Monthly Archives: March 2018

Gobbledegook about OK

I WAS SURPRISED TO READ TODAY, March the 23rd, that according to the website On this Day in History  “the man responsible for unraveling the mystery behind “OK” was an American linguist named Allen Walker Read. An English professor at Columbia University, Read dispelled a host of erroneous theories on the origins of “OK,” ranging from the name of a popular Army biscuit (Orrin Kendall) to the name of a Haitian port famed for its rum (Aux Cayes) to the signature of a Choctaw chief named Old Keokuk. Whatever its origins, “OK” has become one of the most ubiquitous terms in the world, and certainly one of America’s greatest lingual exports.”

The fact of the matter is that one has to betake oneself to West Africa and visit Senegal – its capital is Dakar, where Wolof is spoken, and that’s the language which inspired a slew of “American” slang words. To clarify, Arabic is the language of the educated people there;  French, the “tourist” language, and Wolof the language of the villages, which happen to be inhabited by the most creative – linguistically speaking – of the lot!

I first became aware of Wolof when I visited Dakar for a few days in 1957 en route to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from New Delhi, India, for an international Piano Competition. One of the first things I learned was the Wolof word for “yes” – waaw and more emphatically waaw kay, the origin according to  David Dalby (Reader in West African Languages, SOAS, University of London) of today’s ubiquitous Okay and O.K.  Subsequently, when I got home to India, I dug deeper and became aware of several other Americanisms that may once have been Africanisms.

Decades later, when my family moved to Englewood, New Jersey, US, I wrote the following piece for The Messenger, the monthly newsletter of September 2010 of St. Paul’s Church:

‘DEGGA’ —Americanisms Rooted in Africa!
by Azim L. Mayadas
Published: August 27, 1995 by
The New York Times

IN HER ESSAY “Performing Art Is Always Theater” [ August 6, 1995] Margo
Jefferson translates the *Wolof word “degga”—which was used as the title
for the collaborative piece by Toni Morrison, Max Roach and Bill T. Jones—
as “to understand.” It brings to my mind several Americanisms that may
once have been Africanisms. For example, “jive” had the original meaning
among African-Americans of “misleading talk;” it can be compared to the
Wolof “jev,” meaning “to talk disparagingly.”
The slang words “hep,” “hip” and “hippie” have a basic sense of “aware”
or “alert to what is going on.” In Wolof, the verb “hipi” means “to open
one’s eyes.” The use of “cat” to mean “person,” as in “hep-cat” or “cool
cat,” can be likened to the Wolof “kat,” used as an agent-suffix after verbs.
“Hipi-kat” in Wolof means “a person who has opened his eyes.”
It would be rash to suggest that all such Americanisms can be attributed
with certainty to Wolof, but the frequency of correlations is unlikely to be
the result of mere chance.

One of our parishioners at St. Paul’s Church, Johanne Gambrill, happened to read that article of mine in  The Messenger about Wolof  and responded by e-mail with great enthusiasm as follows:
IN 1961, I WAS A PARTICIPANT in Operation Crossroads-Africa. Two hundred college students and other young post-university students were chosen to work in countries in Africa in groups of about 12. My group, which was the United States in microcosm, representing many religions and races, male and female, was located in Senegal.
Forty kilometers south of Dakar is a village called Popenguine where we built a school. Our 12 African counterparts spoke French, Arabic and Wolof and some English. We communicated in French with the African students. With the villagers we used words from many languages. We learned some Wolof.
The children were generally puzzled, so we drew pictures in the dirt to explain what we wanted to say, and they drew pictures for us. In the evenings after work, we had lectures. One night we would speak in English and it was translated into French. The Africans spoke French and it was translated into English, even though we had all become fluent in both languages!
Dakar looked a lot like DC. We landed in Dakar and spent a week there. The government had just had a change of ministers and didn’t know who we were! After a week we were kicked out of the country and went to the next door neighbor, Mali.
We were taken in by some Catholic nuns who fed us and arranged trips (I use the term loosely) to places around the capital, Bamako. Two weeks later, we were invited back to Senegal and sent to the village of Popenguine to build a school. Popenguine is in the middle of nowhere, as are most of the villages.
We had a spectacular experience, one that has allowed me to see the world through different eyes and has allowed me to head projects in the school where I last taught for 11 years, including running an Africa Day.

