Monthly Archives: June 2015

Sir Robert Price and the Titanic

Today, 23 June 2014, the Encyclopedia Titanica website has chosen to display in full an account  of the nonchalant relaxing time spent in the doomed vessel by Industry titans  and Society celebs on the eve of that ill-fated day – 14 April 1912!
[At bottom, you’ll find the link to “Titanic – On the Eve of Disaster”]

Titanic Sketch 001

Sketch by Titanic Steward Leo James Hyland about 1.40 am on 15 April 1912 ____________________________________________________________________________

At the outset let me say to my readers that there’s no direct connection between my family and the terrible 15 April 1912 disaster, the memory of which lives on in the minds of many people around the world even today. But on that fateful day, Sir Robert Price was the Member of Parliament for East Norfolk in England. That worthy gentleman had a remarkable dream about the tragic event in which a version of Nearer, My God to Thee! came to him as he imagined himself to be going down with the great ship. “I had attended a memorial service,” said Sir Robert to a Press reporter, “and went home much affected by the service. I went to sleep and dreamt that I was a passenger on the Titanic as she went down. It was terribly vivid. As I felt myself going down I prayed….

“I awoke with a start,” continued Sir Robert, “and when I had collected my thoughts I put down the words of my dream – not all of them, for there were several verses that I could not remember. I am not a hymn-writer nor a maker of verses, and so this remarkable version (of the hymn) appears to be all the more miraculous.”

Sir Robert’s words (three verses actually shown below) had such an impression on my grandmother, Rose Ziadine Akmal – a composer who was born in London, trained in England and Europe, and settled at the time with her family in Durban, South Africa – that she immediately set them to music and wrote to Sir Robert, asking for permission to use his verses. That being granted, the stirring composition, bearing the same title as the hymn, was published in 1912 by International Music Publishing Co. in South Africa. Nearer my God 001

The opening page of Rose’s deeply felt hymn (for voice and piano) I’ve included below:Nearer 1st Page 001

Afterword: Horner- It’s with profound sorrow that musicians around the world heard of the death yesterday of James Horner, the prolific composer of film music, which includes the score for Titanic’s famous song sung by Celine DionMy Heart Will Go On. The plane he was piloting crashed. Since he was a well- known pilot, it will have to be determined eventually what caused him to lose control of his own aircraft. For the record, James was raised in London and started piano lessons when he was 5 and trained as a musician at the Royal College of Music, which incidentally was my wife, Lolita’s alma mater.

 Titanic – On the Eve of Disaster

Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas

Language as She is Spoke

Any world traveler with an acute listening antenna  will have noticed some obvious, if not entirely mellifluous, linguistic borrowings that assail the ear on a daily basis.

dinnerjacket Consider, for instance, the thoughtful Frenchman, who to this day is put off by the debasement of his classic language with such adulterations as le smoking for the dinner jacket that is neither English nor French, or le water for what across the Channel is called “the loo” or W.C.

No wonder that a French grammarian coined a name for that odious olio as franglais, though perhaps nowadays framéricain would be more à propos.   

Le Smoking (Fr.)

Not surprisingly, the Russians steeped in Pushkin and other great writers of their classical literature have got into the blame game: They pin the tail on the braying behemoth across the Atlantic for their own country’s insatiable penchant for such barbaric terms as playing khokkey, listening to dzhaz, drinking kofe et al as depicted below:

                                                Khokkey (Хоккей) (Russ.)                                          

hockey

Dzhaz (Джаз)  

jazz

 Kofe (Кофе)

coffee

My own roots in India make me, oh, so familiar with the incursion of purely English terms – albeit distorted in pronunciation – in Hindi, Urdu or man-in-the-street Hindustani discourse. But that is understandable, considering the many decades of the British Raj’s influence on commerce and public life.  Indeed, in the subcontinent we have the aphorism born of the Bengali clerk or babu that “Bannerjee writes and Mukerjee replies” – otherwise the wheels of  government under the Brits would have come to a grinding halt if they had relied entirely on the King’s or (now) Queen’s English!

