Monthly Archives: September 2015

The European Dis-Union…Misfortune Has Not Taught Them Compassion

libyan-refugees-fleeing-the-violence
For several years we have watched the Mediterranean  Sea become a huge human cemetery as desperate people fleeing from Syria and Africa crowd onto rickety boats and drown by the hundreds  within sight of the Italian coast. We think, “­­­­How terrible!”  Then we read the next news story. Now there is a new swell of arrivals on the Greek island of Lesbos. People on unsafe boats are crossing from Turkey by the thousands and huddle on a small beach totally unequipped to receive them. Again we read, we watch on our screens and we think. “Poor people!”  And we move on and go on with our lives. Then one day a picture that appears in all the papers and on all our screens hits home. Aylan Kurdi is 3 years old. He is lying  face down on a Turkish beach, his head in the water. He is from Kobani. Someone had lovingly dressed him in a red T-shirt and navy shorts. We know he will never get up and run in the sand. We know he will never reach safety on the other shore.
The people who arrive on Lesbos have an itinerary and destinations. They have researched the best routes and methods and shared information and advice using social media. They have hired guides and smugglers and paid them well to take them across to Greece, their entry point  into Europe. Greece, which has its own problems and is the weakest link in the European Union, suddenly finds itself  overrun and having to “process” thousands of fleeing people. But that is only the beginning of the nightmare for the refugees.  They have to rush across Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary where they face various walls, barriers and hostility on the part of the locals.
Hungary  is blocking them with fences topped with razor wire strands. Many families get separated. Hungary, Bulgaria and Slovakia are barricading themselves against these hordes of aliens forgetting what they themselves had to endure when they were occupied by the Soviet Union. Misfortune has not taught them compassion. In Hungary people are crowded into pen-like enclosures, food being thrown at them as though they were animals.  Elsewhere they face hostile police with tear gas and water cannons. Did the Hungarians forget that Austria opened its borders to them when they were fleeing from Russian tanks rolling through Budapest in 1956? Hungary may be the main villain here but the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Estonia are similarly hostile. In Bratislava (Slovakia) they proclaim loudly that they will only accept a few hundred Christian Syrians. They want no Muslims; they have no mosques, they say. Many are afraid of Jihadist infiltration.
There is definitely an Old Europe/New Europe schism operating here. Most of the  newly accepted countries have right-wing regimes, hostile to immigration. Germany, Austria, Sweden, old, established  democracies, have shown empathy and understanding. In Germany, with an aging population, young workers are needed. But there is also some residual guilt about Hitler’s crimes. Most of the refugees are heading for these countries which have extended a welcome to them. But no one really expected this melting glacier of refugees sliding inexorably across Europe. Cracks, fissures and splinters are appearing everywhere and the whole threatens to break apart. The Schengen Agreement providing free circulation across European borders has already given way. Chancellor Merkel has been in the forefront of the humanitarian effort, saying refugees are entitled to asylum. The  German population as a whole is sympathetic and there are many  volunteers spontaneously offering help, but  it may have  unwittingly created this onslaught of arrivals that threatens the whole continent. Denmark and Norway are dissuading people from coming. France, Britain and Italy are reluctantly offering some hospitality.
Recently the scale of the refugee crisis has reached catastrophic proportions.Water, food and sanitation problems are worsening. The UN humanitarian agencies are on the verge of bankruptcy Even Germany had to institute border controls along all its frontiers. Europe has lost control of this tsunami of gigantic proportions.There has been no solidarity, no  sharing of the burden, and moral responsibility has been sadly lacking.
But what about the rest of us? This is not only a a European problem.There have been more than 7 million Syrian refugees displaced so far. In Turkey, which is their first destination, many live in refugee camps. Others are in Lebanon, which faces its own problems and has no functioning government. Jordan already has a huge number of Palestinian refugees . None have been integrated or resettled. The Gulf countries, except for the United Arab Emirates have accepted no Syrians. Some Latin American countries have taken in a modest number. But where is the United States in all of this? Where is the Lady on the pedestal? Has she closed the golden door to the tired and the poor? Has she extinguished the lamp that guided the homeless and the tempest-tossed? We are vacillating. Some of us say it is not our problem. Others think there might be terrorists among the refugees. As a result we are piously  proclaiming that we will accept a few thousand of them.  (And maybe more in 2017.) Are we going to repeat the mistakes of the past when we could not distinguish between the culprits and the victims? When we imprisoned Japanese-Americans because they might be enemy sympathizers? Don’t we remember that we refused entry to Jewish refugees during World War  II who then went back to perish in extermination camps?
It is time to wake up and acknowledge that this is now a global problem and that we have a common duty to participate. We cannot shirk our responsibility any longer.

It Runs in the Family

Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach

Bach with 3 of his children

Bach with 3 of his children

The Bach musical dynasty lasted for 200 years and is therefore at the heart of the question…”Is musical excellence inherited? Is there a musical brain?”

I don’t know whether we are still debating the nature/nurture conundrum or if it is now the nature plus nurture hypothesis. Knowing as we do that nature and nurture work in tandem and form an alliance that goes back as far as the womb, are there instances, like in the musical realm, where one plays the major role? In other words, is musical talent built into the genes?

What makes this question difficult to answer is that in the great musical families the milieu was very propitious for nurturing; young members were taught by the older ones and found it natural to follow in their footsteps. There were great artisanal musicians just as there were families of carpenters and of millers whose craft was handed down from fathers to sons. For example, the French Baroque composer Francois Couperin was a descendant of 200 years of Couperin organists.

