I came home from a Saturday night gig to hear that my beloved friend, Ndugu Chancler, had passed away from the illness he had been battling for several years. An immeasurable loss, not only for the industry, but for all the friends, loved ones, students and everyone he touched with his kindness, joy and positive outlook.
When people asked me about Ndugu’s work, my answer by way of description was, ‘He’s played with everyone from Miles to Michael Jackson.’ And pretty much everyone in between, to be honest. That’s Ndugu playing that iconic intro on Jackson’s “Billie Jean” on the Thriller album, the biggest selling pop album in history. For a deeper, yet still incomplete, outline of some of the people he recorded and toured with, see his obituary in the New York Times. Speaking of which, how many drummers get obituaries in the New York Times?
I went to NAMM with him once and it was like being with the President, we couldn’t walk more than five feet without being stopped by someone – colleagues, fans and swarms of pic-snapping Japanese who surrounded him at every turn. At a pre-JEN Jazz Educator’s Convention held during a frigid January in Manhattan, we’d be strolling to dinner with Ndugu wearing a full length white mink coat. Yes, he was fly.
I was his little buddy and he was my big, cool friend. We met when he came to the University of Southern California to advocate for the admission of one of his private students. I was finishing my masters degree and running the Jazz Studies office. We had a nice chat and I asked him if he would ever consider teaching in our department. He said yes and after he left I ran to my Chair’s office to give him the news.
Our chair at that time, Thom Mason, followed up with an official offer. There was a lot of excitement about this big of a get for the department and several of the male faculty were slapping each other on the back in celebration while I watched from my desk. To this day, I think they think they were the ones who thought of asking Ndugu to join us.
Ndugu never stopped giving his gifts to his students. Even toward the end, he traveled the world to meet with them in workshops, clinics and one-on-one. He was a towering industry figure who still got together for weekly lunches with friends from his youth. As well as I knew him, I never learned about his accomplishments from him, only from other people. He was a beautiful soul who will be sorely missed and never forgotten.
I taught sixth grade chorus for a year at Los Angeles Academy for Arts & Enterprise, a charter school in Echo Park. The school shared a building with a Korean Church and Hillary’s 2008 presidential campaign headquarters.
The mostly-latino kids were about a 50/50 mix of enthusiastic and well-mannered children and unrepentant wildlings. English wasn’t their second language, it was more like their third, as many of them had Mexican and Central American parents of native descent who spoke their indigenous languages at home.
The school’s culture required misbehaving kids to write letters describing the incident they were being punished for. The teacher could add a rebuttal or followup questions, the ‘Enterprise’ portion of the school’s philosophy.
These letters were cogent, evocative and dead honest. I came upon a pile of them while cleaning out some file cabinets and have transcribed them here. If you’re acquainted with this age group, you will hear some familiar refrains.
Dear Ms. Bow,
Ms. F sent me to the back to write a paragraph explaining why I was disrespectful.
That happened because a fly kept bothering me. It kept going to tables and then leaving. I tried to hit it but I kept missing. I tried to hit it with a book but still missed. When Ms. F asked me what I was doing I said “nothing” because if I talked about the fly everyone would burst out laughing.
Then a few kids noticed and softly giggled. I just looked at them and giggled. The fly was really annoying. Then Ms. F sent Hector to the back. A while later she sent Graciela to the back. Then when I and a few others laughed, she said to me “You’ll be next if you don’t pay attention.”
I tried to ignore the fly. But it kept landing. Then when Ms. F was talking it landed on my hand. I tried to hit it but it flew away. I turned around to see where it went. I saw Julio laughing at my failure and laughed a little. When I turned back around she thought I was talking.
I mean I had been talking before and she had heard me. I guess I should have explained it was Elmer. Later for example, when Ms. F authorized it. I admit it. Now I’m in trouble so I will take responsibility for my actions.
My apologies to Ms. F and you, Ms. Bow, for making me waste your time with my childish behavior. I am sincere. Manuel
Dear Ms. Bow,
I was behaving badly because I was reading a book. Because I wanted to know what happened. I was reading it when Ms. F was talking and that’s why I got in trouble.
Response: Ms. F would like to know why the book was out when she asked at the beginning of class to put everything away.
I just wanted to know what the book was about and when you said to put it away I was going to and you came to my desk and told me to write a letter. And Ms. F said that we were supposed to put everything away at the beginning of class. I did and Manuel let me borrow the book and then I was reading it. She caught me with the book and I did not respect her to put everything away. Hector
I wish I had music with a different class. Because the boys are really rude. The boys shout instead of sing. I don’t like that. I wish boys would just follow directions and stay quiet. But they don’t. But I ♥♪♪. Maria [Written on pink Hello Kitty paper]
The thing that happens is that all boys don’t listen to the teacher and they always talk back. In every class. Almost all the boys except Jose, Darren and Alexander. The girls, we listen. Jessica
CIRCUMSTANCES BEYOND MY CONTROL
The only reason I laughed is because my friend sneezed like a girl. I started laughing and then Miss F told me to write this letter. Then she sent me to the back of the class.
Response – Miss F does not ask people to write something until they have been asked several times to not talk or fool around. Agree?
NO! I do not agree because sometimes you think I’m playing around but I’m not. Ramon
Dear Ms. Bow,
Ms. F is maid at me. I was just looking at the girl that was laughing and she put me in the back and told me to write this letter. Edgar
I was good but people made jokes and I laughed. And people did funny things when we were singing. Lesley
I wasn’t doing anything bad. I love music. My friends were behaving bad and goofing off. I don’t like to stop a lot. Ms. F doesn’t like to get mad. Jose
I was trying to tell Ms. F that I didn’t have my songs. I was sharing with Josselin but I stopped because I wanted to tell Miss F the script didn’t have some of the songs.
I did get in trouble because I was being disrespectful because I was laughing and talking and making Johnny laugh and other people. I should think before I say something. Next time I’ll think before something comes out of my mouth. David
I was actually sick from the stomach and my head hurt but Brian was staring at me and he made a funny face and I laughed and then he laughed. But I am sorry to doing that. I wasn’t lying about being sick. I hope you accept my apology, Ms. F. I mean it! Sergio
How I really feel about music is happy. Singing kinda expresses my feelings. But some people try to ruin it. People shout out, don’t participate and fool around.
Some people hate you because you are mean. I think you’re a pretty good teacher. I like this class. I think you should make the bad people go to detention and the good people don’t get punished. That way the bad people get jealous and do good. Darien
I think I haven’t been bad cause I like music. When I grow up I want to be a singer but mostly a dancer. Also I like it cause Ms. F is a cool person. Jacky
Why I don’t want to participate is because I get distracted. And also I was trying to talk to Brian R. I had my feet on Brian R’s chair and was moving him.
Also I don’t like the music that much. It’s boring. That’s why my behavior is bad. And I am bad each time it’s choral music. Then I wanted to talk to Brian R and Ms. F asked me what I was doing. She made me go to the back. That’s why I’m writing this essay!!!!
Ms. F is mean a lot. I don’t really like music class. I try to behave good so my Life Folder will be good and my mom can sign it. This is the only class I don’t like. Reader Theater is better than Music. Miguel
I like music because I want to be a singer. I like my teacher called Ms F. I didn’t behave good with my teacher. The class was bad to get the teacher mad. But I like music and the teacher. I am sorry Ms. F that I got you mad. I will behave better on Thursday. Johnny
I like music class because Ms. F is really the nicest teacher in the whole school and cares about us. Julia
Dear Miss F,
I, Manuel Esperroza, got in trouble for talking and interrupting you. You said to stop and I was very close to going to Mr. Louis’s office. Well, I’ll resume to the end. Before you sent me to the back I was about to ask Mendez what the lyrics were.
I did not want to write the lyrics down so I was going to ask him if he knew the words I did not know. That way, if you asked me I would know them. Before that I must admit I had been talking about other stuff.
