Haunting Haiku

A werewolf is like
a weretiger or werebear,
except it's a wolf.

Shaking chandeliers,
rattling windows, slamming doors:
ghosts lead a dull life.

Slinky succubus
sucking my body of brio:
what a way to go.

Alton Thompson
© 2009

Image: Psychology Today, 2008.09.08



Hockey Haiku

The visitors score
five goals in seven minutes:
the home fans throw beer.

aside, hockey and haiku
make an awkward match.

Zamboni on fire
melts ice in the arena:
now I see the floor.

Alton Thompson
© 2009

Photo: Kevin C Cox / Getty Images, 2008 / ESPN


Conductor's Notebook


Lee Shu-Te Birthday 80

The Department of Music at the National Taiwan Normal University celebrates the eightieth birthday of violin professor Lee Shu-Te this Friday with a special concert. The first half features the NTNU Symphony Orchestra led my music director Apo Ching-Hsin Hsu. The second half features chamber music performed by NTNU faculty artists.

Lee Shu-Te Eightieth Birthday Concert
2009 October 21 Friday 18:00
Admission free to the public.

這項活動計劃於 2009年10月23日 18:00
在師大大禮堂. 進行.

Many professional string players from Taiwan have had Professor Lee as a mentor. Today her students may be found in concert halls throughout the world, bringing music to new generations.

More information appears on this concert's Facebook events page.


Conductor's Notebook


On the Trail of Missing Music

We often wonder why things are as they are. It is rarer, yet often more helpful, to consider what we're missing and ask 'Why not?' Tim Smith, music writer for the Baltimore Sun, is doing the latter. In the process he is doing music lovers a service.

Smith, in his Sun blog Clef Notes, has embarked on a series of articles about music we've been missing. Each post focuses on a body of work that has been unjustly neglected in the concert hall. Each features a casual introduction to the music and provides links to media and more information.

The art music scene in the Baltimore-Washington region of the USA provides the locale for Smith's discussion. Since the 1980s this region has emerged as one of the most intrepid in the country for new and rare music. Even so, says Smith, the occasional odd gap occurs. Many compelling works await a hearing. Why not hear them?

Smith launched the series with a discussion of the music of Gerald Finzi on 2009 July 14. This week's feature, coinciding with the 135th anniversary today of the birth of Charles Ives, represents the twelfth in the survey. Links to his posts are provided here. I plan to update this list as the series continues.

Music we've been missing

14. Florent Schmitt

13. Alexander Borodin

12. Charles Ives

11. Franz Schmidt

10. Jean Sibelius

09. Alexander Scriabin

08. Olivier Messiaen

07. Edward Elgar

06. Heiner Goebbels

05. Second Viennese School

04. Howard Hanson

03. The Latin Connection

02. French Fare

01. Gerald Finzi


Conductor's Notebook

Charles Ives

Today marks the 135th birthday of composer Charles Ives (1874-1954).

Ives did not shy from clangs and bangs but he was a romantic at heart. That's what makes his music so American. As Walt Whitman was for poetry, Ives was for music.

Biographer Jan Swafford describes the composer's philosophy:

For Ives, music is not mere sound but the underlying spirit, human and divine, which the sounds express even in the inexpert playing and singing of amateurs. Thus the paradox of Ives's music, echoing his paradoxical person: he could be realistic, comic, transcendent, simple, complex, American, and European, all at the same time. If some of his music seems crowded nearly to bursting, it is a vibrant and entirely realistic portrayal of his conception of life, his sense of democracy in action, and of his own all-embracing consciousness. As Ives once said, 'Music is life.'

The Music Encyclopedia puts the matter succinctly: 'The only consistent characteristic of this music is liberation from rule.'

Everyone has been to a parade and heard a marching band pass, playing a quickstep march in E-flat, while another band a block away is striking up a circus march in F and 'Turkey in the Straw' jingles from an ice cream truck around the corner, all as crowds cheer and children shout and fireworks pop. We've all been there.

Ives's idea of giving us that scene in music wasn't to sand corners and varnish everything to a gloss. He sought to render it more as life hands it to us in the wild. He invites us to notice how very much is going on all around us, to take it all in as best we may and come to a deeper appreciation.

He heard America singing. He helped it find its voice.

