

JohnPhilipSousa-Chickering_LOC

I love John Philip Sousa’s music and it is because of him that I enjoy a good march. We had to play his music in my high school marching band because of being so close to the Nation’s Capital (my last two years of high school were spent in Alexandria, Virginia, about 20 minutes outside of Washington DC). Plus they’re just fun to play, especially if you’re in the woodwind section, which I was (I played clarinet in band for 7 years). While Stars and Stripes Forever will always be my favorite, I also love his piece The Washington Post. In fact, this is the one I am humming while writing this post. My dad used to work down the street from the Marine Barracks in DC, where the Marine Band would give free concerts in the summer, though I never managed to go to one. I found this Muppet version of SaSF while browsing for related material. If you want to see a decent movie about the maestro, check out this 1952 musical film Stars and Stripes Forever starring Clifton Webb as Sousa.

John Philip Sousa Band

Today’s post topic comes from the celebration of Stars and Stripes Forever Day, which marks the first public performance of  on this date in 1897, though it was composed on Christmas Day 1896. It is the offical march of the USA, actually written into the Constitution.  So to start, I would like to give a little biography on John Philip Sousa. “March music is for the feet, not for the head,” John Philip Sousa once stated, and that is definitely true as you can’t help tapping your feet along to a good march. Born of German and Spanish parents, Sousa grew up around military bands as his father played trombone in the U.S. Marine Band, which Sousa himself was apprenticed to in 1868 at age 13. In 1872, he published his first piece entitled Moonlight on the Potomac Waltzes. He left the Marine band in 1875 and went on to conduct Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore on Broadway. He returns to DC in 1880 to assume leadership of the Marine Band, which he does for two years. Then he goes to form his own band. He composes The Washington Post March in 1889 as part of a commission, from the newspaper, to promote an essay contest.  This is the piece that made him famous worldwide. Stars and Stripes Forever is what most Americans think of when they think of July 4th, Independence Day. It is thought to represent the country and its eternal quest for freedom, as you can see from the lyrics. As noted on that website, Sousa composed the march after his band manager died and he had to get back from an European Tour to manage things. “The march was an immediate success – Sousa’s Band played it at almost every concert until his death over 35 years later.” According to Sousa’s own words, he came up with the idea for it while on the ship coming back to NYC :

“Suddenly, I began to sense a rhythmic beat of a band playing within my brain. Throughout the whole tense voyage, that imaginary band continued to unfold the same themes, echoing and re-echoing the most distinct melody. I did not transfer a note of that music to paper while I was on the steamer, but when we reached shore, I set down the measures that my brain-band had been playing for me, and not a note of it has ever changed.”

Marches were not the only things he composed, though they were what made him the most famous. For a complete list of all of his composed works, check out this page from the Dallas Symphony. I was surprised to learn that he composed 15 operettas and 70 songs that weren’t marches. I will end on this great quote I found from the maestro on an exhibition done by the Library of Congress, as they possess Sousa’s original scores from Stars and Stripes Forever:

“A march speaks to a fundamental rhythm in the human organization and is answered. A march stimulates every centre of vitality, wakens the imagination . . . . But a march must be good. It must be as free from padding as a marble statue. Every line must be carved with unerring skill. Once padded it ceases to be a march. There is no form of musical composition wherein the harmonic structure must be more clear-cut. The whole process is an exacting one. There must be a melody which appeals to the musical and the unmusical alike. There must be no confusion in counterpoint.”

National Moscato Day

Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante

It turns out that today is National Moscato Day, which was created last year by American wine makers the Gallo Family Vineyards, according to the blog The Daily Grid ” to encourage people to taste the fruity wine and open the conversation about Moscato.” According to this article from About.com, the wine itself is made from the Moscato grape, the Muscat Blanc, which is native to the Piedmont area in the Northwest of Italy. It’s full title is Moscato D’Asti. It is primarily considered a dessert wine, though it is also served with hard cheese or antipasti courses as well.

“Moscato is known for its surprising perfume-like fragrance, light-body, semi-sparkling, spritzy character (frizzante), lower alcohol content (typically to the tune of the around 5-8% abv) and its dazzling fruit-forward palate profile with a welcoming sweet factor. The wine’s color steers towards straw yellow with occasional tinges of gold. While the Moscato sold at the lower price points typically exhibit a fruity focus with a decent dose of sweet in the mix, the higher quality Moscato steers quite clear of sugar-soaked fruit and brings a vivid spotlight to ripe stonefruit, with apricots, peaches and an intoxicating florality eager to steal the show.”

The above kind (Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante) just happens to be my favorite, and I started drinking it before it got all fashionable over here in the States. Apparently it has replaced Cristal as the drink of choice for rappers. My parents would pop a bottle every New Year’s Eve, as a much tastier (in my opinion) and cheaper alternative to champagne, and I got my first official taste of it when I was 12. I really fell in love with it while doing my study aboard to Italy, as it was right before they switched to the Euro, so things were still really cheap. You could get a bottle of it for about $5 so needless to say, it was my drink of choice. It normally runs about $15-20 here, so my hubby and I tend to save it for special occasions. However, you can find a decent bottle of Moscato in the States for about $5-10, so on the rare occasion that we drink wine, we tend to go for the American versions of it.

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