Archive - 2013

July 19th


Vladimir Horowitz, here in his 80s, demonstrates an impossible command over his instrument of choice, the piano. The impish ending to this piece infuriated his fellow concert pianists. The ever-childish Horowitz was shoving his prowess in their face: Nah, nah, nah, I can do this and you can't!

And he was right. 

UPDATE: Here's an even better version, and quite different. With romantics like Horowitz, every performance had to be unique. 

July 17th

Over the hump

Ah, the annual rhythms. After the county fair winds down, summer starts its languid, downhill swing. The air is heavy with smell of crops. Mosquitoes by the million roar as the sun goes down. The days aren't aren't in a hurry to get shorter. That doesn't happen until after September 21, when the bottom falls out of the summer and the sun bolts south. 

The gardens at the nursery really look good. They were planted later than ever, but they are turning into something to see sooner than ever, or so it seems. Not sure why. Hot weather is a good thing, and Dad is out there with the sprinklers all day, every day. 

A local farmer said it took a mere six days for the corn to go from knee-high to over our heads. That is multiple inches per day. If you listened, you probably could hear the corn grow.

There simply aren't many small grain fields this year, and unlike many years, I don't see the small grains turning tan quite yet. I drove around today and everything was green. Almost every field is planted in corn or soybeans. I don't quite understand it. Corn prices are going down due to the massive acerage devoted to the crop, yet few farmers tried to pull a fast one and plant what nobody else was planting. I am not sure how that process works, but I would think it would pay to be where everybody else is not. 

With corn prices down, making ethanol is once more profitable. Some ethanol plants which were mothballed are now back in action. 

This is the time of year we long for all winter. At least I do. I am determined to relish it. 



July 15th

French toccatas

I sometimes get so caught up in a piece of music that I listen to is several times per day for weeks. My most recent obsession is a toccata by the French composer Maurice Durufle. I have a Virgil Fox recording to play in the car but really prefer it played here on Youtube by a young, new organist named Nathan Laube. 

The strange thing about this recording is that it is not made in a cathedral, as it seems. Instead, it is an organ that has been outfitted with the sounds of a great French pipe organ and is here a living room. Note the feet of the people on the right.

And yet the sound is mighty. 

This piece ("songs" are ditties people sing, works like this are "pieces") is angry, cacophonous and emphatic. I could listen to it all day for its sheer raw power. 

The sounds here are stolen from one of the Cavaille-Coll organs in France. Cavaille-Coll organs were so excellent, so revolutionary, that they actually shaped organ composition rather than the other way around. The above tocatta would not have been composed if the Cavaille-Coll instruments had not been built, just as Chopin's works would not have been written if he hadn't the luxury of the modern piano (a luxury not afforded Beethoven, Bach, and even Mozart).

Here, perhaps for the second time on this blog, is a more popular piece, also a French tocatta, this one by Charles Marie Vidor. It, too, was written in response to the instrument Cavaille-Coll made available to the composer, a master work that produces a growling sound which, unless called into being by Mr. Cavaille-Coll, would never have entered the human experience.

I hope the organ manual (keyboard) on this organ has electronic assist to help pull the key down. Otherwise, the sheer strength it would take to open up to twenty or more pipes with each finger stroke would prevent most people from ever hoping to play this piece at full volume. There is an organ in St. Paul, MN which sounds great, but which has no electronic assist in a stupid attempt to keep it historically authentic. The organist is a slight female of great accomplishment, but she lacks the bulk to play the Vidor tocatta with all the stops pulled without lifting herself off the bench. 

OR, if you want to indulge in even more emphatic, angry modernity than the Durufle toccata, here is Messaien's legendary Dieu Parme Nous played on the same organ. I can't resist posting this piece again in case it snags just one person. Modern classical music can be eye- and ear-opening. But you've got to be patient with it. 

Free Stage

free stage.jpg 

Here is a picture of our family doing the final number, joined by Mom, in our performance at the free stage at the fair last night. We were singing "In the Sweet By and By." 

