Music of the City
The composer and pianist Gregg Kallor, A00, loves New York, and the city appears to love him back. He played his debut concert at Carnegie Hall in 2007 and premiered his latest composition there in 2011. He recently released a recording of that work—a “love letter to New York” titled A Single Noon. A beguiling blend of classical composition and improvisation, the suite’s nine movements evoke the city’s urgent pace and unexpected beauty.
“The piece starts out with a simple theme. Then each movement develops some part of that theme, whether melody or repeated chords. Four of the movements have sections for improvisation written in, but the narrative arc should be intact without the improvisation. For those pianists who choose to improvise, it offers the opportunity to play with the melody and develop it in a different way.
I love playing classical music, but there’s a freedom I get from improvising.There’s a different kind of exhilaration. They seem like two sides of the same coin. When I play, I feel like improvising lets me draw from the energy of the audience, the feel of the room, or whatever mood I’m in that day. Improvisation further develops the story.
Emily Dickinson is a huge inspiration, and I get both intellectual and emotional fulfillment from her poems. My title piece, ‘A Single Noon,’ comes from her line ‘It bloomed and dropt, a Single Noon.’ I keep coming back to her poetry. It’s not flowery. It’s subtle. It’s not cagey, repellent, or self-glorifying. It’s all essence—it gets right to the heart of everything.
I was trying to create a series of impressions that evoke the feel of the city. I wanted it to be amorphous enough that people could relate to it in a personal way and supply their own narrative, but the titles have programmatic cues that give it just enough shape, that touch on things that might resonate about the New York experience—the subway (‘Straphanger’s Lurch’), the magical time after dark (‘Night’), or the hyper-caffeinated espresso culture (‘Espresso Nirvana’).
In ‘Straphanger’s Lurch,’ I was enshrining my humiliation in music. I don’t usually write programmatic music—that is, music about something specifically external. The piece is about subway surfing. On New York subways, you don’t want to touch the poles if you value your health, so there’s this surfer-like balancing act you have to do. Inevitably what happens is that the subway will stop and I’ll go flying, probably straight into a pregnant woman or an old lady with a cup of coffee.
A Single Noon is about the appreciation of a single moment. In places as rich and chaotic as New York, it’s essential to be fully present and savor every action, every meal, every experience—once it’s done it’s gone forever.”
American Nations: A History of the Rival Regional Cultures of North America (Viking)
Our union’s lack of unity provokes frequent hand wringing, but according to Colin Woodard, A91, our divisions are older and far more nuanced than our bicolor electoral map lets on. North American political culture has been shaped by profound differences in geography, economy, religion, and our immigrants’ countries of origin. This fascinating ethnography reveals eleven culturally distinct “nations” that have competed with each other for land, settlers, capital, and power since colonial times. Early regional traits had remarkable staying power. Yankeedom’s founding utopian impulses, for instance, are alive and well—they’ve simply transferred their zeal from Bibles to Big Government. New York City’s cultural roots are planted firmly in the soil of short-lived New Netherland, whose Dutch settlers championed global commercial trade, tolerance of diversity, and commitment to intellectual freedom.
Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize (Crown)
Sean B. Caroll, L83, draws on a wealth of previously unpublished material to show how adversity catalyzed the genius of two Nobel laureates, the biologist Jacques Monod and the philosopher and writer Albert Camus. Both served in the French Resistance during World War II, Camus as editor of the underground Resistance newspaper, Combat, and Monod as a high-ranking officer. The two became great friends after the war, and both were determined to find meaning in lives that had proven all too fragile. Monod probed the mysteries of life at the micro level, producing the first demonstrations of protein production within the cell. Camus rejected the nihilism that prevailed in the war’s bleak European aftermath and offered instead a reasoned optimism that embraced passionate living.
Genetic Explanations: Sense and Nonsense (Harvard)
According to so many breathless news articles, genes are like clairvoyant superheroes: They can foretell who will get cancer, commit violent crime, or score higher on an IQ test. Editors Sheldon Krimsky, professor of urban and environmental policy and planning and adjunct professor of public health and community medicine, and Jeremy Gruber, president and executive director of the Council for Responsible Genetics, gather a team of experts to explain why this attitude flies in the face of scientific evidence. Not only do they show how the information in our DNA interacts with our environment and experiences, they also consider why we persist in believing that our genes have all the answers.
Zahra’s Paradise (First Second)
Reminiscent of socially provocative works like Maus and Persepolis, this brave and engrossing graphic novel began as a serialized web comic in seven languages. Its writer, Amir Soltani, A90, F90, sets the story against the backdrop of Iran’s fraudulent 2009 election. Last seen at the massive protests opposing Ahmadinejad’s reelection, a young student named Mehdi has disappeared. His indefatigable mother and blogger brother embark on a harrowing journey through hospitals, morgues, and thickets of corrupt bureaucracy before hacking into a prison computer and discovering the answer they dread. Soltani and his cocreator, an artist identified only as Khalil, have put a haunting face on our instinctive hunger for freedom.
