Tuesday, April 18, 2006

For Mother's Day

Frances Cecilia McLeod

My father died some years ago now, and the initial grieving at his departure has mellowed into an irrationally rich tapestry of the sweet memories of what I like to remember most about him. His work first as a student at Merton in Oxford, and then as an undercover operative for the British Government in Kenya, meant that during the formative years of my life he was never at home. After them, the formative years I mean, he was never there anyway, for he left home when I was six.

It was my mother who raised us five children in an East African colony during the last days of British imperialism. She went to work, hacking away at a typewriter in the secretarial pool at the Government office “Supplies and Transport”. She was a nurse in the Red Cross, and an executive assistant to Kar Hartley the international game exporter. Later she worked on the research team of Dr. Guggisberg as he made headway on the Anaphalis mosquito and the malaria problem, and in the Tsetse fly as the vector for Sleeping sickness. She would come home tired and yet still made time to organize dinner and sing us to sleep.

In her songs Mum would remember the sweet times she had in her marriage. One haunting song written by her from the perspective of her children, suggests that we are comforting her as she laments.


Do not sigh or dream of that look in his eye.

The twitch of a smile and the touch of his hand,

It's a thing of the past Mother, we understand.

Lonely, lonely, in spirit we travel together,

Lonely, lonely, in spirit we're always with you.

Turn to me, your son with the curl on his brow,

His little kid-sister and big sister too,

His brothers look like him and also like you.

Homing, homing, as birds of passage we travel,

Homing, homing, remember our home is with you.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Royal Albert Hall

The Royal Albert Hall holds a particular significance for me, for it was there that the presentation of Graduates to Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Chancellor of London University took place in1972. Of particular note was not the fact that I got my degree, but that the whole recessional line was held up when the Queen Mum decided to stop and talk briefly to one of the proud parents. It was my dad.

How well I remember in Albert Hall
Where the Queen Mum gave me my degree
We were racked with our peers in the upper God’s
What a jolly good company.

Down on the floor were the special seats
For the dignitaries, dons and deans,
Professors and graduate fellows,
Some parents, and people of means.

At the end of one row, by the aisle
I could spy to my great surprise,
My father dressed up in his dufflecoat
And a twinkle in his eyes.

My years as a student were suddenly gone,
The lectures and tutoring through.
We were all of us off on another road,
Ready to try something new.

The anti-climax of being done
With no one out waiving a flag,
No one to slap you on your back
A hollowness made the days drag

And then there came this antidote,
The graduate presentation.
We were decked with our gowns and caps
And filled with expectation.

Each had a colored satin hood
And a tasseled mortar board,
And those who had earned distinctions
Had stripes on their gown-sleeves broad.

The orchestra started playing
Elgar’s march made our pulses rage
When the Queen Mum and her entourage
Processed up to the stage.

How thrilled we were as she gave her speech,
We listened, spellbound, enthralled.
She told us all how proud she was,
“Britain’s best” is what she extolled.

We each in our turn filed down in a line,
To cross the stage, bow and receive,
From the University Chancellor
A smile and a paper decree.

Having returned to the balcony,
The ceremony all but complete
Watching the formal recessional,
I nearly fell off my seat.

The whole parade was arrested
The Queen Mother had stopped in the aisle
And the person whom she was talking to
Was my father beaming a smile.

He was nodding his head in agreement
He put his hand up to his chest,
I imagined that he was saying,
“You pinned it right here on my vest.”

How well we remember the Albert Hall
Where I went to receive my degree,
My veteran father saw it all,
And he got to speak to the queen.

Monday, April 10, 2006

First Time in Disney Hall

I did a bad thing yesterday, and I got into trouble for doing it. I took a photograph inside the new Walt Disney Concert Hall. The usher came and told me off. I was sitting beside my children’s brilliant Ukranian piano teacher, Mrs. Galina Berezovsky. I made a joke to her about it afterwards, saying they are probably worrying about the Ruskies get the pictures, after all we don’t want them getting hold of the technology. She laughed.

We were there in this amazing hall for the first time. It was particularly pleasing to me because our daughter Maran was performing as one of the choristers in the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus. Their rendition of Bach’s “Bist du bie mir” was later followed by the Gibson “Dona nobis pacem” It was lovely. I suppose my Jewish friends would call that nachus. . (Well it is Easter you know!)

The concert was rounded out by having the American Youth Symphony accompany them, and they also played a couple of dramatic pieces with broad dynamics, “Night on Bald Mountain” and “The Firebird Suite” which demonstrated the exceptional acoustics of the hall itself. If you were lulled into dreaminess during the softer portions of the latter you were in for a rude awakening, for, as is done in Hyden’s “Surprise”, the timpanist let lose a volley of bashes on the base drum that fairly rocketed round the auditorium baring the sclera.

I found a better picture of the Toyota French Fries (The new Organ)

I was reminded of another first time, way back in 1969, when I attended a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, in London. For years musicians used to joke about the echo in the hall, saying that if you played there you at least heard your performance twice. This problem was not successfully tackled until a series of large fiberglass acoustic diffusing discs were installed in the roof . The program then for the first concert after the discs were installed included the Bruckner 6th Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture with bells and real cannon. The brass in the first and the bangs in the last fairly blew us out of our seats....

I guess want I wanted to say is that although we were cramped, and I can’t figure out why Frank O. Gehry would let his fine work be so abused by pecuniary meanness, the hall is exquisite, and the sound is marvelous. It is quite a Los Angeles achievement, unlike the Getty, which looks like a cheap condo lot on the top of the hill.