Thursday, December 18, 2014

Carl Maria von Weber ~ December 18, 1786 ~ June 4, 1826

Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst von Weber (18 December 1786 – 4 June 1826) was a German composer, conductor, pianist, guitarist and critic, one of the first significant composers of the Romantic school.

Weber's works, especially his operas Der Freischütz, Euryanthe and Oberon greatly influenced the development of the Romantic opera in Germany. He was also an innovative composer of instrumental music. His compositions for the clarinet, which include two concertos, a concertino, a quintet and a duo concertante, are regularly performed, while his piano music—including four sonatas, two concertos and the Konzertstück (Concert Piece) in F minor—influenced composers such as Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt and Felix Mendelssohn. The Konzertstück provided a new model for the one-movement concerto in several contrasting sections (such as Liszt's, who often played the work), and was acknowledged by Igor Stravinsky.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

WRIGHT BROTHERS ~ First Manned Flight ~ December 17, 1903

The Wright Brothers make their first powered and heavier-than-air flight in the Wright Flyer at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903.

The Wright brothers, Orville (August 19, 1871 – January 30, 1948) and Wilbur (April 16, 1867 – May 30, 1912), were two Americans who are generally credited with inventing and building the world's first successful airplane and making the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight.

They are also officially credited worldwide through the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the standard-setting and record-keeping body for aeronautics and astronautics, as "the first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight." In the two years afterward, the brothers developed their flying machine into the first practical fixed-wing aircraft. Although not the first to build and fly experimental aircraft, the Wright brothers were the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed-wing flight possible.

The brothers' fundamental breakthrough was their invention of three-axis control, which enabled the pilot to steer the aircraft effectively and to maintain its equilibrium. This method became standard and remains standard on fixed-wing aircraft of all kinds. From the beginning of their aeronautical work, the Wright brothers focused on unlocking the secrets of control to conquer "the flying problem," rather than developing more powerful engines as some other experimenters did. Their careful wind tunnel tests produced better aeronautical data than any before, enabling them to design and build wings and propellers more effective than any before. Their U.S. patent 821,393 claims the invention of a system of aerodynamic control that manipulates a flying machine's surfaces.

They gained the mechanical skills essential for their success by working for years in their shop with printing presses, bicycles, motors, and other machinery. Their work with bicycles in particular influenced their belief that an unstable vehicle like a flying machine could be controlled and balanced with practice. From 1900 until their first powered flights in late 1903, they conducted extensive glider tests that also developed their skills as pilots. Their bicycle shop employee Charlie Taylor became an important part of the team, building their first aircraft engine in close collaboration with the brothers.

The Wright brothers' status as inventors of the airplane has been subject to counter-claims by various parties. Much controversy persists over the many competing claims of early aviators.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

ENGLISH BILL OF RIGHTS ~ December 16, 1689

The Bill of Rights (a short title) is an act of the Parliament of England, whose title is An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown. It is often called the English Bill of Rights. It was adopted December 16, 1689.

The Bill of Rights was passed by Parliament in December 1689 and was a re-statement in statutory form of the Declaration of Right, presented by the Convention Parliament to William and Mary in March 1688, inviting them to become joint sovereigns of England. It enumerates certain rights to which subjects and permanent residents of a constitutional monarchy were thought to be entitled in the late 17th century, asserting subjects' right to petition the monarch, as well as to have arms in defence. It also sets out—or, in the view of its drafters, restates—certain constitutional requirements of the Crown to seek the consent of the people, as represented in parliament.

Along with the 1701 Act of Settlement the Bill of Rights remains, today, one of the main constitutional laws governing the succession to not only the throne of the United Kingdom, but, following British colonialism, the resultant doctrine of reception, and independence, also to those of the other Commonwealth realms, whether by willing deference to the act as a British statute or as a patriated part of the particular realm's constitution. Since the implementation of the Statute of Westminster in each of the Commonwealth realms (on successive dates from 1931 onwards) the Bill of Rights cannot be altered in any realm except by that realm's own parliament, and then, by convention, and as it touches on the succession to the shared throne, only with the consent of all the other realms.

In the United Kingdom, the Bill of Rights is further accompanied by the Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus Act 1679 and Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 as some of the basic documents of the uncodified British constitution. A separate but similar document, the Claim of Right Act, applies in Scotland. Further, a bill of rights has been listed, in Republic of Ireland's Statute Law Revision (Pre-Union), as an English act of parliament to be retained as part of the country's law. The English Bill of Rights 1689 inspired in large part the United States Bill of Rights.

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Today is also the birthday of my brother, Sheridan Watson Bell, III. Sherry has been a wonderful brother to me, my friends and partners, and to my several dogs.

