Deborah Geithner, August 12, 2014

Duet with Deborah

Duet with Deborah

I’ve been working on a piano sonata by Beethoven (No. 31 in A♭, Opus 110) for a long time. That project may last a lifetime. But I plan to continue both for the sake of the music and for the person who had been guiding me to attempt this work at the edge of my ability.

The piece is beautiful, with contrasting moods, but overall a feeling of melancholy. When it was published, one critic said that its tonality was “emotionally as black as night” and another that it was “a key of the grave, death, the Last Judgement, eternity.” I can blame Beethoven’s music for only a part of that feeling. A larger reason is that Deborah Geithner, my teacher and friend is no longer here.

Deborah combined perceptive listening with helpful suggestions for performance and practice. But more than that, she brought wit, insight, caring, and encouragement to her teaching. I often had mixed feeling about the path of a lesson. I enjoyed talking with her about people, art, politics, travel, and life, while at the same time feeling that I should focus on learning to read music. But then she’d generously allow extra time so that my lessons extended well past the allotted time. This happened again and again, despite her amazing schedule of teaching, performing, writing, and supporting family and friends.

Deborah’s voice is still in my head, especially, of course, when I’m practicing. She would delve deeply into a piece of music, comparing editions, and trying out different interpretations. But that intensity only added, rather than supplanted, a concern for the person and enjoyment of the music.

Assignment book

Assignment book

She didn’t like talk about perfection (as in “but I played it perfectly in practice at home!”). The goal wasn’t to avoid mistakes, nor was it to strive for some fixed standard. Instead, it was to explore oneself and the music to have value in the present and nurture growth. Her students were all ages and ability levels. They included students of voice and other instruments. Always, there was an effort to expand horizons.

At one student workshop, one student might play a duet with another or with Deborah. Another might play only the right hand melody of a piece they were learning. Yet another might be tackling a difficult composition. Deborah managed to support students wherever they were, always opening doors to further development, but recognizing what they could do in the here and now.

There will be memorial services, laudatory obituaries, and other expressions of Deborah’s many contributions to communities around the world, and especially, to her recent years as a supporter of chamber music, literature, painting, and other arts on Cape Cod. Her unique energy, compassion, intelligence, and sensitivity will not be matched again. But most of all, for those who had the privilege to know her, she will be missed as a special friend.

Vivir y ayudar a vivir

Vida/SIDA

Vida/SIDA

The mural on the front of Vida/SIDA in Chicago includes the phrase, “vivir y ayudar a vivir” (to live and help to live). That’s very appropriate for a health clinic, but it’s really the motto for everything done in the Paseo Boricua community. The idea is that in order to build a healthy community, people need to move beyond “live and let live,” which can mean “live for myself and to hell with you.” The more expansive motto, “vivir y ayudar a vivir,” can be seen there on murals, brochures, websites, and coffee cups.

I know that other groups have used the same phrase, but I’ve never been sure of its origin. Some people attribute it to Orison Swett Marden, a 19th century writer associated with the New Thought Movement. He founded Success Magazine and wrote extensively on how our thoughts influence our actions and experiences.

The Voice of Industry

The Voice of Industry

The general idea is of course much older. For example, the Jain Center of Cincinnati Dayton has an historical marker asserting that the motto of Jainism is “live and let live and help others to live.” And Jainism dates at least from the 6th century BC, if not earlier.

More recently, both in the course of events, and in my own discovery process, I came across The Voice of Industry, a labor newspaper published from 1845-48. It was founded by the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association. An article from November 14, 1845, “Live -Let Live -Help Live,” gives one of the clearest and earliest explanations of the phrase that I’ve seen. Basically, it says that there are three sorts of people: those who take for their motto live regardless of others, those who adopt live and let live, and those who say live and help others to live.

I’d like to hear about other sources, or uses, of the phrase.

People of the rebus

Camp family, 1900

Camp family, 1900

If you’re curious about the rebus baby announcement––Who sent it? Who was the baby? Who was Dorothy?, this may help a little.

Camp family, legend

Camp family, legend

The picture to the left (click to enlarge it) is of the Camp family, around 1900. In the center is Samantha Ann Harris Camp (11), who was known to the others in the photo as “Grandma.” She was born in southern Pennsylvania on July 3, 1835. When she was one year old, her family went down the Ohio by flatboat, then up the Mississippi and Illinois to the beautiful area of Sharp’s Landing, not far from where I’ve done some youth media work in Beardstown and Virginia.

Sharp's Landing area, by JaySRT4

Sharp's Landing area, by JaySRT4

Samantha Harris taught school in Vermont, Illinois, then married Sterling P. Camp and moved with him to his farm in Walnut Grove. They had five children: Thomas (5) William (12), John R. (21), Frank (1), and Anna (13), who surround her in the photo. They later moved to Bushnell. John R. Camp became Editor of The Bushnell Record, the local weekly.

