A gentle reminder to renew

It’s that time of year again — your subscription to the Old Farmer’s Almanac is running out, so you’d better hie down to your post office and send a money order to Dublin, NH, pronto. As I wrote two years ago:

A gentle reminder that you still have a day or two to prepare for the new year with the purchase of your 2020 Old Farmer’s Almanac, North America’s oldest continuously published periodical, now in its 228th year. Since its founding by Robert B. Thomas in 1792, the almanac has proven indispensable, and you can still find in it a wealth of information about the weather, gardening, herbal remedies, snappy household tips, your pets, tides and the moon, and 1,001 other topics.

Read — and watch — more here.

Wednesdays with Hoagy

When I haven’t been watching my daughter onstage, I’ve been listening quite a bit to Hoagy Carmichael recently, a great American singer/songwriter who has fallen into some obscurity over the past few years. He may be most famous for his appearance as Cricket in Howard Hawks’ 1944 To Have and Have Not; below, he sings “Hong Kong Blues” in an excerpt from the film. (I can highly recommend Richard M. Sudhalter’s fine 2002 biography of the musician, Stardust Melody.)


Like father …

A few weekends ago, my daughter made her stage debut at the Lee Strasberg Institute here in New York. It wasn’t a formal production — more of an open rehearsal for friends and family of the young students — but nonetheless there she was, at 11 years old convincing and entirely off book for both of her scenes and, I must add, I was proud, as any father would be. And, I must admit, simultaneously hopeful and melancholy. I have spent a good part of my writing life as a playwright and critic, with stints at the New York Times and the Guardian and elsewhere, though that was another world ago, back in the Pleistocene Era. Still, if theatre is in the genes, I suppose it’s been passed on to the next generation, which is perhaps where it belongs.

I don’t really know why children take to the theatre so, but they do; I didn’t get there myself until my teens. My daughter and her fellow students had been part of the fall youth workshop at the Strasberg Institute, learning method acting, stage fighting, dance, and a little camera work; after the scene study, she and her friends also participated in a round of improvisation. It could be that children have greater access to their imaginations and the ways in which their bodies can personify those imaginings. After these past few years, any sort of escape from this reality seems laudable. I’m 59 now, so I should add that I also envied them this access. Youth isn’t wasted on the young. They seem to know quite well what to do with it.

To make matters more personally confounding, Billie also came across an old play of mine in the bookshelves called Snow’s Day and asked if there was a part in it for her. I had to disappoint her; set on the last day of an aging professor’s career, the play didn’t have a role for, much less appeal to, an 11-year-old girl. But, inspired, I did pass along to her something more appropriate and considerably more successful, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. This she liked, though the two characters she liked the least were George and Emily. Apparently cynicism, like a penchant for the dramatic arts, can be passed on through the genes as well.

Snow’s Day was the last play I wrote, about seven years ago, and I think it still might be the last play I ever write. I’d thought it might be my farewell to the theatre, but obviously I was wrong; somehow Billie keeps me in the game, at least as an admiring parent. (Billie has re-upped for the winter session at Strasberg.) It could well be that theatre and drama are properly young people’s passions — young at heart, if not in body, perhaps; but I can’t say that I’m young at heart these days myself, so am delighted to leave it to my daughter and her new friends, who certainly are. Nonetheless, her performance did poke the ashes a bit; I recently found myself re-reading The Cherry Orchard, and even made a few notes for a new play that would include, as a character, a 12-year-old girl. Maybe it’s a family business now, and Billie’s trying to pull me back in. Whatever happens, whatever Billie does, I’ll be in the stalls, cheering her on. And with luck, she’ll be able to score me a house seat on the aisle.

Joplin & Co.

Now available for pre-order, Marilyn Nonken‘s next album, Syncopated Musings: Rags, Concert Waltzes, and Novelties for the Pianoforte by Scott Joplin and His Collaborators, is a collection of less-familiar music by the self-described “King of Ragtime” and several of his friends and colleagues. Divine Art Records will release Syncopated Musings on February 11, 2022, and it’ll be available on both CD and in a variety of downloadable formats.

Yours truly wrote the liner notes. “Why ragtime? Why now?” you may ask. Well, I answer, “Far more than a nostalgic throwback to a ‘simpler’ time … these explorations and the continued excavations of the form confirm ragtime as a soundworld all its own – a soundworld that remains remarkably contemporary.” Allow me to go on:

The early 20th century culture in which this music was composed seems surprisingly similar to the culture of the early 21st. A society tearing itself apart in the effort to navigate tensions created by white responses to the increasingly important roles of Black and immigrant Americans in urban and rural cultures; the threat of health crises like the frequent and devastating yellow fever outbreaks and the Influenza Epidemic of 1918; even the geopolitical consequences of America’s increasingly isolationist and nationalist foreign policies – this was the background to ragtime’s emergence, and it remains the background to 21st century interpretations of this uniquely American music. Those anxieties are ours, demanding our individual responses. Syncopation, perhaps the most obvious quality of ragtime, exploits rhythmic irregularity and imbalance, seeking but never finding final resolution, perhaps an uncanny reflection of our own personal and cultural predicament. They may also be the key to ragtime’s continuing appeal and its imaginative reinterpretation.

Divine Art provides a sample of Syncopated Musings below. You can pre-order the album itself here.

Ragtime break: Sunflower Slow Drag

In the next few weeks you’ll be hearing more here about Syncopated Musings, Marilyn Nonken‘s new album of music by Scott Joplin and his collaborators, now scheduled for release in January of 2022. As a preview, Divine Art Records is providing Marilyn’s performance of Scott Hayden and Scott Joplin’s “Sunflower Slow Drag” on YouTube below. Per the promotional copy:

While Scott Joplin’s ragtime music shot back to popularity in the 1970s, many of his pieces are still relatively unknown and this also applies to pieces in which Joplin collaborated with other musicians. American pianist Marilyn Nonken has a new album in which she takes us on a journey through some of Joplin’s most attractive rags and concert waltzes, including works in which he partnered with Scott Hayden, Arthur Marshall, Charles Lamb, and Louis Chauvin. Syncopated Musings will be available worldwide on February 11, 2022, and direct form Divine Art in early January.

You can read more about it here. In the meantime, sit back and relax to the strains of this 1901 classic.