Sunday, June 30, 2013

Old age and Tom Hussey

On the Sunday TV programme tonight they discussed dementia and Alzheimers, and some innovative approaches to dealing with the issue.  In one sequence they showed how the music from a man's early years had a profound effect on him in his state of dementia.  He became articulate and animated, whereas normally he was virtually dumb and sat in one position most of the time.  Another woman with some form of dementia who had been a concert pianist could still play without difficulty the pieces she'd learned years ago.  Music is a powerful force in the human mind. 

I've known for years how much easier it is to remember text that I've set to music.  The musical line somehow gives the words a structure that they adhere to more readily than if they're left just sitting with mnemonics to link them. 

But I wasn't going to talk about music, particularly.  In the programme they included several pictures by a photographer called Tom Hussey.  The pictures each had an old person in front of a mirror, and in the mirror was a version of themselves as a young person.  Sometimes another figure was included in the main scene.  These are wonderfully evocative photos, and the announcer mentioned the photographer's name and said his site was worth visiting.  It surely is.  There are portraits, photos of kids, action photos, groups, and photos taken to show a more creative element.  Much of the photography has what you might call a 'commercial' edge, in the sense of them looking like photos that could easily appear in a high class magazine as part of the advertising.  So it's no surprise to read in his biography that that's his main line of business. But plainly he takes photo for the pleasure of it as well.  There are also several short films, some of them made for ads, and some like mini-documentaries.

Check out the site and enjoy!

Thursday, June 27, 2013


Thank you, Signor Verdi, for writing the world’s most operatic Requiem.  Thank you for the wondrous moments when tears come to the eyes at the sheer beauty of what you wrote, or when the heart surges at those fearsome fortissimos where all four soloists are singing their lungs out and the chorus is blasting us with primitive passion and the orchestra is doing huge runs and enormous crashes.  Or when everything suddenly hushes and a breeze passes by, or a bird, and the mezzo or the soprano appears from nowhere with another of your endless series of melodies. What a gift this piece of music is. (And how marvellously strange is the sound of the soprano and mezzo singing an octave apart - it ought to be the most simple thing in the world, yet it's just magic.)

In this work Verdi, freed from the constraints of the stage – peasant, gypsy or courtier choruses, duets between lovers, maleficent basses and scary contraltos – is able to indulge in the luxury of just writing wondrous music as and how he pleases.  Yes, of course he has the wonderfully dramatic lines of the Requiem Mass holding it all together, but he isn’t affected by the mechanics of getting people on and off the stage, and all the other typical trappings of a 19th century opera.  And he’s working with a script that has more depth, perhaps, than any other libretto he used in his career.

You can see how this piece came into existence on Wikipedia.   More important is its effect on an audience, and tonight at the Dunedin Town Hall I heard it live for the first time ever.  I’ve known the work since I bought an LP of it back when I was a teenager, and I’ve loved it ever since.  The conductor was Pietari Inkinen, the 33-year-old Finnish conductor who’s presently the music director of the NZSO.  He looks a bit like a schoolboy, but he had no problem commanding the forces: a large orchestra, four soloists and a massive (very much expanded) Dunedin City Choir.   Lisa Harper-Brown was for me the highlight of the evening.  That’s not to say the other soloists were unequal to the task, but this soprano has a superb command of her vocal instrument and a massive sound.  Several times she held solidly onto her music stand as though the sheer power of what she was doing might blow her away.  But she was equally capable of producing a wondrous soft sound that still managed to hit the back of the hall.  She was just fabulous.
Soprano Margaret Medlyn took the mezzo/contralto part.  It requires a wide range (as does the proper soprano part) and in her upper register, Medlyn was terrific.  Sometimes the lower notes seemed to get overwhelmed, but it may have been where I was sitting in the audience.  I suspect that being off to one side meant that some of the sound went by me.  Rosario La Spina was the tenor.  He’s Australian by birth, of Sicilian descent, and a former bricklayer.  He has a big solid tenor voice, somehow ‘thick’ in its colour.  Someone else tonight described him as a Helden tenor, but I don’t think that’s quite what he is.  Anyway, he rang his voice around the Town Hall with ease. Jud Arthur was the bass, and what a great sound he has.  His part in the Requiem is reminiscent of many of Verdi’s dark bass characters, and Arthur brought that great dark sound to his singing.  

