Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Rite Of Spring and the Healthcare Plan



Igor Stravinsky was born in 1882 in Russia, and died in Los Angeles in 1971. Time magazine has named him as one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century.
His most famous composition was the ballet, Le Sacre du Printemps,  "The Rite of Spring" in English, which debuted in Paris in 1913. To this day its vision of pagan rituals, enacted in an imaginary ancient Russia continues to dazzle and overwhelm audiences. Critics have called it the greatest single break with tradition ever achieved in music, or any other art form for that matter.
At the premier, trouble began with the playing of the first notes in the ultrahigh register of the bassoon, as the renowned composer Camille Saint-Saens conspicuously walked out, complaining loudly of the misuse of the instrument. Soon other protests became so loud that the dancers could barely hear their cues. Fights broke out in the audience. Modernism had arrived in music.
Throughout the composition Stravinsky not only calls upon the usual symphonic instruments to play unusual sounds, as evidenced by his use of the bassoon, but he also uses instruments which are not normal symphonic accoutrements. Examples are the alto flute, the soprano clarinet; the soprano, C and bass trumpets, the tenor tuba, and percussion instruments such as the tam-tam, antique cymbals and the güiro (a Central  and South American instrument). Coupled with his unusual time signatures, 5/8 for example, which in some cases changed with each measure, and even differed from section to section within the same measure, it is not surprising that the audience exhibited unusual reactions to the performance.
Eventually the music has become accepted and even embraced by the music public. Excerpts from The Rite accompanied the march of the dinosaurs in Walt Disney’s Fantasia, and Stravinsky’s style was evident in the theme from the movie Jaws. His work exerts a great influence over the output of modern film composers such as John Williams.
An examination of The Rite of Spring is enlightening. Here was a composition based upon traditional music: the instruments, notation and time signatures. Along the way Stravinsky added new elements and rearranged the traditional elements in non-traditional ways. Stravinsky has said that he could hear the sounds, but that he had some trouble with the notation.
As with many new ideas, the work was vehemently criticized and opposed by traditionalists and others. Over time, however, it has become generally accepted, and has spawned much new and exciting music. It is no exaggeration to say that, for better or worse, music would not be the same today without Stravinsky’s work.
It is my belief that this work can be used as a model for any new or different idea. At the present time healthcare is front and center in the public’s attention. Although President Obama will not be able to get a plan which completely fulfills all his promises, it is almost a sure bet that some plan will be enacted.
Based on the model, it will contain a rearrangement of traditional elements, e.g. insurance payors, preexisting conditions, and cost containment, and there will probably be some new ideas such as universal coverage, tort limitations and government support.
The wording (notation) of such a plan is still undecided, and will undoubtedly go through all kinds of adjustments until a final form is settled. The plan already has a substantial number of detractors, but over time it will probably become accepted, and may well lead to other improvements and developments. It will definitely change the healthcare system.
Or maybe not. Time will tell.


Last night I had the pleasure of attending a performance by the Presidio Brass, a group out of San Diego. Each of the five musicians was extremely proficient on his instrument, which consisted of a French horn, a trombone, a tuba, and assorted types and sizes of trumpets played by two members of the group. Their selections ran the gamut from Rimsky-Korsakov to W. C. Handy. Regardless of the genre, the talented young men seemed at home, both individually and as an ensemble. If you have the opportunity to attend one of their performances, don’t pass it up.

I have come across a new mondegreen (see the posting of 8/31): “London derrière” from the song “Londonderry Air.”

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