But I was trying to stay away from the office. I do not want to be there. I’ve been there a lot lately. And since you’re reading this I should add something else that you might want to know.
I refused to translate for Elmer because he has been giving me a lot of trouble. First, students come to me and ask me to control Elmer because he’s giving them trouble. Then Elmer hits me in the head with a lock. Outraged I was.
Then he hits me in the ribs with the lock. Mr Cooligan sent us to the office. Elmer gets in-school suspension and I get a call home. And my mom has to come to school to talk about it. Since then we were told to stay away from each other.
That’s my reason for not translating. Well, that’s it. I just have to apologize and take responsibility for my actions. Sincerely, Manuel
Dear Ms. Bow,
I was talking with a boy and Ms. F warned me to stop talking but I didn’t stop talking, that’s why I got in trouble. Sincerely, Siomara
I think it’s disrespectful we kept talking and making jokes. Also, we weren’t singing we were yelling. It’s not good. Sorry, Ms. F. I will not do it again. Bryan R is the worst. Sorry Ms. F. Anna
Dear Ms. Bow,
Ms.F sent me to the back because I said People’s Court. Then she told me to write this letter.
Response: Ms. F does not send people to the back the first time they misbehave. Agree?
Yes, because when I’m bad the first time she doesn’t send me to the back. Anthony
I was speaking when I wasn’t supposed to. I’m so sorry Ms. F. I’ll do better next time. I’ll sing and won’t be disrespectful. Sorry. Lesley
I feel like it is not fair that the kids that listen get in trouble. I feel like the kids that don’t listen more than twice should get sent to another class. I feel like Ms. F should not get disrespected. That’s how I feel. Patty
I could not sign because I am sad and sick. I’m sleepy in music and I do not like signing. I went to a party and came back at 4AM. I like music but not a lot. Brian
Well, Miss, I was singing but if you think I wasn’t that’s your choice. But if you don’t think this is good enough, because I was singing, I really don’t have anything to talk about. I was picking up stuff that fell from my backpack. I really wanted to sing but I guess you think I was talking. You’re the teacher and it’s your decision. Mimi (and Roxy says hi!)
I think the class was bad because we were not in school yesterday and maybe we got used to having fun. Mark
Most of the kids in the class were not participating. I like music, besides all the arguments. I think the class was too loud and hyper. Maybe some kids ate too much sugar today. Maria
Some people were disruptive to the class. Some people lied because they didn’t want to sing. Some people were probably bored. Alexander
Today the class was calling out a lot and I was part of that. I guess the class was tired with music because they wanted to go home. Bryan
Some people don’t want to participate because they might be tired or maybe because they don’t like it. Marta
Dear Ms. F,
I think that some people think it might be uncool to sing. But I really like music because we get to sing. I think people want to argue because they want to be silly but they are not funny. I think that the song You Got A Friend is great. Anita
The virtual world of Second Life is exciting, scary and utterly confusing to first-timers. Unless you’ve been brought in by a RL friend who leans over your shoulder from your first login, you learned the ropes as we all did – by falling down stairs, watching the interactions of the established avatars and occasionally getting our coats pulled by an exasperated veteran (Get off the damn landing zone!)
I’ve asked friends to recall their early noob experiences, to confess their confusion. Here are their responses.
WHEN I WAS A NOOB….
…I thought you had to wear ALL the layer options of an outfit at once – shirt, jacket, undershirt.
…I didn’t know what copy meant so I would buy two, three or four of the same thing.
…I would wear the box I tried to open and didn’t know how to get it off me.
…when I bought boxed objects, I thought I had been ripped off. I didn’t know the object was inside.
…I clicked on everything I saw hoping it would do something.
…for the first couple of weeks I didn’t realize there was sound. I thought the difference from one club to the next was the way people dressed.
…when I fell in the water, I thought I was going to drown (game over, man.)
…I didn’t leave my house for the first week because I couldn’t figure out how to change clothes.
…I thought I could exist on freebies and dressed accordingly, like a spotty teenager in ill-fitting clothes. No one will dance with you.
… I spent 2 days trapped in a wall trying to figure out how to get out.
…I didn’t know about sandboxes so I would go around rezzing boxes everywhere. Then I’d leave them in random stores and streets.
…. I thought everyone was cool and I was fascinated by my AV. Not so much any more.
…I couldn’t figure out how to leave the welcome center.
…the first thing I thought upon entering Welcome Island was, ‘Where am I?’ Second was, ‘How do I get out of here?!?’
…when I tried to click on myself to go into appearance mode I’d end up detaching all my clothes and having to start all over.
…I thought i was trapped in a cage once. Like I can’t click the x?
…for at least a week after I first arrived I had no idea I could fly or tp so I walked endlessly over the mainland.
…I couldn’t find doorknobs to open doors so asked people to TP me out.
…I spent my entire first day with a motorcycle attached to my hand, swinging it around as I walked. I couldn’t figure out how to get it off! I walked up to the first person I could find to ask how to get it off.
THAT person turned out to be a prostitute and wanted me to pay her for sex. “You gotta be kidding me, people have sex here?” That was in ’07.
Arthur Earl Dexler
…The nice man invited me to click on the pink ball. I was very surprised by what happened next.
…I went shopping for new skin at JOMO, dropping L3500 before I realized those weren’t demos I was selecting.
…I went skin shopping and walked around for weeks with ‘Demo’ plastered all over me before someone pointed it out to me.
…for the first month I was so afraid that if anyone talked to me, I TP’d away or just logged off.
…I jumped on poses balls thinking, Now what?
… I wouldn’t change unless I was in an SL dressing room because I felt I had privacy.
…I would hide in a corner to change clothes.
…I closed the blinds of my house when I wanted to change clothes.
…a friend spent two hours teaching me how to find and move an object.
…I was convinced everyone needed excite body parts (not sure why you need emoting nipples.) I rented a furnished skybox and was only allowed 10 extra prim. I’d dropped my nipples and was hundreds of prim over. My landlord was furious.
…after a few days stumbling around, a kind girl advised me I was gender neutral and had to buy my bits. BUY my bits!! Still have traumatic flashbacks of that moment.
…I think I am forever a noob. I still fly into walls and fall in the water.
Daffney Anne Bellic
…I kept all the boxes from everything I got or bought. I didn’t know you could delete them until 6 months later.
…I fell in the water and got stuck for hours until a guy showed me how to get back on land. Funny and frustrating at the same time.
…I sat on EVERYTHING.
…I lost control of my new motorbike and crashed it through the bar at Crossroads during a DJ’s set – twice. I also crashed into their no-tell motel, half sticking through the wall. Really freaked out the couple in the room.
…I desperately had to look up the meaning of “AFK” “LMAO” “BRB” and such like.
…I thought IKR was short for I Kan Relate.
… I found a wonderful place called “camping” something- back then, camping was where you got paid LL to hang out. I thought it was fantastic, there were so many people. I didn’t notice they were all afk.
…. I couldn’t cam for a long time and just walked to things I wanted to look at.
…I accepted friend offers from many ladies, all of whom seemed to need lindens to buy clothes or pay rent. So many tragic stories!
…I didn’t know how to sit so I kept walking.
…I couldn’t figure out why my halo, wings, being on fire and riding a slug made people mock me. I thought I was the coolest person in the room.
…I got stuck in a koala bear avatar for three days.
…I would get naked and dress in a shopping mall without a care in the world. It was like dressing a Barbie doll. Now it’s ME!
…. I wondered how the women got their real shapes into SL.
…I thought poofers were the ‘in thing’ and loved to use them. Got banned at a few sims and pissed off a good many folks.
…. I got my first piece of land and wondered what the hell prims were.
…I thought everyone shared the truth about their RL. Problem is, I still do!
