Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A Tale of Two Vacations


September of 2018 was supposed to feature a family vacation cruise to celebrate my niece’s wedding.   The wedding took place, but owing to surgery last year and unanticipated follow-up expenses, we had to opt for a less costly option – which led to two trips in one. 

 The first trip was to Constantine, Michigan – the small town near the Indiana border where my father grew up.  I may have visited there as a very young child, but I have no clear memory of doing so.  Outside of travel, my grandfather spent his entire life there – his home, work, and burial plot are all within a 20-block area.  Sadly, I have no memory of my grandfather as he died at age 63 when I was only 15 months old – although my father told me that my grandfather used to bounce me on his knee.  For me, he exists only in family anecdotes, photos, and home movies.  I do have memories of his first wife, my grandmother, a troubled woman who died in 1995 and is also buried at the local cemetery.  While in Constantine, I stopped by the old Drake Casket Company (once owned by my grandfather and his brother), the Township Cemetery (where I spent 90 minutes searching for family graves) and the center of town.  In my father’s home movies, the Constantine of the 1950s was bustling, with of parades, stores, and people driving or walking everywhere – a  typical middle-American town.  Now, it’s a town forgotten – the stores along the main street are mostly empty, the former Drake Casket Company abandoned, the once immaculately kept houses in disrepair.  It took me 51 years to visit, but I doubt I’ll ever feel the need to go again.  My father almost never mentioned Constantine, but I now fully understand why he told me joining the Navy was one of the smartest decisions he ever made – it opened the door to a wider world filled with diverse people.  In any case, here are some photos:
Gravestone of my great great grandfather, J. Mark Harvey

Marker for my great grandparents, John and Jane W. (Titus) Drake 

Marker for my grandfather, Titus H Drake, and his second wife Florence (Cylka)

My grandmother, Helen Harvey Drake
My grandfather, circa 1960.


I went alone to Constantine, but Dan was with me on our trip to Ticonderoga, New York.  Although to a lesser extent, like Constantine, Ticonderoga is not as thriving as it once was.  The downtown area has a few antique stores, a retro-1950s diner (excellent, in my opinion) – but much else is pretty ordinary.  The two main draws are Fort Ticonderoga and the Star Trek Original Series set tour.  Those who’ve followed my blog will know which attraction brought me to Ticonderoga.     

The Star Trek Original Series set tour is a screen accurate recreation of the sets as they were configured on Stage 9 at Desilu studios during the show's original run. The current sets were built for the Star Trek New Voyages web series, which ran for 13 episodes. There are a few minor upgrades: a functional bridge viewscreen replaces the blue screen the actors would have seen, and HD displays for the biobeds (instead of levers and pulleys operated by a stage technician).  A few more tweaks are in the planning and I've heard they are even considering adding the Next Generation sets. Our tour guide, Paul, knew all the ins & outs of how the original series was made and how sets were redressed for multiple use. For example: Captain Kirk's quarters were redressed for Spock, the other crew members, and guest stars; The Briefing Room was redressed as the Recreation Room, Crew Mess, and a few other sets. One interesting tidbit: both the Bridge and Engineering are smaller than they appeared on TV because the original cinematographers used wide-angle lenses to add depth to the scene. (FYI: The sets are built from the original series blueprints and are the exact same dimensions.)  The back wall of Engineering (with the engines visible thru the grill) uses forced perspective. Because of the age of some of the elements, guests are advised not to touch the artifacts, but the set's owner, James Cawley, invited me to sit in the Captain's chair. Photos are permitted, but videos are not (due to Paramount's licensing restrictions).  Due to a recent high-volume attraction, the selection at the gift shop was rather thin, but we still purchased a few goodies including, of course, a Tribble.

Dan & I beam in.

Dr. Dan ready to help a patient.

Dan in the medical lab, checking the Captain for intergalactic STDs.

Our tour guide Paul, recreating a famous pose from the series.

A pensive moment on the Bridge


 The weather was cooperating, and as it was September 11th, it seemed appropriate for us to visit Fort Ticonderoga.  Originally Fort Carillon, the French fort was captured by the British in 1759, by American Revolutionaries in 1775, recaptured by the British in 1777, and finally abandoned to the British 1781.  By then, the fort was in ruins.  It went through several owners and was rebuilt during the 20th Century.  It’s a fascinating place to learn about our nation’s history and how those stationed here lived – whether French, British, or American.  The high point for us was a canon demonstration. 

Fort Ticonderoga



Friday, September 14, 2018

Oscar Levant - and a change for this blog

Since its inception, this blog has been named Memoirs of an Amnesiac - the name was intended as temporary and was cribbed from a book by writer, actor, pianist, composer, gadfly, and professional neurotic Oscar Levant.  Now, Sony Classical has republished Levant's complete Columbia recordings - along with a few previously unissued items.  Here's my review for that compilation.  But, the time has also come to update the name of this blog.  So, here it is. 


Levant in a typical pose...

Monday, August 13, 2018

George Szell - Complete Columbia & Epic recordings

At last, Sony Classical has released their complete recordings with George Szell, including work with The Cleveland Orchestra - of which he was music director from 1946-1970 - the New York Philharmonic, and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra (which was usually the previous two).  Click here to see my review. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Anatol Ugorski on Deutsche Grammophon

Deutsche Grammophon has reissued their complete recordings of pianist Anatol Ugorski.  Listening to many of them for the first time was an unexpected pleasure.  Click here to read my review. 


Saturday, July 28, 2018

Brahms and Blomstedt at Severance

If members of the Cleveland Orchestra felt any undue stress due to the suspension of concertmaster William Preucil, it wasn’t in evidence at Severance Hall Friday evening.  In fact, Preucil was not scheduled to play that night and his duties were carried out by first associate concertmaster Peter Otto.

Brahms’ Fourth Symphony is among my five favorite symphonies (the others being Mozart 41, Beethoven 7, Schubert 9, Rachmaninoff 2).  I was fortunate to have heard Blomstedt in Beethoven 7, and now doubly blessed to hear his Brahms 4.

Blomstedt, still sprightly at 91, genially mounted the podium and declined the use of a conductor’s baton. While expressive, there was nothing showy about his conducting technique – everything was directed toward the orchestra and the music.  I’ve heard at least 25 renditions the Brahms 4, both live and on recordings, and studied the score.  If there were one word I would apply to Blomstedt’s interpretation, that word would be “ideal”.  Musical interpretation is a dangerous business, for a skilled interpreter knows every choice he makes comes at the expense of an alternative choice.  One can stretch this phrase, but it comes at the expense of linear continuity.  One can emphasize this group of players, but other players will be submerged.  Blomstedt chose wisely.  The opening movement was presented as one unbroken line, with the subtlest inflections of tempo.  While the second movement sang with nobility, the third movement was rollicking joy – percussionist Marc Damoulakis obviously enjoying his turn with the triangle.  The finale, a passacaglia, was unrelenting and almost unbearably bleak as it marched with inevitably toward a tragic end.    Throughout the symphony, sections were immaculately balanced so that the listener clearly heard every strand of orchestration – not an easy accomplishment in Brahms.  I wish this ideal performance had been recorded – but I’ll carry the memory of this Brahms for as long as I’m blessed with memory.

There were scatterings of applause between each movement, an indicator of both the audience’s enthusiasm as well as the many newbies present (a group of teenaged girls sitting two rows in front of me spent several minutes taking selfies, and there’s undoubtedly a photo of me somewhere on social media glaring at them).  But don’t confuse a lack of traditional concert etiquette with an inattentive audience - nary a cough was to be heard during the concert.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018