Charles Ives Society

Jan Swafford: 'Charles Ives: A Life with Music' (Ives Society)

Charles Ives (Answers.com)

Ives biography (Schirmer)

Ives recordings (Schirmer)


Conductor's Notebook


The Great Firewall: Thicker Than Ever

Lost Lowai reports that, the wishful thinking of Olympic officials notwithstanding, The Great Firewall of China has been made thicker and longer than ever in the months since the Beijing games. Steven, a regular Lowai contributor, reports that these social networking sites are among the many sites now blocked in China:

Bit.ly (URL shortening service)
Blog.com blogs
Blogger blogs
Google Documents (in and out)
Google: image search results (frequent re-set connections)
Google: Picasa albums (log-in appears but images blocked)
Opera blogs
Post.ly (URL shortening service)
Twitter and related tools
- Dabr.co.uk
- iTweet.net
- Twitzap
- Dabr.co.uk
- TwitterGadget (iGoogle)
Typepad blogs
Wordpress free blogs
Yahoo Meme

In-and-out censorship of photo sites like Flickr continues, of course, as does the blocking of BBC news stories, rights sites (Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International, Human Rights in China, Free Tibet), and sites with the .tw national extension.

A writer in China recently remarked that the country no longer has the Internet; it has LAN. 'An apt description,' says Steven, 'of how insular and freaky it’s getting.'


Conductor's Notebook


Career Anxiety

Open societies say anyone can achieve any goal. This credo implies a corresponding negative: anyone at the bottom of society deserves to be there.

Alain de Botton notes the profound shift that has occurred when cultures that once spoke of 'unfortunates' now speak of 'losers.' In a talk recorded on video, he proposes a kinder, gentler philosophy of success that makes room for the complex universe all of us actually navigate.

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favour to the skilful; but time and chance happen to them all.

(Ecclesiastes 9.11 NRSV)

De Botton is the author of How Proust Can Change Your Life, Status Anxiety, The Consolations of Philosophy, The Art of Travel and The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. Last year he helped launch the School of Life in London.


Conductor's Notebook

Prince of Tears

Prince of Tears, a film set in 1950s Taiwan, draws on the experiences of two natives of Taiwan who have since made their careers in Hong Kong. Joyce Hor-Chung Lau saw the film in Venice last month and offers a detailed review this week in the New York Times.

Prince of Tears the film 'by Hong Kong-based director Yonfan (who goes by one name)... is the first major movie in 20 years to explore the “White Terror” that followed Taiwan’s separation from China in 1949. In Taiwan, the ruling Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, staged anti-Communist witch hunts that killed thousands. The gorgeously crafted film, set in the 1950s, refers only obliquely to larger politics. Instead, it focuses on daily life in a remote Taiwanese village where anyone—a schoolteacher, a housewife, a soldier—could commit a political faux pas and be sent to the execution squad.

The project originated with the real-life story of the actress Chiao Chiao, a longtime friend and collaborator of Yonfan, whom she met in Hong Kong when she was a starlet there from the ’60s to the ’80s. The actress, who uses only her surname, grew up in Taiwan, but hid her childhood memories of the White Terror for years until she found a confidant in Yonfan, who also grew up in Taiwan in the 1950s. Several years ago, they decided to make a film based on her memories.

The story is drawn from tragic real-life events which, characteristically of this period in Taiwan, were kept secret for many years.

“I never spoke of my past until I found someone I trusted,” Chiao Chiao said of Yonfan. “I was so young when it happened and children back then were not allowed to ask questions.”

The film opens with a scene of a perfect-looking family in Taiwan: a handsome air force pilot, his pretty, doting wife and their two girls.

But, after Kafkaesque political complications, the parents are dragged off and the father is killed in a field. As the executioners fire their shots, his daughters hide in the tall grass in a desperate attempt to get one last glimpse of him.

. . . .

The younger sister — the character representing Chiao Chiao — is sent to live with an eerie and physically scarred government agent nicknamed Uncle Ding, whom she suspects is the informer who turned in her father. In a strange turn of events, her mother is released from a prison camp and—under pressure to resume a normal family life and support her girls—gives into advances by Uncle Ding, whom she marries.

The full review may be read at the New York Times site.

This year has seen the release of two films about the White Terror period, Yonfan's drama Prince of Tears and Adam Kane's thriller Formosa Betrayed. Both coincide with the 20th anniversary of Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s City of Sadness, the highly acclaimed film that first picked up the subject of Taiwan’s White Terror only two years after martial law was lifted.


Conductor's Notebook


Two Great Symphonies

Taipei Chamber Players
Chia-Hsuan Lin, conductor

2009 October 11 Sunday 19:30

NTNU Concert Hall
National Taiwan Normal University
162, Section 1 Heping East Road
Taipei, Taiwan

Conductor Chia-Hsuan Lin and the Taipei Chamber Players, an ensemble of elite musicians from the National Taiwan University, will present a program this weekend of two iconic works:

Mozart: Symphony 40 in G minor, K 550
Beethoven: Symphony 5 in C minor, opus 67

Admission is free to the public.


Conductor's Notebook