Cantrix

Portrait commissions may have allowed John Singer Sargent to make a name for himself, but we know that he eventually grew tired of that work despite being in great demand as a portraitist for upper crust aristocrats. If you do a Google Image Search of John Singer Sargent you’re bombarded with painting after painting of affluent men and women posing stiffly in their elegant clothes, gazing straight at the viewer, their airs of superiority wafting off the canvases.

Recently I came across a Sargent portrait that stood out from the others and I suspected that it wasn’t a commissioned work. After a few minutes of research I discovered that it was, in fact, not a commission. Sargent created it purely from the inspiration he felt from the subject, not because he was contracted to do so. She was Mabel Batten, born Mabel Veronica Hatch in Great Britain in 1856. Like most of Sargent’s circle, Mabel was a member of the high society class but she was also an accomplished mezzo-soprano, composer, trained musician and patroness of the arts. Sargent painted this portrait depicting her in the euphoric throes of singing, with eyes closed, mouth open, and those trademark Sargent painterly brushstrokes on the dress. Mabel is in a full blown musical trance here:

And no that’s not some sloppy cropping on my part. Sargent deliberately cut off the arms in an ingenious composition choice which creates greater intimacy and intensity. Also, I like the gesture of her left hand on her hip. Nice touch.

This Music Monday post continues with more female songstress exultation. The word ‘cantrix’, by the way, means a female singer, as my Latin language obsession pokes through from time to time. I posted back in December about my niece Olivia’s original music and I’m thrilled to report that she continues to kick ass 🙂 Her latest single is Sapphire and I would be honored if my readers had a listen to this outstanding song. Really, it’s outstanding! This girl is on a roll. Ms Mabel would love this, and you will too. Here’s Olivia Paris:

New Year Notes

:typing blog post wearing four layers, gloves, ski mask, long johns, while guzzling piping hot coffee directly out of the pot:

Hello gang, and Happy New Year! And also brrrrrr! So 2018 is starting with a deep freeze across the country, with headlines that read “Cold Night Shelters to Open in Central Florida”. Excuse me, what? There’s snow falling in Tallahassee and some ominous thing called a ‘bomb cyclone’ poised to hit us here on the east coast. Sounds delightful o_O

If only single digit temperatures actually inspired the cool, stylish elegance of this lithograph, ‘Winter’, by Art Nouveau master Alphonse Mucha. Nice robe!


I hope you all had a joyous New Year’s Eve celebration, however you chose to spend it. I used to go out on New Year’s Eve but not anymore. I prefer to stay home and have unwittingly established what has now become my own New Year’s Eve ‘tradition’; listening to WQXR’s Classical Countdown. I enjoy it so much! The final number one spot belongs, always, to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which really is the ideal piece of music to bring you to the stroke of midnight. Exultant, profound, triumphant, brimming with passion. Pure genius. It is orchestral fireworks, if you will.

When the Ninth Symphony concludes at midnight, Beethoven continues when WQXR plays his arrangement of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Beethoven was a genius but a genius who, like everyone else, still had to make a living. He supplemented his income composing popular music for his day and doing arrangements of Scottish, English, and Welsh folk songs on commission. The recording WQXR played on New Year’s Eve was Beethoven’s arrangement performed by The New York Vocal Arts Ensemble. And it’s lovely. Beautiful voices with Beethoven’s musical artistry. For those who are interested, this is the album -> Beethoven: Folk Song Arrangements

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Happy New Year everyone! Keep warm, stay safe, and I’ll see you back here very soon 🙂

Olivia Paris Music 🎵

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! 🙂 🙂

Ashes

Emotional pain is an insidious thing. Unlike a sprained ankle or a toothache, it burrows into nebulous recesses of the psyche and ‘hides’, until it finds ways to lash out from its dark chambers. Sudden, out-of-nowhere crying fits. Teeth grinding during sleep. Snapping at someone who didn’t deserve it. Still, you carry on, go to work, do grocery shopping, and try to maintain normalcy. What else can you do? Its not the flu which you know will pass eventually after days of bed rest. It’s the state of your life.

Six weeks ago when I sat down in a chair at the salon, my longtime colorist Gil ran his hands through my hair like he always does before he begins my treatment and said, “Do you know you have a bald spot here?”. Whaaattt?? With a large handheld mirror he showed it to me: a big round patch with nothing but the bare skin of my scalp where hair was supposed to be. Because of its location and my long hair, I hadn’t noticed it before. This was not common female-pattern hair loss. This was hair coming out in a concentrated clump. The hell!?? Jump ahead a few weeks and I’ve seen two doctors, a dermatologist, and had two blood tests, fully expecting to discover that I have a thyroid condition or an autoimmune disease or a vitamin deficiency or something – anything – that would explain this. The results? Nothing. There’s nothing physically or medically wrong with me. At one point I sat down a park bench, cell phone to my ear and sobbing a little, and asked the dermatologist what then she thought is causing my hair to fall out. She said, “It has to be stress”. Called the other doctor and asked him the same question. Answer? “It’s stress”.
“Will it grow back?”.
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
“What can I do to stop it?”
“Nothing.”

