Musical Passages

Last month the jazz community, and music world at large, said goodbye to the great Horace Silver, a consummate jazz pianist and fixture on the Blue Note recording label. Silver was a founding member one of my favorite hard bop groups, The Jazz Messengers, with drummer Art Blakey. Universally admired by his fellow musicians, Horace Silver performed and composed for decades, and mentored many young jazz artists. He died of natural causes at the age of 85.

The classical music world has recently seen passages of a different sort. The New York Philharmonic has bid a fond farewell to two prominent members who have retired from the orchestra and are moving on to other things. Concertmaster and violinist Glenn Dicterow just took his last bow on the stage at Avery Fisher Hall after 34 years with the Philharmonic. Principal trumpet Phil Smith has also taken his final bow after 36 years. His retirement is a little more significant to me personally because of my father. Dad, as most of you probably know, was a professional trumpet player, and he would take our family to hear the Philharmonic on a regular basis. Smith’s pure, warm tone and solid technique was of course the highlight to Dad’s ears. Trumpet players everywhere have nothing but respect for Phil Smith, and he will be greatly missed among the Philharmonic’s faithful audience. This article in The New Yorker is an excellent read. I highly recommend it. Not only does it describe Smith the man – humble, deeply religious – but it addresses the unique nature of orchestra musicians, and trumpet players specifically. I can tell you that Glenn Dicterow’s retirement has received somewhat more fanfare in local and national media than Phil Smith’s. It is not for negligent reasons, but rather the larger popularity of violinists among the general public, thanks to performers like Joshua Bell, Itzhak Perlman, and Anne Sophie Mutter. Virtuosic trumpet players in the classical world are rarer, which makes Phil Smith an exceptional standout in a smaller, more elite circle.

We’ll conclude this week’s Music Monday with a different musical genre entirely. I was sorting through some very old CDs stashed among the junk in my house and I came across one of the many British music crushes I’ve had in my life. Robert Palmer was performing for years before his huge success in the 1980s with his “Addicted to Love” resurrection. A purveyor of what is known as “blue-eyed soul”, Palmer gave us vocals that drew on influences from reggae, R & B, rock, pop, and blues. Oh how I love cute, sexy Englishmen. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for them, and always will :-) Robert Palmer left us in 2003, dying far too soon at the age of 54. From his debut solo album in 1974, this is “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley”.

Heaven and Hard Times

So it looks like this summer is going to be worse than last summer, and I didn’t think that was possible. Last summer sucked majorly for a couple of reasons; painful breakup with the boyfriend which still hurts over a year later, slow art modeling, and no vacation. This summer adds a new element of tension and troubles in the form of intra-family strife that only seems to get worse by the day. Isn’t that fantastic? The hits just keep on comin’. Ugh.

Coping mechanisms? Same as always. Hunker down among the good. Jettison the bad. Cling for dear life to that which gratifies and gladdens and edifies. Oh yeah, and blogging. Keep blogging :-) Art and music are two of the best pathways to salvation, I think we can all agree on that. And I’ve got one of each to offer today. A striking linocut print of yours truly by the wonderful Christian Johnson, followed by music for Music Monday. Gospel is a dependable source of solace for me as most of you know. The track is “I’m So Glad (Trouble Don’t Last Always)” by Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers.

A belated Happy Father’s Day to my dad readers. Hope you had a great day! I’ll see you all very soon, friends. And Christian … thank you :-)

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Miles Davis Way

Like most big cities, New York has its share of honorary street names. More than it’s share, really. Our city council has re-named so many streets in tribute to famous figures that’s it’s hard to keep track of all of them.  The standard for street re-naming according to the council is “proposed honorees must be individuals who are deceased and of significant importance to New York City.”  The names range from local politicians to military figures to contributors to the arts, academia, sports and finance. The sheer number of them is a testament to the historical and cultural breadth of our throbbing, humming city and how many noteworthy individuals have lived here, worked here, created here, and found inspiration among its people and neighborhoods.

