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Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Comparison by John von Daler

                 I am not a fan of art critics. They are always insisting that "our eyes are lead" or our "attention is drawn" while I am concentrating on something else. With the exception of a few wise descriptions, I would just rather be left alone with the painting.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Temptations of #Faust by John von Daler

                 I was alone with my kids and had to go to work. Work has never been a predictable part of my life: concerts here and there or lectures twice a week, recording dates in various towns and countries, a theater engagement that lasts three months. I could never really organize my home life. So sometimes the children came to work with me.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

#Weltschmerz and #Harmonization by John von Daler

                I would be walking across campus in #Princeton along the shaded pathway through the Gothic green at just before eight o'clock - on my way for some breakfast and then back to my room to read a couple of hundred pages of Anna Karenina or some other wordy novel. He would be walking in the opposite direction, a lighted cigar in his mouth, his Homburg tilted back, his eyes turned down more to think than to watch the path. My professor, R, was on his way to the lecture he was giving and I was supposed to attend: Music 201: intermediate #counterpoint.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

#Ozarkian by John von Daler

                "Ain't oo had oo bretchit yet?"
                We were eating breakfast at about eight-thirty in the morning on the front porch of my grandparents' white stucco house on a quiet, dead-end street in #Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

#Perfect Pitch by John von Daler

                Have you ever been a saint? I have. I have perfect pitch. In practice this means that what most people hear inadequately or incorrectly, or play or sing falsely, I hear correctly and usually play correctly.
                It's like being teacher's pet or Goody Two-Shoes or, well, a saint.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Plastic #Utrillo by John von Daler

                 I'm not an art critic and I don't regularly read art journals. So I can hopefully be forgiven for sloppy thinking about painters: sometimes I like to classify them according to just one color. Monet might be the master of blue, for example. Manet would most certainly be the genius of black in my book.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Crosshairs by John von Daler

                "First ve haf dinner, den coffee and den ve go to bed. So ve get up, ve haf brakefast, ve drife down to see the kink and queen arrife and den you leaf."

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Stones on Tour by John von Daler

                I woke up in pain: stabs in the right side of my lower stomach. Changing position did not help. Something was happening inside the old carcass.

Friday, August 23, 2013

#Existentialism in Practice by John von Daler

                 Like quite a few of my colleagues at Copenhagen University, I was also greatly influenced by #Jean-Paul Sartre in the seventies, that decade within which the sixties really took place.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Food for thought by John von Daler

                When I first came to Denmark, I learned a lot of things from the Danes about how to live well. Their simple, democratic way of living appealed to me and I enrolled in the Danish school of life with enthusiasm.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Emerging by John von Daler

               When we traveled the first time together, it was to #Florence.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Big Bang by John von Daler

                The little man with all the audio equipment recorded every show we ever played: school concerts, our youth orchestra, plays, musicals, he was there. His miniature, pale presence could be discerned from the stages of our schools if one looked long and hard at the orchestra pit, stage left. At some point his bald head would pop up like a wayward horseshoe on a little, round pile of light sand; he would be turning dials and watching meters. The seriousness of his concentration testified silently to the importance of what we were about to play: this would be preserved for the centuries. Our grandchildren would as adults curl up on a sofa in some remote town to hear grandfather play The Peer Gynt Suite with his high school band. We would need either to be on our toes or to suffer the heavy judgement of the generations.

Monday, August 19, 2013

TILT! by John von Daler

                I saw a program about the #Washington Monument the other day. Evidently the first part of the construction began to tilt when they stopped work on it during the Civil War. The engineers who finished building it had to strengthen the foundation and straighten the whole thing up.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

My Best Salary by John von Daler

               We are in #Greenland, in #Nuuk, on tour, playing concerts all the finest places. Some of the richest people in the arctic have paid for us to be flown up, lodged in good hotel rooms, served the good, fresh Greenlandic food, and shown the sights by dogsled and helicopter. And we get paid, too.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

#Harem, Pride, and Envy by John von Daler

         We had just visited #Zanzibar and had passed by the quarters of the sultan, who evidently maintained an extensive harem just as you or I might keep a large library or a pantry full of fresh and ripe victuals.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Swingin' along with ol' Bobby #Frost by John von Daler

                 I do love an extended metaphor, that which they used to call a "conceit" in seventeenth century English poetry - and possibly before. (Do not read this blog for facts! Facts always remind me of museum guards; they keep me from getting very close to the real picture.)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bad day in #Ålborg by John von Daler

