Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Gala About Greatness part 2: More tidbits on The Great Gatsby

First a note about "Quick Note." I will occasionally be posting short musings or events I find particularly interesting on this blog. If you didn't catch my Quick Note this week here is the link:

For today's post I will continue my thoughts on last week's post. I mentioned some great tidbits I found about the Great Gatsby. Some of these are interesting, others are ironic, or funny. But no matter what, like all great novels, the layers of complexity both in the writing and in the creation and popularity of the book abound with The Great Gatsby. I'm a Minnesota native and F. Scott Fitzgerald plays a part in my understanding of the history of the state. In fact I had the great pleasure of playing saxophone with my High School band for the renaming inauguration of the Fitzgerald Theater in Downtown St. Paul. Locals just call it the "Fitz." Garrison Keillor, A Prairie Home Companion, was there and even marched with the band. I also had an excellent high school English teacher who brought Gatsby to life for me. So I have a personal connection to this story, like many people do.

So here are some great gems of info about The Great Gatsby:

Would a Great American Novel by any other name be as sweet? Based on the other titles F. Scott Fitzgerald considered for Gatsby, I’d have to say no. At one time or another, all of these were in consideration: Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires; Trimalchio; Trimalchio in West Egg; On the Road to West Egg; Under the Red, White, and Blue; Gold-Hatted Gatsby and The High-Bouncing Lover.

The Great Gatsby was partly inspired by a French novel called Le Grand Meaulnes, written in 1913. It has since been translated into English with the titles The Wanderer and The Lost Estate.

The poet who “wrote” the novel’s epigraph never actually existed. He was a character in Fitzgerald’s previous book, This Side of Paradise. Fitzgerald also occasionally used it as his pen name. Here’s the epigraph:

“Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry, “Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!”

At the time of its publication in 1925, the novel cost just $2.

Unlike Fitzgerald’s previous two novels, Gatsby was not a commercial success. It sold just 20,000 copies in the entire first year of publication.

Fitzgerald was convinced that the reason the book wasn’t a rousing success was because Gatsby didn’t have a single admirable female character—and, at the time, the majority of people reading novels were women. He also thought that the title, which was only “fair,” resulted in poor sales.

Gatsby wasn’t a critical success with everyone, either. A few of the not-so-rave reviews:

“Why [Fitzgerald] should be called an author, or why any of us should behave as if he were, has never been satisfactorily explained to me.” —The Brooklyn Daily Eagle

“We are quite convinced after reading The Great Gatsby that Mr. Fitzgerald is not one of the great writers of to-day.” —The New York Evening World

“Scott Fitzgerald’s new novel, The Great Gatsby, is in form no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that.” —The Baltimore Evening Sun

The joke’s on the Evening Sun, because not only was much of Gatsby probable; it actually happened. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald moved to Great Neck on Long Island after their daughter Scottie was born in 1922. That’s where Fitzgerald witnessed the collision of “old money” and “new money.” People who came from Great Neck had recently acquired money, while those who came from nearby Manhasset Neck or Cow Neck had inherited theirs. Cow Neck does sound quite classy.

Many of the characters were based on flesh and blood friends and lovers. Daisy was based on Ginevra King, a Chicago debutante and one of Fitzgerald’s girlfriends. One Fitzgerald scholar says his romance with King was the most important relationship he experienced, even more so than the one with his wife. That may be true, considering that these words, found written in Fitzgerald’s ledger, are thought to have been said by King’s father: “Poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls.”

Jordan Baker, her name was a play on two popular car brands of the Roaring Twenties: the Jordan Motor Car Company and the Baker Motor Vehicle. The play on words was meant to invoke the feeling of freedom and a “fast” reputation.

Gatsby himself—or at least his line of work and one of his famous phrases—may have been inspired by a WWI vet named Max Gerlach, a “gentleman bootlegger” Fitzgerald knew from Great Neck. Fitzgerald scholar Matthew Bruccoli discovered a newspaper clipping in one of the Fitzgeralds' numerous scrapbooks. The clipping, apparently sent from Gerlach, was a photo of the Fitzgeralds accompanied by a handwritten note that said, “Here for a few days on business—How are you and the family old Sport? Gerlach.” “Old sport,” of course, is the way Gatsby constantly refers to narrator Nick Carraway.

So what great sum did Fitzgerald receive for writing one of the most beloved novels of all time? A $3993 advance, and $1981.25 when it was published. He later received $16,666 for the movie rights.

Too bad the movie, which was released in 1926, sucked—at least according to Zelda Fitzgerald. In undated letter to Scottie, Zelda wrote that the silent film based on the novel was “ROTTEN and awful and terrible and we left.”

Sadly, when Fitzgerald died of a heart attack in 1940, he had mostly disappeared into obscurity. At the time of his death, Gatsby’s publisher still had copies of the book in its warehouse—and that was from a second printing of just 3000 books. Fitzgerald’s works saw a revival in 1945. Helping in that revival: 150,000 copies of Gatsby were sent to Americans serving in WWII.

Mad Money host Jim Cramer has a group of 13 stocks he calls “The Great Gatsby Index,” which tracks the spending of rich people. The group: Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Lululemon, Whole Foods, Nordstrom, Panera bread, Toll Brothers, Brunswick, Coach, Tiffany, Saks, Starbucks, and Estee Lauder.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was a deplorable speller. He was so bad, in fact, that American literary critic Edmund Wilson called This Side of Paradise "one of the most illiterate books of any merit ever published."

