Monthly Archives: August 2018



A Robin Redbreast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thr’ all its regions
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear.

— William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”



When most people get indignant about government policies and actions, it’s usually against a leader such as Trump or Nixon whom they hate, or perhaps Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War.

Or a present or past dictator or tyrant. Their regime or administration. Their policies.

But, as William Blake has shown. Epigrammatically, emphatically. What most offends the moral sense, what tears a fiber from the brain is not policy or programs. As much as to contemplate the suffering of INDIVIDUALS, inflicted upon them by the state. Meaning they can’t prevent it, and usually have no recourse.

This includes the prisoners in our inhumane, horrible prison system – most of them. Guantanamo detainees. Offenses against human decency and Christian norms observable in the USA today. And, similar horrors abroad or in the days of yore. Such as political prisoners being tortured in Syrian jails and held and perhaps tortured elsewhere. The Gulag. Internment and concentration camps. The Killing Fields. And ….

I can’t resist preaching. I feel that I am right. Be thou like Christ. Love man. Not like the Pharisees. Obsessed with finding rulebreakers.

People seem to have for the most part moved on to the next issue du jour. The Mueller probe and the misdeeds of the Trump administration. The latest developments and revelations.

Believe me, these issues pale by comparison and will seem a lot less important at a future date.

What about the roughly 700 children who were separated from their parents at the border and have still not been reunified with those parents by the administration, according to a CNN report from five days ago (this figure includes more than 40 children who are 4 years old and younger)? And, the children who have suffered psychological harm from being torn from their parents and detained?

The separation of migrant families — of parents from children, and children from parents — under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy towards migrants is a crime against humanity. Or, to use another generic term, a human rights abuse. Pure and simple.


— Roger W. Smith

  August 29, 2018

Bartók, Eight Hungarian Folksongs for voice and piano (nyolc magyar népdal)



Posted here as a single track:

Bela Bartók, Eight Hungarian Folksongs for voice and piano (nyolc magyar népdal)


nos. 1–5, 1907

nos. 6–8, 1917


The music is stunning and the performance by a Hungarian singer and pianist superb.



This recording is from an LP on a Hungarian label which I bought in the 1970’s. The performers were Hungarian.

The harmonies and the rhythms are awesome. Bartók brilliantly achieves a fusion of voice and piano, and a fascinating interplay.

Hearing these pieces was a revelation for me.

The violist and Julliard Sting Quartet founding member Robert Koff, with whom I took a course in twentieth century chamber music at Brandeis University in my senior year, taught me to appreciate Bartók. From Koff, who was a very nice man as well an an inspiring teacher, I learned to appreciate Bartók.

One thing I remember Koff saying by way of emphasis was how important rhythm is in Bartók’s music; and how he achieves distinctive rhythmic effects (which can be seen in his quartets) that are based upon and echo distinctive rhythmic patterns in the spoken Hungarian language, which, Koff said, is a highly stressed language.


— Roger W. Smith

    August 2018




1. Fekete főd, fehér az én zsebkendőm  (Snow-white kerchief, dark both field and furrow show)

2. Istenem, Istenem, áraszd meg a vizet (Coldly runs the river, reedy banks o’er flowing)

3. Asszonyok, asszonyok, had’ legyek társatok (Women, women, listen, let me share your labour)

4. Annyi bánat a szívemen (Skies above are heavy with rain)

5.  Ha kimegyek arr’ a magos tetőre (If I climb the rocky mountains all day through)

6. Töltik a nagyerdő útját (All the lads to war they’ve taken)

7. Eddig való dolgom a tavaszi szántás (Spring begins with labour; then’s the time for sowing)

8. Olvad a hó, csárdás kis angyalom (Snow is melting, oh, my dear, my darling)

the music of the spheres (linguistically speaking)


I live in the borough of Queens in New York City.

In a metropolitan area with the most ethnically diverse zip codes in the nation, and in a City where far more languages are spoken than in any other city in the world — in public; on the streets and in parks; in stores and restaurants; on buses and the subway; and so on.

To hear the variety of languages spoken in NYC is exhilarating.

I love to hear foreign languages.

Their musicality.

To hear the wonderful sonorities of Spanish being spoken. To hear Russian, and to be able to recognize it. To be able to recognize Polish, which I hear spoken very often in my neighborhood.