…I stayed logged into SL for five days straight. My dreams, first life and SL all melded into one.
… I didn’t realize there were club dance balls and I only had one stupid dance. I wondered why everyone was so much better at dancing than I was. Samstar64
…a 12-year-old boy avatar gave me a “school girl” outfit to wear – little plaid skirt, open white shirt…
… I took to fishing. I had fish all over the sim – in the sky, on the ground, everywhere. My friends were very patient.
…I decided to change clothes at a club and ended up bare ass naked in the middle of the dance floor.
…I looked awful on the first day. On the 2nd day I got turned into a vampire and got a makeover. [ED: Now she’s a model]
…I had no idea what SL time was. I live on the west coast and thought the little clock in the corner was a courtesy clock.
…. I was standing in the front row at a Creed tribute concert when everyone was asked to remove excess prims. My skirt was very prim heavy so I went to detach it, accidentally hit Shirt and flashed the band. One of the band members passed me a tee shirt and asked if I was trying to get backstage.
… I had no idea I could place an item parallel to a wall by using rotation. Cost me hours and hours of my time.
Tony was ebullient and full of life, despite a few strokes and a careful adherence to sobriety. I’ll never forget him bursting into the rather sedate bar at a high end hotel in Bermuda where I was doing a solo show, shouting, ‘I heard Anne Farnsworth was playing here!’
Here’s our interview, minus the music selections. Those are posted on my YouTube channel, Anne Farnsworth Music.
Boston.com columnist Roy Greene, among many others, also published a remembrance at the time. They include many of Tony’s often hilarious, decidedly un-pc opinions; fightin’ words from the big hearted man who lived and breathed jazz:
“Brooklyn accent riffing through the Boston night, Tony Cennamo used his expansive understanding of jazz as a counterpoint to the records he played past midnight on WBUR FM, entertaining and educating sleepless lovers of everything from bebop to avant-garde.
Listeners can hear his voice speaking the words he wrote for the Christian Science Monitor when he took a moment “to vent in print what is on the tip of my candid tongue” in January 1985. Musicians’ names cascaded like a soaring saxophone solo.
“Jazz is Monk, Ornette, Duke, Bird, Dizzy, Miles, Trane, Toshiko, Pee Wee Russell,and Gil Evans, Mingus the imaginative, the juices flowing, not the bland, watered down, the whitewash of a thousand Xeroxed copies,” he wrote. “Jazz is not safe and doesn’t hide in Symphony Hall.”
He didn’t play it safe, either, and his precisely rendered opinions helped shape jazz tastes for a generation of fans during the quarter century he spent on WBUR. Mr. Cennamo, who also taught at Emerson College for many years, died Tuesday in Glen Ridge Nursing Care Center in Malden. He was 76 and had suffered a seizure in April.
“Tony’s the rare thing that most disc jockeys are not,” vibraphonist Gary Burton told the Globe in 1987 as he and others prepared a tribute concert to honor Mr. Cennamo’s then-15 years of spinning jazz records on WBUR. “He’s also a musician, a trombonist, which makes him a better DJ. It comes out a lot in his interviews. He doesn’t sound like a fan interviewing a star. He’s a real champion of the new musician in town and his interest extends beyond the currently popular to the future of music.”
When Mr. Cennamo left WBUR in 1997, Globe jazz critic Bob Blumenthal called him “Boston’s most constant jazz voice,” someone whose “deep knowledge of the music and broad taste made his programs invaluable resources for listeners.”
Mr. Cennamo, who was master of ceremonies for the Boston Globe Jazz Festival in years past, kept an eye on the past and present, too. Steeped in the genre’s history, he would tell anyone who asked, and many who didn’t, that jazz was an African-American art form.
“Most new forms of jazz music are initiated by black musicians,” he wrote in the 1985 Monitor article. “White players (with few exceptions) copy, black musicians invent!”
He also looked askance at soothing new age music and the artists featured on the Windham Hill recording label, rejecting the suggestion that jazz could be found in, say, the piano playing of George Winston.
“Cheers for those club owners and bookers who stick out their financial necks weekly to bring us some of the most talented players in jazz,” he wrote. “Meanwhile, George Winston fills Symphony Hall with his nonjazz, nonrhythm, lukewarm, Jacuzzi-inspired piano offerings.”
James Isaacs, a former Boston Phoenix writer who became a colleague on the air at WBUR, said that even when discussing musicians he admired, Mr. Cennamo employed a ready sense of humor to humanize performers that many place on a pedestal.
“People who broadcast jazz on the radio treat it with such reverence,” Isaacs said. “Cennamo always had a sense of reality, and there was a certain sense of outrageousness about him that I always found attractive. It wasn’t, ‘Now, ladies and gentlemen, the great Zoots Sims, the great John Coltrane.’ No, they were just musicians.”
The oldest of three children, Mr. Cennamo grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. He told the Boston Herald Sunday Magazine in 1987 that the first record he bought was a collection of Duke Ellington tunes, chosen because of the trombonist, Lawrence Brown.
“I listened to jazz in my room at night,” he told the Herald. “I loved it so much, my parents thought I was crazy.”
He joined the Air Force and was stationed in Omaha, where he formed an integrated jazz ensemble and railed against any club owner who tried to exclude the band because it included black musicians.
While in Nebraska, he met and married Doris Steffen, and used the GI Bill to attend Creighton University in Omaha. He got his first experience on radio across the Missouri River in Council Bluffs, Iowa, then moved his wife and children back to Brooklyn, landing a job in the WCBS radio library.
Among his first producing opportunities was a folk show for WCBS, through which he met the likes of Carly Simon, Phil Ochs, and Mary Travers of Peter, Paul, and Mary. He also was a producer of Pat Summerall’s sports show.
“He enjoyed listening to all kinds of music, as long as it was done well,” said his son, James of Arlington. “But he must have heard something that touched his soul in jazz music.”
In 1967, Mr. Cennamo took a job with WCAS AM in Cambridge, where he ran a community talk show that dealt with polarizing topics such as opposition to the Vietnam War.
WBUR offered him a weekly jazz show in 1972, and he moved to weekday mornings in 1974. The disc jockey made cameos in Robert B. Parker’s Spenser mysteries, with the Boston detective listening to his radio show while on the job.
The station revamped its programming in 1981, shifting Mr. Cennamo from mornings to a 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift, and edged him ever later over the years until he was signing off at 4 a.m. at the end of his tenure in 1997.
Mr. Cennamo, whose first marriage ended in divorce, augmented his radio work by teaching jazz history and radio programming at Emerson and in other venues.
New to Boston, Carine Kolb met him in 1986 when she took one of his classes. They married three years later.
Mr. Cennamo suffered his first stroke in 1986 and returned a few months later to teaching and the radio show. While the stroke hobbled him physically, it had the unanticipated effect of reinvigorating his approach to work.
“For a while, I was getting tired of radio,” he told the Herald in 1987. “But after the stroke, I’m glad I can do anything. I’m rejuvenated by the time off. I’m ready to explore new programming ideas.”
“He would go to WBUR in the middle of winter, with snow on the ground, with a very strong limp and a cane, still carrying a very big bag of records, because he wouldn’t go anywhere without a stack of records,” his wife said.
Isaacs called Mr. Cennamo “one of the most unforgettable people I’ve ever met. You just don’t come across many guys like that in this life, guys who are unafraid to speak their mind and who do things for other people not expecting anything in return. They just do it, and they’re amusing while doing it.”
Artists often struggle with confidence. We create from the deepest region of our souls, laying bare thoughts and emotions that most people are never forced to expose. Not only do we expose our inner selves, but we then present that exposure as a commodity on the open market where others are free to pan, pick apart or simply ignore. Is it any wonder that our confidence, our belief in ourselves waxes and wanes? Where do we get confidence in the first place? Is it formed or destroyed in childhood by our parents? Our peers? And how does the psychic pain that drives many artists to create in the first place affect our confidence? Does it strengthen it or tear it down?
