Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Canticle For Leibowitz





I first read A Canticle for Leibowitz during the summer of 1969, as a lad of about 14.


That summer I had moved from reading mostly juvenile sci-fi books and stories (Heinlein & Asimov) to more adult fare.  First devouring Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon, then Heinlein’s Stranger in A Strange Land, I moved on to Walter M. Miller’s Hugo Award winning novel.


While I’d like to say I was sophisticated enough to fully appreciate the depth of Miller’s work, the truth is a lot of it was probably lost on me the first time I read it.


I returned to it again in my senior year of High School, and again in my mid-30s.   Each time, finding more to savor.


At first glance, it may seem another post-apocalyptic tale.


The world has been consumed in a great nuclear `Flame Deluge’, and the remnants of humanity are reduced to `simpletons’ who eschew technology and science.  Illiteracy is commonplace, and nearly all of mankind’s books have been destroyed.


But this is a book of ideas.

Set over a period of 1500 years and divided into three parts (set roughly 600 years apart), A Canticle tells of the clandestine preservation of knowledge by an order of monks cloistered in the American Southwest, the slow rise of technology, and the nearly inevitable repeating of history.


While nothing really compares with reading the book, a 15-part abridged radio dramatization - produced for NPR and broadcast in 1981 by WHA radio (Madison, Wisconsin) and other public radio stations – does the story justice.


The half hour series ran on Sunday nights from October 1981 to January 1982, was repeated several times in the 1980s, and then shelved until 2001, when it was rebroadcast by NPR stations around the country.


The 7-1/2 hour program was adapted for radio by John Reed, and directed by Karl Schmidt.   The cast included Carol Collins, Fred Coffin, Russell Horton, Bart Hayman, and Herb Hartig.


You’ll find the radio production available on The Internet Archive.  You can either listen to individual episodes using their audio player, download individual episodes to listen to on your own computer or MP3 player, or download the entire series in a single Zip file.


A Canticle for Liebowitz



If you’ve never read the book, this series may well inspire you to do so, as there is far more to the story than this series can provide.

Nonetheless, this production is both satisfying and well worth savoring.



Saturday, July 2, 2011

If You Knew Sousa . . .




John Philip Sousa doing his best Clifton Webb impersonation. . .

With this being the 4th of July weekend, there is nothing quite as quintessentially American as the military and patriotic music of John Philip Sousa.


While best known for “The Washington Post", "Semper Fidelis" (Official March of the United States Marine Corps), and "The Stars and Stripes Forever"  - Sousa composed more than 130 marches, more than a dozen operettas, and a number of (mostly forgettable) songs.


Born in 1854, in Washington D.C., Sousa began playing the violin at the age of six.  His father was a trombonist in the Marine band, and when John was 13, his father enlisted him into the Marines to keep him from running away to the circus.


Sousa served a 7-year apprenticeship with the Marine band before leaving.  Over the years, Sousa mastered a number of instruments and, after joining a pit orchestra, learned to conduct.


He returned to the U.S. Marine Band as its conductor 1880, a post he retained for 12 years. Sousa led "The President's Own" band under five presidents (1880-1892).


In 1892 Sousa formed his own band, and over the next 39 years toured extensively, giving over 15,000 concerts. His personal appearances, and records, made him independently wealthy and the most famous bandleader of his time.


The highly enjoyable bio pic  The Stars & Stripes Forever (1952), staring Clifton Webb, Robert Wagner, and Debra Paget takes some liberties with the plot (Wagner’s Willie Little character appears to be entirely fictitious), but is nonetheless a well mounted (for Hollywood) attempt to tell the story of `The March king.’


Sadly, the movie is not in the public domain, but shows up on cable often.


Given the era when Sousa reigned, it isn’t surprising to find a large number of early Sousa recordings available free online.  As always, the Internet Archive proves to be a treasure trove of these recordings.


The sound quality of many of these old 78’s can range from fair to poor, but nonetheless are fascinating audio clips from more than one hundred years past.


We’ve 18 historical recordings made between 1895 and 1918 featuring the Sousa’s Band, with everything from a boisterous cakewalk, to a Viennese Waltz,  to the march music one expects.


John Philip Sousa - Sousa's Band - The March King


For better sound quality, we can turn to the Pride of the 48 Band (produced in 1958) doing 10 Sousa selections.




The Pride of the 48 Band.
[conductor uncredited].



And lastly, from Youtube, three variations on Sousa’s most enduring composition -  The Stars and Stripes Forever.

First, the traditional symphonic treatment by the Boston Pops Orchestra.




Next, the famous Vladimir Horowitz transcription of the Stars and Stripes Forever.  Played somewhat slower than by most bands, Horowitz gives amazing feeling to the piece.



And lastly, the incomparable Chet Atkins showing us how it’s done on the guitar.




Happy Fourth of July to everyone!