Monday, July 4, 2022

Two 1812 Overture Memories for the Fourth

I'm grateful to my parents for an early introduction to classical music. When Mom took us to church, Dad stayed home, reading the newspaper and listening to classical music. I've written a little about that chapter of my life here. Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture was on one of these albums. 

Photo: DesignEcologist on Unsplash
Of the two other memories associated with this piece of music, one occurred in high school and the other while we were living in the Midway in St. Paul after our return from Mexico in 1982 and before our move to Forest Lake in 1984. 

One of the teachers who made an impact on me when I was in school was Mr. Harris, my senior year English teacher. I have several meaningful memories from his class, but for now we'll stick to our theme, the 1812 Overture, which had been written to commemorate Russia's confrontation with Napoleon in that year.

What he did was have us listen to this piece of music and then write a story inspired by what we heard. Disney, of course, did visual storytelling inspired by classical music in his film Fantasia. Ours was simply a writing exercise with a musical prompt. For people with imagination this kind of thing is fun.

If you are familiar with the 1812 Overture you'll recall the sense of mood swings, a back and forth between lighter and more ominous themes. At the time I doubt that any of us knew it was about a conflict between Napoleon's army and the armies of Russia. Though I don't remember anything I wrote, I do recall a vivid sense of imagery and felt quite energized as I penned my thoughts on paper.

Photo courtesy Zibik on Unsplash.
THE SECOND MEMORY took place on the Fourth of July when we were living, as I noted, in St. Paul. We'd gone to the State Capitol to see the fireworks on a beautiful midsummer evening. The crowds were spread out on the grass on the south side of the Capitol with a full symphony orchestra on the apron of the Capitol grounds. I can't recall how long they performed, but as the twilight turned to dusk the Capitol shone white and bright, illuminated against the dark but clear night sky.

At a certain point it began, the 1812 Overture. It's a fifteen minute piece of music whose energy rises and subsides, like breathing or the tides. As it approaches its famous climax there's brass and spectacle and, famously, cannon fire. 

And right on cue, as the cannons boomed the fireworks filled the night sky shooting up from behind the Capitol dome. That dramatic experience of Tchaikovsky, symphony, fireworks and celebration has never been equalled in my life. Ever since that time, to fully appreciate a fireworks event I have to simply not compare. 

Actually, the boom, pop and sparkle of fireworks never ceases to invigorate, except when it's the neighbors and you have a dog that is terrified of the booms. Fortunately, it's only once a year, whereas the memory of that night at the Capitol is fresh every time I think of it.

Happy Fourth of July to you, wherever you might be. 

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Powerhouse Chicago Tribute Band DTA Puts On A Show at the West

In addition to being a wonderful venue for movies, the West Theater on Central Avenue has also become a very special musical venue. On Thursday evening we were treated to a fantastic concert by the DTA (Duluth Transit Authority) performing the music of Chicago. 

When I was a teen we lived next door to a musical family, the father a professional trumpet player. The eldest son was likewise an excellent trumpet player. Young trumpet players immediately key in on songs with brass. Kenny drew our attention to the trumpet part in the Beatles's Penny Lane. And he was a super big fan of the Chicago Transit Authority, whose hits included Saturday in the Park, 25 or 6 to 4 and many more. 

I can't say enough about
Marshall and Manny.
These kids have a future
if they play it right. 
The DTA proved that they were not only exceptionally talented, but also super tight. What impressed me was the range of ages, from 18 to 84 (just kidding, but somewhere in the late fifties or thereabouts). What also struck me was how the young people in this band were getting some truly great experience as regards how to work in a band, how to entertain a crowd and how a band leader keeps everyone in sync. 

When I spoke to Paul Lemenager, lead singer on many of the numbers, he said that was a deliberate part of their schtick. The experienced members are consciously mentoring the younger.

Here are the members of the band, stage left to right front (band POV):

Tanya Moore, vocalist, keys
Julia Collins, vocalist
Paul Lemenager,  vocalist
Greg Moore,  keys, alto sax
Joe Anderson,  bari sax, flute
Will Collins, trombone
Steve Siegel, trumpet
Jacob Burkhart, trumpet

Second row, left to right rear:
Ian Hopp, drums
Tommy Kishida, Conga
Manny Eisele

Marshall Dillon, guitar

The energy displayed was impressive. It bubbled out from within the performers and flowed over the audience. The song selection was perfect, too, as the opened with a Feeling Stronger Every Day that you couldn't help but smile to.

Paul, flanked by Tanya and Julia.
Other songs on the playlist included Saturday in the Park, Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?, We Can Make It Happen, Wishing You Were Here, You Are the Love of My Life (My Inspiration), Only the Beginning and many more. It was interesting that they incorporated Vehicle into the playlist, by the Ides of March. 

If you were a Chicago fan when you were young (that is, if you're old now) then you really appreciated their skill and versatility. And if Chicago was before your time, well, this was a truly great introduction to one of the classy bands of 50 years ago.