Over the course of my teaching career, I’ve seen students whose confidence levels bear little relationship to their artistry and achievement. Most of them err on the side of too little, needing support and coaxing to bring out their innate talent. Stop whispering, I urge. You’re hiding your voice; let it out. Don’t be afraid.
Then there are the others. People who have an inflated, yet rock-solid sense of themselves and their gifts, despite all evidence to the contrary. Where did they get that unwavering self-assurance? Is it born or made?
I envy these people.
Years ago, one such person walked into my teaching studio. In her late 20’s and completely untrained, she was convinced that a career on the stage was her birthright. Instead of asking for my feedback, she told me what her future held. Frumpy and unattractive, with a high-pitched nasally speaking voice and a strong Brooklyn accent, I found her confidence breathtaking. Perhaps she did indeed have a unique talent, a once in a lifetime gift. A diamond in the rough who just needed some training and direction to realize her dreams.
And then she sang. And it was bad. It was stupendously, awe-inspiringly bad. So bad that, for a moment, I wondered if it was performance art or I was being punked. She sang with no inflection, no resonance, no vibrato and rarely in tune. But she was loud and proud. Confident. And boy, did I envy her.
I record my lessons to give my vocal students something to practice with and the chance to hear themselves as others do. I never keep the recordings but this one I did. Not to mock her at parties but as a reminder – confidence is mutable and self-directed. No one can give us confidence but ourselves.
So, here she is, in all her self-assured, imperturbable glory. And if you think she sounds a little bit like Miss Piggy (another example of self-possessed aplomb), well, she kind of looked like her too.
Oh, Macintosh, you’re like a bad boyfriend. You’re fun, creative and sexy, but also flighty, undependable and, in the end, a heartbreak. You promise exciting adventures while you run up my credit card before disappearing for days, sometimes weeks. Then you’re back, offering a shiny brushed aluminum hand to lead me once again into your increasingly complicated world of useless widgets, treacherous upgrades and oversensitive platforms.
Why can’t I quit you? Here are 10 reasons why I should:
1. YOU PROMISE YOU’LL BEHAVE
My cute little 12-inch Powerbook was a petite slice of paradise. You opened me up to new worlds and encouraged my creative side. Sure, you were pricy and some of your features never worked right (iMovie – I’m looking at you). I was hurt when your dvd drive conked out after 6 months of very light use. And yes, I was leery after paying a king’s ransom for the return of my Imac’s data.
In your defense, I must admit your rival, Mr. PC, has been known to cause pain and suffering as well – HELPSONG
I learned my lesson – a girl needs a backup external hard drive like she needs a backup plan for a canceled Saturday night. I thought I was covered, protected. You made me feel safe and warm. Until your hard drive died ONE MONTH out of warranty and though it felt good to say, “Hey, I don’t need no stinkin’ data recovery”, I couldn’t live a single day without you so…
2. I REWARD YOU FOR YOUR INCOMPETENCE
Little G4, you were in surgery for so long that it looked like you were a goner. I visited you several times a week but your doctors were having trouble finding your replacement parts. ‘Why?’, I wondered. ‘You’re not even 2-years-old!’
So I bought your big brother, MacBook Pro. This time with the cold comfort of Apple Care.
Sure, I know I was rewarding your maker for selling me shoddy equipment by purchasing even more. But like all moody gigolos, you demand money just to stick around. And I pay. Gladly. For when you leave, the sun leaves with you.
3. YOU BARELY ACKNOWLEDGE ME ANYMORE
Some days are fine. We wake up together with a smile, eager to start our morning over coffee and the online papers. But you often grow distant, cold.
You ignore the deep connection that’s developed between us.
Why won’t you acknowledge me? Why do you punish me so? All I’ve ever done is love you.
4. WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOUR KEYBOARD?
We haven’t been together 6 months, yet you grow irritable, deliberately picking fights. I keep you scrupulously clean, I never eat or drink around you. You don’t even have to leave the house! Still, your keyboard grows more stubborn and petulant by the day. And choosing the F key to stick the most, when you know my last name begins with it, is just cruel.
5. WHY DO YOU RANDOMLY LOSE COUNT OF MY EMAILS?
You scare me sometimes, for your own amusement.
29 messages? Really? Where did the other 50 go? Let’s try again:
Now you refuse to count them at all?
Oh, my love. Why do you toy with my emotions like this?
You know I have a nervous constitution.
6. YOU’VE FORCED ME INTO THE ARMS OF OTHER BROWSERS
Your endless talk of Safari had me dreaming of unfettered travel to exotic destinations. But you were so slow to deliver you made me distrustful of my server, and we argued because of you. Now I have no choice but to go outside the bundle, for Firefox gives me everything I could ever want; and in half the time.
7. WHEN YOU TRY TO IMPROVE, YOU JUSTMAKE THINGS WORSE
It’s heartwarming when, out of the blue, your boyfriend heads into the kitchen after a long, messy dinner because he’s decided to help out. That is until you see the results of his thoughtful gesture. Mac, your software upgrade alerts are like that. It’s sweet that you’re thinking of me and I do want to trust your advice. But that plate you broke means I don’t have a full set of dishes, the water you spilled on the cookbook makes it UNREADABLE and my great-grandmother’s spoon that got mangled by the garbage disposal? That was the last piece from her wedding silver.
8. IPOD PEOPLE
I bought accessories for you -all the things you said you absolutely needed. One, an Ipod Classic, had a nervous breakdown 6 months later. Apple Store ‘Geniuses’ were stumped so they replaced it. But your oh so smart buddies only gave me a 3 month warranty on the replacement. Apparently Geniuses can’t add for not only was I gypped out of a month on the original warranty, I have only 120 days of security in case little I-boy decides to take a swan dive into the dark, roiling sea of insanity.
9. STOP TOUTING YOUR NEW FEATURES AND FIX THE ONES YOU HAVE
There’s nothing more depressing than seeing your old boyfriend on TV, smugly purring over new apps, widgets and upgrades. While you turn on the charm, tossing off ever more complicated versions of iPhones, iPods and iTunes to every hopeful heart who catches your eye, your real message is iDon’t Care. But remember, my love, your A.D.D. isn’t only hurting yourself; it’s hurting the ones you stick with the broken promises and flimsy interfaces of the apps you left behind and…
Yankee ingenuity and the knack of picking a marketable specialty are traits which have distinguished the Farnsworth family of printers since 1886.
That was the year in which Theron A. Farnsworth settled in Camden and began a small job printing business in a barn behind his Minor Avenue residence.
That home is still in the family today and is still occupied by a T. A. Farnsworth, a grandson who has carried on the printing tradition and is today president of the Farnsworth Envelope Co.
Between these two men, 88 years of Farnsworth printing in the village of Camden are spanned.
The original “T.A.” specialized in printing of milk tickets. These were coupons bought from a dairy and used as a means of ordering and at the same time paying for home-delivered dairy products.
Known as the “Webb Press,” this business prospered first under the direction of T.A. and beginning in 1933 under the proprietorship of his grandson, Almon G. In 1938 it became a facet of the family’s major endeavor, the printing of church offering envelopes.
Back in 1896, T.A. had given his son, Almon M. Farnsworth, a small hand press, and while still in high school, A.M. launched a printing career, which was to spread the name of Camden, NY throughout the country.
Almon Farnsworth was canny and industrious and by 1906 he had established his own printing business in a new factory built by him at 17 Main St. This brick structure still houses a part of the Farnsworth operations.
The A.M. Farnsworth Co. first specialized in the printing of catalogues and advertising calendars. However, business soon came to be concentrated on printing boxed, annual sets of church offering envelopes. By 1916 his firm ranked as one of the nation’s leading suppliers of this unusual product.
