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

Joe’s Violin

We are now in the midst of “awards season”, and for those of us who didn’t get to the movies at all last year, we have no preference to root for “La La Land” or “Manchester by the Sea” or any of the nominated feature films or actors’ performances. But I will have something to root for during the Academy Awards broadcast on February 26th; a nominated film in the Best Documentary Short Subject category. “Joe’s Violin” is an extraordinary story of survival, hope, and music’s capacity to provide comfort during hardship. Directed by Kahane Cooperman, the film tells the story of Joe Feingold, a 91 year-old Holocaust survivor and how he came to form a bond with Brianna Perez, a 12 year-old schoolgirl from the South Bronx.

I am an avid listener of WQXR, New York’s classical music station. For the past couple of years they’ve been organizing an instrument drive, in which people donate used musical instruments to be distributed to music and arts programs at under-resourced schools in the area. Joe Feingold donated a violin to the program – a 70 year-old violin that he came across while living in a displaced persons camp in Germany. He acquired it by trading for a carton of cigarettes. Through the instrument drive, Joe’s violin ended up in the hands of Brianna Perez, who lives in one of the poorest congressional districts in America.

I don’t usually post lengthy videos on the blog, but I’ve made an exception in this case because the story, and the filmmakers’ deeply-felt telling of the story, is poignant and remarkable. If you have 24 minutes to spare, watch the movie in full here, for our Music Monday:

Athena Comes to Town

Hellooooo Museworthy friends! I haven’t forgotten about you or about blogging – never!! I’ve just been – what else? – busily modeling in our fair city, as things are in full swing at our art schools, academies, and life drawing groups. Besides helping me to get my bills paid on time, modeling work has been fortifying me, and restoring me, as it always has.

I’d like to share this short video from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Anyone who appreciates Hellenistic sculpture will enjoy this. It’s also a superb glimpse at how museums install large marble statues and the diligent process it involves. “Athena Parthenos”, (ca. 170 B.C.), on loan from the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, is now gracing the Great Hall at the Met, greeting visitors as they enter the building, and will remain there until the fall of 2018. Welcome to the Big Apple, Athena. We’re honored to have you 🙂

Hail Jupiter

I hadn’t planned to post a Music Monday this week. Right now it’s 10:30 PM New York time and I’ve decided to squeeze one in just under the wire because of a video I came across on Classic fm, a UK-based classical music site I visit from time to time. In the post, “The awe-inspiring counterpoint in Mozart’s final symphony”, musicologist Richard Atkinson provides an analysis of the symphony’s breathtaking and majestic finale. The symphony, No 41, is known as the “Jupiter” symphony, and it was Mozart’s last and longest. The Jupiter is universally adored and held in the highest esteem as one of the greatest symphonic works ever composed. It’s hard to argue with that status, which is probably why nobody ever does.

I have blogged about Mozart previously. That post touched upon a particular aspect of his genius. The video below illustrates the actual complex workmanship that Mozart employed. Atkinson uses the language of music theory to show us precisely how Mozart achieved the brilliant musical effects he did, with a nuts-and-bolts breakdown. He also uses color coding to highlight the recurrent themes and motifs which I found helpful. Back in my piano studying days my teacher would give me worksheets in music theory, and the more advanced they became the more confused I got! Challenging for mere mortals like me, but simple oxygen for Mozart. But I do love the vocabulary of music theory: counterpoint, intervals, triads.

The Jupiter symphony is a piece that, when you listen to it, you want to shout, “Go Wolfgang, go!! Yeah!!“. Pure joy. Pure uplift. The gleaming musical diamond atop the canon of Western civilization.

I know my fellow classical music geeks will appreciate this. And I also think everyone can enjoy the feeling of underachieving slackerdom and inferiority that comes when exposed to Mozart’s genius. Just kidding! I kid 😉

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For those less inclined to classical music deconstruction, something else from Classic fm – a doodle by Mozart on his music sheet. The lovely lady was his pupil, Barbara Ployer. I wonder if Mozart taught her any counterpoint?

mozarts-manuscript-doodle-1409242332-view-1

Rocking the Stairway

“There’s only so many notes on a f*cking guitar!”. Those are the eloquent words of one Ozzy Osbourne, when asked his opinion about the recent legal victory for Led Zeppelin. As you may have heard, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were hauled into a Los Angeles courtroom for a plagiarism suit brought by the estate of Randy Wolfe of the American band Spirit. The suit alleged that Led Zeppelin stole from Wolfe the iconic opening guitar chords of Zep’s famous epic song “Stairway to Heaven”As many people predicted, Led Zeppelin was exonerated.

If you crave more of Ozzy’s assessment of this matter go to this Rolling Stone article to read the rest of his profanity-laced interview 😆

Also, I blogged about this topic – Led Zeppelin and their copyright infringement issues – in a Museworthy post from 2014 for anyone who might be interested.