What wonderful things Verdi does with the chorus - sorry, choir.  They're things that he could never have achieved on stage: eerie whispering sounds, the edginess of hearing well over a hundred people all singing softly at once, joyful counterpoint, massive harmonic stretches and utter excitement.  This aspect of the piece was terrific. 

The orchestra has plenty to do, though I don't think it's ever stretched.  Much of what they play is similar to music Verdi provides for his opera orchestras; it's just on a bigger scale.   And yet his simple tricks (they're things he does throughout his operas, particularly the ones in the first half of his career) - the little echoes from wind instruments, the shrieking piccolo in the climaxes, the bass note on the beat from cellos and basses answered by a chord from the upper strings: this last could be so banal, and yet in the one particular moment when I became aware of it I thought how wonderfully evocative it was at that point.  And of course there's the great brass fanfares early in the piece, reminiscent of Aida.  Only very late in his career did Verdi start doing really interesting things with his orchestra - The Merry Wives of Windsor is quite unlike early Verdi.  He was never a great colourist, and you sometimes feel he relied on the well-tested tricks that Italian opera composers had been doing for a long time (and many of those techniques were based on Italian popular songs).  For all that, what he does in the Requiem always hits the spot, and every so often there are moments that a spine-tingling: that hectic rush up and down that the orchestra does at one point - it only happens once, I think - lifts you out of your seat.  

Did I enjoy finally hearing the Requiem in a live performance?  You bet I did!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

More on memorising

I’ve started getting to grips with memorising Psalm 119 again – verses 65-72 are mostly under my belt, though they need regular revision to make sure things stick.  Only another 100 verses or so to go - and strictly speaking I've memorised the last stanza in the past, so hopefully I'll be able to dredge up some of what I learned again when I come to it. 

I’m starting to feel I’m getting to grips with the meaning as well.  I’m not sure why it should be that when you learn lines in a play you pretty much get the meaning from early on, but with learning Psalms or other Scriptures, it’s an altogether slower process.  I guess there’s a kind of distance at first, as with any reading of Scripture, and it takes the work of the Holy Spirit to put that meaning into it so that you gain an understanding.  The words themselves are clear enough, usually; it’s the feeling that it relates to me particularly, as opposed to being general stuff on a page, that takes time. As well as this, the peculiar tricks and techniques that are required (at my age, anyway) to learn the stuff in the first place means that it’s quite a time before you get hold of what you’ve actually learned as having meaning; for quite a while you’re still struggling to hold the mnemonics in place, and often they’re distracting as far as the meaning is concerned.   

And of course Psalm 119 is particularly difficult because initially, and for quite some time after, it seems as though there isn’t much connection between one verse and another – even between one line and another in many cases.

In relation to memorising a play script, I came across this in a book called Acting Skills by Hugh Morrison, on page 116. 

Older actors in particular should make an early start on learning, as age makes memorising lines harder, and all actors should find time in rehearsal to take notes of any useful and important points that arise.  Some find it useful to write out a paraphrase of a scene's content, the character's intention, situation and progression of emotion.  Learning lines is an actor's basic chore and it's sensible to learn moves at the same time, to gain physical freedom as soon as possible.  Difficult business with props, dancing, fights must be worked at from an early stage of rehearsal.  Don't lay down your script till you are reasonably sure of the lines, as someone being prompted every other line is tiresome for the entire company.  Long speeches in particular need early examination; how much do they advance the action of the play?  How do they deepen our understanding of the character?  What reaction does the speech produce in other characters?  What is the climactic point of the speech or the most important thing said?  This mini-drama is the actor's equivalent of an aria, and must be examined for its variety of tempo and tnoe, after some discussion with the director.  

Actors rehearsing, courtesy of
I'd agree with all of this, in principle, although trying to learn complicated moves and hold a script at the same time can be very frustrating.  For me, I think, it's better to have the lines firmly in your head - as least as far as you can - before the director starts getting into too much detail.  It's just as annoying for other actors to have someone constantly referring to their script when they're trying to work from learnt lines as it is to have someone constantly being prompted because they haven't learnt their lines thoroughly enough to get through more than a few lines at once. 

