Category Archives: history

12/19/10 – sitting in church

I am new to church – as I have mentioned I was raised a Roman Catholic, but never a believer (when I received my Confirmation at 13 I was already an atheist), and spent my adult life from 20 to 47 as a practicing Soka Gakkai Buddhist.

Now I am a participant in the local Unitarian Universalist Church. I haven’t “signed the book” yet, but I have pledged a token donation. I am in the choir, and plan to be in the adult sex education series this winter. Yeah, it’s a cool church – I was told 23% of the congregants are atheists as well.
Steeped in American Transcendentalism and in-your-face social activism – in 1969 they gave refuge to several draft dodgers who, apparently, were invited to live for days in the sanctuary – taking that traditional law of sanctuary literally – until the FBI and local police got tired and stormed in, knocking down the congregants amassed to shield the dodgers with their rifle butts.

This is the view from my seat in the choir loft. Raised as a Roman Catholic, I find churches lugubrious, but I am getting used to this one, even with its massive wood vaulting and its stone walls. Part of my being there is honoring my heritage. I sing the hymns – and for now the Christmas carols – that my great great great great great great grandparents, in both Britain and Germany, sang – my grandfathers with their friends over tankards perhaps, my grandmothers to their babies.


11/5/10 – placeholder post

Is this the day that I stumble and don’t blog?

No! Ha!

Fun fact: It was on this date, in 1955, that Marty McFly saved his parents’ future marriage!


10/30/10 – lives of the composers: Morton Feldman

Listening to Morton Feldman’s 2-hour piano diptych “Triad Memories”.

Here is a bit of it on YouTube.

Actually, ‘listening’ may not be accurate. It is ebbing and flowing in and out of my awareness. It is a quiet slow piece, very minimal – in fact, even as it progresses only in the barest of moments is more than one key ever struck at the same time, and I suspect that technically, as written, they really are not; dissonance and chords project from the overlays of the natural sustains.

I do not know much about classical music.

But I did know Morton Feldman. Kinda.

25 years ago I was a teller at his bank. He was in The University of Buffalo’s music department, and he must have lived in my bank branch’s neighborhood.

He was a big blousy late middle aged Jewish man; seeing him you knew he was some sort of intellectual. His suit and tie always a bit rumpled, his hair rumpled, big glasses. Not that personable, but in the absentminded lost in his own thoughts way. But amiable, and not cold, just a bit distant. Then again, we were just people he had to be in contact with once in a while, an annoying little chore.

We saw his secretary more often.  I had the impression she was more a clerical assistant than a graduate student or aide. If she was indeed a musician, I apologize. A decent looking woman probably in her late 20s, she had the air of being harried. I could imagine she constantly had to interrupt his composing at the piano or his distant musings, to remind him that he had a class to teach in 10 minutes.

She was, basically, the nervous type. An applicable phrase might be ‘long suffering’.

One day, she was waiting in line. He comes in.

He steps up behind her, reaches down.

And gooses her.

She jumps and squeals, shocked – pivots.

He’s stepped back – he seemed twice as big as her – chuckling like a schoolboy with his deep voice.

“Who did you think it was?”

She just gave him a horrid look.


10/12/10 – the october surprise storm of 2006, first night


Four years ago this evening I stepped off the bus to home after work – and saw wet flakes of  snow in the light cold rain.  I had never seen it snow, even this scattered wet melty stuff, this early.

Usually not til maybe an anomaly in early November.  Despite Buffalo’s reputation we usually don’t get our first inch of snowfall til sometime in December.

But here is was, a hint of snow and it wasn’t even mid October.  Of course I knew things would swing warmer again before winter settled in slowly, as usual, but it still was miserable.

And the wet big flakes of snow kept coming down, until it replaced all the rain.  It was lake effect snow.  The occasional extra snow that comes sweeping in a narrow band a couple miles wide when cold air draws moisture from the warmer lake and dumps it on the land.  Sometimes in the warm months there can be lake effect rain.  The band usually stays just to the southern edge of the city, and moves lower.  The thick gray clouds will look like a mountain range on the southern horizon.  Ski resorts are in the hills about 40 miles south.

The snow, like this, and where it was, was not predicted at all by any meteorologist.

About 3 that morning I woke.  To total darkness.  And creaking and occasional snaps and bursts of lightning and muted thunder.   The power was out.  I stepped out to the front door to see.  The lights in the houses across the street were still on. Everything was covered in snow.  And it was still snowing. The snow was wet and clung to and piled on every limb and branch – and on the branches’ leaves,  all the trees still had all their leaves.  The weight of the snow plus the leaves was too much for even sturdy hardened trees that had made it through one hundred years and more.  All the trees were bent, some breaking.  Creaks and thuds echoed throughout the neighborhood.  A big old tree a few doors down which spread out 30 feet above the street, was now bent so far down if you walked under it you would have to duck. Branches, limbs, bark, had snapped off all over and already littered the yards and street.

Thundersnow is rare.  On the urban horizon of what I could see, between houses across the street, a couple of lightning bursts, but one was dark violet and the other blue, flared, and in a couple seconds I heard their brittle snapping thunder.

It wasn’t lightning.  It was two transformers a couple blocks away blowing.

10/2/10 – Balulalow

Well, no coffee ground regurgitation today, as the new medication warns could be a danger sign. Or of any kind.

But, I did have a disagreeable stomach, for a short while, after taking it. And I’m not sure of my drowsiness is from the meds as I am also warned, or just because for some inexplicable reason I got only about 2 hours sleep last night.

In the meantime, I’ve had the old tune Balulalow running through my head today. The choir has been including it in the past couple week’s rehearsals. The stunning Benjamin Britten version from his “Ceremony of Carols”. I do not connect with the Christian Christmas aspect of it – it is a lullaby to the baby Jesus – but Britten’s full choir arrangement is crystalline.

It is a tradition song in Middle English or German, occasionally pops up on Christmas albums – both Sting and Heart have recorded it. Others including Peter Warlock have arranged it, but Britten’s is lush with aching sweeping chords toward the end.

It is usually sung by a women’s or boy’s choir, accompanied by a harp. We will have a harpist when we sing it. This is the only full choir version I have come across – .  But we have about 40 singers, and are even bass heavy.

“The knees of my heart shall I bow” – I think this is one of the most amazing phrases I have even heard.

9/9/10 – down in the river to pray

Today is one of those days, at the moment, when I really wish I had made my determination to write, say, every other day, or two good posts a week, instead of every day.

My posts here, I worry, are McDonalds Dollar Menu items. Maybe the daily cheapens my writing. Forced, out of my OCD that constantly kicks up dust as it ranges on the horizon but rarely become full blown, to keep my shoulder to the wheel.

Tired, just got home from my first choir practice at the UU church I’ve started attending. This is actually why I started attending, after 27 years of a rather insular sect of Buddhism, and then my last 1-1/2 years after dropping that, away from any such activity. More for the communal aspect than the religious. (Then again, this is a church whose musical offerings last week included a 10 year old girl playing “Rainbow Connection” in the piano – excellently, the congregation singing “Simple Gifts” unaccompanied, and a professional guitarist singing The Barenaked Ladies’ “Pinch Me”).

I have done something like the choir practice before, when I was much, much younger. Its 2-1/2 hours, in which most of the chorus was familiar with the songs and the drills, was to me like a workout punctuated with occasional releasing laughter.

And the four songs we rehearsed – actually, everyone else rehearsed, I tried to follow along with the sheet music – included a traditional gospel spiritual, a modern song quoting from a Civil Rights activist modeled after traditional gospel, and two traditional Jewish songs to commemorate the holy days this month.

It struck me toward the end that all four were from the cultures of oppressed and displaced peoples. Our singing – and my attempt at singing – these songs are a way to honor them.

May all the children of the world sleep in their own beds tonight.

Yana Tova, and Shalom.

9/6/10 – Labor Day, the Bell X-1


This is the X-1, the first plane to break the sound barrier, piloted of course by Chuck Yaeger in 1947.

My grandfather helped build it. Literally. He was a metal fabricator at Bell Aircraft.

Something my Grampa Mickey helped build, had his hands on, is now on display at The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, next to The Spirit of St. Louis.