References: David Dalby (Reader in West African Languages, SOAS, U of London); My Diary

Dear Readers,
You number over 70,000 since January 2015 just over three years ago, when I first began to put “some of my thoughts, written down” and posted them in the blogosphere. Since that time, many of you have urged me to seek support of my site and my writings by way of donations.

 My blog is about my life. It’s about what I’ve learned through the span of my life. It’s about people and things I love, and things I know and things I have experienced. I am humbled that so many of you want to join with me in my reflections. If you like what you find here, if it inspires or informs or amuses you, then I am content.  
It would mean a lot to me if you would please consider making a donation of US $1.00, $5.00, $10.00, or whatever amount you deem fit to sustain my work.
And thank you for being a regular reader of the Azim Mayadas Blog!
Copyright © 2018 Azim Lewis Mayadas

 

Paderewski and Piano Practice

I begin this brief post by remembering a Polish giant of the concert stage, Ignace Paderewski, not for his memorable and supremely musical performances, but for his famous epigram about diligence:

“If I don’t practice for one day, I know it; if I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it; if I don’t practice for three days, the audience knows it.”

Indeed, a telling quasi-penitential piece he wrote in The Paderewski Memoirs 1939 states unequivocally that for the pianist practice is constant torture and privation. “It prevents you from reading, from thinking, from developing your intellect – this practicing every day the indispensable hours.” He goes on to pen, “I still need four or five hours a day of practicing with the concentration of mind that does not admit any intrusion. It is a slavery from which there is no escape.”

When Paderewski entered politics in the service of his country, he stopped playing altogether. He didn’t touch the piano for over four years. Admittedly his fingers became strong again. But when he got back on to the concert circuit in Europe and America, the strain was unending and the pressure of work terrible.

On technique, he offered some words of wisdom on tempo rubato (robbed, or stolen time.) It is, he averred, the irreconcilable foe of the metronome, and one of music’s oldest friends – older than Mozart, older than Bach. Chopin made very ample use of it, and Liszt also. Paderewski goes a little further and states it is necessary, but should not be abused – it should not become a license. Yes, it is a fascinating subject for most musicians – both supporters and critics alike!

Postscript:
Here are three examples of early piano recordings made of his playing works of Chopin:

The nocturne was recorded on July 12, 1911 at A. Chalet Riond-Bosson, Morges, Switzerland. The first etude above was recorded on April 5, 1923, and the second etude  was an Electrola recording ca. 1930.

References: Wikipedia; The Music Lover’s Companion 1971 edited by Gervase Hughes & Herbert Van Thal.

Dear Readers,
You number over 70,000 since January 2015 just over three years ago, when I first began to put “some of my thoughts, written down” and posted them in the blogosphere. Since that time, many of you have urged me to seek support of my site and my writings by way of donations.

 My blog is about my life. It’s about what I’ve learned through the span of my life. It’s about things I love, and things I know and things I have experienced. I am humbled that so many of you want to join with me in my reflections. If you like what you find here, if it inspires or informs or amuses you, then I am content.  
It would mean a lot to me if you would please consider making a donation of US $1.00, $5.00, $10.00, or whatever amount you deem fit to sustain my work.
And thank you for being a regular reader of the Azim Mayadas Blog!
Copyright © 2018 Azim Lewis Mayadas

 

 

Maurice Ravel – Maven of Recording

MAURICE RAVEL in 1925
b. March 7, 1875 – d. December 28, 1937

One aspect of the French composer’s life – who was born 143 years ago on March the 7th. – tends to be relegated to a minor category of his musical achievements, namely, that he was veritably a maven during his last 25 years on this earth when it came to exploiting the comparatively new invention of recording in advertising his own compositions. Thus,