But I'd agree most of all in this paragraph with the opening statement: '...age makes memorising lines harder..'  There's no doubt about this, and what's worse, you lose fluency with age.  You can say the lines at home when there's no pressure, but trying to put them across fluently in rehearsal can become a real trial.  In the last two plays I've been involved with, I've managed to put the script down much earlier than in the past, basically by saying to myself that the sooner I free myself from the script the more relaxed I'll be about speaking the lines without it.  And it's worked.  Certainly there are times when everything suddenly goes in rehearsal, or lines get themselves thoroughly tangled.  But these situations are normal enough.  Having the confidence to say to yourself that you can do without the script improves your concentration on the other actors' work, and on the director's instructions, and gives you a sense of freedom that's lacking when you have the supposed security of the script in hand. It's the way I'd work again, if anyone ever asks me to act in another play!

Alligator versus Chihuahua

The blue screen of death is a term I've come across occasionally over the years, and I'm assuming it's that awful screen that suddenly reverts to giving you information in what looks like a typeface from the 1970s on your screen, and that starts to do things you're not entirely clear about.  Or just sits there looking at you with a kind of huh!-you-don't-know-what-to-do-now look on its face.

I was reminded of the phrase when reading a review of the latest update of Avira's free antivirus system (which I'd come across via a reference to the Avira Endpoint Security page). In the review the writer talks about how Avira's newest antivirus is aggressive enough to uninstall any other antivirus system you may have installed, but their concern was that on some systems this would result in the BSOD.  It's rather like bringing a alligator into your house when you've had a chihuahua. The alligator eats the chihuahua alive, in one gulp, and that may cause a bit of an after-mess on the floor (from one end or the other).  The BSOD is the equivalent of such a mess.

That apart, the Avira seems like a pretty good system.  However antivirus systems have a way of taking over and it's worth checking such a system out with a friend before you go further.  Alligators are great for demolishing nasty things arriving on your doorstep, but they also have a tendency to demolish things you wished they hadn't!

Passing by and Time

James Nesbitt is a fine actor who doesn't always get parts that give him enough to get his teeth into.  Furthermore, he's an actor who can show vulnerability without it seeming in the least bit hammy.  We caught up with a TV movie the other night called Passer By (a somewhat unusual 'spelling' of this common phrase - usually it's hyphenated if it's not treated as a single word).  Nesbitt plays a man who seems to have it altogether, but when one night coming home on a suburban train he's forced to make a decision as to whether to help a girl who's likely to be sexually assaulted if he leaves the train, he still decides to get off at his normal stop, suggesting she pull the emergency cord if there's further trouble.  Once off the train, he comes to the place where he can make an emergency call himself, but still fails to speak into it.  The consequences for the next year of his life, and for his family, are traumatic, as he's more and more pushed into having to face his cowardice and his unwillingness to get involved.

It's a play that hits home to all of us: how far are we willing to go to help a stranger in distress, someone who means nothing to us in terms of relationship, and whose only connection with us is their common humanity?  Nesbitt's character is given grace in more ways than one, as it turns out: from his wife (who's a good deal wiser than him, but who hasn't personally had to face the crisis), from his 14-year-old son, who's having trouble himself with bullies at school, and from the police.  The young woman who's attacked, of course, has to live with the ongoing trauma, and decides to repress it to a great extent, and comes to despise Nisbett's character.  The story could have ended far more tragically than it does; however without any great tweaking of the characters, it manages to offer a satisfactory and hopeful ending,   Nesbitt's wife in the film is played by Siobhan Finneran, who's perhaps now more famous as the sharp-tongued personal maid, Sarah O'Brien, in Downton Abbey.  Here she shows a much softer side, though it's combined with considerable strength.  Nesbitt's troubled son is superbly played by Ben Smith, who was 15 at the time, and already had considerable experience in television (he'd first appeared when he was four.)  His part certainly needed an experienced actor, since it combines violence and vulnerability in fairly equal measure.

