WHAT MATTERS IN THE CHAMBERS OF MY HEART

I played my heart out one sunset flag lowering

Playing taps on trumpet at church camp

How I held that long, lingering note till my breath nearly ran out

It moved everybody—children surrounded me at chapel afterward

Moved me too, I felt it all, feel it still, I’m there, now—44 years later

 

I had played solo trumpet in filled concert halls

Been interviewed on radio about it

But that doesn’t hit me now

Like sunset, flag lowering, at church camp

 

I played trumpet duets that I’d composed

Before and after evening chapel at church camp

44 years ago, and it pleases me now to be there again

 

I played bass at a church Convention worship service

I see the drummer lean forward to look at me

After a drum solo to get in the groove again

I’m there, 5 years ago, even now

 

I played bass in packed bars, jazz clubs, hotel dance floors

Church Convention sits with me more pleasantly, now

 

Then there was Memorial Day at the family trailer campground

Mom and dad and children danced on the cement floor

Mom sang along with the ‘50’s Little Richard song

We played Monkees for a boy who saw them on Nickelodeon TV

And it sits with me like church, 33 years later

 

COVID-19 affords me much time, much occasion to reflect

Success deconstructs in reflecting over a life well-lived

It sits as a matter of what means to me

And meaning is not a matter of acclaim or money

Church and family camping echo pleasantly

Through the chambers of my heart

And sit well with me in reflections of COVID-19

Contemporary Pop Music and Classic Rock

Music was at the center of our lives when my generation was young.  There were no computer games.  So instead of hanging out and gaming with our friends, we would gather in a living room or someone’s bedroom and listen to classic rock.  OK, we usually got high, too.  With this much intensity surrounding music, it is not surprising how much really good music came out of my generation.  And with the gravitas now shifted from music, it is not surprising how poor the music quality is that is being produced now.  I think that music is now largely background to video games, repeating short phrases over and over again while one’s real attention is on the virtual characters.  I try to listen to pop music today, but very quickly get bored and turn it off.

Then I get philosophical.  Is this just another example of the older generation disparaging the music and customs of the younger generation?  I think about Dean Martin and Jimi Hendrix.  The silken sounds of Dean Martin and the melodic strings backing him were a mellow mix, soothing, if not mediocre.  Dean Martin was the music my parents liked.  What a shock to their sensibilities it must have been to hear Hendrix blasting onto the music scene in the ’60’s.  Hendrix, Clapton, the Beatles, Santana, and the other great bands and players of the ’60’s and early ’70’s brought a new and powerful sound to the world.  And none of them had anything near the silken tones of Dean Martin.  Young musicians are still learning Hendrix and other classic rock tunes.  No one listens to Dean Martin.  So I return to my philosophical question.  Is my disaffection with contemporary music just another example of the old disparaging the customs of the young?  Or is contemporary music really that bland?  I suppose the real question is whether there is any music today that will last like Hendrix.  Or is today’s sound fated to follow Dean Martin into obscurity?

But Dean Martin isn’t the only voice of his time.  Miles Davis, the great jazz trumpet/composer, lived approximately the same time as Dean Martin.  Miles Davis already has a lasting place in music history.  He took the jazz he inherited and took it into a new universe, inventing along the way the style called “Cool Jazz.”  The word is that Miles Davis wanted to collaborate with Hendrix just before Hendrix’s untimely demise.  Sadly, Dean Martin made more money and achieved greater fame than Miles did in his lifetime–except for those who cared about music quality.  So when I think of generational divides, it isn’t just a matter of Dean Martin and Hendrix.  Miles lived then, too.  And while Miles isn’t of my generation, my generation admires his music and, for me, envies the generation that produced the genius of Miles Davis.

So the issues isn’t one of generations only.  It’s a matter of the gravitas music holds for the listener.  I don’t think that there is a gravitas for music today.  So I doubt that any really good and lasting music will be produced in this generation.  And, sadly, I doubt that this generation will miss it.  Rather, I look into the future, when lovers of music will generate another climate in which a Miles Davis or Jimi Hendrix will rise up in song.

ARCHITECTURAL NOTES OF ONE MEMORABLE EVENING

The jazz band transformed the narrow, ceramic-tiled club

They rearranged the ratio of people to sound to dark woodwork

The club’s architecture became the chord structures’ foundation to melody

The harmonic structure transported solos all the way up to the ceiling, blew the roof off

And into the sky, out to the streets, I imagined

I didn’t understand the people jabbering and blabbering through it

I stood rapt in the packed club, transported, transformed

Maybe the people had heard them before

(The trumpet was a fixture in town)

In the intense content, I, even I, was content after the two hours.

I noted that any given musician only,

Playing measures measured over time,

Time after time, would finally time out.

