01 August 2007

2007 Summer

In this issue:

1) 8/11 concert

2) New web page looks back

3) My dad's book

4) Our life direction

1) 8/11 concert

I hope your Summer is going well, providing opportunities for relaxation and rejuvenation. I always try to do something new to challenge myself as a guitarist each Summer and this time it has been to work up a recital that includes Bach repertoire I have secretly wanted, but never quite prioritized learning, to play. It then occurred to me that having the talented Carol Burnham living just a few houses away was a compelling reason to add dance to this program. Fortunately, she agreed. Then my wife suggested we do the performance as a benefit for the wheelchair accessibility project underway at St. Paul's Lutheran (which where I've been giving my Summer concerts for years now). What follows is the press release, under that, the poster and then this newsletter continues.

Classical guitarist Jeffry Steele, in collaboration with dancer/choreographer Carol Burnham, will give a performance titled "Partitas" on Saturday, August 11 at 8 PM. Performed in the sanctuary of Lanesville's St. Paul Lutheran Church -- 1123 Washington St., Gloucester -- the entire proceeds will benefit the "Building the Dream" fund to make St. Paul wheelchair accessible. All the music on the program was composed by J. S. Bach.

"A Partita is like the Baroque suite, consisting of movements based on dance forms," says Steele. "The word literally means 'variation' -- and while the technique of variation is present in all of Bach's music, it seems to be implemented in very particular and meaningful ways in these, his Partitas for Solo Violin." The program begins with the last half of the Partita in B minor, continues with the complete Partita in D minor and concludes the the first half of the Partita in E major. "This last one," Steele goes on, "also had a life as Bach's Fourth Lute Suite, and I'd like to think that had there been players (or instruments) sufficiently advanced at that time he would have arranged the other partitas for plucked strings as well. Though we think of Bach playing keyboard, he was also an accomplished violinist -- so it isn't surprising he would have put so much soul into these works. The Chaconne from the Partita in Dm was way beyond its time, not only in depth of expression, but in length."

For this concert Carol Burnham has choreographed two movements each from the B minor and E major Partitas. Also participating will be dancer Nick Rapoli. "This is our first time out," adds Steele, "and we hope to see more movements choreographed down the road."

In addition to being a classical guitarist who has performed for 30 years around New England, Jeffry Steele has his Masters in Composition from New England Conservatory and has taught both guitar and chorus to all age groups.

Carol Burnham has been director of the Windhover Dance Company since 2000, and is a life-long student of Ina Hahn. Carol has a BFA in Dance from SUNY Purchase and danced professionally in New York and Boston.

Tickets for the concert are $15, $10 (students/seniors) and $5 (children). For more information about the performance call 978-282-3106 or visit jeffrysteele.com. For more information on the "Building the Dream" fund call 978-283-6550.

Some of you may have recently received a message from Carol promoting a Windhover performance with the same picture of her on the floor (I don't know who took it). . . just another variation, I guess! My photo was taken by Thomas Nola-rion.

I am also, by the way, playing a short set one week later (evening of 8/18) at the Lanesville Community Center (8 Vulcan St, Gloucester) as part of an evening with local performers. All I can say at this moment is check local listings for details.

2) New web page looks back
Not surprisingly, the amount of storage available to me from my web host has been growing over the years; I just hadn't taken notice. When I did discover a ten-fold increase in available space (over what it had been when I began the site nine years ago), I couldn't resist putting it to use. And so you will find, if curious, Compositions & Arrangements 1974-2005: An audio-visual scrapbook . While perhaps of most interest to those who figured into my musical history during that 31-year period, new acquaintances and strangers alike may also find it engaging. There are many mp3 files, accompanied by photos and commentary on the people, the instruments and the 'gear' involved in each recording.

3) My dad's book
Some months ago, my mother handed me a cardboard box with the manuscript to a 'novel' that my father, Robert R. Steele (1915-1998), had written at the age of 32. Being very busy at the time, I did not open it until earlier this month when my wife was gone for a week to the National Pastoral Musicians Conference in Indianapolis. While I always knew my father wrote well (taught me everything I know about writing), I wasn't expecting something of this calibre. After reading the first few chapters, I decided to scan (as in scanner) the whole opus for the sake of preservation and to make it accessible to all who might want to read it as well. The rusted paper clips that held each onion-skin chapter together appeared not to have been removed in 60 years. The book would fit in the category (if there be such a one) of 'autobiographical novel'. That is, the events follow very closely those my father underwent during WWII and the main character (Dudley Hamilton) has his personality pretty much intact. The supporting characters are probably from the real past also, only with different names, and with their traits possibly exaggerated in Dickensian fashion. Perhaps the reason publishers would not take it on (back in 1947) has to do with its unique mix of technical commentary and dramatic action -- though my 14-year-old step-son pointed out that The Perfect Storm is that kind of read.

