Tag Archives: classical music

Ravel’s Bolero

One of the first pieces of classical music to grab me by the ears and absolutely force me to love a piece of music with no words was Ravel’s Bolero.

Miss Malek played it on a phonograph for us in the basement of the Rowan Schoolhouse when I was in 3rd grade back in the fall of 1965.  Shortly after that, my father bought a record of it for our record player at home.  I must have listened to it a hundred times before 4th grade.  It was the first piece of music I learned to listen to with pictures creating themselves in my mind.  Here’s the basic picture in fact;


Yes, it suggests to me that life is a long plodding march toward inevitable battle, a battle that one day will end in defeat and death.  No one lives forever and no song continues without end.  But there is beauty, pageantry, and color to be felt and filled with along the way.  And the march is not without purpose.  What music we will create along the way!  It is glorious to be alive and provide the drumbeat for the march of the creations of your soul, your children and the words you come to live by.  I do not intend to retreat to the castle as many would do.  I will not cower as I await the conclusion.  I will march to meet it in a glorious crescendo.  And that, dear reader, is what Maurice Ravel’s Bolero is about, as far as I am concerned.


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Lessons From Tchaikovsky

I used to be a classroom storyteller.  As an English teacher for middle school kids, I often would give brief biographical insights into famous people we were talking about at the time.  I told them about Crazy Horse of the Sioux tribe, Roger Bacon the alchemist and inventor of chemistry as a science, Mark Twain in Gold Rush California, and many other people I have found fascinating through my life as a reader and writer of English.

One bright boy in my gifted class remarked, “Mr. B, you always tell us these stories about people who did something amazing, and then you end it with they eventually died a horrible death.”

Yep.  That’s about right.  In its simplest form life consists of, “You are born, stuff happens, and then you die.”  And it does often seem to me that true genius and great heroism are punished terribly in the end.  Achilles destroys Hector, but his heel is his undoing.  Socrates taught Plato, and was forced to drink poison for being too good at teaching.  Custer was a vain imbecile and got what he deserved at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, but Crazy Horse, who made it happen, was pursued for the rest of his short life for it until he was finally captured and murdered.  Roger Bacon contributed immensely to science by experimenting with chemicals, but because he blew up his lab too often, and because one of his students blew himself up in a duel with another student, he ended his days in prison for practicing sorcery.

But if you have listened to any of the music I have added to this post, the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, then you recognized it, unless you have lived your whole life under a rock in Nomusikvetchistan.  And why is that?  Because even though it is all classical music written in the 1800’s, it’s basic genius and appeal is immortal.  It will outlive all of us.  Some of it, having been placed on a record on the Voyager space craft may get played and appreciated a million years from now in the vicinity of Betelgeuse.  It will still be a work of pure genius.

And, of course, the horrible life and terrible death thing is a part of it too.  Tchaikovsky’s work took an incredibly difficult path to success.  He was criticized by Russians for being too Western and not Russian enough.  He was criticized in the West for being too exotic and basically “too Russian”.  He railed against critics and suffered horribly at their hands.  Then, too, his private life was far less private than it had any right to be.  He was a bachelor most of his life, except for a two year marriage of pure misery that ended in divorce.  And everybody, with the possibility of Pyotr himself, knew it was because he was a homosexual.  He probably did have that orientation, but in a time and a career where it was deemed an illegal abomination.  So whether he ever practiced the lifestyle at great risk to himself, or he repressed it his entire life, we will never know for sure.

But the music is immortal.  And by being immortal, the music makes Tchaikovsky immortal too.  Despite the fact that he died tragically at the age of 53, possibly by suicide.

So, this is the great lesson of Tchaikovsky.  The higher you fly, the farther you fall, and you will fall… guaranteed, but that will never make the actual flight not worth taking.  Some things in life are more important than life itself.  As I near the end myself, I cling to that truth daily.