As if to purposely fuck with me for having seen doctors and had blood tests, my hair loss has accelerated over the past couple of weeks. Huge clumps coming out in the shower. In my hand. On my pillow in the morning. It’s only getting worse.

Two torturous years of family strife will not stop taking their toll on me apparently. The destructive, selfish actions of Chris Hajian, my vain, manipulative brother, have created this hellscape. He has stolen my mother from me with his bullying and brainwashing, made everyone suffer because of his stupid “mid-life crisis”, and walked out on his wife and child. Ever since my father died, my brother (the remaining MAN, of course) has held all the power in the family and he wields it like a weapon. Because that’s what angry, failed men do. Sure Chris Hajian used to be nice guy, way back when. But now he’s just an arrogant, preening douchebag.

After a pivotal, traumatizing event, I decided to stand up for myself once and for all. My mother and my brother were treating me in a way that could only be described as abusive, and I refused to put up with it any longer. I couldn’t for my own sanity and well-being. I expressed my feelings to them, repeatedly. But I was nothing more than voice in the wilderness. Rather than make adjustments in their behavior, and resolve to treat me with love and respect, my mother and brother have done nothing about it. That’s how little I’m valued in my family. It’s a profoundly painful, hurtful realization. I have no family anymore, and I’ve already been replaced. This is the thanks I get for being a devoted, supportive daughter; Mom chooses her self-centered, spoiled son in the end. A son who sees her only as his stooge. So yeah, this is seriously painful. Lost the mother I loved so much .. and now losing my hair 😥

It’s Music Monday, and Tom Petty passed away last week. His distinctly American brand of rock and roll gave us so many great songs. Here’s one of my favorites. Thanks for reading, friends …

Bow Brush Body

I have known Fred Hatt for almost 12 years. Over the course of our friendship, his inexhaustible well of artistic expression and experimentation has never ceased to amaze me. I’d like to share this mesmerizing Fred Hatt project with Museworthy readers. From Vimeo:

Strokes of a violin bow, traces of a paintbrush, and the gestures of the body: dancer Kuan-Ling Tsai, artist Fred Hatt, and musician Andrei Matorin bring three art forms together in a collaborative shadow-screen performance.

Riding the Train

So I turned 49 years old on Saturday, and though I didn’t make a big deal out of the occasion it was still a perfectly fine day sprinkled with reflection and reverie. Jessie the cat brought me a present: a dead cicada she carried around in her mouth for 10 minutes before she deposited it on the driveway, batted it around a few times, and then sauntered off. Thanks Jessie! Just what I always wanted 😆

Turner Classic Movies unintentionally gave me a birthday present as well, by airing “All About Eve” for its primetime feature. One of the most delicious screenplays ever to come out of Hollywood, it’s all theater people “throwing shade” at each other as the kids today would call it. It’s Bette Davis in all her audacious, mouthy, chain-smoking glory, dressed in gorgeous Edith Head gowns, uttering phrases like “Maaax, you sly puss”. My favorite is toward the end, when she says to the conniving climber Eve Harrington, “Nice speech, Eve. But I wouldn’t worry too much about your heart. You can always put that award where your heart ought to be.”  Savage.

We haven’t had a Music Monday on this blog in quite some time so I will remedy that right now. Our video is the magnificent Eva Cassidy singing a stirring rendition of “People Get Ready”, a gospel-inspired song written by the legendary Curtis Mayfield. It became a hit single by The Impressions in 1965 and has been covered by many notable artists since then, among them Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, and Rod Stewart. It is widely considered one of the greatest songs of all time, and for good reason. But I promise you, you have never heard a version of this song as affecting as this. Eva Cassidy was one of the most remarkably gifted vocalists we’ve ever had. When she died in 1996 from melanoma, at the tragically young age of 33, the world lost an enormous talent.

The song also has personal significance for me, because I boarded that “train” a few years ago. Striving every day to stay aboard has strengthened me to perceive my life – my purpose here on earth – with more clarity, more courage, and more devotion. I’ve included the lyrics below. See you soon, friends!

