Saturday, June 18, 2022

Paul is alive, he’s 80, and I’ve started a music blog!

They say it’s your birthday, Paul! And they’re right — unlike the people who “said you was dead”!

So happy birthday to Paul! And happy birth to my new blog! It’s a blog about music. The first post is about Paul McCartney, a great musician and person. Check it out here, on the blog I started today — more than 14 years after I started this blog you’re reading now.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

3 takeaways from having covid-19

I had a mild case of covid-19 this past week. I was stuck at home for a week. I'm fine now. There are 3 thoughts I take away from the experience:

(1) I was glad I'm someone who buys extras of things like food. Some people will act like you're being ridiculous if you stock up, but they're being short-sighted. Sometimes you won't realize what a good idea it was until after you've done it. (See Gretchen Rubin on "over-buyers" vs. "under-buyers.")

(2) I'm part of New York's current increase in covid, which seems to be resulting from covid measures being loosened in the state: people are going around without masks a lot more, restaurants aren't checking if people are vaccinated, etc. This has been leading to more hospitalizations, and if that keeps going up it could prevent people from getting medical treatment even for things that have nothing to do with covid.

(3) I'm so glad I'm vaccinated and boosted! That likely kept my illness as mild as it was — similar to a cold. It's amazing that we live in a time when so much progress on a pandemic is being made so quickly. In past pandemics, it's sometimes taken years before they even figured out what virus was killing people! No other vaccine has ever been developed so soon after a virus was discovered. People get frustrated at the lack of perfect consistency, total certainty, or 100% effectiveness. But that's what science is always like — it's never perfect. We're just not used to living through the scientific process in real time, with this much scrutiny and so much at stake. We should be grateful for what we have, and use it well.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Birthday twins: Aretha Franklin and Elton John

Happy 75th birthday to Elton John! And Aretha Franklin would've turned 80 today.

Here's my 2018 post about Aretha Franklin from 2018, when she died at 76. The post has videos, music … and Elton John's reaction: 

The loss of @ArethaFranklin is a blow for everybody who loves real music: Music from the heart, the soul and the Church. Her voice was unique, her piano playing underrated – she was one of my favourite pianists. … I adored her and worshipped her talent. … We shared the same birthday – and that meant so much to me.

Here's a Facebook post I did about a great Elton John album.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld…

Kurt Cobain would've turned 55 today. He died at age 27 in 1994.

One of the small joys of being a Nirvana fan is getting to hear him singing my last name in one of their many great songs, "Pennyroyal Tea." (Hearing the sound of your own name has been shown to have a positive effect on the brain.) I like to think Kurt Cobain wrote this poignant line after thinking about the idea of heaven and hell, and deciding he hopes his next life is different from either of those:

Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld, so I can sigh eternally…

The year after Kurt Cobain died, Leonard Cohen was asked about that line in an MTV interview:

"I'm sorry I couldn't have spoken to the young man," Cohen said of Cobain, recognizing some of his own past excesses in Cobain's downfall. "I see a lot of people at the Zen Center, who have gone through drugs and found a way out that is not just Sunday school. There are always alternatives, and I might have been able to lay something on him. Or maybe not."

Friday, October 22, 2021

Conductor Bernard Haitink dies at 92

The New York Times reports:
Bernard Haitink, an unaffected maestro who led Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra for 27 years and was known for presenting powerful readings of the symphonies of Mahler, Bruckner and Beethoven conducting orchestras on both sides of the Atlantic, died on Thursday at his home in London. He was 92.

Here's Beethoven's 7th Symphony conducted by Haitink — the famously moving second movement starts at 13:18:

The Times obit gives a sense of Haitink's personality:

Mr. Haitink let the music emerge from the orchestra, often transcendently, without imposing a heavy-handed interpretation that a star conductor might.

His self-effacing nature was noticed early on.

He was “not one of the glamour boys on the podium,” Harold C. Schonberg, the chief classical music critic for The New York Times, wrote in January 1975 after Mr. Haitink’s debut with the New York Philharmonic, conducting Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7.

“He does not dance, he does not patronize the best tailor on the Continent,” Mr. Schonberg continued. “But he is a dedicated musician, always on top of the music, getting exactly what he wants from his players.”