East 110th St is “Tito Puente Way”. West 145th is “A. Philip Randolph Boulevard”. Broadway between 51st and 52nd is “Al Jolson Way”. West 31st St is “Father Mychal F. Judge Street”, in honor of the Fire Department Chaplain who was killed during the 9-11 attacks while administering last rites. These are just a few examples of many. Last week, the city unveiled its newest street honorific; “Miles Davis Way” on 77th Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive. The jazz legend lived on the block for 25 years. It’s a cool honor for the man credited with the “birth of the cool”.

For Music Monday I’m posting a 1989 interview with Miles Davis from the 60 Minutes archives. Interviews with Miles Davis are quite rare, as he was not the most accessible or congenial fellow in the music business. However, I found this interview interesting in that you can see flashes of humor in Miles, and a sense that he’s putting us on a bit. And Harry Reasoner, in spite of some rather silly questions, deserves credit for getting the elusive Miles Davis to sit down for a face to face interview at all. They touch on race, music, art, women, and Miles’ past heroin addiction. Also, this isn’t the first time Miles Davis has been the subject of a Music Monday. Here’s my Museworthy post from March 2010 about Kind of Blue.

Respighi and Botticelli

I don’t know about you guys but I could definitely use a Music Monday. A melodious distraction from life’s worries is never a bad thing. And today we have one that marries music with art, from the creative imaginations of two Italian fellas. In 1927, composer Ottorino Respighi wrote three orchestral movements inspired by the Botticelli paintings in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery. The works are known as the “Botticelli Triptych”. You can visit an excellent post about this on the blog Muddy Colors. Here we have “Spring”, or if you prefer, “Primavera”. See you all very soon :-)

A Bedecked Burmese Harp

Do you know what a saung kauk is? I didn’t until two days ago. After taking in the Carpeaux exhibition at the Met on Saturday, I decided to further endure the weekend museum crowds and visit some of my favorite galleries before I left. After a stroll through the magnificent American Wing, I stopped by the Musical Instruments. Though most of the objects are displayed in cases and tricky to photograph, I was dazzled by this old Burmese harp. I took a couple of pics for Music Monday, but I’m afraid they don’t do justice to the shimmering gold and detailed craftsmanship.

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The descriptive text reads as follows:

SAUNG KAUK.
Burma.
This richly decorated arched harp is tuned by twisting the braids attaching its strings to the neck. Often used to accompany songs, the sang kauk has its origin in ancient India and represents one of the eldest surviving harp traditions.

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This particular harp is from 1889, but the sang kauk is a centuries-old instrument, believed to originate as far back as 500 AD. You can read much more about this harp on Wikipedia.

I’m going to jump civilizations for a moment. Let’s leap from southeast Asia to ancient Greece, from one resplendent stringed instrument to another. This is Gustave Moreau’s depiction of the Greek poet Hesiod in Hesiod and the Muse. Technically that’s a lyre, but still a beautifully adorned instrument. Also I love Moreau, and any painting with the word “muse” in the title is most welcome on this blog :-)

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Happy Day

I was thinking about which music to post for Music Monday to mark the beginning of Holy Week. Churches throughout New York City are offering a glorious selection of masses, choral works, and hymns. I’ve decided to go with some good old American gospel.

One can’t help but wonder where American music would be without its gospel roots. A huge number of R & B singers and pop performers began their musical journeys singing in church, from Marvin Gaye to Whitney Houston, to Tina Turner, Patsy Cline, Katy Perry, and so many others. One of my all time favorites, Sam Cooke, started out a church singer and eventually became an member of the highly respected Soul Stirrers. Sam Cooke was an exceptional gospel vocalist and had one of the most recognizable voices in the history of music. He was so masterful at gospel that many of his fans were dismayed when he decided to cross over into pop. Mahalia Jackson, on the other hand, turned down every opportunity to go “mainstream”. She sang gospel – and only gospel – throughout her decades-long career. So in many respects, American music owes a great debt to the churches of Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, and Harlem, and those atop country hills in small towns stretching from Appalachia to the Louisiana bayou. They nurtured and unleashed some of the most gifted talents of our time.