Unfortunately, Sterling died young. One consequence was that Samantha outlived him by more than 40 years and had to raise the five children mostly on her own. She died on January 10, 1913, thirteen years after this photo was taken in front of their family residence in Bushnell.

By the time of the photo, Samantha’s son William had married Jennie Daniels (4), who came from Spokane. Their children were John (20), Glanville (19), and Dorothy (18).

Fannie Daniels (not shown) was one of Jennie’s siblings, the others being Minnie, Annie, and Willie. As far as I know, none of them married or had children. (Aunt) Fannie was the one who created the rebus for Dorothy, about five years after this photo.

What did Dorothy think of it? Did she decode it on her own? Was Fannie in the habit of making rebuses for her nieces and nephews? The Camp family seemed adept at producing offspring; why not the Daniels? How did William from rural Illinois connect with Jennie in Spokane? I need to find a flatboat and go back in time to find out.

A rebus baby announcement

In these times, we hear about family events through cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, and for a few old-timers, email. I got to meet a new grand-nephew that way just last week.

Chloe & Bishop

But that wasn’t always so. I came across an older technology while we were cleaning up our attic. It’s a rebus announcing Sunny Baby Jim, with at least 230 cut-outs from newspapers and magazines pasted onto a continuous roll of brown wrapping paper. It not only announces the baby, but also provides a glimpse into life in the US in 1905.

The paper for the rebus has become brittle and is starting to crumble. Some of the cut-outs are faded.I decided I should photograph it and decode it before it disintegrates completely.

It’s probably from my Great-Great-Aunt Fanny in Spokane, writing to my Grandmother, Dorothy in 1905. See whether you can decode it. The images aren’t very clear in the small versions, but should be more readable if you click each one to enlarge it.

There’s a scrap cityscape of Spokane, which probably came first. So, I think the first part says,

Spokane

Dear Little Dorothy,

I send you a puzzle to make you laugh.

It is raining cats, dogs, and babies.

The babies shown include the Gold Dust Twins, mascots for Gold Dust Washing Powder. Those racial caricatures were wisely phased out, but not for another 50 years.

Aunt Fanny goes on to ask:

Would you like to hear about the new baby in this house? He weighs nine pounds and sleeps all night, that’s the way babies grow. When he smiles we call him Sunny Jim Baby.

Then, there’s a comment about babies in general, and some local news:

Before babies sleep and after babies sleep, they eat, all the time.

I have a new pair of shoes and they hurt my feet and corns.

We got awakened one night. A shot was heard around the house. We called two policemen and he ran away.

How is Grandmother? I am getting so fat.

Spokane is soon to have a circus. [There’s then a six-frame comic strip set in a circus ring.]

While looking up information on that circus, I learned that a steel bridge with power wires for streetcars and overhead lighting was constructed over the Spokane River Gorge after the wooden bridge burned in 1890. The new bridge vibrated badly, and in 1905 the National Good Roads Association declared it unsafe. The Ringling Brothers Circus elephants refused to cross it. It was replaced in 1911.

The closing of the rebus reports some national news:

It is time for a bath and bed.

Love to the whole damn family.

PS: Teddy Roosevelt is in Colorado. [He went bear hunting there in 1905.]

Your Aunt [Fanny]

I don’t know how long we can keep the original of the rebus, thus this post to preserve it in a limited way. But it’s held up surprisingly well after 106 years, especially since it had not been cared for, just tossed into boxes in attics or garages. Will we be able to read this blog post as well in the year 2117?

Thanks, Aunt Fanny for your fascinating artwork. I suspect that few aunts (or uncles) today could or would invest the time to make such a detailed token of love for their niece.

Threadgill’s Home Cookin’

A couple of nights ago, my sister, mother, and I went to Threadgill’s Home Cookin’ on N. Lamar in near north Austin. It’s not far from where I lived when I was in graduate school at the University of Texas.

I used to listen to Kenneth Threadgill and the Hootenanny Hoots when they played at the Split Rail in south Austin, so going to the restaurant brought back many fond old memories.

We had a delicious dinner in the kind of informal, but comfortable setting that I like a lot. At least for my own experience, I agree with the claim on the restaurant website that:

It is a simple fact that the Threadgill’s restaurants, museum and live music venues have more to do with Austin’s cultural and musical heritage than most any other institution within the city limits.

