“…and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them”

Pitchfork: Blood and Echoes: The Story of Come Out, Steve Reich’s Civil Rights Era Masterpiece. One of Reich’s early experiments in tape loop composition, the composition treats the spoken testimony of 18-year-old Daniel Hamm, who was beaten by police for trying to protect Harlem school children from being injured by an overexcited patrolman.

Later unjustly incarcerated as one of the Harlem Nine, Hamm’s story lives in Reich’s composition. Beaten by six to 12 officers over the course of the night, they tried to refuse him medical treatment on the grounds that he wasn’t visibly bleeding. Hamm recalls that he reached down to a knotted bruise on his leg and “I had to, like, open the bruise up, and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them.” Reich loops this appalling statement via two tape players, one in each stereo channel, that drift slowly into and out of phase, into what has varyingly been described as a “raga,” a psychedelic experience, early minimalism, and media overload. To me, it speaks as a reminder that Black Lives Matter is responding to something that isn’t a new problem.

The mysterious history of Wafna

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One of the most beloved traditions of the Virginia Glee Club is its mascot, the pink lawn flamingo affectionately named Wafna. She has been a tradition for “living memory,” meaning since before I was a member from 1990 to 1994. But how did such a rare and unusual bird become the mascot of a 145-year-old men’s chorus? The answer, surprisingly, is a little shrouded in mystery.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: yes, Wafna is named after the utterance of the drunken, angry, naked victim of the Abbot of Cockaigne in the “In taverna” part of Orff’s Carmina Burana:

…et qui mane me quaesierit in taberna
post vesperam nudus egredietur,
et sic denudatus veste clamabit:
Wafna, wafna! quid fecisti, Sors turpissima?
nostrae vitae gaudia
abstulisti omnia!

But how did the name get to be attached to a pink lawn flamingo? And when? The “why” is probably the association of the members of the Glee Club with naked drinking in taverns.

As to when: on March 1, 1987, the Glee Club performed Orff’s Carmina Burana together with the University Singers, the Virginia Women’s Chorus, and the Charlottesville University and Community Symphony Orchestra. By the fall of 1987, there was a pink flamingo named Wafna who hung out at 5 West Lawn. Who acquired the flamingo and who did the naming are lost to history, but it seems pretty certain to have happened between those dates.

What is not lost is Wafna’s continued role in Glee Club lore. Her most dramatic moment was the colonization of the Lawn with more than a dozen Wafna-alikes a few years ago, but she also lives on in tour tshirts (like the one at the top), cocktail glasses, bottle openers, and of course as a pink lawn flamingo, who appeared at events at the 145th anniversary reunion weekend to lift our spirits.

1953 “Christmas Carols”: “Advice to All Those Who Think That Being a Civil Engineer is the Greatest Form of Life”

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In a follow up to the post about the 1953 Virginia Spectator and its booklet of ersatz carols, here’s one titled “Advice to All Those Who Think That Being a Civil Engineer is the Greatest Form of Life, or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Wahoo.” Just goes to show that the fine art of taunting the toolies—er, I mean, engineering students—is not new.

A few lyric references:

Slide rule: Precursor of the computer and electric calculator. Ask your dad.

The men of Rugby Road: Then as now, the center of fraternity parties. Presumably “first base” referred to socializing with women at fraternity parties, rather than “getting to first base” WITH a fraternity member; but you never know.

Thornton Hall: UVA engineering building.

“Punch”: UVA humor magazine of the 1940s and 1950s, sometimes appearing in the pages of the Spectator.

Rudolph the red-nosed wahoo,
Was a scroungy first-year man.
Oh how his slide rule hung out,
And oh how his nostrils ran.

He never got to first base
With the men of Rugby Road.
He settled for the worst place:
And at Thornton Hall he glowed.

Then one dreary Christmas eve
F. Scott’s ghost appeared:
“Rudolph with your nose so drippy
Try to act a bit more Chippy.”

Now he’s an English major,
He’s no longer out to lunch,
Sipping his dry martini,
And reading his last week’s “Punch.”

Out of the background: James Armistead Lafayette

Sarah Wells: Why We Need to Talk About James Armistead Lafayette. A thoughtful blog post from a high school student about a lesser known figure from the American Revolution.