To be fair, linguistic borrowings go back a long way. Witness, for example, that English “pelf” has given way to American “graft”, or “plunder” to the Hindustani “loot”, and so on. Without making this writing a litany of piteous handwringing and whining – or in the colorful British term whinging – let’s cast back for a moment to the time when Rome virtually ruled the world.

That Empire’s highborn citizens, looking down their long noses, must have snorted – if not shuddered – at the way their subject barbarians spoke Latin. But that classic lingua franca spawned the beauteous and multiple ways of expressing the finest thoughts and aspirations of the human race inherent in such modern Romance languages as Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and many other lesser known tongues of the same ilk.

Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas

Summer Round Sound

Reading Abbey

Reading Abbey

Sumer Is Icumen In” is a traditional English round, or a musical composition in which two or more voices sing exactly the same melody but nevertheless fit harmoniously together. It is possibly the oldest such example in existence of counterpoint, which is the relationship between two or more voices. The title might be translated as “Summer has come in” or “Summer has arrived.”

The round is sometimes known as the Reading Round because the manuscript comes from Reading Abbey, which was founded by Henry the First in 1121 “for the salvation of my soul, and the souls of King William, my father, and of King William, my brother, and Queen Maud, my wife, and all my ancestors and successors.” The round may not have been written there, but it is the oldest piece of six-part polyphonic music, that is, music with two or more independent melodic voices. Its composer is anonymous, and it is estimated to date circa 1260. The manuscript – written in Middle English, extant between the late 11th and the late 15th century – is now at the British Library (the source for some of the material here; the other is Wikipedia, which is accessed via the words underlined.)

Sumer is icumen in

Sumer_is_icumen_in_-_Summer_Canon_(Reading_Rota)_(mid_13th_C),_f_11v_-_BL_Harley_MS_978

Summer has arrived,
Loudly sing, Cuckoo!
The seed grows and the meadow blooms
And the wood springs anew,
Sing, Cuckoo!
The ewe bleats after the lamb
The cow lows after the calf.
The bullock stirs, the stag farts,
Merrily sing, Cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo, well you sing, cuckoo;
Don’t you ever stop now,
Sing Cuckoo now.
Sing, Cuckoo.
Sing Cuckoo.
Sing cuckoo now!

A lively rendition of the ancient round can be heard on YouTube: Sumer is icumen in

Afterword:
In 2015, the summer begins with the solstice on June 21 at 12:38 P.M. EDT.
This year, Father’s Day is also celebrated on the 21st!
This summer solstice is the day with the most hours of sunlight during the whole year.
The word solstice is from the Latin solstitium, from sol (sun) and stitium (to stop), reflecting the fact that the Sun appears to stop (or seemingly stand in the sky) at this time.
The crescent Moon joins Venus and Jupiter on the 19th and 20th, respectively, creating truly eye-catching conjunctions at dusk.
This is a rare chance to see a triple conjunction of the three brightest objects in the night sky!
After sunset near dusk, look towards the western horizon. (You’ll need to find an unobstructed view.) First you’ll see bright white Venus. Nearby is a fainter yellowish Jupiter and the thin crescent Moon.

Main Sources: British Library, London and Wikipedia.

_________________________________________________________________________

 

Father’s Day – June 21, 2015

DaddyOThe family of my father, Edgar Samuel Lewis, who’s pictured alongside, were the Athams of Kabul, Afghanistan. 

They were scions of Afghanistan’s ancient Kakazai tribe and had fled to India in the mid-19th century as a result of persecution by a warring faction. There, in the Northwest, they converted to Christianity, and – as was the custom in the Anglican Church of Northern India – they were given English surnames: the family legend has it that the clergyman who performed the ceremony baptized the newcomers with the surname Lewis since the reverend himself was a Welshman.


