Wednesday, September 4, 2019

September: Classical Music Appreciation Month

According to National Day, September is Classical Music Appreciation Month. I love classical music. It is great music to relax by, to get energized, and much more than just instrumental music. From the Medieval era to the Romantic period of the late 19th century, classical music has brought advancements in instruments, musical tone and expression with each style reflecting different periods of history. It isn’t just music of the past but music which has led to other musical genres. It is music that can be enjoyed today as it was many years ago. Music which has led to the advancement of instrument we still play today. Let’s dive into a brief review of each period and the importance it has on the development of music and its enjoyment.

The Medieval era is generally considered to be between 500-1400 CE. Music during this era was heavily connected with the church. Liturgical (sacred) music was performed in church and was mostly vocal with choral music and chants. A chant is monophonic, meaning single melody with no accompaniment or instruments and were distinctive by regions. In Spain and Portugal, the Mozarabic chant was influenced by North African music. In Milan, the popular chant was the Ambrosian chant named for St Ambrose. The Roman Catholic Church began to standardize the Mass and chants through the combined efforts of Pope Gregory I (540-604) and Charlemagne (742-814). According to music historian, the Gregorian chant developed from the Gallican chant from Gaul (modern day France) and the Roman chant. The music from the Medieval era is important because it began the foundation for music notation. Music could be shared between musicians and choral groups. The rhythmic notations of musical notes and rests first appeared with formal structure between 1130-1300.

The Renaissance (1400-1600 CE) was a period of great discovery in science, literature and in music. The invention of the printing press and helped distribute music far and wide across Europe. Music became more than just for church. It became music to enjoy in the home and in the community. Music began to have a variety in range, rhythm, harmony and form. It is also the period in which tonality (musical keys) began to develop. It became a vehicle for personal expression. One of the most famous Renaissance composers, John Dunstaple (or Dunstable) (c. 1390-1453) was an English composer of polyphonic music. Numerous copies of his music have been found in Italian and German, which is proof that his fame was widespread. Later in the Renaissance period saw the rise of English Madrigal music around 1588 which is an a cappella style with 3-6 voices. Many instruments we know today originated in the Renaissance period. For example, organs, trumpets, tambourine, and the bagpipe. Other instruments would be used to develop future instrument such as the viol which had six strings and played with a bow. It was like a cello.

The Baroque period (1600-1750 CE) followed and the musical style was more elaborate and ornate with the use of harmony rather than modality. This period saw the development of the concerto, cantata, and the sonata. Chamber music was a common style at this time with professional musicians expected to be accomplished improvisers. Dance suites were also popular which were designed for listening rather than dancing. Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a dance suite known as partitas. Further advancements were made with instruments. The harpsichord, an instrument like the piano, was a very popular instrument for the autocracy to play in their homes and for the entertainment of their guests. Other famous pieces from this period are Georg Frideric Handel’s Messiah (1741) and Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons (1725). the Four Seasons is a group of four violin concertos. My particular favorite, and many others as well, is the “Spring” concerto which conjures images of flowing creeks and the singing birds as winter breaks away to the warmth of spring.

The Classical period (1750/1775-1820) is characterized by simple, cleaner music which focused more on melody than the Baroque period. Woodwind instruments were added to the orchestra. This is the period most people will think of when they hear “classical music” with popular composers like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig Van Beethoven. Some music historians see Beethoven as a Romantic composer (which I will discuss next), other view him as the bridge between the Classical and Romantic periods. The Classical period had many great composers who are often left behind with the popularity of Mozart and Beethoven. Frank Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was known as the Father of the Symphony and Father of the String Quartet as he composed over 100 symphonies and 60 string quartets. Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) was a composer I was not familiar with until I did my research for this post. He is known as the Father of the Pianoforte as he revolutionized the art of playing the piano, techniques which are still used today. Lastly, Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) who became famous as a jealous rival of Mozart; however, he was an accomplished composer in his own right and gave music composition lessons to Beethoven.

