Monthly Archives: February 2018

waiting for …

 

 

“New Yorkers are accustomed to waiting. They wait, usually with Job-like patience, for a long-overdue train to pull into the station. …”

— editorial, New York Times, February 28, 2018

 

 

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This is typical pomposity and snootiness on the part of the New York Times Editorial Board. “Job-like patience”? A ridiculous allusion meant to impress and which shows a tin ear as well as a lofty disdain for the grubby actualities of city life. And, a lack of knowledge of life as it is actually lived in the City.

Do they ever deign to themselves ride the subways along with common folk?

In their high handedness, they remain oblivious to — or perhaps just don’t want to acknowledge (because they would have less to pontificate about) — the fact that the waiting time for New York subways is incredibly short, with very few exceptions. I know. I grew up in Boston, where one often has to wait 15 or 20 minutes for a subway during peak hours (whereas, during rush hour in New York on the most heavily traveled lines, trains arrive every four to five minutes).

To affect disdain for the subway is fashionable now. No doubt, service improvements can and should be made, and upgrades are necessary. But the subway system transports millions of New Yorkers every day and is an indispensable part of city life. That it works as well as it does is a reason for rejoicing.

Yes, rejoicing. The complainers don’t realize how vital the subway is to the city. Ask riders who rely on it. Most of them can’t afford to live in Manhattan or pay for alternative forms of transportation.

Believe me, the Times editorial writers don’t care about how the little people live or what they think. They’re too busy telling the benighted masses what they think is good for them, when it is actually the opposite.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 2018

on walking (and exercise)

 

 

 

Pressed with conflicting thoughts of love and fear
I parted from thee, Friend! and took my way
Through the great City, pacing with an eye
Downcast, ear sleeping, and feet masterless
That were sufficient guide unto themselves,
And step by step went pensively.

— William Wordsworth, “St. Paul’s”

 

 

 

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.” — Henry David Thoreau

 

 

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

 

 

“Hiking — “I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains — not hike! Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.” — John Muir

 

 

“I love the leisurely amplitude, the spaciousness, of taking a walk, of heading somewhere, anywhere, on foot. I love the sheer adventure of it, of setting out and taking off. You cross a threshold and you’re on your way. Time is suspended. …the rhythm and pace of a walk — the physical activity — can get you going and keep you grounded. It’s a kind of light meditation. … walking seems to bring a different sort of alertness, an associative kind of thinking, a drifting state of mind.

“A walk is a way of entering the body, and also of leaving it. I am both here and there, betwixt and between, strolling along, observing things, thinking of something else. I move in a liminal space. … walking often quickens my thoughts, inducing a flow of ideas.”

— Edward Hirsch

 

 

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This is a brief essay on walking. I fear it’s a subject that has already been beaten to death.

I have always been a walker. It began at a very early age.

I was raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We lived there until I was age twelve. My parents gave me and my siblings a lot of freedom, as long as it was exercised responsibly. This included things like going places by oneself. I was allowed to walk places by myself — such as to school, to stores, and to the public library from around age six or seven.

Cambridge was a very walkable city. Harvard Yard was only two or three blocks away and Harvard Square close by.

At that time, the red brick sidewalks, which I loved, were very wide, which I loved. They were narrowed in the 1950’s when the wonderful wooden trolley cars that ran up and down Massachusetts Avenue were discontinued and replaced by buses.

When I was age twelve, my parents moved us to the suburbs. I was extremely disappointed. In the suburbs, one needed a car to go just about any place. This meant having to be driven everyplace by my parents until I got a driver’s license at age seventeen.

 

 

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I moved to Manhattan after graduating from college and lived there for several years. I absolutely loved the same thing about Manhattan that I had loved about Cambridge: that it is such a walkable city. I lived right off Broadway in a studio apartment in the West 80’s for a few years. I particularly liked strolling along Broadway, an avenue that runs the entire length of Manhattan and further north into the Bronx. It seemed like all humanity was concentrated in this one thoroughfare. The “geography” of the neighborhood, which is to say the layout of the streets on the Upper West Side, seemed to funnel everyone into one stream, so to speak.

I once said to an acquaintance of mine who also lived in Manhattan and loved it, “When I am walking in Manhattan, I feel like I am walking on air.” Indeed, when strolling the sidewalks of Manhattan, I would often be in a trance like state where I was only half aware of progress and distance covered and was fully absorbed in everything around me, there was so much to see.

