Month: April 2021

Musical instruments real and imagined: Lennie Peterson, Dr. Seuss, and J.J. Grandville

Musical instruments real and imagined: Lennie Peterson, Dr. Seuss, and J.J. Grandville

The human imagination is an amazing thing, a fertile ground for thinkers of all kinds to express ideas, both real and imagined. The conception and production of visual art is among one of the many plants that spring forth from our imagination’s soil.

For the last six years, I have been working on a new book, An Illustrated Dictionary for the Modern Trombone, Euphonium, and Tuba Player; it will be published this fall by Rowman & Littlefield. This new book contains 675 entries about low brass instruments and the people who play them, compose for them, make them, and write about them. All of the instruments I discuss in the book are real. They were made and played at moments in history. Some have been forgotten; others are still with us. Stay tuned for more about this book as it nears its publication date.

My Dictionary also has 125 illustrations by the noted artist Lennie Peterson. Trombone players are certainly familiar with Lennie’s work because of his syndicated comic strip, The Big Picture.” Seriously: a week doesn’t go by when someone doesn’t send me this cartoon:

Lennie_Peterson_trombone_Kaplin

Someone even sent it to me with a caption in German:

Lennie_Kaplin_trombone_German

Well, friends, it’s really OK if you stop sending it to me with the exclamation, “I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but this is the coolest cartoon ever!” That’s because I have known about it since it was published in September, 2003. Not only do I know about it—and, yes, I think it’s really cool—I reached out to Lennie at that time and asked him if I could purchase the original of the cartoon. “Sure!” he said. Here (below) is the full version of the original cartoon (Lennie’s original pen and ink; the color was added later), with the image of Lennie’s cat, Ginger, conducting, and his name printed as Lennie “fff” Peterson. I had the cartoon framed and it now hangs in my office as many of my students who have seen it can attest.

Lennie_Peterson_Kaplin_original

That’s how I met Lennie Peterson, through a cartoon about trombone players. A great friendship developed, and I quickly learned that Lennie was not just a superb cartoonist. He’s also produced a lot of really great fine art. His portrait of Beethoven—done in ink—also hangs in my office (apologies for the glare off the glass):

Peterson_Beethoven

I also commissioned Lennie to make an oil painting that incorporated a thought-provoking quotation by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It hung in my music studio in Arizona and it now hangs in our living room:

Peterson_Yeo_Browning_painting

“But wait,” as the late night TV Ginsu knife commercial host breathlessly announces, “there’s more!” I also asked Lennie to tattoo a pBone for me, decked out in Arizona State University colors. It was proudly displayed on the piano in my office at ASU when I was professor of trombone there from 2012-2016. Lennie can do it all.

Peterson_Yeo_pBone_01

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Lennie’s multifaceted work as an artist—oh, have I mentioned that he’s a fantastic jazz trombonist as well?—led me to only one conclusion when I was asked to write my Dictionary: Lennie had to do the illustrations. So, he did. Lennie’s illustrations for the book are spectacular. Whether an illustration of the bronze age lur. . .

Peterson_Yeo_lur

. . .or Adolphe Sax’s remarkable six-valve trombone with seven bells. . .

Peterson_Yeo_trombone_seven_bells

. . . Lennie’s illustrations for my Dictionary help bring the book to life. Our partnership in putting together this book has been so rewarding, and we look forward to it being on the market in a few months. More on that later.

When you look at Lennie’s illustration of Sax’s seven-bell trombone, you may be thinking, “That’s crazy!” And it is. I tell the story of the instrument in my Dictionary, but what immediately came to mind when I saw and photographed it in the Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels, is that it looks so similar to another instrument that may be familiar to you as well:

Seuss_Grinch_WhoWhooper_valve_trombone

Can there be any doubt that when Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel, 1904–1991) conjured up his WhoHooper for the film version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), he was not inspired by Adolphe Sax? Seuss was a master of the imaginary musical instrument, and his books are full of them. But other artists have dreamed up fanciful instruments, and for many years, I’ve been fascinated by the work of Jean-Ignace-Isador Gérard, who went by the name J. J. Grandville. Two books that carry many of his illustrations, Vie privée et publique des animaux, or The Private and Public Lives of Animals (1842; English edition, 1872) and Un Autre Monde or Another World (1844), are part of my personal library and I have spent many hours enjoying both the stories and the illustrations. With Lennie’s cartoons and Dr. Seuss’ fanciful WhoHooper on my mind, I thought I’d share some of Grandville’s images of musical instruments.

