12 October 2008

piano at Frogs' Leap

The Togdens enjoy music – greatly. We appreciate a broad range of music – and we all both listen and play. Caroline is rather more classically oriented. She’s especially fond of Bach and Minimalist pieces for piano – and takes piano lessons along with Robert and Ræchel.

Doc also plays on the piano – that is to say, he ‘plays on it’ rather than playing it. Doc has always enjoyed bumbling around on piano and improvising in a faux Keith Jarrett style. He can sound impressive if you know nothing of piano or Keith Jarrett.

Caroline, Robert and Ræchel are learning to play properly.

Robert recently went to London with Doc to be part of a performance at the St Johns’ Church – Smith Square.

It was the National Graduation Concert for Level 1 Piano.

He wore his evening tails—procured from eBay—and really looked the part – as did his piano student friend Robin.

He got his first piano certificate last year.

Robert prepared for the concert in earnest for some weeks and gave us a final dress rehearsal the evening before the great day.

He enjoys wearing his evening tails and gets the chance to wear them whenever we have performances on the final evenings of our Buddhist Retreats.

We will tell you more about that when we write something about the ‘Strings at Frogs’ Leap’.

Doc moves in phases in relation to music. He’s been an aficionado of Blues since the age of eight and although he’s moved through many other areas – Blues is perennial. He’s also keen on ‘Classical’ – although he’s not keen on having to use the word. The ‘Classical’ period ran from the mid 1700s to the early 1800s – but the term ‘Classical Music’ is now often employed as an umbrella term which includes everything from Early Music to Minimalism. The Classical period lies between Baroque and Romantic. The best known Classical composers are Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn (also Boccherini, Emanuel Bach, Muzio Clementi, Johann Dussek, Carl Gluck, and Christoph Gluck). Beethoven is also sometimes regarded as a composer of the Romantic period because he straddles the divide between Classical and Romantic. Other transitional composers are Franz Schubert, Luigi Cherubini, Carl Maria von Weber, and Johann Hummel. We imagine our friends are really keen to know all that . . .

Our apologies – but hey, you all know we’re obsessed with this kind of thing. It’s worth looking these composers up – as they wrote amazing music. We often feel that if people spent more time listening to music and playing music – there would be fewer problems in the world. We encourage all our students to take up a musical instrument – or at least to appreciate music as part of their Buddhist practice.

Both Caroline and Doc love the Bach ’cello suites and his Well Tempered Clavier. Bach is a Baroque composer. Doc—in some respects—sees JS Bach as 18th century Jazz – and if you listen to Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts you might be surprised by the similarities.

There’s a programme on British Broadcasting Corporation Radio 4 (that’s been running for decades) called Desert Island Discs. Different celebrities are invited weekly to choose 10 pieces of music and explain why they are the pieces they chose. We’ll give you our ‘Desert Island Discs’ at the end of this . . . write-up. We still can’t quite bring ourselves to use the term ‘blog’.

JS Bach would figure prominently in Doc and Caroline’s Desert Island collection – although Doc would have to have Blues in the mix. It is of course almost possible to combine Bach and Blues by listening to Cream play ‘Spoonful’ – because Jack Bruce plays counterpoint to Eric Clapton. No one seems to have played Blues anything like it since.

Ræchel would choose the Beatles.

So would Robert – but he’d add Blues – chiefly Cream and Jimi Hendrix. His father’s influence is showing. It was a proud moment for Doc when both Robert and Ræchel hummed the bass line for ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’ for nearly 20 minutes in the car on the way back from a holiday in Cornwall. There can’t be many 12-year-old boys or 5-year-old girls outside Chicago who can sing that line perfectly. Robert also likes Chopin and Minimalist piano music, particularly Philip Glass, and Ræchel enjoys Mozart and Vivaldi.

Mozart is often the genius of choice – but we prefer Bach. Why Bach? Well Jack Bruce probably summed it up best when he remarked “Bach is my most important bass teacher.” Doc plays bass – a 1966 Gibson EB3 through a Marshall valve amplifier. He also plays National Resophonic guitars: Resolectric and Tricone – both 12-string models. Caroline chiefly plays piano at the moment – but has also played ’cello, and violin. We shall tell you about this at some point in the future when we tell you (more than you want to know) about our stringed instruments.

Caroline, Robert, and Ræchel all take piano lessons from Sue Bird who teaches piano according to the Suzuki method.

Dr Shinichi Suzuki, a Japanese violinist, believed that musical ability lies in all children. He did not believe he was imposing a skill upon a child; he was, rather, guiding them to manifest what they already possessed. Suzuki music teaching is not about breeding musicians or inculcating skills in children. It is about the amazing results that can be achieved when understanding, sensitivity and discipline are brought together in a single field of study. Caroline, Robert, and Ræchel practise every day and Doc enjoys listening to them practise. They—in turn—enjoy listening to Doc practise on bass which is why they all know the bass line to ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’. Robert joins Doc for his monthly bass lessons.

