Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Freude und Freiheit

I am much more likely to cry in moments of great beauty than sadness.

It was last Spring that my friend Steven gave me a birthday ticket to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's final concert of the season. It was the first season for Maestra Marin Alsop, Music Director and Conductor. In scheduling her first season she had included all nine of Beethoven's symphonies. I must confess that I love "The Ninth" with it's stunningly beautiful music and Schiller's great "Ode to Joy". The rumbling baritone soloist sings Freude (Joy) and my tears start flowing, my feet start dancing (it's a good thing I'm sitting) and I'm doing my best air conducting until the conductor turns to the audience and we can start applauding. It was the best birthday present imaginable.*

Two or three weeks ago MPT (Maryland Public Television) was doing one of their fund raisers. I was channel surfing when I discovered they were broadcasting the film of an incredible concert from 1989. It was a special edition of PBS Great Performances.

In December 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and the two Germanys began their reunification. On Christmas Day there was a concert at Berlin's Schauspielhaus (Playhouse). Leonard Bernstein led orchestras, choruses, and soloists from Berlin, Dresden, New York, London, Paris and Leningrad (representing the two Germanys, the wartime Allies and European Jews) in a massive rendition of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The original concert was broadcast live in more than twenty countries to an estimated audience of 100 million people. For the occasion, Bernstein reworded the text of the final chorus, substituting the word Freiheit (freedom) for Freude (joy). He said he thought Beethoven and Schiller would have approved.

I remember that original concert. My partner Joe and I sat glued to the television. It hit home for both of us in different ways. Joe's mother was from Czechoslovakia and he had done his undergraduate thesis at Cornell on Nazi Europe. My mother's family was German and although they had been in this country since the mid-1800s they suffered discrimination during the war because of their German last name (Franz). Joe was even more emotional than me and we hugged and wept all through the concert.

And so now you know the story of the last time I cried.

in October 2008 the BSO will be performing Bernstein's Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Today is the 63rd anniversary of the detonation of the first atomic weapon of mass destruction. The United States dropped the bomb, nicknamed "Little Boy," at about 8:15 AM on Monday, August 6, 1945, on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing 80,000 people (by the end of the year the numbers had risen to 140,000). Three days later, August 9, the second bomb, "Fat Man," was dropped on the city of Nagasaki eventually killing 80,000 people.

This is one of the six photographs recording the disaster of Hiroshima. A precious photograph taken only three hours or so after the explosion.

Mr. Matsushige, who was a news cameraman then, wrote in the "Hiroshima Tokuho," issued on August 6, 1980, based on his experience, as follows:
" front of the police box of Senda township located at the west end of Miyuki Bridge, a policeman took off the lid of an oil can and started to give first aid treatment to the people with burns, but the number of the injured increased rapidly. I thought this must be photographed and held the camera in position. The scene I saw through the finder was too cruel. Among the hundreds of injured persons of whom you cannot tell the difference between male and female, there were children screaming 'It's hot, it's hot!' and infants crying over the body of their mother who appeared to be already dead. I tried to pull myself together by telling myself that I'm a news cameraman, and it is my duty and privilege to take a photograph, even if it is just one, and even if people take me as a devil or a cold-hearted man. I finally managed to press the shutter, but when I looked through the finder for the second time, the object was blurred by tears." (

At the Peace Memorial Park this morning in Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba said "We who seek the abolition of nuclear weapons are the majority....
Last year 170 countries voted in favour of Japan's U.N. Resolution calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Only three countries, the United States among them, opposed this resolution,"
The memorial speech was attended by the ambassador of nuclear-armed China, as well as Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and elderly survivors of the attack.

Officially the bombs were necessary to prevent the greater loss of life that would result from an American invasion of Japan. I don't know if this is true or not. I do know that we are living in a world with far too many nuclear weapons.
We are fighting a war in Iraq because (officially) our government was convinced that Saddam Hussein had developed atomic weapons. He did not. We have come close to war with North Korea and Iran over their development of nuclear weapons.
Earlier this year, if I remember right, Sen. Barak Obama said that he would talk to the leaders of Iran and that nuclear weapons would be off the table. Sen. Clinton made much of that promise, criticizing him for making it.

I sure do hope it's a promise he keeps. I fear for our world. I believe that if we aren't careful atomic weapons will yet destroy us. Whether it's the unsupervised weapons left over from the Soviet Union or weapons produced by new nuclear powers like Iran I am afraid for our world. We must speak out and hope to whatever God we worship that we can disarm before it's too late if it isn't already.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Mt. Vernon Methodist Church in Hampden

I'm not all that big on copying directly from another source to this blog BUT it would be silly to rewrite. This church was a few blocks from my old place in Hamden.
Fire officials are now blaming the fire on a fast moving thunderstorm that came through around 7 AM.
The storm was very loud with lots of thunder and lightning so I wouldn't be surprised if Jazz and I heard this happen this morning. The pics are from my friend Ed Schneider.
Sorta makes you wonder just what they did to offend the gods!

Hampden Church Destroyed by Fire
Reported by: Sara Spangler Last Update: 11:10 am ABC2News in Baltimore

The fire broke out shortly before 7 a.m. Saturday morning at the Mount Vernon United Methodist Church. Arson investigators are sifting through the rubble this morning after a 3-alarm fire completely destroyed a church in Hampden.Crews were called to Mount Vernon United Methodist Church on the 800 block of West 33rd Street shortly before 7 a.m.According to Chief Kevin Cartwright, spokesman for the Baltimore City Fire Department, when firefighters arrived to the scene they found the church to be fully engulfed in flames with heavy smoke throughout. Chief Cartwright described the steeple as glowing orange with fire.The church is a stone, 2-story building with a steeple reaching approximately 100 feet into the air.Chief Cartwright said about 30 homes in the area were evacuated along the 800 block of W. 33rd Street and the 3200 block of Chestnut Avenue. Firefighters were afraid the steeple might collapse and they couldn't be sure which way it would fall. So, residents on both sides of the church were told they needed to leave their homes.Fortunately, the steeple did not collapse and no one was injured in this fire. Arson investigators are now working to determine a cause.