Category Archives: Music

Clark Gesner R. I. P.

Clark Gesner Princeton ’60 was an incredibly creative individual who wrote at least 2 shows for the Princeton Triangle Club, which includes Jimmie Stewart, Josh Logan, Jose Ferrer and Brooke Shields among its alumni.  When I was there, club traveled by railroad to NYC, Albany, Cleveland, Chicago, Cincinnati etc. over Christmas vacation.  Quite an experience for a 19 year old who’d never been west of Allentown.

Despite his talent, Clark’s  musical chops weren’t that good and as a piano player in the pit band accompanying the show, I could play his stuff better than he could. We were housed in the homes of alumni for the most part, and Clark after shows would sit at the piano and play his stuff.  The girls would gather around and say “Clark, you’re going to write a broadway show some day”.  Cynical me thought they’d been watching too movies.

Well he did, writing “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown”, and never had to work past his late 20s.

Which raises several points.  The first is that amateur musicians usually agree who is better (not so much in terms of their chops, but in terms of their ‘musicality’ a term like jazz of which Louis Armstrong said –“If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.”  This unlike composers, visual artists etc. etc.  Even chemists.  Who was the greatest chemist of the 20th century — Woodward, Pauling?  You’d get an argument.

2 years at Triangle cured me of theater.  The stage performers  never really left the stage, acting most of the time in ways that said ‘look at me, look at me’.  It became tiresome after a while.

We had real pros helping us put the shows together — Director Milt Lyon, Choreographer Peter Hamilton.  They weren’t perfect and 60 years ago Milt was always saying that ‘the unions are killing the theater’.  Milt was always in the back during performances as we traveled, leading the cheers.  Another quote –‘audiences want to clap, you just have to help them’.

There were a lot of gays in Triangle, but they were the obvious ones, florid, histrionic, effeminate.   That was the image of the gay male in the late 50s, and today’s gays owe a huge debt to the normal appearing gays who came out in that era and later.  Clark was gay and kept it well hidden, and a lot more classmates have come out subsequently.

For some, there were excellent reasons to remain in the closet.  A psychiatrist classmate from med school knew of people being thrown out of psychiatry residencies because they were gay — look at the early DMSs when homosexuality was thought to be a psychiatric disease.

 

The cold dead hand of the academy and classical music (US division)

For how the higher music criticism nearly strangled classical music in the US look no further than Roger Sessions — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Sessions.  He was the eminence grise of the Princeton music department when I was an undergraduate

Purely by luck, I decided that music was one of the few things I knew something about (having had 8 years of piano lessons through High School) so I had nothing to do with the department.  So while Roger was saying things like “I’m a specialist writing for other specialists” and “The English Department doesn’t teach typing, why should the Music Department teach performance” — this according to someone from the class of ’75, I was hitchhiking down route 1 to NYC listening to Basie at Birdland, and other jazz musicians creating a new art form (Village Vanguard etc. etc.).   I was actually able to hire Coleman Hawkins to play for a dance at our Eating Club (Princeton’s version of fraternities).

So think of some music coming out of an academic music department from that era that you want to listen to.  Bartok doesn’t count.  He was supported with grants when he got here  in 1940, but was already a very well established composer.

For more on these points, see the previous post –https://luysii.wordpress.com/2019/07/30/some-thoughts-on-music/

So jazz, rock, country and western musics will take care of themselves.  They exist independently of what is written about them.  There still is a problem for people like me.  I’m not creative enough to make my own music, but classical music being written down allows me to explore and experience the great musical minds of Bach, Mozart etc. etc.  I want more stuff written by today’s people that my friends and I can play.  The difference between listening to music and playing it, is the difference between you know what and sex.

Some thoughts on music

I’m leaving for what one of my friend’s grandsons calls “Band Camp for Adults”. Mercifully we usually all agree to allow the world to spin on its axis without our help, meaning we talk only about music leaving politics behind (thank God).

