Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thursday Close-ups

Wandering down around the duck ponds (which I've learned is officially called the Dykeman Wetlands Park), I got these shots.

© 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Distinctive American Voice - In Music

Last week while working on my tribute to Clarence Clemons I got to thinking about Bruce Springsteen's music and how uniquely American it is. And that got me to thinking about a unique "American voice" in the arts in general - iconoclastic, individualistic, pulling influences from everywhere and synthesizing them into a new, unique entity. So I figured I'd do a series of posts on the "American voice" in the arts, starting with this one on music and going on to literature and the graphic arts.

And of course I start with Bruce Springsteen. I identify with him the most because he's of my generation, the tail end of the Baby Boom, growing up hearing a melange of music on the radio - old Rock & Roll, R&B, Blues, the Folk revival (and in Bruce's case, especially Bob Dylan)... All of these elements are evident in Springsteen's music. You can hear the edgier rock of Jerry Lee Lewis and the Big Bopper, the early R&B of Aretha and Sam Cooke and James Brown, and the lyricism of Bob Dylan in his music. He was part of what I've always called the Second Wave of rock, growing up listening to the first wave and after gestating while the glory days of the '60s degenerated into the Disco era, erupting in the latter half of the '70s with a new, leaner and meaner version of rock firmly rooted in the first wave but influenced by other voices.

The other thing so American about Springsteen's music is his appeal to the blue-collar middle class; Bruce's music is all about the workers, their struggles, their concerns, and their activities. Springsteen is the working man's troubadour, much more so than Dylan. In many ways a lot of Springsteen's music is like Steinbeck set to a tune and backed by a band. The perfect example of that part of his repertoire is his song "Youngstown":

But the working class concerns also show up in his good-time, all out rockers as well, the perfect example of that being his biggest hit, "Born to Run"; it's all about kids living on the wrong side of the tracks looking for a way out and into a better life - pure Steinbeck as arena rock, with a strong element of R&B from Clarence Clemons. This is Springsteen at his best!

But Rock & Roll isn't the only form of music that fosters a unique American voice. So-called "classical" music (more accurately called art or concert music; "classical" is an era within that category, from back in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and best exemplified by the Hayden family and Mozart, and early Beethoven) has fostered more than a few - Edward MacDowell, Amy Beach, William Grant Still, Charles Ives, Howard Hanson, Leonard Bernstein... But for me the ultimate "American" composer was Aaron Copland. His subject matter was most often the American heartland and its history and utilized American folk music elements as well as iconoclastic, individual twists on classic European compositional rules. You can listen to his "Appalachian Spring" in the sidebar of this blog. For this post I decided to include his "Fanfare for the Common Man" (a link with Springsteen and other American artists - an emphasis on the "common man", an American philosophical emphasis since the days of the Revolution):

Of course, the ultimate "American" music, considered by all the world as America's major contribution to the world's artistic culture, is Jazz; it's a unique synthesis of African, European, and American folk traditions. There are innumerable musicians in this category, but for me the Jazz ambassador to the world will always be Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington; his combination of "jungle" beat, compositional complexity, fluid melodic lines, and suave, urbane, almost European cosmopolitan sensitivity is so uniquely his that his music even transcends the "American" categorization, except for the fact that it's so American in it's blend of influences. There's a lot of Ellington music I could post here - "Take the A Train", "Things Ain't What They Used to Be", "Sophisticated Lady", "Prelude to a Kiss", etc. - but I chose this piece, "The Degas Suite", because it's so characteristic of Ellington's work: a soundtrack written in 1968 for a documentary about an exhibition of racing paintings by Impressionist painter Edgar Degas, it exemplifies all of Ellington's most characteristic compositional traits. In effect, it's all of Ellington's best music in 27 minutes. It's a bit long, but worth sticking around for. Enjoy!

Photo: View from the Oak Ridge observation tower, Gettysburg PA

Photo & text © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, June 23, 2011

On the Way Home, Again

I cut through the duck ponds and the Dykeman Walking Trail again on the way home from work this afternoon.

Mama and babies cooling off on a hot afternoon.

A Little Wood Satyr butterfly.

The Day Lilies are up. Profusely!

Daisy Fleabane

Deptford Pink, with a wee visitor.

And up on Possum Hollow Rd. near home, Baby was up and posing by the nest; I suspect he/she will fledge (learn to fly) before the weekend is over.

© 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, June 20, 2011

Farewell to the "Big Man"

Clarence Clemons, The Big Man, along with Bruce Springsteen himself the heart and soul of Springsteen's sound. He's gone, passed away Saturday, June 18, from complications from a stroke he suffered on June 12. He was 69, and that's just too damned young!

The Boss and The Big Man were musical soul mates; they both believed that and said so publicly. Of their original meeting Clarence said this:
One night we were playing in Asbury Park. I'd heard The Bruce Springsteen Band was nearby at a club called The Student Prince and on a break between sets I walked over there. On-stage, Bruce used to tell different versions of this story but I'm a Baptist, remember, so this is the truth. A rainy, windy night it was, and when I opened the door the whole thing flew off its hinges and blew away down the street. The band were on-stage, but staring at me framed in the doorway. And maybe that did make Bruce a little nervous because I just said, "I want to play with your band," and he said, "Sure, you do anything you want." The first song we did was an early version of "Spirit In The Night". Bruce and I looked at each other and didn't say anything, we just knew. We knew we were the missing links in each other's lives. He was what I'd been searching for. In one way he was just a scrawny little kid. But he was a visionary. He wanted to follow his dream. So from then on I was part of history.
And Springsteen said this in a public press release on Clarence's death:
Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.
The music will never be the same, so much so that many are wondering now if the E Street Band will go on, or if Springsteen will go back to playing solo. Certainly there will never again be any moments like this:

Nor will there be any more experiences like this:

Rest in peace, Big Man. That proverbial band in heaven just got a helluva lot better!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

National Soldiers' Cemetery, Gettysburg PA

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
– Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863

Rhode Island section

Minnesota section

World War II soldiers section

Until last October I lived in Newport, RI, an area that in many ways was the center of the colonial era of American history; Newport was settled in 1639, and historical monuments, cemeteries and gravestones, and even some houses went all the way back to that time. Then, due to adverse economic circumstances, I had to leave Newport and come here to live with family in Shippensburg, PA.