James Armistead, born a slave in the possession of Virginian William Armistead, secured the permission of his master to join the American army under the command of General Lafayette. He became a spy, serving as a double agent to get information both from Benedict Arnold and from Lord Cornwallis. After the war, with support from both William Armistead and Lafayette, he petitioned the General Assembly for his freedom and was manumitted.

James Armistead Lafayette’s story gives me pause—not merely because of the general lack of knowledge about his life, but because of the small window of time during which his manumission was possible. Though William Armistead sounds enlightened, the odds that James would have been freed had he not rendered such extraordinary service to the new Republic—and had a war hero on his side—seems extremely unlikely. I would guess that if his story played out around 1830 or later (when he died), the sentiment of the average Virginia slaveowner would not have been toward freedom.

Cocktail Friday: Kentucky Corpse Reviver

Kentucky Corpse Reviver, with frog

Kentucky Corpse Reviver, with frog

For the second entry in Cocktail Friday, I turn to bourbon, but with a twist. One of those “any excuse to party” websites declared Wednesday National Bourbon Day, and I decided to celebrate with a drink I had never had before, which is a twist on a completely different drink: the Kentucky Corpse Reviver.

There are a number of drinks with the name “corpse reviver,” which are mostly unrelated to each other and to this drink. The theme, as Wikipedia dryly notes, is “hair of the dog” hangover cures, but I can’t imagine anyone drinking these in the morning. Wikipedia gives the great Harry Craddock credit for the two better known recipes, based on cognac and gin, but also points to a mention of a cocktail called a Corpse-Reviver in Punch in 1861, meaning that the concept is ancient even if the drink is modern.

In concept, the Kentucky Corpse Reviver is a straightforward adaptation of the justly famous Corpse Reviver #2, substituting bourbon for gin and omitting the absinthe. In practice, the addition of both bourbon and the mint garnish make this an entirely different, and remarkable, drink. But proceed with caution: as with the original, “four of these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again.”

Here’s the Highball recipe card, if you plan to try it out. Enjoy!

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Blogaversary 15

I haven’t done one of these in a while, but I should acknowledge the inevitable passing of time with a note that June 11, 2016 was my 15th blogaversary. While about five (or more) of those years were spent on hiatus, it’s nice to look back over the last six months and see that, with a few exceptions, I’ve kept the forward momentum from my New Year’s resolution and blogged more or less daily.

There’s something about the discipline of writing daily that helps the brain. I’ve found writing becoming easier. And more: I’ve written some things in the last six months that I’m actually proud of. I think there’s something to the principle that frequent writing leads to better writing, if only because we’re more likely to write something well when we’re in the habit of writing already. The Muse needs someone whose fingers are already near the keyboard.

The spicy is life

There are very few sentences of five words or less that will make me drop what I’m doing and read something closely. “Sichuan Cuisine, Imperiled by Success” happens to be one of those sentences. The New York Times does a review of how the demand of extreme eaters for more and more spicy foods is imperiling authentic Sichuan cuisine.

This hits closely because Sichuan is a culinary discovery that has honestly revolutionized my palate. I used to be satisfied with mediocre American-Chinese dishes; I shudder to think how much fried rice I’ve consumed in my lifetime. Sichuan fills two voids for me. First, the strong flavors and unusual ingredients of many traditional dishes hit areas of my palate that no other foods can touch. Second, I feel as though it’s one “traditional” Chinese cuisine where I’ve learned enough to claim a small amount of expertise.

I owe any expertise I’ve accumulated to three local restaurants: Sichuan Gourmet, whose Framingham branch hosted my first Sichuan dinner but whose Billerica and new Burlington stores have seen much more of my custom; Szechuan’s Dumpling, who during its golden age could bring spicy deliciousness right to my front door; and the Baldwin Bar at Sichuan Garden, which combines superb Sichuan food with a world class cocktail bar. And that’s all without exploring Chinatown’s spicy offerings. But it’s probably the first one to which I owe the biggest debt. At Veracode, it’s so well loved that we don’t even call the restaurant by name anymore; it’s just Spicy, as in “let’s go to Spicy.”

I think it’s interesting that there’s a concern for authenticity emerging this early in Sichuan’s culinary history. As the article points out, most Sichuan dishes go back “only a century or two.” Of course, the history of French haute cuisine can be traced to the same period, thanks to Escoffier‘s codification and elevation of traditional French cooking. But I hope that I get a chance to explore more of the traditional cuisine before it gets “extremed” to death.