The Romantic period (1820-1910) saw the growth of the orchestra with the expansion of the woodwind and brass sections with music which was very expressive and emotional. The composers of this period, such as Chopin, Liszt, Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Brahms, the music had a new preoccupation with nature and fascination with the past and legends and myths. Chopin was known for nocturnes. He would publish 18 in his lifetime, three more would be published posthumously. Music meant to represent the fields and forest. Wagner would write Ride of the Valkyries for his opera, Die Walkure, with its dramatic notes represents the mythological Valkyries as they ride over the battlefields choosing warriors to take to Valhalla and those who will remain on Earth. And almost all mothers have sung or hummed Brahms’ Lullaby (1868) to their child as they rocked them to sleep. It is still a popular song to sing to a baby at bedtime. The Romantic period would give away to more experimental music with the emergence of Jazz in America in approximately in 1919.

In conclusion, Sir Isaac Newton said in 1675, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” We discover new truths by building on previous discoveries. It is true with music. With geniuses like Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and others who attempt to play instruments and notes in new ways helped developed the music we know and love. Classical music isn’t just wordless music. It is music which invokes passion and other emotions. It can help us imagine the beauty and power of nature. It is music that helped bring our favorite genres today. I encourage everyone to learn about these composers, their music, their advancements and you will see how musicians of today have built new music from their genius.

For Further Reading

The Greatest Composers of the Classical Period

Monday, September 2, 2019

The Winemaker''s Wife: a beautiful story during a horrible time in history

The Winemaker’s Wife by Kristin Harmel is a story of war, of survival, of betrayal and of redemption. The story opens in May 1940, Ines Chauveau and her husband, Michel have been married for almost a year. They live among the vineyards of the Champagne regions and produce some of the finest Champagne. News comes to them that the Germans have invaded France and Michel begins his preparations. Fast forward to June 2019, Liv Kent is 41 years old, jobless, childless and on the verge of divorce when her eccentric grandmother, Edith Thierry, arrives and takes to her Paris. The story travels back and forth between 1940-1943 as Ines, Michel and their friends, Theo Laurent, the head winemaker and his wife, Celine, deal with the German occupation and June 2019 as Liv is trying to figure out what her Grandma Edith needs to tell her but seems very reluctant to do so. Liv meets Julien Cohn, a family friend and lawyer who knows parts of Edith’s story but can’t reveal what he knows without betrayal attorney-client privilege. What horrors do Ines, Michel, Theo and Celine must endure in order to survive? What is the connection to Liv and Edith now?

Last year, I reviewed Ms. Harmel’s The Room on Rue Amelie and loved it. When I had the opportunity to read The Winemaker’s Wife, I eagerly looked forward to it. Both books feature events surrounding the French Resistance between World War II. While I enjoyed The Room on Rue Amelie, I loved The Winemaker’s Wife! This book was filled with drama, action, intrigue and tears from the opening chapter to the closing pages. I enjoyed every character and loved how they evolved and did their part during the war. There are great moments which I can’t discuss as it will give away major plot twists, but it is a story of great endurance and survival. Most American history class teach World War II with a brief synopsis of the war before 1941 when the Americans officially entered the war, so I enjoyed reading about the French Resistance and the underground which fought against German occupation. One of my favorite quotes from the book is from Grandma Edith who says, “Many people lose more than they can image, and they find a way to carry one.” This statement certainly describes the individuals who fought against unbelievable odds to survive. I highly, highly recommend The Winemaker’s Wife. It is an amazing, beautiful story with twists and turns that just when you think you see where the story is heading, you’re wrong! It will not disappoint!

The Winemaker’s Wife
is available in hardcover, eBook and audiobook

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Beekeeper of Aleppo: heartbreaking story of loss and love

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri is the story of Nuri Ibrahim, a Syrian refugee in England. He and his wife, Afra are trying to claim asylum. As they go through the process, Nuri recalls his life in Syria as a beekeeper with his cousin, Mustafa and the turning point when his beloved country was no longer safe for him or Afra. Mustafa journeys ahead to England and eagerly waits for him there. The story switches back and forth between the present day in England and Nuri’s recounting their journey as refugees. From being smuggled out of the country under the darkness of night to being held as a camp in Greece while their request is processed. Nuri sees the different people who are running from horrors in their home countries. He hears the stories of the horrors they each suffered. He even witnesses horrors himself inside the camp. Will they be safe once again? Will Nuri and Afra be granted asylum? Will they be reunited with Mustafa?

