Crossing Over: Three Classical Music Tunes That Became Pop Hits

Rachmaninov Score by Aurelie Solenne

“Rhythm stirs our bodies. Tonality and melody stir our brains.” So writes Daniel J. Levitin in This Is Your Brain on Music.

I find myself wondering why he didn’t say “brains and hearts” about tonality and melody, given their powerful capacity to inspire, stir and deepen human emotion.

I know that rhythm goes right back to the heartbeat of the mother who begat us, and is central to our moving about in this life. Rhythm plays a key role in my own writing as well—each sentence has to match some internal hop-and-skip-along, and if it doesn’t, I discard it until the feel is right. If it feels clunky rhythmically, it goes.

That said, in music, I’m a melody man, which is why rap, with its 100 percent rhythm, and modern classical music, with its disdain for tone and melody, leave me mostly unmoved. They can be “interesting” intellectual exercises, but honing my intellect is not why I listen to music. I’ve got a library and a laptop loaded with Google for that purpose.

I rely ...

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Going Slow: In Life, In Play, In Love

Drop by Barbara Walsh

I was going to read Carl Honoré’s groundbreaking 2004 book, In Praise of Slowness: How A Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed, in preparation for this post, but given my jam-packed life that never seems to have a moment to spare, I couldn’t possibly afford the time. So I did the next best thing: I watched the (strictly time-controlled, 16-minute) TED talk he presented on the subject 10 years ago.

Ten years, I might add, that, if you’re anything like me, seem to have zoomed by with inordinate, inexplicable, “Now where were we?” speed.

But enough of the speed-tinged ironies about slowness now, for we are here to address a serious point: In 2015, in an era of unprecedented technological prowess, armed and awash with every time-saving tech device thus far imagined by the finest scientific and engineering minds, half a century after futurists were predicting we would by now be enjoying lives of near constant leisure, we seem zoomier and crazier-paced than ever.

And s...

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A Poem: “Public and Private”


I am gazing across mud flats to a public dock where
a steady procession of fishers and crabbers have spent
the day casting their hooks and nets to the shifting tides.

Faceless and unobserved behind my patio screen,
I see a young couple descend, he fishing,
she in a beach chair thumbing a magazine.

A feathery rain starts falling through diffused yellow light,
the world gone silent and still as the woman turns her chair
into an umbrella under which her lover comes to join her.

It is a scene of such startling and natural intimacy that
I think to avert my eyes, but of course I don’t, can’t,
the moth of my heart drawn to this universal flame.

The lovers barely move over long minutes, and I think of the
fine Latin phrase “in flagrante delicto” as they stand fully clothed,
public and private, open to the world and naked in their cave.

Memories form of lovers careful to lock doors and windows,
and others who opted for open skies, behind convenient trees,
where equal ...

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Five Photos Challenging Our Notions of a Benevolent God

Eagle Closeup by Loren Webster

“Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. Even all the hairs on your head are numbered.”

That’s the gospel of Matthew, verses 29-30, positing a benevolent and merciful God who cares for and directs the lives of his creatures and creation down to the very last detail.

And in this corner, Tennyson’s “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” his famous poetic line denoting the unblinking savagery with which creatures stalk, tear into and consume other creatures for their own sustenance.

Which vision reflects reality, once we set down our books and toys, cast off our fanciful cloaks, and head out from our cloistered drawing rooms to confront the challenges of day-to-day survival?

This question is perhaps particularly relevant to the carnivores among us, who rely on slaughterhouses to go about the business that lesser animals must tend to themselves, using only the armaments—beaks, teeth, claws, natural poisons, constr...

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Amy Winehouse’s Cry From the Depths of Creation

Amy Winehouse Portrait by Ivo Garcev

At one point in the current documentary (Amy) of the gifted and tortured singer Amy Winehouse, she was so deeply submerged in her partly guttural/feral, partly ravishing/seductive treatment of a song, digging into it with such resonant and startling ferocity, that I exclaimed to myself there in the dark of the theater, “My God, that voice is from the depths of creation!”

True enough, but the surpassingly sad part of that voice is all the pain and self-torture that it was built upon, quite aside from the God-given gifts of raw vocal power it had been bequeathed.

For truly, Amy Winehouse’s voice and career and downward spiral of a life stand as an unanswered cry against the multiple and relentless outrages of existence, all the forces that seem to line up with special anticipation and glee when a soul at once so sensitive, talented, raw and ultimately, fragile, presents itself to us.