                The telephone rings at 6 a.m. Can I come to Ålborg to take over a seat in the first violins for just one day and one concert? I would have to get a plane at 8 and stay the night in Jutland. I say yes, even though playing classical music is less and less a part of my life.
                I pack a bag, grab my violin, kiss the kids and zoom out the door. A taxi races me to the airport. I remember to get a receipt and run to catch the plane. The trip takes about forty minutes, but it gets delayed awhile in Copenhagen. When I finally get to Ålborg, I take a taxi to the concert hall, find the orchestra's dressing rooms, hear them playing already as I unpack my violin and bow, quietly open the door to the rehearsal room and edge into the only vacant seat in the first violins at the back. I nod to my partner behind the music stand, note to myself that they are rehearsing Beethoven's Violin Concerto and lift my bow to the strings while my eyes search for the right place in the music. Then the conductor stops the orchestra with an irritated swipe of his baton.
                "Up bow! UP bow! not DOWN!" he yells at me across the turned heads of the orchestra. I obediently move my bow higher up on the strings.
                For the uninitiated: Strings in orchestras usually agree on a set of instructions about when to move their bows towards heaven and when to move them - the other way. The concertmaster usually signals the correct way or writes it in the music. It is said to give a more homogenous sound if everyone moves in the same direction at the same time. Perhaps this is true, but I have always felt that this just was one more excuse to make everyone stay in line. I distrust symmetry of the kind that leads to regimentation; balance, however it is produced, is more my kind of thing.
                      In the first break the concertmaster comes over to welcome me politely to the orchestra and to try to explain the conductor's strange behavior: "He always tries to make himself important by attacking the weakest link. Today that's you. Just forget it."
                We rehearse an overture, a symphony and the concerto and play them for a crowd of eager enthusiasts in a large concert hall that evening. I play the whole thing prima vista without falling off the musical horse. My bow stays impeccably in line with the agreed on directions and I feel tired but satisfied seventeen hours after the telephone had rung. I think, You deserve a drink.
                   I check in at a hotel on the main street, take a shower and wander down into the bar. I'm pretty much alone with the bartender who seems ready to call it a day. What would soothe the tired musician before a good night's sleep? I ask for an Irish Coffee.
                He looks puzzled. "Irish coffee? I think ours is Columbian."
                I squint at him through tired eyes. "Oh it's just ordinary coffee with Irish whisky, whipped cream and sugar." He looks tired, too.
                "Irish whisky? All I got is Scotch?"
                I assure him that that will be fine.
                "But I got to get the coffee from the restaurant and the whipped cream from the kitchen..."
                I make the big mistake of accepting this arrangement. He puts me in charge of the empty bar and disappears.
                A quarter of an hour later he returns with a wooden tray on which are a coffee cup, a huge coffee pot, a bowl full of enough whipped cream to service the drink and to do my shaving tomorrow morning. He places the tray on the bar, whisks a bottle of whisky from the cabinet behind him and pours exactly two centiliters into the cup. Then he adds the coffee and afterward the cream. I stir in some sugar as he watches me suspiciously. As I raise the cup to my lips, he moves the tray away from the bar and onto the counter behind him. He pulls the bill off the tray.                
                "That will be 25 kroner for the whisky, 10 kroner for the cream and 15 kroner for the coffee. All in all, 50 kroner."                
                That's about what I am getting for the Beethoven Concerto. Happily, I had also played a symphony and an overture. I give him the money and take a sip of the drink.
                Pulling down the rolling cover of the bar with one hand, he says good night and leaves me there with my cup, looking out a window at a street that went to sleep a few hours ago. A sign on the other side of the street blinks, Special Clothes for Special People, Special Clothes for Special People, Special Clothes for Special People.
                 Getting up, I leave a half a cup of the concoction on the empty bar. On the way to my room I think, Sometimes it can be really, really hard to keep your bow right in line with everybody else.