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a beautiful story of the human suffering that the political warfare creates. A man who lived a simple life finds himself running for his life because he refused to take up arms. He is a man who is battling his own demons and memories as he tries to take care of his wife in a country which looks at them with suspicion. It is a book that needs to read slowly as you take in the scene, the situation and the actions the characters take as they try to survive. According to the author’s afterword, she was inspired to write this story after she was a volunteer at a UNICEF refugee center. Ms. Lefteri truly compares the desperation of the situation as well as the faint sliver of hope that they can live in peace once again. I highly recommend The Beekeeper of Aleppo!

The Beekeeper of Aleppo
is available in hardcover, paperback, eBook and audiobook

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

I was Hungry: a real look at the American hunger crisis

I was Hungry: Cultivating Common Ground to End an American Crisis by Jeremy K. Everett is a deep look into the American hunger crisis in which millions of Americans go without food daily. Most of the hunger crisis is due to food insecurity, the lack of access to enough healthy food to live a healthy lifestyle, in which inadequate food is experienced episodically. For example, the food supply is fine for a family at the beginning of the month but soon runs out before the month is over. Everett confronts what we know about the food crisis in America as many families must face the decision whether to buy food or pay bills with food usually loses. Poverty is an extremely complex issue. He claims that Americans often think the poor are just lazy people who are looking for a handout. Everett puts forth that many of Americans that suffer from food insecurity are working families who are underemployed, having jobs that do not pay enough to cover all expenses. However, Everett doesn’t just point out the problem and say deal with it. He offers a plan, from his own experiences, on how we can come together as a nation to end hunger in America. He highlights where plans have succeeded and where plans have failed and how they could be improved.

I was Hungry is an interesting read with statistics I have heard before. Roughly 39.7 million Americans live in poverty with 12.9 million children living in food insecure households. He is critical of all politicians, church leaders and Americans who seem to be more content to bicker. He says, “Our political system has become toxic, with both sides preferring to cast stones at the other rather than coming together to find common ground for the common good.” While I agree with him that something needs to be done, unfortunately, not everyone agrees. He claims that the image of the “Welfare Queen” is a myth and while many people on SNAP food stamps are working families, the myth exists because there are examples in the real world. He also claims that the “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” is a myth as well because it “does not apply to people who cannot afford boots.” More and more, the news media is carrying stories of the very people he is describing doing just that. They go from homeless to Harvard. Students who live and go to school in disadvantage areas are getting full ride scholarships to very prestigious schools. These students may be the exception; but to call it a “myth” when there are examples out there is shortsighted. Everett does come off, at times, as condescending and self-righteous at times, which he acknowledges, so I applaud that, he does presents a very real problem in our nation and offers real solutions and how we can come together as a community and a nation. I highly recommend I was Hungry.

I was Hungry:
Cultivating Common Ground to End an American Crisis
is available in hardcover, paperback and eBook.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Split-Level: a story of 1970s wife swapping

Split-Level by Sande Boritz Berger is the story of Alexandra “Alex” Pearl, a married woman with children in 1974. She lives in a lovely home in an upscale New Jersey suburb and seems to be content with her two daughters and her charming husband. Until one day, she receives a telephone call which will send her world crashing down. In order to save her marriage and avoid the dreaded “7-year itch”, Alex signs her and her husband, Donny for a marriage retreat, to rekindle their marriage. When another participant at the retreat gives Donny a book on wife swapping, it begins a slippery slope that they may not be able to stop. Donny believes it’s the key to their happiness. At first, Alex refuses but she quickly finds a new heightened desire beyond her husband. Will this new life be the answer to their problems? Or will Alex find herself in a mess that she cannot get out?