The company continued to develop as a prominent church specialty printing house and in 1938 two sons, Almon G. and T. Albert, were taken into partnership and the A.M. Farnsworth & Sons Co. came into being.
A.M. Farnsworth died in 1947 and the partnership of his sons continued until 1957 when T. Albert formed a separate corporation to pursue a refinement of the envelope concept, the monthly mailing of individually addressed offering envelopes.
In 1959, Almon incorporated the parent company under the name “A.M. Farnsworth Sons” and took into the business his sons, David, who took charge of the growing commercial printing division. Almon retired in 1969 after 36 years of service to his business and this community.
Today, David is president of the company and has continued the manufacture of boxed envelopes, children’s envelopes, liturgical calendars and church specialties while building the commercial printing business into one of the finest job printing firms in Central New York.
Growth has been marked by numerous improvements to the original buildings and acquisition of the former Main St. Red and White Store and Grange building.
During the same time, the offshoot Farnsworth Envelope Co. has grown steadily under the direction of T. Albert Farnsworth. Three separate additions and extensive renovations including the erection of an attractive Main St. facade have been made over the past 17 years. Now Farnsworth Envelope puts nearly 4-1/2 million of mail through the Camden Post Office each year.
In 1969, T.A Farnsworth’s son, Jerry, entered the firm, joining David as the fourth generation of Farnsworths active in the vocation of printing and the avocation of building a better Camden.
REPRINTED from “The Advance-Journal” 100th Anniversary Edition
There is nothing sadder than an unmarried woman. It breaks my heart to see her strolling through the shopping malls, miserably buying exactly what she likes. It’s an empty life – spending her money and her time as she chooses without worrying what anyone else thinks, needs or wants.
Single women are so wrapped up in themselves, you have to feel sorry for them. They don’t have to check with anyone if they decide to see a movie instead of coming home for dinner. They don’t fight with anyone over bills, the color of the living room carpet or at whose house they’ll spend the holidays. It’s a pretty pathetic picture.
Everyone should be married. No one should be allowed to escape the wonderful experience with its various adjustments: The realization that Prince Charming is not just ordinary – he’s downright strange. Think of the character built on the humiliation of hearing him tell the neighbors what you look like when you’re putting on your pantyhose.
But the fulfillment comes after several years when you realize your love and respect for him are about as thin as his hair – and likewise growing thinner day by day. The wonder of how a man with a master’s degree who commands a multimillion-dollar budget at work becomes a helpless child when he learns you have to work late and won’t be home to cook one evening. The peaceful smile of a guy who has the patience to sit in a boat for three days (catching nothing), but cannot wait 10 minutes in a store while you try on a dress that’s 50 percent off. Those warm conversations about why it’s reasonable for him to spend top dollar on tools he seldom uses, but it’s out of the question for you to buy good-quality cookware even though you use it daily.
Marriage is worth it all. Every night’s sleep disrupted by his snoring and every pair of dirty underwear fished out from under the bed pays off at the 25th wedding anniversary party: He didn’t mean to insult you; is it his fault you gained 20 pounds after bearing four children? (Remember how his belly shook and the seams of his pants strained when he bent over to slap his knee?) After all, aren’t you a better person for having stretch marks and sagging breasts – the products of your childbearing years?
Reflect upon that romantic night when he proposed, the devotion in his voice, the lustful gleam in his eyes. How were you to know that in a few short years only his boat would receive the same adoration? Could anything match the restraint of your father, who has never once said, “I told you so”?
You just have to look at the unmarried woman to see how unhappy she’s become. She knows where everything is in her kitchen; there’s always toilet paper in the bathroom; she’s wearing clothes no teenage daughter has ever touched. If she were married, she’d look like the rest of us – worn out, stressed out and stretched out.
Spectacle trumped talent at the 2006 Billboard Music Awards when, during several of the early musical numbers, supersized confetti spewed from modified snowmaking machines. Giant candy canes planted around the stage led one to wonder which competitor would nail the slalom event.
Along the sides and upstage, a CGI fever dream pulsates from huge screens. Upstage, indeed. A psychedelic Candyland designed to delight, amuse and distract. Was the bamboozle supposed to blind us from the sadness? Over-produced flimflam by over-caffeinated set dressers to keep us awake and watching?
Here’s my theory – the lesser divas and divos of the pop music pantheon need a little help, a little cover from the pain of a live rendition of their Auto-tuned recordings.
Take Janet Jackson’s opening number. She begins her medley with a shout-out to one of her early hits, “The Pleasure Principal”, to school the youngsters in the audience that she, indeed, was at one time relevant. Jackson then proceeds to whisper her way through her new single as she clomps arthritically through an approximation of her tired twenty-year-old dance moves. And the confetti is flying with a vengeance.
In case a flurry of postcard-sized confetti wasn’t enough to distract us, her backup dancers leap and spin around the stage like meth-fueled Cirque Du Soleil acrobats.
Young legs execute supernatural street athletics, undeterred by the drifts of colored paper that are beginning to accumulate in drifts around the stage. Instead of distracting us from Jackson’s performance, the teenagers only highlighted her lame, geriatric performance. Seriously, she looks lame – like she’s pulled a hamstring.
Then there’s Fergie, rapping in that dated singsong manner like a female Will Smith as she minces around the stage almost in time to the music. Tired rap, forgettable lyrics, confetti explosion!
A pattern is emerging. The worse the performance, the harder the confetti falls. The lights pulse more insistently, hypnotizing us. Ignore the girl and bow to your sparkly, trance-inducing master!
Just as it seems the stage walls will come tumbling down in a frenzied representation of the end of western civilization, a giant Quincy Jones appears on the back screen like a pop music oracle. Down, ye walls of power! All is not lost!
Jones introduces a quartet of rappers who actually have talent. The walls calm to bathe each rapper in his own signature color. Hmm…no confetti. Or have supplies simply run out in the face of all that earlier suckitude?
Eager yodeler Gwen Stefani bounces around the stage, manically selling her harajuku rapping goatherd mash-up. No confetti, she must be talented. Well, she is actually singing and sort of dancing. No comment on the bewildered goat.
The guys who won digital album of the year – no confetti and no background movies. They must be really talented. Well, the lead singer is playing a piano, an actual musical instrument.
Mary J. Blige performs with only a subtle screen of vertical white stripes behind her – a subliminal reference to a now defunct minimalist rock duo or an homage to postwar Italian cinema? But she is indeed confetti-free. She’d better be, she won nine times!
Now comes Stevie Wonder to introduce Century award-winner Tony Bennett. Visually, the quietest screen of the evening, a cascade of calming electric blue. Two legends. No confetti.
As for the less gifted performers who appeared tonight, the message seemed clear. They’ve already got your bread, how about a little circus?
I’ve been teaching piano and voice this semester in Riga, Latvia, in fulfillment of a Fulbright Scholar award. I joined the Jazz Studies faculty at the Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music, the country’s top conservatory.
I did some teaching and clinics at the Dome Choir School, a prestigious magnet middle/high school for aspiring musicians. I also performed and did master classes around the country. More on that later…
Rigas Doma Kora Scola
Latvia has a long and impressive choral tradition and are pretty serious about their singing.
Here’s a Youtube of a Latvian boy’s choir performance:
The singers are fabulous and the Choirmaster is mesmerizing.
My jazz singers were pretty awesome, too. Well-trained in technique, reading and theory, they were also enthusiastic, sweet-natured and absolutely rabid about jazz. A real pleasure to work with.
In July, Riga hosts the Latvian Song And Dance Festival, which takes place every four years. 100K people will be walking around Riga in traditional Latvian dress. As Riga’s normal population is only 700K, they will definitely stand out.
The performances are going to be amazing, I’m sorry I’ll miss it.
If you wonder why Lativians have such great complexions, they drink a lot of carrot juice.