Reviewing his performance of the same symphony with the Philharmonic in 2011, the critic Steve Smith wrote in The Times: “Some conductors strive for mysticism in late Bruckner; Mr. Haitink, with his unerring sense of shape, transition and flow, lets the music speak for itself, with results that can approach the supernatural and often did here.”

Haitink conjures the towering greatness of Brahms's 4th Symphony:

More from the Times:

His reputation for being unassuming trailed him throughout his career. In 1967, Time magazine described him as “a short, quiet man who likes to take long bird-watching rambles in the woods,” and pointed out that “in a profession where flamboyance and arrogance are often the hallmarks of talent, the diffident Haitink is an anomaly.” A New York Times article in 1976 carried the headline “Why Doesn’t Bernard Haitink Act Like a Superstar?”

Mr. Haitink’s colleagues lauded his modesty, integrity and musicianship when he was awarded the prestigious Gramophone Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015. The pianist Murray Perahia, who recorded the complete Beethoven piano concertos with Mr. Haitink and the Concertgebouw, praised him as being “dedicated to a real collaboration: neither dictating an interpretation, nor slavishly following — but a natural give and take.”

Haitink brings Debussy's cinematic La Mer to life:

The Times on how wartime in Haitink's childhood affected him as a conductor:

Bernard Johan Herman Haitink was born on March 4, 1929, into a well-off family in Amsterdam. His father, Willem Haitink, was a civil servant, and his mother, Anna Clara Verschaffelt, worked for the French cultural organization Alliance Française. Neither were musicians. The family lived under Nazi occupation during World War II, and Willem was imprisoned for three months in a concentration camp.

Mr. Haitink referred to his youth as his “lazy days.”

“I wasn’t stupid,” he explained, “but I just wasn’t there. Half the time we were taught under our desks because of air raids. But even when things became normal, I wasn’t interested. Maybe this is why now, when I am over 70, that people always ask me why I work so hard.”

Shostakovich's merciless 4th Symphony:

The New York Times obit ends with this:

In 2011, in [an] interview with The Guardian, Mr. Haitink mused on the strange life of a conductor. “I have been doing this job for 50 years,” he said. “And, you know, it is a profession and it is not a profession. It’s very obscure sometimes. What makes a good conductor? What is this thing about charisma? I’m still wondering after all these years.”

And here's the last symphony by one of Haitink's signature composers: Bruckner's 9th.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Flow author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has died at 87

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who wrote the famous 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, has died at age 87.

I haven't found any obituaries yet, but here's the announcement on his Facebook page.

In 2010, when I made a list of "the 12 books that have influenced me the most," I included Flow.

This post by Ann Althouse (my mom) quoted the book's summary of 8 features of the state of "flow":

First, the experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing. Second, we must be able to concentrate on what we are doing. Third and fourth, the concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals and immediate feedback. Fifth, one acts with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life. Sixth, enjoyable experiences allow people to exercise a sense of control over their actions. Seventh, concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over. Finally, the sense of the duration of time is altered; hours pass by in minutes, and minutes can stretch out to seem like hours. The combination of all these elements causes a sense of deep enjoyment that is so rewarding people feel that expending a great deal of energy is worthwhile simply to be able to feel it.

Here's Csikszentmihalyi's TED talk from 2004: "Flow, the secret to happiness."

In Psychology Today, English professor Vivian Wagner wrote in 2018:
The flow state, a concept first recognized and analyzed by positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi …, is a worthy goal for anyone who wants to think and live more creatively. …

In my composition classrooms, I often have students "freewrite" about whatever topic we’re focusing on that day. I find that while they’re freewriting, they enter a state of flow. … This is an especially valuable state because it’s then that creative connections are made. The mind allows itself to think, without the constraints and expectations of the external world. There’s time enough later to look at what we’ve written while in a flow state, but it’s important to be able to stay there for as long as possible in order to reap the benefits from it. …

In our era of multiple distractions, it can be difficult to slip into a flow state. Often, in the middle of doing something — when I might actually be in a flow state — I stop to check my phone or my email or search the web, and those activities break it up. More even than when Csikszentmihalyi first theorized about flow, we’re in great need of it today. …

It’s a beautiful, mysterious process — one that will change your life for the better and bring in a daily dose of creativity. And during those moments of flow, you’ll find yourself making connections, forming ideas, and thinking differently.

(Photo of Csíkszentmihályi from his TED talk.)