And entered another era of American history, because this area of Pennsylvania is very much the center of Civil War history. Chambersburg, just south of here and the town in which my mother lives, was burned by Confederate forces; Shippensburg was occupied by those same forces. And they were on there way to face off with Union forces in a bid to force an end to the war. The forces met in Gettysburg, just over South Mountain to the east of here. The battle at Gettysburg was the turning point of the Civil War, starting the decline of the Confederacy.

These days Gettysburg is a national military park, dedicated to the brave souls who fought there and to the memory of what was arguably the most important battle fought on American soil. It was bloody, it was horrible, and it decided the fate of the nation in three days in July of 1863. My mother and I went over there yesterday on a road trip. At 81 she's not as spry as she used to be and we didn't stay as long as I would have liked, but we did manage to spend some time at the National Soldiers' Cemetery, where most of the dead from the battle, both known and unknown, are buried and where President Abraham Lincoln gave his most famous oration, quoted in full at the beginning of this photo essay.

[Note: For those interested in this kind of thing, I processed the photos in Photoshop™ using the Exposure 2™ plug-in to emulate sepia-ed daguerreotypes, in keeping with the period of the battle.]

Finally, I couldn't resist including this fantastic video of Jeff Daniels reciting the Gettysburg address, with fitting music and period photos. Enjoy!

Photos & text (except for Lincoln's words) © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Odds 'n' Ends

Shots taken walking to and from work today.

Middle Spring Creek at McLean House on King St., the Summer version.

Baby's got feathers! The Redtail little'un has graduated from fuzz to feathers and may be fledging sometime soon.

© 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, June 09, 2011

The World Is Sacred - One Pagan's Values

This essay is part of the 3rd Annual International Pagan Values Blogging and Podcasting Month, which you can learn about here and here.

The world is sacred.
It can't be improved.
If you tamper with it, you'll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you'll lose it.
–Tao Te Ching, Chapter 29 (Stephen Mitchell translation)

I'm not your typical modern Pagan: I don't worship gods and goddesses and I don't cast spells. Nonetheless, I practice a human-centered, Earth-based spirituality, and the basis for that spirituality is the belief that all Creation is sacred. From a value standpoint, this means that if you consider everything and everyone sacred then you treat all with honor and respect.

Native American peoples certainly understood this concept:
Honor the sacred.
Honor the Earth, our Mother.
Honor the Elders.
Honor all with whom we share the Earth:-
Four-leggeds, two-leggeds, winged ones,
Swimmers, crawlers, plant and rock people.
Walk in balance and beauty.
– Unidentified Native American elder

Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.
– Chief Seattle, 1854
All value, all "morality", stems from one's attitude toward the environment in which one lives. If, as in the Abrahamic religions, you believe that humankind was created to dominate the world it lived in, and that that environment was only temporary and often deceptive, then you will treat Creation as the object of your exploitation, and even treat your fellow humans as objects to be dominated and controlled. Old Lao Tzu certainly pegged that one, as noted in the quote above: "If you treat it like an object, you'll lose it." As you can see, we're most definitely in danger of losing the world through our objectification and exploitation of it.

But if you believe, as the Native Americans did, that all Creation is woven together in an infinite, interconnected web of sacredness, then you can't help but treat the Earth and your fellow creatures with honor and respect. From that perspective the Golden Rule - “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them..." (Matthew 7:12) - takes on a whole new meaning.

A human-centered, Earth-based spirituality by its very nature engenders a value system based on respect, honor, kindness, and toleration. When all is one, then there is no "other" to fear, and harm to one is harm to all. I believe this and I strive to achieve it. These are my "Pagan values".

I'll leave you with this video I put together several years ago to illustrate the Tao Te Ching quote with which I began this essay. The music is "Moon Flower" by Peter Kater and R. Carlos Nakai from their "Improvisations in Concert" CD. Enjoy!

© 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, June 06, 2011

Glimpses of the Daily Walk

Walking home from work today I stopped by the Duck Ponds park again.

It was a little surprising to see this young Raccoon out in the daylight; they're nocturnal creatures, and seeing them out and about in the daytime is usually a sign of illness, often rabies (of which disease Raccoons are major carriers). So I kept my distance.

Not the Duck Ponds, but Timber Hill along Possum Hollow Road, where I live. This is what I call "the home stretch" on my walk home. And as you can see, the corn is planted and growing.

© 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Walking Home

On the way home from work today I cut through the Dykeman Walking Trail and the Duck Ponds park. You've seen most of these scenes before in other seasons; here they are in almost-Summer.

© 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Stump Study

It was a gorgeous day here at last; the air was cooler and drier with a nice breeze, and it was one of my days off this week. I went out with the camera but got just one shot; I was too busy enjoying the day after a stretch of brutally hot and humid days. But I managed to get some shots of this stump in the back yard, and I processed the best one several ways to show off various qualities of the wood.

© 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger