Category Archives: professional musicians

The Sweet Nature.

 

Some people are born to it.

There are all kinds of traits which, science is now disclosing, are expressed rather automatically because, well, they appear as genes along the strands of our DNA helix. We are so proud, we humans; we’d like to think that we never intended to be the person we actually are.

But, in large part, we get dealt a hand and then the game plays itself out.

Or, does it?

My mother was one of four daughters. Her father’s name was Henry Thomas Sweet. He said his parents were from Cornwall, on the English coastline. Ancestry.com lists:

“This Anglo-Saxon last name has three origin theories. First, it is a baptismal surname meaning “the son of Sweet”…. Second, it derived from the nickname “the sweet”, a good, pleasant, or agreeable person, from the Middle English word swete. The old English personal (first) names Sweta and Swete also derive from this word and may by the source of the surname. Third, as asserted by William Arthur in his book An Etymological Dictionary of Family and Christian Names, the name refers to a Swede, a person from Sweden or who was native to that country. Fourth, it can be an Anglicized version of the German/Jewish surname Suess ….. The given names Suet and Suot were documented in the Domesday Book of 1086 AD, which was a survey of England and Wales ordered by William the Conqueror. Fifth, the book English Surnames by Mark Antony Lower claims it’s a nickname for a person “who has either a vinegar face or a foxy complexion”.

Hah.

One wonders if “agreeable and pleasant” married “a vinegar face or foxy complexion” to form the genetic expression handed down to me by my mother’s father.

“Sweetness”.

Sort of a vague reference to guileless, I guess. Gentleness comes to mind, in tandem, along with pleasant countenance. Ain’t no bitch face in the sweet one.

I can say that “The Sweet Girls”, as they became known – Dora Mae; Lydia Elisabeth “Betty”; Frances Magdalene, and Martha Louise, if ever they bore common “sweetness” would have largely been due to the nature of their mother, Mae. Rather, each had an immediate feistiness, manifest more readily by the first, third, and fourth born. Mum’s was demonstrated on her own turf, where she ruled the roost with a formidable tone, but hidden in public behind a radiant grin and a gullibility born of her Aquarian dreams.

So, what’s in a name? Any number of ultimate aspects, all of them inherited.

Mary M. “Peggy” Zeppenfeld, however, was truly sweet. She was a flute player, in the Erie Chamber Orchestra and Erie Philharmonic, and a music teacher. Her students adored her. Her family adored her. Her colleagues did, too. She was “kind”. She was “devoted” to her students, and to music education, an “extraordinary teacher”, generous of spirit. Her maiden name was Munro, Irish to Scotland to fight for William Wallace. Robert Munro served Robert The Bruce; Alice Munro would descend to write sterling short stories, her characters never socially important but always both starkly recognizable and memorable.

Peggy Munro was entirely without ego. Preferring to observe from a distance, watch she did; I can remember more than once looking up, from my seat at the front of the orchestra we shared, to see her gaze directed at me. Peggy was keenly aware; she likely picked up signals from body language that others missed entirely. Perhaps she was just alarmed by any number of reactions which I so irrepressibly demonstrated, but I often wondered if Peggy was the only musician in the room who perceived my needs. Whenever I felt frustrated, or dismissed, or ignored, I could feel Peggy’s eyes on me.

Peggy’s career in the world of professional performance wasn’t so brief – 25 uncelebrated years. Like me, she came to it all by default, receiving an appointment at a time when someone with her qualifications seemed right. And, just as quietly, when the players at the card game increased in power and might, she lay down her hand and bowed out.

This past week, Peggy died. She was only 55 years old, nobody with the power or might to prudently diagnose the disease which took her life having stepped up to save it. And so, another sweet one escaped the earth, to leave behind all those whose hearts hurt because they were so touched.

And, these were innumerable. So many young, eager students. So many colleagues. So many family and friends. And, even one such as I, from the distance between her eyes and mine.

I will miss you, too, Peggy.

Perhaps some are born to live briefly. All are born to die.

It’s the nature of life.

Thank God for those who are born to bring the sweet.

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Mary M. “Peggy” Zeppenfeld

January 1963 – January 2019

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© 1/19/19   Ruth Ann Scanzillo.  All rights those of the author, who can be sour, and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting this tribute.

The Cheese.

 

Lisa worked in advertising.

Big, commercial advertising.

She was a music producer for Ogilvy & Mather WW, in midtown Manhattan.

And, she’d been my college housemate.

I can remember the accounts. Winter Olympics. Huggies Disposable Diapers. And, the piece de resistance: Folger’s Coffee…..the first, serial ad in anybody’s memory, complete with installments which brought a sweet couple together forever ( everybody hoped.) Hardly a word ever spoken. Just that knock on the door;  a lot of deep, eye gazing; and, the music, underscoring the whole story.