In several other cities I have traveled to in the USA, I have observed that people don’t walk. Dallas, for example, where I attended a business meeting in the 1990’s. The streets were broad thoroughfares with a couple of lanes, like a highway. One observed hardly any pedestrians. Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where we used to visit my in-laws, was more or less the same.

 

 

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Walking seems to be a near perfect form of exercise. One can do it even when one is out of shape, and it won’t put undue stress on the body.

Walking is just plain enjoyable. I find that — compared, say, to going to a gym — it is a way to get exercise without it seeming to be a chore. (See Postscript.)

 

 

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Walking, as is well known, is conducive to thinking and creativity, which is why so many writers and intellectuals have always been walkers.

Often, I will start out on a walk with no timetable or agenda. (I find it best not to have a timetable; being under a time constraint defeats the whole purpose of a walk.) During the walk, my mind will wander and won’t be focused on anything in particular. Then, ideas will begin to float up and into my consciousness: a new perspective on some problem that has been perplexing me; a new idea about something to write.

This kind of mental stimulation, occurring as it does when I am not actively engaged in mental work, is extremely pleasurable. I will get excited about new ideas for creative undertakings that occur to me and will feel the urge to rush home and plunge into them.

During walks, I also find myself sorting out things in my mind. Personal relationships, for example. Difficulties I’ve been experiencing with relationships.

Walking can also be an ego transcending experience. Removed from bumptious activity that may make you feel self important, you have become one of a crowd. At a plebeian level. A pedestrian amongst other pedestrians. All equal, equally hoofing it, that is.

 

 

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Walt Whitman loved to take long strolls, often with friends, often at night.

Whitman said to his Boswell, Horace Traubel, that the weather didn’t bother him. He would walk at all hours, day or night, and would not mind if it was raining or there was otherwise inclement weather.

Whitman felt and took exquisite, sensual pleasure from things like the warm sun and the breeze. In his great poem “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” he refers to “the just-felt breezes,” by which he meant a gentle breeze caressing him.

 

 

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With respect to the weather when I walk, I pretty much don’t mind what the conditions are either. Like Whitman, I take great pleasure in sunshine and fresh air.

I love to walk in the summer, don’t mind hot weather a bit, and this includes extremely hot days. I could never understand why some people always complain about the heat, are always cautioning you to beware of the sun.

I love the feeling of the sun on my face and arms, like to get a tan. I like to work up a sweat. I feel it’s very healthy to do so; it sweats the toxins right out of you.

In hot weather, especially, I drink huge amounts of water before, during, and after a walk. I rarely drink any other type of liquid. This seems to be very good for one’s health. I actually enjoy getting very thirsty and then having the satisfaction of drinking to quench my thirst. Under such conditions, water goes from being something ordinary to a wonderfully refreshing drink.

Like Whitman, I absolutely love a summer breeze.

I love to walk on a sultry summer day. I take great pleasure in the smell of the grass and herbage.

Often, I am reluctant to go for a walk in foul weather. But, when it comes to cold, biting days — the crisp, clear ones — I find that the bracing air actually feels great. I am a fresh air fiend. It seems to me from experience that the cold air kills germs, makes one practically immune to winter colds. (This has been disputed. Some experts say that cold air can exacerbate colds and flu. The question is yet to be resolved.) It’s invigorating too.

 

 

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As I grow older, I tend to wake up much earlier than I used to. I often will wake up very early. It’s an ideal time of the day to take a walk.

In fact, I would advise, if you intend to take a long walk (as I often do), start as early as you can. It’s hard to get going later in the day, and, as the day gets later, one wants to get home.

I find that when I am tired and achy, as I often am, or feel I need more sleep (in the morning, after having woken up), once I set afoot a lot of the tiredness and achiness goes away. The same is true if I am feeling under the weather. Walking seems to cure ills, and rather than tiring me (although there is a sort of “good tiredness” resulting from a long walk), a walk seems to make me more alert and less fatigued, mentally at least.

I feel that a lot of fatigue that people experience (in general, that is; not from walking per se) is actually the result of tedium and boredom, of being inside too much doing repetitive work requiring concentration. So that walking, which is supposed to wear you out, has the opposite effect.

 

 

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I like to take marathon walks, into Manhattan or back or from one end of Manhattan Island (south or north) to the other. I am pleasantly surprised by my stamina. I rarely get tired. Sometimes, I will admit, I do get tired. But, more often than not, I seem to be able to just keep going, chugging along, knowing I will eventually reach the end point.