On a different note, we watched In Time, last night.   This is set in some future time, though it doesn't appear to be too far away.  At this point everyone is genetically engineered to stop aging at 25, and then given only one more year to live.  By swapping and buying 'time' they can achieve longer life spans (the first female 25-year-old we meet is actually 50), and of course, those with enough capital in 'time' are effectively aeons old.  There's a difficulty with having all that time available: this form of immortality can become increasingly tedious, but it's also dangerous, as those with greater amounts of time are at greater risk from those who want to steal their 'time' from them.  Time can be transferred from one person to another, like a kind of debit/credit system, or can be bought from places that charge increasingly large amounts of interest.  It doesn't pay to think too much about how this system works; during the course of the film it makes sense enough for the viewer to go along with it.

The film stars Justin Timberlake (as a young man from the wrong side of the tracks - the 'ghetto') and Amanda Seyfried as the daughter of one of the most wealthy men in the country (she lives in 'New Greenwich').  Through various circumstances they meet, and wind up on the run - from the Timekeepers.  These are a kind of police unit that aims to keep some sort of balance in the society, ensuring the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor (the latter often only having the means to accumulate one extra day, or less, at a time). 

The story behind the film has been done innumerable times before, but the twist in having 'time' as something that can be bought and sold adds an interesting and novel approach.  The cast of mostly mid-twenties actors is excellent, though I'm not sure that Justin Timberlake is quite your action hero.  He pulls it off, and adds some warmth and humanity to a character who could have been nothing but macho. Seyfried is a nice match for him, and the two become a kind of Robin Hood duo in due course.  At the end of the movie we see them continuing on their goal of robbing the rich to give to the poor; given the world they live in, it may be the only way the film can end, but it seemed just a little less than satisfactory.

The world they inhabit also seems a little constricted: there are lots of empty streets, and in the ghetto everything visible has been reduced to blandness: there are no shops, apart from pawn shops, so it's hard to work out how anyone manages to eat or clothe themselves. There's no entertainment, apart from one or two streetwalkers.  Even the Mission gives away only 'time' - no food or clothing or shelter.  When people do appear in the streets, it's as if they have nothing else to do all day.  Even in New Greenwich there's a shortage of bodies.  Perhaps this is intentional, part of the kind of world that we're experiencing.  It certainly feels a little odd.

The film is sharply directed (and written) by New Zealander Andrew Niccol, who leans towards stories in which the world isn't the way we normally experience it (The Truman Show, Gattaca).  A small-scale action movie, perhaps, but worth watching.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


As with many other areas of my life, I tend to work in an intuitive way: whatever comes most to mind at any given point is what gets attention.  It's not an ideal way, and there's another side to my character which likes to be very organised and make lists and cross off the items as I go.  This side usually comes to the fore when the intuitive wakes up in the morning - or worse, in the middle of the night - with its brain buzzing and unable to sleep because there seem to be so many things that have to be done...right now!  If I continue not to be able to sleep, the more organised me gets up sometimes, makes a list, and sends the intuitive (and itself) back to a blissful sleep.  

Leaving work matters to the intuitive is only of value once you've started work.  Getting the intuitive to get moving is more of an issue.  Intuitives tend to get overwhelmed by too many projects being on the plate at once. 
In Evernote I came across a simple model for putting projects into perspective. It was devised by Toyota in Japan (get your genuine Toyota parts here!), and is called Kanban. 

With Kanban you have a whiteboard with three columns named Backlog, Doing and Done.  I wouldn't have thought a column for work that was Done would be necessary, but on second thoughts, it's valuable to have that sense of completion written down in front of you.

If you don't want to go to the trouble of writing and rewriting on the whiteboard, just use sticky notes.  While it's certainly easier to move them from one column to the next, there's perhaps some value in having to rub out and rewrite (in a new column) the various project items.  Just shifting bits of paper around can become exactly that: shifting bits of paper around...

Some people use different colours for different kinds of projects.  But don't get stuck on a colour scheme at the cost of getting started.

The first step with Kanban, is obviously to write down everything you need to do. This will probably show you that you've taken on too much but write the things down anyway.  This may be a time to ditch some projects, pass them on to someone who can do them better, or rethink their value.
Next, select five things you're committed to getting on with straight away. It's useful to make a mix of urgent and important items.