Our music today is the incomparable Aretha Franklin, who got her start singing in her father’s church, and the great Mavis Staples, gospel singer and national treasure. Here they are performing – I should say “testifying” – “Oh Happy Day”. The song was originally an 18th century hymn which was freshly adapted and arranged by Edwin Hawkins in 1967 and has become a popular gospel classic. I could listen to this over and over, as it is infused with spiritual uplift and foot-tapping, hand-clapping joy. You couldn’t ask for two better ladies to turn it out.

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A most blessed Holy Week my friends. A Happy Passover. A happy LIFE to all. Rejoice in the glory that surrounds us every day . . . every happy day.

Dewing’s Musical Maidens

If we can infer an artist’s interests from his body of work – and I believe we can – then Thomas Dewing, the American Impressionist, was evidently interested in women, music, and “tonalism”. The process of gathering images and material for Music Monday posts have put Dewing on my radar often. Whenever I searched via tags like “music”, “women”, “song’, “violin”, etc,  his elegant, soft-focus, monochromatic compositions of ladies and instruments would fill my laptop screen.

Music, Thomas Dewing, ca. 1895:

Dewing-Music

Born in Boston in 1851, Dewing was one of the founding members of “The Ten” – a clique of painters who broke from the Society of American Artists in an act of liberation from the status quo and generally rigid, uninspired standards of the organization. Dewing studied at the prestigious Académie Julian in Paris where he learned formal techniques. When he returned to the United States he became a practitioner of “tonalism”, a painting style which employs a dominant hue of color applied for nebulous, moody effect and, in some cases, figures or objects which are somewhat indistinct. If James MacNeill Whistler comes to your mind with that description, you’re totally grasping it. And you get a Museworthy “A” in art history. Whistler was the godfather of tonalism.

Whistler’s famous “art for art’s sake” philosophy was fully embraced by Thomas Dewing. His women are lovely, feminine, delicate . . . objects really. In this work by Dewing, The Lute, 1904, the women are arranged in a visually pleasing composition amidst a gorgeous veil of green. Unlike true art “subjects”, they seem to exist nowhere in particular, have no identity or reason for being. Can-can dancers, prostitutes, peasants, socialites, gypsies, duchesses, housemaids, beggars – Dewing’s women are none of these things. They are simply figures that emerge out of the tonal shroud in a detached world; a misty, amorphous “dreamscape”, serving an aesthetic that would make Whistler proud:

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Here, in The Music Lesson, Dewing’s setting is again vague – a sparse, nonspecific space to emphasize the tonalism technique and his “woman with a musical instrument” motif.

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The Song, 1891. Dewing sure liked green! I don’t blame him. Green is a beautiful color, and these ladies are bathed in it:

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Compare these Dewing works with Vermeer’s scenes of young women practicing music. Surely Dewing was influenced by the great Dutch master. But Vermeer offered social context, perspective, and spatial dimensions. His girls exist in a place and time. And they are unique individuals, their eyes, dress, and postures emanating personality, like in this splendid work. Dewing’s world, in contrast, is ambiguous, uncluttered, indeterminate. Poems presented in a limited palette. Different from Vermeer without a doubt, but both men immortalized an enduring theme: women and music. I’m good with both of those things, no matter who paints them :-)

Young Woman with Violincello, Thomas Dewing:

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O’Museworthy

“To be Irish is to know that in the end the world will break your heart.”

– Daniel Patrick Moynihan

In a Dublin Park, light and shade, c. 1895, Walter Frederick Osborne. From the National Gallery of Ireland:

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Poets. Playwrights. Rebels. Iconoclasts. Wisecrackers. Saints and sinners. Lacemakers, footballers, farmers and whiskey distillers. Full of joy and cynicism at the same time. I would drink to the Irish for St. Patrick’s Day but I’ll be modeling for hours and hours. So I’ll get naked instead. Consider it a tribute to all the Irish bad boys I dated in my younger, more free-spirited years. Troublemakers ;-)

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, and Happy Music Monday! Here’s a group of fine Irish fellas. Maybe you’ve heard of them :-)

Music, Survival, and 110 Years

It sometimes bothers me that many of the Music Monday posts are obituaries for an acclaimed figure recently lost. But I feel like I can’t help it, because I believe strongly in eulogizing the dead. Life stories are fascinating to me. And if there was ever a person whose life story deserves a tribute here it is Holocaust survivor and classical pianist Alice Herz-Sommer who just passed away at the age of 110. Alice is the subject of an Oscar nominated short documentary The Lady in Number 6, which I really hope wins at the awards ceremony this Sunday.