Johann Sebastian Bach was the best known of fifty eminent musicians and composers named Bach. In the town of Erfurt, Germany all musicians were referred to as Bachs. Four of his 20 children (by several wives) composed music which is still being performed today: Carl Philipp Emmanuel was the most famous of his sons. Johann Christian Bach (known as the London Bach) was a contemporary of Haydn and Mozart. Johann Christoph Friederich and Wilhelm Friedman were prolific Bach family composers.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was trained by his composer father and soon eclipsed him. Leopold Mozart is now mostly remembered for his Toy symphony which is still being played occasionally.

Johann Strauss (The Elder) of Vienna (1804-1849) wrote waltzes, polkas and other dances and was the father of famous violinists. His son Johann Strauss II (the Younger) was the Waltz King and best known for The Blue Danube and the operetta Die Fledermaus. Joseph Strauss played in the family orchestra and composed dances and marches. The New Year’s Day concert in Vienna , a lavish affair, each year features the music of all three Strausses.

Alessandro Scarlatti, the Italian Baroque composer, produced operas and cantatas. His son Domenico was even more famous and bridged the Baroque and Classical styles of music.

Pepe Romero (1944-) the classical flamenco guitarist founded a quartet with his father and his two brothers Celin and Angel. He studied with his father Celodonio and made his debut at age 7. The composer Rodrigo wrote the work “Concierto para una Fiesta” for them.

Wynton Marsalis belongs to a family of jazz musicians from New Orleans. His father Ellis was his mentor and, with Wynton’s brothers, (Branford, Delfeayo and Jason) started a “Jazz Renaissance”. Wynton studied both jazz and classical music and excels in both.

So there we have a variety of musical families with a rich environment and plenty of guidance, nurturing and role models. And we are back to the question: Does practice make perfect or does musical ability run in the family?

And back to the usual identical twin studies. Experiments show that a twin who practices more than his brother (her sister) does not achieve more. No amount of lessons will turn a tone deaf child or one who does not process sound or detect differences in pitch, melody or rhythm into a Mozart. Without manual dexterity you will not become a good pianist. In other words success is not just a matter of determination.

This does not mean that if you have the talent you do not need to practice. And so, although musical ability is mostly inherited, and talent does run in families, the families who possess it also have the desire and determination to cultivate it.

A Woman in Two Worlds – Josephine Baker

josephinebaker

“J’ai deux amours…Mon pays et Paris”. “I have two loves…my country and Paris” was Josephine Baker’s signature song.

Freda Josephine McDonald was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1906. Her mother was a washerwoman who aspired to be a music hall dancer. Her father was a vaudeville drummer who soon disappeared from their lives. Josephine ran away from home at age 13 and took up dancing “to keep warm” and collected coal from railway tracks for the same reason.

She danced in a couple of musicals to modest success and in 1925 she traveled to France to perform in Revue Negre at the Theatre des Champs Elysees. The following year she appeared at the Follies Bergeres and was an instant hit. She danced in an exotic, fantasy African decor clad only in a skirt of 16 bananas which bounced around her as she swirled her hips. She says “I wasn’t really naked. I simply did not have any clothes on.” She was funny, she was sensual. At no time was she pornographic. They called her Black Venus and Black Pearl.

Josephine then starred in two movies…Zou-Zou and Princess Tam Tam. She quickly moved into French society, mingling with Picasso (who painted her), and the authors Simenon, Cocteau, Colette and Man Ray. She was not only accepted but became a celebrity herself. That is why her return to the United States in 1935 on a tour with the Ziegfeld Follies was such a shock. Suddenly she was plunged into a racist and hostile world. Not admitted to the Stork Club, or the hotel of her choice. Confronted with “colored” lunch counters and bathrooms and “move to the end of the line.” She went from riches to rags instantly, then quickly returned to France and became a French citizen.

During World War II Josephine Baker performed for the Allied troops in North Africa and also was active in the resistance movement. She had by then acquired a vast property in the Perigord which she named Chateau des Milandes and it became a shelter for the resistance. At the end of the war Baker was decorated with the Croix de Guerre. Medaille de la Resistance and eventually the Legion d’Honneur.

In the 1950s she began to adopt babies from around the world (12 altogether), her “rainbow tribe” was an experiment in brotherhood. At the Milandes she raised them in the traditions of their respective countries. Was that where Angeline Jolie got the inspiration for her own “rainbow family?”

During the fifties Josephine frequently returned to the United States to support the Civil Rights Movement. In 1963 she participated in the March on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. and spoke at the National Mall. She told of freedom in France and of being able to enter a restaurant and ask for a glass of water, of not having to go to segregated public places, and not having to fear the stares and insults of white people. She wished everyone in the audience to be as lucky as she had been without having to actually flee their homeland.
In 1973, after years of rejection and humiliation at the hands of her countrymen, including being accused of being a Communist, Josephine Baker performed at Carnegie Hall and was greeted with a standing ovation. The NAACP named May 20 Josephine Baker Day. Josephine Baker died in 1975. At her funeral 20,000 people lined the streets of Paris to see the procession and the French Government honored her with a 21-gun salute. She was the first American woman in history to be buried in France with military honors.

 

 

http://https://youtu.be/TG4kG79YpUQhttps://youtu.be/TG4kG79YpUQ