November 3, 2018
Garrison Keillor performs with duet partner Lynne Peterson and longtime collaborator & pianist Richard Dworsky.
5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
A live performance at the Brady Theater
Long Beach, CA
A live performance at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center
A live performance at the Saenger Theatre
A live performance at the Yavapai College Performing Arts Center
Tender Buttons excerpt [A Light in the Moon] by Gertrude Stein. Public domain. (buy now)
A light in the moon the only light is on Sunday. What was the sensible decision. The sensible decision was that notwithstanding many declarations and more music, not even notwithstanding the choice and a torch and a collection, notwithstanding the celebrating hat and a vacation and even more noise than cutting, notwithstanding Europe and Asia and being overbearing, not even notwithstanding an elephant and a strict occasion, not even withstanding more cultivation and some seasoning, not even with drowning and with the ocean being encircling, not even with more likeness and any cloud, not even with terrific sacrifice of pedestrianism and a special resolution, not even more likely to be pleasing. The care with which the rain is wrong and the green is wrong and the white is wrong, the care with which there is a chair and plenty of breathing. The care with which there is incredible justice and likeness, all this makes a magnificent asparagus, and also a fountain.
It’s the birthday of Thelonious (Sphere) Monk, who was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina (1917), but grew up in New York City. He started piano lessons as a kid and by age 13, he had won the weekly amateur night contest at the Apollo Theater so many times that he was no longer allowed to compete. In the ’40s he started making recordings, and in the ’50s he came out with two of his most popular albums, Brilliant Corners and Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane. His most famous compositions include “Round About Midnight,” “Straight No Chaser,” “Blue Monk,” and “Misterioso.”
It’s the birthday of the composer Vernon Duke, born Vladimir Dukelsky in Parafianovo, Belarus (1903). He was a talented classical musician, educated at an elite conservatory, but his family fled Russia after the revolution and he ended up playing piano in cafes in Constantinople (now Istanbul). From there, his family rode steerage class on a ship to America, went through Ellis Island, and ended up in New York in 1921. There the teenage Dukelsky met George Gershwin, who was only a few years older, and the two became good friends. Dukelsky played Gershwin what he described as “an extremely cerebral piano sonata,” and Gershwin, who was also trained in classical music, suggested this: “There’s no money in that kind of stuff, and no heart in it, either. Try to write some real popular tunes — and don’t be scared about going low-brow. They will open you up.” He also suggested that Dukelsky shorten his name, like he himself had done — Gershowitz to Gershwin. So Vladimir Dukelsky came up with the name Vernon Duke, but he didn’t use it for a while.
First, he went to Paris. There, he met and impressed the great ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev. Dukelsky wrote later about their first meeting: “‘Ah, a good-looking boy,’ he drawled. ‘That in itself is most unusual. Composers are seldom good-looking; neither Stravinsky nor Prokofiev ever won any beauty prizes. How old are you?’ I told him I was 20. ‘That’s encouraging, too. I don’t like young men over 25.'” And so Diaghilev commissioned him to write a ballet, and he wrote Zephire et Flore, with sets by Georges Bracque, choreography by Léonide Massine, and costumes by Coco Chanel. It got a great reception, and Dukelsky was taken in by the not-quite-as-good-looking Stravinsky and Prokofiev. For a few years he divided his time between Paris, where he continued to write classical music, and London, where he wrote show tunes and used the name Vernon Duke. Then in 1929, he decided to go back to America, and he wrote some of the biggest hits of the 1930s — “April in Paris” (1932), “Autumn in New York” (1934), “I Can’t Get Started” (1936), and “Taking a Chance on Love” (1940). And he wrote the music for the Broadway show and film Cabin in the Sky (1940). By that time, he had become an American citizen and officially changed his name to Vernon Duke.
He said, “Every dogma has its day, but good music lives forever.”