My book, Pieces: A Life in Eight Movements and a Prelude (WiDo Publishing) is now available. Order through, the publisher or your local bookstore. Click to buy Pieces below. Please feel free to write a short review of the book in your own language at or GoodReads. Thanks for your support!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Iceland: Paysage Moralisé by John von Daler

                 What's an Italian movie doing in Iceland? Not that the feeling is completely like Marcello Mastroianni being smothered by pampering women, but I love the #Iceland matriarchy from the moment the Danish-Icelandic Friendship Club meets us in #Keflavik, five women strong. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

#Dear John by John von Daler

        People have stopped writing "Dear" in the greeting of their letters.  They write "Hi" or nothing at all. It's as if everyone has discovered that we were not as "dear" to each other as we once thought.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Father knows best by John von Daler

                 It was, at age 63, my second trip to #Venice. I had been there before at 14. This time I was determined to make the whole thing a lot easier.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

King for a Day? by John von Daler

                Reading words and hearing them spoken, seeing plays and films, can sometimes open up our understanding about other worlds or create empathy in us for other points of view. Why then would we ever think it absolutely necessary to camouflage in the clothes and customs of our own time a play about a king from the fifteenth century that was written in the seventeenth century? Do I have to see me in order to understand him?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Right Line by John von Daler

                 My hand, as if in cahoots with my eyes, draws a soft, long, curved line that dips all of a sudden: waist, hip, buttocks, everything moves naturally into place. The woman lying on her right side facing me, naked, her head averted, starts to find her way onto my page.

Friday, August 9, 2013

A summer night: #Skagen 1980's by John von Daler

                The sun has only just gone down here at 12 midnight. I am playing my violin at my evening job at the Skagen Fish Restaurant.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

#Midsummer Eve: #Funen in the 1970's by John von Daler

                The great bonfire on the beach sends flames as high as three of me into the Nordic night. As the gigantic, orange sun edges towards the horizon at the end of the Danish inland waters, three swans float past, their bills pointed towards their nesting place on one of the nearby islands. Soon they will take off as the sun sidles down behind the quiet, green sea.
                Tonight it is midsummer. A symbolic witch will be burned later - thank god for symbols, they make reality so much easier to bear - and a beautiful song about peace-loving Denmark will be sung.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

An afternoon in #Norwalk 1960's by John von Daler

                The trees fly small amber and ocher flags: it's early fall. I've just eaten a salami sandwich with homemade mayonnaise and kosher dill pickles on freshly baked rye bread, with small taste blasts of caraway seeds going off in my mouth. I'm on my bicycle on the way to a touch football game on a lawn somewhere in #Silvermine. If I look long enough I'll uncover the pick-up game in progress and get a place in the line-up.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

#Oklahoma Morning, 1950's by John von Daler

                 I hear the radio from my bed. Local news and weather. The Oilers have lost again. But the hogs are still eating Nutrena; at any rate Dad is wailing their jingle while he shaves. Soapy water, the little, white-handled shaver, the clots of hair and soap swirl around as he empties the sink, still singing. Then he pats on Acqua Velva. I can smell it from my bed.

Monday, August 5, 2013

An #Acoustic Address by John von Daler

                  Let's get something straight: when you hear an "unplugged" guitar play on television, you are not hearing what it really sounds like. When you put on a cd with Casals playing unaccompanied Bach (please do!), you are not hearing his wonderful cello, despite your spiffy, 3 million watt, surround me here and there, I cain't give you nuthin' but vibes sound system. Acoustic music is what you hear when you hear the instrument or voice without enlargement, enhancement, magnification, or amplification. Acoustic means from ear to eternity.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

#Tchaikovsky's Revenge by John von Daler

              The piano player, a man much older than I was, looked up at me with eyes pink and wet around the edges, heavy with nervousness and anger.

                It was my first season as conductor for the little, seventeen man orchestra in #Tivoli in Copenhagen.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

#New York Idle by John von Daler

                 I was fourteen years old and, during the daytime, alone in #Manhattan. It was September, 1958. My father had to go to work from nine to five after being transferred from Oklahoma. My mother took off to Westchester and Connecticut to look at houses.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Living #Laing by John von Daler

                 I had for some weeks been teaching "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia #Plath at the Universities in Copenhagen and Odense. To aid my students in understanding the great split in the personality of the young woman in the book, I had recommended reading R.D. Laing's "The Divided Self", a book I was very interested in at the time.  

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Birthday Party in #Neuengamme (Part 2, Final) by John von Daler

                 The many bunk beds had been moved aside and a large, wooden table had been set up in the middle of the room. On this the boys had arranged all sorts of smorgasbord, sandwiches of ham, liver paste, marinated herring, fish fillets and cheese. These open-faced sandwiches were decorated with peppers, tomatoes, fresh onion, capers and pickles of all kinds.

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