I’ve agreed to play the Brahms horn trio with an excellent violinist and an equally excellent french horn player.  It’s scary. Brahms must have had enormous hands, asking you to play an octave with your right hand while trilling with the fifth finger.  He must also have had a huge technique, asking you to jump about playing octaves with your left hand.  Adding to the anxiety, is that the other two have performed the piece despite the fact that we’re amateurs.  They want to perform it as well, something that gives me the yips (they’re both very good).

I asked one of last year’s coaches to note whether the hard headed scientific types (mathematicians, physicists, computer programmers) play any differently than the touchy feely types (who are scared of ‘chemicals’ etc. etc.) both invariantly present in about equal numbers among amateur chamber musicians.  I don’t think so, but we’ll see what she says.  Probably she forgot, chamber musicians having to be extremely precise  when they play, leading them to be sloppy about most other things.  We’ll see.

There are excellent faculty concerts most nights and hopefully they won’t have much ‘eat your spinach’ contemporary work on the program.  You all know what it is, contemporary music with no rhythm, melody or structure and usually hideous sound, that you are supposed to sit through because it’s good for you.  A few years ago, there was a concert with no intermission where they literally locked the doors and played an awful Elliot Carter string quartet.  It wasn’t announced on the program so we couldn’t bail.

Which brings me to another point.  People who say they like all music, really like none of it.  To really like music there must be music that you hate.  I hate Shastakovich (which is tough as a cellist I play with has cats named Shasti and Kovich), my cousin hates Ravel.

Which brings me to another point — how musical criticism has brought classical music low (see the bit about Adorno later).  Classic composers if they want to be played and heard have to bow to current elite critical opinion.  Fortunately this seems to be ending.  There are several people composing in the area whose music has melody, rhythm, structure, tonality and is good to listen to.

One is Zeke Hecker — http://zekehecker.com — whose wife is an excellent violist that I played one of the Faure piano quartets with.  He’s written lots of stuff in classical form (symphonies etc. etc. ) which is musicly interesting.

Another is Scott Slapin — http://scottslapin.com — and we recently went to a concert where he wrote some very interesting music for 4 violas.  He has a sense of humor and since he lives in South Hadley Massachusetts, he wrote a 12 minute piece for 4 violas called the South Hadley Mass.

Now to the dark side — an article in the New Yorker described how a critic, Theordor Adorno, singlehandedly nearly destroyed the magnificent German musical tradition — https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/03/24/ghost-sonata.

Here’s a quote from the article — “Implicit in his assault on mass culture is the belief that any work of art that attracts large numbers of people has no value.”  So the music he champions certainly doesn’t attract hordes.

Here’s more.  “In 1949, it worked: “The Philosophy of New Music” wowed the confused young minds who were seeking new certitudes, new laws, new gods. Adorno, together with his comrade-in-arms Boulez, probably succeeded in frightening more than a few composers of the neoclassical type into thinking that their music was not just bad but criminal. It is instructive to look at the names of works that were played at Darmstadt from 1946 on. In the first few years, you see titles such as Sonatine, Suite for Piano, Chamber Symphony, Scherzo, and Concerto in E Flat. After 1949, the year of the “Philosophy,” neoclassical titles dwindle and are replaced by phrases fit for a “Star Trek” episode: “Music in Two Dimensions,” “Schipot,” “Polyphonie X,” “Syntaxis,” “Anepigraphe.” There was a fad for abstractions in the plural: “Perspectives,” “Structures,” “Quantities,” “Configurations,” “Interpolations.” Audiences enjoyed “Spectogram,” “Seismogramme,” “Audiogramme,” and “Sphenogramme.”

How did such an idiot gain such power?  It’s worth reading the whole article in the link (although it’s pretty depressing)

Well there is a human urge to listen, play and create music and it’s coming back. To hell with the higher musical criticism.

For the pianists in your life

Shopping for a Christmas gift for that hard to please pianist on your list?  I have just the answer — The Complete Bach Concerti for solo Keyboard and Orchestra in Full Score ISBN 0-486-24929-8.  No it won’t take a truck to deliver it.  It’s just in the Dover series of music.  7 concerti, 206 pages and only $20.00 or so.  Such a deal ! ! !