To summarize the plot: Dudley bails out of a crashing small plane, determines that he is the only survivor and devises to swim for shore -- which he calculates to be as close as eight miles if he can only head in the right direction. Now this part did not happen to my father; he was indeed in that small plane heading homeward over the Red Sea, but the crash was a product of his imagination. Dudley's resolution to keep his mind occupied while swimming is the pretext for flashback to all the events leading up to his present circumstances; every chapter ends in a brief return to the struggling swimmer. We read of his civilian naval architecture job and budding romance with the secretary there; of how he cannot resist an offer to salvage sunken ships and docks in Eritrea, Africa; of his journey there and the harsh working conditions under an egocentric commander (whose real name is changed from Ellsberg, I believe, to Harmon); of his loneliness but also his resourcefulness; of his affection and admiration for the salvage tug crew he worked alongside and of his philosophy on a variety of topics interjected into correspondence with his would-be fiancee or into conversations engaged in along the way. Each character, situation and surrounding is depicted through all the freely associative metaphor and wit we loved my father for. His pedanticism also comes through -- though it's easier to take than when he was around; one, because we're reading it and, two, because it is supposed to be Dudley Hamilton, rather than Robert Steele, speaking. Likewise for his character's 'locker room' talk. Then the book has this ulterior purpose as a primer on nautical physics (excuse me if I've invented another category), in sections that he encourages the reader to skip over if not sufficiently interested. If this has piqued your interest, you may download the nearly 500 pages of The Enduring Mirage [77mb] and read for yourself. Please, however, do not use it for any further purpose without consulting me.

4) Our life direction

On every long journey what drives you to go
Is half what you know, and half what you don't...
The dream has been calling, been calling to you;
The dream is the only thing you want to do.

These are my favorite lines from the Ann Reed song (sung by Bill Staines), "Every Long Journey." While some of us manage to step unambivalently into 'the dream' that 'is the only thing you want to do' -- maybe even without thought of doing anything else -- for most of us one 'right' choice does not stand out clearly. In the former category I think of guitarist Pat Metheny, who developed his unique easy-going style at an early age and was duly recognized for it -- such that his path to fame may also have been the path of least resistance.

Then there are those effective leaders who began as humble citizens with no aspirations to notoriety -- who may not even have had the luxury of choosing a 'career' -- but who, when they saw what needed to be done, simply didn't inhibit themselves from doing it. Could have been altruism; could have been survival. I read about them in the Oxfam newsletter.

There must exist, I keep telling myself, a perfect blend between meeting essential needs around us and putting to use all the unique skills we have each developed. Virtually all of my 'jobs' have ostensibly been about teaching, leading or performing music. But in some of these situations I witnessed more immediate needs -- people from students to supervisors whose dysfunctional behavior belied deep emotional hurts. Sometimes I took the initiative to help, sometimes I got mad, sometimes I made mistakes, sometimes I kept quiet.

Imagine no possessions;
I wonder if you can...

In "Imagine", John Lennon invites us to re-think all we've accepted as 'normal' ('just the way things are') and picture ourselves (and others around us) suddenly being free of the shackles binding our imagination and initiative. How have I limited myself by maintaining the self-concept as Guitarist or even as Musician? What if I instead challenged myself to meet the needs of my human community with whichever of my skills happened to come into play? What gratifying opportunities am I passing up because I cling to the idea of music being at the core of my 'work'? I may have a gift and a love for music, but I also had to earn an advanced degree-worth of personal and spiritual growth credits to have such a successful marriage. Suppose I decided to prioritize the liberation of human individuals, even when it means over-stepping the bounds of -- or side-stepping altogether -- any music-related job description?

I can't answer these questions. Perhaps you have a related set of questions you ask yourself as well. Many North Americans are probably stymied by the number of options they appear to have (not one of which includes not having options). Sometimes I think I'd rather raise children somewhere beyond the reach of TV or the internet, the overpowering definers of culture and standard-bearers for our youth -- for the creed of this society is focused on us imagining more possessions.

Keep your hand wide open;
Let the sun shine through,
'Cause you can never lose a thing
If it belongs to you.

These lyrics by Abbey Lincoln -- along with her smokey voice singing them -- echo in my ears and resonate in my soul (as do the other examples cited). One thing I'll say for music, it can smuggle a thought or a feeling past our line of defense in a way the spoken word cannot (not always good, I suppose). I imagine Bach is happy I'm working hard again at his music, and those who attend my upcoming performance will be glad to hear it (not to mention see it expressed in movement). When that's done I have many options to consider and needs to meet -- and somewhere my father's legacy figures into that picture. Oh, and who is the guitarist backing Abbey Lincoln on the above track? Why, Pat Metheny, of course.

Peace, Jeffry