Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"They Talk About Music"

Nowadays there are so many ways to see the early days of television programming - streaming video on Archive.org or Youtube, and classic television channels.  This was a period of variety shows where high and low culture frequently intermingled.  Owing to the availability of these programs we are able to witness many celebrities of serious and popular entertainment of the past.

They Talk About Music, published in 1971, is a time capsule of that period.  The publishers of the The Music Journal, a popular music magazine of the time, put together a series of short essays by musicians familiar to audiences of that time.  Luminaries were as varied as Mischa Elman, Mahalia Jackson, Skitch Henderson, Benny Goodman, Connie Francis, Al Hirt, Roland Hayes and Duke Ellington.  The book also provides basic music appreciation with essays like "Good Music is Timeless," "What is a Conductor?," "Cultivate That Musical Youngster," "Selecting a Voice Teacher," and "The World of Sound."

There are many insightful and unique passages to be found in They Talk About Music.

In "How Jazz Came To Life," Louis Armstrong talks about the profound affect that watching the funeral processions in the New Orleans of his youth had on his belief in music that "has as its base a great sympathy and feeling."  He asserts that "jazz came to life" from these ceremonies of public mourning.

Nat "King" Cole, in "Fads, Fans and Foreign Ambassadors," writes of the significance of music to him and his aim as a performer:
I guess I could best sum up what I have tried and am still trying to get out of success by saying that it truly gives me a good feeling to bring people closer together through music.
Noel Coward writes a precis of his life in "To Thine Own Self, Be True!"  The author of Bittersweet propounds a rather bittersweet worldview:
As to myself, I am optimistic.   As to life, I am pessimistic.  I explain this duality this way: I amuse myself and I am happy, being first of all disposed to mirth.  But I detest the follies and stupidities of the human race.
Another delightful moment is when Jack Benny addresses the subject "How well do I play the violin?"  His modest answer might do for many amateur musicians: "Not so badly as I often sound, but not as well as I would like."  From here he goes on the extol the "amateur" - someone who "does something for the love of it, not necessarily badly."

There are many other entertaining vignettes for those interested in musicians of the mid-20th century.

They Talk About Music (Belwin/Mills, 1971).

This book also includes a number of whimsical illustrations by Walt Trag - a musical note plucking a bouquet of musical notes.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Know Your SFPL Call Numbers - Drawing (741, 743)

 The call numbers for books on learning how to draw are located in two separate Dewey Decimal sections.

741.2 is the call number for "Drawing-Technique."  743 is the call number for "Drawing By Subject."

Within these numbers there are books with greater subject specificity.  For instance, the drawing technique numbers also have exact numbers for different drawing media:

741.22 - charcoal
741.235 - pastel
741.24 - pencil
741.26 - pen

The drawing by subject area likewise has exact decimal numbers for various categories of people (men, women), human anatomy, and other living things (animals and plants), nature, landscapes and fantasy.

743.4 - human figures
743.42 - portraiture
743.43 - men
743.44 - women
743.49 - anatomy for artists
743.6 - drawing animals
743.7 - drawing plants
743.8 - nature and landscapes
743.87 - fantasy
743.89 - the supernatural

With this in mind you can browse in our online catalog or on the shelves of any San Francisco Public Library location.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Two Music Critics

In the Pink Section of last Sunday's paper (November 2, 2014), in an article entitled "A Critic Worth Emulating," San Francisco Chronicle classical music critic Joshua Kosman wrote a comparison of two of the most esteemed English-language music critics -- George Bernard Shaw and Virgil Thomson.  This article was originally published online with the title "Rubin Institute for Music Criticism hits a critical note in S.F." (October 30, 2014) on the occasion of a conference on music criticism currently taking place at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Virgil Thomson has been called a "music critic of singular brilliance" by Nicholas Slonimsky (in Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians).  Given that Thomson was a Pulitzer prize-winning composer as well as a venerable music critic for New York Herald Tribune, such an accolade may seem fitting.  Yet Kosman does not concur.  He finds Thomson's criticism uncreative and  unsubstantial, faulting it for a "lack of description or substantive discussion."  For Kosman, Thomson is "a virtual paragon of how not to practice music criticism."

Bernard Shaw, on the contrary, is the model of a music critic.  "Shaw's writings are fearless ... yet genial in their tone."  Kosman praises Shaw's tone and avoidance of technical language.  While not always in agreement with his judgments, Kosman sees Shaw's work as an examplar of true criticism:
The job of the critic is not to be “right” (especially not when “right” means “in sync with someone else’s opinion”), but to make his or her case persuasively and with conviction. Shaw did that every week.
Here, Mr. Kosman also makes his case persuasively and with conviction.  But, of course, you need not take a critic's word for any of this.  You can go to the sources to read and evaluate the works of both men yourself.  The Library awaits with a number of books collecting the writings of George Shaw and Virgil Thomson.  While here you can also check out the writing many contemporary music critics like Alex Ross, Alan Rich, Kyle Gann, and Tim Page.

Works by Bernard Shaw:

How to Become a Musical Critic, edited with an introduction by Dan H. Laurence (Hill and Wang, 1961).

Music in London, 1890-94 (Constable and Company Limited, 1932)

The Perfect Wagnerite; A Commentary on the Niblung's Ring (Dover Publications, 1967).

The Great composers: Reviews and Bombardments; edited with an introduction by Louis Crompton (University of California Press, 1978).

Shaw's Music: The Complete Musical Criticism in Three Volumes; edited by Dan H. Laurence (Dodd, Mead, 1981).


Works by Virgil Thomson:

The Art of Judging Music (A. A. Knopf, 1948).

Music, Right and Left (Holt, 1951).

The Musical Scene (A. A. Knopf, 1945).

A Virgil Thomson Reader; with an introduction by John Rockwell (Houghton Mifflin, 1981).

Virgil Thomson: A Reader: Selected Writings, 1924-1984, edited by Richard Kostelanetz (Routledge, 2002).