The music sounds vaguely eastern, it may be because there’s an interesting connection between this region and India. Indian historians think that Latvia was originally settled by Indo-Aryans. Of course the Latvian scholars think it’s the other way around.
Either way, there are about 250 words Latvian shares with Sanskrit and they share many of their pre-christian gods’ names and identities as well.
Here are their symbols representing the different gods:
Latvian symbols for their gods
The designs make for some beautiful jewelry and embroidered clothing.
On my first day in Riga, my landlady took me for a walk around the city where I learned my first word in Latvian – Atlaides!
I arrived to some harsh weather compared to what I’d left in Los Angeles.
Note – It’s only 4:30 PM
Well, it’s 5 o’clock and pitch dark… cocktail, anyone?
Riga is farther north than Copenhagen and Moscow so it gets nippy. Days usually had below freezing temps, with a cold, wet wind blowing in from the river. Nights were face-numbing.
Walking ranged from treacherous to annoying – snow-covered sidewalks force that ‘one step forward, half-step slide backward’ motion. Just like at the beach, except for the freezing-your-ass-off part.
It was pretty, though, when the sun came out. Sometimes the sidewalks even melted a bit.
Shadows are long by early afternoon
I strolled through Vermanis Park every day on my walk to the conservatory. A much prettier and calmer commute than the 10 to the 405.
I didn’t have a car so the weather forced me to tackle the tram system learning curve.
I felt like an idiot the first time – How do you pay? You can pay the driver but they don’t look too welcoming behind their plexi-glass wall. There was a way to pay with an E-card, but where do you buy them? And where do you punch them in?
On my maiden voyage, I spent the whole trip squeezing a one Lat coin ($1.90) in my sweaty mittened palm, waiting to be accosted by the ticket control ladies. I’d heard they were tough and might stop the tram and kick you off after some biting public ridicule, which I wouldn’t understand since I only knew one word in Latvian – Atlaides. Sale? Sale?
Isn’t your first ride free?
After the initial excitement of this new environment wore off, reality set it and I began to feel isolated and out of sorts.
I grew up in this climate, as I repeatedly assured everyone who asked, so going from palm trees to near-arctic conditions wasn’t as extreme as people assumed it to be. But the light deprivation was affecting my mood and walking on dangerously icy streets kept me from exploring, going to jazz clubs and restaurants, as much as I would have. Broken bones from falls were not unusual and the bitter cold made one think twice about venturing out in the evening.
But the biggest factor in my growing sense of isolation was the language barrier. I’d spent extended stays in Europe on tour and thought I wouldn’t have much of a problem. What I forgot to consider was during those previous stays I had lived in hotels where people spoke English and I ate in the dining room.
It didn’t take long to suss out the language map – people under 30 speak English, very well; between 30 and 40 it’s a crapshoot and over 40, forget it. If I got lost, which I frequently did, I would look in a store window and if a 20-something was behind the counter, I knew I could go in and ask for directions.
Latvia has only been liberated from the former Soviet Union since 1991 and kids growing up in that era (“Soviet times” as the locals call it) studied Russian. As a result, they speak it like champs but rarely do you find someone in that age group who speaks English. Also, about 50% of Riga’s population is ethnic Russian, and they survive very well speaking only Russian. Similar to Los Angeles, where people can live comfortably speaking only Spanish.
Latvians don’t express warm and fuzzies to strangers, at least by American standards. Store clerks can look alarmed if you smile at them. They don’t reach out if you appear to be struggling and seem to have a strong distrust of strangers.
There was a book on the State Dept’s suggested reading list that I found invaluable to my understanding of this new culture. “The Art Of Crossing Cultures”, by Craig Storti, taught me to see a foreign culture through the eyes of the locals instead of my own.
What behavior we Americans might perceive as unfriendly may just be respect for someone’s privacy. And in a society that was not so long ago overrun by government informers, it could also be a healthy sense of self-preservation.
I learned that the constant little stressors I was feeling were a sort of psychic death by a thousand paper cuts. Pulling a door handle when I should have pushed, getting lost several times a day, not being able to communicate basic needs – becoming overwhelmed and depressed was a natural and normal response. As Storti says (paraphrasing), “You have to get used to feeling like a mentally-challenged six-year-old. What will make for funny dinner party stories when you get back home aren’t funny at all when you’re living through them.”
So I turned to Google translate, learning a few words every day. It’s a small thing but learning the difference between “grûst” and “vilkt” (push and pull) on doors was huge and saved me about 8-10 arggghhs a day.
Grocery shopping took three times as long as it should have. Chicken was recognizable but pork vs. beef? Fish?
Huh? Carp, I got that one
I would stand slack-jawed in front of the dairy cooler holding a package of something in my hand. Butter or margarine? Milk or buttermilk?
Ordering from the deli counter? Something I could only dream of doing in the beginning.
Latvians make great salads and I did a lot of pointing and grunting to get some.
One thing that made shopping easier was the currency exchange. The Lat is a little under $2.00 and since things were sold by the kilogram, a rough estimate was $1/lb.
Back to Google translate for more words.
Latvians would ask me, Are you learning the language? Yes, I’d reply, All the important words – chicken, salmon, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes….
One day at the dairy cooler I saw a woman holding a package of sviests and wearing the same dazed, slack-jawed expression I had worn a month earlier. “Excuse me,” she said, “do you speak English?”
“Yes,” I replied, “I don’t speak Latvian though, but I can tell you that’s butter!”
Daylight hours are lengthening, the weather is improving and so is my state of mind. I’m getting a handle on the language and have learned my way around.
In an effort to recreate some of the habits and patterns of life back home, I joined a health club. As a life-long gym rat, I feel comfortable in that milieu and the atmosphere and protocols are the same no matter where you are in the world.
I’m amazed at the ease with which the instructors slip between Latvian and Russian, counting out a set of crunches in one language and then the other. I’ve learned to count to eight in both languages!
Training, Aerobics, Gym, Sauna
I played a concert at a very cool place called Kalnciema Quarter, a set of historic wooden buildings that have been rehabbed into cutting edge designer stores, artisan workshops, offices and restaurants. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site, as its style of 18th-19th cent. wooden architecture hasn’t survived in most of Europe. Bombs are not healthy for wooden buildings.
I won’t say the piano was old but it had built-in candlestick holders…
Teaching is going well and I’m loving my students’ energy. There are a few macho types who aren’t used to taking advice from women (I’m looking at you, Vadims!), but for the most part, they’re a dream to work with.
Have I mentioned Latvians are tall?
Inga Berzina, my vocal jazz counterpart at the Academy who has become a good friend, thought it was hysterical when I was trying to reserve teaching space for piano students with the non-English speaking room manager and just kept repeating the one Latvian word I knew at the time – labs (good). I need a labs piano! Labs, please!!
I was invited to join the judging jury for the Riga Jazz Stage vocal competition, in association with the annual Rigas Ritmi Jazz Festival. It began with 75 aspirants from all over Europe, whittled down to a top 12 who performed for 2 nights along with some professional appearances. One of my students, Evilena Proteckor, made the finals and, I don’t know why, but I thought she was the best.
Latvians LOVE flowers
It was a gas meeting and working with the international judges, who are all involved in the European jazz scene as players, educators, composers and promoters.
Steponas Januška – Lithuanian Vocalist, Composer & Educator
Swiss Peter Basler, manager & promoter
Good stories, cameraderie and the best part? English was the common language. Sweet relief after two months of wandering through a linguistic desert.
“Riga becomes magical in the summer,” says Kerri from the US Embassy, and she is right on.
Summer is finally here.
Neighborhood flower shop
The park I walk through on the way to school? Greeny green green now.
Daylight hours linger well into the evening, pushing toward 10PM. At night, there are fairy lights in the trees and the undersides of the curved stone bridges over the canal glow an ethereal blue. People are strolling, sitting on benches soaking up the sun, and smiling!
