Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “music … will help dissolve your perplexities .. and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.” For the past few Decembers on this blog I’ve published a post on Christmas music. We had a lot of fun with last year’s post sharing favorites and some lesser known recordings. This year, my holiday Music Monday post is far more meaningful than the previous ones, and I’m thrilled to share it with all of you.
My 15 year old niece Olivia has been writing and recording her own music. That’s right. She’s a fledgling songwriter. To her family and friends it comes as no surprise, as Olivia has been a fine musician and marvelous singer ever since she was a little girl. Her innate talent was already on full display at her 5th grade talent show. But Olivia is a teenager now, and a budding young woman, which means she has things to say. And when women have things to say through music, the world, rightly, listens.
I could go on and on about my darling niece; her wicked sense of humor, her kindness and honesty, her intrinsic understanding of truth and authenticity. A born-and-bred city girl, she is worldly beyond her years, but valiantly resists the cynicism that afflicts much of her generation. With our family struggling through some very strained times, Olivia’s spirit and her music have kept alive that ‘fountain of joy’ that Bonhoeffer spoke of.
This is Olivia’s holiday single, Hold You Close, just released today! With her father producing this and all her tracks, Olivia’s musical future is full of wondrous possibilities. She is on Instagram at @oliviaparismusic and on Apple Music. I’m so proud of you sweetheart! 🙂 🙂
Eighty years ago today, a baby girl was born in upper Manhattan to two Armenian immigrants. It was their first child in their adopted country, and they named her Elaine. She is my Mommy 🙂
You don’t get to 80 years of age without experiencing your share of triumphs and hardships, joys and travails, and forging rich meaningful relationships. Mom is beloved and adored by her family and friends, as she should be. It is rare to know a person of such warmth, kindness, generosity, and loyalty. And to have her as your mother is a blessing beyond words.
Since Mom’s birthday falls on a Monday this year, our Music Monday post is all hers. I chose a song that reflects Mom’s eternally hopeful spirit, her persistent wish for the happiness and well-being of her family, her friends, and her community. Mom doesn’t give up. Never has, and never will. And there’s no better person to sing this song than one of Mom’s idols, the one and only Elvis Presley. Though he is frozen in the minds of many as the hip-shaking rock-and-roller on the Ed Sullivan Show, many people forget what a truly expressive vocalist he was. He could bring the goosebumps with the best of them. A magnificently powerful performer. For you Mom … Happy birthday. Love you 🙂
I bet you never thought that choosing a Welch’s Grape Juice from grocery store shelves with your Mom could be a heartwarming experience. But I’m here to tell you that it can be. At 79, my mother is an extraordinarily active person. She loves to drive, travel, go to museums, socialize, and experience new things. Whenever I tease her with “old lady” jokes she’s not amused 😆 So when Mom, a few weeks ago, was afflicted with a case of the shingles, her active lifestyle and normally robust health was temporarily sidetracked.
Mom’s shingles have fortunately cleared up, but now she’s struggling with nerve pain, a common aftereffect of shingles, and it’s causing her a great deal of sadness and discomfort. One minute she’s fine, and the next minute the neuropathy flares up, causing excruciating pain. Even though it passes quickly, the constant imminent threat of a nerve attack is an unsettling way to live, especially for someone like my Mom who can’t bear the idea of being “disabled” in any way. Having her independence taken from her is Mom’s worst nightmare.
A pastel drawing by Edgar Degas:
Shingles is the virus that causes chicken pox when it erupts again after lying dormant in the body for decades. I had chicken pox as a child and recall that it sucked. Shingles also sucks. But my mother is having a much harder time with the neuralgia than the shingles.
With Mom now on a steady regimen of B-Vitamins, Omega-3 oils, alpha-lipoic acid (and ibuprofen when she needs it), she’s on the path to recovery. But like the doctor said, each individual is different. For some the neuropathy goes away in four weeks, for others four months. We have no way of predicting. Mom just has to take it one day at a time.
Another pastel by Degas, Rest:
Mom has avoided driving alone which is understandable, so I’ve been doing her grocery shopping for her. With the exception of me picking her up and taking her to a couple of doctor’s appointments she’s been fearful of going out in public or even leaving the house. Not to the beauty parlor, not to the bank, not even to a friend’s house in the neighborhood. This is all so contrary to her nature. I’ve tried to persuade her to come with me for a little shopping, or lunch, or just running errands, but she’s consistently been saying no. Until today.