You pianist friend need not have a full string orchestra at his/her disposal, the keyboard parts are often rich enough to stand alone.  This is particularly true of many of the glorious slow movements, where the strings aren’t really doing very much, and sometime are just doubling what the keyboard is doing with the left hand anyway.

It does look a bit intimidating to see 6 parts instead of the usual two.  The only problem with this is the frequent page turns, and I recommend getting it spiral bound at the local copy place (under 5$ where I live).

All the concerti are fairly famous (to pianists at least) and the whole point about Bach is that it’s mind music which you hear in your head.  That’s about all I played in med school having only PSOs (Piano Shaped Objects) to play.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year ! ! !

Back from band camp for grownups

While at band camp, we heard a fabulously intense performance of a piece which must be witnessed rather than listened to on the radio or on a CD while you’re doing something else.  It was Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. You couldn’t ask for a better audience — 150+ raptly attentive amateur musicians with all cell phones off and no program notes.  The piece takes an hour to play and is full of long silences.  In some parts just one instrument plays while the other players sit stock still staring ahead, so the piece really is part theater.

You can always tell when a string player or a pianist starts to play as something moves and your mind expects a sound.  No so with the many long silences of the clarinet solo.  Parts begin so softly that you can’t even be sure the clarinet is playing, as there is no motion to clue you in.  Then, suddenly you realize you’ve been hearing a sound for a while.   The piece ends with a violinist ascending slowly into the tonal stratosphere while producing a prolonged decrescendo.  She was in tears at the end.

The players (correctly) decided on no descriptive program notes (which were read aloud at the beginning) as they didn’t want to break up the intensity with rustling paper (or the spoken word).  Probably it’s better to hear the piece not knowing the background, but there’s a Wiki page for it which is pretty good if you already know its provenance.

Pianists don’t have to count.  When we get stuck we just stop and then start over.  Even with chamber music we have the score so we always know what the other players should be doing, so we can pretty much fake what we can’t play and keep things going.  Our only problems are the incessant page turns, sometimes with all the other instruments cutting out leaving us alone playing with both hands, turning the page and trying not to miss a beat.  All this was true until I got to play a piece with bassoon, clarinet, oboe, violin and cello by Martinu — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_revue_de_cuisine, which had only the piano part, and long 9 and 10 measure rests which I was supposed to count.  I thought it would be a total disaster, but the coach conducted it, and shouted out numbers when I was supposed to play. I bought him a beer later that week.  An interesting piece with a tango, and a Charleston in it.

Participants at the camp decided that there would be no talk of politics, just music, and the world did manage to spin on its axis for a week without our help.

I spent 300 miles or so of the 1,100 mile drive back on backroads through the verdant midwest countryside.  I made it a point to pace off a mile or so every now and then in a particularly beautiful stretch of country and then get out and walk it.  Typical of the midwest, each time I did, someone would stop and ask if I needed help.

The many miles of the country I went through on the way back look very good.  The stores and  restaurants and malls were full, the campgrounds crowded, and help wanted signs were everywhere. Much better than the previous trips of the past 5 years.

So then I get back to Massachusetts and the alternate universe of the New York Times.  When the Times talks about the longest bull market in history, they note in the same breath that it is only for rich people, ignoring the fact that all pension plans, IRAs and 401k’s have been beneficiaries.  Also on the front page was a story about a payoff to a porn star, something of minimal consequence to the daily lives of those outside the bubble.

Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate in economics, appears on the opinion page, despite having declared election night the stock market would never recover, and a few years ago informing us that we were at peak oil production.  At least no articles by Larry Summers (smartest guy in the room and former president of Harvard) about secular stagnation and the impossibility of 3% economic growth.

Linus Pauling was one of the great chemists of the 20th Century — electronegativity, the nature of the chemical bond, the alpha helix etc. etc.  Yet when he said vitamin C could cure colds and cancer, he was proved wrong and his pronouncements on the subject roundly ignored.  No so with political and economic pundits.

The disconnect between the bicoastal mainstream media and the center of the country is profound.  The November elections should be fascinating.  Help stamp our minority employment — vote Democratic.

