Lazy Sunday CII: Obituaries, Part II

Another week is dawning, and it’s time to look at the sun setting on some excellent individuals.  2020 was a rough year for many reasons, not least because of the deaths it brought.  Here’s hoping this week’s titans are resting in the arms of Jesus:

  • Rock in Peace, Eddie Van Halen” – If any of these three aren’t resting in the arms of Jesus, it’s probably Eddie Van Halen, though I’m holding out hope he experienced some manner of conversion experience and is playing “Panama” inside the pearly gates.  Eddie was a pioneering guitarist, but he also built on the legacies of past giants, like the violinist Niccolo Paganini (who was so good, it was said he sold his soul to the devil for the privilege; if that’s true, there’s a pretty good band in Hell right now—not that you’d want to go and hear them!)
  • Rest in Peace, Alex Trebek” – Smarmy.  Smug.  Canadian (I think).  Alex Trebek is synonymous with Jeopardy!, and it’s unclear that anyone can fill his shoes.  He brought just the right balance of bedside manner and not giving a damn to his hosting duties, asking guests for their tedious life stories, and occasionally finding them lackluster.  But, boy, he was a good host.  Rest in Peace, Alex.
  • Rest in Peace, Rush Limbaugh” – Speaking of irreplaceable hosts, Rush Limbaugh is one of the first greats to shed off this mortal coil in the great year 2021.  I don’t think anyone can truly replace Rush behind the legendary EIB Golden Mic, but I’m hoping they hire Mark Steyn as a perpetual guest host.  “The Rush Limbaugh Show w/ Mark Steyn” has a nice ring to it.  That’s a Canadian I can get behind.

That’s it for another macabre edition of Lazy Sunday.  Happier retrospectives to come in March.

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

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Phone it in Friday XVI: Week in Review (5-8 October 2020)

I’m out of town for a few days, so I’m resorting to something I rarely do:  a week in review post.  Some bloggers feature these weekly, such as my blogger buddy Mogadishu Matt.  I sort of did one back with “Lazy Sunday LVIII: Spring Break Short Story Recommendations Recap,” but that was more a review of a week-long series of posts, not a review, per se, of the week itself.

Ah, well.  That’s just nit-picking.  Here’s what I wrote about this past week:

That’s it for this edition of Phone it in Friday.  Here’s hoping I wrote some material good enough that you don’t mind reading it (and reading about it) again.

Happy Friday!

—TPP

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Rock in Peace, Eddie Van Halen

It is with a heavy heart that we bid a fond farewell to the Mozart of our time, Eddie Van Halen.  Van Halen passed away after a lengthy struggle with lung cancer.  He is survived by his brother, drummer Alex Van Halen, and his son, Wolfgang Van Halen, who joined the band as its bassist in 2006.

Van Halen was truly one of the guitar greats of the twentieth century, the second half of which witnessed the rise of many guitar heroes to the pinnacles of superstardom, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s.

But Van Halen’s licks didn’t stop with memorable riffs.  He could play neoclassical passages with ease, weaving them into songs about partying and and lusting after one’s teacher.  Learning his signature solo, “Eruption,” became a rite of passage for budding guitarists in the 1980s and beyond.  Van Halen also dominated on the keyboards—much to the chagrin of perennial showman David Lee Roth—as is clear from the entire album 1984, one of the best albums of all time.  Who can resist jumping when hearing the opening strains of “Jump“?

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SubscribeStar Saturday: Making Music, Part II

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This school year I began transitioning from teaching a blend of history and music classes towards focusing almost entirely on music.  While I still teach a couple of sections of American History, my teaching duties these days consist primarily music classes.

One of the real joys of teaching music—besides the fact that it’s just plain fun—is to see students inspired to create their own music.  I have been blessed over the years to witness the musical development of many students, and to hear some of their creations.

During our remote learning rehearsal day earlier this week, I pulled out some old concert footage to show my HS Music Ensemble class, a course that is entirely performance based.  That class does not port well to a fully online format, especially to a livestreamed one, as latency is so intense that it makes ensemble performance impossible.  Indeed, if that class goes to a fully online format, we’ll have to focus more on solo work and and music theory, which is what we did during distance learning earlier in the spring.

In watching that old concert footage, I was reminded of some wonderful moments in my school’s unorthodox music program’s history.  It also reminded me of the power of teaching music to inspire the creation of new works.

To hear my own musical works, visit https://tjcookmusic.bandcamp.com/ or www.tjcookmusic.com.

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Phone it in Friday X: Coronavirus Conundrum, Part III: Working from Home

Well, another week of distance learning is in the books (nearly), and it seems folks are settling into an uncertain new normal as The Virus—what I’ve taken to calling the coronavirus (or COVID-19, to your cool kids)—continues to spread its invisible tentacles.

I personally have enjoyed the transition to distance learning, though I wish it were under rosier circumstances, obviously.  It’s been stimulating to solve the puzzle of moving instruction online, and while I think I’m actually working harder and longer most days, I am far more refreshed.  Being able to wake up at 7:30 AM and shuffling to the computer with some coffee is much more pleasant than my typically frantic morning routine, with both starts earlier and is more hectic.  It’s also nice knowing that, once 3:30 or 4 PM hit, I am done, if I wish to be.

Naturally, I realize many Americans don’t have this luxury—they’re either in essential jobs that require them to risk constant interactions with other people, or they’re in non-essential work that can’t simply move to the Internet, so they find themselves out of work.  My heart goes out to both groups.  The real heroes of this situation are the garbage men, nurses, doctors, utility workers, cooks, plumbers, and the rest that soldier on.

