It appears that both the year and the decade are coming to a close. This comes as something of a surprise to those of us who just assumed our calendars would never run out of pages.
The short days and longish nights bring on a kind of Scandinavian melancholy, even here in optimistic California.
You get to a certain age and you start losing things. Parents depart, then some of your friends begin to go, and damn it, where are those keys and why don’t they make floppy disk drives any more and will the sun return to the sky if we burn these sacred logs in our sacred air-tight fireplace?
This afternoon, speeding along in our automobile, my baby beside me at the wheel, we watched two different individuals walking the Coast highway on the day before Christmas, carrying their worldly possessions in a sack.
If that makes you slow down and think, you might also ponder the local distance between the well-fed and barely fed. In Mendocino County, approximately 22 per cent of children live in families whose income is below the federal poverty threshold. At the time of the most recent survey the poverty line for a five-person family with three children under 18 was $19,992 a year. Could you raise three children on $1,666 a month, plus buy shoes, toys and trips to the dentist?
The percentage of children living in poverty in Lake and Humboldt counties is a bit higher, 23 per cent; the state average is a bit lower, 19.5 per cent. In other words, one child in five in California lives in a state of statistical poverty, and it’s not getting better soon.
These numbers change depending on which survey you study, but they don’t change much.
A friend in England writes, “This is just to wish you a happy Christmas and New Year. Here in much of the UK it looks as if we might actually get the (in)famous `white Christmas'. We have about five inches of the stuff, frozen hard owing to the sub-zero temperatures. It looks nice enough, but isn't that nice when you have to go outside. Can't say I like the cold. Not my sort of weather at all, in fact.
On the subject of the Kindle and other electronic readers, discussed here the past two weeks he says, “...I don't have the Sony version, and I don't have the other version, either. Not out of conservatism, so much as from mortal fear of the face my wife would pull if I were to buy one! Anyway, would I be able to get the books on it that I want to read, should read? And can I grouse and snort in the margins? If not, pah! No good.”
The night before Christmas it was fairly silent in our house, except for the pounding diesel of a late-arriving UPS truck.
Among the packages was a copy of David Ledbetter’s definitive and highly readable “Unaccompanied Bach; Performing the Solo Works.” This book will be of interest to at least a dozen people, thus its publication by Yale University Press rather than some larger publisher. I am exaggerating, but only a smidge. No doubt thousands of performing artists and their counterparts in conservatories and universities will avidly study this wonderful work of research and synthesis.
Take the famous Six Suites for Solo Cello written by Johann Sebastian Bach in the mid 18th century. These compelling works have been a lifelong study for me, as they have been for generations of cellists. Ledbetter puts them into context, historically, and as part of a fast-changing musical tradition that encompassed the Italian, French and German baroque styles.
He writes, “Nowadays, Bach’s cello Suites are regarded as the foundation repertory of the instrument. Then, they were at the cutting edge of developments, forward-looking and innovative in technique, style, and scope.”
Ledbetter’s holiday gift to musicians is to consider together all of Bach’s compositions for unaccompanied instruments. “Bach was a connoisseur among connoisseurs of every nuance of style and genre... a performer emoting at large over the music in disregard of the composer’s mind can only seem false to those who at least have an inkling of it... instrumentalists generally are too narrowly fixed on the repertory of their own instrument and need to broaden their horizons.”
We watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” on TV Christmas eve, and it made us cry, as it always does. Maybe there is hope, as there was in 1946.
All the best to you and yours, and may the world be a better place because you are in it.
“Unaccompanied Bach: Performing the Solo Works” by David Ledbetter. Yale University Press hard cover $45. ISBN 9780300141511. Thanks to Yale sales representative Patricia Nelson for providing my copy.
A Mendocino county profile