30 January 1888 – 25 June 1950

Daddy was the eldest child of Judge George Lewis of Hoshiarpur, Punjab. He was educated at Bishop Cotton Public (i.e., ‘Private’ in U.S. parlance) School in the sub-Himalayan hill-station of Simla, a popular summer retreat from the heat of the Indian plains to the south and at that time the summer capital of British India.

After graduation Daddy joined the British Indian Civil Service and was eventually posted in Delhi as the District Magistrate (D.M). He rose to become a highly respected Government servant – and eventually the first Indian Deputy Commissioner of the Capital. For the record, the Deputy Commissioner and his Chief were always Englishmen during the British Raj.

Daddy received many awards while in Government service: On 23 February 1920, he was given the War Medal for his valuable services rendered during WWI (1914-1919); on 12 May 1937 he received the King-Emperor’s Coronation Medal; and during WWII (1939-1945) when he was Deputy Chief Press Advisor and Censor of the Government of India, he was made an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the New Year Honours List. [Daddy’s seen below when he was D.M., Delhi – Right Hand corner in D.J. – at a Viceregal Banquet held in The Viceroy House on 19 March 1940: click on the picture to enlarge it to full screen.]

At Banquet 001

Banquet Seating 001 Viceroy Guests Partial

 Daddy was an incorrigible practical joker – even into his 50’s – that belied his role, first, as a Sessions Judge in pre-1947 Lahore, Punjab – now in Pakistan but then part of British India; and later on in the capital New Delhi, as a senior government official. Looking back to his school days in Simla he was invariably brought up before the Headmaster, who was British, for some infraction or other (usually innocent, but ha-ha funny and never mean.) By the same token, he was invariably let off with a wink-and-a-nod reprimand to never do it again – whatever it was!

Daddy was well-built with very broad shoulders and stood about 5’10” high in his socks. He was an all-round sportsman as well as a shikari (huntsman) of note. He very soon excelled in tennis. Indeed, during his long tenure in the Capital he was often sought after as a double’s partner.

But there was one invitation he could not refuse – from the longest-serving Viceroy of India! His Excellency the Marquess of Linlithgow asked Daddy to join him on weekends for tennis, and if there were no political or other forces affecting civil life in the Capital, that partnership became fairly routine. Daddy’s own favorite partner was one of his younger brothers, Eric, and eventually the two Lewis siblings became the Champion Doubles Tennis Players of the Punjab.

With the US Tennis Open just around the corner in New York, I’m being reminded of the fact that when I was a youngster, I witnessed Daddy’s commanding performance in tennis matches on the Roshnara Club grounds in New Delhi – he was one of the Club’s founding and Executive Committee members who enjoyed playing there with his many pals, both in public and commercial life.

After Tennis 001

Since he was ambidextrous, he could return the ball with equal facility into his opponent’s court by switching his racquet from one hand to the other with aplomb. It was a delight to see, particularly in doubles matches, where those on the other side of the net were rarely able to anticipate his next move. [He’s seen alongside après a tennis game.]

Daddy’s other consuming passion was hunting, and each year during the season he and his buddies (including the legendary British hunter and naturalist Jim Corbett who wrote “Man-Eaters of Kumaon”) would invariably head for the hills – literally! – as the Terai was their usual destination. A belt of forests located south of the outer foothills of the Himalayas, the Terai was teeming with wildlife and at first the favorite sport was to bring back a tiger or two for displaying the cured furskin(s) in ones living room or man-cave. But after a while, Daddy was the first among his friends to declare an end to the slaughter. He, therefore, took to the camera instead of a rifle to ‘shoot’ pictures of animals in the wild, and to the pen for contributing articles on jungle life to the Indian and foreign press.

Unfortunately, on one of his forays into the Terai jungles, Daddy contracted an illness that eventually proved to be fatal. I was studying at London University, when I received news from my mother end-January 1950 that all was not well with Daddy. His shikari friends had foregathered at our New Delhi home to wish him well on his birthday, January the 30th, and to swap yarns and exciting anecdotes about their past hunting experiences.