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Toccata and Fugue in D Minor

Johann Sebastian Bach may or may not have written his organ masterpiece, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor in 1704.  All we know for sure is that the combined efforts of Johannes Ringk, who saved it in manuscript form in the 1830’s, and Felix Mendelssohn who performed it and made it a hit you could dance to during the Bach Revival in 1840 made it possible to still hear its sublime music today.  Okay, maybe not dance to exactly…  But without the two of them, the piece might have been lost to us in obscurity.

The Toccata part is a composition that uses fast fingerings and a sprightly beat to make happy hippie type music that is really quite trippy.   The Fugue part (pronounced Fyoog, not Fuggwee which I learned to my horror in grade school music class) is a part where one part of the tune echoes another part of the tune and one part becomes the other part and then reflects it all back again.  I know that’s needlessly confusing, but at least I know what I mean.  That is not always a given when I am writing quickly like a Toccata.

I have posted two different versions for you to listen to in this musical metaphor nonsensical posticle… err… Popsicle… err… maybe just post.  One is the kinda creepy organ version like you might find in a Hammer Films monster movie in the 1970’s.  The other is the light and fluffy violin version from Disney’s Fantasia.  I don’t really expect you to listen to both, but listening to one or the other would at least give you a tonal hint about what the ever-loving foolishness I am writing in this post is really all about.

You see, I find sober thoughts in this 313-year-old piece of music that I apply to the arc of my life to give it meaning in musical measure.

Toccata and Fugue

This is the Paffooney of this piece, a picture of my wife in her cartoon panda incarnation, along with the panda persona of my number two son.  The background of this Paffooney is the actual Ringk manuscript that allowed Bach’s masterwork not to be lost for all time.

My life was always a musical composition, though I never really learned piano other than to pick out favorite tunes by ear.  But the Bach Toccata and Fugue begins thusly;

The Toccata begins with a single-voice flourish in the upper ranges of the keyboard, doubled at the octave. It then spirals toward the bottom, where a diminished seventh chord appears (which actually implies a dominant chord with a minor 9th against a tonic pedal), built one note at a time. This resolves into a D major chord.

I interpret that in prose thusly;

Life was bright and full of promise when I was a child… men going to the moon, me learning to draw and paint, and being smarter than the average child to the point of being hated for my smart-asserry and tortured accordingly.  I was sexually assaulted by an older boy and spiraled towards the bottom where I was diminished for a time and mired in a seventh chord of depression and despair.  But that resolved into a D major chord when the realization dawned that I could teach and help others to learn the music of life.

And then the Fugue begins in earnest.  I set the melody and led my students to repeat and reflect it back again.  Over and over, rising like a storm and skipping like a happy child through the tulips that blossom as the showers pass.  Winding and unwinding in equal measure, my life progressed to a creaky old age.  But the notes of regret in the conclusion are few.  The reflections of happinesses gained are legion.  I have lived a life I do not regret.  I may not have my music saved in the same way Johann Sebastian did, but I am proud of the whole of it.  And whether by organ or by violin, it will translate to the next life, and will continue to repeat.  What more can a doofus who thinks teaching and drawing and telling stories are a form of music ask for from life?


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Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor

You should listen to the music.  Not only is it beautiful, it is the perfect description of the now.  Yes, I am a touch depressed, and the music is deep blue.  But there are such strains of the bittersweet and angelic light, that Albinoni must be speaking directly from his heart into mine.  This music paints my soul.


The sky reflects my mood with lurking dark blues and obscuring clouds incapable of completely taking away the sun.  I finally had enough money to visit the doctor today.  I had an infection in throat and sinus.  I got medicine to heal the sores, and the medicine will prevent pneumonia, and probably saved my life.


My family was whole and together for the holidays, though three of us were sick for a good share of it and unable to spend the time together  as we would’ve liked.  Still, even though we had to take number one son to DFW Airport in the rain and send him back to Marine world, we got to see him and share good times with him, no matter how short.  Deep blue with angelic violins of musical light.  He made it back safely.  I have more days and probably more months to live and write.  And the music of existence continues to quietly play.