One thing or factor that I have experienced as a walker is second wind. The solution for getting tired seems to be walk a little bit more. It’s counterintuitive, but I swear it’s true. I will walk six or seven miles, perhaps more, and begin to feel very tired. I will sit down on a bench for a few minutes. Or perhaps stop for longer and get a cup of coffee. When I start walking again, I am surprised to find that I don’t feel tired any longer, and that, once I am walking, I feel energetic and limber. It seems that with walking, the more one does, the more one wants to do. In contrast to other forms of exercise.

As I have said, it’s not good if one has to hurry. Ruins the entire walk. Walking at a moderate but reasonably brisk pace seems to work best for me, and to the extent that I do get tired near the end, it’s a very pleasurable feeling.

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

March 2016 (updated September 2017)

 

 

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POSTSCRIPT

 

Since posting this essay, I have been doing some thinking about walking as it pertains and relates to the subject of exercise in general.

Walking has helped me to reduce and control my weight, and it may have helped to lower my blood pressure, too.

It can help to alleviate and shorten occasional periods of depression.

I have been thinking about walking vis-à-vis other forms of exercise.

This past summer, I went to a local Y with my older son. He was working out there on a regular basis for a while, almost every day. I was surprised how bright and clean it was. The exercise machines were state of the art.

We spent about an hour there, each of us on a treadmill.

There was a TV you could watch right there on the exercise machine, but I got awfully bored, as well as tired, and kept thinking, when is this going to end, when will my son say, mercifully, “time’s up”?

It seems to me — I have myself experienced it — that such exercise regimens frequently start out good and then peter out after a while.

You will make a resolution, say, to work out for 45 minutes to an hour first thing every morning. You will do it religiously for a while. You’ll be feeling a lot better about yourself and asking yourself, “why wasn’t I doing this before”?

Then, suddenly, you’ll stop.

I believe that for exercise to be done regularly and over a long, sustained period of time, it’s got to be fun — psychologically enjoyable — and not seem like a CHORE.

Think of one’s childhood. One is all the time playing. One is not even aware (hardly) that he or she is getting healthy exercise.

When walking, you can

— stop and get a bite to eat;

— people watch;

— view streetscapes and scenery;

— shop or window shop.

And, you can vary your route.

I firmly believe that variety is the key, makes all the difference here. Exercise routines — such as walking on a treadmill every morning — can’t fail to become monotonous. Which is why, in my opinion, they often fail.

 

 

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See also the following posts of mine

 

 

“Manhattan Island from Bottom to Top; Walking as Exercise”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/07/22/manhattan-island-from-bottom-to-top-walking-as-exercise/

 

 

“Thoreau on walking”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/04/17/thoreau-on-walking/

 

 

“Walt Whitman on walking”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/03/21/walt-whitman-re-walking/

thoughts about Charles Ives (and Copland, Barber, and Gershwin) … plus thoughts about making lists of favorites (and making such judgments in general)

 

 

On Sunday, February 25, I attended a performance of Charles Ives’s Symphony No. 2 by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.

The program notes for the concert read as follows:

Charles Ives is widely recognized as the first authentically American composer. The supreme collagist in music, Ives is perhaps most appropriately described by piling on words the way he piles on tunes. Composer Lou Harrison, rejoicing in Ives’s “bewildering munificence,” has written: “There is very nearly something for everyone in Ives — rousing band marches for the athletic extrovert, sweet prayers for the pious, amazing constructs for the intellectual … big-sized pieces, minute works, vulgar ones, polite ones, serious, funny, bland, tortuous, affectionate, and business­like ones, ones for the many, ones for the few, and some in between, and so on, and whatnot else … Plainly he was a man who loved many things much.”

Ives’s multiplicity is evident in every aspect of his life and art. An insurance man who composed at night, Ives was almost totally isolated from the musical establishment. He was a passionate nationalist who based his music on traditional American tunes and his metaphysics on Emersonian transcendentalism. Yet, with the help of his father (a small-town bandleader), he inaugurated the most daring kinds of polyrhythmic, polytonal, and aleatory effects. Indeed, his international significance stretches beyond music. As poet and short-story writer Guy Davenport puts it, “Ives aligns with the most significant art of this time: with Pound and Eliot in the reuse of extant compositions, with Joyce in the hermetic diffusion of symbolism throughout a work, with Picasso in exploring the possibilities of extending forms and techniques.”

Like Joyce, Ives aspires to the abstract and the visionary, yet is rooted in the homely and the everyday. Pierre Boulez pointed out that Ives is distinct from other musical innovators in that “the origin of his music, of his invention, is to be found in the surroundings of his life” rather than in a symphonic tradition. Prior to Ives, there was no American tradition in symphonic music; there was nothing to extend or rebel against — only a pallid recycling of European Romanticism. (Even the New Orleans syncopations of Louis Moreau Gottschalk were more popular in Europe than America.) For his inspiration, Ives went directly to the hymns, popular tunes, and band marches from his boyhood in Danbury, Connecticut, transforming these simple sources into a complex mélange.