Miscellaneous links roundup

Lots of stuff has accumulated in my iPhone Safari browser (the modern day equivalent of “too many tabs open in Firefox”). Here’s a few items of potential interest:

Boston area

Boston Light Tours: The oldest lighthouse site in America, with the current tower built in 1785 on foundations dating to 1713, is open for day tours. Selling it to my kids: “It’s only 76 steps—that’s a lot less than the Bunker Hill monument!”

Software and Business

1944 OSS Sabotage Manual (via): brilliant tips on physical and organizational sabotage. I especially like the tips on sabotaging organizational efficiency: “Always insist on doing everything through ‘channels.’ Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.”

So you wanna go on-prem do ya: The best explanation yet for why it’s so hard to take native SAAS/cloud software back on premise—and why it’s getting harder over time.

Food

Milk Sherbet (a Mid-Century Menu recipe). On our list to try out this summer.

Barbecued Chicken (a New York Times recipe). Always worth revisiting the basics.

Virginia

A Historical Sketch and Selected Documents Relating to the Jefferson Literary & Debating Society. 2011 paper by Thomas Howard and Owen Gallogly providing a thumbnail history of the University’s oldest extant organization.

Patron’s Choice: Exploring the Gannaway/Ganaway Family Roots. Excellent post about tracing family history and the difficulties of doing so across the boundaries of slavery. I haven’t done the research yet but suspect that the slave-owning family may be the ancestors of Glee Club president Malcolm W. Gannaway. More to come…

Music

“Alrac” – Paul Bley (Doom and Gloom from the Tomb). A belated pointer to this bootleg in memory of the late great jazz pianist and composer Paul Bley.

The Meters: 5/30/80 / New Orleans, LA Saenger Theatre (Aquarium Drunkard). Live footage from a Meters concert. Funk is, indeed, its own reward.

Tom Verlaine: The Big Train Crash (Doom and Gloom). Great 1987 Verlaine bootleg.

Remembering J. Reilly Lewis

Bach-for-All-Seasons-Beth-Lewis

In the late summer of 1994, twenty-two years ago, I was recently graduated from the University of Virginia and desperately missed singing. I had sung in the Virginia Glee Club for four years and hoped that I could find a similar experience in a chorus in Washington DC. I didn’t find something similar, but I did find J. Reilly Lewis.

Several other Glee Club members had sung in Reilly’s Cathedral Choral Society and spoke highly of it. I had fond memories of the National Cathedral from a young chorister’s field trip when I was in elementary school. It seemed like a good idea. A few weeks later, I was frantically studying my score on the Metro and wondering if I had lost my mind.

You see, I had been exposed to comparatively unusual repertoire as a Glee Club member: lots of Renaissance and medieval music, some modern works (my lifelong love of Arvo Pärt’s music dates to the 1992 Tour of the South), spirituals and Virginia football songs. But very little of the symphonic repertoire for chorus. We had sung a few works in collaboration with other choruses: Mahler 2, the Fauré Requiem, the Duruflé Requiem, and Orff’s Carmina Burana. But that was about it.

So imagine my surprise when the first piece we sang was Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, a challenging work even for mature singers, much less someone straight out of college. Piling on the difficulty, I had spent the summer unconsciously stretching my range, singing along to a lot of female singers (Tori Amos and Shannon Worrell among them). So when I auditioned for Reilly he cast me as a first tenor, not the second I had sung since high school. Suffice it to say I was in over my head.

But I loved it. And I loved singing with Reilly. And that made up for a lot.

Reilly was a musician’s musician. Unlike many conductors I’ve sung with since, he had a keen appreciation for the possibilities and limits of the human voice. He liked to lead us in a warmup borrowed from Robert Shaw in which we sustained a four or eight part chord on a neutral vowel, then shifted to a bright “ah” and heard the harmonic overtones bloom forth in the resonant acoustic of the Cathedral. He led us in other Shaw-inspired exercises over the years: lots of staccato on “doo,” the occasional marching-while-fuguing to ensure that we locked in the parts and could keep the rhythm, and other slightly crazy exercises. He was almost unflappable, so much so that when he lost his temper at a soloist who didn’t make it for a dress rehearsal it was striking.