We all sing and often we sing together in the car – all kinds of songs. Ræchel’s favourite song at the moment is the old Musical Hall number ‘A Mother’s Lament’ which Doc sings in a Cockney accent (as Cream sang it). Other favourites with Robert and Ræchel in the ‘long distance drive requests of Dad’ are: Sitting On Top of the World, Sixteen Tons, In My Time of Dying, Dixie, and Oh Lord Wontcha Buy Me a Mercedes Benz.

So . . . here are our ‘Desert Island Discs’ – but we’re bumping the number up to 11, as that is one of the important numbers in the Aro gTér Tradition of Buddhism – and . . . because it’s almost impossible to select so few examples of music we love. We might all have to be castaways together in order to have 44 between us . . .

Ræchel’s ‘Desert Island Discs’: 1. Back in the USSR—Lennon-McCartney—Beatles—White Album; 2. Octopus’s Garden—Lennon-McCartney—Beatles—White Album; 3. Yellow Submarine—Lennon-McCartney—Beatles—Revolver; 4. Piggies—George Harrison—Beatles—White Album; 5. Rocky Racoon—Lennon-McCartney—Beatles—White Album; 6. Penney Lane—Lennon-McCartney—Beatles; 7. Fool on the Hill—Lennon-McCartney—Beatles—Magical Mystery Tour; 8. Hello Goodbye—Lennon-McCartney—Beatles; 9. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds—Lennon-McCartney—Beatles—Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; 10. Mozart: Piano Concerto 22 in E flat; 11. Mozart: Piano Concerto 16 in D.

Robert’sDesert Island Discs’: 1. American National Anthem—Jimi Hendrix—Isle of Wight Festival—1970; 2. The Funeral March—Frédéric Chopin—Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor—Opus 35—3rd Movement – Marche Funèbre—1839; 3. Tomorrow Never Knows—Lennon-McCartney—Beatles—Revolver—1968; 4. Purple Haze—Jimi Hendrix; 5. She Said, She Said—Lennon-McCartney—Beatles—Revolver—1968; 6. Taxman—Lennon-McCartney—Beatles—Revolver—1968; 7. Sitting On Top of the World—Traditional Blues—performed by Doc Togden; 8. Hey Jude—Lennon-McCartney—Beatles—Revolver—1968; 9. JS Bach—Minuet Number 2; 10. Born Under a Bad Sign—Cream—Wheels of Fire—1968; 11. Canon and Gigue in D major for three Violins and Basso Continuo —Johann Pachelbel.

Caroline’s ‘Desert Island Discs’: 1. Opening from ‘Glassworks’ by Philip Glass performed by Jeroen van Veen; 2. Gavotte from ‘Clavier suite in G minor’ by JS Bach performed by William Aide; 3. Variation 1 from the Goldberg variations by JS Bach performed by Angela Hewitt; 4. Prelude No 1 in C major by JS Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier performed by Angela Hewitt; 5. Big My Secret by Michael Nyman performed by Jeroen van Veen; 6. ’cello Concerto by Elgar performed by Jaqueline Du Prés; 7. Marche Pour la Cérémonie des Tures by JB Lully performed by Le Concert des Nations; 8. ‘The Picnic’ by Patrick Doyle composed for the film ‘Much Ado About Nothing’; 9. Weep You No More Sad Fountain’ (anonymous) performed by Jane Eaglen from the film ‘Sense and Sensibility’, music arranged by Patrick Doyle; 10. Ombre Mai Fu by Handel performed by Janet Baker; 11. Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by Benjamin Britten.

Doc’s ‘Desert Island Discs’: 1. Bach—’cello Suite Number 1 in G—performed by Pierre Fournier; 2. Spoonful—by Willie Dixon—performed by Cream—Wheels of Fire; 3. Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier—Fugue Number 18 in G sharp minor—performed by Keith Jarrett; 4. Keith Jarrett—Tokyo 14th of November 1976—Sun Bear Concerts – Piano Solo; 5. Born Under a Bad Sign—by Willie Dixon—performed by Jimi Hendrix; 6. Hootchie Coochie Man—by Willie Dixon—performed by Muddy Waters; 7. I’m Only Sleeping—Lennon-McCartney—Revolver—Beatles—1968; 8. Crossroads—by Robert Johnson—performed by Robert Johnson; 9. Bob Dylan—Blind Willie McTell—Basement Tapes; 10. Emerald Tears— Emerald Tears—Dave Holland. 11. Elevation—Pharaoh Sanders.

