Walking to work along East Lake Street with Irene this week has been such a pleasure. Early summer is a beautiful time in this neighborhood and things are looking so bright and green. It’s actually been sort of difficult to pull ourselves from our own garden when its time to open the record store.
Yesterday we started our day with this album which was the debut of pianist Ralph Burns, who had already established a name for himself as a composer and arranger with the Woody Herman band of the 1940s and 50s. The 10″ record opens with the fittingly cheerful “Places Please,” a tune which features alto saxophonist Leo Konitz. It really got our day off on the right foot, so to speak, and we hope it does the same for you.
The failing New York Times crossword puzzle is celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary this week. If you’ve already finished today’s and the boss isn’t looking, this link will take you to a fun page about the puzzle’s anniversary and its history.
One of the things they’re doing to celebrate is inviting celebrities who enjoy the crossword puzzle to co-author one of their own with help from a regular contributor. Yesterdays was co-authored by classical pianist Emanuel Ax (and yes, we missed a few squares — but at least we didn’t cheat).
Ax, who lives in New York City, has always held a special place as one of our favorite pianists. Obviously, the idea of his duets with Yo Yo Ma is entertain if only because the man in charge of the marquee must have been very happy to have to only write “Ax/Ma” for the day, but the other reason is because Ax made several superb recordings with our own Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Today we’re listening to them perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 18 in B-flat.
We have such an interest in Peter and the Wolf that we produced an hourlong documentary about it for KFAI back in 2013, which we also added to this blog so you can hear it here. For some time one of our interests in record collecting was to find as many different recordings of the work as we could, and by the time we gave up we’d found more than a hundred LPs, 45s, 78s, cassette tapes and CDs of the piece (this is why there are usuually so many different copies in our children’s section here at Hymie’s). And we gave up before we found even a quarter of the known versions, which has been performed in dozens of languages and adapted to a wide variety of styles of music.
Today’s musical selection was written just a year before Prokofiev produced Peter and the Wolf for the Central Children’s Theater in Moscow, but it is rarely recorded. This is in part because it was not written for children to hear, but rather for children to play. Music for Children, published in 1935 as Prokofiev’s Opus 65, features twelve brief vignettes for piano, but he shows respect for the talents of his prospective pupils. The pieces are simple enough for a novice pianist, but also inventive enough to provide their parents with some enjoyable listening.
Music for Children, performed here on a 1977 recording by the Canadian pianist Richard Gresko, reflects the influence of Prokofiev’s time in France through his encounters with the music of composers such as Debussy, Delius and Satie. It also hints at the direction in which his many of his orchestral work would move as he settled back into the Soviet Union the following year. This is especially true in regard to his hugely popular ballet, Cinderella, although not so in regard to many of his works which, for political reasons, were guided by the principle of Soviet realism (notably his film score for Alexander Nevsky and his opera based on War and Peace).
Our favorites from Music for Children include the evocative opening, “Morning,” in which the left hand seems to quietly create a sunrise as the right begins a stretch to start the day, and the cheerful “Grasshopper’s Parade,” which is the seventh down. We hope the grasshoppers do not run into the hungry spider from Albert Roussel’s 1912 ballet suite.
The whole of the twelve pieces are in order below for your enjoyment this morning. If you enjoy them you may find it interesting to hear A Summer’s Day afterwards. That orchestral suite based on the piano pieces was first published, under the same opus, about six years later. You can find the first on Youtube here, and then click through the rest.
We checked this book out of the library last week, and while this space is usually for record reviews, we couldn’t resist sharing our opinion on it after we both finished reading. The title of this book, Record Collecting for Girls, almost assures it some number of sales. Vinyl records are coming back, after all. This book includes some Soundscan statistic to that very effect, but you probably already learned this after an elderly friend of your parents saved you a clipping from the USA Today about the “vinyl resurgence.” Its sweet and sort of funny, but that person probably knows more about why people, male or female, collector records than the author of this shockingly juvenile book.
Most of the widespread criticism of the book is that the author, a former MTV programmer, has more to say about dating than record collecting. There are sections in Record Collecting for Girls on “make-out music,” and songs for a break-up mix, but nothing remotely empowering. The author has more to say about boys (note: boys not men) than why women listen to, make or collect music. You’ll find a long list of well-thought critiques along these lines, nearly all written by women, on Goodreads here. We’ll leave it to one writer, Lesile, who put it pretty succinctly:
Too much energy was dedicated to the intersection of music and “boys,” or “crushes.” Maybe I’d respond to this if I were a moody adolescent, or if music were the only way I could connect with a guy (hey, we like the same bands! let’s make out!). Or if my designs as a music lover were to get indie rock guys to take me home to their dirty apartments and write songs about me in my cute glasses and ugly sweaters. But that hasn’t been my experience, and I was disappointed that “The Guide” would assume I’m more interested in music’s role in my love life than in the music itself.
Actually we have to quote one more one-star review from Goodreads before we offer our own thoughts on the book. Alyx summed the book up perfectly with one word:
The most remarkably stupid thing about Record Collecting for Girls is that it contains basically no information about record collecting, and hardly any about records at all. In one of the most alarming passages of Record Collecting for Girls, author Courtney Smith admits “I’m beginning to doubt that I’ve listened to more than a handful of full albums straight through since 2004.” This comes in the middle of an absurd chapter titled “The Death of the Record Collector” in which the author’s entire research is to listen to three records on a turntable.
Earlier she asks why she keeps ten boxes of CDs and insists its “no joke that her CD collection has been nearly packed in boxes for more than two years.” The author of Record Collecting for Girls apparently has a collection that consists of three albums, one of which is her parent’s warped copy of the “White Album.” If you wanted to learn anything about records — how they’re made, how one pressing may vary from another, or how to care for them — you will be sorely disappointed by this book. When Smith boldly listens to albums on her turntable three quarters of the way through this book, she admits being afraid to use the turntable for the risk of damaging the record or needle — so don’t expect any help on caring for your record player either!
In fact, Smith simply perpetuates the idea that record stores and record collecting are a “boys club,” because it seems as though that’s the only reason she’s even interested. Our own experience, here at a neighborhood record shop which is jointly run by a married couple, is that we see both men and women in our shop all day. And some women are afraid to ask basic questions about their turntable or for help to find the records they’re listening to, in part because of an atmosphere encouraged by the stereotype presented in Smith’s book.
Record collecting can be fun for everyone. We hope someday someone will publish another book with the same title and take the subject seriously. Until then thanks for reading, and for visiting our shop, and never hesitate to ask a question no matter who you are.