Just before the battle, mother

This is not a scientific post. Tomorrow I’m going to play piano at a memorial service for the husband of a coworker of my cellist. Wish me luck. I hate playing in public although I love playing chamber music with friends. The fact that one of the pieces I’m going to play is something I wrote is no consolation, since last week my sister in law, an accomplished composer who’s had some of her stuff performed in Carnegie hall, told me that playing something you wrote is no guarantee that you won’t screw up. Thanks a lot.

The distaste for performing in public goes back to grade school when I first started taking lessons. We had to play from memory when the teacher would parade all his pupils at a concert. I never actually screwed up, but was always afraid that I’d get in an endless loop while playing and be unable to get out. I’ve seen this happen once, and even watching it was excruciatingly painful.   In fact that’s how I found that my mother was not omniscient.  Every winter I was told “Close your galoshes and button up or you’ll get sick”. So two weeks before each recital I’d run around with open galoshes and a wide open jacket in the hopes that I’d get sick and miss the recital but I never did.

So wish me luck.  The following fits my current mood

Just before the battle, mother,
I am thinking most of you,
While upon the field we’re watching
With the enemy in view.
Comrades brave are ’round me lying,
Filled with thoughts of home and God
For well they know that on the morrow,
Some will sleep beneath the sod.

Popular song during the American Civil War

Band Camp for Adults — 2015

This is not a scientific post, although it contains a lot of scientific types. Adult amateur chamber musicians are an interesting lot. The festival just concluded contained two people with books coming out, two organic chemists, two math profs, an english prof, multiple MDs, a retired foreign service officer and those were just the people I played with. Not everyone attending these things is so fancy and one of the best amateur cellists I ever played with was a moving man and probably the best violist ever was a 300 pound jail matron.

I’d not been to this one for 11 years or so, and it was amazing how people remembered the things I’d done back then. One classic neurotic back then was quite worried she was crazy. Her friend said she’d repeat over and over what I told her — I know crazy and you’re not crazy. Unfortunately she died an awful death of metastatic ovarian carcinoma, far too young in her 40s, as did another good friend, an RN.

Someone else brought up what I’d done for her at her first time at the festival. I’d totally forgotten about it. The first time my wife an I went there, I wasn’t assigned a group the first day and we didn’t know a soul. Everyone else appeared to know everyone else and had play dates arranged for the rest of the week. So the evening of the first day my wife and I were moping about in a local bar, when a gregarious participant came up to us, found out what was going on and set up the Dvorak piano quintet for me the next day.

The following year after the general initial assembly was over, I and the gregarious one got up and announced that we wanted 7 first timers for an immediate session — the Schumann piano quintet for me and a Mozart string quartet for her. The process has since been institutionalized.

I even met a reader of the blog, an excellent young violinist and organic chemist who I tried to steer into drug design. Probably not a good idea given the employment upheavals appearing nearly daily in Derek’s blog. One of the things we played was Vaughn Williams 6 studies on English Folk song. They have been scored for piano and violin, piano and viola, piano and clarinet and piano and cello. Few seem to know of them. They are each two piano pages long, extremely interesting musically and just not that hard to sight read.

Another great thing about the site, is that there is a whole piano and percussion building and many rooms have two pianos. This means two pianists can get together and play without squeezing onto the same bench. I strongly recommend trying two transcriptions of Bach concerti in C major and C minor. Both parts are quite interesting and well done musically, and you can switch so you’ll get to play each part. It’s  Peters edition #s 2200a, 2200b (BWV 1061, no BWV # given for 2200b). Start with the slow movements of each, the back and forth of the voices is great. I heard it today scored as a concerto for oboe and violin.

Unfortunately many of the people I played with 11 years ago had passed on, including Edwin Gould a violinist. Organic chemists of a certain age know him has the author of the ‘bible’ of physical organic chemistry back in the 60s.

Just by chance, two of the MDs were at places I’d trained — Colorado General Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and it was fascinating to hear how they’d changed.

Also just by chance there were two graduates from Brown who would have been near classmates with my son, had he chosen to go there. Fascinating to hear about paths not taken.

One of the math profs has a book coming out and the other explained what a Toric variety is (David Cox, from whom I audited a course, wrote a 600 page book on the subject).