A reminder to everyone that submissions are open for the Museworthy Portraits and Pets art show. I haven’t set a date for the show yet so of course you still have time. But do feel free to send your piece whenever you’re ready. Everyone is welcome to participate! I’m still working on mine 🙂

I’ll be back very soon with another blog post. In the meantime, here is Led Zeppelin, in their prime, performing “Stairway to Heaven” live. Robert Plant is in full “golden god” glory, and Jimmy Page is pure rock and roll. Around 9:52 is my favorite part. For Music Monday:

The Garden, 1986

Have you ever sat third row/center at a concert? I did, once. When you’re accustomed to seeing your favorite bands from the nosebleed seats a football field-length away from the action, the third row is an experience like nothing else. Exactly how my friend Faby and I managed to snag such prime seats for the Prince concert at Madison Square Garden in the summer of 1986, I honestly can’t recall. But I can tell you it wasn’t through the box office 😉

How can I describe that night seeing Prince perform live? Mesmerizing. Groovy sounds and glittering lights. A rush of adrenaline and shocks of electricity. Shiny instruments, colored smoke, thumping rhythms and sumptuous vocals. Prince’s female bandmates riffing, soloing, being utter badasses. Satin and lace. Funk and psychedelic. A legendary arena packed to the brim with the most diverse crowd of concert-goers I’ve ever seen; 15 year olds and 40 year olds, a Brooklyn Italian guy over here, a Bronx Puerto Rican woman over there. A Manhattan East Side professional, and a gaggle of girls from Long Island. Good kids and troublemakers. City and suburban. Screaming, perspiring, standing on seats and singing along with the lyrics. Prince was, in a word, spellbinding.  A 5’2″ dynamo of talent, charisma, and originality. 

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But allow me to share the single most unforgettable detail of that night, one that I can easily replay in my mind like five frames of a film reel because, when you’re 18 years old, this kind of thing burns an indelible imprint in your memory, along with the thrills and chills that accompany it. Prince was dancing at edge of the stage. Faby and I, like I mentioned before, were in the third row. Prince was right there … so damn close it felt like if I had stood on the back of my chair I could launch right into him with one full throttle leap. The fabric of his jacket, the scarves, boots … right there .. right in front us. And then, on the downbeat of the music, he froze for two seconds .. and made eye-contact with me .. and smiled … and … WINKED!!!!! Yes!!! YES HE DID!! Faby turned to me, her mouth wide open, and the teenage girl-screams came forth in crazy shrieks. “Prince winked at you!!! Did you see that??!! Oh my God!!!!!!!”. Thirty years later I can still see it, vividly – Prince’s big brown eye looking directly into mine. Annnnndd … W I N K !!!!! It’s my giddy, cherished memory, and no one can take it away from me.

Lest you think that Prince was an indiscriminate winker, I was wearing a purple halter top with my boobs half hanging out, and huge dangly earrings, and 25 bracelets going up my forearm, and waving my hands in the air and blowing him overt kisses all night long. So I’m fairly comfortable saying that I :ahem: got his attention. Mission: accomplished 😉

PrinceWendy

When the news broke of Prince’s death, my Mom sent me a text: “Awful news about Prince. I know you loved him from the very beginning”. Mom is right, because “very beginning” for fans like me means pre-Purple Rain. When his fame blew up and hit the mainstream, we weren’t the least bit surprised. We had recognized his talents.

In the midst of all the “grief porn” flooding the Internet, and the pretentious “thinkpieces” being penned by “cultural critics” (or whatever we’re supposed to call these people) let’s have a different take and consider the impressive state of Prince’s life when he left us at the age of 57. He died having the staunch respect and admiration of his musical peers and colleagues. He died having the loyalty of his faithful, devoted fans. He died having found spiritual enlightenment and religious awakening. And, after the epic legal battle he waged against his record company Warner Bros, he died owning his own masters – no small feat in the notoriously rapacious music business. Although fiercely private, Prince revealed himself in the way all true artists do – through his art. Over the course of his long career, we witnessed him evolve from a raunchy, seductive lothario to a teetotaling Jehovah’s Witness, metamorphosing through the personal stages of his life with the same mastery and imagination with which he navigated all styles of music. And he remained, always, a consummate musician, prolific producer, arranger, performer and songwriter. Influential. Inventive. Enigmatic. Often mystifying. We know we won’t see the likes of Prince anytime soon, if ever.

Special condolences should be expressed, by all Prince fans, to the people in and around the Minneapolis area. They lost a fellow Minnesotan, a native son, a neighbor, a supporter of the community and its music scene. When celebrities reach Prince’s level of fame and success, many of them move to a mansion in Beverly Hills, a beach house in Malibu, or a penthouse in New York. But Prince stayed right where he came from.

And no there’s nothing wrong with your tablet or your computer …. this blog post is written in purple font. Your eyes don’t deceive you! Now you probably think it isn’t possible to “out-cool” Lenny Kravitz, but here’s Prince doing just that. (Sorry Lenny). Watch him shred at 5:24. This is Music Monday. Rest in Peace, purple one … and thanks for the wink 😉

Goodbye Bowie

Never imagined having to post something like this for Music Monday. But David Bowie has left us. He was only 69. Sitting here at 2:30 in the morning, I’m at a loss for words. It seems he was battling cancer for many months and kept it a secret. The words “icon” and “legend” are thrown around indiscriminately these days, but in Bowie’s case they are truly applicable. I’ve been a Bowie fan for as long as I can remember. To blend rock and roll, art, and theater – and do it effectively – is not an undertaking for the mediocre or the uninspired. David Bowie could do it. Personally, I liked Bowie the best when he presented himself as a straight-up singer and rocker, and I chose our video accordingly. He really had a great voice. And a great presence. Also, David Bowie was an art aficionado and collector. Here is an interview with him in which he discusses his art tastes and passions.

Rest in Peace David.