Thereafter, Daddy’s condition worsened. With the onset of the hot weather, my elder bother, Misbah, and our worried mother checked him into the Willingdon Hospital, where soon after he went into a coma from which he never recovered. Daddy, that Prince among Men, passed away on 25 June 1950 in the early hours of that morning. He was buried in the York Road Cemetery. This Father’s Day appreciation of mine is dedicated to his memory 65 years after he left this world a far better place. _______________________________________________________________________

Afterword
Two of Daddy’s ‘specialties’ were his command of the English language and concomitantly his musical knowledge and appreciation of grand opera.

  • First, his constant companion on his office desk at home was Chambers’s Twentieth Century Dictionary – the revised edition with a Latin and foreign language supplement published in 1959. I still have the tattered volume in my den and still use it when, say, a Latin, German or French phrase escapes me. On Daddy’s retirement from Government service, a farewell party was thrown for him at the Roshnara Club. There, Delhi’s Chief Commissioner, Sir John Thompson, was the one to give the toast: He reminisced that his first contact with Edgar was in the Secretariat; it transpired that during his work there, his curiosity had been aroused by some very lucid, logical, effective and well-written notes in one of the recent case files. Thereupon, he enquired about their author and was told that the gentleman was none other than the illustrious son of his old friend from his own Hoshiarpur days, Judge Lewis. He concluded before the assembled guests and well-wishers that Mr. Lewis Junior was one of the most diligent, capable and popular members of the Civil Service.
  • Second, another old volume in my den bears the title, Opera at Home: The Fourth Edition was published by The Gramophone Co., Ltd, London in 1928 and dedicated to the imperishable memory of Adelina Patti and Enrico Caruso. The inscription inside reads simply E. S. Lewis June 1929.
    ESLsignatureOpera at Home has been my bible, especially when listening to Daddy’s many old 78’s and LP records that I brought over to the USA in 1975. [For listening to the 78’s I bought a special convertible turntable here that, while not perfect because of the scratchy back-ground, still gives me pleasure to hear some of the great operatic voices of all time.] They include my favorites of Beethoven’s Fidelio, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor (with Joan Sutherland), Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, and Verdi’s Il Trovatore (conducted by Herbert von Karajan). Without doubt, Enrico Caruso was Daddy’s tenor of choice followed by coloratura soprano Amelita Galli-Curci – both Italians! He couldn’t get enough of listening to them in the evening in order to relax after a tough day spent in the hurly-burly of public life during a period of political unrest in India’s Capital. 
  • A chip off the old block has been Misbah: My older brother not only became his regiment’s tennis champion while serving in the Indian Army as a General, but to this day as an octogenarian retiree in the northern hill-station of Dehra Dun loves to load his record-player with discs of operatic performances by the great tenors – and is even heard bellowing out their well-known solos while taking a morning shower!

CODA: I can’t help leaving my readers without Enrico Caruso having the last word, uh, song. Here’s a YouTube clip of his performing the perennial favorite “Santa Lucia” first recorded on 20 March 1916, just under a century ago: Santa Lucia – enjoy listening to the best tenor of ’em all!

Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas

Aram Khatchaturian

Khatachturian

6 June 1903 – 1 May 1978

How come there was no celebration of Aram Khatchaturian’s birthday on June the 6th?
I myself was at fault, because of other preoccupations last week ending that day with my attending a memoriam held out of town to honor a dear family friend.

No further excuses, and let me cut to the chase on a personal note: During my participation as India’s sole representative in the First Franz Liszt International Piano Competition in 1956, held in Budapest, all the competitors drawn from around the globe – 55 participants, no less! – were invited after the preliminaries to that famous idyllic spit of land in the Danube lying between Buda and Pest – Margit-sziget, or Margaret Island! Margaret IslandThe serene setting was a far cry from the restless hustle and bustle of the city, and our visit was clearly bent on providing us with some light relief from the previous week’s rigors of the elimination contest on terra firma.