All in all an intellectually and musically stimulating week.

At the 55th

This is a mostly nonscientific post concerning the 55th reunion of the Princeton Class of 1960 last weekend. First the Science. Nick Cozzarelli was one of the most distinguished members of our class — great work on Topoisomerase, editor of PNAS for 10 years which established a prize named for him for the best paper each year. No one I’ve ever talked to in the class knew of him or his work. Shirley Tilghman, president of Princeton certainly did, and was shocked to hear of his untimely passing from Burkitt’s lymphoma when I told her of it at our 50th, saying he was a great scientist. However, he’s one of the reasons Princeton back then was a great institution (and hopefully still is). The son of an immigrant shoemaker in Newark NJ, he was taken in, given a scholarship, and worked his way through, serving meals in commons etc. etc. I made sure the undergraduates picking up a little cash by pouring drinks and serving meals at reunions heard about him. He was a good friend.  R. I. P. Nick.

Another friend, an emeritus prof of chemical engineering, referees a lot of papers. He estimates that 80% of the papers in his field, quantum chemistry, coming from China are absolute trash. According to him China gives bonuses to people getting published in high impact journals. What he finds particularly appalling is that he writes up a detailed list of corrections and improvements for the paper, and then finds it published totally unchanged in another journal.

He and I reminisced about our great undergraduate advisor Paul Schleyer with the department chair (who of course knew of him since he is one of the most cited and prolific (1,400 papers) chemists of the 20th century). He’s another reason Princeton was such a great institution back then (and hopefully still is). For details please see https://luysii.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/paul-schleyer-1930-2014-a-remembrance/ and https://luysii.wordpress.com/2014/12/14/paul-schleyer-1930-2014-r-i-p/

I finally saw the new Chemistry building (under construction at the 50th) and it is gorgeous. The NMR set up is particularly impressive, with the megaHertz of the machinery a factor of 15 greater than those we first started using in the 60s. Alas Varian is no more. It was bought a few years ago by another company which terminated the business. For where the money came from see https://luysii.wordpress.com/2011/05/16/princeton-chemistry-department-the-new-oberlin/.

In a remarkable coincidence, my wife an I were able to chat with the son of a neurologist in my call group, just finishing up his PhD in Chemistry there. How improbable is that?

Now for the nonScientific part.

For those undergraduates reading this at similar institutions, some advice — get to know as many of your classmates as you can. Premeds at Princeton back then had to take a lot of the same courses — biology, basic chemistry, organic chemistry, calculus, physics etc. etc. So we got to know each other. The rest of the class, not so much unless we were in other organizations (in my case, the marching band, Triangle club, and the eating club). At reunions I always meet classmates that I wish I knew back then and form new friendships.

Sometimes that isn’t always easy, with everyone working out the various important issues present from 18 to 22. A classmate’s wife described the men of the class at their 25th reunion as ‘roosters’, crowing and impressing each other. Not the case 30 years later. Everyone glad just to be there and catch up.

Princeton was all male back then. The current wives (some being #2, #3, #5) are an impressive bunch. They were uniformly intelligent and interesting. Not a bimbo in the lot of them, although most were very attractive physically. So the class may have slept with bimbos, but they were no longer in evidence.

Various seminars were held. I went to one about America’s relation to food. The panelists were 6 trim females with a fair amount of pseudoscience and touchy feely crap emitted, but at least the cautionary tale of the trash in the popular press about diet was mentioned (e.g. the paper about eat chocolate lose weight). What was fascinating was that the incidence of obesity (BMI over 29) in the group of several hundred listeners was at most 5%, proving, once again, that obesity in the USA is largely a class phenomenon. Also noted, is that I only saw one or two undergraduates and graduates smoking, again a class phenomenon, something Americans don’t like to talk about, but there nonetheless.

A memorial service for classmates was held in the chapel (built in 1929 but designed to appear that it was built in 1299). The organ is magnificent as were the acoustics, the sound surrounding you rather than coming at you. Bach and Vidor were performed by the organist. Apparently there was quite a battle about which to do first — refurbish the organ or the chapel acoustics. The stone had roughened distorting the sound so it didn’t echo properly. Clear plastic was applied to smooth the stone and then the organ was fixed. If you can hear a concert there please do so. Great composers write for the space their music will be performed in as well as the instruments it will be performed on, certainly true of Gabrielli, Bach and Vidor.