It’s the birthday of Giuseppe Verdi, born in a village in Parma, Italy (1813). His parents owned a tavern and were not very well off. But his father recognized musical talent in Giuseppe and bought him a spinet (an upright harpsichord), which he kept for the rest of his life. By the age of 12, Verdi was the organist for his church. He started playing for other churches farther away from home, and then he went off to music school. He lived in the town of Busseto and boarded with a wealthy grocer who liked Verdi and wanted to support him, and whose daughter Verdi ended up marrying.
Verdi wrote marches, overtures and other pieces for the Busseto Philharmonic Society and the town marching band. But then he set his sights elsewhere and got an opera, Oberto, performed at La Scala, the most important theater in Italy, in 1839. It was a modest success. Then tragedy struck: his wife died of encephalitis. Verdi had already lost their two children in infancy. He vowed he would never write music again. But he couldn’t resist when he read the powerful libretto for Nabucco. He turned it into a stunning opera, premiering on March 9, 1842. The audience applauded for 10 minutes after the first scene, and after the chorus, the audience demanded an encore, even though they were prohibited by the Austrian government at the time. Even the stagehands, who rarely paid attention to the performance, would stop what they were doing to watch and applaud the show. Verdi used the same librettist for his next opera, Lombardi. The librettist had a procrastination problem, and Verdi had to lock him in a room in order to get him to write enough on time. Once Verdi made the mistake of sticking him in the room with his wine collection. Hours later, the librettist emerged drunk. Verdi wrote a total of 26 operas, most notably Rigoletto (1851), La Traviata(1853), Aida (1871), and Falstaff (1893).
It’s the birthday of playwright, screenwriter and director Harold Pinter (books by this author), born in East London (1930). Pinter tried out London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, but he didn’t like it and left after two years. He debuted his first full-length play, The Birthday Party, in the West End in 1958. It didn’t do well, but he continued to write plays and eventually created a body of work that people call the “comedies of menace.” In these plays, situations that should be ordinary turn absurd or ominous because of inexplicable reasons. The plays usually take place in a single room, whose occupants are threatened by indefinable outside forces.
Pinter wrote The Homecoming (1965), about a man who brings his wife home to meet his all-male family. She stays with his family to be their caretaker and prostitute, and he goes back to his job teaching philosophy, realizing that nobody needs him. Pinter said that the opening of that play in New York City in 1967 was one of the greatest theatrical nights of his life. He said the audience was full of money — the women in mink, the men in tuxedoes. And as soon as the curtain opened, they hated the play. Pinter said, “The hostility towards the play was palpable. You could see it.” But, he said, “The great thing was, the actors went on and felt it and hated the audience back even more. And they gave it everything [they had]. By the end of the evening, the audience was defeated. All these men in their tuxedos were just horrified. […] There’s no question that the play won on that occasion.”
It’s the birthday of novelist and short-story writer R.K. (Rasipuram Krishnaswami) Narayan (books by this author), born in Madras, India (1906). Narayan’s first book was Swami and Friends (1935), which, like many of this other books, is set in a fictional town of Malgudi. He said: “I had an idea of a railway station, a very small railway station, a wayside station. You’ve seen that kind of thing, with a platform, trees and a stationmaster […] a street, a depot, a school or a temple at any spot in a little world […] with the result that I am unable to escape Malgudi.” He stayed contentedly in his home country, venturing abroad only rarely. He seldom addressed political issues or tried to explore the cutting edge of fiction. He was a traditional teller of tales, a creator of realistic fiction that is often gentle, humorous, and warm rather than hard-hitting or profound.
Graham Greene greatly admired R.K. Narayan and helped publish his works in Britain. The remarkable fact about their relationship was that Greene and Narayan met only once, briefly, in London in 1964. The friendship began in 1934 when Greene happened to come across a manuscript of Swami and Friends. Greene was impressed and passed it on to publisher Hamish Hamilton. He also began a correspondence with R.K. Narayan. The correspondence lasted until Greene’s death, with both of them taking around 15 years to switch from Dear Mr. Narayan and Graham Greene, to Dear Narayan and Graham.