Notes on Reading. Fiction. Sinclair Lewis, Main Street (1920). Signet Classic, New American Library, 1961.
The effect of Lewis’s satire is so powerful that I often become incensed. So it was with his novel, Elmer Gantry, exposing manipulation and blatant hypocrisy of religion, and so it is in this novel with the appalling views of the smug, self-satisfied, narrow-minded, self-righteous characters of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota. The protagonist, Carol Kennicott, a modern sophisticated woman interested in civic reform and progressive ideas, faces conflict with the attitudes of the townspeople about her life and her goals. She becomes frustrated with her place there. Her conflict is exacerbated by her fondness for her husband and son. Lewis give us an interesting look at the psychology of this sympathetic woman.
There are particularly strong characterizations of the patient husband, Will Kinnicott, the kind and dedicated town doctor; Miles Bjornstam, an independent thinker at odds with the town; Mrs. Bogart, the self-righteous, opinionated, and vindictive neighbor; Miss Fern Mullins, an unfairly scandalized and victimized teacher; and Erik Valbor, the effete farm boy turned tailor, who longs to be a designer and pursue artistic ideas. Lewis’s satire of Carol, Erik, and Miles is gentle but nevertheless effective.
The novel shows impressive use of realism in describing details of the town and the surrounding countryside. One particularly moving and graphic scene is an amputation performed by Kennicott and his wife in the kitchen of an accident victim in a rural area during a snowstorm.
Duke Performances. Jonathan Biss, Piano. October 9, 2015.
Before this program, I had never heard Mozart sonatas played more lyrically and dramatically. The two sonatas, in c minor (K.457) and F Major (K.533/494) were excellent choices for the lyrical and dramatic interpretations.
A teacher once told me that Mozart must be played with elegance, and Biss exhibited the idea brilliantly. There were absolutely clear and directed ornamentation and emphatic stressing of the logical structures of the ideas.
A new favorite movement for me is the Rondo movement of K.533/494. The theme is expressed simply and made bolder and “darker” (according to the program notes) by contrapuntal writing.
The two Mozart sonatas were separated by Arnold Schoenberg’s Six Piano Pieces, Op. 19. Lyrical expression was evident in the discordant, free forms of these short pieces, making each a fleeting impression of broken beauty.
The second half of the program was Robert Schumann’s Kreisleriana, Op. 16, a piece I’ve long admired. It’s an excellent extended work, virtuosic and demanding, expressing two sides of Schumann’s Romantic personality, the “stormy, extrovert” and the “more sensitive.” (program notes) Named for the fiction character Johannes Kreisler, a bipolar musical director (program notes), the piece gives a thrilling look at the power of manic-depressive feelings.
One of the fun and challenging things about playing Schumann is attention to inner voices in the writing, moving parts in chordal structures. Schumann’s music is sometimes dense in the writing, and Biss shows a genius for making each part in the structures heard clearly.
There was one encore. “More Schumann,” Biss said. “‘The Poet Speaks,’ the last movement of Scenes from Childhood.'” It’s a quiet, reflective piece, and his ending was the phrased resolution of the two chords at the end. I had never heard this interpretation. It gave an “Amen” chord, a benediction, and appropriate good night to an excellent and moving concert.
The wedding took place on a rainy fall afternoon in a small city in the eastern part of North Carolina.
At the entrance hall of the church, I was invited to write my name on the back of an interlocking puzzle piece. I learned later that the puzzle was a photograph of the happy couple. They will assemble the puzzle and frame it so that both sides can be displayed. It served in place of a traditional wedding guest book.
All attendants were wearing or carrying bouquets of sunflowers, not real, but silk.
The church was cavernous and dark. There were no windows, no traditional emblems of a church sanctuary, just a raised metal platform behind which was a huge screen. The platform held two large drum sets, microphones for other instruments, and an electronic keyboard from which came loud, chordal music, in a new-age style. At the center of the platform was large chair, at the base of which was a galvanized tub with towels at its side. Opposite was a table with three mason jars.
I was seated at the side of the platform on which the bridesmaids stood. They entered after the seating of the mothers, all to the high amplified and vibrato-enhanced wedding march. They wore silver spike-heeled shoes and three tottered on the stairs. They wore different colored, well-designed gowns. Two elementary-school aged girls and a boy toddler dress in a smart suit, who was immediately given a pacifier by one of the two elementary-school aged girls, when he got onto the platform, stood in front of the bridesmaids. The groomsmen were standing on the other side of the platform, appropriately dressed in dark suits.
One of the bridesmaids was chewing gum on her entrance. She continued chewing throughout the ceremony. Another of the bridesmaids was having trouble throughout the ceremony with the fit of her bodice. She kept pulling at it and smiling as the service continued.
The ceremony started with the arrival of the bride in a white gown with a moderately long train. The young minister was dressed in a gray suit, highly polished black shoes, black shirt, and hot pink tie. He began by saying that this was a happy occasion. He expressed confidence in the success of this marriage as he addressed the couple, saying “I’ve known you guys so long and I know that you guy’s relationship to Jesus is right.” He served as a personable and friendly guide through the service, introducing each of the events of the ceremony.
“These guys,” he said, “have decided to have a feet-washing as part of the ceremony. I think it’s an appropriate act at a wedding.” He then gave a background to the Biblical practice of feet-washing as a symbol of humility and devotion. While the couple washed each other’s feet, a bridesmaid handed her bouquet of sunflowers to another bridesmaid and took a microphone to sing a contemporary Christian song about asking God to help us feel the spirit. The boy with the pacifier danced around, obviously enjoying the music and feeling the spirit invoked.
One of the elementary-school aged bridesmaids began shedding tears. Her companion bridesmaid handed her a Kleenex from a box at the side of the platform. At the end of that ceremony, the minister said, “I tell you, folks, the groom got the best deal of this ceremony. I happened to catch the sight of the groom’s feet, and this bride is a strong woman to deal with them!”
The minister then said that both the bride and groom had containers of sand in the mason jars, and to represent their union, they were going to pour sand from their jars into a larger jar representing their new lives. They did so while the singing bridesmaid sang another contemporary Christian song, the weeping elementary-school bridesmaid got another tissue to wipe her streaming face, and the boy continued dancing.
The couple had written their own vows, appropriate, but not greatly original. They repeated the vows after the minister. The girl continued crying silently, and she was handed yet another tissue.
The minister pronounced the couple married, and said, “You may now kiss the bride.” Before they could kiss, he interrupted, “But not yet! Have to do this!” He stood between the couple, took out a smart phone, and made a “selfie” of him and the couple as they made funny faces.
After the kiss, disco music pulsed loudly, and the couple and the attendants boogied out in disco dance mode, their hands making points and circles and their feet moving in step with the musical pulse.
The reception following kept the disco theme with loud music in another cavernous room, lit by spotlights on a platform on which was placed a long table and chairs for the wedding party and by a mirror ball throwing images on the wall and floor. It was loud. I could not see or hear others well. I greeted a few people I knew and left to walk back to Red Car through ankle-deep flowing water washing down the parking lot.