Wednesday, July 11, 2018

More Gerd, More Jan

The Müller organ at the Chapel at Alkmaar

Don’t know much about the well-born Junker (Jonkyr) Johanna Geertruida le Chastelain, besides the fact that she had a sister with the mellifluous name of Lambertina Petronella and that the Junkers were German and Dutch nobility and that she was born in the town of Alkmaar, about 40 km northwest of Amsterdam, where she would at some point in her life “nobly” donate an organ to the Chapel Church (I trust the Dutch word Kapelkerk sounds less goofy) for which the Lord Mayors would be grateful. The plaque on the organ reads:

Ter duurzame eer van de Edel welgeboren Jonkyr Johanna Geertruida le Chastelain welke dit orgel edel moedig bekostige heeft hebben Heeren Burgemeesteren dit dank en gedenkteeken doen stellen. Anno 1762.

To secure the honor of the noble-born Jonkyr Johanna Geertruida le Chastelain who has nobly paid for this organ, the Lord Mayors express their gratitude and place this memorial. In the year 1762.

I am privy to this information because I’m on a roll worshiping a Dutch young man from afar. I was a church organist at 16 in a small town in New England where Junkers, far as I know, were few and far between (like probably zero). And I had not the hundredth part of the talent of Dutch organist Gerd van Hoef, whose YouTube videos I’ve been voraciously consuming this past twenty-four hours. But what I got from the experience was a full appreciation of what is involved in managing one of these giant machines with all the keyboards, and the requirement to play with both hands and both feet simultaneously, and the advantage of having a handsome sidekick to pull out all your stops for you.

 I believe I’ve seen all he’s posted so far. “Not the hundredth part” sounds like false modesty, but I believe it’s not. This guy is restoring my faith in humankind’s ability to renew itself. He’s part of my go-to reservoir of good things on the planet I need when confronting the long overdue knowledge of just how much black Americans have had to undergo, for example, and just how much of our history of slavery and genocide and segregation has been withheld from our history books because white people might find it too unpleasant to contemplate. All those details now finally trickling down about how we spend more money on imprisoning kids than educating them, how the rich just get richer by the minute, all those examples of how misplaced our faith has been in our "values" and institutions, the electoral college, the power of Texans to determine the content of textbooks nationwide, the power of Republicans to keep blacks from voting. And then there are the fires burning in my state thanks to Republican denials of global warming, etc. etc. Gerd van Hoef keeps me from despair.

He’s not my only source of balance. The heroes of the Thai rescue had me blubbering in front of the computer screen as I watched how they got 1000 people together to rescue those eight young boys, aged 11 to 16, and marveled at how smart the doctors were when they wouldn’t let them have spicy pork and noodles or hug their parents after getting out because they were so concerned over possible infections and overtaxing their digestive systems after not eating for a week. Heroic people. Talented people. People with compassion and competence. All those things I ache for here in the United States of America, now held in thrall to the most despicable bunch of self-serving folk in the 242 years of our national history.

I have burned out. Just burned out. I can’t stand to watch the screamers on the left like Morning Joe, much as I appreciate the fact that they are keeping track of the Trump shenanigans along with the New York Times and the Washington Post and MSNBC and other lefty sources of information. The jokers, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, Seth Myers, much as I admire their talent and wit and want to believe that ridicule is perhaps the most effective tool we have against tyranny, all strike me as coming with nothing more than a knife to a gunfight. What good does it do that Rachel Maddow digs for facts? She tells the truth for all intents and purposes 100% of the time – if she gets a fact wrong it's immediately corrected. She has an audience of 3.2 million people. Trump lies 75% of the time, and his American twitter audience is about the same size. Add Fox and Breitbart and it's much larger. (And his worldwide twitter audience is some 20 million.) How do you win with facts like these?

The damage has been done. Americans failed to vote for a liberal president because they didn’t take seriously the specter of forty or more years of right-wingers on the Supreme Court when they let in the likes of the Orange Shitstain. They let it happen. Much as people like Robert Reich and Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker and all the heroic democrats trying to hold back the tide of votes for Republican justices are out there busting their asses – I think it’s too little and too late. We’re screwed for a generation, I’m afraid. Hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think so. You didn’t vote, you lazy bastards. Now you’ve got the government you deserve. And the rest of us have to go along because we too didn’t set up adequate barriers against ignorance and malicious misinformation.