The Messiah and the Jews (Jewish Lights)
When it comes to the concept of a Messiah, Jesus has been hogging the spotlight for quite a while now. Rabbi Elaine Glickman, J92, hopes to change that by reminding Jews of their rich history of messianic thought. She brings three thousand years of abstruse teaching down to earth, tracking the evolution of the messianic idea over time. The Hebrew Bible viewed the Messiah as a human being chosen by God for a special purpose. Later the Messiah assumed superhuman traits and became associated with the fate of the universe, the perfection of the soul, and the reward for enlightened living. The desire for redemption and the faith required to wait for something better have remained constant.
The Love That Moves Me (Black Widow Press)
Marilyn (Zimmerman) Kallet, J68, swooned for Baudelaire in Madame Pradal’s French literature class at Tufts. Later, Dante’s Beatrice haunted her through boring faculty meetings. No surprise, then, that her latest collection of poetry is an homage to Gallic pleasures and Italian inspirations. Beatrice is reincarnated in the book’s passionate verse—along with mythical confrères like Orpheus and Eurydice—and although the poet’s subjects range as far afield as the Holocaust, Charles Darwin’s worried father, and NASCAR, her exuberant form always evokes that first French symbolist love. In “What Would Baudelaire Do?” Kallet answers, “He’d gulp stars…then smoke/inhaling long/outlive/his flesh not his breath,” a fitting description of what her own poems aim to achieve.
ALSO OF NOTE
The Afterlife of Empire, by JORDANNA BAILKIN, J92, looks at how decolonization altered everyday life in mid-twentieth-century Britain. GENEVIEVE FAIRBROTHER, M.D./M.P.H.92, gives the Persephone and Hades myth a feminist twist in her debut novel, Eleusis. Less Noise, More Soul, edited by DAVID FLITNER, G79, provides a multidisciplinary look at the art and business of music in the digital age. With Joyful Acceptance, Maybe, by MOLLY FIELD JAMES, A02, delves into the world of five Christian theologians and illuminates their perspectives on suffering. The quest for catharsis propels Lyon and Maggie’s ICU Story, by MAGGIE KEOGH-FISHER, J77, a deeply moving memoir of illness, death, and the journey through grief. The oppressive terrorist haven MALIHA MASOOD, F04, studied in grad school didn’t square with her memories of her childhood in Pakistan, so she returned as an adult and chronicled her experiences in the insightful Dizzy in Karachi. In The Body in the Piazza, by KATHERINE HALL PAGE, G74, the caterer-sleuth Faith Fairchild returns, this time on an Italian vacation replete with food, art, wine—and murder. The architect DEBORAH PIERCE, J71, offers people with physical challenges a bevy of stylish design options in The Accessible Home: Designing for all Ages and Abilities. In The Three-Petalled Rose, RONALD W. PIES, clinical professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine, finds the secret of happiness in the traditions of Judaism, Buddhism, and Stoicism. ALBERT ROTHENBERG, M56, draws on detailed research about the French Revolution for his historical novel, Madness & Glory. The protagonist, the real-life physician Phillipe Pinel, laid the foundations of modern psychiatry. The Three Laws of International Investment, by JESWALD W. SALACUSE, the Henry J. Braker Professor of Law, looks at the legal frameworks governing foreign investment. In 3.11, RICHARD J. SAMUELS, G74, provides the first broad, scholarly assessment of the 2011 tsunami’s impact on Japan’s government and society. LinkedIn is more than just a networking site, says DAN SHERMAN, A78, in Maximum Success with LinkedIn; it’s also an advanced tool that can help you achieve business goals. In The Paradise Guest House, by ELLEN SUSSMAN, G78, an American adventure guide in Indonesia finds romance and healing in the aftermath of the Bali bombings.
Giving Through Song
Singing and service are the twin passions of S-Factor, a Tufts all-male a cappella group that specializes in music from the African Diaspora. They recently returned from their first-ever tour to New York City. Aided by a grant from the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, the group performed concerts and impromptu street gigs and worked with youth at the East Harlem Center of the Children’s Aid Society and at Public School 50, Thurgood Marshall Lower School in Harlem, and the Fiver Children’s Foundation’s Teen Council, an after-school program for teens throughout the city. Back home, they work with the Sankofa Youth Project, which offers mentorship and college prep for high school students in Medford, Somerville, and Cambridge.
