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Snapshots In Season

One of the results of having the immensely good fortune to be able to host this podcast has been the development of my “snapshot” idea or theory about the arts.

If we think of the snapshot as a document of any kind from someone’s real life and think of how what we call works of art are sometimes the imaginary ends of such real and documented snapshots. Sometimes an entire novel or piece of music can be borne of a single photograph, diary entry, or even architectural style of building.

I have salvaged this snapshot of a Christmas list I wrote in 1976.

Because I am now writing this at age fifty-five I can fill in some context concerning what this list “means.” Now readers might be quite amused by the mention of Santa Clause and the North Pole and read this as evidence of a possibly more innocent age and era.

In truth I wrote the address as a sort of joke, knowing full well that I was trying to communicate to my two parents at least some of the things I so deeply loved in 1976 and 1977 (and come to think of it still do). I do remember a few of the items on this list because some of them were gifts that I was blessed enough to receive under a white, garish polyester tree and subsequently spend a lot of my time listening to the music on the records, especially the Stravinsky Rite Of Spring and the Ray Charles album. And I listened over and over in the old phrase.

Unlike other far luckier children, I had no access to any musical instruments, including those from any school or from any neighbor’s house. (Contact with actual instruments would come about a couple of years later with the addition in the house of an upright piano).

So all I had to enjoy and possibly learn from were vinyl records, and a little later one, 8 Tracks, especially in my dad’s red and white vinyl Thunderbird. And that dry dictionary of Leonard Feather was something I would read before going to sleep at night, the real reason being that I didn’t have very many of the recordings discussed and I hadn’t really had the opportunity to have seen many of the people mentioned in that book in concert.

Similarly, the musical Bubbling Brown Sugar was one the few shows I never got to see in New York so all I had was this cast album. I figured that listening to the cast was a good second.

I don’t believe I ever received the harmonica nor the binoculars.

I remember my excitement at being able to stay up and watch Saturday Night Live with my parents, because on one of those nights Ray Charles was the guest performing two of the arrangements on this album: Johnny Nash’s I Can See Clearly Now and the old Rodgers and Hammerstein standard, Oh What A Beautiful Morning from their show Oklahoma.

I watched that Saturday Night Live show with all of the intense interest that a young boy could have.

The song I loved most on the album however was the version of Gershwin’s "How Long Has This Been Going On".

The arranger on that song was Larry Muhoberac.

I single out this song because it was probably the first time I ever heard modern big band writing, as opposed to the more “classical” Swing Era big band music and I fell completely in love, especially with what is called the “shout chorus” part of this type of composition.

This section begins at 3:40 on this video recording. Because I listen to this so many times this musical language was entering my nervous system but this development could never have happened without my initial love.

Now of course this does’t mean that anything I do musically will sound exactly like this, but it does mean that whatever it is won’t be very far off, even if it means I am writing for a string quartet rather than reeds and brass. But my larger point, which extends beyond even music, that all you have here is this old sheet of lined paper upon which some words are scribbled by a nine year old boy in Tampa, Florida. When I add information as I am in this post the snapshot comes alive and then things can begin to happen.

I should say that I am of the strong opinion that children needn’t only or primarily consume art made for their age group. I have had no shortage of fights over my stance over the years with parents, pediatricians and child psychologists, of course, and I get the picture that my opinion counts for virtually nothing since I am not any of these things. But if you consider that you would not be reading this very blog post or listening to any of my shows without any of the items on this Christmas list you might consider that it was not all for the worse.

I don’t think that I fully understood everything about that night’s show, and the behavior of Bill Murray or Gilda Radner and so on but I feel I did get a certain energy, a certain texture. The version of Rite Of Spring that I received that Christmas was this one: Of course this was something that was a consciousness changer for me. Yet again, if I had not initially taken to it to at least some extent I would never have matured enough to begin to properly understand or appreciate it. There is too much really to say about the Stravinsky, which deserved its own and many more posts. E.H. Gombrich: “Apologists for certain kinds of art often plead that if we would only understand it then we would also like it. By and large, I think, the sequence is inverted. Without first liking a game. A style, a genre, or a medium, we are hardly able to absorb its conventions well enough to discriminate and understand.” (Art History and the Social Sciences 1975)

Special and ritualistic times of year - like what we call Holidays in a society are rife with snapshots of all sorts.

Artists make the most of these and the next time you experience a t.v. show or a movie you might never fully know what the snapshots were that went into the final work that is visible.

In December we shall celebrate at the month’s end a holiday that In its intention is for everyone even if some of its main boosters forget this or actively campaign against it. Snapshots are implicit communicating with as of yet unknown and future audience who will most like misread and misunderstand the snapshot even as there is this implicit contract that the snapshots were meant to be seen by and communicate with others not in the original possession of them.

This dance between universality and particularity is a theme in all of the arts and admits of no easy or final resolution which is partly the point.

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