His own interpretations of some of his piano works were captured on piano roll between 1914 and 1928, although some rolls supposedly played by him may have been made under his supervision by Robert Casadesus, a better pianist. Transfers of the rolls have been released on compact disc. In 1913 there was a gramophone recording of Jeux d’eau played by Mark Hambourg, and by the early 1920s there were discs featuring the Pavane pour une infante défunte and Ondine, and movements from the String Quartet, Le tombeau de Couperin and Ma mère l’Oye. Ravel was among the first composers who recognized the potential of recording to bring their music to a wider public, and throughout the 1920s there was a steady stream of recordings of his works, some of which featured the composer as pianist or conductor. A 1932 recording of the G major Piano Concerto was advertised as “Conducted by the composer”, although he had in fact supervised the sessions while a more proficient conductor took the baton. Recordings for which Ravel actually was the conductor included  Boléro in 1930, and a sound film of a 1933 performance of the D major piano concerto with Wittgenstein as soloist.

I’ve particularly enjoyed playing Ravel’s piano compositions as part of my regular recital programs of the late 1990’s. His Sonatine (1905) – a veritable jewel – has been a favorite of mine all along.

Afterword:  Ravel  is often associated with impressionism along with his elder contemporary Claude Debussy, although both composers rejected the term. In the 1920s and 1930s Ravel was internationally regarded as France’s greatest living composer.

Born to a music-loving family, Ravel attended France’s premier music college, the Paris Conservatoire; he was not well regarded by its conservative establishment, whose biased treatment of him caused a scandal. After leaving the Conservatoire, Ravel found his own way as a composer, developing a style of great clarity, incorporating elements of baroque, neoclassicism and, in his later works, jazz.

Ravel liked to experiment with musical form, as in his best-known 1928 work, Boléro.
In that 1928 work performed in Maastricht by André Rieu & the Johann Strauss Orchestra,  repetition takes the place of development.

He made some orchestral arrangements of other composers’ music, of which his 1922 version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is the best known.

As a slow and painstaking worker, Ravel composed fewer pieces than did many of his contemporaries. Among his works to enter the repertoire are pieces for piano, chamber music, two piano concertos, ballet music, two operas (each less than an hour long), and eight song cycles; he wrote no symphonies and only one religious work (“Kaddish”). Many of his works exist in two versions: first, a piano score and later an orchestration. Some of his piano music, such as Gaspard de la nuit (1908), is exceptionally difficult to play, and his complex orchestral works such as Daphnis et Chloé (1912) require skillful balance in performance.

Postscript: This very week I happened to come across a 90-year-old recording by the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, Paris of Ravel’s La Valse. It was introduced in Paris on December 12, 1920, Camille Chevillard conducting. Stimulated by the waltzes of Johann Strauss II, Ravel here planned an “apotheosis of the waltz” to provide a picture of old Vienna.

The background ‘noise’ is inescapable, but the sample here is the last section of a 4-part recording in which the finale grows ever more restless and turbulent: The gaiety of Vienna in 1855 becomes grim and tragic in the dire post-war year of 1919.

References: Wikipedia; Encyclopedia of Concert Music by David Ewen;  My Diary

Dear Readers,
You number over 70,000 since January 2015 just over three years ago, when I first began to put “some of my thoughts, written down” and posted them in the blogosphere. Since that time, many of you have urged me to seek support of my site and my writings by way of donations.

 My blog is about my life. It’s about what I’ve learned through the span of my life. It’s about things I love, and things I know and things I have experienced. I am humbled that so many of you want to join with me in my reflections. If you like what you find here, if it inspires or informs or amuses you, then I am content.  
It would mean a lot to me if you would please consider making a donation of US $1.00, $5.00, $10.00, or whatever amount you deem fit to sustain my work.
And thank you for being a regular reader of the Azim Mayadas Blog!
Copyright © 2018 Azim Lewis Mayadas