But most of what I remember singing with Reilly was the repertoire, and the musicians, he introduced me to. I sang my first Mozart, Brahms and Verdi Requiems with him. I will always remember the Modern Mystics concert we did in 1997 or 1998, with music of Tavener, Gorecki and Pärt—in particular the Pärt set (“Solfeggio,” “Cantata Domino canticum novum”) that we sang in the side of the nave next to the positive organ. Copland’s “In the Beginning” from the balcony under the rose window in the rear of the nave. The Bach St. Matthew Passion.

And the Christmas concerts. For a man who legendarily had difficulty choosing Christmas music—he associated the season with the death of a family member—he put together some stunning programs, including the Pärt Magnificat, the Tavener “God is With Us” and “Thunder Entered Her,” Kenneth Leighton’s spine tingling setting of the Coventry Carol, and many more.

Of course, there were the guest musicians. Robert Shaw, first with Hindemith’s When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d, which he had commissioned many years before, then with a return to the Missa Solemnis a year before Shaw died. Sir David Willcocks, who grew so frustrated with our altos’ inevitable inability to follow his beat in the resonant echoes of the Cathedral that he turned around and beat time with his ass, shouting, “Follow this!” And, of course, Dave Brubeck, who came to play his “To Hope!” with us, and who—far from laughing when Reilly jokingly said “I’ve always wanted to do this” before playing the first few bars of “Blue Rondo A La Turk” for him—said “Keep going!”

Inevitably, too, I remember the disappointment when I told Reilly I was taking a leave from the Cathedral Choral Society. I had started singing with the Suspicious Cheese Lords—I was never a founding member, but joined a few months into the group’s existence and found there repertoire that I had missed, starting of course with the Tallis Lamentations of Jeremiah. And I was working crazy hours and newly married and applying to business school. We discussed it over dinner at the Lebanon Taverna. He was so completely consumed with music that he couldn’t understand why I, and other young singers, would want to back out and let our lives be consumed with other things.

I hadn’t seen him since I left Washington. Now I won’t see him again until we meet together with Bach, and Brubeck, and Shaw, and Sir David, and all the others on the other shore.

A week in Olympia

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As my week in London comes to a close, I thought it might be interesting to learn a little bit about the exhibition hall in which I spent the week. As with everything else in London, the layers of history go a little deeper than you might expect.

The Olympia exhibition hall sits about 4km west of Buckingham Palace in the suburb of Kensington. From the inside it looks a little like a train station, with its glassed in barrel ceiling rising high above the central hall. You might be forgiven for guessing it was built in the early 20th century; in fact, it dates to 1886. It’s survived bombings, repeated requisition to support war needs in World Wars I and II, and (especially early on) dry spells in bookings.

One of the most curious moments in its history came in 1934. It hosted a rally for Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists, that turned to violence, appalling and alienating many of Mosley’s supporters; it can be said to have hosted the turning point leading to the decline of fascism as a popular movement in Britain.

Knowing its past, I think I can forgive its uneven air conditioning.

Temporary autonomous mercantile zones

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Conferences typically have two official parts, talks (including big keynotes, little presentations in small gatherings, and everything in between) and the trade show floor. The talks are what people come for and are what brings press attention to the conference. The trade show floor pays the bills.

Trade show floors are infinite grids of elaborate temporary architecture, with each plot of land covered in concrete and cheap carpet and leased to a vendor for the duration of the show. The plots are sized according to how much the vendor pays for their sponsorship. On the plots, vendors and their marketing event companies build simple or elaborate booths, like the sukkōt of the Feast of the Tabernacles, only with no roofs. Also unlike a sukkah, the walls of a booth may, in fact, sway in the wind, or if a vendor walks behind them and knocks them down.

Some vendors have small ground height booths, but most go up, so that they can be seen from afar. Unfortunately, with every vendor “going up,” the effect is often lost and you end up with an air space arms race. I’ve seen a marketing manager from one company snarling at another because the second company’s booth cast a shadow on the first.

The trade show floor is a gathering; it is constructed quickly knowing it is only temporary, and demolished just as quickly. But in between, it’s a linear descendent of the oldest traditions of human commerce: the agora. Because to this giant assemblage of bright booths come booth staff—people like me—and conference attendees. Some attendees come to talk to vendors because they have a need to fill; most come for freebies. At this conference, the freebies include brochures, keychains, cheap electronic gizmos, stuffed animals, alcohol, and—critically important—coffee. And so people meet and trade. Maybe not directly, but they may take the first steps to an agreement. It’s a ritual that hasn’t changed in thousands of years.