The next step requires discipline, but that's what the system is all about.  Get to work!  Move through the tasks and complete them.  Say No to suggestions of yet more things to do until your workload has been reduced.  Congratulate yourself on completing tasks.  
I haven't used this system - as yet - but I can see its merits.  I've listed out my projects, however, and they turn up regularly on Google Calendar, but there isn't quite the sense of progress there that I'd like to see.  I know that no system will actually make a person work when their inclination is to avoid the work, but all systems are worth a look if you think that there's hope of moving forward.  I need to move forward on at least three projects, probably more.  Maybe Mr Kanban can help....!  And can also help me see whether I'm overloaded and need to put some things on the back burner, or decide to forget about them altogether. 

Daram Adam

Protests against the Turkish government have now entered their third week.  After police removed their tent city and re-opened Istanbul's Taksim Square to traffic, activists continued to protest, but often in more creative ways.

The one that's had the most effect recently has been dubbed duran adam, meaning 'standing man' in Turkish. For more than six hours on Monday night, Erdem Gunduz stood motionless in Taksim Square, passively ignoring any prodding or harassment from police and people passing by.

His protest has inspired activists in Turkey and around the world to assume the same pose.  You can see a bunch of photos here showing both Gunduz and a number of other people standing...just standing.  It's certainly a more effective method than burning yourself alive, a protest that began the Arab Spring uprisings, and one that's probably less likely to get you killed.  However, it's a tough call to stand anywhere for six hours.  I find it hard enough standing for an hour and a half at the Sunny Side Up singing practice, and I'm doing something I enjoy at the same time.

Photo courtesy of Petr David Josek/AP

I've begun to have a greater interest in things related to Turkey, of late.  Earlier in the year I did a course in which I trained to be a tutor to people wanting to learn, or improve their English. A couple of weeks ago I finally got a student to work with, and he turns out to be from Turkey.  He understands some things well, other things barely, so the first two sessions have been a matter of discovering what he does and doesn't know.  I suspect that will go on for some time yet!  It's very rewarding. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


While looking through Evernote for references to the word lungs, I came across a couple of quotes from Barnaby Rudge, by Charles Dickens. It's not his best-known novel, and some critics disregard it entirely.  However, the great section in the second half in which the Gordon riots take place is phenomenal reporting.  How Dickens got his facts, and how he built on those, is irrelevant;  this section is amongst the most vivid and violent in the Dickens canon, matching the similar horrors that are written about in A Tale of Two Cities.  

The quote that includes the word lungs is this: Many of those who were banded together to support the religion of their country, even unto death, had never heard a hymn or psalm in all their lives. But these fellows having for the most part strong lungs, and being naturally fond of singing, chanted any ribaldry or nonsense that occurred to them, feeling pretty certain that it would not be detected in the general chorus, and not caring much if it were.

And the next paragraph that I noted when I was reading this has a kind of delightful charm, although it has only a small connection with lungs: It is a familiar expression in describing a great crowd, that a person might have walked upon the people's heads. In this case it was actually done; for a boy who had by some means got among the concourse, and was in imminent danger of suffocation, climbed to the shoulders of a man beside him and walked upon the people's hats and heads into the open street; traversing in his passage the whole length of two staircases and a long gallery.

And having got those out my hair I can focus a little better on the reason I was looking up lungs. I wanted to check what a spirometer was, since they were discussing spirometers at
According to Wikipedia, a spirometer is an apparatus for measuring the volume of air inspired and expired by the lungs. It is a precision differential pressure transducer for the measurements of respiration flow rates. The spirometer records the amount of air and the rate of air that is breathed in and out over a specified period.  

I think those three sentences pretty much say the same thing, but sometimes that's useful if you don't get the hang of it the first time.  I always find it intriguing that, medically, 'inspire' and 'inspired' are used of breathing in, whereas the common use of the words is somewhat different.  We don't think of breathing in when we say we're inspired; at the very least we might think of taking something into ourselves, but it isn't usually breath.  

Ah, the joys of language!