Variety shows the composition of the universe

Different faces, voices, combos, intonations

Render exquisite the transportation, the transformation

Of the architecture of a club’s tone, music and staff, vibe and patron

The very foundations—flying and buttressing the harmonic structure

Of one memorable evening

Magnanimity and Pop-Culture

Aristotle writes about magnanimity, or “high-minded” in Book IV.3 of the Nicomachean Ethics.  The Greek word is megalopsuchia–literally, “Great, or large soul.”  It is an elusive and difficult virtue to understand.  It is largely a quality of mind, or an attitude.  I take it to mean a mind that values high things and acts in a high manner.  Aristotle himself says that magnanimous persons can appear arrogant.  And a person who prizes great things can seem to be elitist, or a snob.  Yet I think that magnanimity is indeed a virtue to cultivate.  I have.

I have followed a course in my life that has been and continues to be dedicated to great things.  I spent large sums of money (student loans) educating myself–money I am still paying back even 25 years after graduation.  I have been exposed to great works of literature, philosophy, art, religion, and music.  I continue to pursue my quest to acquaint myself with great things.

I have been called a snob.  And it is beginning to appear as if the causes to which I have dedicated my life are fading in our culture.  Musically, I appreciate classical music, jazz, classic rock, and now I am trying to learn about East Indian music of the Sikhs and traditional sitar music.  I continue my reading in poetry and novels.  I am adding to my formal graduate education in religions by inquiring into the spirituality of First Nations.  I am progressing in my competence on piano, continuing to write poetry, and continue my reading in philosophy and great works of fiction.  As I acquire new competencies I continue to meditate and make my new learning my own.  It is a thankless task.  But the magnanimous soul is not concerned with monetary rewards or praise from the masses.  Virtue is its own reward.

I’m not sure that Aristotle’s great soul is compatible with Christian ethics.  Jesus’ way is one of humility, and indifference to the things of this world.  Still, the virtues of love, forgiveness, and solidarity with others are also included in Aristotle’s magnanimity.  And I believe that Aristotle’s great soul would revere the gods.

I think that the tension between Jesus and Aristotle is in the definition of great things.  Kierkegaard was suspicious of the aesthetic life.  I believe that it would truly take a great soul to aspire to great things, and also keep her or his feet grounded in humility.  Yet what I get from Bach or Beethoven is among the best things I treasure.  This does not conflict with what I get from the texts of Christianity.

Our most prestigious institutions of learning are now teaching pop-culture.  Pop-culture is fine for those who like it.  But I do not think that it deserves a place in university curricula.  We are in an age that seeks to destroy elitism and the works that have in the past been considered elite, like Bach or Beethoven.  I refuse to equate Bon Jovi in any way with Beethoven.  Beethoven wrote pop music for country bands to play.  But it was all in good fun; he never considered them on a par with his symphonies.

I can imagine how distressed my parents had been when the melodious sounds of Frank Sinatra clashed with the wailing guitar of Jimi Hendrix.  It must have looked as if the world was decaying.  Yet I appreciate Hendrix and Sinatra.  If the world is sinking in the bland currents of pop-culture, it looks like the world is decaying to me, too.  I wonder if contemporary culture will consider those well-versed in pop-culture great souls.  Or is the whole notion of great souls too elitist to persist in our world anymore?

CHICAGO

With Chicago’s manifold options

You can do almost everything

It is not a city—it is a world

And the world is represented in

Its population’s ethnicity

 

But it isn’t a world

Chicago is its own world

And if you lived here all your life

It would make you in the image of Chicago

 

Part of what makes Chicago, though

Is the Ethiopian cab driver

Who took us to the Lake Michigan beach

–the waves were large on the waters—

And the Jordanian cab driver who took us home

Both immigrants bringing their personalities other than Chicago home-grown

And the harmonica player with the French accent

Who grew up here with the mixed whites

And Afro-Americans who live here and

Some gave the world sounds of the blues

So there is always a fresh perspective

On the city and an opening outward

Of those few or many home-grown

But I didn’t see any Indigenous

 

I heard superb jazz in Chicago, though

Better in Westchester, PA, of all places

But the mix wasn’t good, echoes

The blues clubs in Chicago feel like shrines

Heart, community

Good blues, but not extraordinary, surprisingly

Chicago has history and lore

But not the legendary status of storied New York

I would make America’s cities:

New York, L. A., Chicago, and Boston

You could live your life in Chicago

Because it is as a world

In its manifold superb and variegated options

Perpetual Spring

As I age, the world ages with me

As it always has

Things I treasure go out of style

Live music, blues, jazz, the symphony

Peace and love

Mozart went out of style

And nobody knows where he is buried

Who performed for princes, kings, queens

High art, technique, form fail

Churches dwindle, consolidate, close

Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus shrugged off

They follow Zeus, Apollo, Heracles

 

There is no perpetual spring

There follows summer, autumn, winter, and spring again

As I autumn, I can’t see spring again

No, I don’t see spring

I will be leaving this world

And I look toward another

And as my world dies, perhaps it is well that I also with it

I think less of my legacy than I do my potential

In my autumn I see perpetual springtime