Monday Morning Movie Review: Star Wars (1977)

The weather here in South Carolina has turned blissfully autumnal, which means we can finally partake in all manner of outdoor activities without dying of heat exposure and dehydration.  The humidity has calmed itself to a bearable level, and the mornings and nights are crisp and cool.

One of my enterprising neighbors—and most dogged constituents—took advantage of the cool weather this weekend to test out an inflatable projector screen.  He invited me to join his family for a private, driveway screening of the original 1977 Star Wars, later entitled Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.  Specifically, he screened the “de-specialized” version, as he called it, so there was none of the clunky 1990s CGI additions of the special editions.

In other words, it’s the way Star Wars was intended… before George Lucas changed his mind and decided to change his own films.

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TBT^2: The Joy of Autumn

Well, the first day of autumn was yesterday, although my Middle School Music students came into class Tuesday saying that their Geography teacher told them 21 September, rather than 22 September, was the first day of this glorious holiday.

I have little idea when the seasons calendrically begin, other than it’s always in the low-twenties of the month:  Spring in March, Summer in June, Autumn in September, and Winter in December.  As I’ve noted before on this site, in South Carolina it’s all pretty much one big season—summer—with some intermittent sprinklings of the actual season throughout the year.  That can even mean a cold front in the summer (Thy Will Be Done) or an unseasonably warm “Indian Summer” in mid-January.  I’ve sweated on New Year’s Day and Thanksgiving many times, and it’s always muggy on Halloween.

But I digress.  The discussion about when autumn really begins (some Bing!ing revealed it is 22 September this year, not 21 September) led to an impromptu crash course in songwriting.  We began listing all of the qualities of the fall, and the qualities of the then-soon-to-be-departing summer.  The students then crafted those into verses (about all the fun summertime stuff that was disappearing), with the chorus being all about how great the autumn is:  pumpkins, scarecrows, falling leaves, etc.

The kids ate it up.  I made up some cheesy crooner melody to go with it as a placeholder, but a precocious seventh grader began experimenting with an unusual C-Db-Eb chord sequence, which completely changed the melody.  I broke the students into groups to begin writing new verses, and another student took it upon herself to compile the lyrics into a master Google Doc.  Another student—a visual artist trapped in Music class—supplied the artwork for our soon-to-be-hit single, featuring a scarecrow and some other creature dancing around a flaming pumpkin (it’s pretty awesome).  Our little scribe-compiler mentioned that we needed a bridge, so we’ll have to get hopping on that.

It was completely unplanned—one student even suggested, snarkily, that I hadn’t planned a lesson that day, so I created this one out of thin air.  It’s only half true:  I did have a lesson planned—we were going to write, clap, and count rhythm lines—but the discussion of autumn sparked the idea for a much more engaging lesson about writing songs (which is, essentially, writing poetry, but better—there’s music attached!).

Anyway, here’s to autumnal weather to come—and good, middle school-penned songs to go with it.

With that, here is “TBT: The Joy of Autumn” (thanks to Pontiac Dreamer for today’s picture!):

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The Joy of Renaissance Music: Palestrina’s “Pope Marcellus” Mass

It’s another school year, which means another year going through the history of Western music in Pre-AP Music Appreciation.  This week we’re diving into Renaissance music, after spending last week covering the music of the Middle Ages.

Contrary to popular belief, the Middle Ages were not a period of depressing darkness, but rather a lively age.  I certainly wouldn’t want to be a peasant pushing an ox cart full of dung, but that peasant knew his place in the universe, in the sense that he knew he was part of an ordered cosmos with God at both its head and its center.

More on that another time, but I mention it to note that the Renaissance would not have been possible without that long age of faith in the Middle Ages.  Still, the Renaissance Period—variably dated, but starting roughly sometime in the fifteenth century, and extending to the seventeenth century—was a period of increased interest in the art and literature of ancient Greece and Rome, especially the human realism depicted in the art of those great civilizations, both a continuation of and a departure from the Middle Ages.

It also saw the declining influence of the Catholic Church in Europe, especially in the wake of the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.  As Protestantism and other social forces broke the Church’s monopoly on education and its dominance over art and music, Catholicism mounted a Counter-Reformation, aimed at both reducing the influence of Protestantism and reforming real abuses within the Roman Church.

That effort, naturally, involved revisions to music.  Catholic priests denounced the increasingly theatrical nature of church music, decrying it as distracting from the simple message of the Gospel and the sacred Latin text, instead serving as gaudy entertainment for Mass goers.  Much like the megachurch arena rock concerts of today, services had become garish and maudlin, a reflection of the corruption within the Church.

It was in this context that Giovanni Pieluigi da Palestrina composed his greatest works.  According to Roger Kamien in Music: An Appreciation (the eighth brief edition, which I use with my students), Palestrina composed some 104 masses and 450 other sacred works, and his music became, essentially, the gold standard of church music until modern times (“masses” in the musical context are works built around five sung prayers, the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, not to be confused with the Catholic service).

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TBT: Music Among the Stars

It’s been a musical week here at The Portly Politico, so I figured, “why stop now?”

I’ve dedicated more and more space on the blog to musical and cultural matters, especially in the last year.  Among the posts I most enjoy writing—and of which I am most proud—are those I write about music.

This week’s TBT feature, “Music Among the Stars,” is one I really enjoy, and I think (humbly) it’s one of my better posts.  It’s about the golden records aboard the Voyager I space probe, and about the true purpose of music—to worship God.

I’ll let the essay speak for itself.  Here is 8 September 2021’s “Music Among the Stars“:

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The Frisson of the Night

Yesterday I wrote about the joy—the thrill!—of live music.  I’m excited to see it making a comeback after the long, weary months of The Age of The Virus, and hope we will witness a renaissance of live entertainment.

Live music is most at home, I think, at night.  Sure, there are plenty of fine performances that take place during the day, and a talented classical guitarist plucking out Bach’s Bourrée in E Minor adds a bit of classiness to a tony Sunday brunch, but music lives at night.  After all, Mozart composed Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (“A Little Night Music”), not Ein Kleiner Tagmusik.

There is palpable excitement to the night—a delectable frisson, the promise of things to come.  The night is when things happen.  Granted, they aren’t always good things, but they night promises to be eventful.

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The Joy of Live Music

Along with our civil liberties, a casualty of The Age of The Virus has been live music.  I’ve written about the strains the lockdowns placed on musicians frequently (including my many Bandcamp Friday posts), and have even hosted two front porch concerts to get around venue closures (and, it seems, the increasing number of venues that simply haven’t restored live music to their operations).

Fortunately, South Carolina is a free State, and live music is making a real comeback.  Indeed, I had the opportunity to hear my buddy, poet Jeremy Miles, play a gig with his new band, Jeremy and the Blissters, at a hopping coffee shop Friday evening.

The experience was electric—and not just because of the piping hot sound system and stacks of amplifiers.  The band—which, in addition to Jeremy, consists of good friends from the local music scene, two of whom have opened my front porch concerts—was stunning and powerful, offering up an eclectic mix of New Wave, punk, pop, acid rock, and more.

Beyond their impressive musical prowess and sweeping repertoire, Jeremy’s group reminded me of how fun live music can be—and how desperately we need more of it to return.

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Monday Morning Movie Review: Viy (1967)

The 1960s were a wild time for Western Civilization, to say the least.  Like our present moment, it was a time of cultural upheaval that nearly resulted in civilizational suicide, only for the Silent Majority to rise from its slumber to forestall decline.

Apparently, the 1960s were a bit wild for the Soviets, too, as the Russkies allowed the release of Viy (1967), a Soviet-era horror flick, the first of its kinds to enjoy an official release in the USSR.  Shudder is currently streaming the film, and it’s worth your time to check it out, both for the novelty of watching a Soviet horror flick, but also because it’s a fun, surprisingly frightening film.

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SubscribeStar Saturday: Decline, Part I: Afghanistan

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

Events of the past few years give one the distinct sense that the United States—and, indeed, Western Civilization—is in a steady decline.  As I wrote in an old post:

We’re no longer the Roman Republic, but we’re not the Roman Empire in the 5th century, either.  We’re more like the Roman Empire in the 2nd or 3rd centuries:  coasting along on the remnants of a functioning system, with a play-acting Congress shadowing the motions of republicanism.

We’re in what might be called the “decadent” phase of our existence:  past generations forged a nation from their sweat and blood; their successors solidified and consolidated on those gains, creating a powerful economy and culture, and winning major wars; their successors are currently coasting along on the fruits of their ancestors’ efforts.  But a culture, a nation, a civilization can only coast for so long before it loses all momentum entirely.

The recent unpleasantness in Afghanistan is a stark illustration of our current decadence—and our blind arrogance.  We believed we could plant a functioning democratic republic in a land that has been war-torn and riddled with autocratic warlords since time immemorial with an investment of twenty years of blood and treasure.  Instead, we botched a pull-out, abandoning American citizens and military equipment in the process, allowing the Taliban to seize control of the entire country in a leisurely weekend.

Ironically, The Pretender Biden was probably the perfect patsy for American withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was about nineteen years overdue.  Every administration has known we needed to get the heck out of a place known as “The Graveyard of Empires,” but no one wanted the bad optics of a withdrawal.  Biden is so senile and mentally foggy that he probably still doesn’t realize what he did, and certainly doesn’t feel any shame about abandoning Americans to the Taliban.

But even given our incompetent, mentally hobbled executive, the withdrawal from Afghanistan—quite necessary, I think—was botched so terribly, it condemns the entire US government and our military leadership.  Any ten-year old could have said, “Yeah, get all the weapons and people out first, then withdraw the last of the American troops.”  Instead, we did the exact opposite.  Ripping off the Band-Aid and getting out of Afghanistan was necessary, but did we have to rip the skin clean off the arm?

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Virtual Learning Day Review

After a glorious Labor Day weekend and a scenic drive, my school opted to hold a virtual learning rehearsal day, intoning the usual incantation of “out of an abundance of caution” due to the possibility of holiday-related viral spread.  The decision to do a day of virtual learning also came with the insistent emphasis that we are not planning on going to virtual or distance learning on a long-term basis, but merely wanted to practice in order to prepare for the worst.

Thank goodness!  While I very much appreciated the more relaxed pace of the day—and by extension the cancellation of Back-to-School Night—I was also reminded of the shortcomings of distance learning.

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