Kudos to the band, and to Bob Boone for his renovation of this classic venue.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Memory Lane: A Life Lesson from Chinese Handcuffs

Remember these? When I was a kid they were called Chinese Handcuffs. 
What I remember is that the harder you tried to pull your fingers out, 
the more they tightened their grip. Escape was easy if you knew how. 

How many of our own problems are like these simple finger traps?

While pondering this matter of "Chinese handcuffs" as a metaphor for many of life's problems, I decided to Google "Chinese handcuffs as metaphor" and discovered my idea was already incorporated into a therapeutic application. The first article I found is titled "What you can do when everything you try makes things worse."

The solution to many of our problems, according to this source, is ACT. That is, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Julian McNally writes: The Chinese Fingercuffs Metaphor is an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) intervention we use to help you approach that kind of problem in a way that can make a lasting difference – a transformation of the way you see the problem – not just a solution to it.

In 2013 the Portland Psychotherapy website published an article about these Chinese Finger Traps. Their article was titled "Chinese Finger Traps: What a Novelty Item Can Teach Us about Acceptance." As it turns out, this psychologist also practices and teaches Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. 

Near the conclusion he writes, When we accept, we let go of the struggle against what we’re feeling—in this very moment. In the next moment, we get a choice about what to do next. Acceptance frees us from the struggle with pain and allows for new possibilities. 

* * * 
For the record, there are other kinds of handcuffs that aren't so easy to escape from. You can see photos of some of these on my blog post  titled The Handcuff Kings.

Meantime life goes on... 

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Universities: Their Decline and Fall

This past week I read an article about the current state of England's universities. I'm sure that an American author could write a similar article on some of what has been happening in our own universities. The article was published in The Unherd, which I've been periodically reading for a year or so. What I like is their in-depth stories and non-aligned views. That is, they publish articles that would likely annoy "both sides of the aisle" so to speak. That is what I like about Reason magazine as well. 

The article that caught my attention was titled How universities were corrupted. The subhead is: Vindictive protectiveness has re-shaped our institutions

The essay by Matthew Goodwin begins like this:

When are we going to do something about the state of our universities? We must surely by now be familiar with the symbols of this unfolding crisis. Philosopher Kathleen Stock, who was harassed by students and staff to such an extent that she was forced to leave her position at the University of Sussex. Noah Carl, the promising research fellow, who was chased out of Cambridge. Tony Sewell, the government advisor who oversaw the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities before suddenly finding his offer of an honorary doctorate at the University of Nottingham withdrawn. Tim Luckhurst, the Principal at Durham who invited Rod Liddle to speak at a dinner and was then suspended after students demanded he be disciplined.

The big concern, and what seems to be at stake here as well, is the pressure being put on schools to move away "from their founding mission to search for truth through free inquiry."

Maybe it has always been this way to some extent. Bertrand Russell's lecture and booklet Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Thought did address this last matter a century ago, but I get the impression that it has been exacerbated in recent years for a variety of reasons. One of these is spelled out in Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt's The Coddling of the American Mind.

* * * 

In a related critique of today's universities, William Deresiewicz sounds a wake-up call to American universities and institutions in an opinion piece titled American education’s new dark age . The subhead tells the story: Colleges have abandoned real learning for wokeism.

Deresiewicz's piece begins with his sharing his own wake-up experience teaching at an elite college in Southern California. "I assumed that they’d arrive with a fairly good idea of how to make an argument with an academic context and that I would be teaching them how to apply those skills to a very different set of rhetorical occasions," he writes. But he was wrong.

They not only didn't know how to construct an argument, they really hadn't learned how to read, or write or think. A little further along he realizes what led to this situation.

To understand how this predicament came to pass, one needs to understand how students manage to get into places like Harvard or the Claremont colleges in the first place. It is not by learning how to read, write, or think. It is by jumping through the endless series of hoops that elite college admissions offices have developed over the decades to winnow down their skyscraper stacks of application folders.

Not only are grades important, but involvement in a dozen extracurricular activities is essential to creating a solid, well-rounded candidate for the Ivy Leagues and other elite schools. In order to also get the sleep one needs, students learn to excel at skimming.

The author states outright that this kind of lifestyle does not produce intellectual engagement. Curiosity and passion must be suppressed, he states. The expertise students master has more to do with how to beat the system rather than learning anything.

Oh yes, they can pass tests. That's the new form of education, teaching to the test.  Don't surprise them by forcing them to think. They don't have time for that.

He goes on...

If that’s the kind of education students have received by the time they get to college, do things get better once they arrive? Not usually. Old habits die hard. Elite students, already competing for the next prize, continue to conduct their lives at the same frenetic pace. At the large mass of institutions below the level of the elite, the problem is less apt to be misdirected zeal than sheer indifference. Courses are a bother; campus culture runs to sports and beer.

 * * * 

The appeal of Wokeism is that it offers relief from the unsustainable emptiness of post-modern cynicism. Wokeism gives people something that appears to me meaningful to believe in. 

You can read the full story here: American Education's New Dark Age.
Comments welcome.

EdNote: I'm interested in your take on these articles. Are they overly harsh and critical, or fairly astute? Please share in the comments.

Related Link

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Your Organizational Culture Matters More Than You Think

Over the course of my career I have been blessed with periods in which the work environment that I was in was uplifting and even motivational. Those seasons in which workers thrive and feel energized cab sometimes last years. I have also seen how workers can become demotivated and their joy be siphoned away. I've experienced it in both blue collar and white collar contexts and, sadly, when I hear people tell how much they love their work I inwardly think, "When you have that, cherish it. It doesn't always last."

Here's the beginning of a short guest blog I wrote for Audacity Human Resources. 

* * * * 

Your Organizational Culture Matters

The Gallup organization has been polling and writing about employee engagement for decades. One reason this is important is because employees who love their work and are fully invested are less likely to be seduced away by other opportunities. If that is not a compelling reason to think about your employees, then consider this. According to Gallup data, business units with engaged workers have 23% higher profit compared with business units with miserable workers.

At a time when businesses are scrambling for workers, you don’t want to be vulnerable to losing more members of your team, especially the key ones making a contribution.


Monday, June 27, 2022

Love and Adventure Meet In Newlyweds Afloat. A Fun, Insightful Read from the Editor of Business North

For the past four years I've been writing a marketing column for Business North, a regional business publication here in the Northland. I've also tackled some journalism, which had me working more closely with the publication's editor Felicia Schneiderhan. When I learned that she'd written a book called Newlyweds Afloat, I immediately checked out a copy from our library, and guess what? It's a really good read. 

The full title of the book is Newlyweds Afloat: Married Bliss and Mechanical Breakdowns While Living Aboard a Trawler. The word Newlyweds in the title should tell you it's a story with romance in it. Afloat can imply a couple of things. First, "barely keeping your head above the water," as in the way I did the dog paddle across the pool when I was eight in order to earn the right to jump off the diving boards. Second, as in living on the water in a boat as opposed to the solid foundations of dry land.

The next statement is one I've made so often that it's almost cliche. If most readers are like me, they enjoy reading well-written stories about people whose lives or experiences are totally foreign to one's own. It's that Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous effect. It's why we enjoy reading memoirs by people whose life experiences are foreign to our own.*

One feature that makes Schneiderhan's book work is her extreme candor, which begins on page one. Another aspect of the book that makes it an enjoyable read is the vivid imagery and splashes of original (i.e. non-cliche) ways in which she presents ideas or describes things. For example, here's a description of heading out onto Lake Michigan away from the city: "Watching the downtown skyscrapers shrink to chess pieces..."

There are little gems like this throughout the book that I would have highlighted if it weren't something borrowed from our library. (Book ownership is nice because you can write in the margins and highlight passages ad infinitum. I read that John Adams filled the margins of his books with notes and scribbles. One book he owned had five thousand words of notes!)

The promo copy on Amazon describes it like this: A young woman meets an amazing guy, falls in love, and they move in together. Straightforward enough, right? Except he lives on a boat—a thirty-eight-foot trawler, docked in Chicago. Their relationship is intensified by living in a tiny space, and by the never-ending quirks of the boat, who becomes a third party in the marriage. There are electrical failures, pump failures, big waves, and freezing winters . . . not to mention the attack goose. Felicia Schneiderhan has a fine literary sensibility and manages to be both funny and deeply serious in writing about boats and love and relationships.

I admire her bold candor about many facets of the story. It brings this book into a serious level and not just a melodramatic romance account. Her honesty about alcoholism, her Catholic background and the challenges of living in small spaces gives it a realism readers can relate to.

If you live in Duluth, you can borrow the book from the Duluth Public Library, which likes to support our local writers by carrying their books on their shelves. (A couple of mine can be found there, fwiw.)

If you don't live in our neighborhood, Schneiderhan's book can be found here on Amazon.

I'll close here with a couple of good quotes. The first is from Annie Dillard. The second is from Guy de Maupassant, which Schneiderhan uses to open her story.

"The writer of any first person work must decide two obvious questions: what to put in and what to leave out." -- Annie Dillard.

"My curiosity had been aroused, that curiosity peculiar to all who travell over the water, which makes you want to see everything, watch everything closely, which makes you passionately interested in the slightest things." -- Guy de Maupassant

* * * * *

* For example, Nevada Bob Gordon's 50 Years with the Wrong Woman

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Unusual Items You Might Find at the Vintage Hideaway Marketplace

I don't recall the full backstory, but a group of entrepreneurs in the Duluth area and outskirts have created a fascinating little getaway destination for people who like souvenirs from the past and tasty items from the present. The building is located just off the Midway Road just south of where it cross the Hermantown Road. (Actual address: 3850 Old Midway Road, Hermantown) I believe it's only open Thursday thru Saturday. One reviewer wrote, "Love this place! It's like going to a junk hunt every day of the year! Products change often and they have such a wide variety of stuff! They are always so welcoming and friendly here as well! My new favorite store!!"

Yes, they are friendly folk, the Minnesota Nice variety. Here are photos from my hour of exploration during the early afternoon yesterday.

My grandfather had a pipe rack like this.

Every home needs one of these.
When I asked what that was I was told it's a mantrap.

If you're not in our neighborhood here but happen to be just west of Nashville, 
here's another Hideaway you would very much likely enjoy:

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