Archive for December, 2008

Uptown Oasis Caught in the Madoff Debacle

December 26, 2008

The New York Psychoanalytic Institute is not where you’d expect to go to hear jazz licks or banjo riffs, but on two consecutive Saturday afternoons in December the third floor rocked. Or, at least, reverberated. The venue was The Philoctetes Center for The Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination—a long name that has sheltered a multitude of different events, from poetry readings to films to “round tables”, free-ranging discussions by experts on anything from New York dance in the 1960’s, to the art and craft of magic, to cell biology and cancer, to the history of violin-making.

And music. Before the bad news, the good: an appreciation of those two events. On the 14th, three “world-renowned jazz artists and long-time collaborators”, pianist Fred Hersch, bassist Drew Gress, and soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, got together to explore “Jazz Improvisation: The Art of the Ballad”. This was about playing slow and moody, what Bloom described as “breath[ing] together slowly, with the bass at the bottom.” Hersch, doing his best with an upright piano, spoke of the “shape of the [ballad] beat, softer and wider, with the piano as percussion”. Gess said that with ballads he “became aware of wide open spaces….the tone is important, because you don’t have the overt rhythm”. Read on…

Incredible Shrinking Verb Forms

December 20, 2008

A reminder of how far beyond the Zeitgeist I have grown: my ear remains offended by a movie title: “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”

“Honey, I Shrank the Kids” would sound right, as would “Honey, I’ve Shrunk the Kids.”  Maybe the second was what was meant, a careless elision eliminating the contraction of “have”.

The movie was made in 1987, and reincarnated as a TV program in 1997.  I’m still offended. I hear endless similar locutions: “He sung three new songs”; “I stunk”; even, once, “He’d swam with the sharks.”

All this with a group of irregular verbs whose past tense is—or used to be—formed by changing the vowel in the present tense—usually a short “i” as in “drink”—to an “a” (drank). To form the past participle the vowel changed again, to “u”, as in “drunk”. Used with “have” and “had”, the past participle forms the present perfect and pluperfect—“I’ve swum with the sharks, he’d swum with the sharks.” (“Swim, swam, swum”.)

According to Wikipedia, these verb forms go back a long way, and are actually fairly regular. They come to us directly from Old English—sturdy, one-syllable verbs that do yeoman service in daily use. No wonder that in linguistics they’re called “strong verbs”. Read on….

NYCB Opening-Night Gala

December 14, 2008

Deep into “Nutcracker” month, I’m looking back at the New York City Ballet opening-night gala, which was held on Tuesday night, November 25 in what used to be the New York State Theater but which, as of opening night, has been renamed the David H. Koch Theater. More on that later.

First, the good news: although it was indeed a gala evening, it was still possible to get a 4th-ring seat for $15, provided you spent $20 to join the 4th Ring Society, which entitles you to $15 seats throughout the winter and spring seasons (the only exception, I think, is the retirement performance of a famous and well-loved dancer, which  guarantees a sold-out house—e.g., in the last two years, Peter Boal, Nikolai Hubbe and Damien Woetzel). Read on…

The Usage Curmudgeon – What Exactly Does the Dow Experience?

December 13, 2008

The usage-peeve pages in the top right-hand column are under a new name, “The Usage Curmudgeon” (formerly “Do Words Matter?”) These pages explore the ways in which, through usage, common words take on strange new contexts. Here’s the newest entry:

What Exactly Does the Dow Experience?

From an unlikely source comes another usage peeve: Christa Tippet, host of the NPR show “Speaking of Faith” (at 7 a.m. Saturday morning, the only talk radio available as I sort clothes for the laundry) mentioned, at the top of the hour, that the Dow Jones “experienced” a precipitous drop….This was the umpteenth time recently that I’d heard about a non-sentient entity “experiencing” something—e.g., my cable company was “experiencing” service disruptions, or Amtrak was “experiencing” delays.

Well, no. Actually, we’re the ones who experience these things. The Dow drops, and we experience dismay, fear, a sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach. Cable service is disrupted, the train is delayed, and we experience frustration, or worse. Read on…

Giorgio Morandi at the Met

December 7, 2008

You have to love a painter who loves both Masaccio and Cezanne—the first introduced perspective to help launch the Italian Renaissance, and the second began the flattening that became a hallmark of Modernism. Morandi himself (in a major retrospective at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art through December 14th) may be a forerunner of Minimalism, but I prefer to think of him in the same serene eternity of clear, even light as his artistic forebears.

Everyone knows that Morandi painted small objects—bottles, boxes, bowls, pitchers, butter molds—endlessly rearranging and repainting them, often in series.  I loved his work early on, then thought I was bored by its sameness. In this show, I fell in love with his work all over again, happy to be seduced by its amazing variety and extraordinary subtlety. No one has better evoked the essential, mysterious thingness of things, even as his work became so abstract that his late watercolors were miniature color fields, compared by the Met’s wall text to Rothko. But then, Morandi himself pointed out that “Nothing is more abstract than reality.” Read on