The black-tie event opened up to a foreigner’s eye the past and present of social life in the Hungarian capital at that time: Soviet-style gritty grey grimness on the one hand, Western-style bonhomie full of vibrant color and cuisine on the other. What awaited us was a plethora of decadent, enticing hors d’oeuvres atop linen-covered tables in the intimate reception room, to which spread we were effusively welcomed by the grey-haired
maître d’hôtel to partake at our leisure while awaiting the arrival of the Guests of Honor, who according to him, were never on time.

When they did finally arrive, it turned out that they were mainly senior members of the ruling Communist party uniformly dressed in black (men and women) but also –  quite distinctively – all the Jury Members of the Competition as well as two world-renowned composers: the Hungarian Zoltán Kodály (who was the President of the Competition) and the Armenian Aram Khatchaturian (who was the honored guest.)

KadosaPál  Kadosa (1903-1983)
I should not fail to mention Mr. Kodály’s composition student, Pál Kadosa, who was also there – not only as a member of the international jury, but as an already famous pianist, composer and teacher. His own most prominent student was György Ligeti.
I came to admire Mr. Kadosa’s works and still treasure a volume of them that he gave me. They include some really individualistic – if ascetic and somewhat austere – pieces, which have grown on me over the years.

I eventually got to see Messrs. Kodály and Khatchaturian, and through an interpreter was able to ascertain after formal introductions were over that I would have time between my sessions on the concert stage to meet them one-on-one at the Radio Station in downtown Budapest. Not only that, a music critic from the BBC, London, would be on hand to record the back-and-forth interview.

What transpired was, for me, an unforgettable moment in my young musical life. There was I in a studio with two of my Western Music idols – one  classical, the other (perhaps) neo-classical, but both influenced by folk music – who were gracious and unhurried in their responses to my questions. Surprisingly, Mr. Khatchaturian was more forthcoming in his replies unlike Mr. Kodály’s, and by hindsight, come to think of it, just a few days later Soviet tanks rumbled into the city and blew up the Radio Station to prevent word of the invasion from leaking to the outside world  as to what was happening on the ground. So I must conjecture, to this day, that there was something up in the tense, torrid political air that made Mr. Kodály more circumspect during our meeting in framing his deliberate answers to my flurry of questions.

For the record, and looking back, Aram Khachaturian was the most renowned Armenian composer of the 20th century and the author of the first Armenian ballet music, symphony, concerto, and film score.  While following the established musical traditions of Russia, he broadly used Armenian and to a lesser extent, Caucasian, Eastern & Central European, and Middle Eastern peoples’ folk music in his works. He is highly regarded in Armenia, where he is considered to be a “national treasure.”

Without doubt, the Saber Dance from his ballet Gayane is his single most celebrated piece. Watch here the first 2’50” of the performance by Mariinsky (a historic theatre of opera and ballet in Saint Petersburg, Russia) on YouTube:  Saber Dance. Not to be outdone, his Piano Concerto, written 80 years ago, is one of the most recognizable in the contemporary concert repertory, and his Toccata for piano enjoys great popularity among the younger fry of budding musicians in Western conservatories: no wonder – I can tell you it’s great fun to play! This YouTube video will illustrate my point: Toccata for piano.

kodalyZoltán Kodály  (1886-1967)
As for Mr. Kodály, he was a master in conveying the spirit of that inherent Hungarian folk dance, the Czardas, in the intermezzo movement of his famous Hary Janos suite: it consists of a slow section called “lassu” alternating with a rapid one, “friss.” Here is an attractive and colorful rendition on YouTube: Intermezzo from Hary Janos.

We all got so fired up, that Mr. Kodály asked us, including his BBC guest-cum-rapporteur, to repair to his renowned school nearby, where he personally squired us around the various studios brimful of young musicians in the making. They were being taught the Kodály Method that later swept many conservatories of music in the West as a novel, yet effective way of teaching music to even the youngest of enrolled students.