The history goes on to add:

Perhaps country music lover and bootlegger Kenneth Threadgill had more in mind when he opened his Gulf filling station just north of the Austin city limits in 1933, for the day that Travis County decided to “go wet ” in December of the same year, Kenneth stood in line all night to be the first person to own a liquor license in the county. Soon, the filling station became a favorite spot for traveling musicians since it was open 24 hours for drinking, gambling and jamming. Kenneth would sing songs by his beloved Jimmie Rodgers nightly. Musicians who came to play were paid in beer. Such was the atmosphere at Threadgill’s, it was only when a curfew was enacted in 1942 that its owner had to get a key for the front door, before that it had yet to have been locked.

Threadgill’s was important in the development of the Austin music scene. While Threadgill sang Jimmie Rodgers songs, Janis Joplin developed her country and blues hybrid. Other performers brought in rock & roll or music from Mexico.

Claude Matthews produced and directed a very good documentary video about Threadgill and his restaurant, Singin’ the Yodeling Blues. Here’s part 1, with links to parts 2 and 3 on Youtube:

Life (and stories) in an Alaskan Eskimo village

In the early 1980’s, the Quill in Alaska project was a great adventure in learning about stories, writing, computers, classrooms, Alaska village life, bush travel, and much more. Although the temperatures were often -20˚F or below, stories from that time are burned deep in my brain. I learned that stories relate our lives, but that they also shape our lives, and create endless stories to follow.

One involved a kind of networking that shows the value of being there, even in our time of electronic communications. As I recall, on a cold, snowy day in March, I had boarded a De Havilland Beaver, similar to the one shown above, to fly from Chevak to Bethel, at the head of Kuskokwim Bay. I may have been the only passenger for that short nonstop flight.

Shortly after takeoff, the pilot announced that we’d be making an unscheduled stop to pick up passengers in Scammon Bay, a village on a point jutting out into the Bering Sea. The propellers had scarcely stopped spinning when a young couple boarded. We started talking. I shared some stories about my travels to small villages around Alaska and they told me why they were flying to Bethel. They had just married, and were on their honeymoon to the big city (pop. 3000).

I asked them whether they knew of Aylette Jenness. She’s a writer of children’s books, photographer, and anthropologist, and more, a good personal friend. In the 1960’s Aylette had lived in Alaska in their very village for a year and a half. Based on her experiences there, she wrote a wonderful book, Dwellers of the Tundra: Life in an Alaskan Eskimo Village, with beautiful photos by Jonathan Jenness.

They were too young to have met Aylette, but they knew of her, and they cherished the book she wrote about their village. The young man asked me whether I remembered a photo of a woman in the book holding a young child. I said yes, it was one of my favorites in the book. He then stunned me by saying: “That woman is my mother, and that baby is me.”

We talked the rest of the flight. When I returned to Cambridge, the first thing I had to do was to tell Aylette that story, about how the characters in her book had a continuing life and were now old enough to get married and fly to Bethel. She was fascinated and immediately said: “I have to go back!”

She soon returned to their village, one generation, and more than 20 years later. Being the writer and photographer she is, wrote a second book: In Two Worlds: A Yu’pik Eskimo Family (1989).

This time, the book was co-authored, with Alice Rivers, a Scammon Bay resident, shown on the left here with Aylette on the right. The change in authorship reflects both changes in the way we write about others and Aylette’s own deepening connection with the people there.

The title reflects changes, too. It uses the name Scammon Bay residents themselves use, Yu’pik, not just a broad category, like Eskimo, and everyone is more conscious of living in multiple worlds. The people and Scammon Bay are now identified by name. The books make vivid for me my time in Alaska, even though my stay in Scammon Bay itself was probably just 15 minutes.

And the photos are now by Aylette. They’re sharper than in the first book, less dreamy and more reflective of the many facets of life in modern, yet still traditional, Alaskan villages—the two worlds.

It’s now been another generation, and time for more stories and another Scammon Bay book. In the Introduction to In Two Worlds, Alice and Aylette ask: “maybe one of Alice’s daughters will write that one. Mattie? Sarah? How about it?”

I don’t think the books are still in print, but you can easily find good quality used copies online.

My retirement plans

It’s with satisfaction, relief, anticipation, and a tinge of sadness, that I submitted my intention to retire in August of this year. I will have been with the University of Illinois for twenty years, half of those in the College of Education and half in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. The retirement means that I’ll be changing my mode of work, with more attention to writing and more international projects.

I’ve enjoyed and benefitted greatly from my time here, and even more from working with you all. I can’t think of another group anywhere with such high collegiality, dedication, moral perception, and responsible leadership. The scholarship, teaching, and learning have always been outstanding and there’s been a lot of fun on top of it all.

I expect to continue working part-time on the Youth Community Informatics and Community Informatics Corps grants through June, 2011, and perhaps do other work after that, so this is not a good-bye, just an announcement about a new role for me.

Best wishes and enjoy all the snow,

Chip