After a doctor’s appointment this morning she agreed to let me take her to Fairway Market. There we were, strolling through the aisles, Mom totally relaxed, cheerful, and leisurely pushing our shopping cart as we collected our goodies; I tossed in a box of quinoa, some swiss chard, and a one pound bag of freshly ground coffee, Mom put in some cucumbers (her favorite) and two bagels. With great happiness I watched her as she selected a piece of salmon from the fish counter, and took three small yogurts from the dairy section. And then came the moment of Welch’s Grape Juice! Remember when there was only regular Welch’s Grape Juice, for years? Today we have options; fortified with calcium, fortified with Vitamin C, organic, “Farmer’s Pick”, blended with black cherry. As I knelt down and read the choices aloud to Mom we shared a warm, lighthearted moment and were reminded of our old Armenian relative, Aunt Araxi, who lived to be 100 and attributed her longevity to, yes, a daily glass of Welch’s Grape Juice. That was her theory and she stuck with it! Hey why not? And Mom, by the way, ended up choosing the plain old Welch’s “Original”.
A visit to the market doesn’t usually make for a watershed moment in a person’s life, but if you knew how tormented my mother has been lately due to pain, anxiety, and depression, you would understand the indescribable joy I felt at the sight her smiling, talking to people, and carrying out a routine activity for the first time in weeks. Mom’s comeback is underway. Oh yes it is 🙂
All artworks in this post have been pastels because it’s Mom’s favorite medium, and Degas because he’s Mom’s favorite artist.
“Put up a new blog post already.” <– my mother to me on the phone the other night. See what I have to deal with? My life is a living hell!! Yes, I’m kidding 😆 Actually Mom’s right. What the heck’s going on here? A new post is way overdue. I hope you all had a good week in the interim.
Speaking of Mom, her art show at the Queens Botanical Garden is still on view, providing joy and enchantment to all the family friends and QB Garden visitors who have seen it. It closes on January 17th. I helped my mother write her artist’s statement for her show and I think it came out pretty well.I’m mentioning this because an artist I know sent an email to several of us that I got a kick out of. So I thought I’d share it here. The “artist’s statement”, which I imagine is a somewhat new formality, appears on artist’s websites and promotional materials. The artist who sent the article I’m sharing told me she has no artist’s statement on her website because she thinks it’s stupid and pretentious. She has a point. Some of them, not all, can be quite pompous, particularly the ones that use postmodern language and theoretical terminology. You can’t help but roll your eyes when you read some of them.
So John Seed, a painter and art history professor, wrote up some artist’s statements for the old masters using postmodern rhetoric, and they’re hilarious. For example, Michelangelo’s begins with, “The pre-homoeroticized body forms both my field of action and the basis of my conceptual taxonomy.” The one for Velázquez’ reads in part, “In addressing the collapse of personal autonomy and identity in an authoritarian/monarchist space I imply a multiplicity of didactic constructions and formations.” Click here for the entire article. The ending is great.
Also, my beautiful talented niece Olivia turned 12 yesterday which boggles the mind because it feels not so long ago that I saw her for the first time, on a cold December day, at Mount Sinai Hospital when she was just a few hours old. And now she’s a young lady! Kicking butt at JV basketball, student government, and of course her voice lessons. Olivia has always been the gladdening ray of light in our family and she is now more than ever, given the circumstances. Here she is sitting on steps, like the true Upper West Side city girl that she is. Happy Birthday sweetheart ❤
And tomorrow, December 7th, will mark ten years since my father’s death. That he’s been gone a decade now is difficult to grasp. A decade since that harrowing morning when I was roused from sleep by my brother banging loudly on my door at 7 AM. Olivia was only two years old when Dad left us. Sadly, she has no memory of him, her grandfather.
Thanks for reading, friends. And yes I will post again soon 😉
If I had the power to clap my hands twice and magically heal the fractured state of my family’s relations right now, I’d do it in a heartbeat. In fact it would have been done already. I think back on the warmth, kindness, good humor and conviviality that characterized Hajian family gatherings of my youth – and most of my adulthood – and wonder, “How did this happen? Where did all this animus and dissension come from?” 😦
But I can still give thanks, especially so now under the circumstances, that my family is still here .. to see another day … and with each day brings a chance to make things right, and begin anew. Hope is a priceless asset.
On this Thanksgiving of 2014, I offer the Prayer for Families from the Book of Common Prayer. It is particularly apropos for me today, and perhaps for some of you too:
“Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who settest the solitary
in families: We commend to thy continual care the homes in
which thy people dwell. Put far from them, we beseech thee,
every root of bitterness, the desire of vainglory, and the pride
of life. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance,
patience, godliness. Knit together in constant affection those
who, in holy wedlock, have been made one flesh. Turn the
hearts of the parents to the children, and the hearts of the
children to the parents; and so enkindle fervent charity among
us all, that we may evermore be kindly affectioned one
to another; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
I wish a most blessed Thanksgiving to all of you. Peace, my friends.
Today, March 8th, would have been my father’s 77th birthday. Tragically, he only lived to see 72. He left us suddenly, not long after he and I had a late night phone conversation. (I was the last person to speak to him). To this day, it pains me to think that just four hours later, he was collapsed on his bedroom floor, paralyzed and unconscious from a stroke, my mother frantically calling 911. It was a very bad, harrowing event for my family. None of us have recovered 😥
This post, however, commemorates my father’s life, not his death. I could write on and on about my father, but I assure you that one measly blog post couldn’t possibly convey the man’s complexity, character, and life story. He was so many things. He was, above all, a devoted husband and father. But a close second to those commitments was his role as a musician. A professional, working musician, who supported his family and put his children through college doing the thing he loved most: playing his trumpet.
Picasso’s Three Musicians:
Born the second child of struggling Armenian immigrants, my father worked since he was 12 years old: repairing bikes in a bicycle shop, making shakes in a luncheonette, delivering newspapers. One day in public school band class, he picked up a trumpet, and it was love at first sight.
Dad graduated from college with a degree in economics, and planned to seek employment on Wall Street. But fairly steady work doing club dates around New York City encouraged him, and my father – a very practical man by nature – made the most impractical decision of his life. He would forgo a nine to five job and make a living as a musician. To his old-fashioned family the choice seemed crazy. Why would a man with a college education pass up regular employment in the mainstream work force in favor of the erratic, unreliable music business? Why? A deep-seated passion for music, that’s why. Dad went with his gut. He gambled. He felt in his soul, that a livelihood could be found in the music world. And he did find it.
This painting by Degas is a beautiful depiction of orchestra musicians. It’s also a great example of Degas’ exceptional talent for perspective and composition. Makes you feel like you’re right there, down in the pit with the guys:
A musician’s life means working nights and weekends, never spending New Year’s Eve with your spouse, and constantly staying in touch with bookers and bandleaders. And in my father’s case, it also meant being able to perform a range of musical styles. Throughout his five decade long career, Dad played popular music, jazz, Latin, standards, even traditional Jewish music for Hasidic weddings in Brooklyn. Whatever was required of him. Some of Dad’s gigs were truly exciting (backing up Frank Sinatra was one memorable highlight), others were less glamorous. But whether he was playing the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom or a Knights of Columbus hall, my father was just happy to be working and playing the trumpet. He considered no job beneath him. Plus he had a family to support.
German Expressionist Max Beckmann made himself a horn player in this bizarre self-portrait:
With all due respect to Beckmann, I think my father was much more handsome holding his horn. Of course, I’m a little biased. Here’s a very young Dad on the bandstand, fresh out of a two year stint in the army. Circa mid-1950s:
Dad’s big break came when he was hired by the Herman Stenzler Orchestra. They performed regularly at the old Taft Hotel on 51st Street. In 1959, Dad invited a beautiful young artist to come hear him play. Her name was Elaine, and Dad dazzled her with his melodious trumpeting. Within a year, they were married 🙂
My father posing proudly with his beloved horn:
My father’s respect for the trumpet was profound. A difficult instrument to master, the trumpet’s rich tone is expressive and versatile unlike any other instrument, and is capable of vast musical range. Dad held great admiration for fellow trumpet players, and his list of favorites was diverse. It included such disparate players as Louis Armstrong, Harry James, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson, Freddie Hubbard, Arturo Sandoval, and Wynton Marsalis. (Two guys who left my father cold were Chet Baker and Chris Botti. Aww, sorry fellas!)
LeRoy Neiman’s work of Louis Armstrong captures the power and vibrant musical energy of trumpet playing. This is Satchmo from 1976:
I had the toughest time selecting an mp3 file for this post. So many trumpet tracks could have made the cut. I decided to go with one of my Dad’s heroes, a hero to all trumpet players in fact – the phenomenal Dizzy Gillespie. Dad never stopped marveling at Dizzy’s mind-boggling technique, his virtuosity, his ability to generate excitement, play with high-speed velocity and hit thrilling high notes, all seemingly with ease. In his pre-bebop days, Dizzy Gillespie led a superb big band, and demonstrated the perfect combination of showmanship and musicianship. Dad loved that. He loved a showman who also possessed skill and artistry. Real “chops” as Dad used to put it.
This playful song is called “Cool Breeze”. Dizzy’s crisp, lively trumpet solos are a wonder. The track also contains a little scat singing, which my father always found hilarious. He liked to do his own scatting sometimes, laughing all the way through it. Wherever you are, Dad, I hope you’re listening . . . and playing along.
My father adored this old family photo. He smiled every time he saw it. A true Hajian family portrait, I scanned it specifically to post on Museworthy. (The print makes its permanent home on my refrigerator). From left to right, that’s Dad, Mom, me looking rather bewildered, and my brother Chris. The year is 1970, the occasion is my 2nd birthday, and the location is the southside of Queens. It’s very appropriate, and symbolic, that my father looms the largest of the four of us:
There are no words to describe how deeply my father is missed. Our patriarch, our provider, our friend . . . a very Museworthy man.
Dad, this is my tribute to you. Happy Birthday big guy 🙂