There are plenty of villains to go around in this tale that could easily enough grow tiresome, given ...

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David Brooks on Tumultuous, Transformative, Soul-Shattering Love

Lovers By Geraint Rowland

New York Times columnist and PBS pundit David Brooks has written an extraordinary book (The Road to Character) that I will discuss in some depth in a near-future post, but there is one section of it that I think deserves its own highlighting, with only enough discussion from me to move some generous excerpts along. The book itself addresses the grand topic of human character—its qualities, importance, and exemplification—in a cast of 10 historic “characters” whose biographies Brooks has scoured and synthesized on our behalf.

The subjects are mostly giants of history, albeit flawed and so very human, as Brooks reveals in brief chapters devoted to their lives and works.

One of them, the 19th century Victorian era novelist George Eliot, serves as the jumping-off point for a remarkable five-page reflection/digression that is not really about Eliot at all, but instead allows Brooks to offer what amounts to a beautiful, deep and haunting sermon on the experience and nature of love...

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On the Virtues of Uncertainty and Humility: David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon College Commencement Speech

David Foster Wallace

The brilliant and challenging writer David Foster Wallace, gone from the world since his suicide in 2008 at age 46, left behind a critically acclaimed body of work that included short stories, essays, magazine journalism, and three novels. Two of those novels, Infinite Jest (1996) and the posthumously published The Pale King (2012), figure prominently on university reading lists and remain in wide circulation.

But in this digital age, Wallace is likely far better known and more widely seen and heard in his 2005 commencement address at liberal artsy Kenyon College in Ohio, the speech now having been watched hundreds of thousands of times in a variety of iterations on You Tube, and made into a rather remarkable short film (available here).

The speech runs barely over 20 minutes, with its essence boiled down to 10 minutes in the film mentioned above...

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The Abby Wambach Narratives

Abby Wambach by Ji Young Kim

I was really worried about that Abby Wambach! Thirty-five years old now, holder of two Olympic gold medals, the all-time leading goal scorer in the history of professional soccer, the international women’s soccer player of the year in 2012.

But she’d never won a World Cup championship, and the titanic match against Japan last Sunday was her final shot!

Talk about high stakes!! Millions of people around the world were, as her mother told an L.A. Times reporter, “praying for her.” I wasn’t quite going that far, there being a few more pressing causes on my prayer list. If I had such a prayer list, that is, since I tend not to pray for specific causes or outcomes in this world but rather focus my prayerful attention simply on attending to the people and scenes in front of me in all appropriate concern, awe and gratitude.

In any case, of all the narrative threads weaving their way through the World Cup match, which earned the highest television viewership ratings of any soccer mat...

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A Liberal’s July 4th Love Letter to America

Yankee Doodle by Stuart Rankin

All right, you great, big, bawdy, benevolent babe—I know we’ve had our issues.

On this end: war protests, flag burnings, jeering returning soldiers, torched cities, rejection of corporations and the almighty dollar as the true symbol of the republic.

Sitting out the Star Spangled Banner, lampooning every tradition, all those clouds of pungent smoke in the park.

Peace, love and moral mayhem.

On yours: the shameful treatment of Native Americans, blacks, women and and gays, ill-advised invasions, coddling dictators, busting the unions and their working people, and at all costs making the world safe for the military-industrial complex.

I had a hard time for the longest time sidling up to you and your flag, given some of the things done under its banner and the dubious company it sometimes kept.

Now: I don’t want to suggest that all is forgotten...

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Justice Scalia and the Anger That Ails Us

Scales of Justice by Michael Grimes

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s blistering dissent in yesterday’s decision legalizing gay marriage across all 50 states would have been extraordinary were it not for how characteristic and “ordinary” it has been of him through his 29-year tenure on the bench. Over a long litany of opinions, Scalia seems to be repeatedly furious and affronted that his colleagues on the court may think differently and come to different conclusions than him about the great matters before them.

Although Scalia’s response, a few highlights of which I will note below, is no doubt rooted in particular aspects of his personality, what is perhaps more troubling is how his anger and disdain for those who dare to disagree with him seems reflective of our broader political and social culture.

Is it just me, or do we seem to live in extraordinarily angry and disdainful times?

Granted, democracy is and always has been messy...

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