Thursday, June 21, 2007
Last night Fritz and I went to the Methuen Memorial Music Hall (actually better described by its original title Organ Hall) for a concert featuring a new composition by a friend of ours, the composer Graham Gordan Ramsay. Titled "Jacob vs. Angel," it's a major six-movement piece for grand concert organ "about crisis of conscience,ambiguity, and misinterpretation expressed through depiction of a major battle, the goal of which is nevermade entirely clear." In other words, the Bible encounters contemporary philosophical doubt.
The organist was Heinrich Christensen, with whom Graham is going on a 16 day tour of Scandinavia, where this piece (and the rest of last night's program including works by Daniel Pinkham, Johan Christian Heinrich Rinck, Marcel Dupre, Jean Langlais and Takeshi Kondo) will be played on cathedral and castle organs in Denmark, Sweden and northern Germany. Christensen is Dean of the American Guild of Organists, Boston chapter, a multiple award winner and a recording artist--and needed all of his experience and skill to manage the the demands of Graham's score--which he aced impressively.
Jacob vs. Angel is on its way to being an opera that the Intermezzo Chamber Opera for which I design may produce in a couple of years. Graham's score is massive, confident and multi-colored, based on a series of six poems by Alice Weaver Flaherty with titles such as: Crash, Fracture, Renamings, and Carnage of Feathers.
The Music Hall may look something like a church but never was. From the beginning it was planned to be the home of a vast organ reclaimed from the old Boston Music Hall that was driven out of business by the opening of the Boston Symphony Orchestra's Symphony Hall. Of all the pictures on the web that show the interior, this is the only one that shows the splendor and over-the-top High Victorian ornamentation of the interior as well as the monumental size and style of the carved wood case of the organ.
There were probably two hundred in attendance last night, a predominantly middle-aged crowd come to hear mostly very contemporary organ music, a large number of them gay men in couples or groups of various sizes. They were a lively and enthusiastic group and Fritz and I were taken not only by openness of the gay community in this old-guard New England mill town (much kissing among the guys) but also by the town's quirky architecture which places the Flemish baroque Music Hall next to the mill canal with its granite towers done in a wide variety of medieval styles.
The rock ledge in the excavation is scheduled to be blown up today. I had to leave Fritz's at 9:30am to get back to Boston but I got pictures of the big machine drilling into the rock to set the dynamite charges, and spoke with the guys a bit. I called half an hour ago (about 3:30pm) but the blasting still had not begun. I go back up on Saturday (we have a Sweat Lodge gathering that falls on my birthday) and will get more shots of the completed excavation at that time.
For those of you who play Scrabble, here's some advice from an MIT student, Jason Katz-Brown, a veteran of more than 30 Scrabble tournaments, who last year was North America's highest-ranked player. Jason's ending his third year as an electrical engineering/computer science major, a combination that may give some hint as to how his brain operates. He began by learning all of the 100,000+ words in the official Scrabble Dictionary and, during a summer job in Japan some years ago, he spent the 90 minute each way commute to work memorizing all of the approximately 24,000 eight letter words in the English language.
This kid's serious--he alphagrams. I'd never heard of alphagramming, which entails placing all the letters in a word in alphabetical order. Jason does this and then memorizes the resulting string of letters (scrabble becomes abbcelrs). "Then when I play, I just put my scrabble tiles in alphabetical order, and the words pop up."
Jason has no interest in knowing what the words mean; for him Scrabble isn't a word game but a math game, the alphagramed letter strings a means to gaining points. As a child, his father insisted he join in family games to increase his intelligence, but he was bored stiff. Then his older brother gave him the book "Word Freak" by Stefan Fatsis and the competitive abstraction strategy revealed in the book fascinated him. He credits his scrabble obsession with getting him into MIT and then getting him a summer job at Google headquarters in California. Future plans include either a full time job at Google or a grad degree in Europe, and somewhere along the line becoming the best Scrabble player in the world.
Jason's Scrabble hints for the non-tournament-bound (from the MIT publication, Spectrum):
1. Learn the two letter words early. There are some really high-scoring ones like Qi, Za, Jo, Xu and and even vowel-only words like Ai, Ae, and Oe. [note—I found about half of these, but only half, in my big Webster's Unabriged].
2. Strive for about an equal number of vowels and consonants on your rack after you make your play. If that's not possible, more consonants is better.
3. Play the Q as quickly as you can, using words like Qi, Qat,, Qadi, and Qaid [these looked very much like Arabic words to me and at least three of them are. Given Scrabble's rules about no foreign words, I assume they've been assimilated into English as either math or science words].
4. Don't worry about defense; instead, concentrate on making good use of your best tiles to keep a sustained offense going. For instance, save your S and blank tiles for high-scoring plays that form plurals of words already on the board.
So much for a nice, friendly no-pressure after dinner game!
Fritz must have gotten this from a friend or colleague and sent it out again:
One morning a blind bunny was hopping down the bunny trail, and he
tripped over a large snake and fell, kerplop, right on his twitchy
"Oh, please excuse me!" said the bunny. "I didn't mean to trip over you,
but I'm blind and can't see."
"That's perfectly all right," replied the snake. "To be sure, it was my
fault. I didn't mean to trip you, but I'm blind too, and I didn't see
you coming. By the way, what kind of animal are you?"
"Well, I really don't know," said the bunny. "I'm blind, and I've never
seen myself. Maybe you could examine me and find out."
So the snake felt the bunny all over, and he said, "Well, you're soft,
and cuddly, and you have long silky ears, and a little fluffy tail and a
dear twitchy little nose... You must be a bunny rabbit!"
The bunny said, "I can't thank you enough. But, by the way, what kind of
animal are you?"
The snake replied that he didn't know, so the bunny agreed to examine him.
When the bunny was finished, the snake said, "Well, what kind of an
animal am I?"
The bunny had felt the snake all over, and he replied, "You're soft,
you're cold, you're slippery, you haven't any legs to stand on, and you
haven't got any balls... You must be a Republican.”
I had always known of Walt whitman's Calamus Poems, and here in Boston we have the GLBT Calamus Book Store. But I never knew what calamus meant.
It turns out that a calamus is this beautiful, exotic flower, much beloved by the New England Transcendentalist writers (Emerson, Thoreau, et al.) for its erotic, phallic shape. There was more going on among that crowd than they ever told us in high school.
As a child in a big family, I learned to love to play board games and card games. Scrabble is a favorite. It would be ruined if it became math for me though. I also love RISK but get irritated with the board's geographic oddities.