Walking miles

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I’m working long days at this conference in London and walking lots of miles. (I can always tell from my Health App data when I’m at a conference. This will level out as June gets more days in it but right now the peak is kind of hard to miss.)

 

Traveling: London calling

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There’s nothing like an international trip to make you appreciate modern travel. I’m in London this week, so I’ve had planes, trains, and automobiles—the last due to tube maintenance.

There’s always something different when I come for a visit here. This time, it’s the spread of contactless payment. Since the last time I was here, I notice many more Londoners using contactless credit cards to pay at restaurants, pubs, and shops. The technology is the same as that used by Apple Pay, Android Pay and others, but the RFID chip is embedded into a credit card rather than a smart device. Regardless of the reason, it’s nice because it means that most of the places I’m visiting have readers that work with Apple Pay.

It got me thinking about what factors influence the spread of technology. There’s clearly a benefit to end users for widely adopted contactless payment—no swiping or signature. There’s a benefit to issuers as well, given that the contactless payment transmission is harder to intercept than a magstrip swipe, and does not actually transmit the credit card number. Retailers are the long pole in the tent, but the threat of being held liable for credit card losses is convincing them to update the technology.

Cocktail Friday: The Bairn

esquiredrinkbook

Today’s post comes courtesy of the Esquire Drink Book, a mid-century masterpiece of cocktail lore. It’s not just comprehensive but also wittily written and illustrated, and full of odd little throwaway recipes here and there.

I’ve been reading through it for a few weeks and am starting to collect cocktails to try. One that I investigated early on and that’s stayed with me is the Bairn, which as its name suggests is a Scotch-based cocktail. This blends the smokiness of Scotch with a solid dose of orange from both the Cointreau and the bitters. It’s a great introduction to the book and is an unfussy Friday afternoon sort of cocktail, which if your Fridays are anything like mine is just the right sort of thing to try.

I’m experimenting with a new-to-me app called Highball to document and share cocktail recipes; it’s nice because importing the image below into your version of the app will automatically add the recipe to your recipe book. Try it out and let me know what you think.

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“Eighty-One”

KGB at the Lilypad in Inman Square, June 1, 2016

KGB at the Lilypad in Inman Square, June 1, 2016

I met some work colleagues at Bukowski’s in Inman Square last night. Generally when I’ve been there in the past it’s been to go to Hell Night, which is a pretty all-consuming experience in itself. Last night I was able to soak in a little more of the ambience.

Like Lilypad, a jazz club that’s only about half a block away from Bukowski’s. As I walked by last night to go to the bar, there was a pretty hot sounding quartet going (Tetraptych, if their calendar is right), but by the time we got back to the club KGB was playing. This trio (Ethan K. on guitars, Patrick Gaulin on drums, Rich Greenblatt on vibes) was sounding pretty good, playing a variety of originals, some standards (a Gershwin tune floated past at one point) and some post-bop stuff.

The last tune was “Eighty-One,” the Ron Carter/Miles Davis standard that he premiered on E.S.P. Here Ethan K. played the melodic line as Greenblatt provided chordal backup, with Gaulin providing elliptical drums underneath. I loved it, but the interpretation was a little different than what I think of as the core of the song, and it got me thinking about what that means.

In the original recording, by the second great Miles quintet on their first album, the essence of the song is the strong central bassline centered on the relationship between F (the tonic) and B-flat and providing rhythmic drive, while the horns play the melody complete with the leap up the octave and into a moment of silence, followed by sustained chords. The same players, with Wallace Roney filling in for Miles on the 1991 A Tribute to Miles, begins with a minute of free playing by Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter before going to the melody, and plays up the pause dramatically, with everyone but Carter and Tony Williams dropping out for a whole measure before the tune continues. I’ve heard some live Herbie recordings that do the same trick, with different players spotlighted in the gap, including his V.S.O.P. quintet live recordings from the 1970s. I’ve come to love this interpretation.

Last night, the gap wasn’t there–each player drove ahead into the space, letting the groove take them. It was a great version, but I missed that pause. It clues you in to listen to what’s happening underneath—the groove, the drive, the breakneck craziness at drums and bass that was Carter and Tony Williams at their best.