In September, Noah Rosenberg, A07, launched the online multimedia magazine Narratively. The magazine aims to “slow down the news cycle” by “sharing a city’s untold stories—the rich, intricate narratives that get at the heart of what a place is all about.” Narratively explores a new theme each week and publishes just one new story on that theme each day. Stories may be told in long-form articles, animated shorts, photo essays, audio pieces, or documentaries, depending on which medium best fits the week’s theme. It’s at narrative.ly.
Fields of Light: A Son Remembers His Heroic Father (Wild Creek Press)
By Joseph Hurka, Lecturer in English
In his Pushcart Prize–winning memoir, originally published in 2001 and newly reissued, Joseph Hurka recounts a journey he took to the Czech Republic, where his father, Josef, once fought with a skupina—a resistance group—against the Czech Stalinist government. The elder Hurka grew up in Radnice, near Prague, and had fought as a teenager with the underground against the Nazi regime. After the war, he was on the Czech national ski team and an air force officer. When the Communists, during their coup of 1949, asked him in his capacity as an athlete to preach Communism to youngsters, he refused. He was jailed for nearly a year. Later, after being released, he began working with the skupina, ferrying important democratic ministers out of the country to freedom. He was ambushed one harrowing night in Prague, was shot, and escaped from the country. He went on to work for eight years as an American spy. Putting together the new edition was a labor of love for the author. “It was my first book, and originally released by a wonderful but smaller publisher, and I’d always thought Dad’s story deserved a wider audience,” Hurka says. So he got the rights back and, in this new age of electronic publishing, formed his own imprint. Fields of Light was recently released, both in paperback and as an e-book, on Amazon.com. Here, the author reconstructs a critical point during his father’s escape from Czechoslovakia.
He wakes up in a safehouse in western Bohemia. The bedroom he has been given is dark and he listens to what disturbed him: the distant, frantic barking of dogs. He sits up and reaches for his pistol in the drawer beside him with his left hand; his right arm still hardly has any mobility, and aches so much that he has great difficulty sleeping these days. He puts a clip in his right hand. Slowly he manages to put it into the FN. He takes two other clips from the drawer and puts them in his shirt pocket. He slides out of bed and clumsily pulls on pants. He walks down the stairs and goes outdoors, huddling near a pillar of the old structure. The pillar is protected by a few bushes, and he looks in the direction of the sound. It is coming from the road. Below him is a group of cherry trees and a shed, the moon making its roof nearly pale. By the shed is the worn path where he and General Seydl walked earlier this evening. The cicadas are singing in the fields. He leans out a little and looks up at the house. The old couple has not turned on any lights. He turns and glances at the path winding around the old farmhouse and out of his sight. It’s anybody’s guess whether the StB, the secret police, will circle around to get him: that would be the logical way. In any case, the old couple will suffer awfully when they are arrested, and the thought of it makes Josef swim in despair.
There are more dogs barking on the road now—a chain of them up and down at least a mile. It seems, somehow, that he has been fighting forever.
Now, suddenly, the dogs have stopped. Have the StB, furious at the noise, killed them? He strains his eyes at the field and the shed. Nothing is there but the farm and the cicadas and the night.
And yet they are here. They have hunted him for two months and this is the end of it. He must remember, in his excitement, that when the firing starts he’ll have only the seven bullets. He may not be able to get another clip into the pistol fast enough. He’d better take five shots and have two in case. Then without thinking he must put the gun into his mouth and fire.
And then in the shadows of the cherry trees below he sees a man.
It is a quick movement from one dark patch to another, but it was certainly a man holding a Sten: Josef saw where the strap off the man’s shoulder met the straightness of the barrel, saw the profile of the man’s head, and now he sees another man, crouching outside the shed in the high grass. They’ll be coming from behind him, too. They’ll want him alive so that they can kill him slowly while he tells them everything he knows about his skupina. Well I won’t be telling you anything, comrades.
So enough of that now. There are these two before you and you can kill them. And then you can turn and maybe shoot one as he comes in from behind. Then you should probably get on with the business. But God forbid the left arm is shaking. Josef aims at that first black hulk of a man but the left arm shakes uncontrollably. Goddamnit, he thinks, not my nerves, not after I made it all this way.
A dog barks in the distance again. The shadows below the cherry trees flicker, and Josef sees again the one with the rifle and strap, and it blows back and forth, back and forth. It is only a shadow and leaves.
The wind rustles over the farm. It bends the tall sunflowers in the old woman’s garden. Josef slumps against the pillar. He thinks angrily: now you have a nervous breakdown over a bunch of dogs and shadows. He steadies his breathing: you are a little hysterical, he tells himself. Be aware of it and let the pain in your arm clear your head a little. One thing at a time, because you are not yourself, and you might have shot at two shadows and then killed yourself, all alone here, on this farm tonight.
After a time he goes upstairs again to the bedroom, but he cannot sleep for the sound of his heart beating in his ears.