Lisa was always quiet around people. Like, silent. Applied music/flute morphing into a degree in sound, she was an aural learner, storing endless loops of tunes and calling them to mind in an instant. Rising to rank after assisting Faith, who retired to open a B&B in Santa Fe, her working girl day began with meetings. The video would either already be complete, or clients sat at table describing what they envisioned. Within minutes, Lisa would have several ideas, heading to the agency library to pull four or five reels for their perusal. One chosen, the edit would begin.

She performed all this grandly important work in the name of international (they had offices in London and LA, as well) product presentation. And I, her loyal housemate all those years prior, wondered with admiration and pride. There would never be a TV ad, from that point until the big layoff after her David was born, that didn’t pique my attention and respect.

Last week, CNN was drumming along in the background as I finished the pre-holiday preparations. These days, what with the new pause and rewind options provided by cable, I was wont to mute and FF when the commercials kicked in.

But, this one caught me.

A certain, familiar insurance company having dispensed with its inane gecko for the holidays, the goofy lizard had been displaced by two humanoids. Seated shoulder to back on a laminate floor, faux [ electrically flickering ] fireplace behind, equally faux brass poke and stoke set alongside, laminate paneling, the gushing couple faced camera holding drinks. The only notable feature of the man being his Persian blue contac lenses, the woman by contrast was bedecked: polyester ski sweater over a starched, button down shirt, outsized faux coral hoop earrings, haircut overgrown just enough to have required large rollers for shape, jeans and, just as the camera pulled back – knee high, faux leather, heeled boots.

Their only dialogue byte to pull me out of my stream of subconscious was a reference to “starring in a real commercial”. Might it have been the angle of her jaw, or the artificial lilt in her voice? I stared, momentarily, at her face. Suddenly, it all came together.

Perhaps I’d taken one too many cheap flight connections from Detroit to parts east. Maybe fussed just a bit too much getting strapped onto my seat in coach. But, somebody was watching. Somebody who’d replaced one of Lisa’s coworkers in video all those years ago. I didn’t have to take any bait, from GEICO or anybody else. Somebody, as I stood in the shoot waiting for my orange ductape labeled Travelocity carry on, saw me and said: “Ope. There she is. There’s our girl.”

Cheese is a favorite of mine. I like them all. Brie; Havarti; Colby Jack; Muenster; Feta; Goat; New York Sharp. If you need cheese, or cheesy, just call me. I’ll be sitting by the phone, branded, waiting for the role of your lifetime.

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c 1/1/19   Ruth Ann Scanzillo.   All rights those of the author, somebody who looks exactly like the person she isn’t, and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting original material.

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Yesterday.

 

I love the past.

1970’s superstar Billy Joel has his own SiriusXM station. Unlike the breadth of his continuing career, he gets to keep Channel 30 for just a few weeks, kind of like a feature. I’ve been enjoying his retrospective, while driving to the Food Co-op, or out on errands – every time I’m behind that wheel. Along with legions of others, I get this brief chance to travel across his repertoire with him, in between snippets of commentary and gems from his recollection.

Of particular interest is the story of how he became a songwriter. Apparently, his mother always played her favorite records, at home. She loved Gilbert and Sullivan, and others from her era. Billy absorbed solid songwriting from these masters but, as he recounts, his fire wasn’t really lit until he heard the Beatles.

And, the other day, while presenting his Songs I Wish I’d Written segment, he invariably cited one of them: Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday.”

Now, everybody knows that the popular song is the capsule for every memory, in our lifetime. And, most of us have a narrative for every favorite we can name. But, only the psychologists have warned that nostalgia isn’t particularly “healthy”; they, along with those Be In The NOW proponents, argue that living in the past is oppressive, even toxic.

At least two songwriters might challenge that.

Here we have legends, in their own time – Joel, and McCartney. I’m betting neither of these song meisters are wallowing in whatever happened to them. Their respect for the past is a real religion; they both know that, if we lose faith in what has made us who we are today, we’ll have little upon which to grow for tomorrow.

The Millennials, who live in a world of instantaneity, may not have a concept of history. They may be missing a reverence for that which is foundational, upon which the new must be built. They may not realize that what they deem worthy may have come from the mind of one for whom effort to produce it was lifelong. From their perspective, that which isn’t current is both passe and dispensable, devoid of value. Displacement has supplanted any concept of what used to be termed “classic.” Yet, how many of their pop celebrities are producing music which will endure? Whatever happened to “the test of time”?

We may long for that which is past, but we can hide away, even believe, in our yesterdays. I’m grateful, today, to be part of a generation which can still embody that which it can also remember.

Sing on, gentlemen.

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© 10/21/18    Ruth Ann Scanzillo.