To describe Alice Herz-Sommer’s life as remarkable would be a spectacular understatement. I am completely in awe of this woman. She carries not an ounce of anger, bitterness, anguish, or sadness. She radiates nothing but joy and gratitude. And the way she speaks about music – Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, etc. – is pure love. From Prague, to a Nazi prison camp, to her apartment in London, here she is, in her own words. RIP Alice, you beautiful extraordinary soul . . .

1964

We Beatles fans have surely been relishing all the “Beatles 50″ hoopla that has built up these last few weeks. Yesterday, February 9th, was the 50th anniversary of the Beatles first appearance on American television on The Ed Sullivan Show. I happen to enjoy commemorating watershed moments, whether they mark points in serious history or popular culture, if only because they add structure and context to our perceptions of place and time, and replenish our memories. Also, I just love history of all sorts.

Over the past fifty years, the Beatles have been the beneficiaries of much mythologizing, fanaticism, and hagiography; deifying treatments that John Lennon himself often repudiated and felt were unwarranted. The elevated status of the Beatles irks some, and as a hard core Beatles fan I can appreciate their opinions. I think much of it has to do with the Beatles serving as a symbolic proxy for Baby Boomers, a generation that has become, fairly or not, a subject of derision in some circles. Nostalgia is great, but it does seem to have a breaking point when people just tire of it all.

It’s fairly futile to quarrel about the Beatles music or whether they are fully deserving of their exalted status, a point of contention which was being disputed on Twitter last night during the CBS Grammy tribute. The larger point, I think, is the Beatles’ fortuitous position in the 60s zeitgeist: four young men who morphed from fresh-faced playful innocence into disillusioned cynicism before the world’s eyes over the course of a mere six years – a mirroring of the world itself during the same transformative period of time. It might be worth examining the significance of the “50th” in terms of 1964 itself. The Beatles on Ed Sullivan was just one notable event in an overall notable year. So what else happened in 1964? A lot. Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight champion of the world. Shea Stadium was opened and the Polo Grounds were demolished. Three civil rights activists, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi,. The Warren Commission report was published. The New York Times Co. v Sullivan Supreme Court ruling upheld the First Amendment. Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison. Dr. Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Ford Motor Compnay unveiled the first Mustang. Jack Ruby was found guilty of assassinating Lee Harvey Oswald. A computer program written in BASIC was run for the first time. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor got married. And my brother, Chris Hajian, was born on September 29th :-)

Since we’ve all seen the grainy footage of Ed Sullivan introducing the band, extending his arm and hollering “The Beatles!!”, the ensuing screams, and the opening guitar chords jangling away, let’s watch a different video for Music Monday. Here are the Beatles singing sweet harmonies in “This Boy”. The year, of course, is 1964:

A Maestro’s Requiem

If there was ever a Monday that needed to be salvaged with some music, today is the one. I feel totally exhausted from a long day of modeling at the National Academy, which was then compounded by an aggravating evening commute home. Tomorrow I get to do it all over again. So as I rest my weary body, tired feet, and get some red wine into me, I’m more than happy to post the first Music Monday of 2014.

Last week,  the classical music world lost a giant. Claudio Abbado, legendary conductor of La Scala, died at his home in Bologna, Italy at the age of 80. Coincidentally, today also happens to be Mozart’s birthday, so our video is of Abbado conducting Mozart’s “Requiem” with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and Bavarian and Swedish Radio Choirs. It’s one of the finest renditions I’ve heard. Check out the link above for the maestro’s obituary in the NY Times. His achievements in music are tremendous. And I would add that another great thing  about the man is that his name was Claudio, because we all know that variations of the name “Claud” belong to the coolest people :cool:

Until next time, friends … your tired muse, Claudia.

The Angels Sing

On this Christmas Eve, I want to take a moment to again express my sincere thanks to Museworthy readers who participated in the Art Show and shared it on social media, emailed me with warm correspondence, and all who consistently support this blog. My appreciation never wanes. If anything, it grows stronger. I hope you’ve all been well these past several days since we last met up here.