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TBT: “Silent Night” turns 200

The Christmas season—and a pending Christmas concert—has seen me waxing melodic on the holiday’s wonderful music.  As such, today’s TBT is predictable (if anyone were interested in predicting such a thing):  it’s a look back at a short post about the 200th anniversary of the classic carolSilent Night.”

Like “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night” is one of my favorite carols.  It’s sweet and simple, but can also be rocked up (the 6/8 time signature and three-chord structure lend the tune to bluesy interpretations, and I’ll occasionally slide in some blue notes when playing the song instrumentally).

It looks like it won’t make it into our Christmas program this year—a rarity—but I’ll be sure to make room for it next year.  Its more operatic cousin, “O Holy Night,” will be our finale, though.  I’ve always linked the two tunes mentally because of their similar names and themes (and they’re both in 6/8).  “O Holy Night” really lends itself to a hard rock interpretation, as my annual “O Holy (To)Night” cover version attests.

Without further adieu, here is Christmas 2019’s “‘Silent Night’ turns 200” (now closing in on 201):

One of my favorite Christmas carols, “Silent Night,” turns 200 this Christmas season.

The carol was originally written as a poem in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars by a village priest, Joseph Mohr, in the village of Oberndorf, Austria, in 1816. Two years later, Mohr approached the town’s choirmaster and organist, Franz Xaver Gruber, to set the poem to music. Gruber agreed, and the carol enjoyed its first performance to a small congregation, which universally enjoyed its simple sweetness.

Since then, the humble hymn has spread far and wide, and is probably the most recognizable Christmas carol globally today. It’s been covered (likely) thousands of times; it’s certainly become a staple of my various Christmas performances.

This simple, sweet, powerful carol beautifully tells the story of Christ’s birth, as well as the import of that transformative moment in history, that point at which God became Flesh, and sent His Son to live among us.

As much as I enjoy classic hard rock and heavy metal, nothing can beat the tenderness of “Silent Night”—except the operatic majesty of “O, Holy Night,” objectively the best Christmas song ever written.

Merry Christmas, and thank God for sending us His Son, Jesus Christ.

Midweek Update

It’s crunch time here at Portly HQ.  As such, today’s post will be very brief.

I’ve been writing a lot about Christmas and music lately—’tis the season, after all.  You can catch up on yesterday’s post about “Joy to the World,” as well as Sunday’s look back at my Dokken album reviews from Christmas 2018.

One reason for the Christmas music focus is that my students have their big Christmas Concert this Friday.  It’s always a great deal of fun, and we try to go for a homemade Trans-Siberian Orchestra vibe (if only I could get the administration to spring for some laser lights and pyrotechnics).

As an independent musician and a music teacher (I also teach history), I find myself playing the role of concert impresario quite a bit.  One lesson I’ve learned is that the money people—the producers—will always have their notes and revisions, often last-minute.  Your well-oiled, tried-and-true concert formula can often get totally upended with changes.  Learning to roll with the punches is hard, but necessary.

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Joy to the World

The musical mood continues here at The Portly Politico—as does the joy (check out my “Joy of” posts here, here, and here).  The Christmas season always lifts my spirits, and the boost from my piece on Milo and Romantic music has further buoyed them (if you’d like to elevate my mood to transcendent heights, consider purchasing some of my music).

With yesterday’s post on Christmas carols, I thought it might be interesting to look deeper into the most joyous of them all:  Isaac Watts‘s “Joy to the World.”

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Lazy Sunday XXXIX: A Very Dokken Christmas Series

Last Christmas, I gave you my heart wrote a series of hard rock album reviews for Orion’s Cold Fire, photog’s excellent blog.  This week, my students have their big Christmas concert, with all the spectacle and merriment that involves.  In that spirit, I thought I’d dedicate this Lazy Sunday to my reviews of Dokken’s first three albums, which you can read in full at Orion’s Cold Fire.

  • A Very Dokken Christmas, Part I” (Review on OCF) – This review looked at Dokken’s Breaking the Chains, the 1983 version (there was an earlier version in 1981 that was a demo, of sorts, for the band).  It’s a solid album, but not nearly as good as their next two.  The single title track, “Breaking the Chains,” is a fun and catchy little mid-tempo rocker, though.
  • A Very Dokken Christmas, Part II: Tooth and Nail” (Review on OCF) – If I’m not mistaken, Tooth and Nail is the first Dokken album I ever heard, after learning more about the band in The Rageaholic’s Metal Mythos: DOKKEN video.  It’s a great album, and it saved the band financially.  In one of those classic stories of artists getting screwed by major labels, Dokken was around a million bucks in debt after the release of Breaking the Chains and the subsequent tour, even though it was a hit record.  Tooth and Nail‘s title is no accident, as the band really did drag themselves “straight to the top” (to quote the title track).  This album got them out of debt—and on the way to hair metal superstardom.
  • A Very Dokken Christmas, Part III: Under Lock and Key” (Review on OCF) – Released the same year yours portly was born, Under Lock and Key would see Dokken at their best.  The album opens with the one-two punch of “Unchain the Night” and “The Hunter” (“Unchain the Night” starts with an instrumental introduction that sets a powerful, mysterious tone before cranking into high gear), and it’s all awesome from there on.

Christmas music it ain’t, but it sure makes for fun rock ‘n’ roll.  Have a Very Dokken Christmas!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments: