Thursday, July 2, 2015

Stars and Stripes Forever

Here's a little music to get you in the holiday spirit: John Philip Sousa's most famous march, transcribed and played by the incomparable Vladimir Horowitz. Get ready to sing the piccolo part!

Have a safe and happy 4th of July!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Monday, April 27, 2015


It’s no secret that I haven’t been producing. My blogs have been frozen, waiting for prose or poetry, observations, wisdom, creative snippets, but all I’ve posted is news. Similarly, my twitter feed has been saturated with retweets of other people’s posts, artwork, photos, while my Facebook status—actual status—has been quiet.

It’s not because I’ve been idle. The past six months have been filled with activity: editing, practicing, reading, exercising.  But recently, I became aware of a sensation—an itch in cells I could no longer reach, and all attempts to scratch them satisfied nothing.  I turned on the computer, opened files of works-in-progress, stared at the screen, waited, and pffft, bupkis.

If I’d had nothing else going on in my life, that is, if I had not been engaged in other creative pursuits, I would have stressed and stewed about it, wondered what was wrong with me, how and I why I became so contentedly mute. And yet...and yet….

There were those bits of verse, scrawled spontaneously at bedtime on a lined pad.  There were those random thoughts, no, that’s wrong, those were ideas nudging, occasionally chiding me for not entertaining them properly, for dismissing them as common, trite, worthless.

Stupid nags. What could they know? The cells that could have given them life had obviously taken a hike, joined the witness protection program, or died of ennui. 

So I moved on….

...shut off my computer.  Turned it on only once a day to check mail, see who was doing what, read interesting posts, and share the highlights with followers and friends.

Except a funny thing happened. One of those annoying little nags got me to open an old spiral-bound notebook, something I hadn’t done since buying my first laptop. Then it prodded me to pick up a pen, which I still remembered how to use (checks and greeting cards, you know…).

And an hour later I had pages filled with prose, and a rupture of cells kicking me in the head saying, “What the hell took you so long?”

I love technology. I do, really.  It was an easy transition from composing on paper for acoustic instruments to generating, modifying, and organizing sound in an electronic music studio. And I have no trouble composing with notation software. I’m very fond of being able to listen to the sounds as I write them. I have good relative pitch, but it’s not always 100%. The immediate feedback is nice...wonderful, in fact.

But I have never been able to craft a work of poetry or fiction on a computer, and I don’t know why I thought I could, or why I spent so many frustrated years attempting to convince myself I could. I think back and recall how I used to look at photos of writers at their typewriters and wonder how they were able to produce that way. Every time I sat down at a typewriter, my mind went blank.

I know there must be a glitch between the keyboard and me, some freak reflex that causes a sudden disconnect, short circuit in the process. I would try to figure it out, but I think in the end, the cause doesn’t matter.

So, I’ve stocked up on pads and pens. The computer, as a means of recording my literary ravings, will stay off until there’s a complete draft to transcribe. My sites may be quiet for awhile, and I will probably be visiting my social media haunts less frequently, certainly less frequently than is recommended for writers these days, but I won’t be completely absent. I’ll be around. And I’ll be heeding the chatter of little nags, now that I can. Happily. Thankfully.

©2015 All Rights Reserved

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Favorite Films: Contributor Update

Huge congratulations to Amy Williams on being named a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow in Music Composition. You can read about the inspiration for Amy's Cinescape pieces, and find links to recordings of Amy's music and performances here,

Ellen Wade Beals, "A Delectable Madness," continues to delight with her own writings and photographs on her blog, Solace in a Book.  We all seem to need solace these days, and you can always find it in abundance on Ellen's site.

"A Classic Scare" author, Victoria Johnson created Purple Passion Press in 2014, and their first anthology, (After)life:  Poems and Stories of the Dead, will be available for pre-order soon! The anthology features the work of numerous award-winning writers, including Favorite Films contributor, Joan Corwin ("Hindsight"), and Music and Prose contributor, Kathleen Lombardo ("Gesualdo Describes Afterlife"). While you're waiting to read this amazing collection of stories and poems, I hope you'll take another look at Joan's meditation on the film, Grand Illusion"Renoir and Paradox," and reacquaint yourself with Kathleen's love poems in "A Poetic Shift."

I'll be back with more in the not-too-distant future....

Monday, February 9, 2015

Music and Prose: Making Much out of Little

There's a moment in the fourth movement of Brahms's piano quintet in F minor where, if one is listening closely, they will be able to hear fragments of the first movement's opening theme.  If one has never heard the piece before, they might think, "Oh, that sounds familiar," and let it go. But as the movement progresses, and the fragments reappear, they might think, "Yes, I've definitely heard that before," and want, at some time, to listen to the whole piece again to confirm their belief.

On a second, or third, or fourth hearing, they might begin to hear similarities between the themes in each movement, and realize that the entire quintet is built on a very small amount of material.

And so, I've been a bit obsessed lately, spending most of my time at my other keyboard, the wooden beast in my living room, sweating over the two piano version of the Brahms quintet.

I can't help but marvel at the economy and emotional impact of this piece. It is spare yet lush, controlled yet heart-rending. Its adherence to classical ideals—repetition, development, and permutation of motifs over extended periods—foreshadows the reactionary minimalism of modern times, but it never stalls; it moves and breathes with the force of living art.

The first movement of Opus 34B, for two pianos, is below. As you listen, think of the fiction you've loved. Are there motifs throughout it? Ideas that recur in one form or another that make the writing cohesive? Imagery patterns that emerge, either obviously or subtly?

The techniques are not that different....

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Book Review: Premiere by Tracy Ewens

Premiere by Tracy Ewens

Genre: Fiction

Sub-Genre: Romance

“‘Do you ever they stop the movie before you see the complications of the romance?’” This question, posed late in Tracy Ewens’s new novel, Premiere, by the book’s heroine, Samantha Cathner, serves as a knowing wink to both the title, and its theatrical focus—an unfinished play written by the throb in Cathner’s broken heart,  Peter Everoad.  Like all good romances, Premiere begins by challenging Samantha’s certainty that she has gotten over Peter by thrusting him back into her life with his return to their home town of Pasadena to supervise the production of his new play. Once she sees him, she finds the old attraction rekindled, and all her old hurts and doubts about him resurfacing, especially when he decides to pursue her.  It is the kind of situation one finds in many of the classic film romances Cathner adores. Yet despite the similarity, Premiere is a modern love story, the kind that does give readers a look at the “complications of...romance.” Samantha and Peter flirt, dance around each other, come together, and pull apart.  And as they do, they try not to lose themselves. Ewens has pulled off a delightful feat in Premiere, a work which has more in common with Richard Linklater’s Before… film trilogy, than An Affair to Remember. She has created characters as witty, childish, irritating, and engaging as any two people who are deeply in love and trying to navigate through the challenges in their relationship. The fact that she accomplishes this within a dramatic framework makes every minute spent with them all the more enjoyable. Don't miss this chance to fall in love.

Buy Premiere

Monday, October 27, 2014

Alternative Chills

Halloween is coming. And with its approach, have come the abundance of lists with recommended reads. While I am a fan of many of the books appearing on those lists—The Haunting of Hill House, Turn of the Screw, Ghost Story, The Shining—I thought I'd offer a few alternatives....

The Portrait of Jennie (Robert Nathan) — While the film version of this novella about a struggling artist who finds his muse in a rapidly aging girl is lovely, melancholy, and romantic, it does not convey the foreboding of time out of joint that Nathan's writing does.  Ray Bradbury said it best, "It touched and frightened me when I was twenty-four. Now, once more, it touches and frightens."

The House Next Door (Anne Rivers Siddons) — One of the best evil house books I've ever read. This one packs a wallop as a new home claims owner after owner while the neighbors who witness their fates are brought to the brink of madness.  Read it for the horror, and come back to it for its deliciously biting sub-text.

The Little Stranger (Sarah Waters) — A doctor is called to treat a young maid in the decaying English estate where he lived as a child. Gradually, he comes to suspect a malevolent spirit of invading the structure and targeting its inhabitants. With obvious nods to Poe ("The Fall of the House of Usher") and James (The Turn of the Screw), this post WWII tale will keep you riveted.  One note: much has been said and debated over the "importance" of a likable protagonist in fiction.  Waters's main character, Dr. Faraday, is neither immediately nor consistently likable.  But, as a product of his upbringing, time, setting, situation, and flaws, he is, at all times, fascinating.

The Other (Tom Tryon) — Brilliant psychological horror about identical twins (you know I have a fondness for twin stories), with one exerting an increasingly dark and dangerous influence on the other.  Oh, my...this one was the cause of many sleepless nights, during the read and after. You may want to save it for the daylight hours....

Mickelsson's Ghosts (John Gardner) — A dense and multi-layered tale about an alchoholic philosophy professor who buys a house with a history. Fair warning: if you're looking for a fast read, skip this.  But if you want a novel you can dig into, Gardner's book will reward you with intricate and complex characterizations, a wealth of images and symbols, significant allusions to Nietzsche's Also Sprach Zarathustra (you may want to read or re-read Zarathustra after you finish), local myths, and, yes, ghosts, too.   As close to a masterpiece as any book can come.

Happy Halloween.