Split-Level is a book in which the book description doesn’t give an accurate depiction of the story. I expected an edgy, dramatic book about one woman’s discovery of herself and her desires. From the very beginning, Alex was boring, dull and so na├»ve that I resisted the urge to scream. As she recounts the beginnings of her relationship with Donny and leading up to their wedding, there were so many red flags that she ignored and continued to minimize as she deals with that phone call. The great part about the book was the author’s description of the 1970s atmosphere. However, the characters were either creepy or so bland you just didn’t care for him or her. There were no real emotions, no real conflict and even a real resolution. With a topic like wife swapping, which usually ends badly, the book fell flat. I do not recommend Split-Level.

is available in paperback and eBook

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Twenty-One Truths About Love: one man's life in list form

Twenty-One Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks is the story of Daniel Mayrock, told through his lists as he struggles with his failing bookstore, his inability to tell his wife, Jill, about their financial future and her desire to have children. He is a man at a crossroad in his life. He knows that he loves his wife. He regrets opening the bookstore and quitting his job to do so. He takes great risks to save his marriage, to do almost anything for love, but he is a man who wants to do something out of the ordinary, to be special and to deserve happiness. Will he be able to do all he dreams? Will he come clean to his wife about their finances? Will they be able to have a family?

Twenty-One Truths About Love is told in an interesting style. A style I had not heard about, so I was intrigued and decided to give it a chance. While it was hard to read, it was like getting deeper into the mind of the narrator in ways I haven’t seen before. I applaud Mr. Dicks for taking a chance on such a unique idea. However, I discovered I did not like Daniel. I had no sympathy for him whatsoever and some of his comments in his lists were annoying. That was the beginning, as I read and as I saw his struggles once Jane does get pregnant and he sees his worst nightmare coming true, he realizes that success and happiness comes in different forms. There were times I wanted to scream at the book, “TELL HER!” but I also see why he fears telling her. In the end, it is a book about a man struggling to make a life for himself and his family and struggles on how to do it. If you are interested in new forms of storytelling, I recommend Twenty-One Truths About Love. If you aren’t, its best you leave this one alone. 

Twenty-One Truths About Love
will be available on November 19, 2019
in hardcover, eBook and audiobook

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Book Charmer: when books truly speak!

The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins is the story of a small town with a magical family. Dove Pond was founded by the Dove family in the 1700s. A family with special gifts. As the story opens in 2001, we meet Sarah Dove, the seventh daughter, on her seventh birthday when something extraordinary happens: a book speaks to her! Not just catches her attention but speaks to her. Once she embraces the books, a whole new world opens to her. Grace Wheeler and her sister, Hannah, have been bounced from one foster home to another, and their last chance to stay together is at Mama G’s house. For the first time, despite her best efforts not to, Grace finally feels like she’s home. Fast forward to 2019, Grace is headed to Dove Pond with Mama G, who is now suffering from Alzheimer’s, and her niece, Daisy. Grace has taken a job as the town clerk, reluctantly, but they all need a change of scenery for a while. When she arrives, Sarah, now the town librarian, feels a change in the air, something good is going to happen to their town. At first, Grace keeps everyone at arm’s length, determined to do the job she was hired for and move on. Will the Dove Family Good Luck help win her over? How will the books help Sarah convince Grace to stay?

I loved, loved this book! From the open chapter, really a girl who can hear the books?!? To the closing pages, I fell in love with everyone in this lovely small town. I laughed, I cried. I smiled so much my face hurt! I could sympathize with Grace as she struggles to care for her ailing Mama G, learning to raise her niece and learning to ask for help. As a foster child, attachment meant pain, so Grace pushes everyone aside because it is what she knows. Sarah, who believes Grace is the key to save their town, won’t be pushed aside. Every small town has their characters from the mayor who likes the status quo, to the wealthy family who likes everyone to know it and those who hide their pain and suffering, everyone has a story. The Book Charmer is the first book in the Dove Pond series and I highly recommend it! I cannot wait to read more about this town and its wonderful residents.

The Book Charmer
is available in hardcover, paperback, eBook and audiobook