To guess at other languages that I hear being spoken during my peregrinations.

To me, it’s just another reason to WELCOME IMMIGRANTS. If only others — some do, but I fear, and in fact know, it’s far too few — could see this.


—  Roger W. Smith

    August 2018




photos taken in Manhattan by Roger W. Smith


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a brief exercise in “verbal impressionism”


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Juniper Valley Park, Queens, NYC; August 21, 2018; photography by Roger W. Smith


Observations made by me while jaunting this week.

Monday, August 20, 2018

girl with mother and siblings eating lunch in a Macdonald’s in Queens

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

kids eating potato chips in a park in Queens (see photo above)

I noticed the same thing. That when kids are happy they get a glassy eyed, dreamy look. Like they are looking at nothing in particular. And are happy in a half-conscious way.


— Roger W. Smith

   August 21, 2018

my favorite Nielsen songs


The death of Aretha Franklin on August 16 got me thinking about singers in the gospel tradition, or who began their singing careers that way. I shared my thoughts with my wife and a friend. Naturally, I prefer some singers (meaning those who began as gospel singers) and some styles to others.

In a message to my friend, I noted that I had never really developed a taste for opera, but that — along with admiring many popular singers (meaning those who did not perform opera or classical music) — I have, over the years, developed a taste for the lied or art song.

A Wikipedia entry notes that a favorite composer of mine, Carl Nielsen (Danish, 1865-1931), wrote over 290 songs and hymns. What I like most about his songs is their simplicity and directness, along with their beauty. They convey a certain emotional state so clearly.

Nielsen’s songs do not seem to be well known.

Below is a selection of my favorites.


— Roger W. Smith

   August 2018



Æbleblomst (Apple Blossom)


Den danske sang er en ung, blond pige (The Danish song is a young blonde girl)


Den milde dag er lys og lang (The mild day is light and long)


Der er et yndigt land (A fair and lovely land) – tenor


Der er et yndigt land (A fair and lovely land) – choir


Fatimas sang (Fatima’s song) – from Incidental Music to Aladdin


Forderligt at sige (Strange to say)


Hvor sódt i Sommeraftenstunden (How sweet is the summer evening)


Jeg bærer med Smil min Byrde (I take with a smile my burden) – baritone


Jeg bærer med Smil min Byrde (I take with a smile my burden) – choir


Jeg lægger mig saa trygt til ro (I am so comfortable at rest) – baritone


Jeg lægger mig saa trygt til ro (I am so comfortable at rest) – soprano


Jeg lægger mig saa trygt til ro (I am so comfortable at rest) – tenor


Min Jesus, lad mit Hjerte faa (My Jesus, let my heart obtain)


Min pige er saa lys som Rav (Like golden amber is my girl) – baritone


Min pige er saa lys som Rav (Like golden amber is my girl) – tenor


Nu er da Vaaren kommen (At last spring has come)


Sænk kun dit Hoved du Blomst (Lay down, sweet flower, your head)


Solen er saa rød, Mor (The sun is so red, Mother)


Tidt er jeg glad, og vil dog gerne græde (Oft am I glad, still may I weep from sadness)


Ud gaar du nu paa Livets Vej (Now you must find your path in life)


Hjemve: Underlige aftenlufte (Homesickness: strange evening breezes) – tenor


Hjemve: Underlige aftenlufte (Homesickness: strange evening breezes) – soprano

re the development of musical appreciation, as seen in myself


I am afraid some people will see this post as boastful. It is not intended to be.



I have a good friend whom I share with my wife. He was a former teaching colleague of hers.

He reads all my posts — I am very happy to have him as a regular reader. He tends to admire my writings, which is very welcome, although if he disagrees with something (such as an opinion of mine about an author), he will tell me or my wife. He is a thoughtful person and reads with care and attention. But his criticisms are not harsh.

He has mentioned several times to both of us having enjoyed my writings and thoughts on classical music. He is an accomplished and serious pianist and a lover of music, about which he is knowledgeable.

I said I was glad that he enjoyed my posts about music. “You know,” I said, “with my limited technical knowledge of music, I am surprised to find I can write about it. But it seems I can.”

He said something in response to the effect that my writings on music read like those of a music critic.