After attending the Christmas Pageant at my church, where the angels sang, I am home to cut up acorn squash for Christmas dinner tomorrow at Mom’s house, and also prepare a whipped creamy cauliflower thing that I hope I don’t make a mess of :lol:

A video for this Christmas Eve that guarantees to make you smile. I came across it on Twitter and it charmed me to no end. From the adorable 5th graders of Quinhagak, Alaska, along with town residents, this is their special version of the “Hallelujah” chorus, in which they proclaim joy amid the snow, trucks, and dogs of their unique corner of America. I wish all of you a most blessed Christmas. May the spirit of the season fill your hearts with love, peace, promises, and reawakening . . .

Brownie

Helloooo friends! Hope you all had a wonderful weekend. And if you’re experiencing some cold, snowy, sleety winter weather where you are, please stay warm and dry if you can. We should all probably get our shoveling muscles limber. Except me, of course, because I pay the neighborhood kids to do it ;-)

Let’s have a Music Monday, shall we? Saturday, December 7th, marked nine years that my father passed away, so I’d like to honor him with a video I was excited to discover on YouTube. It’s a rare television appearance of the great trumpet player Clifford Brown on the Soupy Sales show. Brown was a huge favorite of my Dad’s, who most of you are aware was himself a trumpeter. Clifford, known affectionately as “Brownie”, was a gifted musician who died tragically as a passenger in a car accident in 1956 at the young age of 25. In his brief career he had already earned the respect of older, seasoned jazz musicians who recognized his incredible talent. One of the things which distinguished Clifford Brown from many of his bebop jazz world contemporaries was his “clean” lifestyle. He never used drugs, rarely drank alcohol, and was a devoted family man. The great saxophonist Sonny Rollins said of Clifford, “He showed me that it was possible to live a good, clean life and still be a good jazz musician”.  Given so many associations of music legends with drug abuse – Jimi Hendrix, Charlie Parker, etc – Clifford Brown’s regular “good guy” conduct is a refreshing departure from the stereotype of the reckless, drug-using tortured soul. A short interview with Clifford takes place at the end of this video, and you can see that he is sweet, soft-spoken, without an ounce of bravado. I wish my father were alive to watch this, as I know he would enjoy it very much. Miss you Dad. RIP :sad:

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I’ll post again in a couple of days and then, on Sunday, the Museworthy Art Show!

The Genius From Salzburg

Easter week, 1770. A father and his 14 year old son attend services at St. Peter’s Basilica. The Sistine Chapel choir performs Gregorio Allegri’s “Miserere”, a choral work that was fiercely guarded by Vatican authorities. In those days before music publication and copyright laws, transcription of such a work was strictly forbidden. But the 14 year old boy was so enchanted with the magnificent choral music that when he returned his lodgings with his father hours later he wrote down, in the middle of the night, the entire Allegri piece note for note, having committed it to memory. He had heard it only once.

The father in that story was Leopold Mozart. The adolescent boy was his son Wolfgang Amadeus. The story is just one of numerous anecdotes about Mozart’s prodigious musical mind. But to call Mozart simply a “child prodigy” seems rather inadequate, as he was much more than that. Certainly, Mozart’s uncanny ability to memorize music, often after a single hearing, is legendary. He was known to point to his head when asked where he wrote his music. At the age of two he identified a a pig’s squeal as a G sharp. He composed 30 symphonies by the age of 18. Fantastically prolific, Mozart’s rate of production was mind-boggling, and his work ethic was solid. He had a remarkable capacity to compose under pressure and meet deadlines. And he was a marvelous improvisor who could, indeed, compose “on the spot”.

But it takes more than preternatural ability and perfect pitch, which Mozart clearly had, to earn the lofty designation of “God’s stenographer”. Many of Mozart’s memorization feats could be done by, say, Dustin Hoffman’s autistic savant character in the movie Rain Man. Most individuals who display superhuman faculty do not rise to the top or even distinguish themselves over time. Why is that? Because “genius” as we apply it to artistic figures, requires more than aptitude and prowess. It calls for imagination. Versatility. Depth of feeling. Humanity. Love. The ability to translate the human condition into art, and convert mere mastery of skill into something metaphysical. Something sublime. Something poignant, joyful, evocative. The most famous genius who ever lived, Albert Einstein, said so himself: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world.” While Mozart surely “knew” everything about music, it was not his knowledge alone that brought him such revered status.