On a sadder note. I know of 4 suicides of class members (we started with around 725). Probably there are more. Also a good friend and classmate’s wife and daughter appeared to accept an award in his name. Although still alive he is incontinent, unable to walk and demented from Alzheimer’s. Despite degrees from Princeton, Harvard and Penn, Board examiner in Neurology blah blah blah, I was totally unable to help him. All I could do was offer emotional chicken soup to his wife, something my immigrant grandmother did with her 4th grade education in the dry goods store she ran. That’s why it’s good to be retired from neurology and not see this day after day.

Finally the P-rade. It is a great emotional lift for the psyche to march a mile or so to the reviewing stand being cheered by probably 1,000 – 2,000 younger graduates the whole time. The younger they got the louder the cheers and the drunker they were. It’s pretty hard not to feel good after that. I have heard that the only weekend event where more beer is consumed than Princeton reunions is the Indianapolis 500.  Along those lines, I only saw one truly drunk individuals among the 250 or so classmates and significant others although just about everyone had alcohol.  The alcoholics are no longer around for the 55th.

The Bach Fugue of the Genome

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
– Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio

Just when you thought we’d figured out what genomes could do, the virusoid of rice yellow mottle virus performs a feat of dense coding I’d have thought impossible. The following work requires a fairly sophisticated understanding of molecular biology which the articles in “Molecular Biology Survival Guide for Chemists” might provide the background. Give it a shot. This is fascinating stuff. If the following seems incomprehensible, start with –https://luysii.wordpress.com/2010/07/07/molecular-biology-survival-guide-for-chemists-i-dna-and-protein-coding-gene-structure/ and then follow the links forward.

Virusoids are single stranded circular RNAs which are dependent on a virus for replication. They are distinct from viroids because viroids need nothing else to replicate. Neither the virusoid or the viroid were thought to code for protein (until now). They are usually found inside the protein shells of plant viruses.

[ Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. vol. 111 pp. 14542 – 14547 ’14 ] Viroids and virusoids (viroid like satellite RNAs) are small (220 – 450 nucleotide) covalently closed circular RNAs. They are the smallest known replicating circular RNA pathogens. They replicate via a rolling circle mechanism to produce larger concatemers which are then processed into monomeric forms by a self-splicing hammerhead ribozyme, or by cellular enzymes.

The rice yellow mottle virus (RYMV) contains a virusoid which is a covalently closed circular RNA of a mere 220 nucleotides. A 16 kiloDalton basic protein is made from it. How can this be? Figure the average molecular mass of an amino acid at 100 Daltons, and 3 codons per amino acid. This means that 220 can code for 73 amino acids at most (e.g. for a 7 – 8 kiloDalton protein).

So far the RYMV virusoid is the only RNA of viroids and virusoids which actually codes for a protein. The virusoid sequence contains an internal ribosome entry site (IRES) of the following form UGAUGA. Intiation starts at the AUG, and since 220 isn’t an integral multiple of 3 (the size of amino acid codons), it continues replicating in another reading frame until it gets to one of the UGAs (termination codons) in UGAUGA or UGAUGA. Termination codons can be ignored (leaky codons) to obtain larger read through proteins. So this virusoid is a circular RNA with no NONcoding sequences which codes for a protein in either 2 or 3 of the 3 possible reading frames. Notice that UGAUGA contains UGA in both of the alternate reading frames ! So it is likely that the same nucleotide is being read 2 or 3 ways. Amazing ! ! !

It isn’t clear what function the virusoid protein performs for the virus when the virus has infected a cell. Perhaps there aren’t any, and the only function of the protein is to help the virusoid continue existence inside the virus.

Talk about information density. The RYMV virusoid is the Bach Fugue of the genome. Bach sometimes inverts the fugue theme, and sometimes plays it backwards (a musical palindrome if you will).