10 October 2008

frogs at Frogs’ Leap . . . and the minor chords of rhyming

“Why frogs?”
some people ask. The short answer is “Why not?”

The long answer is extremely long – but briefly, it goes back to the first house that Doc remembers as a child. The street was called Frognel Crescent in an old part of Aldershot called Frognel. Then Doc moved to Frogmorton Street. The die was cast. Doc has lived in a number of different places and most he has given frog names – mainly ‘Frog Hollow’ from a Frank Zappa reference to ‘Frog Hollow Day Camp’.

Robert and Ræchel love frogs. There are a fair few in the garden – being as we have a frog pond.

We gathered frogspawn from a friend’s pond every three for four years and now they have settled. With all the rain we have had this Summer—and throughout the year in Wales—the frogs have thriven. We sometimes hear the croaking which Ræchel finds delightful. Robert and Ræchel opened the front door a few weeks back and found a frog sitting on the doorstep.

We couldn’t work out how it had got there unless it had made its way through the garage from the back of the house – but it may just have been so wet that it made its way here from the park. Robert carefully took hold of the frog and took it to the pond where it sat looking around for a while before it swam away. Ræchel was extremely excited about seeing the frog and looks for them in the garden every day.

Knowing of our predilection for amphibia various friends have presented us with frogs in various forms as birthday and Yuletide gifts – and so now the house and garden boasts a variety of frogs large and small. We have ornamental plates, candle holders, and paintings.

Doc’s mother joined in the fun – as did Caroline’s mother and father and so frogs have proliferated to the point where we had to request people to desist a little for fear of becoming a theme park. Jeremy Fischer—a wood carver—made us a large wooden frog designed to sit in the garden.

It has not weathered well—in fact it cracked quite quickly—so Robert decided it would be a good idea to let plants grow through it. He spent an entire afternoon packing the crack with earth in order that he could plant ‘baby’s breath’ in the fissure. It should end up looking vaguely surreal.

The most unusual frog dates back to 1974 when Doc was at Bristol Art School. It is a bronze sculpture of two embracing frogs – and it now sits in the front downstairs window.

It is not the original statue (the three he made were sold in order to fund Doc’s second sojourn in the Himalayas) but one which was cast in Montana from the original fibreglass model. It began life as a clay statue that was plaster-cast. The second stage was the fibreglass resin model which Doc’s brother Græham owned for many years. The fibreglass model took a tumble and broke in half. We wondered for a while how we were going to fix it – but Heidi Schæfer in Montana came to our rescue. She worked for a time in a bronze foundry where she was able to produce a number of ‘Frogs in Amplexus’ statues – so now there are frog statues dotted around the world: Montana, California, Britain, Austria, Italy, Spain, and Finland.

As you will see . . . the frogs are not exactly naturalistic. Doc created them originally as an illustration for poetry which contained emblematic frogs.

The frogs of the poetry were depicted as surreal aspects of perception.

Being amphibians – they live in two worlds (the aquatic world and the other one) so this statue is supposed to depict that in terms of how human beings can also live in two worlds – the world of ordinary every day experience and . . . the other one.

Doc’s 1970s frog poetry is now lost – so it is not possible to say much more than this.

So . . . why Frogs’ Leap?

Well that is easy to explain – Frogs’ Leap is up the hill from where we used to live in Frog Hollow. There’s also a rather splendid Californian wine called Frog’s Leap – so we just moved the apostrophe to indicate that more than one frog had made the leap.

The four frogs—Caroline, Doc, Robert and Ræchel—leapt up the hill to their current domicile. As you can see – we take whimsy seriously at Frogs’ Leap.

Whimsy often takes hard work and effort if you want to make it work well. Robert enjoys making parodies of songs – and we have shown him how to approach that skill in the correct manner i.e. remembering that the lines have to scan. Robert is now quite critical of material that scans poorly.

We introduced him to assonance too. He was unsure of assonance at first. He felt that it wasn’t good not to have a ‘proper rhyme’. We explained “Assonance isn’t just the failure to find a rhyme – it’s necessary to have some assonance in any song in order to stop it sounding sugary. Robert considered that idea and said “I still prefer proper rhymes.” We tried a guitar playing angle. “You could look at assonance as the minor chords of rhyming.”

Robert was still dubious. The point that convinced him was when we said that Jimi Hendrix used assonance and showed him an example. “Ah . . .” he said “It must be alright then.” Isn’t it marvellous to live in an age where Jimi Hendrix is a major authority figure.

The painting of Jimi Hendrix was taken from a poster in 1968. It was painted in oil paint—diluted with turpentine—on photographic linen. The painting itself is lost – but this photograph remains. It was provided by Reg Clark – an old Art School friend.