Thinking more about this, I wrote my friend a follow up email, the text of which follows.


— Roger W. Smith

   August 2018



Dear _______,

Yesterday we were talking about early influences, namely music and art.

I seem to be able to “think musically.”

Even though I can’t read music or play an instrument.

How is it that I know (or think I do) that Bartók outranks Stravinsky? How and why is it that when I was listening once to folksongs by Bartók, I was reminded of Porgy and Bess? And, then (this was in the past), I happened to read something about Gershwin somewhere and found out that he had used pentatonic scales in Porgy and Bess and realized that Bartók did the same with folksongs that used ancient modalities.

As I said, I seem to have always been able to think musically. My father graduated from Harvard when I was around four or five with a degree in music. I don’t recall it well, but he had 78 RPM records of classical music that he would play when doing assignments. I recall that I loved the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 — if one can do that at a very early age, one is inherently musical. I enjoyed listening to my mother play classical music on the piano around bedtime. I liked some other works I recall such as Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite. Plus kids’ songs such as “Rain, Rain, Go Away (Come Back Again Some Other Day).” I still remember the words and the basic tune. We had a scratchy old record of it which I wanted to hear over and over again.

I seem to have a photographic memory for music. I always recall what the pieces were and remember them exactly, going way back and extending through my lifetime. If I hear a different rendition at some later date, I can tell it’s not the same. (This includes popular music and rock.) How is it that I remember both the music and the actual pieces, including what they were?

For example, on the first day of school I attended in the seventh grade in my new hometown, Canton, our teacher, Mrs. Sullivan, led us from the piano in singing. The songs were “Over the River and Through the Woods, To Grandmother’s House We Go. The horse knows the way, to carry the sleigh”; and, “Oh, Those Golden Slippers.” I can hear the songs still. I can hear Mrs. Sullivan playing — can seem to almost remember how that old piano sounded —  remember what the songs were and the melodies.

Music is linear, like mathematics. I think linearly. I always did very well in math. Music and subjects like algebra are left brained.

I never had to develop an interest in music, like, say, someone who says, or thinks, they should take up tennis or golf for some reason, and begins by taking lessons.

It was similar to my love of books and reading in that it was never an interest that was part of academics or coursework. The best interests develop naturally this way.

So that when I was in high school, I began to seriously develop a taste for and knowledge of classical music. It came naturally.

But when it comes to playing and performing, I could never, should I have tried, come close to my siblings’ proficiency.

A footnote: My former therapist, Dr. Colp’s, intellectual development seemed similar, in some respects. He grew up in a very intellectually stimulating atmosphere of books and ideas. He told me that the life of the mind was like breathing for him.

I was very fortunate to have grown up in a home were music was a part of everyday life and where aesthetic enrichment and appreciation came with the territory. Music has always been an important part of my life.



— posted by Roger W. Smith

   August 2018

an early take by Walt Whitman on his conception of himself as America’s poet



Walt Whitman began his writing career as a journalist. He was known early on for writing anonymous reviews of Leaves of Grass — in other words, reviewing himself, in laudatory terms. A motivation for his doing this was that he clearly felt his poetic endeavor would not be understood by the literati or his countrymen, and indeed his poetry initially baffled most and offended many because of its frankness, or what one might call lack of reticence when it came to topics not discussed in polite society. Even his own family seems not to have for the most part read his poetry or understood it.

Below is an unpublished puff piece by Whitman that was in his papers. It is not un-similar to anonymous reviews of Leaves of Grass he actually wrote. His conception of himself as a sort of literary gatecrasher is amusing. It has more than a grain of truth.


— Roger W. Smith

   August 2018






We suppose it will excite the mirth of many of our readers to be told that a man has arisen, who has deliberately and insultingly ignored all the other, the cultivated classes as they are called, and set himself to write “America’s first distinctive Poem,” on the platform of these same New York Roughs, firemen, the ouvrier class, masons and carpenters, stagedrivers, the Dry Dock boys, and so forth; and that furthermore, he either is not aware of the existence of the polite social models, and the imported literary laws, or else he don’t value them two cents for his purposes.


Notes and Fragments, edited by R. M. Bucke; in Complete Writings of Walt Whitman, vol. IX (New York, 1902), pg. 70