Seferis and Theodorakis – beauty for today

Today I wanted to post something that felt important, that I wrote a few weeks ago.  I´d been on a fascinating journey, pulling on the thread of a beautiful piece of music, Theodorakis´ composition on Seferis poem “Denial”.  Just a few weeks ago,  musicians Andreas Polyzogopoulos, Vassilis Stefanopoulos and Alexandros Drakos Ktistakis were setting up for a gig in Gijón.  From my brief flirtation with Greek nearly 50 years ago I remembered the second verse of this, and jokingly, while they set up I sang it into the mike.

“On the golden sand
we wrote her name;
but the sea-breeze blew
and the writing vanished.”

Andreas immediately delved in his mobile, and came up with this beautiful recording, a tribute to Theodorakis by pianist and composer D Kalantzis, .  It was so stunning that tears immediately welled up – as if I´d careless picked up a pebble and it turned out to be a coin with Athena´s head on it.
To find out more, I later went to the library and took out collections of Poems by Kavafy and Seferis.  I thought”Denial” was a love song. I learnt it became an anthem of resistance. It speaks as powerfully now as then.
On the secret seashore
white like a pigeon
we thirsted at noon
but the water was brackish.
On the golden sand
we wrote her name;
but the sea-breeze blew
and the writing vanished.

Reading on about Seferis, I´m just so surprised to learn how close I´ve been, in real time and space, to some episodes of Cypriot and Greek history.  My father in the RAF was posted to Cyprus in ´52 – so as a toddler I lived in Kyrenia, for 6 months, before the British withdrawal meant we went back.  My parents were friends of the lady who lived where Lawrence Durrell had written Bitter Lemons, in Belapais, above Kyrenia, near St Hilarion.  Was Seferis nearby, when he wrote Kirenia?
The sense impressions left on me, the dusty white roads, the light, a donkey, my playmate Akis, were so strong that I went back to Cyprus to work on a dig excavating the mosaics at Paphos as a teen.
That too was a wonderful experience – staying with a kind family in Kato Paphos.  One day I went to swim at Aphrodite´s birthplace. Very briefly.  A shepherd drove his flock into the sea to wash them, and dirty brown clouds slooshed towards us.  It may not have been an “iconic” experience, but indelible, anyway!
Later I worked on a dig in Macedonia: my political commitment was sparked by a lengthy conversation on the bus from Drama to Thessaloniki with the foreman of the dig, and continuted with protests against the military junta as a student in Cambridge. Students were jailed under an eighteenth century law called “riotous Assembly” resuscitated for the purpose.
Explaining this to Andreas he said that Theodorakis had said he would not have changed the process – the passion and commitment of those days.
“With what spirit, what heart
what desire and passion
we lived our life: a mistake!
So we changed our life.”
Now we have to find new ways to change our lives.

y – a mis amigos que se esfuerzan a leer hasta al final – aquí el poema en español.


En la playa escondida

y blanca como paloma

tuvimos sed un mediodía

pero el agua era salada.
En la arena dorada

escribimos su nombre;

suave sopló la brisa

y la letra se borró.
Con qué coraje, con qué aliento,

con qué deseos y pasión

tomamos nuestra vida: ¡qué error!

y la vida tuvimos que cambiar.

Musicians – the best music teachers

There´s something very special about learning directly from musicians.  Saturday´s workshop in Meidinerz, jazz and modern music school in Gijón, Asturias, led by Andreas Polyzogopoulos (trumpet), with Vasilis Stefanopoulos (bass),  Alex Drakos Ktistakis (drums) and Cesar Latorre (piano), was a wonderful example.  In three short hours, there were specific tips for trumpet players, how to interact within a rhythm section, how to practise rhythm and accuracy, and scales,(for any instrument).  Also, the difference between the “swing” way of playing quavers (eighth notes) and the New Orleans way, harmonically playing more tightly, according to the exigencies of the more intricate structures of bebop harmonies, or more loosely in modal forms.  The importance of composing.

All this was shared from a knowledge of the history of jazz so profound tht it felt like a transmission from the source – as if Basie and other greats were in the room.
I nearly didn´t go, because I knew I wasn´t in form to play the little that I can. All I can say is – don´t miss the next opportunity of this kind.  Learning from musicians is the best: and despite an exhausting schedule, they gave total commitment to sharing their experience and encouraging us.  Since a friend from my book club complimented Andreas as “the poet of the trumpet” – it´s apt to quote from C P Cavafy, because I felt that this was their attitude.
The First Step
The young poet Evmenis
complained one day to Theocritos:
“I´ve been writing for two years now
and I´ve composed only one idyll.
It´s my single completed work.
I see, sadly, that the ladder
of Poetry is tall, extremely tall;
and from this first step I´m standing on now
I´ll never climb any higher.”
Theocritus retorted: “Words like that
are improper, blasphemous.
Just to be on the first step
should make you happy and proud.
To have reached this point is no small achievement:
what you´ve done already is a wonderful thing.
Even this first step
is a long way above the ordinary world.
To stand on this step
you must be in your own right
a member of the city of ideas.
And it´s a hard, unusual thing
to be enrolled as a citizen of that city.
Its councils are full of Legislators
no charlatan can fool.
To have reached this point is no small achievement:
What you´ve done already is a wonderful thing.”

It´s true! Jazz is like talking!

“Brain scans of jazz musicians unveil language and music similarities.”
Look what I found in medical news today. If you check out the article there are some very pretty pictures of what happens in musicians´ brains when they´re trading fours. And I thought “Jazz is like talking” was just a pretty metaphor – until this morning.