Fitzgerald was named after his second cousin, three times removed: Francis Scott Key. Key wrote the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

In 1917, Fitzgerald dropped out of school—he was already on academic probation—and joined the U.S. Army. Terrified that he would be killed in the war, thus denying the world his literary genius, he hastily wrote a novel and sent it off to Scribner. The Romantic Egotist was rejected, but Scribner sent him an encouraging letter and asked him to submit again in the future.

Hunter S. Thompson retyped The Great Gatsby so he could feel what it was like to write like Fitzgerald.

Come to A Great Gatsby Gala, 
at 7:30 PM
Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed 599 Oak Creek Drive Lincoln, NE 68528 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Quick Note: Find Your Forte Podcast

Choral Nation (as Ryan Guth says),
If you have interest in the choral conducting profession, check out Ryan's Podcast "Find Your Forte."
I particularly enjoy the interviews with esteemed colleagues and choral giants like: Joe Flummerfelt, Matthew Mehaffey, and Helen Kemp, Gabriel Crouch, and Joe Miller.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Gala about Greatness?: LCA director reflects on the aftermath of the Roaring 20s, Prohibition, and the "Great Recession"

 I've been reading up on some of the interesting tidbits about the Depression era and the recent recession or "The Great Recession." There are of course many similarities in personal stories that touch us as we have seen so many people loose homes and livelihood through very unfair, and indeed illegal, practices in the business community. I recently watched both 99 Homes and The Big Short which reflected from different perspectives the issues surrounding the greatest failure in American economy in my lifetime. 

What does any of this have to do with the Lincoln Choral Artists and music? 

Our upcoming Gala, March 5 at the American Museum of Speed, has a theme called "A Great Gatsby Gala." Beyond a good alliteration, this title allows us to focus on music, composers, themes and ideas springing from the Roaring Twenties, Prohibition, and the Great Depression.

Here are some tidbits about Prohibition:

Prohibition clearly benefited some people. Notorious bootlegger Al Capone made $60,000,000…that’s sixty million dollars…per year (untaxed!) while the average industrial worker earned less than $1,000 per year. But not everyone benefited. 

By the time Prohibition was repealed, nearly 800 gangsters in the City of Chicago alone had been killed in bootleg-related shootings. And, of course, thousands of citizens were killed, blinded, or paralyzed as a result of drinking contaminated bootleg alcohol. “Bathtub gin” got its name from the fact that alcohol, glycerin and juniper juice was mixed in bottles or jugs too tall to be filled with water from a sink tap so they were commonly filled under a bathtub tap.

Communities Named Prohibition ...
Prohibition, Missouri,
Prohibition, Catahoula Parish, Louisiana
Prohibition, Ohio

Prohibition did many things to the country: some good most not so good. The good side it is ushered in a wave of social revolution with popularizing a new form of music (jazz), and a liberal fashion (the flapper). Women were “allowed” in bar/speakeasies for the first time. , dance became more expressive, and young and old alike held up a finger to authority as they drank illegal hooch in hidden clubs. Americans are rebels by definition: it is what our country was based on!

On the other side of the coin, the beginnings of an economic and political downturn began unmatched in our history. Poverty and unemployment were at an all time high. Moreover, spirit (not just the ones in the bottles) was at an all time low.

Another new phenomenon that happened during this time as well: the moving picture. Yes, dear friends, HOLLYWOOD!

Society and science came through together again with a new medium of social interaction that has influenced us in thought, lifestyle and propaganda. Hollywood latched on to the drinking culture, made it cool to drink, but also promoted our naivety of mixology and the Golden age of the cocktail culture. Just after the repeal in The Thin Man (circa 1934) William Powell as private investigator Nick Charles teaching a young bartender says, “The important thing is the rhythm. Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, a dry martini you always shake to waltz time.” In “proper mixology”, the Manhattan and the Martini are never shaken, but he is right about the rhythm of the shake.

When we decided to focus on a Literary character we were mirroring our focus from last year's theme, A Downton Abbey Gala.
We moved across the pond to a similar era and instead of TV fiction we are concerned with literary fiction.

Next week I will share some tidbits about "The Great Gatsby."

But as I reflect on this era I can't help but think about the the mix of consequences that arrive in any culture when a major focus of a period is based on extreme practices and motivations of any kind. Our nature as humans is to constantly flex between extremes it seems. We are now just recovering from one extreme, a second depression era. What will the next extreme be? I think some of the music you will experience at this concert will reflect extremes. Music can point out our failures and lift up our successes like few other mediums. I am so excited to share some of the both at our upcoming event. A Great Gatsby Gala
  • Saturday, March 5 at 7:30 pm at Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed

Thursday, January 14, 2016

New Year, New Choir?!?

I am always so excited about returning to regular rehearsals after a break. The energy is always high. Friends are reconnecting and the joy of singing together helps us all remember why we gather each week.

Though many of the singers have sung together, there will be new members or long time returning members back with us tonight. In some sense we have a NEW CHOIR tonight. My biggest job is to reestablish parameters of good choral tone. I like to think about these as rhythmic accuracy, intonation, vowel placement, clear enunciation and diction. The other things I will reflect on are color and timbre.

One on my favorite explanations of differing choral tones came from my father. We were attending a choral concert with multiple choral groups performing. He said each group was like a different glass of wine.

Some were rich and full bodied like a Merlot.

Some were buttery and refined like a Chardonnay.

Others were a little bitter and crisp like a Pinot Grigio.

All of these wines, like all of the choirs, had unique qualities, none of which are bad and all of which add something to the overall experience. My household has always been filled with great music and great wine. I am so excited to hear what kinds of wine Lincoln Choral Artists will reflect tonight and into the new year as we grow and develop as a "New Year" choir.