Mozart

This Music Monday post is inspired by WQXR radio’s Month of Mozart, which is now in its final week. And what a glorious, wondrous month of music it’s been. It has reminded us listeners of the astonishing breadth of Mozart’s musical compositions. Symphonies, operas, oratorios, concertos, chamber music, wind ensembles, masses, ballets, every instrument, every vocal range. Mozart did it all. With the holidays approaching, a Mozart compilation would make a fine gift for someone you love. As the late great conductor George Szell said, “Lengthy immersion in the works of other composers can tire. The music of Mozart does not tire, and this is one of its miracles.”

Many people believe they know the “real” Mozart from having seen the 1984 film Amadeus. While certainly a marvelously entertaining and much beloved film, directed by Milos Forman, it should be understood that Amadeus is a dramatization which took tremendous liberties. It is not accurate history. Based on the stage play by Peter Shaffer, the movie is responsible for propagating the “Salieri may have killed Mozart and secretly commissioned the Requiem” theory, which has no basis in fact. Nor did any seething rivalry even exist between the two men that we know of. This is just myth-making. However the film did get some things right. The portrayal of Mozart as a potty-mouthed manchild given to tasteless scatological humor and other infantile behavior is based on some truth, but still quite exaggerated. An acquaintance of Mozart apparently wrote in a letter that the composer had a “piercing, giggly laugh”, which was likely the reason for Tom Hulce doing the annoying laugh thing multiple times throughout the film.

While it’s amusing to learn of the foibles and unflattering habits of great figures (we love to discover that they were human, after all), people’s admiration for Mozart should hardly be diminished knowing that he had a penchant for fart jokes. Besides, the man himself can be fleshed out through the less scandalous, not so offensive aspects of his life. I for one enjoy knowing the “ordinary” things about people. Born in Salzburg to an itinerant musical family, Mozart was a little fella, small in stature, fair-skinned with large grey-blue eyes and a head of silky light brown hair. He loved to play billiards and kept birds as pets. He never attended a day of school, was Catholic, and notoriously bad with money, as the Mozarts (Wolfgang and his wife) were frequently in debt. They moved at least 11 times during their years in Vienna. He was charming and generally well-liked in spite of his immature tendencies, and his sister Maria Anna, with whom he was very close, was a talented musician in her own right. Mozart’s marriage to Constanze Weber, while disapproved of by his domineering father, was in fact a good one, filled with mutual affection, respect, and compatibility. Friends of the couple said they never saw two people better suited to each other than the Mozarts. So kudos to Wolfgang for choosing well in marriage. The couple had six children, only two of whom survived infancy. And Mozart died not from some treacherous poisoning plot but most likely rheumatic fever or typhus. He was only 35 years old.

Mozart monument in Vienna, photographed in 1898:

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I will leave you all with one of the loveliest operatic duets you’ll ever hear. This is Cecilia Bartoli and Renee Fleming singing “Sull’aria” from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, a piece of music many people were introduced to through the movie The Shawshank Redemption.

Rock the Week

Hey gang! One of my busiest modeling weeks thus far has begun with one day down, four more to go. I worked over in Jersey City today, which went well. A little ride on the PATH train never hurt anybody. Now I’m comfortable at home with feet up, sweatpants on, and a freshly poured glass of wine next to me, posting on my little blog before Game 5 of the World Series starts.

I hope to post again before the weekend, but can’t guarantee. Something tells me you’ll all survive just fine if I don’t. The muse will return. Never fear! For now, here’s a little old school 70s rock and roll for Music Monday to get our toes tapping. From 1971 this is The Faces, with a really young Rod Stewart, doing their song “Bad ‘N’ Ruin” on a BBC television show. I have no idea what’s going on with Ronnie Wood and his toilet seat guitar. Is that thing even plugged in? :lol: Whatever, this is fun stuff. Enjoy everyone, and rock the week!