In Un Autre Monde, the chapter “Steam Concert” is about “a concert of metal musicians and singers—the only kind that will satisfy the public’s current demand for super-virtuosity and tremendous performing forces.” Hmm, that sounds like it could have been written today.

[Below] A concert of steam-powered musicians, performing, “The I and the Non-I, Symphony in C Major” [after page 16]:

Un autre monde : transformations, visions, incarnations ... et a

As an aside, Grandville later made an illustration very similar to his “Vapor Concert.” In 1846, he caricatured composer Hector Berlioz for Louis Reybaud’s book, Jérome Paturot à la recherché dune position sociale.

Berlioz_Grandville_1846_orig

And later that same year (April 1846), Grandville’s cartoon of Berlioz was used as the basis of another caricature of the great composer, this time by Anton Elfinger (he went by the name “Cajetan”) that appeared in Allgemeine Theaterzeitzung. Cajetan pulled out all the stops, with a contrabass monstre ophicleide and the dismayed audience members who are covering their ears and running away from the tremendous sound. I especially like how Cajetan added faces for one of the trombone players (on the left; he appears to be in agony) and the monstre ophicleide player.

Berlioz_Grandville_Cajetan_1846

Back to Le Autre Monde. . .

[Below] From the same concert by steam-powered musicians, here is Grandville’s, “Melody for 200 Trombones” [page 19]. Note how the bass trombone player needs a special cut out on the floor for the length of his hand slide. This is really interesting because the bass trombone was hardly known in France at the time. Berlioz encountered it during his travels to Germany but how Grandville knew about it (it would have been the bass trombone in F with its long slide with a handle) is a puzzle.

Un autre monde : transformations, visions, incarnations ... et a

[Below] Here, in the “Steam Concert,” Mlle. Tender hits a perfect ultra-high A during her duet with Monsieur Tunnel [page 20].

Un autre monde : transformations, visions, incarnations ... et a

[Below] A child prodigy, on a “harmonic railway,” plays difficult variations on the steam harp [page 23].

Un autre monde : transformations, visions, incarnations ... et a

[Below] An accident at the concert: an ophicleide bursts from too much harmony, peppering the listeners’ ears with notes [page 24]. There is so much going on in this illustration: the ears in the box seats, left and right, the notes on the floor that are struggling to get up, and the hand lighting a fuse in the ophicleide’s mouthpiece.

Un autre monde : transformations, visions, incarnations ... et a

[Below] From the chapter, “Une Journée a Rheculanum” [after page 193]: A performance of Phédre in Rheculanum. The duplex ophicleide-like brass instrument in the orchestra pit is an acoustical impossibility (as is the case with many of Dr. Seuss’ instruments) but it looks really cool.

Un autre monde : transformations, visions, incarnations ... et a

In The Public and Private Lives of Animals, Honoré de Balzac’s story, “Journey of An African Lion in Paris,” is accompanied by Grandville’s illustration (page 186) of a scene at a carnival ball (below). A snake playing an over the shoulder (OTS) dragon bell trombone (buccin) is in the band in the balcony, next to an instrument that appears to be an ophicleide.

Grandville_African_Lion

My favorite of Grandville’s musical instrument illustrations is part of a story by Pierre-Jules Hetzel (1814–1886, writing under his pseudonym, P. J. Stahl), “The Funeral Oration for a Silkworm,” a chapter in The Public and Private Lives of Animals [pages 206–209]. Grandville’s illustration of a funeral cortége with an insect at the head of the procession who is playing a serpent is stunning in its imagination and detail. Here is the whole story reprinted in its entirety, with all four illustrations that accompany Stahl’s dramatic and touching tale. Enjoy.

The Funeral Oration of a Silkworm

P.J. Stahl

Illustrations by J. J. Grandville

Grandville_Silkworm_01

The sun, having done his day’s work of thinking right well, suddenly and wearily retired to rest. The last notes of the birds’ song of praise were still lingering in the echoes of the woods, and the earth, wrapping herself in her dark mantle, was preparing for repose. The death’s-head Moth giving the final of departure, the little cortége set out on the march for the purple heath. Field-spiders, whose work consisted in clearing the road, proceeded the corpse which was surrounded by beetles, in black, carrying the bier of mulberry leaf. These were followed by tail-bearing mutes, next came the Ants, and lastly the Grubs. When at some little distance from the sacred mulberry tree, around which were assembled the relatives of the deceased, the Cardinal Pyrochre gave orders that the hymn of the dead should be intoned by the choir of Scarabs, and afterward sung by Bees and Crickets.

Grandville_Silkworm_serpent_02

At intervals, when the harmony ceased, one could hear deep signs and sobs, bearing evidence of the universal grief caused by the loss of the humble insect, whose remains were being borne to their last resting-place. The procession at length reached the cemetery on the heath, where the sextons were still bending over the new dug grave. Signs and sobs were hushed in that profound silence which betokens the deepest sorrow. But when the bearers had laid the body in the tomb, and the yawning earth closed over it, the air was rent with a piteous wail, for the mourners had seen the last of a true friend.

Grandville_Silkworm_03

An insect, robed in black, advanced to the grave-mount, saying: “Why this outburst of bitter grief? Why weep for one who has been delivered from the trial and burden of life. Yet,” he added, “weep on, for he who lies there can feel no pang of sorrow; no tears, no loving tones, can wake a responsive throb in his cold breast, nor bring him back to his earthly home!” They would not be comforted.

“Brothers,” said another, advancing in turn, “it is at the birth of a silkworm one ought rather to mourn. His life was one of ceaseless toil. By leaving this earth, he has left his misery behind; neither joy nor sorrow can follow him beyond the grave. I tell you simple truth; this is no time for hypocrisy. Why should worms mourn this event? Death has no terrors for us!” They still wept.

One of the mourners said with faltering voice: “Brother, we know that there is a beginning, and alas! an end, to everything, and that all must die; we know, too, the sorrows of our life, the labour of gathering our food leaf by leaf; we know the toil that transforms a mulberry leaf into a shining silken robe; we know the dangers that beset our lives; and the doom of the silken shroud that at last imprisons and blights the dreams of our young lives; we know that to die is to cease to toil, death being the end of the silken thread which began with our birth—we know all this, but, oh, we know, too, that we loved our brother, and who can console us for so great a loss?”

“We loved him! We loved him!” cried the mourners.

“I wept like you,” said the Cardinal, “for our brother who is gone; yet, when I meet death face to face in the silkworm, my heart expands. ‘Go to the other world,’ I say, the better world; there the gates will open for the good, both high and low; there you will rejoin your lost loved ones in a land where flowers breathe an eternal fragrance; where the mulberries bordering the glassy streams are ever green. Ah, brothers, tell them to wait for us there, for to die is to be born to a better life!”

With these words the weeping ceased. The moon broke out, silvering the heath with a chaste glory.

The good insect added: “Go back to your homes: our brother has no longer need of you.”

Each of the mourners, after placing a flower on the grave, left the scene, feeling comforted.

Grandville_Silkworm_04

Easter 2021

Easter 2021

Today is Easter, April 4. I remember Easter 2020, on April 12. Maybe you do, too. The coronavirus pandemic was in full swing. Remember when it first hit our collective consciousness, in early March 2020? We thought, “Well, this will be over by Easter.” But it wasn’t. It wasn’t over by Memorial Day, or Independence Day. There was a summer without going to the town pool, without the planned vacations. It was still with us at Labor Day. “Surely,” we thought, “it will be over by Thanksgiving.” But Thanksgiving came and went and the coronavirus was still with us. It was with us at Christmas, a strange, unsettling season without seeing all of our family because we could not travel safely. It is still with us today.

But here we are on Easter 2021. The long dark tunnel—the cold dark tomb, if you will—of the pandemic is showing signs of light. God’s great instruments of deliverance from the pandemic, the several COVID-19 vaccines, are here and are being distributed. We are blessed that the six adult members of our family have already received it, and we pray that our grandchildren will be able to get it soon, too. In the coming weeks, we will begin to travel again, first to see our daughter and son-in-law in California who we have not seen since Christmas 2019. More trips will follow, and, Lord willing, a return to a new kind of “normal” in the coming months. But today, we are thinking about Easter.

Two years ago, on April 21, 2019, on a day that seems like it was from a different era entirely—an era when I went to church and sat in a pew among friends instead of watching a service on YouTube; when I sat next to my trombone students in their lessons and played duets with them; when I went to hear concerts in a concert hall; when I ate meal in my favorite restaurant—I wrote and posted an Easter reflection on The Last Trombone. As I read it again today, I thought I would post it again. The message of Christ’s journey from darkness to light has never meant more to me than it does today. Through a long season of uncertainty and loss, and in the midst of confusion and grief, the resurrection of Jesus Christ stands as the most consequential event in all history. That Christ’s resurrection was also a journey from darkness to light is a comfort to all those who know Him, because we know that the trials of this present age are not the end of the story.

Here is my 2019 Easter reflection with a few revisions since it was first posted. Darkness to light, death to life, the dawn of a new day. That is Easter.

• • •

There are four accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus in the Gospel accounts in the Bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each highlights particular moments in those world-changing days nearly 2000 years ago. In 2016, my wife and I traveled to Israel with a tour group sponsored by our undergraduate alma mater, Wheaton College, where I now teach trombone. The trip was life changing, as we visited many of the traditional sites where pivotal events in the Bible took place. One such site was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the traditional sites of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. The photo at the top of this blog entry on The Last Trombone is one I took of the tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Do we know for sure that he was actually buried there? No, but since at least around 400 AD, Christian pilgrims have venerated this particular place as being the site. I do not engage in debates over whether this or that site is THE site. It enough that I was in the neighborhood.

Artists over the centuries have depicted the resurrection of Jesus as a cataclysmic event, replete with angels and earthquakes, and the moving away of the stone that covered the entrance of the tomb. The Bible tells of this (Matthew 28:1-4):

And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.

Typical of such artistic representations is the one below that I saw two years ago at the Art Institute of Chicago.

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The painting is by Cecco del Caravaggio, whose real name was Francesco Buoneri, and it was painted in 1619-1620. Christ appears on top of his tomb, and an angel is dispatching Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb. Cecco’s use of light and dark is exceptional, and I spent a long time sitting in the museum’s gallery and contemplating the event that it depicts.

But in 2017, when my wife and I traveled to Italy on another Wheaton College alumni tour — a tour that took us to Florence and Rome — I saw another painting of the resurrection that has stuck in my mind ever since. This painting was in the Galleria dell’ Accademia in Florence, in the same museum that houses Michelangelo’s iconic statue of David. The painting, by Andrea del Sarto, was painted in the early sixteenth century and presents a very different view of the resurrection of Christ.

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Here is a moment before the the earthquake; we see no guards, no angel. It shows Jesus in His tomb at the moment of his resurrection. The wounds from his crucifixion are visible, as are some of his burial cloths. The image is one of quiet contemplation. I am sure I was not alone, when standing before this painting, in asking the question: “What was Jesus thinking at this moment?”

What I find interesting in all of this is that the Bible is silent about what actually happened inside the tomb at the moment when Christ was raised from the dead. He was dead, buried in the tomb. Then at some point over the next two days, Christ was resurrected, and somehow, in some way, he left the tomb. Two days after his agonizing death on the cross, the stone that had been covering the entrance to the tomb had rolled away. Mary Magdeline was shocked to see the tomb empty when she came to visit it two days after the crucifixion of Jesus, but an angel spoke to her with these earth-shattering words (Matthew 28:6):

He is not here, for he has risen.

I like to meditate on both of these paintings which depict two moments surrounding the resurrection of Jesus. Both speak to the same thing: Jesus was dead, buried, and was raised from the dead. In the days and weeks that followed, He appeared in physical form — not as some kind of ghost or apparition — before hundreds of people. This is documented not only by the Bible, but by other, independent writers. The resurrection of Jesus happened. It was and is true, and it changed the world and the life of every person in it. As the Apostle Paul reminds us (1 Corinthians 15:17-20):

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.

C. S. Lewis spoke to this fact in his book, Mere Christianity. I have previously quoted him in my article on The Last Trombone about Christmas, but his words are worth repeating here:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.”

That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.

Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

The death of Jesus Christ. His burial. His resurrection. It happened. And it matters. Happy Easter. The dawn is here.