Ives once called his most ambitious works “ear­stretchers,” and given the stretch that is required, it is not surprising that he has always incited controversy and bewilderment. Many of his most visionary works had to wait half a century for a performance because musicians hadn’t the slightest idea what to make of them.

 

 

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A few phrases leaped out at me: “the first authentically American composer”; “a passionate nationalist who based his music on traditional American tunes and his metaphysics on Emersonian transcendentalism”; “Ives aspires to the abstract and the visionary, yet is rooted in the homely and the everyday”; “the origin of his music, of his invention, is to be found in the surroundings of his life.”

Another daring innovator, a visionary poet, whom these words call to mind is Walt Whitman. I feel that Ives, an American original, is much like Whitman (who, by the way, was also influenced, deeply, by transcendentalism).

I am less inclined — this is probably a shortcoming on my part in comprehension — to think of Ives (as does Guy Davenport) in connection with Joyce, Eliot, and Pound, let alone Picasso.

 

 

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Another quintessentially American composer — by which I mean not only an American native but also a composer of works unmistakably American — is, of course, Aaron Copland. I regard Copland as the greatest American composer. Copland was an early champion of Ives’s music. If for no other reason, I would say that Copland outranks Ives because the latter’s output was comparatively meager.

The greatest single WORK by an American composer? I will take a stab at answering the question and say Porgy and Bess.

 

 

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A DIGRESSION

 

I had a lively exchange with a follower of this blog recently. He wrote as follows:

How do you rank classical composers?

Yes, some are timeless — Mozart, Beethoven, Bach — but how would you rank Nielsen vs. Sibelius, Copland vs. Chopin, Brahms vs. Roger Sessions? Or even Bach vs. Mozart or Beethoven?

And why bother? What one likes is important. I’ve always objected to someone who says this author or this composer is overrated, etc. Compared to what, and why? And overrated by whom?

 

 

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I answered as follows:

My answer would be yes and no.

I generally don’t like ratings and usually disagree with them (what are the 10 greatest American films?).

But to say someone is overrated (I might say, for example, Hemingway, but I know there would be lots of disagreement) or underrated (e.g., Haydn, in my opinion) is entirely valid; people often make such judgments — it’s a matter of making comparisons.

What’s wrong with that? One is always enjoying works of art for their own sake and, at the same time, engaging in armchair criticism.

So, I recently heard a piece of Max Bruch’s in concert and was pleasantly surprised; he reminded me of Brahms. But I am not prepared to say that he outranks Brahms.

I am always compiling inventories and laundry lists in my mind; it’s a good way mentally to keep track of writers, composers, etc. and their works. I FEEL THAT THIS IS KEY.

So, I get into Carl Nielsen, and think: how does he compare to Sibelius? People are still arguing about Tolstoy vs. Dostoevsky.

 

 

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to which the follower of my blog replied:

I am not saying you shouldn’t rate composers yourself, or authors, or whatever. And I enjoy discussions such as Chopin vs. Schubert.

I’m just saying that when you say that someone is overrated, I say by whom? If you are saying that you believe that x is better than y, or more interesting than y, that’s fine. If you’re ranking your opinion of Nielsen vs. Sibelius, that I understand.

But if you’re saying that the world knows that one is better than the other (either way), I say on what authority is this statement made?

That’s my only point here. And maybe that people waste their time arguing things like Tolstoy vs. Dostoevsky. They were both great writers and I don’t give a damn if someone thinks that one is marginally better than the other.

 

 

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Our email exchange ended there. But, I think it does make a great deal of difference whom one thinks is better: Tolstoy or Dostoevsky. We are usually not talking about marginal differences — some people actually like one and dislike the other. I know of lovers of Tolstoy’s works who can’t bring themselves to read Dostoevsky.

The point is that such comparisons can be trivial or frivolous, but not necessarily so. There is an inner critic in the brains of aesthetes. So that, experiencing a work of art — literature or music, in this case — they are not only “submitting” to it, allowing themselves to enjoy and be edified by the work, they are also asking themselves what they think of it. This is a good thing. And, by applying one’s own standards, which, needless to say, are subjective, one is making a mental inventory for future reference. So, for example — as a person immersed in literature and music — I have developed a mental map to help orient myself. I have my likes and dislikes. And, I make comparisons: Bruch reminds me of Brahms, Schumann as well. (Whitman reminds me of no one else!) I think that Thomas Wolfe is far superior to Theodore Dreiser. And, so on.