Tourists have appeared and I’m hearing more English on the streets than I’ve heard in the previous four months combined.
Nearly all of the cafes and restaurants are building outdoor seating areas – a lot of sawing, hammering and painting going on. Do they tear these structures down when the weather gets cold and rebuild every spring?
I performed a concert at the Academy, playing with two very accomplished students, bassist Edvins Ozols and drummer Rudolfs Dankfelds.
They played great and we had a lot of fun. I would hire them anytime.
There are more videos on my YouTube channel – AnneFarnsworthMusic
The shopping thing is finally under control. I’m fortunate that one of Riga’s larger open air markets, Vidzemes Tirgus, is a block from my house. Each door to the huge stone building has the name of the food group sold in that section.
Not a ballroom entrance – the meat door
I’ve learned which vendors aren’t annoyed by my language deficiencies and which ones were taking advantage of my initial poor understanding of the currency. An expensive lesson.
Not getting these kinds of looks anymore
Waiting for me to get my act together
I’ve settled on a bread lady, egg lady, fruit lady, you get the idea. At this point I know enough Latvian to select amounts and understand what they’re asking me to pay.
The problem now is some of the vendors think I speak more Latvian than I do and start chatting with me. I have absolutely no idea what they’re saying so I just mirror their facial expressions. If they look happy, I nod my head and smile. If they seem unhappy, I frown and look concerned.
The older ladies have been the nicest, taking a motherly interest in my welfare. Which sauerkraut should I get? ‘Oh, try this one – it has caraway seeds! Or do you prefer garlic?’
Very excited to see raw milk products sold here without any OMG-we’re-so-cool fanfare and the accompanying nose bleed prices. Cheese, butter, yogurt, sour cream, for about the same prices as pasteurized.
Suck it Whole Foods and your $8 quart of raw milk!
For liquid dairy, you bring your own containers which they fill from pitchers. Piano wire is used to cut slices of butter from long rectangles. It’s all very farmstead and homey, although I’m careful not to annoy the piano wire ladies.
Riga’s main market is the Centraltirgus. Housed in 5 WWI-era zeppelin hangars, it’s the largest and oldest open air market in Europe.
It’s a bit far from my apartment for daily shopping but I’ve been a couple of times for fish.
There are a mind-boggling 3000 vendors in the warmer months.
Inga Berzina and my students will be disappointed if I didn’t mention my discovery of, and immediate addiction to, berzu sula, or birch sap, which they found hilarious.
The spring tonic appears without warning in late March and, a few weeks later, disappears just a quickly.
Packaged in ratty-looking plastic bottles with no safety caps and a dodgy-looking waxy scum floating on the top, birch juice is a traditional kidney/liver cleanse, blood purifier and all around healthifier. I loved it and was drinking a couple of liters a day for the few weeks it was around, to the amusement of all.
Inga and I drove up to Cēsis, a town of 18K people northeast of Riga, so I could do a teacher training seminar at the Alfred Kalnins School of Music.
Took a while to find the school
It was a three hour drive up to the former market town, which dates to medieval times. They’ve got a castle!
It’s a beautiful place and, as I was informed by several proud locals, older than that Johnny-come-lately down the road, Riga.
Inga was a trooper. After driving us there, she had to translate the entire two-hour master class. English is not her forte, it was an exhausting day for her.
After the seminar, we had lunch, walked around the town and stepped inside St John’s Church, built in the 13th cent., where an ancient docent told us we could climb up to the bell tower.
As we worked our way up the several floors to the top, the ascent became more and more treacherous. Winding stone stairs were replaced by wooden your-grandmother’s-attic-y sorts of stairs which led to rickety ladders that looked like original equipment. There were no lighting or safety features. Apparently Latvia is not a very litigious society; there’s no way something this hazardous would be open to the public in the States.
But the view was worth the potential bodily harm.
The semester is winding down and so is my time here in Riga. Finals period is in full swing, which means juries, the final exams for performance classes. The students play before a jury of faculty and are graded on their performance.
A jazz jury
Are these kids adorable or what?
We’re doing juries at both the Academy and Dome Choir School and I’m loving the way drummer Tālis Gžibovskis, the jazz chair at Dome, is running the deliberations that take place after their jury performances.
Fellow students, family and friends
Academics have a tendency to be long-winded *cough* and in love with the sound of their own voice. That can make for excruciatingly long faculty meetings.
Tālis, on the other hand, runs the discussion like John McLaughlin of the old news analysis show, The McLaughlin Group – throwing out a student’s name and pointing to a guest, er professor, for a quick yea or nay and some hastily mumbled commentary before moving down the table. If you’ve seen the show or the SNL skits spoofing it, you know exactly what I mean. Never in the halls of academe has so much been accomplished in so little time.
Since the discussion was taking place in Latvian, I was only getting about 40% of the conversation. So when it abruptly ended I thought we were taking a break. How my heart soared when Inga said, “Nope, we’re done!”
I want to say a few words about Inga Berzina who, as I mentioned earlier, has become a good friend and was so helpful and generous getting my teaching situation organized.
But first, you should know that Inga is a very popular name in Latvia. Since I know three Ingas, I’ve given them nicknames to save confusion when talking to the folks back home. Inga Berzina is Inga Voice; my big-hearted, chain-smoking landlady is Inga Landlord and the fantastically accommodating and endlessly patient Inga Bodniece at the US Embassy is, of course, Inga Embassy.
Inga Voice is a wonderful teacher and an amazing vocalist. She’s in high demand in the Baltics and Russia as an educator, recording artist, jazz camp superstar, competition adjudicator and all-around good egg.
Her Academy voice students took double lessons this semester, their regular weekly classes with her and an extra one with me; unlike some of her peers who handed me their classes and ran off to join the circus.
At the Dome School, I sat in on her lessons, adding my observations and suggestions.
Inga with a Dome School student
Inga’s just released a new CD, Neizteiktie Vardi (Unspoken Words). It’s a collection of Latvian pop tunes with jazz arrangements. Hmm, where have I heard that concept before? Speaking of which, Sealed With A Kiss is now out in Mp3 and Hi Res! Hee hee, back to Inga…
Jazz singing in Latvian is not easy but Inga makes it flow. I particularly like the opening track, “Atceries Mani Vel” (I Still Remember).
Here’s a YouTube of one of the songs on her CD, “Reiz Nāksi Tu” (Once You Come In).
She’s awesome, ’nuff said.
My brother Dave has come to visit me. Yay! Company!
He’s a ham radio nut and apparently it’s a thing to broadcast from different countries. He said there’s 350 countries in the world and he’s only hit 35, so imagine his excitement having all these tiny countries to knock off the list.
Picked him up at the airport and our first stop was a wine bar that was hosting a free wine tasting event.
Wine, brother and food
Dave’s doing Tex Avery-style boggling at the assortment of blondes wandering about, I’m just interested in the vintages. Welcome to Latvia!
Took him to one of my favorite restaurants, Kalku Varti, in Old Town. The food is locally sourced, creatively presented and delicious. I’m not a picture-taking type of foodie but had to snap our desserts, they were so whimsical.
We drove up to Estonia just over the border so he could transmit and then he took off alone for Lithuania and Poland.
When he returned we took a 15 hour train trip to Saint Petersburg.
Our sleeper cabin
There was no food on the train but they did attach a bar car after four hours. Priorities!
No food but complimentary water and flowers.
I ordered a martini and the barmaid slammed a pint of vodka and two shot glasses on the counter like some old-timey saloonkeeper. It had been hours since we last ate so the crew scrounged up some cheese cubes and a tin of Pringles. Oh, and there was beer.
Hundreds of miles from nowhere, in the middle of the forest, we were awakened at 2 AM for a border crossing – young, strutting country bumpkins with AKs slung over their shoulders, accompanied by menacing guard dogs. Okay, overnight train to Russia with intimidating passport control inspection is officially off my bucket list.