 

People get ready
There’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage
You just get on board
All you need is faith
To hear the diesels a hummin’
You don’t need no ticket
You just thank the Lord
Yeah yeah yeah

People get ready
For the train to Jordan
Picking up passengers from
Coast to coast
Faith is the key
Open the doors and board them
There’s room for all
Among the loved and lost

Now there ain’t no room
For the hopeless sinner
Who would hurt all mankind
Just to save his own
Have pity on those
Whose chances are thinner
Cause there’s no hiding place
From the Kingdom’s throne

Ohh people get ready
There’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage
You just get on board
All you need is faith
To hear the diesels a hummin’
Don’t need no ticket
You just thank the Lord

Call to Sorrow

When Army bugler Sergeant Keith Clark received the call that he was chosen to perform “Taps” at the funeral of President John F Kennedy it came as a bit of a surprise. He had assumed that a Navy bugler would do the honors, since President Kennedy was a World War II U.S. Navy veteran, decorated with a Navy Marine Corps medal for his valor in the South Pacific when a collision with a Japanese destroyer tore his PT-109 in half. But Keith Clark, a patriot and an American in the throes of shock and grief along with the rest of the country, was truly the right man for the job. He had been playing and studying the trumpet since he was a child, receiving musical training during his youth in Michigan, through college and then the military. Just two weeks before Kennedy was assassinated, Clark had performed “Taps” for him at the Veteran’s Day ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Comprised of just 24 notes, “Taps” is the traditional bugle call played at military funerals. It’s been in use since the Civil War, when Brigadier General for the Union Army Daniel Butterfield arranged it into the form we know today. Somber, melancholy, stirring in its simplicity, “Taps” communicates a profound sense of grief over fallen service members as they are laid to rest.

Bugler sketch by Civil War illustrator Alfred Waud:

Keith Clark showed up at Arlington National Cemetery early in the morning on Monday, November 25th, 1963. It was cold with drizzling rain. Temperatures hovered around freezing most of the day. Over a quarter of a million people waited in line for up to ten hours to view President Kennedy’s flag-draped casket as it lie in state in the Capitol Building Rotunda. After the funeral mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, the procession began to make its way to Arlington National Cemetery. It finally arrived around 3:00 in the afternoon. After the traditional Catholic burial rites, the military honors were carried out.

Horse-drawn caisson transporting President Kennedy’s casket:

As the daughter of a trumpet player I know a thing or two about the challenges brass players face. I was raised around my father’s trumpet talk, daily practices, and the private trumpet lessons he gave in our home. Brass instruments are tough. They’re not for the delicate or the lazy. Cold outdoor air is the enemy. Numb, chapped lips are not helpful when you have to place your mouth on a horn and blow. So Keith Clark had been standing around for hours in the cold that day. On top of that, he was positioned just a few feet from the Old Guard Third U.S. Infantry firing squad who shot three rifle volleys as a farewell. Those loud blasts could not have been good for Clark’s ears. Then it was Sgt. Clark’s turn to complete the military honors for America’s slain President. With millions of eyes and ears on him from around the globe, watching on TV and listening on the radio, he began to play the solo “Taps” on his bugle . . . and cracked the sixth note. (I remember my father and his trumpet player friends calling it a ‘clam’). In a melody as slow and sparse as “Taps”, every note hangs out there conspicuously. So while many listeners might have winced at that sixth note, brass players everywhere, like my father, no doubt felt for the guy, as they could relate all too well.

How would I, or any of us, perform under such pressure? Under less than ideal circumstances, on the darkest day in our country’s history? Keith Clark is not the Bill Buckner of military musicians, famous for one error. Not even close. He was the experienced bugler who stepped up to the gut-wrenching task of committing our murdered President into his grave.

Here is the historic moment. Keith Clark’s “Taps” begins at 2:22:

 

The clammed sixth note has been described as sounding “like a sob”, and therefore deemed fitting for the tragic occasion; Clark’s bugle cracked in sorrow to reflect a sorrowful nation. And that is surely a fine way to think about it. In that Cold War period, when a horrendous act of political violence left an indelible wound in our collective consciousness, and President Kennedy’s optimistic dreams for the new generation to whom the torch had been passed seemed suddenly uncertain, Keith Clark’s poignant rendition of “Taps” should be a source of solace. It was imperfect, yes. But it was beautiful.

Keith Clark died in 2002. You can read his obituary at The New York Times.
And for an excellent, detailed account of Sgt. Keith Clark and the events of that day, and all things “Taps”, go to this article on TapsBugler. Keith Clark’s bugle, a Bach Stradivarius, is on display at Arlington National Cemetery. By the way, if any of you find yourselves in the Washington D.C. area and have never been to Arlington, make a point of visiting. Its serene beauty juxtaposed with its heart-rending reality has a staggering effect I can’t fully describe.

On this Memorial Day weekend, in this Memorial Day-themed Music Monday, we pay tribute to all those who sacrificed their lives – the celebrated ones and the forgotten ones. The ones who faced fear, wrestled with moral choices, and now dwell in eternal rest.

“Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address
January 20, 1961