Saturday, June 15, 2013


Some time ago, Richard Beck, who writes a blog entitled Experimental Theology (it was a blog I used to read daily at one time), posted a series on happiness.  In one of these posts he wrote that if you're unhappy because relationships seem to pass you by, then there are three things you can do.  The third of these was get...A dog or a cat that lives inside with you. The research is very clear on this. People who have pets, particularly people living alone, are less stressed, more healthy, less depressed, and less lonely. Now, I've known about this research for years but it never really dented my skull. But I get it now after having become a first time dog owner.

I became a first time dog owner when I was 65.  My wife had owned a dog when she was young, but not since, though she'd often talked about getting one. When we were both on the verge of retirement we made the rash decision one day to get a dog.  Apart from occasional issues, such as all dog owners will experience at some point, we've never looked back.  

The other day I read somewhere that a dog's delight on seeing you is akin to the rush a lover gets when he sees his beloved (or vice versa, one hopes!)  You don't have to have been away for months (as have the soldiers in these videos*); being away for half an hour is enough to send our dog into paens of rapture.  And he's protective: he's just raced out into the dark, in the pouring rain, in order to ensure that no burglars or other nasty people are lurking out in the back garden (in the dark, in the rain). To frighten them away he makes a noise like a honking goose. Apparently this is very effective, if what he tells us about this is to be believed. Certainly geese find it effective: we haven't seen one in years. 

We talk to our dog all the time - whether we're at home on our own, or together.  And of course he talks to us.  He has this kind of high-pitched voice (he's a small dog, after all): it's a tenor verging on castrato, I think.  He seems to have a kind of quirky humour - not unlike my own, although sometimes he takes after my wife.  Of course he doesn't have to talk all the time. His tail gives his true feelings away; in fact sometimes his tail seems to be saying something different to the rest of him.  And when we mention the word 'car' he's at the front door like a shot, scraping away, desperate to get out, without a word.  Why he thinks going in the car is all the great I don't know, but seemingly it's an opportunity to get out of the house for a while.  'Walk' is another word that rings a bell in his brain, and he'll dance around the kitchen - often on just his hind legs - with enormous anticipation.  He can understand 'toy', though sometimes he just takes the initiative and brings the toy to us, expecting us to play immediately.  He doesn't have to say a word at that point. There are a number of other words in his vocabulary too, but I won't bore you with them all. 

Since this dog arrived in our house, I've become far more relaxed with other dogs.  I've got a better understanding of where they're at, and don't take fright so readily at them, or bark back at them if they shout when I go past their house.  While I think I prefer smaller dogs - they don't take up so much room on the couch or the bed when they decide to snuggle up to you, and when they leap at you you're far less likely to suffer a major injury - I've even found some bigger dogs to my liking in ways I wouldn't have in the past.  

But it's not really an issue of whether I now like dogs as opposed to previously not being so keen on them.  What I'm trying to say is that there's something absolutely amazing about the love of a dog for its master/mistress.  Disciplined well when a pup, they'll pay you back in spades (and occasionally some other less pleasant options). I would never have credited that a dog could give so much.  I'd read about it, but I'd never known it for myself. We've been blessed as a family time and again over the years, but one of our greatest blessings has been this ridiculous little dog that seems to think we're somehow the elephant’s adenoids, cat’s miaow, ant’s pants, tiger's spots, bullfrog’s beard, elephant’s instep, caterpillar’s kimono, turtle’s neck, duck’s quack, duck’s nuts, monkey’s eyebrows, gnat’s elbows, oyster’s earrings, snake’s hips, kipper’s knickers, elephant’s manicure, clam’s garter, eel’s ankle, leopard’s stripes, tadpole’s teddies, sardine’s whiskers, canary’s tusks, pig’s wings, cuckoo’s chin, butterfly’s book, bees knees and the cat's pyjamas.  Well, maybe not that last one...

And if dogs truly descended from wolves, how did they come to a point where they think that humans are worth their weight in gold? 

*I suggest you turn the sound off with some of them; the spouses ongoing commentaries get a little tedious unfortunately.

Muriel Caddie

Next Wednesday I'm due to play at a retirement home celebration meal.  I've got to play from the time people start arriving, on and off during the meal, and then probably for a little while afterwards.  I'm also accompanying a friend of mine who's singing at some point.  