It is unfortunate that more people don’t understand the details of molecular biology so they can appreciate mechanisms of this elegance. Whether you think understanding it is an esthetic experience, is up to you. I do. To me, this resembles the esthetic experience that mathematics offers.

A while back I wrote a post, wondering if the USA was acquiring brains from the MidEast upheavals, the way we did from Europe because of WWII. Here’s the link https://luysii.wordpress.com/2014/09/28/maryam-mirzakhani/.

Clearly Canada has done just that. Here are the authors of the PNAS paper above and their affiliations. Way to go Canada !

Mounir Georges AbouHaidar
aDepartment of Cell and Systems Biology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada M5S 3B2; and
Srividhya Venkataraman
aDepartment of Cell and Systems Biology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada M5S 3B2; and
Ashkan Golshani
bBiology Department, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON, Canada K1S 5B6
Bolin Liu
aDepartment of Cell and Systems Biology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada M5S 3B2; and
Tauqeer Ahmad
aDepartment of Cell and Systems Biology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada M5S 3B2; and

The Ukraine

“Are you Russian?” I asked (age 10) on meeting the formidable Dr. Antyn Rudnytsky, my future piano teacher for the first time. I then received a frightening, lengthy and intense lecture concerning the difference between Ukranians such as himself and Russians (gangsters as he called them).

What he was doing on a chicken farm in southern New Jersey in the late 40’s is quite a story. I was incredibly fortunate to have been taught by an individual of his caliber, and at amateur chamber music festivals, usually someone asks me where I’d studied. I was extremely well taught, and I spent my senior year in high school studying just the first movement of Bach’s Italian Concerto.

I have no way of checking the accuracy of all of this, but this is what I heard about him. He had a PhD in music and had studied Piano under Artur Schnabel. He was, at one point conductor of the Ukranian State Orchestra, and didn’t like the way a particular violinist played and chewed him out. The violinist denounced him to his party cell, and Dr. Rudnytsky saw his name in the paper as Mr. Rudnitsky (not Comrade Rudnytsky or even Dr. Rudnytsky). He got out and came to the USA. It took him several years to get his wife (an opera singer) and his two boys out of the Ukraine.

He never quite adjusted to the USA, speaking of how people would wait for hours in the snow to go a great concert back there and how little respect classical music had in the USA. What really must have torn him up was seeing one son (Dorian) go to Julliard, and found the New York Rock and Roll Ensemble in the 60’s where he played cello along with two guitars and a clarinet. Leonard Bernstein plugged the group for a time, ignoring the father.

His other son, Roman, was very useful to me, in that he showed me what real musical talent was like, so that I didn’t get inflated ideas about my own ability (I’m a not-too-bad amateur). At age 3 he started telling his father what notes passing trains were emitting. Then when people would come over to the house for lessons, Roman would sit behind a door, and then play what they had played (without looking at any music) on the piano. Also a Julliard graduate.

Addendum 4 Mar ’14 — I sent a copy of this post to both sons — Roman and Dorian, and almost immediately got back a nice note from Roman. Just Google him (Roman Rudnytsky) for some of his U-Tubes etc. He said that everything I remembered about his father and his history was ‘spot on’.

One more Ukrainian bit before moving on to the present. In the 80s a newly arrived Ukranian lady was interviewed by the local paper in upstate NY. When asked what she liked about the US, she mentioned having people over to her house for prayer without having to draw the shades.

So now Russia has invaded the Crimea again, and Europe is reduced to making a few noises. Since they spend about 20% as much as the USA on defense, it’s about all they can do (but look at the great social services they have — they won’t be much help if Russia moves west again).

Another even more disturbing point, is that we talked Ukraine into giving up its nuclear weapons. In June 1996 they transferred all 1,900 of their nuclear weapons to Russia. It is very doubtful that Russia would have invaded, had the Ukraine retained them. It is even more doubtful, that any country with nuclear weapons will ever again voluntarily give them up. It is also quite likely that many small countries without them will try to go nuclear. The world has just become a much more dangerous place.

On the bright side, Europeans can now put their large numbers of unemployed youth into their armies, solving at least one problem.