Saturday, December 27, 2008

50BC08 #25: The Joy of Drinking

The Joy of Drinking The Joy of Drinking by Barbara Holland

rating: 4 of 5 stars

This witty coffee table book in miniature is a fun, yet brief, ride through the historic and inexorable connection between alcohol and the human social spirit. Barbara Holland eschews the politically correct, exposing ironies of the sacred bottled water movement but admitting also the futility of dozens of hangover cures. Both the stumbling drunkard in the back alley and the elite wine connoisseur are given their due, taking their deserved places in Holland's pantheon of alcoholic engagers.

While the tone is anecdotal and tongue-in-cheek, Holland's sources are informed and intellectually intriguing. And, for those inspired by the history of moonshine and early American fermentation, the book includes two helpful how-to appendices--one with instructions for making various fruit wines, and the other on "Starting your own Still."

This would make a great gift for the most discerning of drinkers, as long as they have no fear of an author who calls it as she sees it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

50BC08 #24: America's Musical Life

America's Musical Life: A HistoryAmerica's Musical Life: A History by Richard Crawford

rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I took a chance and used this book as a course text for an American music course for non-majors. Crawford's writing is engaging and geared toward a more general audience, but informed by top-notch scholarship. His three-sphere model of American music (cultivated, vernacular and traditional spheres) made a useful and multi-dimensional lens through which to trace the development of musical styles and genres. I appreciated the performer-based approach rather than the standard "a history of dead white men" approach so prevalent in the literature. He substantiates this model for American music history in his introduction.
Some of my students, accustomed to "textbooks" may have found the book too verbose for test preparation purposes, I hope that the prose engaged them enough to look beyond the grades and into the rich and diverse musical landscape cultivated in this country.

50BC08 #23: Fundraising Fundamentals

Fundraising Fundamentals: A Guide to Annual Giving for Professionals and Volunteers Fundraising Fundamentals: A Guide to Annual Giving for Professionals and Volunteers by Greenfield

rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is an indispensable reference for working or running an Annual Fund. It covers all the basics including mail testing,direct mail, cultivation events, etc. The sample letters are very helpful. My only criticism is the use of fake case-studies which aside from being cheesy, are not nearly as convincing as actual anecdotal and experiential information from real organizations.

50 Book Challenge #22: Eagle Minds

Eagle Minds: Selected Correspondence of Istvan Anhalt and George Rochberg (1961-2005) Eagle Minds: Selected Correspondence of Istvan Anhalt and George Rochberg by Alan M. Gillmor

rating: 4 of 5 stars

The title of this compendium of letters comes from Yeats, who wrote: "...A mind Michael Angelo knew/That can pierce the clouds,/Or inspired by frenzy/Shake the dead in their shrouds;/Forgotten else by mankind,/An old man's eagle mind." In offering this quote to Canadian composer Istvan Anhalt, George Rochberg expressed his relationship to the world and the critical reception of his work. Although their music differed greatly in style, particularly after 1965, these two composers found over forty years worth of common bonds, intellectual musings, and a committed passion for their craft which are all recorded in Alan Gillmor's excellent compendium of correspondence.

Rochberg worked hard to understand Anhalt's aesthetic, and the latter likewise supported Rochberg's various stylistic experiments. Fundamentally, however, they understood what it meant to compose. They also shared a critical engagement with the world, although Anhalt focused on Kabbalah studies and a distrust of popular culture, while Rochberg found solace in the words of Wordsworth, Yeats,and Milan Kundera and eschewed all forms of organized religion.

Rochberg, who died in 2005, has long been known for his strident opposition to the avant-garde (after 1964), both in his musical style and his public writings. While his letters to Anhalt do not negate this, they do give the reader a sense that there was a willingness to accept more than his published writings would suggest. He also felt misunderstood as the "neo-Romantic" label came to be applied to his music.

Anhalt, whose gentler prose provides a balm to Rochberg's occasional bouts of ranting, seems to be more conscious that the two men are moving toward the end, and thus feels more inclined to pick his battles carefully. His study of the Kabbalah helped develop a personal philosophy that came to fruition is his 1994 work, Traces/Tikkun.

These letters provide a rich look into the perceptive and engaging minds of two of North America's most intellectual thinkers. The book is an indispensable tool for research into their works and biography, and is an encouragement to other modern composers to make their correspondence available for publication.