Tag Archives: music

Dancing for COVID

Hans Holbein’s “The Lady,” part of his “Danse Macabre” series, c. 1526

From illness and tragedy, art always seems to bloom to place ourselves and our world into a grand perspective.  After the “Black Death” rampaged through Eurasia and North Africa in the 14th century, the “danse macabre”, or dance of death, became an artistic representation of how death is the ultimate equalizer.  Beginning in Western Europe and gaining popularity in the Middle Ages, it was a literary or pictorial representation of both living and dead figures – from pope to hermit – leading their lives as normal, before entering a grave.

Recently some pallbearers in Ghana envisioned the dance for contemporary deaths and the ensuing funerals.  As many Africans tend to do, they celebrate death as the next stage of life – mournful and often tragic, for certain.  Singing and dancing, they honor the deceased for the life they led on Earth and the glorious new life they should have in the next realm.

It’s how I view death.  My paternal grandfather said he respected death more than any other aspect of the world because it’s not prejudiced or bigoted.  It simply spares no one.  I felt some measure of glee when I watch the ending of the 1997 movie “Titanic”, as the ship sank and the plethora of furnishings and luxurious items shattered.  Not because I love seeing things destroyed!  But because all of the vainglorious possessions of the vessel’s wealthiest patrons could not save them.  They may have been rescued because of their wealth, as many of them entered the smattering of lifeboats first.  But, whether dead at that moment or dead later, they would never be able to take those items with them.

We all come into this world naked and screaming, clutching nothing but our souls in our hands.  We leave with the same.

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Saltarello by Arte Factum


Miracle of the True Cross at the Bridge of S. Lorenzo, oil painting by Gentile Bellini, 1500; in the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice.

The current COVID-19 crisis has been compared to the “Black Plague”, which ravaged much of Eurasia in the middle of the 14th century C.E.  Historians and scientists now believe the scourge first appeared in Western Asia in the 1330s, before storming into India and the Middle East via the legendary “Silk Road” and then into Europe and Northern Africa.  It even reached the Danish outpost of Iceland.  It’s a wonder, I believe, it didn’t make it to North America, as Viking explorers had already reached what is now Newfoundland.  Europe was the hardest hit region, with some 50 million estimated fatalities.  Overall, it killed roughly 350- 375 million people.  But, since they had no accurate population counting system at the time, the death rate very well could have been several times worst.

There are some chilling similarities to the COVID-19 debacle.  It began in Asia and seems to have struck Italy first.  Back then religious leaders convinced their ignorant, illiterate followers that the pestilence was God’s condemnation for whatever sins they’d committed.  On top of that, national commanders initially didn’t realize the severity of the pandemic and concocted whatever excuses sounded plausible.

Politics aside, one other element remains relatively unchanged: the love of music and dance.  We’ve seen people across the globe cope with isolation and mandatory quarantines by singing and dancing; playing music on their doorsteps or balconies for neighbors to hear; connecting with family and friends through cyberspace to share melodies.  Again, there are similarities with the “Black Plague”.

Medieval Europeans also often used music and song to celebrate life’s various events.  I find music from this time and place beautifully intriguing and even somewhat familiar to current musical trends.  As usual, Italians always rose to the occasion; creating a number of songs and dances to express the beauty of life.  The saltarello is a perfect example.  An Italian dance style dating to the 14th century, it involved leaping and skipping and was performed to music done in a triple meter tempo; usually accompanied by tambourines, guitars, and singing.  Saltarello survived into the 18th century and, by then, had become a popular folk dance.  Saltarello rhythm and energy bears similarities to tarantella; another popular Italian folk dance also often performed at weddings and dating to medieval times.  A well-known contemporary model appears in the final movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ symphony.

Featured performance: Arte Factum

Image: SCALA/Art Resource, New York

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The Chief’s Most Valuable Possessions

My father’s urn

My mother’s official wedding portrait from 1959, along with other old family photos

The box containing my dog’s ashes

My computers, including this 10-year-old desktop

My cell phone

My vast collection of books

My model car collection

Music CDs

My library of National Geographic magazines that stretch back nearly 80 years

Wine and other spirits

My stash of adult DVDs

And finally…

Who would’ve thought?!  At the start of the third decade of the 21st century, this shit would become a coveted item!

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From a Lone Perch Above the City

Two men serenade their San Salvario neighborhood of Turin, Italy, with a guitar and a flute on a balcony, on March 13, 2020. Photo by Nicolò Campo, LightRocket.

Some Italian citizens – as perhaps only Italians could – reacted to a recent COVID-19 quarantine with music and song.  Until March 26, Italy had experienced the most confirmed coronavirus cases outside of China.  Initially, Italian government shut down the northern half of the country – but eventually, the entire nation fell to lock-down commands.  Isolated in their homes, several talented individuals retrieved musical instruments and their voices to sing to the quiet air.  The results have been magical – and have been spreading faster than the virus.

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In Memoriam – Eddie Money, 1949-2019

“To me, the glass is always half full – never half empty.”

Eddie Money (Edward Joseph Mahoney)

“Baby, Hold On”

“Shakin’”

“Think I’m in Love”

“Two Tickets to Paradise”

“Walk on Water”

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Lady Rock n’ Roll

Continuing with my poetry streak, here’s a piece I composed in December 1984.  Like “Coal Black” hints at my obsession for women with long black hair, this speaks more loudly of my love for women who play guitar – either professionally or as a hobby.  Part of the inspiration springs from my admiration for one of my favorite rock bands, “Heart,” founded by sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson more than four decades ago.  Together the duo carved their own unique path through the male-dominated world of rock music; shattering the bodice-tight image of female-as-ornament, and proving – along with a handful of similar contemporaries – that women can be both assertive and feminine.

But it also describes how emotions are often stretched in a relationship – a common theme in any genre of music – and the reality that true love, albeit subtle, is eternal.

Oh, my Lady Rock n’ Roll,

I know so many secrets that you hold.

By chance, you remember me?

I’m the man who cut you free.

I loved every ounce of your soul until you stood on your own.

Then you dropped me like a crinkled bone.

Now I’ve returned to set myself back into your mind.

And I can see that small light of love still shines.

Oh, my Lady Rock n’ Roll,

I recall a time when you weren’t so bold.

Wordless memories that were no mere charity.

Now that love has warped into a sense of disparity.

A split between your mind and your voice,

A painful note of distrust and noise.

I cried when I saw your spangled skin.

I felt you’d charred yourself with sordid sin.

Oh, my Lady Rock n’ Roll,

I pray your emotions are not forever cold.

Why you’ve slipped into a neon aura is beyond my thoughts.

I remain silent, my heart bound by locks.

Please look at my face.

I can tell if you have anymore grace.

Music and emotion bring out such joy.

My eyes should tell you I’m no toy.

Oh, my Lady Rock n’ Roll,

I know you can’t be sold.

Oh, my Lady Rock n’ Roll,

My senses have yet to fold.

Oh, my Lady Rock n’ Roll,

I still wish to be part of your soul.

Images: Fotolia

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