Because the theme is glitz and glamour, I've been sorting out some of the old selections of film and musicals music that I've got, music I've had since I first started work, I'd think. These selections are mostly very well done, with smooth transitions between songs, and take around seven or eight minutes to play. They were produced by a number of publishers: Chappell and Co, Williamson Music, and even Dunedin's own Charles Begg and Co.  Interestingly enough, none of them give any indication as to who did the medleys, some of which are quite inventive. I probably bought some of them at Beggs, but it's more likely I bought them at Muriel Caddie's little shop in Princes St.  She sold a great deal of sheet music, in a tiny shop, along with piano accordions (as one of the ladies in the Choristers, a choir I've recently become the conductor of, reminded me).  Muriel Caddie was a delightful lady, full of enthusiasm.  I think her shop must have closed during the six years I was away in England.  Anyway, it's been long gone, and I've no idea what happened to Muriel.  

Well, I hadn't looked on the Net to see if there's was anything about her, and of course, there is, though not in relation to her shop.   This link from Radio NZ has a file about a recording they possess, running to around eleven minutes, which features Muriel Caddie and Her Revellers.  And another link, from Papers Past, shows that Muriel Caddie and her Novelettes played for ten minutes in a broadcast on the 10th September, 1941. (They appear to have been frequent performers on the radio around this time.) So perhaps she was older than I thought when I knew her in the late fifties, early sixties.  Maybe she just sold her business and retired.  In fact, I've just looked further into the Papers Past site, and find a reference to Miss Muriel Caddie in 1927, playing two piano pieces, again on the radio.  (Radio in those days was very open to local talent.  I even managed to accompany the same person I'm playing for on Wednesday once.  Once only!)

Muriel also played accordian on the radio.  In fact if you start looking properly you can find her name popping up all over.  

From the Evening Post you can find a column dated the 7th January 1941, which tells us that Miss Muriel Caddie had been visiting her aunt in Wellington and was returning home - by plane - to Dunedin (!)  That visiting one's aunt should be an occasion for such notoriety!

Maybe Muriel bought her aunt some of her best Apogee jam.  I'm kidding - but I seem to remember that Apogee was the name of a kind of sealed jar that held items like jam and preserves back in the middle of the 20th century.  

PS. I've just come across a Trade Me ad from 2009 for the sheet music for La Vie en Rose which the seller says is Stamped inside: Muriel Caddie. 123 Princes Street, Dunedin. - (won't affect your playing..)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Anchors Aweigh

Because there was absolutely nothing on TV last night, and I'd run out of steam to just sit and do more work (I'm adding an accompaniment to some pre World War I songs at the request of a customer) we watched Anchors Aweigh againNot what my wife would prefer to watch, but she acquiesed on this occasion!

It's a bit of a muddle as far as the songs go: some of them plainly belong to the storyline, others have been thrown in, and of course, there's Jose Iturbi playing anything that looks spectacular on the piano, and taking up screen-time.  He was a brilliant musician, though he plays the piano with an almost claw-like hand position, which seems odd.  He also conducts in the movie, several times, and, as part of the storyline, frequently hops onto his motorbike and scoots off to his next appointment.  Apparently that was the case in real life too.  (At one point he and thirty other youthful pianists play a version of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody.  That must have taken some recording!)

There's a reasonably conhesive story, for once: Gene Kelly (Joe) and Frank Sinatra (Clarence Doolittle!) are buddies on a naval ship (the film was released in 1945, so it has overtones of the war, but not many); on shore leave, Kelly is the 'sea-wolf', a whiz with the girls, supposedly, and Sinatra is the ex-choirboy who gets tongue-tied in front of a girl. Kelly is supposed to be meeting up with a hot date, but keeps getting forestalled by other matters. The police pick them up in order to deal with a boy (Dean Stockwell, absolutely delightful) who's been found wandering the streets late at night, wanting to join the Navy, and order Kelly and Sinatra to deal with him and get him back home. They do, and meet up with Aunt Susie (Kathryn Grayson), who's the boy's guardian, his parents both being dead. Sinatra falls for Susie, but so does Kelly, gradually, and then there's a bit of untangling to do, especially as later in the movie Pamela Britton turns up as a waitress and falls for Sinatra. She's from Brooklyn, and that's all the name she's known by in the movie (the credits list her as 'Girl from Brooklyn'), though her accent is about as genuine as ours were in The Sunshine BoysIn fact ours might have been more credible. 