Photo by a friend and gentleman in the front row, Jamie Armstrong of Maple Lake during the summers, Kentucky the rest of the time. 


July 11th

Polk County Fair

It is sort of like a car accident: You can't help but to be drawn in by the spectacle and then go gawk. And the great food at the Concordia Church food stand is a draw. So I went in last night to the fair for a plate of meatballs and gravy. And custard pie! It took me over an hour. Visit, visit, visit. 

Yesterday afternoon, I stopped to visit Aunt Olla at the Hilton. She was in good spirits and good form. I should really come prepared with questions, as new questions can beget new stories. This time, only due to a request from Aunt Beth, I asked Olla if she remembered how my grandfather learned to play piano. Olla pondered, her wheels turning, and remembered that her father had hired a traveling piano teacher to instruct their eldest sister Gertrude back in about 1915. They had a pump organ. But after their father died, there was no money for such luxuries as lessons, so Gertrude passed on what she knew to Grandpa and Olla. 

As he raised a family, Grandpa bought a piano. He apparently loved to play hymns late in the evenings after the kids had gone upstairs to bed. My memory of his playing style was that it was utterly minimal, and that the rhythm heaved, rested, then heaved again. Sort of like a pump organ. Heave and rest. 

Olla then went of on another story about how her eldest brother Roy promised Olla and her sister Millie that if they cleaned the cream separator, he would take them to the movie Ben Hur at the theater in Ulen. This was after their father died. Roy, at age 15, was the man of the house and was looking for ways to motivate the troops. Well, Olla and Millie got so excited about going to the movie that they forgot all about the cream separator and started to play the pump organ. One would play while the other danced. 

Roy was none to happy, but took them to Ulen anyway. 

Aunt Olla keeps battling nightly strokes. "I suppose I'll just linger," she said forlornly, as if she's in some sort of vegetative state, which she most certainly is not. I gave her no sympathy. 

As I left, the nurse told me that the doctor had visited Olla yesterday morning. Nothing was said about the strokes. The only complaint Olla had was she needed a perm. She wondered if he could prescribe a perm. He said he would do what he could. 

July 9th

Midsummer night

It is perverse to stay up late in the summer and then sleep in until 8 a.m., thus missing out on two hours of sunshine and quiet, but that is what I do. I love the long summer evenings, and I love the quiet after dark. But then I have to sleep through some sunshine to get my eight hours. 

And even so, an hour-long siesta in the afternoon happens more afternoons than not. 

Today I luxuriated in mowing with the zero-turning-radius mower. Dad repaired it this morning after a bent blade made a track in the lawn about a foot wide. There is nothing I enjoy like mowing. It is an atavistic pleasure. I did a lot of the mowing around the nursery for many years in elementary school, at least if my memory serves. Mowing is really a complete waste of time and fuel, but it is a morale booster. Therefore, we do it. Immoderately. 

At least we aren't conquering acres of ditch with the mower. In fact, the sweet clover, which grows opportunistically on ground that has been recently disturbed, dominates right up to the drive. 

Now there are laws governing if and when people can mow the road ditches. The idea is to protect the birds which nest in the road ditches. So, some road ditches you can't mow until July 1, others until August 1, and so on. I guess that makes sense. Back when tax dollars were easier to come by, keeping the road ditches neatly mowed was a matter pride. No more. Now, it is purely practicality.

Why do we mow road ditches? 

1) I suspect it is good to mow the ditches before noxious weeds, such as thistle, produce viable seed that can float for miles. 

2) Mowing the ditches late will prevent the growth from causing snowdrifts across the road all winter, which will have a deleterious effect on the snow-plowing budget. Spend money now, save it later. 

However, the growth is so tick (Norwegian for "thick") that deer can jump right out of it onto the road leaving you almost no time to react. 

As always, it is best to take it slow. 


July 7th

Time to pull the plug

Or stir the pot. Pick your metaphor.