And so it goes in the continuum that exists today between Western music and music education around the world…….

Afterword:
Before leaving his school, I turned to Mr. Kodály and asked him what he thought of Liszt as a Hungarian composer. He flushed slightly, then barked out in English (it was the first and only time I heard him speak English during my two weeks in Budapest): “Hungarian?! He couldn’t even speak the language!!”

Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas

Meme Polemics – and Messenger Pigeons!

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These days, an hour doesn’t go past before one is confronted with a four-letter word that seems to have overtaken normal discourse – face to face, or in writing! What is it and why does it exist?

We’re all familiar with other quadriliteral words like memo and mime, but who would have thought that two nuclear-savvy countries in the subcontinent would have resorted to a menacing meme – yes! – as a vehicle to hurl polemical invectives and much more at each other in the opening days of June?

Who are they, but those old adversaries Pakistan and India.

Let me explain. It all started – believe it or not – with pigeons, not the clay type but those of real flesh-and-blood. From an innocent incident near the two nations’ border, it blossomed into a full-blown attack , not military, but more in the mode of a James Bond-like character doing undercover sleuthing.

He is certainly depicted in the press as the real McCoy, except of course for his avian, albeit sinister, demeanor and hardware to boot. Without ado, I’m displaying further below shots taken of the hotshots touted in the media, much to the hilarity of the two countries’ urban, iPhone-toting populace, as evidenced by the sizzling social media activity on the Internet by addicts on both sides of the border who can’t get enough of the crazy – some might say, manic – goings-on.

Judge for yourself, as the idiocy unfolds ‘meme-ographically’ for what it really is. Yep, it’s all beautifully captured in the cunning, tongue-in-cheek Twittering craft of Ayar Ahmed, the Pakistan Defence, and Mishkaat Umair respectively. First up is a memorable picture of the Hero Pigeon – no kidding! – before leaving on a mission inside India: hero pigeon Next, is the Pakistani version of you know whom, except for his you know what. But, unheard of – or unseen – in any of the real Bond’s innumerable escapades, our Hero here was entrapped by an exotic Indian female in feathers – not draped in a feathery boa. Pakistani 007 And finally, the full-blown passing out parade of the ‘Pegion Squadron’ out to outwit any incursion by, or interference from, a “foreign hand!” [Excuse  the misspelling – after all, our racing fraternity in Kentucky insist on ‘Pharoah’ for the name of its favorite horse to win the Triple Crown at Belmont this Saturday, June the 6th, rather than ‘Pharaoh’ as in the other 49 states of the Union and the rest of the world. And no retort of “horse feathers!” p-ul-ee-ze.] Pigeon Squadron Passing Out Parade ‘Tis a pity that, by hindsight, all those brave messenger pigeons of yore in WWI and WWII hadn’t, to the best of my knowledge, had the on-the-ground training that a century later the smart-looking ‘pegions’ of today now seem to receive in their special squadrons run presumably by the secretive RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) organization.

One thing I can’t discern is whether the greys (blue rock) are preferred to the greens in the selection process: the former are widely distributed in Europe, Asia and North Africa and would be the species of bird used in the two World Wars; the latter, because of its ubiquity in the subcontinent and its color might be the Pakistani bird of choice, but it’s clear from Hero above that the greys have it – at least among those sent out to flight the good flight on foreign soil!

green pigeonGrey PigeonUpper: Crocopus phoenicopterus      Lower: Columba livia (from Salim Ali’s “The Book of Indian Birds”)

Afterword: For the uninitiated – and I was one of ’em until I turned to online sources – here is a brief explanation of that pesky four-letter word everyone is using heedlessly and, I  dare say, needlessly: A meme is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme.

Get it? In that case, one should be entitled to call a meme espouser a memic and the art thereof as memicry. Any other artful or even not-so-artful down-to-earth forms using the mem- root would be welcomed by me in the comment section at bottom.

Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas