Archive | March 2014

The Irish in America

The immigration from Ireland in the early 1800s placed many Irish in America, and across the globe. But the paths to assimilation and success were varied

Monday Map – St. Patrick’s Day

Irish in America PBS map

GO HERE for an animated version of this map from PBS, and similar maps of other American immigration waves.

Tis a difficult thing to recall how the Irish immigrants to the United States and other places were viewed with the typical contempt heaped upon other ethnic minorities in later eras. By my own lifetime, being Irish seemed no different than having ancestry from France, or Sweden, England or Germany. While the appalling bigotry aimed at African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics was still with us, I remained ignorant of the fact that it was not so long ago an Irishman suffered much the same kind of prejudice.

In the early 1800s the Irish in America were viewed by many as uncivilized and an inferior people, delegated to ghettos and expected to be suitable only for the most menial jobs. Basically they were the target of the typical treatment from those small-minded people desperate to exalt their own superior position by inventing artificial reasons to view anyone different as inferior.

And like free blacks, and later waves of immigrants from other locations, many Irishmen raised their lot through hard work and determination, to amass wealth and property and take their place among the heads of industry and government. Many others earned their way into mainstream citizenship the same way immigrants have done since the time of Caesar’s legions, by serving in the armed forces during times of crisis.

Irish brigades fought with distinction during the American Civil War, on both sides of the conflict, with many re-upping to fight and often die defending settlers during the years of western expansion that followed. The stereotype of the affable, strong as a bull “Mick Sergeant” lovingly portrayed by Hollywood actors like American Ward Bond and Englishman Victor McLaglen, showed men of rough beginnings who attained rank and respect through the crucible of war, to eventually don white parade gloves at the regimental ball, often with offspring destined to rise to the level of an officer and a gentleman.

Of course, when it comes to such waves of immigration, it is most often the lower, least education classes who are forced to seek passage to a new life in a new world, and work their way upwards. Those of land and letters had no need of such desperate measures, and the English speaking world has been greatly enriched by the collective works of the Irish writers. Some remained in Ireland, while others made their way to the great cities of the world as respected poets and playwrights, essayists and novelists. Johnathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Becket, and Elizabeth Bowen shall remain high in the pantheon of the greats, with many others that could be mentioned alongside them.

My mother’s maiden name is Murphy, but really they were Scots who settled in County Antrim for a time before making their way to the Southern United States.  But I retain a strong affinity for all things Irish, most particularly the playwrights and the music. In fact I shall be seeing Irish music tonight, on St. Patrick’s Day, at Freddy’s Back Room in Brooklyn, as I do most every year as a member of the Highland Shatners, who perform a mix of Celtic folk music, Paisley Pop, and even tunes from the original Star Trek.

So stop by for a Guinness if you are in the area.

And couple of Irish the day David Bowie died.

America’s Shameful Lack of Maternity Leave

So much for Family Values, here in the old U.S.A, Unbridled Selfishness of America, where Maternity Leave is denied too many

Monday Map

Maternity Leave Map small

Greed Costs Us All

Here, in richest land the world has ever known, full of selfish people who rail against the government regulation responsible for decent wages and humane working conditions, and sold the baloney that having a social contract where everyone insures all our neighbors have proper healthcare, as in civilized nations, is somehow a bad thing, we have an appalling rank among the peoples of the world in child mortality, childbirth-related fatalities, and of course, providing proper paid leave for parents when their newborns need them most.

As per the excellent website geocurrents.info, we could learn a lot from the Finns.

“The United States ranks merely 30th in the Mothers’ Index, bested by such countries as France (16th) and Italy (17th), Canada (22nd) and United Kingdom (23rd), Israel (25th) and Belarus (26th). The relatively low ranking of the U.S. is based on several factors. One of the key indicators used to calculate the index is lifetime risk of maternal mortality. The maternal mortality in the United States is the highest of any industrialized nation: a woman in the U.S. is more than 10 times as likely as a woman in Italy or Ireland to die from pregnancy-related causes. The United States has the least generous maternity leave policy of any wealthy nation, both in terms of duration and percent of wages paid (except Australia, see the map on the left). Similarly, the U.S. does not do as well as most other developed countries with regard to child mortality. The U.S. under-5 mortality rate is on par with the figure of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Forty-one countries performed better than the U.S. on this indicator. A child in the U.S. is three times more likely to die before reaching age 5 than a child in Iceland, and twice as likely as a child in Denmark. Only slightly more than half of children in the United States are enrolled in preschool—making it the fifth lowest country in the developed world on this indicator. The United States also lags behind in regard to the political status of women: only 18% of its congressional seats are held by women, compared to 45% in Sweden and 40% in Iceland. Whether legislative representation accurately reflects the position of women in society is dubious, however, in light of such figures as 45% in Cuba, 39% in Mozambique, 31% in Guyana, 26% in El Salvador or Ethiopia, or 25% in Iraq.”

Read their full article

Concert Review New York Youth Symphony McCrindle Concert

The annual McCrindle Concert took place at Carnegie Hall yesterday, conducted by NYYS Music Director Joshua Gersen,
with guest artists Pleasure is the Law,

as part of the New York Youth Symphony’s 51st  Season, and featuring the world premiere of Against the Shrieking City Air, by Loren Loiacono.

Just in her 24th year, Loiacono received her degrees from Yale U. before embarking on her current pursuit of a Doctorate in Composition at Cornell. A native of New York City suburbia, the inspiration for this new work came from her experiencing the marked difference in environment as one travels farther from the audible airs of city life, to the almost alien stillness of the country.

While the strings and reeds were used by Loiacono to establish a kinetic flow, various strains of harmony would be interrupted by brass and percussion, in sudden left turns, or cutting across town, as it were. Ultimately a whirlwind rose frenetic and unceasing, yet one without darkness or danger. There was no malice in the maelstrom, just the exhilarating risk of being overwhelmed, if not drowned. And at the crest of it all, it falls away, with but one minor surge before the exhalation, as tensions fade quickly into a subdued calm, quiet enough to hear the country crickets, had she chose to add some. It was a very impressive piece, no less so for one just starting their career as a composer.

New York Youth Symphony at Carnegie Hall 1The title is lifted from the 1921 three-stanza poem City Trees, by Edna St. Vincent Millay. The poetess remarks on how the city trees “would make a sound as thin and sweet as trees in country lanes” if it weren’t drowned out by all that going on around them. And Loiacono provided a stimulating and enjoyable exploration of this idea through orchestral music. I just wish we didn’t have to leave her calm countryside as soon as we did.

photo: F. Krupit

Avian Cacophony

The second offering featured a most impressive Carnegie Hall debut by the guest artists, Pleasure is the Law. Taking their name from a Debussy quote relating to inspiration trumping traditional rules of music, the quartet features the traditional Baroque alignment of flute, oboe, cello, and the piano standing in for the harpsichord, but dedicated to exploring the contemporary repertoire. They joined the orchestra for the rarely performed Quadruple concerto (Concert à quarte) by Olivier Messiaen.

Messiaen often composed with color in mind, and this effort to score music based on bird calls was done in blue, represented by the key of A Major, and signifying joy and ecstasy. Dying in 1992 before its completion, his widow took up finishing the work, which debuted two years later.

With Nadine Asin on Flute, Elaine Douvas on Oboe, Darrett Adkins on Cello, and Steven Beck on Piano, Pleasure is the Law represented specific songbirds, and briefly Messiaen himself. With a nod to Mozart in the first section, the piece evolved to something full of abrupt changes in rhythm and tempo. Like a boisterous canopy flocked with chattering birds, it was a very different slice of nature than the serenity imagined by the concert’s opening selection.

Remarkable to watch, this very young orchestra, with some members clearly no more than 12 or 13, stayed right there with the mature professionals across an edgy, challenging piece of music. It also provided them an opportunity to play additional instruments, like the marimba among the percussion, and even the tinkling chimes of a celesta. The amount of dedication and rehearsal necessary must be enormous, for those participating in what are essentially after school commitments. And the performance from every member of the orchestra was excellent.

Alpine Winds

The second half of the program consisted of something I have always wanted to see performed live, Brahms’ Symphony No. 4, in E minor (Op. 98)

Sweeping and romantic at the start, with wisps of reeds floating on a breeze of sighing violins, it grows tall with trumpets before returning to repeated interplay between the strings and woodwinds, melancholic and bordering on the tragic. The second movement is ushered in by the horns, and then a plodding plucking of strings like a horse cart climbing its way further into the mountains sets the mood for the pensive woodwinds. The horns return with unhurried pomp, like plump clouds, or perhaps the Alps themselves frowning down on the clarinet and flute fluttering below. All so very Austrian, even after the strings awake to saw their way down to the ballrooms and courtyards of Vienna. But then, Brahms wrote it while sojourning in an alpine village.

The regal third movement with its uplifting signature theme from the brass and the leaping fiddles proved every bit as thrilling as I had hoped. And the final movement of bass and timpani-driven passion was set off very well by the sensual interludes between the principal flute, clarinet, and oboe, at times overlapping as they sustain and tumble downward, with almost Beethoven sonata-like moments, and a chorus of trombones offered a grounded presence, when not punctuating the rousing crescendos leading up towards the final rush to the ending precipice. Most satisfying.

Musical Director Gersen deserves considerable acknowledgement for finding eclectic music that will challenge and expand the experience of these young musicians, and for leading the orchestra to achieve such a successful performance. They are all to be congratulated. But I should mention by name Joseph Morag on violin, Shaquille Southwell, clarinet, Rachel Susser, flute, Liam Boisset, oboe, and Aron Szanto on cello. And special mention goes to Ayden Michael Khan, the percussionist deftly handling the timpani and chimes. But from my box, I also thoroughly enjoyed watching the young man on the contrabassoon, an unsung hero if there ever was one.

NYYS performances are highly recommended as a stirring and affordable cultural experience for all ages.

And that is one man’s word on…

New York Youth Symphony at Carnegie Hall, March 2, 2014

More information on the NYYS can be found at their website http://www.nyys.org/ including ticket information for their upcoming Jazz Orchestra concert at Lincoln Center on March 10, featuring guest hornman Terell Stafford, and the chamber music concert at Symphony Space, April 23.

New York Youth Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall 2