The Twins are going nowhere fast. Time to make changes, namely: 

•Fire manager Ron Gardenhire and hire Ozzie Guillen. The players don't fear Gardenhire and right now, with these young players, fear might be a useful motivator. Guillen is a wild card, but he wouldn't treat the players with such ridiculous gentleness and he would put fans in the seats with his effervescent personality. Fans in the seats means excitement. For a young team, sometimes excitement means wins. 

•Trade Justin Morneau for one lower minor league strong pitching arm.

•Trade Josh Willingham (once he gets healthy) to anybody for anything (or nothing) if another team is willing to take his salary. 

•Bring up Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano and let the two phenomenal near-teenagers learn on the job. Both have so very much raw talent that the mystery of what they might do on any give night would add excitement. 

•Trade Plouffe for one lower level minor league starting pitcher with great potential. 

•Examine why so many batters (David Ortiz, J. J. Hardy, Carlos Gomez) burst into prominence only after they leave the Twins, and why all three loathed what the Twins coaching staff tried to make them do with the bat. 

•Do not trade anybody in the bullpen. You always need a bullpen. And the Twins have a good one. It is starting pitching they utterly lack.

•Do not spend money on a free agent starting pitcher. Very, very few work out. For every Jack Morris, there are ten Sidney Ponsons. Or Ramon Ortiz'. Or Livan Hernandez'. Or Shane Rawleys. 

•As much fun as he is to watch, Samuel Deduno will never be on a winning team, for a winning team can't afford his inconsistency. 

•Keep Florimon and Dozier together in the middle infield with the understanding that they must get their collective batting average up from .225 to .260 by next year at this time or the experiment is over. 

•Hope that the new manager doesn't waste the #2 spot in the batting order with mediocrity every night just because the guy happens to play second base. You do not have to bat your second baseman second. There is no rule that says that. 

•I am not a big believer in stable, long-term managers. A stable organization is one thing. However, a manager is a moving part. Bringing in a fresh approach allows a team to benefit from both approaches, that of the sacked skipper and that of the new skipper. Gardenhire got results when he was new. So did Kelly. Then both they and the organization went into a long, slow stupor of Stahoviaks and Parmelees and Plouffes.

Baseball is alchemy. The most surprising set of ballplayers can go on a tear and win a division, sometimes a World Series. But to achieve that alchemy, you have to keep stirring the pot until it gels, to mix at least two metaphors. 


Sunday Sermon

 Take 15 minutes for this lovely homily on faith. I am particularly struck by the point that utter conviction is utterly faithless

July 4th

July 4

No fireworks here. Too many mosquitoes!

What a beautiful, quiet day on the farm. The nursery was tranquil. The flower beds are getting beautiful. This is why we live here, for these next dozen weeks. The sun will be up plenty long, even though the days are getting shorter. All the noise of spring has calmed down. There is lots to do and time to do it. 

Now that our road is tarred again after two miserable years of gravel, I love to ride bike on the tar and just cruise around slowly, watching the birds, the wildlife, and hearing the crickets and frogs. It is a lovely time of year, this short time before wheat harvest begins. 

A few nights ago, a fawn left its mother's side and charged me as I sat stopped on my bike. It went right under the right handlebar and stopped four feet later, before trotting off, its mission apparently accomplished.

The corn is waist high by the Fourth of July. For some reason, the field corn is vigorousand dark green, but many people are complaining, including Dad, that the sweet corn is wimpy and slow. 

The Garden Hills berry farm just down the highway is selling strawberries like mad. They are luscious. 

And the grass needs mowing twice per week, which is about right. I have been doing a little mowing, which has always been a favorite chore. Dad still has a monopoly on the cultivating, however, which is just fine. 



July 3rd

How Doctors Die

A pet issue of mine: end of life medicine. Please read this article. I have known several people who have opted out of treatments they knew would make them miserable and simply used their final days to the best of their ability. I admire their decision. This desperate need to stay alive at all costs shows a complete lack of faith, and I don't mean religious faith necessarily, but mere faith that death is natural and it will be okay.