Grayson wants to get an audition with Iturbi, but is stymied at every turn.  Kelly and Sinatra aim to fix one up for her, but that gets stymied too.  It all works out in the end, of course. 

Sinatra and Kelly are at their best - Sinatra, around thirty when the movie was made, plays naivety very well, and gets some lovely moments to croon (courtesy of Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne). Kelly gets some superb dancing in: the famous dance with Jerry, from Tom and Jerry cartoons (Tom has about 15 seconds of screen time; Mickey Mouse was to be have been the star, but Disney refused to let his animators work for MGM); the stunt-filled Spanish style dance when he plays a bandito serenading his lady, and the wonderful, joyful dance with the serious little Spanish girl (Sharon McManus, who was around seven at the time, and is credited only as the 'little girl beggar').  Kathryn Grayson sings a couple of up-in-the-top-register soprano songs, and performs well enough as Aunt Susie, but she's no real match for the guys.  Her energy levels are considerably lower than theirs, and when she's singing, she obviously doesn't like moving too much; nor does she convey much in her singing: there's a kind of 'I'm concentrating on the vocals' look about her.  It perhaps doesn't help that the plot shifts her feelings from Sinatra to Kelly three-quarters of the way through, without too much explanation. 

There's a crazy parody rendition of If you knew Susie by the two guys when they're trying to ward off a possible suitor (Grady Sutton, playing a stuffy well-heeled opera-lover), though it's hardly complementary to the character of Aunt Susie in the movie.  And something that shows how times have changed: Aunt Susie leaves the nine-year-old Stockwell with a babysitter (whom we never see - presumably she's someone who lives close by).  The reason Stockwell is found on the streets in the first place is because the babysitter's gone home after leaving him asleep in bed.  He's climbed out the upstairs window, apparently.  On a second occasion, the same 'babysitter' is employed to look after him, and again she leaves him alone once he's asleep. It's hard to credit this even in the 40s, though of course it suits the plot!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Just in case you didn't get the message

In today's Otago Daily Times, on page 31, there's a photo of the new clock in Mosgiel, with an accompanying article which tells us that the temperature part of the clock is overstating the actual temperature.  So the article starts like this:
A new $23,000 Mosgiel clock is 'overstaing' temperatures by up to 10degC, says Mosgiel Taieri Community Board chairman Bill Feather. 
Now that pretty much tells you the main point of the story.  But the reporter either has space to fill, or wants to make sure we (rather thick) readers get the point.  He continues:
Mr Feather said the new clock installed in Anzac Park in Mosgiel about a fortnight ago was displaying inaccurate temperatures. 
All right, I suppose that clarifies the 'overstating' in the first paragraph.  Somewhat.  Except that we have a repeat of the 'new clock', and of Mosgiel. The third paragraph says:
The new clock from Germany was 'overstating' temperatures, Mr Feather said. 
Ah, it's new clock.  And it's 'overstating temperatures'.  And it was Mr Feather who told us this.  Check back to the first paragraph.  Isn't this virtually the same information?   After this, things improve a little with some information as to why the clock is being inaccurate, but then in the third last paragraph we have this sentence.
Mosgiel Rotary Club president John Seddon said the German clock cost about $23,000.  
Wait a minute!  It's a German clock, and it cost about $23,000.  Didn't we already know this?  Yup, we did.
I understand that reporters are often under pressure to get stories in on time, and that subeditors are also under pressure.  But this story is basically a 'filler' in the back of the paper amongst one or two important pieces and some stuff that no one would miss; it could have waited another day or two and have been tidied up considerably.  In fact, we could possibly have had some more information about it. Its only saving grace at present is that it has a large photo in the middle of the page, so that there's some visual interest.
As it stands it doesn't give much credibility to the reporter's writing skills, or to the subeditor's editing.