 

 

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I have posted here (below) some of my favorite pieces by composers whom I regard as quintessentially American.

 

 

three songs by CHARLES IVES

 

 

Charles Ives, “A Christmas Carol”

 

 

 

Charles Ives, “Memories”

 

 

 

Charles Ives, “In the Mornin’ (Give me Jesus)”

 

 

 

CHARLES IVES

“The Circus Band” (sung by Sara Dell’Omo, soprano)

 

 

 

CHARLES IVES

string quartet no. 1

 

 

 

AARON COPLAND

from The Tender Land (opera)

The opening bars are posted here.

 

 

 

 

AARON COPLAND

“Morning on the Ranch” (from the Red Pony Suite)

 

 

 

AARON COPLAND

“Letter from Home”

 

 

 

AARON COPLAND

“Quiet City”

 

 

 

SAMUEL BARBER

Adagio for Strings

 

 

 

SAMUEL BARBER

Knoxville, Summer 1915

 

 

 

 

PORGY AND BESS

Also posted here is a recording of the film score of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. For a long time, the LP was out of print. In my opinion, the soundtrack album is outstanding for its arrangements and orchestration.

 

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 2018

happiness is … an expectant concert audience

 

 

 

 

IMG_1909.jpg

 

 

 

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“As soon as I enter the door of a tavern, I experience oblivion of care, and a freedom from solicitude. There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.”

— Samuel Johnson

 

 

“There is nothing like the pure felicity and sense of pleasurable anticipation of an audience arriving for a concert.”

— Roger W. Smith

songs from “Rosseter’s Book of Ayres”

 

 

 

 

 

Posted here nine songs for voice and lute from “Rosseter’s Book of Ayres,” a songbook by Philip Rosseter and Thomas Campion. No one seems to know for certain who wrote the lyrics. It was probably one of the composers, or both.

Philip Rosseter (1568-1623) was an English composer and musician, as well as a theatrical manager. Thomas Campion (1567-1620) was an English composer, poet, and physician.

I love these renditions, which were on an LP I purchased around 1964 in my college’s bookstore. The LP is rare and hard to obtain now. It was on a German label, Arkiv. The company was then devoted to producing recordings of historically accurate performances.

The songs and the lyrics (which are very clear) charm me. Tip for would be listeners: the songs are about wooing (a pastime once very much in fashion).

 

 

Complete lyrics are posted here as a Word document.

 

my sweetest Lesbia

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 2018

spring fever (a lover and his lass)

 

 

 

 

 

 

springtime - Juniper Valley Park, May 2017.jpg

photograph by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

 

song, “It was a Lover and his Lass” (performed by the Deller Consort)

 

 

 

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“It was a Lover and his Lass”

 

It was a lover and his lass,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
That o’er the green cornfield did pass,
In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

Between the acres of the rye,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
Those pretty country folks would lie,
In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

This carol they began that hour,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
How that a life was but a flower
In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

And therefore take the present time,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
For love is crownèd with the prime
In springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

 

 

— William Shakespeare

from As You Like It

 

 

 

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Addendum:

 

 

 

 

Thomas Morley (1557 or 1558 – 1602) wrote “It was a Lover and his Lass.” The Deller version is good, but I actually prefer the version on a scratchy old LP of mine from the 1950’s. Side 2 of the LP, which I have posted here (above), consists of two songs by John Dowland — “I Saw My Lady Weep” and “Flow My Tears” — and four songs by Morley, including “It was a Lover and his Lass.” “It was a Lover and his Lass” occurs at a point a little over eight minutes into the LP.

The text of all the songs on the LP is posted here (Word document, below).

 

I saw my Lady weep

 

 

— Roger Smith

   February 2018

when in doubt, assume a greater, rather than lesser, degree of intelligence

 

 

Roger’s theorem (or perhaps a corollary).

When in doubt, assume a greater, rather than lesser, degree of intelligence.

Talk UP to people; not DOWN. And, besides the admonition don’t talk down to people, if in doubt, assume a greater degree of intelligence, relatively speaking, than what you might expect.

You will often be surprised that

they appreciate being treated as a discerning and intelligent person

they reveal interests and capabilities you would never have suspected

they feel gratitude at being “taking into your confidence” through the sharing of interests, and that you consider them deserving of it

you both feel enriched

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 2018