I continue to collect photos of new dawns.  Here is December 27th.

It is possible that Tomaso Albinoni did not write the Adagio in G Minor.  It is believed that it was cobbled together as a sort of hoax by his chief transcriber, Remo Giazotto.  He apparently took old Dresden manuscripts and made this beautiful piece as a reflection of the work of Albinoni.  Albinoni,a prolific composer of the 1700’s, beloved by Johan Sebastian Bach, wrote opera scores that never quite got published, and so,even though he is a composer of many musical works, most of them are lost to history.  Yet, how can such a thing be considered a fake?  The music touches my soul.  From Albinoni’s soul, through Giazotto’s, to mine, and, hopefully, thence to yours.  Listen to it.  Really listen.  You can’t help but understand what I mean.  Even if you can’t stand classical music.  Though, if you truly can’t stand classical music… I weep for thee.

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The Car Radio Keeps Me Alive

Today I had to deliver my daughter, the Princess, to her high school in the rain.  It is hard enough make the circuitous trip to the west in order to go south and then east again through all the construction and roadwork going on with stupid people who are somehow allowed to drive a car and carry a gun in Texas even though they don’t know what a turn signal is for or that a speed limit sign shows the maximum rather than the minimum speed you should go at every red stoplight and corner without there being rain to obscure vision and make the mangled pavement slick.  You have to be able to concentrate and perform like a virtuoso while driving to make it there alive.  I would simply not be able to do it without the car radio.


Driving the family car in Texas

The radio keeps me calm and gives my brain the power it needs to overcome obstacles.  The jump across the river with the man-eating fish in it alone requires an energized brain and a cool head.  I listen to oldies on the radio with KLUV in the mornings.  It is how my children have come to love Don Henley and the Eagles as much as I do.

For the last seven years of my teaching career, I had to learn the hard way that music is critical to driving well, and driving well is the only way to stay alive on the mean streets of Dallas.  I had a morning commute of 40 minutes, 30 miles, and 45 stoplights one way to my teaching job in Garland.  I drove it starting at six in the morning to avoid traffic.  But after school, I often had to labor for three hours through rush hour traffic on the way back home.  I learned to switch the station to 101.1, the classical music station.  Listening to Mozart and Beethoven not only makes you smarter, it makes you calmer.  Calm enough not to get out of your car at the stop light and beat the guy in the car ahead of you with the detached bumper of your car that he knocked off while cutting in front of you because he was in the wrong lane to make the turn he needed to make and didn’t realize until 15 minutes into the wait for the red light to change enough times that our cars actually had a chance to make it through the intersection.  Yes, that is a run-on sentence about road rage.  And road rage is real.  But in real life I didn’t beat him to death because of Mendelssohn playing on the car radio.  It only played out that way in my head while the radio soothed my brain and prevented my hair from catching fire.

I owe my life and sanity to the car radio many times over.  And I am resigned to the notion that I will probably need it many times more before the curtain closes the last time.



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Synesthesia (Part Two; The Color of Music)

Okay, so on the synesthesia tests I didn’t score as a synesthete on the music/color test.  But I was extremely synesthetic on the tests for color/months/days of the week.  I was a little over the mark on letter/number/colors synesthesia too, but it was more a problem with manipulating the color-selector device when I don’t have a mouse to use on my laptop.  The test for music did not test the way I see colors with music.  They wanted me to respond to what color each individual note seemed to be, and that isn’t even close to the way I experience it.  For me, the perfect description of how synesthesia works for me is Bach’s Tocata and Fugue in D minor as it is depicted in Fantasia.

I was shocked when I first saw it.  The colors are wrong for this piece, but the visual experience is almost exactly how I experience music, especially wordless instrumental music.  The only problem with this piece is that the overall color schemes are wrong.  But this comes about because every synesthete sees the colors differently.  And I have no doubt that at least one of the artists who created this had synesthesia.  If there were more reds, yellows, and magenta in the opening and more indigo contrasted with silver later, this interpretation would be perfect.


Music synesthetically works in two directions for me.  The picture above, called The Wings of Imagination, makes me think of La Mer by Claude Debussy.

If you listen to the piece, don’t look at the YouTube illustration, look at my picture if you want to see the music the way I do.  The following song, Don’t Worry, Be Happy, is a multicolored song that I can best express with the colors in the picture I call Rainbow Peacock.

Rainbow peacock

The full range of primary colors together in one picture, or one song, always means completeness, fullness, and happiness to me.  If there is absence of one or more of the basic colors from the color wheel, the mood and emotion present in the song or picture is altered to something other than happiness.  The Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky goes from the indigo and navy blue of fear and confusion to instances of angry red and feverish orange.  It would look something like this in the theater of my imagination;


And one of my favorite instrumental pieces of all times, Prelude to the Afternoon of the Faun by Claude Debussy, is full of melancholy and sexual tension, deeply felt vibrations in the depths of my stomach, and would look like my picture Sleeping Beauty with its teal and blue melancholia juxtaposed with candle-lit yellows and wood brown mixed feelings of joy and anxiety.


Now, if you have waded through all of this goofy color-and-music analysis from a source whose sanity is questionable at best, you probably have no earthly idea what any of it has to do with anything.  But if you have that aha!-moment and see it all clearly too, then I suspect you probably are a synesthete too.  Poor you.  It is not a treatable condition.  But it is also not a burden.  Learn to enjoy it.  It resonates in your very soul.


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“Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune”

Ra When I was a teenager and suffering from a terrible secret, I first began to see and hear invisible people.  I know this is not normal.  In fact, it comes under the heading of “wacko-stupid-maniac-loony”.   The first one was my friend the faun.  Now, for those of you who do not know, a faun is a mythological creature in the shape of a man (or possibly boy, or even little girl) with the legs and tail and horns of a goat (or possibly kid).  This creature is a sensual being in the Dionysian tradition.  Wine, women, and song so to speak.

When he first came to me it was a snowy winter’s night, long about December of my 17th year.  At that time I was still repressing the memory of what happened to me out behind the neighbor’s house when I was ten.  But I guess I knew I needed help in reaching out to others.  I was lonely and convinced that for some terrible unknown reason I was a horrible creature not worthy of love.  Then he came rapping at my window.  He was kneeling there in the snow, outside my upstairs bedroom window, on the roof of the front porch of the house, naked except for the goat fur on his legs.  But he wasn’t shivering.  After all, he wasn’t real.  No one but me would ever see him.  He was grinning at me.

“You aren’t going to leave me out here in the snow, are you, stupid?” he said.

“Who and what are you?” I asked, as I opened the window.  The snow was shining with a silvery, blue-white light that originated with the street light out in front of the house.

“I am Radasha,” he said.  “I am your faun… the part of you that feels things and needs things… the part of you you have stupidly been pretending doesn’t exist.”

All right, I know it sounds crazy.  But I needed him in my life.  Elwood P. Dowd had an invisible white rabbit.  Why couldn’t I have a faun?  And it was a very, very good thing.  He taught me how to laugh, and how to love… how to actually live.  And I know he has always been inside me, not really separate from me.  In many ways he is the real me.  But crazy people have their own set of priorities.  And when I was a confused teenager whose personal self-concept had been sexually violated by another, older boy… Radasha was mine.  An invisible friend to talk to.  One who could explain everything… make me laugh and make me happy.  And there is a sound to that.  Do you know the piece by Debussy that this post is titled after?  It is my favorite piece of music in all the world.  And it tells the sweet-sad story of Radasha and me.

Island Girl2z

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I learned a lot of what I know about cartooning by copying Disney characters.  Now, I know that this post could potentially get me into trouble, because  I am posting on a blog I use for marketing, an imitation Disney character, a very famous and very copyrighted character.  Disney has been known to sue school districts for showing Disney movies in class without expressed written permission.  They have become cruelly litigious since transforming from Uncle Walt’s Wonderful World of Color into an evil multi-national corporate media empire whose spokesperson is a mouse.  So I beg you to pardon my transgressions due to love and debt I have to the work in the title of this piece.  Consider this fan art, like the pictures I posted of the Phantom and Captain America (who is also now owned by Disney).

Fantasia is for me the Book of Life.

The movie starts with Bach’s masterpiece, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor This amazing piece reminds me of earliest childhood memories.  It begins with sound and the instruments that make it, becoming shapes and lines and movements and, eventually cloud forms.  It is the beginning of perception, like modern art itself, the raw energy and emerging forms that I began to perceive as an infant, but could not define or distinguish clearly.

Next comes  Nutcracker Suite by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.  This is the explorations of nature and the magic of existence as a mere child.  It uses Tchaikovsky’s sugar-plum ballet music to depict hours of play and learning and investigation and wonder.  In it I see myself as a young child, viewing all the color and beauty through wide eyes.

Then comes The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas.  In this piece, the child in me, like Mickey the apprentice, for the first time bites off more than I could chew.  I overstep my protective boundaries and get myself into a serious fix that has to be undone by the parent stepping in at the end, and not only fixing it, but delivering the consequences to my ignorant behind with a broom.  Of course, we all know I will do it again.  Every child does.  But next time I will get it right.

This is followed by Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky.  Here the child is child no longer.  I watch the amoeba become dinosaurs to harsh and dissonant music.  I learn about the world, growing and evolving, finding out that life is full of hard lessons.  Life and Death play out there struggle, and the learning concludes when you reached the parched and hopeless climax, the realization that everything, no matter how big or powerful, ends in death and failure.  Dust returns to dust.

The film then blossoms into The Pastoral Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven.  This mythical landscape of cute cherubs and satyrs, bare-breasted centaurettes, and Greek Gods rendered in pastel hues represents the blooming of romance, lust, and love.  There is celebration, complete with Dionysus and his invention, wine.  There is courtship, attraction, and bonding.  When the cherubs pull the curtain closed on the centaur couple, we also know what is happening behind the curtain even if it weren’t for the cherub whose butt becomes a red heart.  And, of course, there is a great storm that comes along, both in the pastoral music and the action of the cartoon, representing the volatility and strife that occurs when we dare to love another.  It does, however, subside for life to continue refreshed.

Disney centaur 2

The next piece is  Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli.  This comedy of ballerina ostriches and hippos, bubble-dancing elephants, and aggressively dancing gators, is the domestic, married life.  It is a comedy of graceful awkwardness, beauty and humor rolled into the same cake and cooked with irony and wit.  And, of course, just like real life, everything is eventually carried away by the wind… until the next dance.

And finally, Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky and Ave Maria by Franz Schubert is the end of life.  First comes the pain and suffering of death, ruled over by Chernabog the Devil.  He commands the torture and heartless ritual that I am subject to even now, in the twilight of life.  The flesh and the bones yield to his trans-formative whims.  We must all dance to his music until the striking of dawn.  Then he is defeated and the spirit soars, free of body and definable form to the rousing strains of Ave Maria.  We journey through the cathedral forest towards the everlasting light, and the movie, like my life, will be done.  But I do not despair, because life, like the movie itself, can be endlessly replayed and is eternal.

I was not able to see this movie for the first time until college, attending a screening at Iowa State.  When it came out on VHS in the 80’s, I bought two, one to keep and store safely, unopened, and one to watch until it fell apart.  I also bought the DVD when it came out with Fantasia 2000.  I cannot count how many times I have seen this movie.  I even showed it to my classes as I was about to retire, and didn’t secure written permission.  But it was only this week, feeling ill and terribly mortal again that I realized… Fantasia tells the story of my life.

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