‘Technological Poverty’ and Other Riches

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Miles Davis at the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague, Netherlands, July 15, 1984 (Rob Bogaerts / Wikimedia)

The latest episode of Music for a While is unusually eclectic, I would say. You’ve got Henry Purcell, Charlie Parker, Leonard Bernstein, the Mills Brothers, Franz Schmidt, Lyle Lovett, and more.

Someone told a saxophone player, “If you want to improve, or stay in shape, play ‘Donna Lee’ every day.” This piece was written by Charlie Parker or Miles Davis, depending on which account you believe. Its origins are murky. But “Donna Lee” is a winner, regardless.

Alfredo Kraus, the late Spanish tenor, sang an aria from Rigoletto — “Parmi veder le lagrime” — every day. Other people brush their teeth or walk the dog. Kraus got up and sang “Parmi veder le lagrime,” every day, to stay in shape. It was his “test piece,” so to speak.

On Music for a While, I play Kraus in this aria, along with Parker, Davis, and their partners in “Donna Lee.”

I also have an Op. 1 — “Quarantine Rag,” by a young pianist in Las Vegas, Kristen Mosca. She has been obsessed with ragtime since she was a kid, and now she has written her first piece.

Did you see, or hear about, a tweet from Lauren Witzke, the Republican nominee for Senate in Delaware?

Most third-world migrants can not assimilate into civil societies.

Prove me wrong.

I’m not sure the lady knows the meaning of “civil society.” Or the history of the United States. In any case, her tweet made me think of Bernstein and his song from Candide: “I Am Easily Assimilated.” It is a funny comment on the Jewish experience, and an ingenious one, too.

I was not born in sunny Hispania.
My father came from Rovno Gubernya.
But now I’m here, I’m dancing a tango. . . .
I am easily assimilated.
I am so easily assimilated.

Bernstein’s family came from Rovno Gubernya, incidentally (Ukraine).

Have a little more:

I never learned a human language.
My father spoke a High Middle Polish.
In one half-hour I’m talking in Spanish.
Por favor! Toreador!
I am easily assimilated.
I am so easily assimilated.

With our Cameron Hilditch, I was talking about Rory McIlroy, the golf champion. Both are Northern Irishmen. Cameron said, “He’s from right across the lough from me. If I had a boat I could be at his place in minutes!”

Well, you can’t say “if I had a boat” without putting the Lyle Lovett song in my mind.

Music for a While begins with a traditional Scottish song, sung by schoolboys outside Scranton, Pa. How’s that? Well, I got a letter from a reader:

Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

Thank you for your podcast. [No problem.] It is a joy to this homemaker and home educator in Virginia. This note is by way of encouragement apropos of something you mentioned in Podcast No. 31 about the lamentable fact that many of us, especially the younger generation, are merely listeners to music and not makers of music.

I wanted to share with you, in case you have never heard of it, the existence of a Catholic boys boarding school outside Scranton, Pa.: Gregory the Great Academy. Our son is a sophomore there. The school practices what they call “technological poverty,” which means that the boys do not have cell phones, iPads, computers — not even a radio. They make their own music. And boy do they.

Our son plays piano, accordion, guitar, mandolin, and the bagpipes, and he is not an anomaly. They also sing. Folk music and sacred music are both required classes. All boys learn to sing both the Latin liturgy and the Byzantine liturgy.

I thought you would like to know that there are some young people out there playing and singing music — for pure joy — and not just listening.

Mirabile dictu, as Bill Buckley would say. Again, the new episode is here.

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