Monday, December 15, 2014

GONE WITH THE WIND Premiered December 15, 1939

Gone with the Wind received its première at Loew's Grand Theater in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. The film premiered on December 15, 1939, as the climax of three days of festivities hosted by Mayor William B. Hartsfield which consisted of a parade of limousines featuring stars from the film, receptions, thousands of Confederate flags, false antebellum fronts on stores and homes, and a costume ball. Eurith D. Rivers, the governor of Georgia declared December 15 a state holiday. The New York Times reported that thousands lined the streets as "the demonstration exceeded anything in Atlanta's history for noise, magnitude and excitement". President Jimmy Carter would later recall it as "the biggest event to happen in the South in my lifetime."

Hattie McDaniel, as well as the other black actors from the film, were prevented from attending the premiere due to Georgia's Jim Crow laws, which would have kept them from sitting with the white members of the cast. Upon learning that McDaniel had been barred from the premiere, Clark Gable threatened to boycott the event. McDaniel convinced him to attend.

In Los Angeles, the film had its premiere at the elegant Carthay Circle Theatre. From December 1939 to June 1940, the film played only advance-ticket road show engagements at a limited number of theaters, before it went into general release in 1941.

It was a sensational hit during the Blitz in London, opening in April 1940 and playing continuously for four years.

Gone with the Wind is a 1939 American drama romance film adapted from Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel of the same name and directed by Victor Fleming (Fleming replaced George Cukor). The epic film, set in the American South in and around the time of the Civil War, stars Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, and Olivia de Havilland, and tells a story of the Civil War and its aftermath from a white Southern viewpoint.

It received ten Academy Awards, a record that stood for twenty years. In the American Film Institute's inaugural Top 100 American Films of All Time list of 1998, it was ranked number four; although in the 2007 10th Anniversary edition of that list, it was dropped two places, to number six. In June 2008, AFI revealed its 10 top 10 — the best ten films in ten American film genres—after polling over 1,500 persons from the creative community. Gone with the Wind was acknowledged as the fourth best film in the Epic genre. It has sold more tickets in the U.S. than any other film in history, and is considered a prototype of a Hollywood blockbuster. Today, it is considered one of the greatest and most popular films of all time and one of the most enduring symbols of the golden age of Hollywood. When adjusted for inflation, Gone with the Wind remains the highest grossing film of all time in North America and the UK.

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Reportedly, the original title of the book was: "Tomorrow Is Another Day!"

Sunday, December 14, 2014


Today is the third Sunday in Advent. In the Episcopal & Roman Catholic traditions a pink candle is lit on the Advent wreath. The running gag is that Mary was expecting a girl!

Listening to a Purcell anthem at a Chanticleer concert on a Saturday night in March a few years ago, brought back a flood of memories… about Louis Botto, the nominal founder of Chanticleer— particularly during the several years I knew him before the founding of Chanticleer— and was an example of what could have happened to my father at the Hershey Convention Center when Dad suffered cardiac arrest as soon as he had finished giving a speech in 1977.

Louis and I had been two of the soloists for “Rejoice in the Lord Alway” with the Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys on the third Sunday of Advent that same year, 1977. “How could I possibly remember with such specificity?” you ask. I’ll soon explain.

Louis was the alto soloist, and I, the tenor. Rob DeWitt was Baritone, I believe. Boyd Jarrell was new to the choir then; so I don’t think he was the baritone soloist. In any case, I’m absolutely certain about Louis and me.

Stanley Rodgers was the relatively new Dean of Grace Cathedral. His teenage son, Malcolm, was a member of the choir, and his wife, Helen, was sitting in the congregation. Dean Rodgers had just delivered one of his better sermons (part of which dealt with speculation about advances in military technology, which seemed to foreshadow President Reagan’s “Star Wars” policy, and how Dean Rodgers feared that our false reliance on technology would actually make us more vulnerable to risky adventures). That day Dean Rodgers was also the Celebrant, which was unusual – to do both in the same service. He was sitting in the large center chair directly behind the high altar in the crossing.

At the offertory we sang Henry Purcell’s “Rejoice in the Lord Alway.” We didn’t have a string ensemble; but we did use alternating organ and harpsichord. John Renke was at the organ, and John Fenstermaker, at the harpsichord, and from there, he directed the full choir. The piece is a long one with an extended bell tone introduction, repeated sections of soloists, ritornelli, chorus, and back and forth. Somewhere in the middle of the piece, Dean Rodgers slumped over in his chair. From our soloists’ vantage point we could observe, but we kept on singing. The head verger, Charles Agnew, walked over to see what was the matter. Soon he was joined by a doctor. We continued to sing. Then four men from the congregation came and carried Dean Rodgers away in his large wooden chair, and still we kept on singing.

Afterwards, the service itself continued as usual. As we were coming back to the Cathedral for rehearsal before Evensong, we heard the carillon begin to toll and toll – indicating that Dean Stanley Rodgers had, indeed, died as we had sung “Rejoice in the Lord Alway.”…...It was many years before we would sing it again.
Some time later we had a new Dean with a whole new set of problems and major controversies. The organ conservator— with a wry and wicked sense of humor— quipped: “Isn’t it about time we brought back that Purcell piece.”

My Mother’s family, the Rich’s, would get together for the first two weeks in August at Zavikon, my grandfather Baba's summer house in Canada, and have a family dinner in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on a Saturday - two or three weeks before Christmas. I guess Harrisburg was a more central location for relatives coming from Washington, Lancaster, and Woolrich --and later South Carolina and Chicago.

We generally had an afternoon dinner in a large banquet room on the second floor of the Hotel Harrisburger across the street from the State Capitol grounds. We cousins loved to run up and down the large staircase, which led to the banquet room. (Later the management tried to maximize floor space by eliminating the staircase; but they only succeeded in ruining one of the best features of the hotel and hastening to bring about its demise.)

The hotel had a fine English restaurant called the Pickwick Tavern, one of the few really good restaurants in town. The aunts and uncles would generally meet there for cocktails before dinner. Grandfather Rich never allowed any wine at his table.

We all sat at one large table— probably several put together—covered with white linen tablecloths, and Mother's colorful holiday tablecloths on top. My Dad’s friend, Helen Heisey, usually completed the decorations, incorporating Mother's several silver candlesticks, and made holly floral arrangements. After Baba's second marriage to Pattie Wideman, the table accommodated almost thirty people. There was a small poinsettia at each place setting, and a silver dollar underneath each person's salad plate or first course.

Two uncles sat at opposite ends of the table to carve the turkeys. Dad always got a kick out of using his electric carving knife.

After dinner, Baba insisted that all the cousins perform. Scottie Kurtz would play the accordion. David Staats would recite a poem. Everybody did something. Then Baba dispensed the silver dollars.

We Bell's all played music – Cynthia on the violin; Julie, the flute; Sherry, the clarinet; and I, the 'cello. Sometimes we'd play duets or trios, and I'd accompany everybody with Christmas carols on the piano. The other cousins thought the Bells were show-offs. But we sure raked in those silver dollars!

(And these were genuine silver dollars – not sandwiched copper.) Sometimes I left with more than fifteen or twenty. But I don't have them today. I gave some away as birthday presents. But most, I just spent – primarily on candy. I remember buying one hundred pieces of licorice at a corner grocery for a silver dollar.

GEORGE WASHINGTON ~ February 22, 1732 ~ December 14, 1799

George Washington (February 22, 1732 – December 14, 1799) was the first President of the United States from 1789 to 1797. He was also the commander in chief of all American forces during the American Revolutionary War.

His mother was Mary Ball and his father was Augustine Washington. They were teachers at the local university. They lived in Virginia. As a child, Washington did not attend school for very long.

There is a nice but untrue story that Washington cut down his father's cherry tree. When asked, he did not lie and said that he did cut down the tree. This story is supposed to show that Washington was honest. The funny thing is that the story is not honest because it was made up by Parson Weemes.

Before the Revolutionary War
Washington was a farmer like his father. His large farm, or plantation, was called Mount Vernon. He also served as a surveyor, someone who measures farms.

Washington began his army career during the French and Indian War. He first was a messenger for Virginia. He later led troops against the French. The British did not think soldiers from the colonies were as good as they were, so Washington went home and started to farm again.

In 1759, Washington married Martha Custis Washington. They did not have any children.

The Revolution
Washington wanted the Thirteen Colonies to be independent and was a delegate to the Continental Congress, which wanted independence. Washington was chosen by the Second Continental Congress to be the commanding general of the Continental Army. Washington led the army from 1775 until the end of the war in 1783. He is noted for leading troops across the Delaware River on Christmas Day, 1777, in a surprise attack on German mercenaries at Trenton, New Jersey. The British had more troops and more supplies than Washington. However, Washington kept his troops together. He did not win many battles, but he never let the British destroy his army. With the help of the French navy, Washington made the British surrender at Yorktown, Virginia in 1781. The war officially ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

After the war
When the Revolutionary war ended, Washington went home to Mount Vernon. He wanted the colonies to have a strong government. Washington was voted president of the Constitutional Convention in 1785. Washington wanted the states to ratify the Constitution of the United States and they did.

In 1789, Washington was elected president without any competition. Washington was the first President of the United States. Washington helped the government get started. Washington did not belong to a political party. He was re-elected to a second term, but chose not to run for a third term. Because of this, most other presidents chose to follow this tradition of not running for a 3rd term.

Washington went back home to Mount Vernon after his second term ended in 1797. He died on December 14, 1799, in Mount Vernon at the age of 67. He was the only leader of the early United States who decided in his will that his slaves were to be freed once he himself and his wife had died. Washington, D.C. and the state of Washington are named after him. He is on the one dollar bill and the quarter coin.

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Titian in the Frari (Venezia)