And I know I sound like a broken record, but as important as the abortion issue is to poor women and to women in general, and to the families of women forced to bear children they are not ready for, what is equally troubling is the destruction of the environment, the failure to stop the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, the risk to the economy, the plundering of Social Security, the removal of health care for those with pre-existing conditions, because "(leaving it intact)...would bankrupt our country" (thanks, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch for that bit of wisdom) the lack of investment in the future when taxes are cut and schools are defunded and the mentally ill are thrown into prison and forgotten about, and relations with the rest of the modern world are strained, all because the rich are concerned only with getting richer. These things bother me and make me ache with frustration, as I observe that our law-abiding ways keep us subordinate to an established “system” we are powerless to change.

Maybe I’m being unduly dark, maybe this listing of one wretchedness after another is just a ticking off of worst-case scenarios, and not information with any predictive force, but what if the decision to pack the Supreme Court with right-wingers gives Trump the support he needs to dismiss evidence that he manipulated the last election?  With all the folk in the Trump camp now already admitting they are guilty of such manipulations, the suggestion is strong it will turn out to involve Trump himself. But his supporters will give him a pass because his big three supporter groups – the self-serving supergreedy, the authoritarian religious, and the racist thugs – want it that way and are about to appoint a justice who believes a president cannot be found guilty of crimes.

How many Americans are aware that America’s support for Netanyahu’s rightwing policy of using Jewish settlers to colonize the Palestinian territories comes mainly from Evangelical American Christians, and not from Israelis themselves, many of whom fear this policy only prolongs the division and endangers both Jewish and Arab lives?  How many Americans are aware of the split in the Catholic Church between the majority of decent catholic folk and the radical right traditionalists who believe God wants them to impose their authoritarian (sex for reproductive purposes only) view of Roman Catholicism on the world, civil rights be damned? And while there is no evidence yet that the Catholic majority on the Supreme Court are Opus Dei kinds of conservatives, men who would put church doctrine ahead of a more balanced understanding of the constitution, you can't blame the left for panicking at the moment. Who is this guy Leonard Leo who seems to have finagled a way to get control of Supreme Court nominations? 

How many Americans know that since Reagan we have been warehousing our mentally ill in prison because we don’t want to tax the rich to keep them cared for under more humane circumstances – a policy that is stupidly counterproductive, actually more expensive than the humane solution?  

All policies of the far right. All put in place by well-organized Republican politicians and enabled by the silence of Americans, no more than four out of ten of whom actually vote in non-presidential elections.

Not that this is the whole story, of course. And much of the fear is fear of the trend, rather than an actual demonstration of destruction. I hope the talking heads who insist abortion and gay rights are now established law and will not be questioned are right, but is one to know?  The only way we are going to find out is after Kavanaugh or whoever takes his seat on the Court and a test case comes up. By then it if he turns out to be an Opus Dei type, it will be too late. We simply have no way of heading him off, the way the rules are set up. And unfortunately, in any case, the cumulative effect of the downward spiral of civil rights and equity in America is unmistakable, and it’s depressing as hell.

So I seek refuge in the next generation – those smiling Thai kids who meditated for a solid week while people figured out how to rescue them. And my latest fascination, young Mr. van Hoef and his buddy Jan de Rooij – he’s the Tonto to Gerd van Hoef, the Lone Ranger of the Keyboard – are keeping me in good spirits. Well, OK spirits, at least.

I’d love to hear what’s floating your boat these days.

But just in case you share my love of baroque, the genius of the likes of Bach and Haydn and Händel, and the inspiring sight of young talent like Gerd van Hoef and Jan de Rooij, here’s a couple more YouTubes to lift the spirits:

From the Chapel at Alkmaar: here
From the Orgelzaal Booy: here
info on the Booy organ concert hall: here 

There's much more: There is, for example 

Conquest of Paradise: here

And if you’re a serious fan – here’s a full concert at Victoria Hall, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, from three years ago. If you’re not up for the entire hour and thirteen minutes, at least tune into his Dvorak – Minutes 50-1:03. And to get a smack at his delightful nerdy personality, check him out addressing the English audience starting at minute 10.

You can also go to his webpage: , where you can find a guide to the site in Azerbaijani, Chichewa, Hausa, Latin or Yiddish.  (That’s another thing about the young’uns. They find their way in cyberspaces where no old fogey would dare to tred. And what’s not optimist-making about that?)

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