Dave asks, Is this the part where they take us out in the woods and shoot us?
My question is, Do they know those hats look way too big for their heads?
Saint Petersburg was brilliant but I couldn’t wait to get back to Riga. Ironic, considering my long Latvian learning curve, but seriously – Cyrillic street signs? Really?
Latvia does a lot of smart things that we don’t do. For instance, their streetlights turn yellow before turning green, not just before red. Saves a lot of “wake up, dammit!” honking.
Retail packaging is much greener than in the west. Cereal comes in bags instead of boxes. Actually, a lot of things come in bags – milk, yogurt and other items you’d never think of as bag-able.
Attirance, my new favorite skin care products store (sorry Body Shop), sells soap by cutting off slices, like butter, and then weighing the bars and wrapping them beautifully.
I went to listen to a student, the aforementioned Evilena Protector, sing at a local club. Her voice is amazing and I predict a bright future for her. It was fun hanging out and sitting in with the band.
What an interesting surname she has and she was definitely one of my protecters during my time in Riga.
Inga Landlady took me to Jurmala, the seaside, to visit her weekend cottage. There are actually two building on her ‘compound’, which she is in the midst of renovating.
I had been there during the winter but now it was full summer and pretty sweet.
Inga Grauze, aka Inga Landlady
We spent many wine-soaked nights discussing politics. I don’t think I’ve ever discussed Lenin, Stalin, Gorbachev and JFK in a single conversation before in my life.
Inga Voice has invited me to her weekend place, her childhood home, in Smiltene. The backyard slopes down to a beautiful lake and is the perfect spot to decompress.
They have a traditional sauna house that is heated with wood. Her husband got the stove going and we ladies took a late-night sauna.
There were birch branches for slapping ourselves with but Inga said that’s more of a guy thing…
After a few minutes in the heat we would stumble down to the freezing lake and jump in. It was so cold my screams were echoing off the trees on the other side of the water. Mind-numbing, heart-stoppingly cold. It got easier about the third time around. Plus, there was beer.
Edited for decency
The next day, the neighbors hosted a luncheon that lasted four hours. There was food, drink, music and a host of guests wandering in and out.
Wife plays guitar while husband opens wine. Good marriage.
Most of the conversation was in Latvian so I just ate, drank and nodded a lot.
Great Idea! Let’s get drunk and go kayaking!
Since Inga is over 40, she may need some help reading this blog. Ask one of your daughters to translate for you, Inga!
My six months in Latvia have come to an end. No big thoughts or final summation to close with; I’ve pretty much expressed it all. Just a big thank you to all my students, colleagues, Embassy staff and everyone else who guided me through this amazing experience.
The night before I left, Inga and I had a last meal and I gave her my hat to remember me by.
Ciao, Riga! Es garām jums!*
*I’ve been informed that Google Translate is ridiculously archaic so instead of saying, ‘I will miss you’, I’ve probably said ‘I shalt miss ye’, or something biblical like that.
Some memorable test answers from college Jazz History exams and Concert Reports I’ve received:
Jazz was affected by the economy in WWII – people didn’t go out very often because there was a shortage of rubbers. (Actually, the demise of the Big Band era was hastened by a wartime shortage of rubber … for tires … for the buses.)
Q. What’s the difference between a big band and a combo?
A. A big band performs with a male singer and a combo uses a female singer.
The instrument in Free Jazz most likely to be omitted is the drums, because with everybody doing their own thing there’s no use trying to keep the beat.
A stride pianist is a person who sits astride on the piano bench. Also, when the music is strident, it’s probably a stride pianist.
The difference between a rural Blues singer and a Classic Blues singer is the Rural Blues singer is shorter. (ED: The songs are shorter – not the singers.)
Not only did Bessie Smith record for Columbia, she also made videos for them. (Ah, MTV circa 1932.)
Louise Armstrong was the first great Jazz musician. No, it was Lois Armstrong. (Armstrong’s wife had no idea!)
A ‘hot Jazz’ band is on fire. A ‘Mickey Mouse’ band plays at Disney World.
From Concert Reports:
“The pianist used crescendos and archipelagos in his solo.”
“The trumpeter put a muzzle on his horn to keep it quiet while the bassist played with his hands around its neck.”
More brilliant concert reportage:
“The bass player didn’t do any walking because there wasn’t enough room on the stage.”
“The two soloists competed like an old fashioned carving contest.” (He means ‘cutting contest’)
And finally, my favorite:
“The piano and the bass started the tune silently.”
MONDEGREENS mon•de•green(n) : a word or phrase that results from a mishearing of something said or sung
When I was a kid, I was seriously puzzled by the lyrics in certain pop hits. They didn’t make sense or it was a kind of sense that only teenagers and adults could understand.
Of course, I never actually asked a teenager or an adult what the lyrics meant. As with many things in my childhood, like gravity or how Ajax got stains out of sinks, I chalked it up to one of the mysteries of life.
“My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean”
I heard the Scottish folk song as ‘my body lies’… and found it mystifying. Are you floating above the ocean or in it? Face-up or the dead man float? Are you covering the whole ocean? How big is this body, anyway?
Below are a few more auditory befuddlements. Got any of your own?
BEATLES: “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”
To me, it sounded like the Beatles were singing, ‘Hey boy, you’ve got your heiny in the way…’
I was shocked they were allowed to say heiny on the radio.
THE BUCKINGHAMS: “Kind Of A Drag”
I thought this song was an extended Canada Dry ginger ale commercial and they were singing “Canada Dry – when your baby don’t love you. Canada Dry – when you know she’s been untrue.”
Because just like your Mom gives you a ginger ale when your stomach’s upset, drinking one when you’re emotionally upset would make you feel better, too.
MONKEES: “Cheer Up Sleepy Jean”
Sounded like they were singing, “My shaving razor’s cold and it stinks.”
Men’s toiletries were a mystery to me but ‘stings’ makes more sense.
MANFRED MANN: “Do I Diddy”
In the bridge, the singer says, “Well, I’m hers, she’s mine. I’m hers, she’s mine, wedding bells are gonna chime.”
I thought he was saying, “Well, I’m hurt, she’s mad…” and I wondered, If he’s hurt and she’s mad, why are wedding bells gonna chime?
I figured since grownups fight after they’re married, they probably didn’t see fighting as a reason not to get married in the first place.
Speaking of Manfred Mann, in their song, “Blinded By The Light”, the lyrics are:
‘Revved up like a deuce,
Another runner in the night’
I thought they were saying:
‘Wrapped up like a douche,
Another mother in the night’
Makes absolutely no sense, I know.
ELTON JOHN: “Rocket Man”
Molly Bloom from the Bay Area writes:
“I used to think Elton John was singing, ‘Rocket Man, burning like a piece of hairy bone.’” Burning hairy bone – god, what an awful smell.
PRINCE: “Little Red Corvette”
I heard the title line as ‘Feel that, Colette?’ I have three brothers and I could imagine someone’s annoying brother pinching his sister over and over while saying, “Feel that? How about that?”, along the lines of the dreaded ‘Hurtz Donut.’ When I grew older I heard the mondegreen in a more, um, adult situation.
Gaily The Cross I Bear
Christian E. from Toronto reports that when he heard this song in church as “Gaily The Cross-Eyed Bear”, he asked his mother why they would call a cross-eyed bear Gaily.
JIMI HENDRIX: “Purple Haze”
This is a common misheard lyric. When Jimi says, “Excuse me, while I kiss the sky”, I thought he was saying ‘Excuse me while I kiss this guy.’
Not knowing much about sex, and never having heard of homosexuality, I found this puzzling indeed.
ROLLING STONES: “Beast Of Burden”
My brother Dave, in upstate New York, thought that Mick Jagger was promising he would never be your ‘pizza burning’.